In the last week but especially in the days since Ted Cruz’s victories in Maine and Kansas, pressure has grown on Marco Rubio to drop out. Rubio may have gotten under Donald Trump’s skin in the last two debates but Cruz was the one who appeared to benefit as he won five states slowing, if not entirely halting the frontrunner’s momentum. Both Cruz and Trump responded to Rubio’s failure to win more than the Minnesota caucus by calling for him to get out of the race. Even though the anti-Trump cause would seem to rely on Rubio beating Trump in Florida while John Kasich won Ohio, Cruz’s backers believed the Florida senator was finished. Though few thought Rubio would even consider bailing on the race before the March 15 winner-take-all primary was held, the Cruz camp was operating under the assumption that he was so far behind Trump that there was no point persisting in the idea that he had a chance. In response, Rubio claimed his own polling showed a very different story than the one told by the last Florida surveys that were published ten days ago that gave Trump a 20 point lead.
But a new Monmouth poll vindicates Rubio’s belief that Trump’s lead has shrunk drastically. It shows him still trailing Trump but this time by only eight points. Monmouth’s figures give Trump 38 percent, Rubio 30, Cruz 17 and Kasich 10.
While losing in your home state by eight points is nothing to celebrate, it does confirm the same trend we’ve been seeing elsewhere as large Trump leads have narrowed as election day drew closer. With eight days to go in a race with as many ups and downs as any in recent memory, anything can happen but it would be insane for Rubio, who has the money and the local organization to compete in Florida, to give up. Moreover, the poll demonstrates that Cruz is too far back to possibly supplant Rubio as the leading non-Trump there, let alone to beat the real estate mogul.
That means it makes sense for Cruz to concentrate his efforts elsewhere rather than to invest more resources in Florida solely to undermine Rubio. Cruz’s backers have a point when they say Rubio, whose campaign has looked shaky in the last week, should have done the same in states where he had little chance. That is especially true once candidates no longer can get a share of delegates even in places where they lose.
It may be that Cruz’s case that he is the only candidate that can ultimately defeat Trump is better right now than anything Rubio can muster on his own behalf. But it bears repeating that if Trump wins Florida and Ohio, where he now holds a slim lead over Kasich, and then he may be unstoppable even if that means Cruz is left alone to oppose him from that point. With all of the delegates from those two states, Trump will only need to win slightly more than 50 percent of those yet to be allocated. But if Rubio and Kasich hold serve in their home states, it will take a herculean effort by Trump involving him winning more than 67 percent of the remaining delegates to get to the majority he needs to claim the nomination. In other words, if stopping Trump is your priority, helping rather than burying Rubio in Florida is the obvious strategy.
With this poll and his win in Puerto Rico (which admittedly does little to bolster his national standing but might help in Florida), Rubio now has a little more wind in his sails. Had he continued to trail Trump by more than 20 percent, it might have made sense for him to give up. Now there is no reason at all for him to do so.
Assumptions about this race have changed every week since it began and these next ten days are no exception. The truth is none of the non-Trumps have a clear path to the nomination. After all, Trump wants a one-on-one race with him precisely because he believes he can slaughter the Texas senator in the northern and Midwestern states that have yet to hold their primaries. A revived Rubio coming off a Florida win might stand a better chance of being the best alternative to Trump in places like New York and Pennsylvania than Cruz. The same might also be said of Kasich.
But for now Cruz’s understandable eagerness to be the last non-Trump standing should be put on hold. If Trump is to be stopped, it still means beating him in Florida and it is crystal clear now that if anyone is to do it, it will be Rubio. If Rubio fails, that will finish him and then there will be no reason for him or anyone else to stand between Cruz and a final battle with Trump. But that is a discussion for March 16. Until then, those hoping to save the GOP from Trump’s vulgar contempt for conservative principles — something that Cruz and his supporters rightly understand is imperative to preserve conservatism and to have any chance of beating Hillary Clinton in November — need to cease calling for Rubio’s withdrawal and let him take his shot in Florida.
