Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential campaign

Obama’s ‘Best Week Ever’ and the Coming Backlash

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction. Read More

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction.

In a typically insightful column, National Review’s Kevin Williamson recently observed that we might have entered a period of “peak liberalism” characterized by frantic, almost manic, pursuits of trivial cultural victories followed by excessive celebratory displays that serve primarily as tribal self-affirmations. Williamson suggests that this conspicuous behavior might be a subtle acknowledgment of the fact that cultural progressivism has reached its zenith and will soon being to recede. “If there is desperation, it probably is because the Left is starting to suspect that the permanent Democratic majority it keeps promising itself may yet fail to materialize,” he wrote. Williamson has identified a condition of which partisans on either side of the aisle would be shocked to learn. For those on the left, progressivism’s march is relentless; it’s speed, constant; it’s course, unalterable. For conservatives, the Obama era has been an endless stream of disappointments punctuated by only occasional and minor reprieve. If there were a pendulum swing in the works, both Democratic and Republican partisans would probably contend that it is sub-rosa to the point of imperceptibility.

But conservatives have reason to indulge in a little optimism. Since the end of World War II, American political culture has a remarkably constant tendency to counter the excesses of those in power. At the presidential level, this propensity is exaggerated and most easily observed (there’s a reason why only once has a party won three consecutive terms in the White House in the post-war period). To some extent, this is a natural function of the physics of political coalitions. As Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende put it, political coalitions are like water balloons: “When you press down on one side, another side pops up,” he noted. A winning national coalition must necessarily be so broad and diverse that it will eventually mature into something unwieldy without substantial maintenance. As the Democratic coalition of voters forged in the New Deal era dissolved amid neglect, Republicans began to pick off key elements of this coalition (working class whites, in particular). Democrats hope to replace their winning alliance of voters with a new emerging group of ascendant voters – the backbone of which is made up of students, women, and minorities. Hillary Clinton’s frantic efforts to ingratiate herself to Barack Obama’s voters are indicative of how uncertain Democrats are that Obama’s coalition of voters is now a permanent Democratic voting bloc.

Making it permanent is an urgent Democratic project, in part, because history suggests that the wind will not be at Democratic backs in 2016. No matter how “ascendant” your coalition may be, securing that elusive third term in the White House, much less maintaining coattails for your party’s down-ballot candidates, is always a struggle. This condition will probably be made worse for Democrats insofar as the electorate has been registering various levels of dissatisfaction with the state of affairs now for three consecutive elections, only to see progressive causes continually advanced.

Following two consecutive Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008, the electorate soured on Democratic governance and delivered the House of Representatives (as well as a slew of statehouses and legislative chambers) to the GOP in 2010. It was a victory that indicated the Republican revolution of 1994 and their ensuing 12 years of governance in Congress after generations of Democratic supremacy was no fluke. And what did voters gain from this no confidence vote? The Affordable Care Act signed into law, the Budget Control Act (sequester) indiscriminate cuts to defense spending, and a series of executive orders that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, the gutting of the 1996 welfare reform laws, and the watering down of American immigration law. Whether or not one views these as positive accomplishments, they are indisputably associated with liberal policy priorities.

The 2012 election can most charitably be described as a status quo election; Americans were dissatisfied with the state of affairs, both foreign and domestic, but were not sufficiently horrified by them to transfer any branch or chamber of government to the opposition party. The president and his party, however, chose to interpret his reelection as a mandate to redouble his efforts to set the nation down a liberal course. The Democratic Party rammed through tax increases on top marginal rates as well as payroll, which is not to mention the tax hikes associated with the implementation of the ACA. Democrats engaged in a failed gun control push that the president has pledged to pursue indefinitely regardless of how often it is rejected. Obama again rewrote immigration law via executive authority, pursued liberal priorities like carbon taxation and net neutrality through America’s regulatory agencies, and applauded as his party curtailed the minority party’s rights in Congress so as to see all of his nominees confirmed.

In 2014, the voters revolted again. A wave election arguably larger than 2010 swept a generation of liberal lawmakers out of office at the local level and delivered the U.S. Senate to the GOP. Again, the voters were ignored. The president’s party has obstructed the construction of the Keystone pipeline to death, preserved Obama’s determination not to enforce existing immigration law, and celebrated as the Supreme Court dubiously affirmed the ACA once more and dubbed same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Again, whether or not one agrees with these policy prescriptions is immaterial; they undeniably advance liberal objectives.

If history is any guide, change is coming. Dispirited conservatives will balk at the notion that Republicans can serve as change agents, but the out-party is the most frequent beneficiary of this voter sentiment. For progressives, the irrefutable moral justification of their cause renders any setback to its agenda a deviation from the norm, but this is self-flattery. American political history and the inherent dynamics of republican politics suggests that voters will soon correct for the excesses of the progressive left that it once empowered. When it happens, it will probably come as a shock to all those progressives who are forever citing the long march of history to justify their peculiar policy preferences.

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Hillary Clinton’s Evaporating Support

When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to the scene of the bitterly contested 2008 Democratic presidential primary’s most divisive battleground, South Carolina, she found that tensions had not entirely abated over the years. State Representative Boyd Brown, an outspoken supporter of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, described Clinton’s support in his state as “a mile wide but it’s only an inch deep.” It was a prescient observation, albeit not Brown’s alone. Clinton has campaigned aggressively for a nomination that should, by rights, already be hers. She has contorted herself wildly, recanted her past policy preferences, and all but condemned her husband as a sellout to the cause; all in pursuit of the elusive support of the liberals who robbed her of the nomination once already. And, yet, that seemingly unnecessary posturing has not solidified her support among Democrats. In fact, it appears to be ebbing. Read More

When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to the scene of the bitterly contested 2008 Democratic presidential primary’s most divisive battleground, South Carolina, she found that tensions had not entirely abated over the years. State Representative Boyd Brown, an outspoken supporter of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, described Clinton’s support in his state as “a mile wide but it’s only an inch deep.” It was a prescient observation, albeit not Brown’s alone. Clinton has campaigned aggressively for a nomination that should, by rights, already be hers. She has contorted herself wildly, recanted her past policy preferences, and all but condemned her husband as a sellout to the cause; all in pursuit of the elusive support of the liberals who robbed her of the nomination once already. And, yet, that seemingly unnecessary posturing has not solidified her support among Democrats. In fact, it appears to be ebbing.

The Democratic Party’s leftward drift over the course of the last 15 years has been observable both in anecdotal and quantitative terms. Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in September of last year, a roundtable of Iowa Democrats uniformly expressed reservations about Clinton’s perceived closeness to Wall Street and her hawkish approach to matters related to foreign affairs. “I’m looking for someone that’s a little more liberal,” one politically active student told Mitchell.

That student is in good company. “In 2015, the proportion of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who said they were both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal reached 47 percent,” wrote Real Clear Politics analyst Matthew Disler this month. “Thirty-nine percent of participants in this group answered similarly in 2008, and only 30 percent did so in 2001.”

Many speculated that Clinton’s massive lead over her prospective challengers has been amassed by default. Not only was it “her turn,” as former Obama campaign advisor Jim Messina once said, but she was also easily the most electable candidate in an otherwise lackluster Democratic field. Some suspected that, as a result, Clinton’s support among liberals was ephemeral or even illusory. They might have been right.

Despite Clinton’s theatrical attempts to placate her party’s restive left flank, her support in the key early primary states appears to be fleeting.

A shocking CNN/WMUR survey of New Hampshire’s Democratic primary voters released this week revealed that the most attractive alternative to Clinton for liberals, the self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is surging. In the state that Clinton’s team views as her backyard, the place where she managed to stage a comeback win after Barack Obama and John Edwards stole both first and second place finishes in Iowa in 2008, Clinton secured just 43 percent support compared with Sanders’ 35 percent. Against her primary competitor, a politician with far less political acumen or general appeal than Obama circa 2008, Clinton’s 52-point lead in February has been cut down to just 8 points. Only 13 percent of Granite State Democrats said they had planned to support Sanders as recently as May.

“Believe it or not,” ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis observed, “Hillary’s lead over Sanders in WMUR/CNN poll in NH is narrower (43-35) than her lead was over Obama in June ’07 (36-22).” Among Democrats, only 54 percent of respondents said they had permanently determined which candidate they planned to vote for – down from 76 percent in February. 11 percent of Democrats in New Hampshire said they would not vote for Clinton under any circumstances while just 6 percent said the same of Sanders. “Clinton’s net electability score is +31%, followed closely by Sanders at +29%,” WMUR’s write-up read. “No other Democratic candidate has net favorability ratings above +2%.”

This phenomenon is not merely isolated in New Hampshire. In every survey taken of likely Democratic caucus-goers or registered Democrats in Iowa since February, Clinton’s net lead over her nearest competitors had never fallen below 41 points – until this week. For the first time, a Bloomberg survey conducted by the respected Selzer & Co of Des Moines found Clinton with only a bare majority of support – 50 percent – compared to Sanders’ 24 percent. On issues like “will take on Wall Street” and “is authentic,” Hawkeye State Democrats backed Sanders over Clinton by double-digit margins. The two candidates were statistically tied when voters were asked which candidate “will fight for the average person” and “cares about people like me.” Only on matters related to general electability did Clinton maintain her formerly prohibitive advantage over Sanders.

Few believe that Clinton could lose her party’s nomination, let alone to a marginal figure like Sanders. But what once looked like a coronation has become a fight. It’s clear that Democrats are simply not that enthusiastic about Clinton’s candidacy. If this trend continues, the Democratic Party will have to confront the fact that the primary process is going to yield a battered candidate who had to lurch much farther to the left in order to secure the nomination they would probably have preferred.

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Don’t Fear Donald Trump on the Debate Stage

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race. Read More

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race.

Given that early polling is basically an exercise in gauging name recognition, it should come as no surprise that Trump’s level of voter support has spiked to the low double-digits both in national and early primary state polling. And while he might have the lowest ceiling of support of any of the prospective nominees, securing the backing 11 percent of the GOP electorate puts Trump on par with top-tier candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. What’s more, Trump’s polling stature almost certainly gives him access to the debate stage in August and possibly after that.

The prospect of Trump appearing on stage alongside the party’s groomed and capable 2016 candidates has horrified many observers. “The National Review called Trump a ‘ridiculous buffoon’ and ‘an ass of exceptionally intense asininity,’” Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur observed. “The conservative group Club For Growth said he “should not be taken seriously” and urged that he be excluded from the debates.”

Some have toyed with the idea of amending the debate rules to ensure that Trump and Trump alone is excluded from the process. Some of those, “like prohibiting candidates who gave money to Clinton’s past campaigns,” as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote, create criteria for participation in the debates that nakedly targets Trump individually. But the stakes are so high that such duplicitous rule bending seems justified.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called the notion of giving Trump a platform like a sanctioned GOP presidential debate a “nightmare” for the party. “He will interrupt, bully and seek to dominate the debate in ways that will make it impossible to get a word in edge-wise,” Cillizza wrote. “And, if past is prologue, the sorts of things he does say when he gains control of the debate floor will be stuff that appeals heavily to the Republican base and turns off, well, almost everyone else.”

And all that is true but is that really a “nightmare” for the GOP? While seeing Donald Trump share equal stature with Republican governors and senators will be a lamentable sight, there could be an upside that few seem to have entertained.

