Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Clinton’s Parallel Government and Obama’s Great Miscalculation

When it was revealed last week that the Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Fox anchor Bret Baier asked a good question: “How big a problem is this becoming? Now not only for Clinton but for the [Obama] administration?” Now with latest revelations that for purposes of digital communication Hillary essentially ran her own parallel government, it’s clear that Clinton’s ethical lapses should also be a scandal for President Obama. But to understand where Obama went wrong here it’s instructive to remember how he approached the idea of nominating Hillary to be his secretary of state after the 2008 election.

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When it was revealed last week that the Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Fox anchor Bret Baier asked a good question: “How big a problem is this becoming? Now not only for Clinton but for the [Obama] administration?” Now with latest revelations that for purposes of digital communication Hillary essentially ran her own parallel government, it’s clear that Clinton’s ethical lapses should also be a scandal for President Obama. But to understand where Obama went wrong here it’s instructive to remember how he approached the idea of nominating Hillary to be his secretary of state after the 2008 election.

First, the latest: not only did Hillary Clinton exclusively use private email addresses to avoid transparency and record keeping. She, as the AP reveals today, operated her own server at her home:

The computer server that transmitted and received Hillary Clinton’s emails — on a private account she used exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state — traced back to an Internet service registered to her family’s home in Chappaqua, New York, according to Internet records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Later, the AP explains why she did it, and how great of a security risk it was:

Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails. And since the Secret Service was guarding Clinton’s home, an email server there would have been well protected from theft or a physical hacking.

But homebrew email servers are generally not as reliable, secure from hackers or protected from fires or floods as those in commercial data centers. Those professional facilities provide monitoring for viruses or hacking attempts, regulated temperatures, off-site backups, generators in case of power outages, fire-suppression systems and redundant communications lines.

As I said, Clinton essentially operated her own parallel government. Several commentators raised the same question with regard to Clinton only using private email addresses to conduct state business: Didn’t President Obama and his staff notice immediately that she was emailing them from a non-government account? The answer is: of course. The Obama White House is certainly implicated in this.

But it’s also worth pointing out that Obama always overestimated the degree to which he could control Clintonworld. As Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes detail in their admiring book on Hillary’s time at State, HRC, Obama made the classic mistake of trying to coopt a force that would otherwise be disruptive to his agenda. Clinton seemed intent on going back to the Senate, where she could act as a kind of gatekeeper to Obama’s legislative agenda. Understandably, Obama would rather have her on his team.

Obama didn’t think much of Clinton’s experience abroad. HRC notes Obama’s belief that Hillary’s sense of worldliness amounted to “what world leader I went and talked to in the ambassador’s house, who I had tea with.” In Obama’s estimation, Hillary was not up to the task of being a top figure on the world stage.

But Obama wasn’t looking necessarily for competence or experience. His view in piecing together his team has always been about sidelining critics and rivals. So, fully aware that Hillary was unqualified, he asked her to be secretary of state. Allen and Parnes write:

Obama wanted Hillary on his team, and in making the case to his own aides, he knocked down the argument he had made on the trail that her experience was limited to tea parties. As important, having Hillary on the inside would let Obama keep control over perhaps the nation’s most potent political force other than himself.

Except it wouldn’t. Sometimes the Clintons’ parallel government works in Obama’s favor, such as Clinton’s Benghazi disaster. Her independent email server and private addresses enabled her to hide her correspondence on the attack, which also shielded the rest of the administration from that scrutiny. Obama is infamously secretive about his own records and his administration’s unprecedented lack of transparency was a good match for the Clintons.

But it also meant a certain degree of this went beyond his control. Hillary’s family foundation, which essentially became a super-PAC for foreign governments, was supposed to have donations vetted. They didn’t. They were supposed to have Bill Clinton’s paid events cleared. And they did–they were cleared by Hillary’s State Department. They weren’t supposed to accept foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state. They did.

Clintonworld operated as a distinct, independent entity for its own purposes while also running American foreign policy. The phrase “conflict of interest” does not even begin to approach the disturbing ethical calculations here. But it can’t be argued that Obama didn’t know what he was getting the country into. He just thought he could control it. He was wrong, and he was wrong to try. And we’re only beginning to see the consequences.

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How Republicans Benefit from Carly Fiorina’s Candidacy

The inability of liberal writers and journalists to hide their intellectual laziness around conservative women has been a recurring theme of the modern political era. As the Obama administration’s “war on women” showed, the left tends to believe women are incapable of thinking independently. And as liberals showed with regard to Sarah Palin in 2008, a certain degree of irrational hatred is an important component of the left’s political agenda when running against conservative women. But what happens when a Republican presidential candidate is a woman who can’t be caricatured? We’re about to find out.

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The inability of liberal writers and journalists to hide their intellectual laziness around conservative women has been a recurring theme of the modern political era. As the Obama administration’s “war on women” showed, the left tends to believe women are incapable of thinking independently. And as liberals showed with regard to Sarah Palin in 2008, a certain degree of irrational hatred is an important component of the left’s political agenda when running against conservative women. But what happens when a Republican presidential candidate is a woman who can’t be caricatured? We’re about to find out.

That’s because the prospective candidacy of Carly Fiorina, while a (very) long shot for the Republican nomination, has given the GOP a valuable voice: a woman unquestionably much smarter than her Democratic adversaries who can mock Hillary Clinton with abandon. Fiorina may be angling for the vice presidency, though she would be an obvious cabinet choice as well. And unlike Jeb Bush, Fiorina’s lack of support from the conservative base is a major asset to the seriousness of her candidacy as it’s perceived by the media. She’s not pandering quite as much, and she’s demonstrating, rather than simply claiming, independence.

And she’s going to force the media to expand their vocabulary beyond the phrases “Sarah Palin” and “Michele Bachmann.” They lean heavily on these parallels. The L.A. Times’s David Horsey wrote the perfect example of this laziness on the occasion of the new Republican Senate majority, headlined “Move over, Sarah Palin; Joni Ernst is the GOP’s new star.” Palin and Ernst are very different, but they’re both women, which was the best Horsey’s mental faculties were capable of.

Palin gets this a lot; two Israeli reporters recently profiled the Likud’s Miri Regev and called her “the closest thing Israel has to Sarah Palin,” without even bothering to build a case for their comparison. It was published in the Daily Beast, which (of course) went with the Palin comparison for the headline as well, plucked from the opening paragraph.

This brand of political “analysis” is familiar to Bachmann too. One of the strangest examples was in a recent New York Times Magazine piece on Russia by the Russian-Jewish novelist Gary Shteyngart. The piece was a nonfiction essay chronicling Shteyngart’s experience sitting in a fancy hotel room and watching Russian television. In the course of this snooze fest we’re treated to the following sentence: “When Conchita won, back in May, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist in Russia’s Parliament who is roughly equivalent to Michele Bachmann, said her victory meant ‘the end of Europe.’” (The essay did have the virtue of demonstrating why Shteyngart is not a political analyst.)

Fiorina won’t attract such lowest-common-denominator attacks. Her executive experience is in the private sector, at Hewlett-Packard and AT&T, and that not only gives her some economic fluency but also infuses her rhetoric and her persona with a non-politician’s accessibility. And of course, she can be condescending to Hillary without coming off as bullying or sexist.

Her CPAC speech contained a few good lines, such as:

  • “Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”
  • “She tweets about women’s rights in this country, and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights.”
  • “She tweets about equal pay for women but will not answer basic questions about her own office’s pay standards and neither will our president. Hillary may like hashtags but she doesn’t know what leadership means.”

There is only so much mileage to get out of such lines, but when said by a man the media would pounce and change the story to sexism and GOP “overreach.” Coming from Fiorina, the lines are at least allowed to hang in the air for a while.

She also had more substantive things to say, of course, and was able to personalize them in an effective way. Here’s one example from the speech:

When I battled cancer, I needed many helping hands. When my husband, Frank, and I lost our youngest daughter, Laurie, to the demons of addiction, we relied on the strength of our family, the solace of our faith, but we were also lifted up by the prayers and kindness of so many strangers who became blessings in our lives. Everyone needs a helping hand, but no one wants to be trapped in the web of dependence that has been woven over decades in our nation. To fill their potential, people need an education: tools, training, support, and they need a job.

The president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union once said this:

“We cannot be held responsible for the performance of the children in our classrooms because too many of them come from poor and broken families.”

Liberals may be prepared to dismiss and disregard Americans because of their circumstances. Liberals may be prepared to consign some to lives of dependence, while others, who think they are smarter, and they are better, will take care of them. But we, as conservatives, are not. We know that no one of us is better than any other one of us. We know that each one of us has God-given gifts and can live a life of dignity and purpose and meaning.

She’s not simply a one-liner generator, in other words. This is not to overstate her odds of winning the nomination: there does not seem to be a path for her to win, and I don’t think she’ll even amass enough of a following to end up on the veep shortlist. The fact that the base seems generally uninterested in her candidacy helps place her out of the “Tea Party extremist” category that the political press so generously uses. But it also means she doesn’t have the votes to make a run.