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New Poll Skewers Cruz-Rubio Tangle
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A conflict of interest.
Should Al Jazeera–the broadcast organ of Qatar’s pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime–be required to register as a foreign agent in the United States? Alexandra Ellerbeck and Avi Asher-Schapiro of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists think the answer is no, and they have a long essay in the Columbia Journalism Review laying out their case.
Requiring Al Jazeera to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, they argue, would have a chilling effect on its journalism and empower a “notoriously opaque unit within the Department of Justice to draw an impossible line between propaganda and journalism.” They also contend that using FARA to pressure outlets like Al Jazeera would encourage repressive governments abroad to take similar action against critical media and civil-society organizations.
The problem: Ellerbeck and Asher-Schapiro failed to disclose their own conflict of interest when it comes to Al Jazeera.
To wit, Al Jazeera program host Mhamed Krichen is a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ellerbeck’s and Asher-Schapiro’s employer. The authors quote numerous Al Jazeera officials and highlight the broadcaster’s reporting “accolades.” But they eschew or only lightly touch on Al Jazeera’s less savory aspects, not least the fact that its Arabic network has long served as a platform for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood preacher.
In a 2009 speech broadcast on the network, Qaradawi praised Hitler and the Holocaust: “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them–even though they exaggerated this issue–he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”
The failure to disclose is especially to embarrassing for the Columbia Journalism Review, which trades on its association with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Pulitzer prizes. Perched on Morningside Heights, CJR regularly subjects other outlets to journalistic scrutiny, doling out “hits and misses” and “darts and laurels.” To his credit, CJR editor Kyle Pope was quick to issue a statement and amend the story when I reached out to him.
“This piece was written by two CPJ staffers, not by CJR folks, and was labeled as an analysis and not a news story,” he said in an email. “That said, you raise a fair point. While their board member is a program host, and not an executive, at Al Jazeera (and while a lot of media outlets CPJ writes about have some connection to the organization), we added a note of disclosure to the text.”
Readers can judge for themselves if the conflict of interest influenced the substance of the essay.
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Gifts we cannot take back.
New York Times reporter Alex Burns seemed to approve of the “intellectual honesty” on display Monday night when Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, defended President Donald Trump’s diplomatic engagement with North Korea as hard-nosed realism. “We’ve had diplomatic relations with plenty of brutal dictators when it has seemed to suit our interests,” Burns recalled Clapper saying. Advocates of this approach to foreign affairs want to believe their Olympian posture amounts to the absence of undue judgment, but it’s more like the absence of critical thought. On that score, both Donald Trump and Barack Obama share many similarities. Kim Jong-un is not just one dictator among many, and the Democratic Republic of Korea is not just another country.
North Korea is a prison in which up to 200,000 people are consigned to gulags. Sometimes the prison population consists of whole families, some of which have no hope of leaving the camps alive, as the country has a policy of punishing three generations for the so-called crimes of one individual. The number of people in hard-labor camps is only an estimate—there have been no human-rights observers in the country since 1995—but enough defectors scramble across the Yalu River to give us an accurate idea of what happens inside North Korea. Those defectors, if they survive the escape, are terribly malnourished and plagued by chronic infections and parasites. North Korea’s people are hostages, subject to extortion, indoctrination, and grotesque torture in a violent and corrupt environment without equal on the face of the earth.
North Korea manufactures and exports opiate narcotics and weapons on an industrial scale to destabilize the world around it. It is willing to offer its support for any rogue state or non-state actor that requests it, including state sponsors of terrorism and genocidal despots such as the theocrats in Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. It executes terrorist attacks using complex nerve agents on foreign soil and in crowded public places. It has violated almost every treaty to which it was a signatory, including those related to nuclear non-proliferation when it began covertly developing a functional nuclear deterrent.
For all these criminal acts, this mafia enterprise disguised as a state should be squeezed and isolated until the thugs in epaulets who have enslaved millions meet the kind of justice that can only be meted out by a righteous and abused people. Instead, Donald Trump has chosen to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps—indeed, to expand upon his ignominious legacy—and usher North Korea by the hand into the international spotlight.