First, Cillizza is absolutely correct: If Donald Trump’s Twitter presence is any guide, Trump will bark and bleat, submit childish barbs and withering personal slights aimed at his GOP competitors, and lurch impractically to the right on every issue. After all, the man is deeply unprincipled, and he need not fear any consequence for embracing unworkable policy positions only to abandon them later with a shrug; it’s his style. And it seems the majority of Republicans are aware of that. The same national Fox News poll of Republican primary voters that found 11 percent backing Trump (putting near the top of the field of candidates, just below Jeb Bush) also revealed that 64 percent do not trust The Apprentice star.

In 2012, the commentary class on the left and right observed that the GOP’s presidential primary process had put their party’s nominee at a disadvantage. “It’s the primaries that push their presidential nominees far to the right,” former Politico reporter Jonathan Martin wrote in 2013, putting his finger on the conventional wisdom. It’s a myth but nevertheless a persistent one that holds Mitt Romney, a moderate Massachusetts man at heart, was dragged to the right by a grueling primary process that ultimately rendered him unelectable in the general election. If there is a kernel of truth to that notion, Donald Trump will only benefit Republicans by serving as a caricature of a populist conservative who merits no response, much less self-contortion on the part of his rivals.

Let’s examine a few of The Donald’s most recent jabs:

“Governor Rick Scott of Florida did really poorly on television this morning,” Trump said of the Florida governor who was asked for his opinion on the real estate mogul’s presence in the race and refused to comment. “I hope he is O.K.”

“I hear that dopey political pundit, Lawrence O’Donnell, one of the dumber people on television, is about to lose his show,” Trump averred of the longtime MSNBC host. “[N]o ratings? Too bad.”

“The ratings for The View are really low,” he added. “Nicole Wallace and Molly Sims are a disaster. Get new cast or just put it to sleep. Dead T.V.”

And this is just in the last 24 hours.

Anything short of effusive ego-boosting praise for this man yields a tirade of puerile taunts. How do you respond to this? Why would you respond to this? If this is the personality that Trump brings to the debate stage, it would be near impossible for any of his GOP competitors to muster a cogent response if only because they are so removed from their days in primary school.

And as for Trump’s policy positions, insofar as he has any, they are equally vapid. On illegal immigration: “I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” On trade relations with China: “The way you’re tough is they sell all of their products in this country, and if they don’t behave and act fairly we start taxing all their products coming into this country.” On Russian aggression: “They are all talk, no action.”

This isn’t policy; it’s deluded bluster. There is nothing here that merits a response. Trump may attract a few of the GOP’s populist voters with this kind of empty rhetoric, but his ceiling of support is low enough so that his fellow Republicans do not have to worry about losing much of their support to him. There is no getting to the right of Trump – he will always outbid you. The GOP field can safely allow Trump to stake out unprincipled, unrealistic policy positions in order to elicit applause lines and make a cogent case for their sober policy preferences to the remaining majority of persuadable and reasonable GOP primary voters.

“Trump presents a great opportunity for those who will seize it: The chance to become a better, tougher, calmer, readier candidate earlier in the cycle,” the GOP consultant Liz Mair posited. Maybe. Those who do confront him will do so in good humor; there is, after all, only one way to disarm a hothead, and a skilled debater knows it well. But most will be better served by ignoring him and allowing him to implode without assistance. And when he does, he will take the GOP’s self-defeating populist strain down with him.

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The 2016 October Surprise Already in the Works

The term “October Surprise” has its origins in a ploy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to announce just days before the 1972 election that peace was at hand in Vietnam, thus fulfilling Richard Nixon’s pledge from years prior to end the war and deflating the campaign of Democrat George McGovern.

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The term “October Surprise” has its origins in a ploy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to announce just days before the 1972 election that peace was at hand in Vietnam, thus fulfilling Richard Nixon’s pledge from years prior to end the war and deflating the campaign of Democrat George McGovern.

The true popularity of the term, however, dates to a conspiracy theory espoused by Gary Sick, a Carter administration National Security Council aide. Sick suggested, without really any evidence at all as a congressional investigation subsequently determined, that the Ronald Reagan campaign conspired with Tehran to undercut the release of U.S. hostages and so undermine Carter’s chance to resolve the Iran hostage crisis in the days before the 1980 election. The theory was nonsense. Sick repeatedly contradicted himself and falsified what little evidence he did have. When challenged by journalists and congressional investigators on other key points, Sick was unable to substantiate his charges, although he presumably made a lot of money in the interim though book sales.

It has now become a regular feature of elections to have enterprising journalists or politicos with whom they sometimes collaborate to drop a bombshell story shortly before elections with the goal of swaying it. By the time the truth behind the sometimes sensational charges becomes clear, those who planted the stories hope that it will be too late for the target of their opprobrium.

Just days before the 2000 presidential election, for example, a prominent Democratic politician in Maine revealed that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in that state nearly a quarter century before. That didn’t sway the election, but it might have if a few thousand more voters had latched on.

And, in October 2004, eight days before the U.S. presidential election, the New York Times reported that looters had made off with 380 tons of explosives after U.S. forces had failed to secure Iraq’s Al-Qa’qaa military facility. The implication, of course, was that Bush administration incompetence was contributing to the deaths of Americans at the hands of a growing insurgency. After the election, it turned out that much of the reporting about Qa’qaa was inaccurate.

And, just four days before the 2008 election, news broke that Senator Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyang was an illegal immigrant living in Boston.

So what will the 2016 October Surprise be? Keep a look out for the “Iraq Inquiry” or so-called Chilcot Report. Against the backdrop of the Iraq War’s (and George W. Bush’s) deep unpopularity, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed John Chilcot, a former British civil servant with significant experience in Great Britain’s intelligence service, to head an inquiry into the origins of the 2003 Iraq War. Chilcot and his staff interviewed dozens of British officials, as well as a handful of American officials. As often occurs in such cases, limiting the witnesses to a relatively narrow subset of officials enables the Commission to direct its conclusions in the direction which the politicians or officials involved in the inquiry wish.

Most British officials expect that, when the Iraq Inquiry is released, it will add sustenance to the conspiracies surrounding the Iraq War. Indeed, in Great Britain, some of these conspiracy theories are already being treated as fact in mainstream newspapers. Some of those interviewed in the United Kingdom either have political axes to grind, bucks to pass, or were philosophically opposed the Iraq war. Former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, for example, has called the Iraq war illegal and has said that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet was misled into thinking it was legal. (Short also accepted money from Hezbollah’s television station, according to British press reports; perhaps that suggests ideological slipperiness rather than a search for truth).

The Americans interviewed are a more limited lot. They skew to the State Department and studiously avoid most Defense Department civilians at any level, from the Secretary of Defense on down. But, as everyone knows from the Iraq Study Group or the UN’s various investigations into Gaza, such reports are often written to fulfill political goals. They uphold the maxim, garbage-in, garbage-out, although a few more ego-driven witnesses will trade the bragging rights of having been called for the drawback of allowing their names as witnesses to lend superficial credibility to the report.

While the last interviews occurred in 2011, Chilcot has repeatedly delayed the release of the report to the growing frustration of many among Britain’s political leadership. On June 17, 2015, he announced yet another delay. Indeed, it now looks like Chilcot might not release his report until sometime next year. Now, here’s the catch. A quick glance of the American interviewees shows that some are among the advisors to leading Republican presidential candidates.

It will be very hard for a candidate like Jeb Bush, for example, who has already stumbled over the Iraq war question, to dismiss a report unfairly castigating his brother if that report’s conclusions bashing the White House and the George W. Bush administration are based upon the testimony of a key member of his brain trust. But, whomever the candidate is, let us hope they use the next year to prepare for the poison that may emanate from London shortly before Americans head to the polls.

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A Welcome Tipping Point for Republicans and the Confederate Flag

As everyone knows by now, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina lasted week, allegedly perpetrated by a racist, Dylann Roof, there have been renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds.

Among Republicans, those calls have come from prominent lawmakers from South Carolina, most especially  Governor Nikki Haley, who is playing a significant role in transforming this debate. Among those running (or are likely soon to run) for president, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry signaled early on they wanted the flag taken down. Scott Walker, after days of hesitation, then followed. So, now, has Rand Paul. (Here’s a good score card of who stands where.) Read More

As everyone knows by now, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina lasted week, allegedly perpetrated by a racist, Dylann Roof, there have been renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds.

Among Republicans, those calls have come from prominent lawmakers from South Carolina, most especially  Governor Nikki Haley, who is playing a significant role in transforming this debate. Among those running (or are likely soon to run) for president, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry signaled early on they wanted the flag taken down. Scott Walker, after days of hesitation, then followed. So, now, has Rand Paul. (Here’s a good score card of who stands where.)

Yet several others – including Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio – have said it’s a decision best left to South Carolinians. They have so far remained basically neutral when it comes to rendering a judgment on the Confederate flag.

They shouldn’t. In politics there are a lot of hard calls; this isn’t one of them.

As the old arguments in favor of allowing the Confederate flag to fly on state grounds crumble before our eyes — they already seem bizarrely antiquated — it’s worth recapitulating the reasons the debate has changed in such a decisive way. The first one has to do with the history of the Confederate flag. For all the talk from defenders of the flag who insist otherwise, it was a symbol of slavery, white supremacy, and the dissolution of the Union. The flag was fundamentally about hate, not heritage; about subjugation, not Southern ancestry. There is a reason white supremacist groups embrace the Confederate flag as their symbol, and it doesn’t have to do with its aesthetic appeal.

The second reason has to do with the history of the Republican Party. It was founded in the 1850s by anti-slavery activists and in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Its slogan in 1856 was “free labor, free land, free men.” The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was America’s “great emancipator” who freed the slaves. So the Confederate flag was never a symbol associated with the Republican Party – including in South Carolina, where the flag was first flown over the statehouse in 1962, at the request of Democrats in the state like Governor Fritz Hollings and Representative John A. May. Yet the Republican Party has somehow found a way to get itself attached to this toxic symbol of division and repression.

The third reason it’s an obvious decision to call for the Confederate flag to come down is political. Among those who have a reaction to the flag, more than three times as many  say they have a negative reaction as a positive reaction.

Beyond that, the United States is rapidly changing. It’s becoming increasingly non-white. One reason Republicans are consistently losing presidential elections is that they are doing dismally among minorities. For example, in 2012 the Republican nominee won just 17 percent of nonwhite voters. (The white share of the eligible voting population has been dropping by about two points every four years, and next year minorities may make up a record 30 percent of the vote.) Republicans are unlikely to endear themselves with this rising demographic if they refuse to take a stand against flying the Confederate flag.

There is, finally, the issue of civic comity. The Confederate flag not only represents the ugliest part of our history; it is a symbol that makes many Americans feel like outsiders in their own land, alienated from their fellow citizens. Not giving that kind of offense is a basic commitment of democratic life.