Nonetheless, Republicans might end up thrilled that she chose to run despite all that. Her presence in the debates would elevate the discussion and keep the details of policy in focus. And she can utilize a line of attack that most others can’t, and let that line of attack sink in over the course of the next year. And no one is likely to compare her to Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

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Howard Dean and the Elmer Fudd Theory of Economic Policymaking

How powerful is Elizabeth Warren? That question, oddly enough, is a key determining factor in the future of the Democratic Party. That’s not because Warren is set for a long career as a Senate powerbroker. It’s because she probably isn’t. Warren is a 65-year-old freshman who is already being encouraged to run for president and who came to government as an outsider. Warren’s power, then, will not be measured as much by her accomplishments in office (though she may accrue some) as by the growth of her faction within the Democratic Party.

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How powerful is Elizabeth Warren? That question, oddly enough, is a key determining factor in the future of the Democratic Party. That’s not because Warren is set for a long career as a Senate powerbroker. It’s because she probably isn’t. Warren is a 65-year-old freshman who is already being encouraged to run for president and who came to government as an outsider. Warren’s power, then, will not be measured as much by her accomplishments in office (though she may accrue some) as by the growth of her faction within the Democratic Party.

Warren’s power will also be evident in how much Hillary Clinton echoes Warren’s political rhetoric. Although Clinton will not consider herself bound by such rhetoric if she’s elected, the fact that she might believe she needs Warren’s approval will speak volumes about Warren’s influence over a Democratic nominating process that is expected to be a coronation and a cakewalk.

Indeed, the last time voters put the Clintons in the White House, it was Bill Clinton who was leading the party’s rhetoric in a new direction. Democrats followed Bill to the presidency. It will be quite a change of pace if the Clintons are next sent to the White House only after recognizing that they were no longer setting the ideological agenda of their party, but merely following instructions.

And that’s a chance centrist Democrats–who insist they still exist, and you are not imagining them after taking too much NyQuil–aren’t willing to take. According to The Hill, the old New Democrat Coalition is back:

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

“I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she’s a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side.”

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, “it’s going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition.”

It’s the revenge of the mushy middle. The rhetoric seems to be the biggest sticking point for these Democrats. How much does the policy agenda need to break with Warren and her wing to be successful? It depends who you ask.

For some, the aggressive anti-business rhetoric is the point. When The Hill asked one Democratic member of Congress about the two emerging camps, they responded: “There’s no need to get me in trouble … I don’t need an angry phone call from Bill Clinton.”

Comments like that suggest that on policy grounds, some of these Warren wingers are in it for the pitchforks and torches, but if they pipe down, the Clintons won’t even realize they think of Bill and Hillary and their supporters as filthy capitalist pigs. Along similar lines, some centrists seem to think that if you don’t tell businessmen and women you’re confiscating their earned income for redistributive schemes, they won’t notice. “Economic growth is a precondition to reducing inequality,” said Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall, another self-styled centrist. “You can’t redistribute wealth that you’re not generating.”

That’s true, but also a bit of a mixed message, to say the least.

That’s about where Howard Dean lands on the spectrum too. He told The Hill: “Our program cannot be soak the rich — that’s a mistake and alienates middle class people. But on substance, the Warren wing is correct.”

So, you can soak the rich, then? That’s the “substance” of the Warren wingers’ economic policy. What Dean seems to be calling the “program” is actually the party’s rhetoric. Of course, you could also follow Dean’s advice by enacting policies that are sold as one thing but accomplish another. You could theoretically design, say, a health-care plan that claims to be about providing access but is really a wealth transfer from the middle class to lower-earning Americans whose votes Democrats would really like to lock in for generations. You could call this policy “ObamaCare.”

The economic populists have the advantage of momentum and a president animated by class warfare. But they are at a disadvantage in another area, which Dean alludes to in what can best be understood as the Elmer Fudd theory of economic policymaking. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. According to Dean: “The rhetoric about wealth creation needs to be scaled back because Americans like wealth creation.”

You don’t say. Americans like capitalism and economic freedom. What Americans like, in other words, is the system the Warren wingers want to tear down. It’s also a system that has been very good to the Clintons. If the Warren wing can get Hillary Clinton to run on a program that implicitly delegitimizes the Clintons’ own success, the New Democrats will remain irrelevant.

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The GOP Has An Image Problem with the Middle Class

The Pew Research Center’s latest survey paints a very mixed picture for the Republican Party.

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The Pew Research Center’s latest survey paints a very mixed picture for the Republican Party.

The good news for Republicans is the GOP has opened substantial leads on dealing with the terrorist threat at home (20 points), making wise decisions about foreign policy (13 points), and dealing with taxes (11 points). “On each of these issues,” according to Pew, “the GOP’s lead is as wide—or wider—than at any point in the last several years.”

When it comes to which party is better able to handle the overall economy, Republicans have a slight lead (44 percent v. 41 percent). Democrats have a slight lead on immigration (+2), abortion and contraception (+3), and health care (+7).

About half of those surveyed, 52 percent, say the Democratic Party has good policy ideas while slightly fewer than half (48 percent) say the same about the GOP. On who should take the lead in solving the nation’s problems, 40 percent say President Obama while 38 percent say GOP leaders. (President Obama’s job approval is now 48 percent v. 26 percent for the leaders of the new Republican Congress.)

But if Republicans are doing relatively well on issues, they are doing quite poorly in terms of image and public perception. Most Americans see the GOP lacking in tolerance and empathy for the middle class, and half view it as too extreme. To be precise, 60 percent say the Democratic Party “cares about the middle class” while only 43 percent say the same thing about the Republican Party–a 17 point gap. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed say the Democratic Party “is tolerant and open to all groups of people” versus 35 percent for Republicans. And half of those surveyed say the Republican Party is too extreme while only 36 percent view the Democratic Party as too extreme.

Among independents, more say the Democratic Party is tolerant and open (58 percent v. 33 percent for Republicans) and concerned about the middle class (56 percent v. 40 percent), while by a margin of 16 points, 54 percent to 38 percent, independents say the GOP is too extreme. (Majorities of independents say each party has strong principles, with Republicans having a +9 advantage, 63 percent v. 54 percent, over Democrats.)

About these findings, I’d say several things, the first of which is that Republicans would be foolish to ignore the findings or respond defensively to them. Many Republicans will of course feel these impressions are unfair, the product of biased media coverage and so forth. But they need to understand how the GOP is seen by voters, since accepting there’s a problem is the first step toward correcting it.

Second, Republicans need to be aware of how certain actions (e.g., pursuing policies that shut down the federal government and linking childhood vaccinations to autism) reinforce certain perceptions (the GOP is too extreme). Republicans have to realize that tone and disposition in politicians are enormously important, that people of strong philosophical/conservative convictions need to radiate a temperamental moderation. By that I mean they need to come across as not just principle but also as reassuring, as serious-minded and well-grounded, people of equanimity and who prize prudence. The extreme language and apocalyptic rhetoric–comparing America to Nazi Germany, constantly invoking warnings of tyranny–just aren’t helpful.

Third, the Republican Party still has a very significant problem with the middle class. That’s why some of us who are identified as “reform conservatives” put together a publication last year, Room To Grow, which lays out a middle-class agenda, one that applies conservative principles to the challenges and problems of this century, this decade, this moment. The Republican Party right now is seen by too many people as principled but out of touch, as champions of the rich rather than the middle class, as too adamantine, and as pursuing a governing agenda that won’t make the lives of ordinary Americans better.

You may believe those impressions are widely off the mark, or somewhat off the mark, or true in part. But the impressions are there, they are deep and rather durable, and if Republicans hope to win the presidency in 2016, they best nominate a person who has the intellectual and personal qualities to change them.

The opportunity for Republicans to win next year will certainly be there; the question is whether the right person will rise from the ranks.

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Scott Walker’s Reagan-Nixon Test

The brouhaha over the latest ambush interview of Scott Walker hadn’t even finished before the Wisconsin governor got some very good news that diminished the importance of some of his latest slipups with the press. The Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans published today showed Walker with an astonishing 12 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor among fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. But with success in a presidential race comes scrutiny, and Walker has been getting a lot of from sources that do not share the enthusiasm for his policies that exist among a broad spectrum of potential GOP voters. Though he’s polling well, his less-than-sparkling performance when grilled by liberal journalists about such ridiculous topics as evolution and whether President Obama is a Christian shows that he’s not only got a lot to learn about being a presidential candidate. The reaction to these stories also shows that he has a choice to make about what kind of a Republican he wants to be: Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon?

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The brouhaha over the latest ambush interview of Scott Walker hadn’t even finished before the Wisconsin governor got some very good news that diminished the importance of some of his latest slipups with the press. The Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans published today showed Walker with an astonishing 12 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor among fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. But with success in a presidential race comes scrutiny, and Walker has been getting a lot of from sources that do not share the enthusiasm for his policies that exist among a broad spectrum of potential GOP voters. Though he’s polling well, his less-than-sparkling performance when grilled by liberal journalists about such ridiculous topics as evolution and whether President Obama is a Christian shows that he’s not only got a lot to learn about being a presidential candidate. The reaction to these stories also shows that he has a choice to make about what kind of a Republican he wants to be: Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon?

With more than 11 months to go before they vote, nobody in Walker’s camp should be celebrating yet. But his streak to the top of the GOP field after a remarkably successful couple of months promoting his prospective candidacy should cause those anointing Jeb Bush as the overwhelming favorite and frontrunner to start hedging their bets. As I’ve written here before, Walker’s fights against union thugs and their Democratic enablers in Wisconsin made him a folk hero to Tea Partiers and other conservatives while his strong record of both electoral success and good governance along with a positive persona and commonsense approach to economics has endeared him to establishment Republicans too. His humble background also makes him attractive to a party that should have learned that nominating millionaires isn’t the way to shed their image as the party of the rich.