What happened on Monday in Singapore was a disgrace. What was billed as a summit designed to secure a negotiated end to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula—a crisis that the North Korean regime alone inaugurated and aggravates—became Kim Jong-un’s coming-out party.
Kim arrived in Singapore to great fanfare; paparazzi snapped his picture and onlookers called his name like he was a boyband heartthrob. The man who murdered his half-brother, uncle, and ex-girlfriend, among scores more, took selfies with democratic figures and toured the town before the main event: a meeting with the leader of the free world.
Donald Trump, the legitimately elected president of the world’s most powerful free republic, beamed as he pressed the flesh with the warden of the world’s largest prison—a country with an annual GDP comparable to that of Eugene, Oregon. They dined together on short rib confit and soy-braised codfish—a Korean favorite, in deference to Kim. Trump said it was “my honor” to greet Kim, who is a “very talented man.” “We have a terrific relationship,” he added. They took photographs before a backdrop of American and North Korean flags. It was a scene suggestive of a relationship between equals, which is something Americans with a cursory understanding of history and a functioning moral compass have previously denied the Kim dynasty.
At no point in the last three months has the president or his administration appeared to understand that the summit itself was a considerable concession to the Kim regime. The North Korean government sought the summit, as it has for the last quarter century, and the administration finally accepted the overture as a chance to achieve “denuclearization.” But once this grandiose affair got underway, “denuclearization” seemed an afterthought.
Trump talked up the concessions he got from the 30-something dynast king; the repatriation of the remains of U.S. soldiers and the dismantling of a missile-engine testing site, on top of the return of the Americans that Pyongyang abducted and held captive for years (thanks ever so much). But Trump gave, too, above and beyond the spectacle he had arranged for the pipsqueak he elevated to peer.
Trump pledged to halt U.S. military exercises with America’s true friend, the Republic of Korea, but he didn’t call them “exercises.” He called them “war games,” which, he added, were expensive and “very provocative,” borrowing and legitimizing propagandistic language used by the North Koreans to describe the sovereign affairs of two free nations. A joint declaration from Kim and Trump pledged to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but reaffirmed only the vague and aspirational objectives to which South and North Korea agreed in April. Former CIA Deputy Division Chief for Korea, Bruce Klingner, said the “denuclearization” language was weaker than that to which North Korea had agreed during the Bush administration, and we know how that ended.
The statement pledged to pursue “follow-on negotiations.” There, perhaps, the U.S. might offer North Korea more concessions; everything from economic assistance to diplomatic recognition and a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang to a drawdown of U.S. troops on the peninsula is on the table. Anything to get North Korea to give up its hard-won nuclear deterrent. But that will not happen. Why would it? The lavish concessions associated with this summit have made lower-level agreements on the dismantling of nuclear weapons harder to envision. Look at all that a few functional fission devices have conferred upon the Kim regime. Why would they give them up? Why wouldn’t any other rogue state follow in the Kim Dynasty’s footsteps?
This whole affair ratified Barack Obama’s efforts to bury the U.S. concern for human rights under a mountain of moral equivalencies. It sacrificed America’s pursuit of concrete security guarantees from rogue actors to the cowardice that masquerades as realism. North Korea isn’t just another dictatorship; it is not Turkmenistan or Eritrea. It is a unique horror. The victory North Korea won at the negotiating table is the product of a narcissism that Obama and Trump share. It is a narcissism that views the status quo, which was forged and maintained by political, diplomatic, and military professionals over the course of 70 years, as a failure rather than a success. After all, if this were only about the utilitarian work of neutralizing a threat, the president would avoid the appearance of triumphalism. He and his allies have done just the opposite.