But there are still holdouts. In his appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who in 2008 finished second to John McCain in the Republican primaries delegate count, claimed the Confederate flag is not an issue for someone running for president. Governor Huckabee told host Chuck Todd, “if you can point me to an article and section of the Constitution in which a United States president ought to weigh in on what states use as symbols, then please refresh my memory on that.” Set aside the fact that people running for president weigh in on matters beyond the scope of the Constitution all the time. (A few weeks ago Huckabee spoke out on the matter of Caitlyn Jenner’s sex-change operation, an issue on which the Founders were silent.) It seemed entirely lost on Governor Huckabee that the Confederate flag was the symbol of a rebellion against and violent assault on the very Constitution Mr. Huckabee invoked.

To their credit, in just a few days a rapidly growing number of Republicans – Governor Haley and the presidential candidates I mentioned, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others, with many more to follow – have urged the Confederate flag be taken down. We’re clearly at a much-welcomed tipping point. The tragic event in Charleston, and the extraordinary grace demonstrated by the families of the victims, seems to have allowed long-standing arguments to gain traction in ways they never had before. And for those Republicans who are still agnostic or ambivalent when speaking on this issue, they need not be. They should view this as an opportunity to finally put to rest an issue that has bedeviled their party; to stand four-square against a symbol of cruelty and, in so doing, remind voters that theirs is the proud Party of Lincoln.

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The GOP’s King v. Burwell Trap

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act are licking their chops at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King v. Burwell case against the government. By doing so, the Court would strip ObamaCare of the very rule that make so many ACA-related plans “affordable”: namely, the federal subsidies for those insured who purchased their plans in states that elected not to establish their own insurance exchange marketplaces. Thousands would instantly find the already dubiously named health care reform law prohibitively expensive, making an already unpopular law even more so. But Republicans are, for the most part, agreed that to allow those who were tricked into buying an unsustainable health insurance plan to go uncovered would be both morally wrong and politically disastrous. Until a more permanent solution is worked out, even conservative lawmakers agree the subsidies must be restored, albeit temporarily. But this is a fraught course, and Republicans would do well to take stock of the high stakes should they pursue it. Read More

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act are licking their chops at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King v. Burwell case against the government. By doing so, the Court would strip ObamaCare of the very rule that make so many ACA-related plans “affordable”: namely, the federal subsidies for those insured who purchased their plans in states that elected not to establish their own insurance exchange marketplaces. Thousands would instantly find the already dubiously named health care reform law prohibitively expensive, making an already unpopular law even more so. But Republicans are, for the most part, agreed that to allow those who were tricked into buying an unsustainable health insurance plan to go uncovered would be both morally wrong and politically disastrous. Until a more permanent solution is worked out, even conservative lawmakers agree the subsidies must be restored, albeit temporarily. But this is a fraught course, and Republicans would do well to take stock of the high stakes should they pursue it.

The following is, of course, premised on the notion that the Supreme Court elects to rule on the law as it is written rather than to rewrite it entirely. It is not as though there is no precedent for the latter. In 2012, the Roberts Court effectively ignored the administration and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli who argued that the penalty associated with not purchasing insurance was not a tax and ruled that it was, in fact, a tax. The Court could easily determine that the intent of the law was clear (though the justices must ignore one of its framers in order to reach this conclusion), restore the subsidies to states that operate only a federal exchange, and leave ObamaCare intact.

If the Court rules in the alternative, however, the GOP’s course is clear. They will communicate to the public that this law is hopelessly flawed, and it must be fully repealed. They will note that the only way that can be done is when this recalcitrant president, who views this law that has created so much hardship as a legacy item, is gone. As part of the party’s 2016 pitch, they will note that only a Republican-led Congress and a Republican president will fully repeal the ACA. Only then will congressional Republicans embark on a course of restoring subsidies to those states that lost them until early in 2017.

But grassroots conservatives will resent and stridently oppose a clean reinstitution of ObamaCare subsidies, so the GOP in Congress will seek a concession from the president. And it will have to be substantial. Anything other than a clean restoration of subsidies will be met with a veto threat from the president, so Republicans are advised to go for broke. The repeal of the individual or employer mandates — preferably both – would do the trick. Even the elimination of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) might be a palatable tradeoff for conservative voters. It would be an uphill battle to force Senate Democrats to sign on to this approach, but Republicans would do well to try and to try hard. If the GOP cannot send a bill to the president’s desk that seeks substantial changes to ObamaCare, the consequences for the party will be significant.

“Can’t see GOP voting to re-victimize millions of people by legalizing the mandates,” wrote American Commitment President Phil Kerpen. “I’d give up on the party.” He wouldn’t be alone. Republicans are in a politically advantageous position with regards to the ACA insofar as not a single Republican has so much as a fingerprint on it. It is a wholly-owned Democratic enterprise, and the members of the president’s party have coveted that condition figuring that, some day, they will eventually get credit for the law’s net positive effects. If Republicans fail to secure a presidential veto on the repeal of one of this law’s more odious mandates and kicks the whole can down the road into 2017 – mandates and all – conservatives and liberals will declare that Republicans have abandoned their traditional antipathy toward those mandates and legitimized them. And they will have a point.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse saw much of this coming. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in mid-March, and in subsequent legislation, he proposed an 18-month Cobra extension for workers who lose their health coverage in the wake of a verdict in King that cuts against the administration. “Second, Republicans need to unify around a specific set of constructive, longer-term solutions, and then turn the 2016 presidential election into a referendum on two competing visions of health care,” the senator wrote.

But even this will be met with virtually the same criticism from the right if the GOP simply extended the law in its present form. “Sasse’s plan reinforces the notion that we have an uninsured problem rather than a price-controlled marketplace problem that needs less government interference,” The Federalist’s David Harsanyi contended in a reply to Sasse’s op-ed. “Once you’ve acquiesced to the idea that billions in subsidies are needed, the idea becomes bipartisan.”

There is almost no way to escape this criticism without coalescing behind and promoting a comprehensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have been unable to do that, and they squandered precious weeks in which they could have been making the case for a conservative alternative to the ACA to the public. Today, Republicans have few viable options available to them that could preserve the noble opposition to ObamaCare that they secured in 2010. One would be to force the president’s hand and compel him to veto a repeal of the ACA’s burdensome mandates before inevitably bowing to political realities. The Congressional GOP, a deeply unpopular set of prominent targets, will still draw fire from their conservative base voters and even a few 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls for allegedly “embracing” ObamaCare, but it will be baseless criticism. If, however, they merely reintroduce subsidies and the mandates with a modest concession like the repeal of the medical device tax, Republicans will invite a mutiny. And they would deserve it.

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The Humbling of Jeb Bush

If you got the impression from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign rollout that he appeared to believe his party’s nomination was quite simply his due, you weren’t alone. Bush’s decision to reveal his intention to explore a presidential bid in mid-December of last year indicated that he knew the 2016 field would be a crowded one and that he would have to make his case to the Republican electorate early and often. But his actions betrayed a sense of self-assuredness that indicated he did not really believe the contest would be a close one. The pathway to the nomination has, however, been a harder slog for Bush than he anticipated. Today, reeling from the humbling he has endured at the hands of events and the prospective Republican primary electorate, Jeb Bush is adapting and changing course. Read More

If you got the impression from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign rollout that he appeared to believe his party’s nomination was quite simply his due, you weren’t alone. Bush’s decision to reveal his intention to explore a presidential bid in mid-December of last year indicated that he knew the 2016 field would be a crowded one and that he would have to make his case to the Republican electorate early and often. But his actions betrayed a sense of self-assuredness that indicated he did not really believe the contest would be a close one. The pathway to the nomination has, however, been a harder slog for Bush than he anticipated. Today, reeling from the humbling he has endured at the hands of events and the prospective Republican primary electorate, Jeb Bush is adapting and changing course.

The former Sunshine State governor famously entered the race for the presidency just weeks after he declared that his candidacy would be one that would “lose the primary to win the general.” Bush insisted that he would not allow the campaign to force him to violate his principles merely in order to secure the requisite delegates at the Republican National Convention.

Bush resented what he believed the 2012 primary process did to Mitt Romney, and he appeared to regard the conservative movement that constitutes the Republican Party’s base as an obstacle in his quest to win the White House. “I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that’s kind of where we are,” Bush said in 2012. “I think it changes when we get to the general election. I hope.”

So the former governor determined that he would simply ignore the demands of a primary campaign and position himself as the inevitable Republican nominee as early as he could. Toward this end, Bush would decline to attack his fellow Republican presidential candidates; to even acknowledge his competition is to reduce his own stature the thinking went. But Bush did not quickly emerge as the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination, as he believed he would. His most potent early competitors, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, have failed to implode. Bush’s stature in his home state could not derail the candidacy of his protégé, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. This week, Bush abandoned the delusion that the nomination was his to lose when his campaign engaged in a variety of high-profile personnel changes.

Jeb Bush had been humbled, and it was precisely those agitators within the conservative movement he was once so determined to ignore who delivered that humiliation.

“In interviews this week, dozens of Bush backers and informed Republicans — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly — described an overly optimistic, even haughty exploratory operation,” the Washington Post reported on Thursday. “Strategic errors were exacerbated by unexpected stumbles by the would-be candidate and internal strife within his team, culminating in a staff shake-up this week.”

“Donors were getting a little edgy,” outside Bush advisor Vin Webber told Post reporters. “No one is ready to jump ship. Nobody has lost heart. But they have watched other candidates rise in the polls.”

Webber puts a brave face on a situation that is grimmer than he lets on. Two sources recently told the Post that Bush’s Right to Rise PAC would not be able to raise the $100 million it had anticipated it would before the end of June. “At the right time, we will release a very formidable number,” PAC strategist Mike Murphy said. And the sum that Bush’s allies will raise is almost certain to be intimidating, but the failure to meet expectations will leave a lot of savvy Republican investors within Bush’s orbit wondering if they will recoup a return. For Bush, the family well might already be drying up.

Jeb Bush’s quest for the nomination is far from over, and he might have righted his ship by embracing a new course. If the former Florida governor is able to win his party’s presidential nomination, he will be a better general election candidate for having endured this chastening experience. Over the last six months, Bush learned the obvious: you cannot win the general if you don’t win the primary.

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The New York Times Targets Marco Rubio and Misses… Again

What is the New York Times doing? In the space of a week, the paper has published no fewer than two exposés on the Florida senator running for the presidency that amount to veritable in-kind contributions to Marco Rubio’s campaign. Though these dubious investigations have prompted reliably credulous pundits to gasp in horror, it’s unclear that they will have any negative effect on Rubio’s presidential prospects. Quite the opposite, in fact; by overshooting Rubio’s bow on two separate occasions, the Times risks making one of the GOP’s brightest prospects a target of sympathy among precisely the voters to whom he needs to appeal in order to win his party’s presidential nomination. Read More

What is the New York Times doing? In the space of a week, the paper has published no fewer than two exposés on the Florida senator running for the presidency that amount to veritable in-kind contributions to Marco Rubio’s campaign. Though these dubious investigations have prompted reliably credulous pundits to gasp in horror, it’s unclear that they will have any negative effect on Rubio’s presidential prospects. Quite the opposite, in fact; by overshooting Rubio’s bow on two separate occasions, the Times risks making one of the GOP’s brightest prospects a target of sympathy among precisely the voters to whom he needs to appeal in order to win his party’s presidential nomination.