But nobody gets to be president without going through the gauntlet of intense press scrutiny that is part of any national campaign. No matter what you’ve gone through on a state level—even in a purple/blue state like Wisconsin—it doesn’t compare to playing in the big leagues of presidential politics. Walker has gotten a taste of that in the last month as he’s found himself being quizzed about topics that have no relevance to the presidential race. His fumbles when faced with these absurd questions became fodder for the national press that viewed his equivocations about Darwin’s theory and the president’s faith to be proof that he was either a troglodyte fool or an incompetent bungler waiting to be taken down by a ravenous liberal media much in the manner that an unprepared Sarah Palin was felled during the 2008 campaign.

But Walker isn’t taking any of this lying down and he has reportedly used these questions to help fuel his fundraising by asking supporters whether they are going to let the liberal media crucify him over nonsense. Some conservative writers agree. Over at the National Review, Charles Cooke writes that rather than Walker being wrong-footed, it was the media that was embarrassing itself by trying to make a meal out of such inconsequential stuff.

But as much as I sympathize with Walker, I find myself more in agreement with veteran media writer Jack Shafer who points out in a Politico magazine article that what he is going through is par for the course for any presidential candidate, liberal or conservative. Shafer’s right. The “gotcha” journalism Walker and his supporters are denouncing is as old as American democracy. But even if we concede, as we should, that conservatives face a higher bar than liberals and that the bias of the press ensures that they will focus more on trying to make candidates like Walker look stupid, that doesn’t absolve the governor of his obligation to rise above this test and to even turn it to his advantage.

Like it or not, every Republican has the same choice when faced with a biased liberal mainstream media. They can rage at the media or they can rise above it.

There is some advantage to running against the liberal press, as doing so is sure to engender sympathy with the conservative base. Sarah Palin has retained a large following, albeit not large enough to ever cause her to risk her niche as a political celebrity by facing the voters again, by doing just that.

But Republicans who want to win need to emulate Ronald Reagan’s example and smile and shrug off the brickbats hurled at him by liberal journalists. A similarly good-natured George W. Bush did the same for as long as he could until the backwash of the Iraq War and the 2008 economic collapse overwhelmed him.

Instead, all too many conservatives opt for the Richard Nixon approach to the media, labeling them as enemies and snarling defensively at their attempts to trip them up.

The point is, the best way to deal with “gotcha” journalism is not to harp on the stupid questions you’re asked but to simply answer them in ways that don’t provide your opponents with juicy sound bites. The fault lies not in the press for asking Walker to give them some good material but with the governor for stumbling over questions that could be answered easily without saying something dumb or embarrassing. If Walker is going to be undone by a few easy questions now, how is he going to handle even worse as the campaign heats up?

Scott Walker has shown that he has the talent to win tough races and to be undaunted by liberal press. That’s part of what makes him such an attractive presidential candidate. But he won’t do it by whining about “gotcha” journalism. It’s time for him to be Reagan, not Nixon. If he can’t, his lead won’t last.

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Chris Christie’s Lesson: That Door Doesn’t Stay Open Forever

If you want to pick a moment when Chris Christie’s star was at its brightest, the New Jersey governor’s first term had a wealth of choices. But I don’t think any of them topped the end of the question-and-answer session at his Reagan Library speech in the fall of 2011. This was Christie’s “moment.” And though that moment has passed, it’s instructive to recall its high point to understand the lessons that other candidates can learn about the timing of presidential campaigns.

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If you want to pick a moment when Chris Christie’s star was at its brightest, the New Jersey governor’s first term had a wealth of choices. But I don’t think any of them topped the end of the question-and-answer session at his Reagan Library speech in the fall of 2011. This was Christie’s “moment.” And though that moment has passed, it’s instructive to recall its high point to understand the lessons that other candidates can learn about the timing of presidential campaigns.

The penultimate question asked of Christie–just to give a sense of how he was received out in California–was from a self-described “Jersey girl” whose family was back in the Garden State. “I just want to let you know that you make us so proud to be New Jerseyans and so proud to be Americans,” she said. And then she added: “And my Italian mother, she told me to tell you that you’ve got to run for president.” Christie joked that if she was so proud to be a New Jerseyan she ought to get back to Jersey to her family: “Getting more taxpayers, one at a time,” he said with a smile.

But the final question was from another woman in the audience, and here is what she said:

Governor Christie, all kidding aside. I’ve been listening to you tonight. You’re a very powerful and eloquent speaker. You know how to tell the American people what they need to hear. And I say this from the bottom of my heart, from my daughter who is right here and my grandchildren who are at home: I know New Jersey needs you, but I really implore you, I really do–this isn’t funny–I mean this with all my heart. We can’t wait another four years to 2016. And I really implore you, as a citizen of this country, please sir, to reconsider. Don’t even say anything tonight–of course you wouldn’t–go home and really think about it. Please. Do it for my daughter. Do it for our grandchildren. Do it for our sons. Please sir, we need you. Your country needs you to run for president.

Christie’s poll numbers were through the roof in his first term, and he even won the occasional Tea Party presidential straw poll. For 2012.

And that’s the point: in politics, as in much else, timing is everything. Christie’s moment was in 2012. It doesn’t matter if he didn’t feel ready at that time, and it’s admirable that he chose not to run when he believed he owed it to New Jersey to stay put. But that was the open door, and it’s closed now.

Even former supporters in Iowa, as the Associated Press reported a few days ago, are cool to Christie:

Four years ago, seven big-money donors and leading Republican activists from Iowa loaded into a private plane and headed to New Jersey for an urgent meeting with Chris Christie. Their message: Run, Chris, run.

The group from the lead-off caucus state failed in that mission to persuade the brash New Jersey governor to jump into the 2012 race for president. This time around, Christie’s White House ambitions no longer appear to be an issue. But those once-eager Iowans aren’t as keen to throw their support his way.

“It’s a brand new ballgame,” says donor Gary Kirke. “There’s a lot more people in the race, and a lot has happened since then.”

So what happened? Well, we had a scandal (Bridgegate), but that was after Christie’s reelection campaign ran head-smack into Hurricane Sandy. His embrace of President Obama on the eve of the 2012 election was emblematic of his falling out with conservatives, even as it was the foundation of his own reelection landslide. He still likely would have won without it, but the Christie mystique needed a big win to meet expectations, and his handling of the storm’s aftermath provided the fuel for just such a win. The reality of governing a very blue state as a Republican is not particularly conducive to also being a Tea Party hero.

Another aspect of Christie’s fall from conservative grace was the quality of the field in each election. In 2012, Christie was not the first “savior” that activists and donors thought might rescue the GOP from a bevy of weak candidates. There was also, among voters on the right, a sense of urgency in seeking to prevent a second Obama term. This time around, it’s an open seat. And the class of prospective candidates is strong.

But the key point is that we knew all this years ago. It was never going to be a surprise that stronger candidates would emerge in 2016, that Christie’s reelection campaign would have to tack to the center, that governing New Jersey requires a certain amount of cooperation with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, that Christie’s tough-guy approach was bound to find a more sympathetic target than public unions, or that style-centric flavors of the week are soon eclipsed by the next new thing.

That last one is something Barack Obama understood, to his credit. Could Obama’s career have survived losing in 2008 or passing on the race in a nod to Hillary’s “turn”? Sure. But at that point, he was nothing but a speech. And that speech would have been quite stale by the time 2016 rolled around. He wouldn’t have been the young, JFK-like smasher of the status quo. And his essential boringness, bitterness, and lack of knowledge of the issues would have been impossible to hide for another eight years.

2008 was Obama’s moment. 2012 was Christie’s. It doesn’t seem fair for Christie to be punished for his display of humility. But that’s presidential politics. Timing is everything.

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Jeb’s Strength Is Also His Weakness

Jeb Bush traveled to Chicago today to give a speech on foreign policy that demonstrated a good command of important issues as well as some cogent critiques of the Obama administration. But most observers were parsing each line in the speech seeking the answer to the question on seemingly everyone’s mind: Would a third President Bush be more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? Jeb’s answer is that he will be his own man even as he presented a list of foreign-policy advisors peppered with figures from both of those presidencies setting up the possibility that a Bush 45 administration would be divided between realists like James Baker and neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz. But while his ability to summon such broad support from the GOP foreign-policy establishment is a clear strength, like much else about his candidacy it is also a weakness. In a year in which the Democrats will be trying to recycle the Clinton magic of the 1990s, the prospect of a third Bush presidency won’t provide a strong contrast that a fresh face might provide.

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Jeb Bush traveled to Chicago today to give a speech on foreign policy that demonstrated a good command of important issues as well as some cogent critiques of the Obama administration. But most observers were parsing each line in the speech seeking the answer to the question on seemingly everyone’s mind: Would a third President Bush be more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? Jeb’s answer is that he will be his own man even as he presented a list of foreign-policy advisors peppered with figures from both of those presidencies setting up the possibility that a Bush 45 administration would be divided between realists like James Baker and neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz. But while his ability to summon such broad support from the GOP foreign-policy establishment is a clear strength, like much else about his candidacy it is also a weakness. In a year in which the Democrats will be trying to recycle the Clinton magic of the 1990s, the prospect of a third Bush presidency won’t provide a strong contrast that a fresh face might provide.