If anything positive emerged from this escapade, it is the extent to which the North Korean regime allowed its people to get an eyeful of what life is like in a developed Asian country. If that and a recklessly conciliatory U.S. posture eventually weakens Kim’s hold over his people and leads his criminal regime to the slaughter, only then will this affair have been worth it. America’s goal cannot just be “denuclearization,” because the North Korean threat is not limited to its nuclear arsenal. America’s ultimate objective should be the total dissolution of the worst country on earth. Sadly, it seems for now as if this pomp and pageantry only made Kim Jong-un and his gangsters stronger.
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How Trump undoes Trump's agenda.
The Bad Donald Trump—the one who ran a campaign fueled by insult and conspiracy theories and misplaced animosity against American alliances—never went away. He was always there. The man is who he is. But various forces had conspired of late to keep him at bay: a good-to-great economy, improving poll numbers, and, presumably, the thankless efforts of his senior staff. Then the Bad Donald came roaring back over the G-7 weekend.
It was not a pretty sight. Trump’s antics don’t portend the death of the West, as the president’s more fervid liberal critics claim. Whatever the West’s state of health, its best measure is not the optics at a multilateral gabfest like the G-7 meeting. But the G-7 gathering in Montreal was a useful reminder of the limits to a commander-in-chief who seems to imagine that his main job is to troll foreign leaders and the liberal media.
Debacles like the one at Montreal discredit the administration’s causes, for starters. Trump always had a point, for example, when he argued that NATO’s burdens are lopsidedly distributed. Likewise, the trans-nationalist certainties that shape how Europe (and America’s liberal elite) approach war and peace shouldn’t be treated as holy writ, as they had been under Barack Obama. Trump’s irreverence for them has yielded some positive outcomes, among them the end of the Iran nuclear deal and the embassy relocation in Israel.
But his exhausting outbursts waste the administration’s energies and unnecessarily antagonize foreign publics. Liberals at home and abroad can frame all of the administration’s moves—including sound ones, such as their decisions on the Iran nuclear deal, the Israeli embassy, and the pullout from the Paris climate agreement—as of a piece with Trumpian trolling. Even the good policies begin to resemble the irritable gestures of an irritable man.
Moreover, Trump’s attacks on allies and his corresponding rhetorical winks at Russia, his insistence that Moscow should be readmitted to the group of large industrial economics, resurrect the specter of a president somehow beholden to the Kremlin. Trump could rightly claim that, when it comes to policy, his administration has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor’s. At Montreal, however, he seemed determined to roll back that message.
Conservatives spent eight years lacerating President Obama for his mistreatment of American allies, and rightly so. From his 2009 decision to scrap a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe to his ignominious Iran diplomacy; the 44th president was ever solicitous of adversaries and contemptuous of allies. So the right should be equally swift to denounce the Trump administration’s bullying of our neighbors to the north and friends across the Atlantic. He probably won’t listen.
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Those in Barack Obama’s orbit were fond of commandeering the title of his second book, Audacity of Hope, and applying it to just about everything the president or his administration did. Obama delivers a speech extolling the benefits of modernity? “Audacity.” Obama wears a tan suit to a press conference? “Audacity.” Obama defies his party’s extremes while achieving some incremental legislative successes? “Audacity.” The former president’s admirers have appropriated the word’s positive connotations—daring, fearless, spunky, transgressive self-assuredness—but the word has an alternate definition that is equally apt but rarely applied to Obama or his courtiers. That’s a shame, too, because the impertinence the former administration’s leading lights often display sure is audacious.
Members of Obama’s former foreign-policy brain trust has taken the occasion of the G-7 summit’s meltdown not only to excoriate Donald Trump for his antagonism of some of America’s closest allies—which he richly deserves—but to polish their own records. “Your wrong-headed protectionist policies [and] antics are damaging our global standing as well as our national interests,” Obama’s former CIA chief John Brennan wrote of Trump. “Your worldview does not represent American ideals.” Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice penned a New York Times op-ed excoriating Trump’s habit of antagonizing American allies, courting its adversaries, and promoting political movements forged in Trump’s own image. “All good for Mr. Putin and no one else,” Rice declared. “Putin [is] getting a high return on his investment as Trump shreds the Atlantic alliance and reaches out to Russia,” the dyspeptic Ben Rhodes marveled at Trump’s inexplicable support for Russia’s re-admittance to the group of industrialized nations from which it was exiled after the 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory. These former Obama officials all but allege that sedition is afoot, and they would know. If anyone would be able to recognize seditious foreign policies, it’s this crowd.