The Times’ vetting of Rubio began late last week with an enticing tale of crass negligence on the roadways. The Times discovered that the Rubios were profligate scofflaws when it came to traffic violations. That’s right: speeding tickets. Marco Rubio, we learned, had received all of four moving violations over the course of nearly two decades. That’s hardly a story, and it would not have even made it to print had Rubio’s wife, Janette, not received 13 similar violations since 1997. The presidential candidate even hired a lawyer to try to get those violations expunged from his record and took a banal defensive driving course in order to reduce associated insurance penalties.

This is hardly the stuff that makes the Pulitzer board giddy, but it was not poor reporting. Every candidate for the White House deserves a through vetting, and the Times was well within its mission to print this information. But the political impact of the decision to dig into the Rubios driving records was perhaps not what they had anticipated.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bret Scher soon revealed that no Times reporter had personally pulled the Rubios’ driving records from Miami-Dade court files, but a Democratic opposition research group recently had. When the Times was asked about whether or not they relied on a tip from a partisan research group for this story – a not uncommon practice, and one which would not have raised many eyebrows – the Times PR shop steadfastly refused to answer the question posed by a reporter with an outwardly conservative news site and instead provided Scher’s answer to Politico reporter Dylan Byers. If nothing untoward had occurred here, the Times certainly wasn’t acting like it.

What’s more, the dragging of a candidates’ spouse into the vetting process, particularly this early in the campaign, does raise ethical matters. For Democrats who of late have convinced themselves that women are routinely subjected to scrutiny otherwise not applied to men, the left has been curiously quiet about the Times decision to target Janette Rubio. Finally, as Jonathan Tobin noted, this story’s impact on the general electorate, much less GOP primary voters, is probably one that Marco Rubio would welcome. It projects youth and vitality (the elderly seldom speed or, in the Clintons’ case, drive at all). What’s more, the story stood as an indication that the former speaker of the Florida House declined to use his influence to hide or get out of these violations.

Almost everyone has been ticketed once or twice in their life, and that minor tribulation is a relatable hardship. Nevertheless, some in the pundit class took the bait. While most rightly dismissed the story, a handful of observers wondered if the GOP had suddenly become the party of lawlessness on our taxpayer-funded roadways. On Tuesday, the New York Times took a deeper dive into the Rubios records. This time, they dug into the couple’s financial history. As evidenced by the overwrought prose, the paper’s editors apparently thought that the details they uncovered could potentially disqualify Rubio from holding high office.

In the Times’ latest unflattering profile, they reveal that the 44-year-old Marco Rubio, a father of four, was not the most frugal parent in his mid-to-late 30s. The Times revealed that the Miami-area resident “splurged” on an $80,000 motorboat that he had always dreamed of owning. Manhattan-based reporters who feign shock at the notion that someone would take a defensive driving class at the request of their insurer might perhaps also be surprised to learn that $80,000 is a modest price for a luxury sea craft. The story goes on: Rubio used his own credit card to pay for campaign expenses. He liquidated a nearly $70,000 retirement account, incurring $24,000 in taxes and penalties, presumably to cover personal expenses. He sold a Florida home for an $18,000 loss after nearly facing foreclosure when he failed to meet the mortgage for five months.

The Times noted that the Rubios have largely righted their financial ship after the Florida senator began to earn substantial sums from writing and selling books. The couple has begun saving for college tuition for thier children, refinanced their home, now have six figures in savings, and even donated $60,000 to charity. Finally, after Rubio’s finances had recovered, they leased a $50,000 Audi. “Experts” who spoke with the Times call this and other decisions “imprudent.”

Predictably, some in the pundit class reacted with theatrically disproportionate astonishment.

“So, is the Rubio argument I wasn’t good at handling my personal finances, but put me in charge of trillions of dollars of others money?” ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd fretted.

“An impulsive, reckless spender who blurs ethical lines,” the National Journal’s Ron Fournier scoffed. “How does this reflect how @marcorubio would lead as POTUS?”

“I’m a bit baffled by the argument that personal fiduciary responsibility is unimportant to the job of being president,” The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump opined.

These and other columnists aghast at the Rubios behavior might be surprised to learn that the power of the purse is the constitutional responsibility of the legislative branch. The fact that the Rubios stretched their finances and, yes, treated themselves on occasion is not something to scold them over. If their behavior is to be condemned, so is that of the vast majority of the American middle class who behaves similarly in order to provide for their family’s immediate needs and desires.

When it comes to his personal finances, no one is claiming that Rubio acted in an unethical or mendacious manner. “I’m not poor,” Rubio once said, “but I’m not rich, either.” Contrast this comment with that of Hillary Clinton who exactly one year ago today declared that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001; a claim at odds with the fact that the former first family earned $12 million in that year alone.

Again, the pundit class is missing the likely political effect of the Times’ hit on the Rubios. The tale of a young family struggling to make ends meet and, on a handful of occasions, spending beyond their means in order to enjoy a bit of the good life is a common story. If anything, the New York Times has made Rubio more understandable to both average Americans and to those Republican primary voters who are deeply suspicious of the Grey Lady’s motives.

The New York Times seems to think that the Rubios profligacy when they were younger contradicts the senator’s present message of fiscal restraint on the macro level, but this is a tendentious contention. If anything, the Times has helped to craft a financial contrast with Hillary Clinton that will only benefit him if he were to emerge the GOP’s presidential nominee. What’s more, the impression that the talented Republican figure is the subject of reportorial persecution, even if that is an unfounded belief, will likely yield some sympathy from GOP primary voters.

The Rubios should send reporters in the New York Times newsroom a thank you card. That is, if they can afford the expense. The “newspaper of record” has done the senator’s campaign a great service.

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The Scorched Earth Hillary Clinton Campaign

For partisan Democrats, the Hillary Clinton campaign is an unstoppable juggernaut and has the potential to upend virtually every foundational assumption about American politics. But Clinton’s approach to campaigning for the presidency should cast doubt on the supposedly preternatural abilities of this figure that we have been so often told is a natural campaigner and a political virtuoso. Read More

For partisan Democrats, the Hillary Clinton campaign is an unstoppable juggernaut and has the potential to upend virtually every foundational assumption about American politics. But Clinton’s approach to campaigning for the presidency should cast doubt on the supposedly preternatural abilities of this figure that we have been so often told is a natural campaigner and a political virtuoso.

2014’s pro-Republican tsunami did little to temper the expectations shared by Democratic operatives that Hillary Clinton’s acumen would shift America’s political center of gravity measurably in the Democratic direction. In mid-November of last year, Mitch Stewart, President Barack Obama’s battleground state director and a senior strategist for the pro-Clinton PAC Ready for Hillary, was certain that the former secretary of state would not only win in 2016 but expand on even Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral map. States like Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, and Georgia were in play, he told Talking Points Memo. “Where I think Secretary Clinton has more appeal than any other Democrat looking at running is that with white working-class voters, she does have a connection,” Stewart averred. “I think she’s best positioned to open those states.”

Team Clinton is today scaling back its lofty set of initial targets, but Democrats remain convinced that the former secretary is still best positioned to win the election in 2016 and take more than a handful of her fellow Democrats with her into high federal office. That inference can be drawn from the fact that the Democratic Party’s 2016 senatorial slate is composed of a number of top-tier candidates. When Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, and former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold revealed their intention to run for U.S Senate in 2016, they also indicated that they think Hillary Clinton will have coattails.

But the sincere confidence outwardly displayed by partisan Democrats contrasts mightily with what neutral observers are seeing from her admittedly nascent campaign.

It now seems like a fancy of wide-eyed liberal consultants that Hillary Clinton’s legacy last name and her presumed appeal to working-class white voters, last observed in the wild circa 2008, would possibly turn states like Arkansas blue. In fact, according to some reporting, Clinton’s campaign anticipates losing ground among white voters in 2016 even when compared with Barack Obama’s relatively poor showing among this demographic.

“[Clinton’s] strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign,” the Washington Post’s Anna Gearan observed last month. That’s not merely optimistic; it’s sanguine to the point of naïveté. Only 28 percent of the 2008 electorate was made up of minority voters, and the minority share of the electorate declined by two points four years later. “Clinton will have to expand Hispanic support, increase turnout among independent women and still hold on to a large share of black voters who were drawn to the first African American major-party nominee,” Gearan noted. And that’s precisely what Clinton has been doing.

As Jonathan Tobin noted, one of the central pillars of Clinton’s effort to revive Barack Obama’s coalition consists of fanning the flames of fear surrounding Republican support for voter identification laws. It doesn’t matter to Clinton that voter ID was upheld by the Supreme Court and is wildly popular, even among minority voters, she has cast these and other efforts as “voter suppression” and equated them to Jim Crow era efforts to disenfranchise black voters. The fact that Clinton is deploying a tactic this cynical before she has even secured the nomination should not be inspiring confidence in Democrats.

Some Democratic strategists are starting to concede that Clinton’s pathway to the White House will be a narrow one. “If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you’re not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need,” Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, told the New York Times.

That admission, one that implicitly dismisses rural voters and traditionally Republican states, is troubling for those historians who fretted to the Times reporters that President Hillary Clinton will not enjoy the mandate she needs to govern if she does not run an inclusive and broad-based campaign for the presidency. Indeed, writing off a large portion of the electorate is what landed former GOP nominee Mitt Romney in hot water following the exposure of his now infamous comments about the “47 percent” of the electorate that receives federal benefits and thus would never support a Republican.

The Times noted that Clinton will have to run Obama’s campaign but, being unable to run as a post-partisan unifier in the way that Obama did in 2008, her path to the White House consists of driving Democratic base voters to the polls.

Mrs. Clinton and her husband expressed concern last year when Democratic turnout fell precipitously. Recognizing that Democrats had to be galvanized to show up at the polls, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers used surveys and focus groups to assess the risks of running a strongly liberal campaign. They concluded that there were few.

So she is embracing the central lesson of the Obama school: that voters turn out when they believe that an election makes a difference and that their party’s standard-bearer is a champion on issues important to them.

Clinton is already signaling that division and tribalism will characterize her run for the White House. If Democrats do buck historical trends and secure a third consecutive term in the Oval Office, it will be by narrow margins. Recognizing this, Clinton is ready to run the scorched earth campaign that Barack Obama ran in 2012. But hers might even be more divisive and factional, pitting one demographic against another, in order to knit together a modest majority of American presidential voters. But what kind of a country will she inherit after such a dangerous and callous effort? What will be left to govern after Hillary Clinton has set fire to national comity in service to her insatiable ambition? We might soon find out.

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Marco Rubio’s Latest Coup

Marco Rubio has thus far failed to satisfactorily neutralize his primary liability ahead of the 2016 general election should he become the Republican Party’s nominee: his biographical similarities to the sitting Democratic president. Nor has he assuaged the valid concerns shared by some conservatives who saw his advocacy for and subsequent retreat from a comprehensive immigration reform bill as a debacle. In fact, the latter vulnerability reinforces the former. But there is no denying that the outgoing senator from Florida is an accomplished campaigner and a good ambassador for the Republican brand. His latest coup is one that may propel him from niche advocate for a robust American foreign policy to a candidate with a comprehensive and persuasive pitch to the presidential electorate. Read More

Marco Rubio has thus far failed to satisfactorily neutralize his primary liability ahead of the 2016 general election should he become the Republican Party’s nominee: his biographical similarities to the sitting Democratic president. Nor has he assuaged the valid concerns shared by some conservatives who saw his advocacy for and subsequent retreat from a comprehensive immigration reform bill as a debacle. In fact, the latter vulnerability reinforces the former. But there is no denying that the outgoing senator from Florida is an accomplished campaigner and a good ambassador for the Republican brand. His latest coup is one that may propel him from niche advocate for a robust American foreign policy to a candidate with a comprehensive and persuasive pitch to the presidential electorate.