As Politico notes today, the rollout of Jeb’s foreign-policy platform was just as professional and well thought out as the rest of his campaign. “Shock and awe” is a good way to describe the Bush blitz that drove Mitt Romney out of the race and has put other challengers on notice that if they wait much longer to line up staff and donors, Bush will have stolen a march on them they may not be able to make up.

Moreover, the same applies to Jeb’s foreign-policy views. His speech projected strength both in terms of his unabashed desire to “take out” ISIS terrorists and to reject engagement and appeasement of Iran. Putting his finger on a key problem of the Obama administration’s approach, he said that he, like many Americans, had come to doubt whether the president thinks U.S. power “is a force for good.” He rightly noted that the administration’s record is one that has caused it to be no longer trusted by friends or feared by allies.

Nor was he shy about mentioning Iraq, the memory of which is considered to be his greatest weakness as many voters might blame Jeb for the unpopular war his brother took the U.S. into. He correctly praised the 2007 surge that essentially defeated al-Qaeda and left W’s successor with a war that was won. Obama, whose abandonment of Iraq led to both the rise of ISIS and the strengthening of Iran, squandered that victory. Bush also took aim at Obama’s handling of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, a problem that his brother punted on during his time in power. He correctly accused him of seeking to “manage” the nuclear threat rather than to solve it.

Moreover, in a clear shot across the bow of the White House, Bush said he was interested in hearing what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had to say about Iran when he speaks to Congress next month and that he felt the U.S. had already given away too much to Tehran in the nuclear talks.

All this positions Bush as a serious foreign-policy voice that compares favorably to most of his rivals for the nomination. Bush’s ability to articulate a traditional GOP message of international strength contrasts particularly with Rand Paul’s views, which bear a troubling resemblance to those of Obama. It also shows him to be better prepared to be commander in chief than the pack of governors and former governors lined up against him, including fast-rising Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who refused to answer questions on the topic when in London last week.

But Bush’s speech also reminded us why there is good reason to be skeptical about his front-runner status. Though his mother has finally come around to supporting the idea of another member of her family becoming president, Jeb needs to win over the party’s grass roots too. Bush comes into the race as not only the leading member of his party’s establishment but as the candidate who is already pledged to run against the base on issues like immigration and common core. That may ultimately help him win the general election, but it might make it difficult for him to gain the GOP nomination.

In a year when terrorism and Obama’s weakness has elevated foreign policy to the front burner of American concerns, Bush’s foreign-policy competence gives him a clear leg up on virtually every other Republican contender with the possible exception of Marco Rubio. But his ability to summon the party mandarins on his behalf is also a sign that he needs to provide a rationale for his candidacy that is more compelling than it being his turn in the family rotation.

Today was a good start for Bush. But merely saying that he’s going to be his own man even as he lines up his father and brother’s men behind him will not be good enough to convince voters that there is a reason to vote for Jeb. The coming year will give him plenty of opportunities to prove that he really is something different despite the Bush brand in a contest that will ultimately place him up against another retread like Clinton. Shock and awe is all well and good for the beginning of a war, but it will take more than that to carry him through a crowded primary field.

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Scott Walker’s Dropout Advantage

It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
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It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote a column on Friday, entitled “Scott Walker Needs an Eraser,” denouncing Walker for cutting Wisconsin school funding in 2010, causing teacher layoffs. Despite the prodigious depth of her research, she failed to notice that he took office in 2011. Finally, on Sunday, the Times applied an eraser to Collins’s column and ran a correction. As Hot Air points out, the rest of the column doesn’t make much sense without the sentence that was deleted.

The Times itself ran an editorial on February 6 denouncing Walker for proposing a cut in the budget of the University of Wisconsin, implicitly arguing that a university with 180,000 students and 26 campuses could not possibly run a tighter ship. It claims he came to prominence in 2011 “with his attacks on collective bargaining rights and attempts to curtail the benefits of state workers,” as though it is impossible for state workers to have excessive benefits or too many collective bargaining rights.

It’s at it again this morning. Expect this to become a regular drum beat; the higher Walker gets in the polls the more the drum will be beaten.

But I think what really annoys both the “Paper of Record” and the intellectual snobs who think its editorial page is actually worth reading is that Walker is not an Ivy League intellectual. Indeed he didn’t go to an Ivy League school and he didn’t even graduate from Marquette, where he did go. To Howard Dean, that makes him unqualified to be president. Of course, Howard Dean, who went to Yale and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on his father’s money, thinks it has been “generations” since a president lacked a college degree. In fact it has been only two generations since Harry Truman did a great job as president in the dangerous years after World War II despite a post-high-school education consisting of only one semester at Spalding’s Commercial College, a Kansas City business school. Woodrow Wilson, in contrast, had a Ph.D. from Princeton in political science and made a total dog’s breakfast of guiding the nation through the dangerous years after World War I.

Scott Walker dropped out of Marquette, lacking only one semester. So Howard Dean is implicitly arguing that had he stayed around Marquette four months longer and taken courses on American antebellum literature, astronomy, symbolic logic, and the French Revolution, he’d be qualified to be president. As George Orwell wrote, that is an idea so stupid only an intellectual could believe it.

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, thinks Walker’s lack of B.A. after his name would be a breath of fresh air in “an Ivy-League suffocated government.” I suspect that the 68 percent of the population who also lack college degrees may well feel the same. And then, the day after the election in 2016, Gail Collins, Howard Dean, etc., will be sitting around wondering how Scott Walker could possibly have won the election. After all, they won’t have known anyone who voted for him.

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ISIS’s Rise Means 2016 May Be a Foreign-Policy Election

In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

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In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

As our Max Boot termed it, Obama’s proposal for authorizing U.S. actions against terrorists in the Middle East is “a classic muddle.” By attempting to balance the administration’s allergic reaction to a U.S. commitment that might actually defeat ISIS while providing a legal basis for its ongoing half-hearted efforts, the president has provoked criticism from both the right and the left. But rather than being a compromise that makes sense, it merely confirms for those who weren’t already convinced that the president has no real strategy for eliminating ISIS or even for significantly “degrading” it.

It’s not clear what exactly will come out of the Congress as both House and Senate leaders struggle to come up with a formula that makes more sense than the administration’s attempt to set up one with limitations that ensures the U.S. can’t prevail in the conflict. But while his critics may demand that the president demonstrate that he has a path to victory over ISIS, they have very little leverage over his choices. No matter the outcome of the votes on a force authorization, nothing can make the president prosecute this war with conviction. Indeed, the U.S. is increasingly showing signs that the president is more interested in making common cause with Iran than in actually rolling back ISIS’s vast territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. That means the connection between Obama’s equivocal approach to the nuclear talks with Iran is not only worrisome in and of itself but a sign of an overall strategy in which the U.S. will acquiesce to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state and obtaining regional hegemony in return for cooperation against ISIS.

All this makes it even more important than it normally might be that potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates have more to say about foreign policy than platitudes. In 2008 the presidential contest—or at least the Democratic nomination that year—was essentially decided on the basis of Barack Obama’s adamant opposition to the Iraq war. Yet every new ISIS atrocity and terror attack is going to make it harder for anyone—whether on the right or the left—to run on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of the Middle East or to avoid conflicts.

For Democrats, this might make it even harder for those outliers with the temerity to challenge the Hillary Clinton juggernaut to get some traction by outflanking her on the left with another anti-war campaign. For Republicans, the more attention paid to ISIS murders of Americans, the harder it will be for Rand Paul to break out from the ideological box that his libertarian isolationist base has put him.

Nevertheless, Republican candidates need to do more than merely carp at Obama or issue ringing rhetoric about fighting terror. Unlike in 2008 and 2012, when many Americans thought they were electing a president to get them out of unpopular wars, the force authorization vote ensures that whoever wins next year will be leading a war effort that may well dominate their presidencies.

Unless something very unexpected happens in the next year, Republican candidates will be competing in primaries where they will be expected to tell us how they are prepared to beat an enemy that is, contrary to President Obama’s assurances, very much not on the run. That gives an advantage to a candidate like Senator Marco Rubio, who has been speaking with some authority on foreign policy throughout his first term in the Senate. Jeb Bush will have to also show whether his approach to foreign policy is, as some reports have indicated, a knockoff of his father’s “realist” policies that may not provide much of a contrast with Obama’s equivocations. By contrast, it puts those GOP governors that many of us have been assuming will be formidable candidates on the spot to quickly get up to speed on foreign policy. Walker is not the only one who fits in that category, but after his recent surge in the polls in Iowa, it’s obvious that if he wants to stay on top, he’s going to have to say something more than “no comment” about Iran.

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Why They Fear Scott Walker

As I write this, the No. 1 “most read” story on the Washington Post’s website is its investigation into the college years of Scott Walker, headlined: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Most of the time, you don’t need to read such a story to know what it’s about: for Republicans, every silly comment or stunt in their teenage years is in the public interest, and for Democrats the same investigative practice is racist, racist, racist. (Though in 2016 it will be sexist, sexist, sexist.) But there is one aspect of this story that is tangentially related to issues that a rational voter might actually care about. It’s just not what the Post thinks.

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As I write this, the No. 1 “most read” story on the Washington Post’s website is its investigation into the college years of Scott Walker, headlined: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Most of the time, you don’t need to read such a story to know what it’s about: for Republicans, every silly comment or stunt in their teenage years is in the public interest, and for Democrats the same investigative practice is racist, racist, racist. (Though in 2016 it will be sexist, sexist, sexist.) But there is one aspect of this story that is tangentially related to issues that a rational voter might actually care about. It’s just not what the Post thinks.