Take “wrong-headed protectionist policies,” to start. Obama entered office determined to reward the United Steelworkers Union and punish China for producing and exporting enough cheap tires to depress domestic tire producers. So, in 2009, he imposed a 35 percent duty on Chinese tires, which an admittedly charitable Peterson Institute study in 2012 determined had saved maybe 1,200 jobs, but which caused the price of tires to soar and cost of some 3,700 retail jobs. As late as 2016, the Obama administration was imposing tariffs on foreign goods such as solar panels and steel. The sanctions on Chinese steel followed a complaint by domestic producers that China had failed to agree to a resolution among global steel producers to cut back on production and artificially raise the price of its product. Solar panel duties followed the glut of cheap, imported photovoltaic cells that actually reduced the costs associated with installation. That would seem ideal if the Obama administration’s true objective was increased consumer access to solar power and not lavishing domestic solar-panel manufacturers with federal grants and incentives.
Rice, who complained about the Trump administration’s exporting its nationalist populist ideology to Europe and undermining bulwarks in the region for parochial and political ends, would know of what she speaks. In 2015, the U.S. State Department provided a non-governmental organization with ties to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign $350,000 in federal grants “to support peace negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.” But a congressional investigation concluded that the NGO went on to use “U.S. grant funds to support a political campaign to defeat” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Considering that Secretary of State John Kerry was compelled to apologize to Netanyahu after an anonymous U.S. official called him a “chickens***,” it’s unlikely that this NGO had gone rogue.
And what of Rice and Rhodes’s complaint that the United States is undermining its long-standing alliances in order to orient America’s diplomatic posture toward its adversaries like Russia.
Perhaps they have forgotten how one of Barack Obama’s first acts in the initial 100 days of his administration was to send a secret letter to Moscow suggesting that they might scuttle a Bush-era plan to deploy radar and interceptor-missile technology to U.S. allies like Poland and the Czech Republic. Also, by the by, the Kremlin’s support for a nuclear accord with Iran would be welcomed in the White House. Wink, wink. Maybe they overlooked the “reset” in relations with Russia, in which a beaming Hillary Clinton posed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov just five months to the day after Russian tanks were closing in on the Georgian capital of Tbilisi?
If Rice, Rhodes, and company are advising Trump to take an inventory of who America’s true friends and adversaries really are, the message might find a more receptive audience if packaged with a little introspection. Maybe they missed a former Obama official’s confession that the last administration believed “Iran required appeasement in Syria,” thus paving the way for the worst humanitarian and geopolitical catastrophe of this century? Maybe they don’t recall how Barack Obama sat on Bush-era free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama for years. Maybe they’ve overlooked Obama’s regular exchanges of pleasantries with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, his all-smiles day at the baseball field with Cuban despot Raul Castro, or his decision to look upon Iran’s youthful green revolutionaries with caution or even suspicion?
The Trump administration deserves all the condemnation in the world for its reckless conduct of American foreign affairs and trade relations, but sound policy isn’t Team Obama’s goal, or they would have pursued it in office. It’s hard to avoid the impression that these former Obama officials are less interested in advising Trump to avoid their mistakes than they are in buffing their own tarnished legacies. If only we had a word to describe that kind of gall.
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Podcast: Trump, trade, and temerity.
Donald Trump heads to Singapore for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fresh off a pretty contentious summit with the G-7 nations in which conflicts over trade policy blew up into a full-scale war of insults between the American and Canadian governments. What does this mean for the Atlantic alliance and the North Korean summit? Also, the attacks on Trump at the Tony Awards over the weekend leads to a discussion of the value of civility.
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