The junior Senator from Florida is perhaps most widely associated with his approach to foreign affairs, but Rubio has been honing his message on domestic policy for some time. In early spring, well ahead of the latest GDP report showing that the economy shrank for the second consecutive first quarter, the Florida senator began expressing his concerns about the worryingly anemic pace of the post-recession recovery.

“There are people trying to start a small business who can’t,” Rubio told the Des Moines Register’s editors in late April. “For the first time in 35 years, small business deaths outnumber small business births. That’s the uncertainty we have. That’s why people are so insecure about today and fearful of the future. But if we change that, we’re going to have another American century.”

It was a shocking revelation, and Rubio soon began deploying it on the stump.

“You have millions of people now living paycheck to paycheck,” Rubio told an audience at the South Carolina Freedom Summit on May 9, “working hard, but one unexpected expense away from catastrophe.”

“Millions of young Americans that went to school and got a degree, but now owe thousands of dollars in student loans, and their degree didn’t lead to a job,” he added. “And for the first time in 35 years, you have more small businesses dying than being born.” Rubio attributed this unenviable condition to the fact that the U.S. and world economies were changing rapidly, but America’s leaders remained “trapped in the past.”

Rubio’s comments about the lackluster state of economic affairs resulting in the near death of the American dream were a triumph; not merely because they are true, but because they are irrefutably so. But isn’t something that is objectively true also irrefutably true, you might ask? Not if PolitiFact can help it. If the self-proclaimed fact-checking site could have found even a modestly contestable morsel in Rubio’s comment to parse, the site’s pedants would have gotten to work dismantling it and affixing “half” or “mostly” to Rubio’s “true” claim. They could not.

Rubio’s contention originated with Brookings Institution researchers who refused to refute their own findings for PolitiFact. “It’s true,” said Robert Litan, one of the authors of the report that noted the U.S. economy has “steadily become less dynamic” since the 2008 financial crash. “We haven’t reversed this yet.”

“The change didn’t happen in the past year or two — it occurred in 2008 — but in general, Rubio has accurately cited a statistic from a respected think tank’s report,” PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson conceded begrudgingly. “The co-author of that report said he feels Rubio has stated the claim accurately.”

To illustrate just how difficult of a concession this must have been, examine some of the recent checking of Rubio’s facts in which PolitiFact has engaged.

“We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts 1 million people a year, legally,” Rubio told the editors at National Review on May 1. “No other country in the world even comes close to that.” While reviewing this objectively true statement, PolitiFact conceded that it was accurate “in sheer numbers.” However, “in per capita rates, the United States place 19th out of 24 countries.” PolitiFact might have taken issue with the fact that Rubio had rounded up for the year 2013 when America took in slightly less than 1 million new citizens. Instead, they sought to wholly undermine his assertion by reducing that figure to “a percentage of the population.” Of course, since America has 320 million residents to New Zealand’s 4.5 million, an influx of 1 million newcomers doesn’t seem all that great, now does it?

“Mostly true.”

Or take the bone PolitiFact’s picked with this contention: “Inflation-adjusted defense spending has declined 21 percent since 2010 and even if we discount the draw downs in Iraq and Afghanistan it has still declined by a dangerous 12 percent,” Rubio said on the floor of the U.S. Senate in March. But Rubio left out important context.

Todd Harrison, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the report’s author, said Rubio correctly used his analysis as adjusted for inflation. But while it’s a matter of interpretation whether defense spending should go up, Rubio is lacking context, Harrison said. Today’s military has a little more than half the troops it had in Korea or Vietnam, and it’s relatively normal for spending to decrease this way as wars end.

But that’s the problem. The war in Iraq didn’t end, as evidenced by the fact that America is now engaged in air combat and advisory missions in Iraq and now Syria. Combat operations ceased and American troops were withdrawn, but the war didn’t end. The rise of an ugly terror group that is now the richest in history and controls a swath of territory about the size of Great Britain in which it has reinstituted slavery, conducts genocide, and erases human heritage is testament to this policy failure. But all that is beside the point. What we’re talking about are numbers, right? And you might think that Rubio’s math is airtight. Wrong. “Experts we talked to said while the conclusion is correct, Rubio doesn’t put the decrease in context of the historic high funding from 2010,” PolitiFact declared.

“Mostly true.”

In this context, Rubio’s incontrovertibly accurate comment about the negative rate of the growth of new small businesses is even more persuasive. The Florida senator’s consistent ability to acquit himself commendably and to not embarrass the party he represents might be one reason why he has emerged as a formidable force in both the visible and invisible primaries.

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The Unbearable Lightness of the 2016 Democratic Field

With the West losing a war against an abhorrent foe abroad, one that seeks to convert Americans in order to terrorize the United States from within, and an anemic economic recovery at home, there is a wealth of gravely serious issues for the immense field of aspiring 2016 candidates to tackle. You would not know that, however, from the conspicuously frivolous matters that appear to occupy the minds of the 2016 field of Democratic presidential candidates. Read More

With the West losing a war against an abhorrent foe abroad, one that seeks to convert Americans in order to terrorize the United States from within, and an anemic economic recovery at home, there is a wealth of gravely serious issues for the immense field of aspiring 2016 candidates to tackle. You would not know that, however, from the conspicuously frivolous matters that appear to occupy the minds of the 2016 field of Democratic presidential candidates.

On Wednesday, Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democratic former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced a quixotic bid to challenge the inevitable Hillary Clinton for his party’s presidential nomination. Naturally, he launched his underdog campaign by focusing on the issue at the forefront of American minds: the nation’s stubborn refusal to adopt the metric system.

Chafee’s resurrection of an issue so dear to President Jimmy Carter’s heart might not be such a bad way to ingratiate himself to his fellow Democrats. After all, America would be just another metric nation rather than an exceptional one that embraces customary units had Ronald Reagan not disbanded the U.S. Metric Board in 1982.

Chafee insisted that his proposal was a way in which the United States might make amends to the rest of the world for its stumbles in the realm of foreign policy over the last 14 years, but he immediately proceeded to make one of his own. In his speech, Chafee refused to rule out the prospect of preemptively surrendering to the Islamic State insurgents and their expanding Islamic caliphate. “We’re coming to grips with who these people are and what they want,” Chafee said. “Let’s wage peace in this new American century.” The moral vacuity of Chafee’s call for a retreat from the halfhearted war President Obama only reluctantly committed to fighting in the face of genocide, slavery, and the wanton destruction of shared human heritage in the Middle East is breathtakingly pusillanimous.

But in advocating capitulation, Chafee is at least addressing great issues of statecraft. That’s more than you can say for many of his competitors.

Tilting at long forgotten windmills appears to be a favored pastime for Democratic presidential aspirants. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are equally concerned with refighting the battles of the past. Both have stressed the injustice of the fact that no one in the financial sector was convicted or even charged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Just what those charges would be and whom they might have sought indictments against will, however, remain a mystery. When they are not railing against the weather, these candidates have also devoted extensive time and energy to denouncing the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and the trade promotional authority the Senate recently provided to their party’s leader upon request. In this way, Sanders and O’Malley get to litigate the residual grievances that have festered since the NAFTA free trade agreement went into effect 22 years ago. Never mind the fact that two polls released at the end of the month show that majorities are both favorable toward this agreement and believe free global trade benefits the country as a whole.

But it is former Secretary of State Clinton, her party’s most likely standard-bearer, who traffics most frequently in trivialities and vagaries. In lieu of interviews, Clinton continues to give “groundbreaking” speeches in which she makes wild calls for solutions to problems that simply don’t exist. “Her speech will be her interview,” Clinton’s press team gallingly informed reporters this week ahead of yet another grand oration. To keep the media’s attention, she issues unrealizable calls to action galvanizing her supporters for a fight against a momentous injustice they hadn’t known existed until Clinton invented it.

On Thursday, in yet another landmark address, Clinton will call for extended early voting that would last no less than 20 days prior to an election. But why 20? Why not a full month? Or maybe two months? After all, the great scourge of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement may not be ameliorated with such an arbitrary cut-off period.

Predictably, Clinton’s call to arms will inspire approbation from the traditional centers of Democratic self-validation. The New York Times editorial board or the like will spring to action, wonder why they had never recognized the marginalization of voters who can’t remember when Election Day is or to secure their absentee ballot within two weeks of that constitutionally-mandated voting period, and declare Clinton the civil rights champion of her time for confronting this underrated issue.

But this isn’t the only grand pronouncement candidate Clinton has delivered on the trail in which she declared the greatest scourge of our generation was one that you had carelessly overlooked. She also occupies her time making lofty demands on lawmakers or the culture in general that will never be realized.

Clinton has called for a constitutional amendment to limit the freedoms in the First so that anyone who wants to make a movie critical of her 60 days out from an election will be prohibited from doing so. Unseemly? Sure. Unrealistic? Absolutely. Such a proposition couldn’t pass a Democratic-led Senate, much less secure two-thirds of the vote of Congress and be ratified by 37 states. But it is not your lot to reason why. In another speech, Clinton called for the end of the era of “mass incarceration,” a blight ushered in by the criminal justice reforms her husband signed into law and for which she lobbied for as first lady. But what does that even mean? And how is this proposition to be achieved? Those and other valid questions were drowned out by the crowd’s deafening applause.

These are not serious policy proposals; they’re positioning statements. Sound bites designed to generate favorable press coverage without all the hassle of having to explain what they mean and how they will be achieved in necessarily granular detail.

Polls have consistently shown that issues like the stalling economic recovery, the federal debt and deficit, the unsettled fate of ObamaCare, education policy, terrorism, the deteriorating international security environment, and illegal immigration dominate the minds of most voters. You might think the slate of Democratic presidential candidates would deign to convince voters that they are the most competent and serious-minded figure in the field. The fact that they are aggressively avoiding these issues is an indication of the headwinds the president’s party will face in their effort to secure a third consecutive term in the White House.

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Don’t Accommodate the GOP’s Unwieldy 2016 Field – Cull It

In early January, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol determined that the Republican Party would be a better party, and the ultimate 2016 presidential nominee a stronger candidate, for the fact that the GOP’s field of candidates is a massive one. That assumption is ripe for review. While it might not impact the party’s prospects in November of next year, the breadth of the Republican field of presidential aspirants has not done GOP voters any services. In fact, the winnowing process that has been inaugurated by debate-hosting networks is likely only to foster internecine squabbles designed to win a fleeting news cycle rather than the loyalty of policy-minded voters. The bulky GOP field doesn’t need accommodation; it needs culling.    Read More

In early January, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol determined that the Republican Party would be a better party, and the ultimate 2016 presidential nominee a stronger candidate, for the fact that the GOP’s field of candidates is a massive one. That assumption is ripe for review. While it might not impact the party’s prospects in November of next year, the breadth of the Republican field of presidential aspirants has not done GOP voters any services. In fact, the winnowing process that has been inaugurated by debate-hosting networks is likely only to foster internecine squabbles designed to win a fleeting news cycle rather than the loyalty of policy-minded voters. The bulky GOP field doesn’t need accommodation; it needs culling.   