The story didn’t come up with anything newsworthy–not even a case of Walker cutting somebody’s hair, like the alleged monster Mitt Romney apparently did. The headline alludes to this monumental failure of journalism: “questions linger” is journospeak for: “we asked a bunch of questions.” In other words, the story is about the media, not Walker. And “questions” only “linger” because their answers were a nonstory. When a newspaper gets its questions answered but still wants to talk only about its questions, they’re basically Geraldo at the opening of the vault.

So why should anyone care? For one, the questions about Walker not finishing school will keep coming up in part because leftists will seek to tie it to Walker’s education policy. A good example of this comes from MSNBC’s David Taintor, who offers the following lede to a story about Walker’s education budget cuts:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 GOP contender who never earned a college degree, has proposed a huge cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.

Now, is that framing of the issue, to borrow a phrase from A Few Good Men, galactically stupid? Yes, it surely is galactically stupid. But that only makes it more likely that others on the left will use this formulation.

When you combine the budget cuts with the Post’s story on how Walker wasn’t an engaged student and never earned his degree, you see the left painting a certain picture: Not only did Walker not graduate, but he’s out for revenge against the system of higher education that was so unwelcome to him in his youth. A more benign version would hold that he just doesn’t value what they do, but that’s hard to square with the fact that his son attends Marquette, the same school Walker dropped out of.

Is Walker’s college history truly relevant to his budget approach? No. But the line of questioning, and the liberal focus on Walker’s dropout status, is quite relevant to the debate heading into 2016. That’s because Walker’s success despite not obtaining that degree represents a real threat to the government’s education cartel, the public unions it sustains, and the maintenance of the pipeline of left-liberal groupthink and its young adherents.

There is not, and has not been for a long time, a question of the existence of overwhelming liberal bias at institutions of higher education. The inquiries into the phenomenon focus on why that structural bias exists and persists. Whatever the reasons, it’s easy to understand why the liberal establishment wants to protect the biased architecture of American education.

And protect it they do. A college degree has become a kind of certification for entry into many of the higher reaches of the American economy. The government benefits from this financially by running the student-loan scheme, which drives up tuition costs and thus benefits not only big government but its liberal allies in academic administration.

And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, which is why Democrats are so keen to guard it jealously. The system as it’s currently set up means educational attainment correlates, in general, to higher income. But that education gets increasingly expensive, which puts it in easier reach of those with higher income, who tend to have more education, etc. As the Economist notes, “the best predictor of an American child’s success in school has long been the parents’ educational level”–though money, which is also now related to educational level, “is an increasingly important factor.”

The Democrats’ approach thus perpetuates inequality, which they blame on “the rich” in order to win national office, which they use to perpetuate this system of inequality–another cycle.

Scott Walker calls this whole scheme into question. It’s not that his experience teaches that you don’t need a college degree to get a good job; it’s that you shouldn’t need to need a college degree to have professional and/or political success. Kids shouldn’t be discouraged from going to college and getting their degree as long as the current system persists, in which it usually makes sense for them to get that degree (if they can).

The point is that the system itself shouldn’t persist, at least in its current form. Walker, then, is living proof that the system can and should be reformed, and the world won’t end. Walker is representative of the potential of those outside the liberal economic elite and those who are severely underserved by the government’s college racket and union-friendly approach to education. That’s why Walker’s personal story matters, and why it’s such a threat to the left.

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Rand Paul Can’t Have Best of Both Worlds

Rand Paul is on the stump in Iowa this week and, according to the Wall Street Journal, he’s beating the bushes seeking to mobilize his father’s libertarian base to support his own 2016 presidential hopes. That’s smart politics for the Kentucky senator, who knows that if he can hold onto the 2012 Paulbots who turned out for his father Ron and add on to them a significant percentage of Tea Partiers and other Republican voters not attracted to other candidates, he can create a coalition that will vault him into the first tier of GOP candidates and give him an outside–but by no means insignificant–chance to win his party’s presidential nomination. But his attempt to make gestures toward what the New York Times refers to as the “middle” of the party while simultaneously winking at libertarians is telling us more about the contradiction at the heart of the Paul candidacy than about its viability.

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Rand Paul is on the stump in Iowa this week and, according to the Wall Street Journal, he’s beating the bushes seeking to mobilize his father’s libertarian base to support his own 2016 presidential hopes. That’s smart politics for the Kentucky senator, who knows that if he can hold onto the 2012 Paulbots who turned out for his father Ron and add on to them a significant percentage of Tea Partiers and other Republican voters not attracted to other candidates, he can create a coalition that will vault him into the first tier of GOP candidates and give him an outside–but by no means insignificant–chance to win his party’s presidential nomination. But his attempt to make gestures toward what the New York Times refers to as the “middle” of the party while simultaneously winking at libertarians is telling us more about the contradiction at the heart of the Paul candidacy than about its viability.

As I wrote last week, Paul’s stand on vaccination revealed the main obstacle to his hopes for a libertarian coup that would topple his party’s establishment. Though he was at pains to try and show that he was personally supportive of vaccination, his rhetoric about choice and intrusive government was not just a wink in the direction of the activists who enabled his father to make respectable showings in both 2008 and especially in 2012. It was an indication that his core political philosophy remained deeply influenced by his father’s extreme libertarianism.

The same is true of his speeches this week about the need to reform the Federal Reserve and to change America’s approach to foreign policy to one less engaged in struggles overseas.

Though many Republicans are not unsympathetic to hostile rhetoric about the fed or even Ron Paul’s obsession about the Gold Standard, reviving these issues are about ginning up libertarian enthusiasm, not winning over non-libertarian conservatives. The same is true for Paul’s sounding the note of retreat from conflict in the Middle East.

In 2013 the supposed end of America’s long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fading of terrorism as an issue seemed to present a golden opportunity for Paul to mainstream his neo-isolationist foreign-policy views. Calling himself a “realist” in the mode of the first President Bush, the senator believed disillusionment with George W. Bush’s wars and suspicion about the Obama administration’s continuance of much of that last Republican president’s national-security policies would enable him to rout the establishment that had disposed of his father’s challenges with ease.

But the notion that Republicans were ever to going to embrace a foreign-policy mindset that was actually closer to that of Obama than traditional GOP stands about a strong America was always something of an illusion. The rise of ISIS as a result of Obama’s decisions to abandon America’s foreign responsibilities jolted the nation back into reality. Though most do not want another land war in Syria and Iraq, there is a growing consensus, especially among Republicans, that the current crisis is a result of a failure of leadership and vision.

Conservatives are angry about having a president who reacts to terrorist atrocities with talk about moral equivalence to the West’s past. Obama’s failure is not merely tactical as the U.S. continues to struggle to come up with a war-winning strategy for dealing with ISIS and dabbles in appeasement of Iran. It’s that he can’t articulate American values in a coherent way so as to rally the country to the task of defeating these barbarians.

Paul has his virtues, but on this point he is particularly deficient. Since his views on foreign policy reflect Obama’s lack of conviction in the rightness of America’s cause abroad, he is in no position to make a coherent critique of the administration. While other Republicans seek to provide an alternative that speaks to this glaring problem, Paul is wandering the countryside in Iowa talking about what the Journal describes as a “less bellicose” foreign policy and seeking to make it harder for U.S. intelligence to seek out terrorists, not exactly the message most people want to hear when Islamist murderers are burning people alive and beheading American hostages.

That is exactly what Ron Paul’s supporters, many of whom haven’t been too happy with Rand’s tiptoeing toward the center in the last two years, want to hear. Ron Paul’s views are, of course, far more extreme than those of his son. Paul famously greeted the Republican victory in the midterms that his son worked so hard to help achieve by warning that it would mean more “neocon” wars. But while Ron Paul’s vision of American foreign policy is a carbon copy of what might be heard on the far left and is the sort of thing that got his supporters out to the polls, such ideas are anathema to the rest of the party.

The same is true of vaccination. For libertarians, the senator’s talk of making childhood vaccinations voluntary is catnip. But for the mainstream of his party, let alone the rest of the country, this is ideological extremism that is doing real damage to public health policy.

Paul thought he could romance mainstream Republicans while holding onto his father’s backers. That may have seemed like a viable plan in 2013. The political realities of 2015 have turned it into a fantasy and made his hopes for 2016 seem much more like a long shot than he may have thought. The contradiction at the core of his candidacy is proving too great for him to resolve.

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Scott Walker: the GOP’s Elizabeth Warren?

You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

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You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

That’s one takeaway from yesterday’s fascinating Washington Post story on how in Walker’s attempt to fend off the left’s recall, he built the foundations of a national network of donors and connections. The story rings true for anyone with close knowledge of conservative politics. The attempt to recall Walker showed the national GOP that Walker had struck a chord in his reforms, and that for those reforms to have any positive reverberations outside Wisconsin, Republicans would have to hold Madison and solidify their gains.

It also showed conservatives a rabid side of the public unions. Death threats were received not just by Walker and his family but by donors to and supporters of his campaign as well. Conservatives won their battles through democratic politics; the left responded with antidemocratic stunts and even violence. It proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Walker was in the right, and that public unions had to be reined in. A Walker loss would have been a win for thuggish brute force over democratic debate.