The race for the presidency is still in its infancy, and the competitive Republican presidential primary race remains nascent. It is far too early to determine which candidate is likeliest to emerge victorious from the sorting process, a messy program of excision that is sure to leave a series of lasting scars on the GOP body politic. That natural process is something to be welcomed, but it often occurs as a result of natural selection. A Darwinian evolutionary process is unlikely, given that the field will need to be cropped well before the first votes are cast next January.

The present scope of the Republican Party’s presidential field does not foster issue-oriented debates. Substantive policy arguments that might clarify issues for voters have a habit of devolving into contests characterized by competing cults of personality. Just look to the internal GOP squabble between Senator Rand Paul and the more hawkish elements in the GOP over the NSA’s information gathering programs for an example of this phenomenon. What might have been an illuminating conversation about the national security state, the external threat environment, and the GOP’s counter-terror program fast became typified by exchanges of vaguely personal insults.

Perhaps no candidate in the GOP field can be relied on to sling slights at Kentucky’s junior senator better than South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. The Palmetto State senator Paul called one of two “lapdogs” in the upper chamber of Congress in favor of Barack Obama’s approaches to foreign crises has not been shy about defending his views with vigor. Meanwhile, the political press eats it all up.

Why wouldn’t they? Political reporting is as much journalism as it is a form of entertainment, and conflict is entertaining. What these skirmishes are not is clarifying. Graham is an accomplished politician with well-defined policy views. He is a capable debater, a prolific fundraiser, and a candidate with a message. He is not, however, backed by even a modest number of GOP primary voters. According to a CNN/ORC survey of Republicans released on Tuesday, Graham has the support of just 1 percent of prospective GOP primary voters. That finding was confirmed by a Washington Post/ABC News poll also released on Tuesday. The best news for Graham in these two polls is that he is in good company. Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum; all of these candidates polled in the low single digits in both of these surveys.

Faced with the prospect of a crowded debate stage and a clamoring cast of GOP hopefuls all talking over one another, network debate hosts have entertained some creative solutions to the problem. CNN will host two debates – a primary debate and a secondary debate for the cast of “also-rans.” If that debate were held tomorrow, based on the network’s own polling, Trump and Pataki would perhaps have to draw straws to determine which candidate made the cut (they poll even at 3 percent each). Fox News Channel’s debate will consist of 10 candidates with no consolation prize for those who don’t make the cut. It is inevitable that the kind of sniping that characterized Rand Paul’s relationship with his GOP competitors will come to characterize the rest of the field as the debates near and the incentives to generate traction in the press (and commensurate name recognition) intensifies.

One of the reasons why the 2012 debates were so illuminating and resulted in dramatic fluctuations in the polls was that they were just small enough to encourage sustained, considered argumentation. They were helpful because they forced the candidates to expand on a variety of issues extemporaneously. Republican voters would be best served if they knew precisely how the next president will tackle the myriad challenges facing the nation and how they might react to changing dynamics in real time. From Iran, to Obamacare, to entitlement spending, to taxation, to Russia, to abortion rights, to ISIS, to same-sex marriage, to the anemic economic recovery, to China; there is no shortage of issues to be litigated on the debate stage, and few limits to the GOP field’s varying policy prescriptions for how best to address them.

Even ten candidates are too many for a debate. If Republican presidential hopefuls won’t do as John Bolton did – soberly survey the political landscape, determine that you have no hope of winning the nomination and little to add to the discourse, and humbly bow out – then the networks should do it for them. Moving forward, networks that plan to host a GOP debate should narrow the prospective participants to no more than eight based on the present polling average. For those who think this is an arbitrary cutoff, they might be surprised to learn that the top eight candidates according to the Real Clear Politics average has consisted of the same names since January 1: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. These candidates don’t only represent a strong cross-section of views within the GOP coalition, but they bring a variety of talents and backgrounds to the table. A 90-minute debate featuring just these eight candidates would be long on policy and short on positioning statements or sound bites.

Network programming executives are not in the habit of taking such risks. It would, however, be of great value to GOP voters if debate hosts raise the bar for participation in the process to a point that forced some members of this expansive field of candidates to recognize the futility of their continued efforts. The unwieldy GOP field needs winnowing, and it is up to the networks to sort the wheat from the chaff. They would be performing a public service if they were to embrace the charge.

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The Democratic Party’s Growing Radicalism

For those Democrats who insist their party is utterly mainstream, pragmatic rather than ideological, and right in the center of American politics, I have some news for you: You’re not.

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For those Democrats who insist their party is utterly mainstream, pragmatic rather than ideological, and right in the center of American politics, I have some news for you: You’re not.

The New York Times published a story reporting that Bernie Sanders — that would be the socialist Bernie Sanders, referred to by the Times as “the Senate’s most left-wing member” — is not only gaining momentum in Iowa, he has “been inspiring fervor among the Democratic base.” And how he has.

The Times story points to the fact the Sanders drew 700 people to an event on Thursday night in Davenport, the largest rally in the state for any single candidate this campaign season. His stop at a brewery in Ames on Saturday “was so mobbed that more than 100 people who could not fit inside peered through the windows.”

“Judging from Mr. Sanders’s trip here last week,” Trip Gabriel and Patrick Healy report, “there is real support for his message.”

Apparently so. Here’s more on-the-ground reporting from the Times:

The crowds at Mr. Sanders’s Iowa events appeared to be different from the state’s famously finicky tire-kickers. Many said they had already made up their mind to support Mr. Sanders. They applauded his calls for higher taxes on the rich to pay for 13 million public works jobs, for decisive action on climate change and for free tuition at public colleges.

“Look at all these people,” said Phyllis Viner, 68, a yoga instructor who attended his Davenport event at St. Ambrose University.

Lindsay O’Keefe, 22, who took a picture of a Sanders poster that read, “Paid for by Bernie 2016 (not the billionaires),” called Mr. Sanders “a really valuable candidate” who can “push Hillary to the left” even if he does not defeat her.

The next day, in Muscatine, Iowa, after a rally at a community college drew twice the expected audience of 50, Mr. Sanders seemed to be experiencing a contact high from the size of his crowds. He sat on a picnic table outside for a short interview.

“Be amazed at what you saw here,” he said, adding, “I want to win this.”

Be amazed indeed. Bernie Sanders — democratic socialist, 73-years-old, a man who is on the outer edges of American politics and on whose wall hangs a portrait of Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate of the early 20th century — is setting Democratic hearts aflutter. Senator Sanders won’t win the nomination, but he — along with Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — is stirring something deep within the souls of Democrats. They are giving voice to what many Democrats genuinely believe, what they long for, what they are desperate for: Progressivism in its most purified and unalloyed form.

Think about how the Democratic presidential race is lining up. According to the Washington Post, “Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues … that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge.” Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is running to her left. And Bernie Sanders is running to his left.

And yet despite this, Democrats and liberals continue to act as if it’s Republicans and conservatives who are extreme, radical, revolutionary, on the fringe. Progressives have created an alternate reality in which they are moderate, temperate, centrist, the very model of reasonableness. They are blind to their own zeal and dogmatism, their own immoderation and intolerance.

The Democratic Party was once a great party. It may be a great party again. But for now, it is a radical party — and growing more radical by the day.

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Hillary Clinton’s Other Mitt Romney Problem

According to NBC News, Hillary Clinton has a “Romney problem.” The prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee has apparently exposed herself to justified attacks on her wealth similar to those that dogged the former Massachusetts governor in the last presidential cycle. “With the election still more than a year away, Hillary Clinton is trying to avoid making her wealth a liability, like Mitt Romney in 2012,” MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. It’s true that Romney’s success captivated the imaginations of narrative-setting political reporters, and those in the press would be guilty of observing a double standard if they didn’t note that Clinton has shown that she is just as self-conscious about her family’s income. But that’s not the only “Romney problem” that could prove vexing for Clinton in 2016. Read More

According to NBC News, Hillary Clinton has a “Romney problem.” The prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee has apparently exposed herself to justified attacks on her wealth similar to those that dogged the former Massachusetts governor in the last presidential cycle. “With the election still more than a year away, Hillary Clinton is trying to avoid making her wealth a liability, like Mitt Romney in 2012,” MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. It’s true that Romney’s success captivated the imaginations of narrative-setting political reporters, and those in the press would be guilty of observing a double standard if they didn’t note that Clinton has shown that she is just as self-conscious about her family’s income. But that’s not the only “Romney problem” that could prove vexing for Clinton in 2016.

In a recent column, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar took a critical look at the phenomenon of presidential candidate and self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, and his apparent appeal to those Democrats who are not “Ready for Hillary.” Sanders’ viability as a Democratic standard-bearer is not derived from his compelling speaking skills or credible policy positions, Kraushaar submitted, but it’s his unashamed support for far-left dogma that appeals to a progressive element within the Democratic Party that is no longer isolated on the party’s peripheral fringes.

“Sanders’ early prominence is not a reflection of Sanders himself,” Kraushaar wrote. “Instead, he’s serving as the avatar for the emboldened attitude of the party’s progressive wing.”

And the socialist from Vermont who honeymooned in the Soviet Union is starting to generate a substantial amount of support from the Democratic Party’s far-left primary voters. “Judging from Mr. Sanders’s trip here last week, there is real support for his message,” a recent dispatch from Iowa in the New York Times read. “Even before Mr. Sanders drew unexpected levels of support at this Iowa event, advisers to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign were emphasizing that they expected the caucuses to be competitive.”

Indeed. On Monday, Clinton’s campaign forwarded to reporters background information talking down the former secretary’s prospects in the early states. “[N]o Democratic candidate for president has ever received more than 50% of the caucus vote unless they were a sitting President or Vice President, or incumbent Iowa Senator,” Clinton’s campaign averred. “In New Hampshire, no Democrat in a contested primary in the last 25 years has won by more than 27,000 votes or received more than 50% of the vote.”

Why all the expectation setting? Perhaps because Sanders isn’t as marginal a threat to Clinton as he should be, given his immoderate policy preferences. While Clinton retains her status as the likely caucus winner according to the findings in a new Bloomberg poll of Hawkeye State Democrats, Sanders has more than tripled his support among Democratic primary voters since January. The Vermont senator now draws 16 percent support from liberal Iowans while another 47 percent have a favorable view of him.  Although this is a paltry amount of support compared to Clinton 57 percent, she is not taking the threat from her left flank lightly.

Progressive Democrats long ago declared their intention to pull Clinton to the left, and they have largely succeeded. Today, when she is not avoiding the press, Clinton spends most of her time denouncing the achievements of her centrist husband, the 42nd President of the United Sates. Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende observed that Clinton’s leftward drift is measurable. What’s more, it might be shrewd politics; maintaining the integrity of Barack Obama’s electoral coalition will be crucial if Clinton hopes to secure a third consecutive term for Democrats in the White House.

This leads us to Kraushaar’s next astute observation, which could be considered Clinton’s other Mitt Romney problem. “Sanders is poised to play the same role as Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP tormentors, a motley cast of characters who stood no chance of winning the nomination but gradually pushed Romney to the right,” he wrote. “After all, Romney’s infamous line about ‘self-deportation’ was a reaction to the fear that he was vulnerable on his right flank from the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.”

Truly. Those Republicans who are consumed with worry over the crowded GOP field and the prospect that the stacked primary debate stage could force the eventual GOP nominee too far to the right while Hillary Clinton is pandering to voters seduced by a reformed Soviet sympathizer are fighting the last war.

If the press was convinced that Mitt Romney had lurched too far to the right when he advocated for “self-deportation,” what can the commentary class honestly say of Clinton’s advocacy for a constitutional amendment to limit the freedoms in the First other than that it is genuinely extremist?  If Clinton has been compelled to renounce her husband’s criminal justice reforms and praise one-term New York City Mayor David Dinkins’ approach to quality of life policing, how can Clinton possibly retain her claim to represent the moderate middle?

“The big story here is that an avowed socialist who voted with the Democratic Party in the Senate, but wouldn’t join it, now feels comfortable seeking its presidential nomination,” Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane observed. “This says a lot about the party’s long-term ideological trajectory, and Clinton’s compatibility with it, or lack thereof.”

Clinton will emerge from this primary process a candidate pushed farther to the left than those concerned with her electability might like. It will be incumbent on an establishment political press that implicitly blamed GOP primary participants for Romney’s failure to connect with a majority of general election voters to observe that Clinton is running a similar risk. Of course, it goes without saying that expecting that display of consistency from the media a dubious prospect.

 

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Are Rick Santorum’s Liberal Economic Preferences Really Smart Politics?

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earned quite a bit of well-deserved grief when he bizarrely and baselessly accused his fellow Republicans of giving life to the ISIS threat. He does, however, deserve quite a bit of credit for advancing the Republican Party’s agenda both culturally and politically in a way that other Republicans do not. Read More

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earned quite a bit of well-deserved grief when he bizarrely and baselessly accused his fellow Republicans of giving life to the ISIS threat. He does, however, deserve quite a bit of credit for advancing the Republican Party’s agenda both culturally and politically in a way that other Republicans do not.

Paul’s deft defense of his principled pro-life stance compelled the political press to turn the tables on Democratic figures like Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who traditionally demagogues the issue of abortion rights unchecked by a critical media. What’s more, the junior Kentucky senator’s devotion to the cause of minority outreach is exemplary. Both Paul’s mission and his style of execution are worthy of emulation, and the entire 2016 Republican field would do well to consider following his lead.

It is, however, objectively true that Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions do not reflect consensus opinion among his party’s voters. If Rand Paul regards the 2003 Iraq War and the ensuing aftermath as a mistake, he shares that opinion with only 28 percent of his fellow Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released on Thursday. By contrast, 78 percent of self-identified Democrats share the view that the Iraq War was a mistake. The senator’s views on the war and its still reverberating impacts are more closely aligned with the opposition than the members of his own party.

Similarly, another Republican presidential aspirant has determined to tether his political fortunes to a set of policy positions that could be, or at least should be, out of step with the rest of his party.

Sen. Rick Santorum is generally known for his socially conservative views on a variety of divisive subjects like abortion and same-sex marriage, but it is his economic vision that most defines him as a Republican presidential candidate.

“Regardless of what people think about Rick, and I know a lot of people in Manhattan may not like him, he’s got the best message — the best economic message — for Republicans,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough insisted on Friday. Santorum had just joined the MSNBC panel where discussed his economic platform, much of which he espoused in 2012. Some of Santorum’s policy preferences include providing tax incentives to manufacturers, eliminating tax breaks for firms that contract out or ship manufacturing work abroad, casting a skeptical eye toward free trade, and hiking the federal minimum wage.

On the most divisive free trade agreements, it would be difficult to identify where Santorum’s policy preferences diverge from those of Vermont’s self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. In the U.S. Senate, Santorum voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement. Apparently, his views on free trade have not changed in the last 22 years. Though he told Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle that he generally favors trade, Santorum remains opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement because the president who would be negotiating the deal “has not proven to be reliable or trustworthy.” But the former senator objected to NAFTA not because Bill Clinton would sign it (many of the terms were negotiated during George H. W. Bush’s administration), but because it would “produce pockets of winners and losers across the country” and his state would be in the latter group.

In 2014, Santorum told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that his party’s opposition to hiking the minimum wage “makes no sense,” and added that he believes at least 7 and preferably 9 percent of the nation should be covered by the minimum wage. “Let’s not make this argument that we’re for the blue collar guy but we’re against any minimum wage hike ever,” Santorum said. The presumption that a minimum wage hike helps workers rather than creates incentives for their employers to automate and thus eliminate their positions is fallacious.

Santorum’s policy preferences are based not in sound market economics, but in a gauzy and romantic reflection on an idealized American past epitomized by a manufacturing-based economy that no longer exists. To sustain that fantasy, Santorum would use tax breaks, trade impediments, and market-distorting incentives to retain the low-skill employment opportunities that have already largely gone overseas. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Scarborough embraced the GOP candidate with the most programmatically liberal economic positions in the race.

There are some who contend that Santorum’s policy preferences might not be economically conservative, but they at least smart politics. Republicans suffer from the dubious but prolific perception that theirs is the party of the rich, and Santorum is focused squarely on attracting middle and even low-income voters. There’s just one problem with this theory: The voters Santorum are trying to attract are already in the GOP’s corner.

As National Journal’s Ron Brownstein observed, the majority of the Republican Party’s gains since 2010 have come from predominantly blue-collar areas of the country with a majority white or aging population. “These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced,” Emerging Democratic Majority co-author John Judis wrote of the working-class white voters who primarily occupy “blue-collar and lower-income service jobs.” Indeed, one of the most staggering developments of the Obama era is that states like Wisconsin and Michigan, places where the labor movement in America was born, are now Right to Work states. As the labor union movement has dissolved, so has the Republican Party’s appeal to traditionally pro-labor constituencies.

If one were comparing outreach strategies, it’s hard not to conclude that Rand Paul’s is infinitely more valuable to the GOP than is Santorum’s. The former Pennsylvania senator is reaching out to voters who are already receptive to the Republican message.

If Santorum did not hold traditionally conservative views on value issues as well as on foreign policy, it would not be unfair to question whether his policy preferences are a good fit for his party. His economic philosophy is not all that dramatically divergent from the left. Perhaps this is why, now that he is contending with stiff competition for the values vote from candidates like Mike Huckabee, Santorum struggles to even register in the polls of Republican primary voters despite the fact that he won 11 states and nearly 20 percent of their vote just three and a half years ago.

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An Heir But No Spare

The slow drip of scandal surrounding the Clintons continues apace.

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to release the 55,000 emails that Hillary Clinton turned over as being concerned with official business on a monthly basis, all of them by next January, before the first primary. The 300 emails that the State Department released late on Friday afternoon last week (just before a three-day weekend, a classic ploy to minimize attention) proved more than newsworthy, so one can only wonder what is in the remaining 54,700.

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The slow drip of scandal surrounding the Clintons continues apace.

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to release the 55,000 emails that Hillary Clinton turned over as being concerned with official business on a monthly basis, all of them by next January, before the first primary. The 300 emails that the State Department released late on Friday afternoon last week (just before a three-day weekend, a classic ploy to minimize attention) proved more than newsworthy, so one can only wonder what is in the remaining 54,700.

It has also come out that Bill Clinton formed a shell company in Delaware as a pass-through to receive income. Even more interesting is the fact that it was formed on December 3rd, 2008, two days after President-elect Obama named Hillary as his secretary of state.

And yesterday as Swiss authorities were rounding the upper echelons of FIFA, which governs professional soccer, for decades of corruption, it turns out that one of the major donors to the Clinton Foundation (between $250,000 and $500,000) is (wait for it!) FIFA. As Paul Mirengoff of Power Line puts it, “where’s there’s corruption, there’s the Clinton Foundation.”

Candidates can suddenly become non-viable. In 2002, Senator Bob Torricelli of New Jersey was running for re-election when it came out that David Chang, who had ties to North Korea, had made illegal campaign contributions to him. He had no choice but to withdraw and be replaced on the Democratic line by former Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Could it happen to Hillary? You bet. There is an ever-growing legion of reporters, sniffing blood, looking into the Clintons’ tangled affairs. The slow drip could turn into a torrent and Hillary might have no choice but to decide to spend more time with her grandchildren.

So it seems to me that the Democratic Party should follow the traditional plan of royalty and have both an heir and a spare.

But who could the spare be? Joe Biden? He would dearly love the job, but he’ll turn 74 in November, 2016, far older than any previous president’s first election, and he’s generally regarded as a bit of a joke. Elizabeth Warren? She’s no spring chicken herself at 65, and she’s so far to the left that she’d be George McGovern in a pants suit. Bernie Sanders? He’s announced, but he’ll be 75 on Election Day and he’s an avowed socialist who advocates a 90 percent tax rate for high earners. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland? Well, at least he’s not receiving Social Security (he’s 52).  But his own lieutenant governor couldn’t carry this deep blue state in last year’s election, despite O’Malley’s energetic campaigning for him. Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia? He’s a centrist, which means the Democratic base would go ballistic (not to mention stay home on Election Day).

Who else is there? I really can’t think of anyone.

The Democrats, in their own self-interest, had better start looking for a spare, in case the heir implodes.

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Rand Paul is Running for the Wrong Party’s Nomination

After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

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After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

The most stalwart libertarian supporters of the Paul clan grew disenchanted with the prodigal son when it became apparent that he was vying to actually win his party’s presidential nomination, and was thus compelled to appeal to the broadest base of Republicans possible by adopting more moderate stances on matters relating to foreign affairs.  For a moment, it appeared as though Paul might prove an attractive candidate for a majority of war-weary conservatives leery of the intrusive security state. But the wave of anti-government sentiment among conservatives that crested in 2013 was dashed against the rocks of renewed fears about Islamist terrorism, the rise of ISIS, and revanchism evidenced by state actors like Russia, China, and Iran. Today, rather than broadening his base, Paul clings as desperately as he can to that meager coalition that inspired nearly 11 percent of GOP primary voters to cast their ballots for former Rep. Ron Paul in 2012.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, Paul channeled his father when he was asked whether the present incarnation of ISIS, the successor organization to the defanged and exiled al-Qaeda in Iraq, would have arisen had the United States aggressively contained the Syrian Civil War in Syria in 2012-2013. “[Sen. Lindsey] Graham would say ISIS exists because of people like Rand Paul who said, ‘Let’s not go into Syria,’” Scarborough noted. “What do you say to Lindsey?”

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite,” Paul replied. “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS.”

“These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier,” he added. “They created these people.”

This is a rather juvenile and unconvincing effort to square a predetermined conclusion with contradictory evidence. The responsibility the West shirked in Syria was the maintenance of the prohibition on the battlefield use of chemical weapons, not in combating terrorism. President Barack Obama declined to mete out the consequences he promised Bashar al-Assad should the Syrian dictator continue to use chemical weapons, and instead relied on Russia to broker an arrangement that preserved their client in Damascus and helped Obama to save face. Nearly two years later, chemical weapons are regularly deployed in Syria, and the world is a more dangerous place as global actors test the parameters of America’s commitment to its word. Apparently, Rand Paul thinks that this is sound form of statecraft.