Liberals were right, in other words, that there was much at stake. They were just on the wrong side of the issue. And when the recall became a national battle, both large donors and small donors rallied to Walker’s side. Here’s the Post:

Since surviving the recall attempt, Walker has assiduously maintained his relationships with an expanding roster of top party fundraisers and financiers, courting them with regular phone calls, chummy visits and invitations to his inauguration last month.

“The recall provided him with a really interesting opportunity, because he made so many connections nationally with so many donors,” said Chart Westcott, a Dallas-based hedge fund executive, who introduced Walker at the breakfast fundraiser held last month at his parents’ home in Indian Wells. “He already has this base of people who have given him six figures in the past. Not a lot of the other candidates have a national network like that.”

In all, Walker raised almost $83 million for his three statewide races in the past four years — an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state. Of the nearly 300,000 people who gave to his campaigns, three out of four donated $75 or less, according to people familiar with the figures.

“He has a mammoth small-donor list,” rivaled only by libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He has the big-donor network to rival longtime national establishment figures and the small-donor network like the one that fuels the Paul family’s supporters. It’s a tremendous advantage, especially over other Midwestern politicians, and it gives Walker a head start on many of his opponents.

But while many will (rightly) focus on the advantage of having large donors in your corner, the small-donor network is just as important. It shows the extent to which Walker became a grassroots hero on the right. It built a persona, not just a fundraising apparatus.

This is where the comparison to Warren comes in. Warren was supposed to lead the Obama administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureaucratic watchdog agency hatched in 2010 and launched in 2011. Republicans blocked her appointment in opposition to the agency. But it didn’t prevent the agency from being formed (and working first without a director, then only with an unconstitutionally appointed apparatchik at the helm).

It also left Warren with an unfulfilled desire for power. So she ran for Senate in Massachusetts and beat Scott Brown, who had gone into the election with high approval ratings. Thus the GOP handed the Democrats virtually the only candidate they had who could have beaten Brown in that particular election. (They probably would have gotten the seat back at some point in the future, but for the time being it helped Republicans to have an unlikely “extra” Senate seat in the age of Obama, when they needed all the help they could get.)

Republicans, in crucial ways, created Elizabeth Warren–or at least the phenomenon that is Elizabeth Warren, in which legions of devoted liberals are trying to draft Warren to run for president. Democrats may have done something similar here with Walker.

It’s obviously a long way out from the 2016 election, and Walker will face a strong primary field of which he is not even the frontrunner. But the national sensation that is Scott Walker owes much to the governor’s successful attempt to overcome the left’s campaign to destroy him by recalling him. They tried to kill the king, and what didn’t kill him made him stronger.

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Rand Can’t Inoculate Himself Against Vaccine Flap

In his four years since winning a Kentucky Senate seat, Rand Paul has labored long and hard to establish an identity that would cause voters to see him as both smarter and less extreme than his father Ron. Up until this last week, he had largely succeeded as he expanded upon the libertarian base Ron Paul had built and, though the increased concern about ISIS and terrorism has undermined his appeal, added new fans that liked his stands against administration policy. But all that hard work may come to nothing because of his statement about vaccination. Paul may have thought he was just venting some standard libertarian suspicion about government involvement in heath care on Monday when he said vaccination should be a matter of individual choice for parents and that he had heard from parents who believe the shots were responsible for “profound mental disorders” in their children. But the comments may do more harm to his 2016 presidential hopes than the ocean of ink that has been spilled by those seeking to point out the flaws in his views on foreign policy.

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In his four years since winning a Kentucky Senate seat, Rand Paul has labored long and hard to establish an identity that would cause voters to see him as both smarter and less extreme than his father Ron. Up until this last week, he had largely succeeded as he expanded upon the libertarian base Ron Paul had built and, though the increased concern about ISIS and terrorism has undermined his appeal, added new fans that liked his stands against administration policy. But all that hard work may come to nothing because of his statement about vaccination. Paul may have thought he was just venting some standard libertarian suspicion about government involvement in heath care on Monday when he said vaccination should be a matter of individual choice for parents and that he had heard from parents who believe the shots were responsible for “profound mental disorders” in their children. But the comments may do more harm to his 2016 presidential hopes than the ocean of ink that has been spilled by those seeking to point out the flaws in his views on foreign policy.

Paul appears to be furious about the way his remarks have been interpreted and has repeated that he personally supports vaccination. He even offered to have a New York Times reporter accompany him to get a Hepatitis A booster shot. But, unlike the problem that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie created for himself earlier this week when he, too, made some remarks about “choice” with respect to vaccination, this can’t be easily spun away. As our John Podhoretz wrote today in the New York Post, that mistake could have been the result of a mistaken political instinct to avoid giving offense to those who are opposed to vaccines. I also believe it is the natural result of his predilection for shooting from the hip, a characteristic that has both built his reputation as a straight shooter but also inevitably leads to gaffes.

But Paul’s problem is not an example of a politician foolishly expanding on remarks when he should just stick to bland statements of fact. His beliefs about vaccination and government, not to mention his willingness to air unsubstantiated scare stories about the side effects of vaccines, illustrates a basic flaw in the Kentucky senator’s political makeup. Great leaders like Ronald Reagan were able to tap into voter mistrust of intrusive big government in order to articulate a vision of a country where individual initiative could prevail. But Paul’s beliefs are rooted in a dark, conspiracy-filled world in which government is not just a problem but also the enemy.

Republican primary voters got a taste of this anti-vaccination lunacy in the 2012 cycle when Michele Bachmann touted her opposition to the HPV vaccine as part of an effort to undermine the tottering campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry who had supported the effort to get teenagers inoculated. Bachmann’s citation of anecdotal evidence that this vaccine had terrible side effects discredited her candidacy. Now Paul, with the unwitting assistance of Christie, has stepped onto the same land mine.

Though Paul is treating the focus on his views as a liberal media conspiracy, the concern about vaccines wasn’t hatched in the fertile imagination of a biased press corps. The outbreak of measles that originated in Disneyland has brought to the forefront an issue that has been percolating on the margins for years. A growing anti-vaccine movement promoted by celebrities has peddled bogus science about the shots causing autism or other disorders. This has led to a decline in vaccinations that has given new life to preventable diseases that most Americans had stopped worrying about.

It’s all well and good for people like Paul to try to apply libertarian principles that, in other contexts, all Americans should embrace, to a wide variety of topics. But when it comes to public health, an individual’s right to avoid vaccines impinges on the rights of the community to raise their children without fear of deadly diseases that were believed to be on the brink of extinction not long ago. It’s one thing to talk of the imperative of individual freedom when it comes to a nationalized health-care scheme such as ObamaCare that imposes decisions on individuals and companies and prevents them from making the choices that make sense for them. The same is true with respect to education issues such as school choice and the right to home school kids. We may all agree that, as Paul said, “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children.” But to apply that belief to an effort to support those who are creating what may eventually prove to a far greater threat to public health than Ebola or some other exotic disease is another thing entirely.

Paul’s statements are significant because, unlike Christie’s foolish comments, they weren’t gaffes but rooted in longstanding beliefs. Much is being made today of Paul’s membership in a doctor’s group that, among other things, has publicized discredited medical theories aimed at undermining public support for vaccination. But rather than harp on his membership, which may have lapsed when he entered the Senate, we should be thinking long and hard about the way his views on this issue reflect a profoundly disturbing view of the world.

Paul has been able to distinguish his own wildly inconsistent foreign-policy views from those of an extremist like his father who views American power as a force for evil in the world. His ability to perform that trick was an act of political genius, especially when you consider that he has always supported his father’s positions in the past. Isolationism or a neo-isolationism that Paul has falsely dubbed a new “realism” can appear defensible in the context of past American blunders abroad. But by defending outlier extremists who are endangering the lives of other citizens because of their bizarre beliefs about medicine or organic food, Paul has planted his feet firmly in extremist territory. Indeed, in doing so he has made the most extreme of his potential rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination—Dr. Ben Carson—look like a model of moderate common sense.

Vaccination may not remain an important issue in the coming year and it would be foolish to dismiss Paul’s chances altogether. But the memory of Paul’s stand will linger. If his once promising campaign ultimately fizzles, we may look back on this controversy as the moment when he started slipping back into the margins where his father always dwelt.

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Dem Electoral College Hysteria to Hypocrisy

Back in 2011, Democrats were up in arms about a proposal being floated by Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature that would have split the state’s Electoral College votes in presidential elections. The plan would have divided the vote by congressional district rather than having them determined on a winner-take-all statewide basis. This scheme was widely denounced by liberals as nothing less than the moral equivalent of the 2000 Florida recount that some Democrats still falsely claim was stolen from Al Gore. Today, Nebraska is considering doing the opposite: changing to a winner-take-all used by 48 of the states and scrapping the existing law which would divvy up their votes the way the Pennsylvania GOP wanted to do. What did liberals think about that? They are defending the existing law to the last ditch as a sympathetic article in the New York Times reported over the weekend.

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Back in 2011, Democrats were up in arms about a proposal being floated by Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature that would have split the state’s Electoral College votes in presidential elections. The plan would have divided the vote by congressional district rather than having them determined on a winner-take-all statewide basis. This scheme was widely denounced by liberals as nothing less than the moral equivalent of the 2000 Florida recount that some Democrats still falsely claim was stolen from Al Gore. Today, Nebraska is considering doing the opposite: changing to a winner-take-all used by 48 of the states and scrapping the existing law which would divvy up their votes the way the Pennsylvania GOP wanted to do. What did liberals think about that? They are defending the existing law to the last ditch as a sympathetic article in the New York Times reported over the weekend.