Paul’s instinctual aversion to interventionism may be principled if not wrongheaded, but it is a losing approach to the Republican presidential primaries.

“Nearly three-quarter of Republicans now favor sending ground troops into combat against the Islamic State, according to a CBS News poll last week,” a February report in the New York Times read. “And in Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states, Republicans said military action against the group was, alongside economic matters, the most important issue in the 2016 election, according to an NBC survey released last week.”

“When Pew asked respondents to choose between ‘using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world’ and ‘relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,’ last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent,” the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman noted in that same month.

Regardless of what you think of Paul’s approach to governance, his is not a strategy aimed at winning the support of even a plurality of Republican primary voters. It is increasingly unclear, however, if Paul is even interested in securing the GOP nod. The junior Kentucky senator seems to find himself more at home in liberal enclaves than he does in the Republican Party’s geographic heartland. A recent Times dispatch noted that Paul recently found himself warmly received in a manner not often reserved for Republicans in the liberal bastion of Manhattan. “Paul played to the crowd,” the report read, noting that his speech “had echoes of the messages of his father.” The Bluegrass State senator is equally eager to reach out to atypical Republican voters in places like the Bay Area. Paul’s decision to open an office near San Francisco in order to appeal to libertarians in the Silicon Valley last year was framed as an outreach effort when, in reality, it’s more likely constituency maintenance.

Rand Paul is no longer waging a broad-based campaign to win the Republican nomination. His candidacy looks more and more like a factional effort to compel the Republican Party to embrace the libertarian foreign policy prescriptions of retrenchment and disengagement; policies already espoused by the present occupant of the Oval Office and which must be defended by his party’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton.

The promise of Rand Paul’s campaign was that it would build his father’s political base into a mainstream force that would shift the GOP in a libertarian direction. While Paul’s adherence to his principles, as dangerous as they are, is laudable, they render him as niche a candidate as his father ever was.

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Carly Fiorina’s Choice

Carly Fiorina is about to become the Democratic Party’s favorite Republican.

The honor of being the Republican held in high regard by the left is reserved primarily for the members of that political party who have either lost a high-profile race, died, or both. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard might, however, earn Democratic esteem by virtue of being excluded from the group of top-tier GOP debate participants when the 2016 presidential primary race begins in earnest.

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Carly Fiorina is about to become the Democratic Party’s favorite Republican.

The honor of being the Republican held in high regard by the left is reserved primarily for the members of that political party who have either lost a high-profile race, died, or both. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard might, however, earn Democratic esteem by virtue of being excluded from the group of top-tier GOP debate participants when the 2016 presidential primary race begins in earnest.

Jonathan Tobin noted how Fox News Channel and CNN’s plans to either cut underperforming candidates off or to establish a two-tiered system in which floundering candidates will compete in their own separate but equal debate will make for a long, hot summer for the GOP. No fewer than five prospective Republican presidential candidates are polling so poorly that they may not meet the required threshold of support in the average of recent surveys to join the top tier candidates on the debate stage. Only one of those candidates, however, has captured the media’s attention, and it is no secret as to why.

If the debates were held tomorrow, a variety of qualified candidates would be excluded or relegated to the also-ran stage. Many are perfectly well qualified, and their exclusion should inspire some introspection among Republicans. Likely candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the chief executive of a must-win state in which the party will hold its nominating convention. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry governed one of the largest states in the Union, a border state and one in which the most influential mass of GOP voters reside, for three terms. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the last candidate standing in 2012 before Mitt Romney secured the delegates required to win the nomination, and he only conceded his loss after carrying 11 states. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the youngest Republican candidate in the field, the Indian-American son of immigrant parents, and the candidate perhaps best positioned to represent the GOP’s evangelical base. But only Fiorina’s exclusion will inspire hand-wringing thought pieces and fiery cable news panel segments, and that has everything to do with Hillary Clinton’s gender-centric presidential campaign.

It is not preordained that Fiorina will be unable to generate enough support in the coming months to secure a coveted spot on the GOP debate stage. The former candidate for U.S. Senate in California is a skilled communicator, a deft campaigner, has been positioning herself as uniquely able to neutralize Clinton’s advantages, and has chosen to fundraise rather than whine in the face of the adversity presented by her modest support in the polls. If, however, the debates were held tomorrow, Fiorina would be relegated to the kids’ table.

Predictably, the left and their allies in the press will frame this as a snub. Both the Republican Party brass and the base of GOP primary voters have rejected their only female candidate, they’ll note. By inference, the media will imply that Republican voters’ rejection of Fiorina is as unthinking as will be their rejection of Clinton in November, 2016. With varying degrees of subtlety, the implication will be made that the obstacles Fiorina’s campaign encountered are due to the brutish bias of those to whom she was attempting to appeal.

When Fox News revealed that its criteria would exclude some highly qualified candidates from the debates, a series of headlines made note of the suboptimal optics associated with the likely exclusion the GOP field’s only female candidate. It is perhaps unsurprising that this instinct merely reflected the thinking inside Democratic circles. “At this point the Republican clown car isn’t big enough for the only girl clown, and that shows you why Hillary Clinton will be the next president,” an unnamed Democratic operative told the Daily Mail.

If Fiorina fails to make the cut ahead of the Fox and CNN debates, the former CEO will find herself at the center of a media melee. It will certainly be tempting for the unloved presidential candidate to bask in the newfound attention, generate some publicity and much-needed name recognition ahead of the primaries, and perhaps entertain the notion that her inability to appeal to the Republican voting base has its roots in something other than reason. If she took this approach, Fiorina would do her candidacy, her party, and her country a great disservice. Fiorina is, however, likely to take a much more productive approach to contending with this hardship.

In the media, Fiorina’s attacks on Clinton’s qualifications for the presidency have apparently grown quite irksome. Former GOP strategist Nicolle Wallace recently advised Fiorina to back off what she saw as increasingly “personal” attacks on the former secretary of state. Yahoo’s Katie Couric, too, questioned whether Fiorina’s “unkind words” for Clinton, including critiquing her accomplishments, was ill advised. Fiorina smartly replied that her qualifications for the presidency are based in merit rather than her title or her gender. If she is excluded from the debate stage, Fiorina should maintain that this is the result of a meritocratic process based on objective polling data.

If Fiorina declines to wallow in self-pity amid inevitable prodding of reporters in that direction, she will sacrifice her position as media darling and the spike in name recognition that accompanies this condition. To do so would, however, be the nobler course of action. It would also demonstrate why Fiorina deserved to be on that stage in the first place.

Carly Fiorina may soon have to make that choice, and it won’t be an easy one. But if her past actions are any indication of future performance, she can be expected to make the right call.

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The Slow, Painful Death of the Iowa Straw Poll

The Iowa Straw Poll, sometimes referred to as the Ames Straw Poll in reference to its former host city, has been teetering on the brink of demise for years. It had been dealt a hundred cuts over the decades; many of them self-inflicted, but others meted out by allies and adversaries alike. Perhaps the most serious wound now threatening the future of the Iowa Straw Poll was delivered this week by an unlikely source, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It is a blow from which the event that marks the informal start to the presidential campaign season may not recover.

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The Iowa Straw Poll, sometimes referred to as the Ames Straw Poll in reference to its former host city, has been teetering on the brink of demise for years. It had been dealt a hundred cuts over the decades; many of them self-inflicted, but others meted out by allies and adversaries alike. Perhaps the most serious wound now threatening the future of the Iowa Straw Poll was delivered this week by an unlikely source, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It is a blow from which the event that marks the informal start to the presidential campaign season may not recover.

In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, the winner of the 2008 Hawkeye State caucuses revealed that he would not compete in the quadrennial straw poll. Huckabee insisted that to do so would only distract him from his focus on courting the votes that count.

“In 2008, I competed and finished second in the Iowa straw poll — our first big break on our way to winning the Iowa caucuses and receiving the most votes ever cast for a Republican in the history of the Iowa caucuses,” Huckabee wrote. “But to win in 2016, it’s important to learn from the mistakes of the last few election cycles, in which conservatives were divided and opened a path for a more moderate establishment candidate to ultimately win the nomination, only to lose to Obama.”

Displaying perhaps more candor on the matter, Huckabee went on to note accurately that the winner of the Straw Poll rarely goes on to win either the caucuses or the party’s nomination. And he’s correct. The last politician to win the Straw Poll, the caucuses, and the nomination was George W. Bush in 1999-2000. In fact, Bush remains the only politician to have earned that title in the Straw Poll’s six-election cycle history (Bob Dole won the caucuses and the nomination in 1996, but he shared his Straw Poll victory in 1995 with Sen. Phil Graham).

In an appearance on Fox & Friends on Thursday explaining his decision, Huckabee candidly confessed that competing for the top spot in the Straw Poll might be more trouble than it’s worth. “It’s not a good indicator, but it can be an eliminator,” the former governor said of the pyrrhic effect of a Straw Poll victory.

Huckabee is only the latest Republican presidential aspirant to forego competing for a Straw Poll victory. Citing a scheduling conflict, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has already indicated that will not compete for the approval of Straw Poll participants. Huckabee is the first, however, to contend that the early contest is a waste of campaign resources. Moreover, he is the first candidate to bow out of the Iowa Straw Poll that had a decent chance of winning it, or at least of finishing with a strong showing.

Huckabee’s contention that the cost of competing in the Straw Poll is not worth the reward also has merit. Candidates who compete effectively in the Straw Poll are those that have the funding and organization required to bus supporters in from all around Iowa, incurring both the costs associated with that transportation and attendance at the event. It’s prohibitive for most candidates, even those like Huckabee with national name recognition and a strong base of support in Iowa.

Huckabee’s may be the unkindest cut of all, but the Straw Poll has been dying a slow death for decades. It may only be mourned by its organizers when it is finally retired.

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How to Answer the Question of the Week

I am mystified as to why Republicans are always so polite to journalists who are, obviously, allied to the liberal side of American politics and are willing to carry water for it.

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I am mystified as to why Republicans are always so polite to journalists who are, obviously, allied to the liberal side of American politics and are willing to carry water for it.

For instance, for the last week, journalists have been asking Republican presidential hopefuls a question. “Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?” All the candidates have answered the question, some better than others. Jeb Bush did the worst job and had to amend his answer not once but twice.

But why answer it at all? The question is a pointless hypothetical, utterly irrelevant to the politics of 2015. Its transparent purpose is to avoid talking about the fast gathering disaster of Iraq today.

So, if I were running for president (alright, no snickering in the back of the room, please), I’d answer in one of two ways. First way, ask the journalist a question. In response to “Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003,” ask “Knowing what you know now, would you have abandoned Iraq in 2011?” and then talk about how the new president in 2017 will have to deal with the results of the most shockingly inept American foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson sailed for Paris a century ago.

The second way to answer would be to ask, “Excuse me, is this a history show or a news show? Are you a historian or a journalist? If the latter why aren’t you asking about what I would do in the future, not what I would have done in the past? Are you trying to protect the Obama Administration from the criticism it so richly deserves for its disastrous foreign policy?” When the journalist, inevitably, says no to that, say, “Well, you could have fooled me. How about asking me an honest question?”

As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, punch back twice as hard.

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