Currently Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that divide their Electoral College votes by congressional district. This is not a theoretical construct since, as the New York Times noted, Barack Obama won one Electoral College vote in deep-red Nebraska in 2008 because he won a majority in a district that encompasses Omaha. However, Republicans in the legislature want to put an end to any possibility of a repeat performance by Hillary Clinton. Democrats think this wrong and believe, as their state chairman said, that Republicans are trying to “deny our constituents of the right to be relevant in a national election.”

He’s right about that, but the same could have been said of members of his party four years ago when they screamed bloody murder over the GOP plan to give voters in the many districts where Republicans are the majority that same right to relevance. Of course, if that were to happen, Republicans would be given more than a single or even a few stray votes but would, in all likelihood win the majority of Pennsylvania’s 20 votes. The Huffington Post recalled the Pennsylvania Republican scheme shortly after Barack Obama’s reelection and gamed out the results if, as they called it, the “Republican Vote-Rigging Plan” were implemented with Romney getting a 273-262 win rather than Obama prevailing by 332-206.

Because Democrats often tend to be concentrated in cities and districts where they win by lopsided margins rather than being evenly distributed around the country, the GOP has a natural advantage in the competition for control of the House of Representatives. Liberals claim this is purely the product of gerrymandering, but it is more the result of the Voting Rights Act requiring the creation of majority-minority districts that herd Democrats into a few constituencies rather than spreading them out.

Thus, while letting each district have its say sounds good, it might increase the chances that the loser of the popular vote would win the Electoral College, and that is something no one in either party should want to see happen again.

Thus, national Democrats should be weighing in to support Nebraska Republicans, lest their silence be considered tacit support for a reversal of the law in other states where it would do their party far more damage than the potential loss of a single vote. But, as you may well expect, the silence from Democrats, especially the same liberal organs that waxed hysterical about the Pennsylvania scheme, is deafening. Even worse, as some of the quotes in the Times piece illustrate, the party is giving tacit support to efforts to preserve the status quo in Nebraska. Indeed, if the 2016 election turns out to be close, they’ll be fighting hard to steal that single Cornhusker vote that was merely the icing on Obama’s cake in 2008.

Pennsylvania Republicans have wisely not sought to revive what turned out to be a destructive and futile debate in 2011. But their counterparts in Nebraska should not be intimidated into giving up their efforts to join the other 48 winner-take-all states by liberals claiming they are being unfair. If Democrats aren’t going to put principle over partisan interest, there’s no reason for them to do so either.

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A Vaccine for Gaffes? Chris Christie Needs It

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential hopes got a boost on Friday when Mitt Romney dropped out of the 2016 race leaving some room for establishment donors to choose someone other than Jeb Bush to support. But his greatest weakness was never really the fact that there is stiff competition for the backing of business, Wall Street, and party leaders around the country. Nor is Bridgegate the only burden that he must carry around with him in his quest for the White House. His problem is the same propensity for blunt and unpredictable remarks that made him a YouTube star vaulting him to national attention. We are reminded of that today as the backlash over remarks he made about vaccination during a visit to Britain have created exactly the wrong kind of attention for a person running for president.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential hopes got a boost on Friday when Mitt Romney dropped out of the 2016 race leaving some room for establishment donors to choose someone other than Jeb Bush to support. But his greatest weakness was never really the fact that there is stiff competition for the backing of business, Wall Street, and party leaders around the country. Nor is Bridgegate the only burden that he must carry around with him in his quest for the White House. His problem is the same propensity for blunt and unpredictable remarks that made him a YouTube star vaulting him to national attention. We are reminded of that today as the backlash over remarks he made about vaccination during a visit to Britain have created exactly the wrong kind of attention for a person running for president.

In Britain for a trade mission, Christie was asked about the problem created by a growing minority of American parents who are refusing to vaccinate their children due to a combination of misinformation about side effects and bizarre theories about health. Here’s what he said:

Mr. Christie, when asked about the connection between the new measles cases and parents who object to the long-recommended vaccine against it, said that he and his wife had vaccinated their four children. He called that “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.”

But he added: “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

Mr. Christie said that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

On its face, that sounds like he is neutral about parents exercising their “choice” to refuse vaccinations and “balance” in the response of the government to this trend.

Given the menace to public health that the anti-vaccination effort has caused, that brought down the opprobrium of many concerned citizens as well as a host of political kibitzers, including gloating Democrats, on Christie’s head.

In response, Christie “clarified” his remarks on Sunday night:

“The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated,” Christie’s office said in a statement. “At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

That’s a big improvement on his original off-the-cuff remark but, to be as blunt as the governor usually is, the damage is already done.

It doesn’t matter that Christie may have meant something very different from what it seemed like he was saying when he was talking about “choice” and “balance.” Perhaps he was thinking of vaccines for rare diseases that might not be worth the effort to get everyone to take them. But whatever it is that he meant, there is no doubt that he demonstrated that while his loose lips helped build his reputation as a political truth-teller, they could also sink him.

As to the substance of the matter, put me down as one of those who think that the only sensible response of any leader to questions about vaccines should be an adamant call for all citizens to take advantage of them. To talk of choice or to indulge our libertarian instincts on the issue of vaccination is a huge error in judgment. As a popular Internet meme puts it, “if my kid can’t take a peanut butter sandwich to school, our kid shouldn’t be able to bring an easily preventable disease.”

Of course, we won’t elect a president based on his or her ability to have a consistent and smart record on vaccination. This is a one-day story about a gaffe, not a political disaster.

But it is one more piece of evidence for Republicans to take account of when weighing whether Christie is presidential material. He may keep telling us that a tough-talking blue state governor is exactly what the GOP and the country needs. But what he is also doing is reminding us that this is a man who often speaks candidly and at length when he should stick to talking points or say nothing. It’s bad enough to be the guy who tells people to “sit down and shut up” when challenged on the stump. But it’s far worse to be the guy who says something dumb or easily misinterpreted. If Christie doesn’t believe me, he can ask Mitt “47 percent” Romney if a tendency to make gaffes can be an obstacle to the White House.

This foolish kerfuffle probably won’t stop Christie from running for president since he is clearly burning to do so. But it will, along with every other verbal mistake he has already made and those that have yet to leave his mouth, be held against him by GOP donors, activists, and voters. If there was a vaccine for gaffes, Christie should obtain it. But it may already be too late.

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Walker’s Early Surge More Important Than It Might Seem

Given the frenetic activity by possible Republican presidential candidates in the last month, it’s important to remind ourselves at times that we’re still a year away from the first primaries. That’s why no one should be too impressed with polls this far away from the voting since they are still more of an indication of name recognition than firm support or how the various contenders will actually stack up against each other once the campaigning begins in earnest. But the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Iowa Republicans is significant not so much because its results give us an idea of who will win next year but because it shows that one particular candidate has started to catch on. The person in question is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who leads the crowded field, albeit with only 15 percent of Iowans claiming him as their first choice. But the question facing Walker and his supporters is whether this surge from the bottom to the head of the pack is coming too soon.

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Given the frenetic activity by possible Republican presidential candidates in the last month, it’s important to remind ourselves at times that we’re still a year away from the first primaries. That’s why no one should be too impressed with polls this far away from the voting since they are still more of an indication of name recognition than firm support or how the various contenders will actually stack up against each other once the campaigning begins in earnest. But the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Iowa Republicans is significant not so much because its results give us an idea of who will win next year but because it shows that one particular candidate has started to catch on. The person in question is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who leads the crowded field, albeit with only 15 percent of Iowans claiming him as their first choice. But the question facing Walker and his supporters is whether this surge from the bottom to the head of the pack is coming too soon.

The poll was taken before Mitt Romney decided on Friday that he wouldn’t run. But given that it asked respondents to list their first and second choices in the Republican caucus, Walker’s gains are not a fluke as he was also the runner-up for 10 percent, a figure that tied him with Romney for the most in that category. Indeed, if Romney’s supporters are given to those they named as their second choice, the standings with Walker on top don’t change.

The rave reviews for Walker’s speech at the recent Iowa Freedom Summit may have been the engine for the boost in his support. But Walker’s efforts to increase his national visibility in recent weeks, as he made no secret of his desire for the presidency, have gone well. Though he has yet to be put under the microscope of the national press or face the pressure of a presidential race, his experience as the left’s piñata during the battles over union legislation in Wisconsin during his first term in Madison have prepared him well for the ordeal.

And if we weren’t already convinced that he is moving up to the first tier from the ranks of the GOP wannabes, yesterday’s BloombergView column by Al Hunt made it clear that liberals are starting to take Walker seriously. Hunt previewed one of the key talking points that Democrats will use against the Wisconsin governor should he be the nominee by writing a piece that focused almost entirely on his lack of a college degree. As Seth Mandel wrote here last April, it was inevitable that should Walker become a presidential candidate, we would be hear the left dismiss him as a “college dropout.” Hunt digs deeper beyond the epithets and says the fact that more than 40 percent of Americans have such a degree bodes ill for Walker’s chances. What’s more, he says that anyone who doubts that this is a big problem for him should test out their theory at the next cocktail party they attend.

But if 60 percent of Americans are in the same boat as Walker, it’s likely that an even greater number of them don’t spend much time at cocktail parties, or at least the kind Hunt is referring to where those in attendance are expected to snigger at those lesser beings who haven’t finish college. Granted, it may be that a lot of us like the idea of putting the country in the hands of someone who is smart. But given the poor performance in the White House of a lot of the highly educated people we’ve put there in recent decades, as well as the fact that most Americans probably know a lot of dumbbells and timeservers who managed to graduate an institution of higher learning, that prejudice may not be dispositive. Certainly, Walker’s ability to articulate credible positions on the issues and manage a large government bureaucracy while withstanding withering attacks and attempts at intimidation by union thugs and their Democratic Party allies shows that not having a four-year degree is no bar to success in running a state.

Expect to hear more such attacks in the comings months as it becomes apparent that Walker is not merely one more outlier hoping for lightening to strike. Walker appeals to a broad range of Republican constituencies including the establishment business community that likes his record as governor, Tea Partiers who see him as a fellow opponent of taxes and spending, Evangelicals who see him as one of their own, and even foreign-policy hawks who like the things he’s been saying about President Obama’s failures. That gives him an edge that candidates who are despised by any combination of those groups don’t have.

But is it too soon for a candidate surge? During the 2012 race seemingly every candidate had his or her moment, including weeks or even months when people like Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and even Herman Cain moved temporarily to the top of the pack. Good poll results are only meaningful if they lead directly to winning states.

But good poll results for Walker are important because they illustrate, just at the moment when Jeb Bush has assumed the mantle of frontrunner, that there is a viable alternative with significant support. That will give Walker the ability to raise money, including from some establishment types who might otherwise gravitate to Bush or Chris Christie, that will enable him to set up the organizations in states around the country that will give him a real chance for the nomination.

One poll does not a nominee make. But this one may have given Walker the ability to compete on something like a level playing field with all the other GOP hopefuls. And that, rather than winning a particular news cycle, is a very big deal indeed.

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Mitt Romney and His Decision Not to Run

During the last few months of the 2012 presidential election, I took a leave of absence in order to work for Mitt Romney, after having gotten to know him in previous years. So I thought it might be worth offering some perspective on him in light of his decision not to run for the Republican nomination in 2016.

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During the last few months of the 2012 presidential election, I took a leave of absence in order to work for Mitt Romney, after having gotten to know him in previous years. So I thought it might be worth offering some perspective on him in light of his decision not to run for the Republican nomination in 2016.

Governor Romney is one of the finest individuals ever to run for president. His basic decency and personal kindness are often mentioned, though too often in an obligatory manner. That shouldn’t be. Character is the paramount quality in a person, and Governor Romney is solid gold in that regard. His core integrity is the most important thing, I think, to know about him. It is telling that to a person, those who have worked for Mitt Romney speak about him in the most respectful and affectionate ways.

It was Mitt Romney’s fate to face a man who, as a sitting president, brought enormous advantages to the 2012 presidential race, which explains why so many other Republicans took a pass on it. Barack Obama has been a failure as a president, but he is a supremely gifted politician. He was born to run, and he ran a very effective — if brutal and dishonest — campaign against Governor Romney. Still and all, Governor Romney turned in the most impressive and convincing debate performance in modern presidential history, when even Mr. Obama and his aides conceded that the former Massachusetts governor trounced the president.

Governor Romney made some mistakes during the campaign for sure; he has been quite open about that. But the main problem, in my view, was our inability to convey to the American people the intellectual and personal qualities Governor Romney possessed that would have made him an outstanding president. The gap between who he is and how he was perceived was unusually wide. The very positive reception of the documentary Mitt indicated that the true Romney is enormously impressive and likable. And his love for America is deep and unqualified. It is impossible, for example, to think of Mr. Romney traveling to foreign capitals in order to denigrate the United States. As president he would never attempt to elevate himself at the expense of his country.

It’s worth considering, too, that Governor Romney won the nomination of his party despite not being a natural politician in the way, say, Bill Clinton was. Governor Romney excelled in business; that was what came most readily and easily to him. (I find it odd, and a bit troubling, that these days success, especially in business, is viewed by many people as something to hide and apologize for, rather than being evidence of hard work and human excellence.) For Governor Romney to succeed in politics required hard work of him. He did that, and more, and he rose higher than most politicians ever do. But it wasn’t an effortless climb; it took concentration of mind and will.

I’d add this: Governor Romney, in defeat, did not become resentful or embittered, as others have. He didn’t blame other people for his failure or become brittle. Instead, he accepted the loss with equanimity and class.

As time has passed, it’s become obvious to more and more people, I think, that in re-electing Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney, the American people made a significant error in judgment. That happens from time to time, and we have surely paid a price for that mistake, and will for some time to come.

Governor Romney would have loved to have been president and he possessed the qualities to excel at it. But from what I know about him, he doesn’t need the presidency to feel he has led a full and meaningful life. Which probably made his decision on Friday, as difficult as it must have been, easier than it might have been.

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Good News for Jeb; Mitt Wants to But Won’t

After surprising many political observers by spending the last month acting as if he was a candidate for president in 2016, Mitt Romney surprised us again today by announcing that he won’t run. Coming as it did after weeks of negative reviews about his proposed candidacy from top Republican donors and pundits, it’s not a total shock. That’s especially true coming as it did the day after we learned that David Kochell, a key supporter who had run Romney’s Iowa campaign in 2012, had defected to the Jeb Bush camp. Romney’s exit is a boost for Bush as well as making a Chris Christie run more likely. But even without Romney, the GOP race is still wide open.

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After surprising many political observers by spending the last month acting as if he was a candidate for president in 2016, Mitt Romney surprised us again today by announcing that he won’t run. Coming as it did after weeks of negative reviews about his proposed candidacy from top Republican donors and pundits, it’s not a total shock. That’s especially true coming as it did the day after we learned that David Kochell, a key supporter who had run Romney’s Iowa campaign in 2012, had defected to the Jeb Bush camp. Romney’s exit is a boost for Bush as well as making a Chris Christie run more likely. But even without Romney, the GOP race is still wide open.

Though Romney’s message stated that he wasn’t going to run, it contained enough caveats to make it clear that he would have preferred to stay in and thought he was the best possible nominee. He’s right that his chances should not have been mocked. Even if he didn’t ultimately win, can anyone doubt that he would have raised enough money to run a plausible campaign or that he would have been the frontrunner in New Hampshire? Nevertheless, Romney made the right decision. By sparing himself a humiliating defeat next year, he preserves his standing as a party elder statesman even if he’d prefer to still be its leader. But his regrets notwithstanding, his absence from the field gives a clear advantage to Bush in the competition for establishment donors looking to keep the nomination from falling into the hands of a more conservative candidate.

But as I wrote last week, Bush’s status as the nominal front-runner is not discouraging a plethora of Republicans from jumping into the race even if many of them, such as Carly Fiorina and Senator Lindsey Graham, haven’t a prayer of actually winning. In particular, it will make it easier for Christie to make his case as the alternative to a third Bush presidency for mainstream Republicans even if the odds remain stacked against him winning.

Even without Romney, the crowded field makes for an unpredictable race. Unlike in 2012, when Romney easily defeated a group of obviously implausible presidential contenders, the 2016 crop of GOP candidates is filled with serious and potentially formidable candidates. Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz will provide formidable competition for Bush and Christie while less likely candidates will also be heard from.

The Romney decision, just like Jeb Bush’s announcement about exploring a campaign last month, shows that the 2016 race is already in full swing. Those thinking about the presidency can’t hesitate too much longer. By the spring and certainly the summer, it will already be too late for anyone to make a competitive run. The two-year marathon for the White House has begun in earnest.

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Scott Walker Rejects Your Premise

The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

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The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

The Wisconsin governor is enjoying a bit of a boomlet right now, as Peter Beinart notes in a sharp piece on Walker’s unapologetic conservatism. And he’s earned it. He won three statewide elections in four years, and did so with national media attention and the concerted lunatic tactics of public unions (death threats, violence, compulsive Hitler comparisons) aimed at him and his supporters. He won comfortably and with a smile on his face. Walker never lost his composure and never stooped to the level of his fanatical liberal opponents.

None of this is news. What’s changed is that Walker has, in the last week, gone national. His speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit earned rave reviews, and was followed with what appears to be the first pro-Walker presidential ad. And everyone seems to have noticed what Walker’s opponents in Wisconsin have learned the hard way, repeatedly: he’s a formidable politician. This should worry his GOP rivals not only because of Walker’s win streak, but also because Walker is doing something many of them aren’t: he’s setting the terms of the debate instead of following the terms the Democrats have set.

A good example of how this plays out concerns Mitt Romney, who had been flirting with another presidential run. Romney was hurt by his infamous “47 percent” remark in which he appeared to write off voters he considered contentedly dependent on government. It became a catchphrase for the Republicans’ so-called empathy gap.

Before deciding to pass on running again, Romney had been trying to undo the lingering damage of the Monopoly Man reputation by expressing his concern for the poor. He was rewarded for stepping into this rhetorical bear trap with a giddy President Obama in full class warrior mode, as Politico notes:

“Even though their policies haven’t quite caught up yet, their rhetoric is starting to sound pretty Democratic,” Obama said of the Republicans during a House Democratic retreat. “We have a former presidential candidate on the other side and [who is] suddenly deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great, let’s go. Let’s do something about it.”

Even when trash talking, the president is not exactly a wordsmith. But the point, clumsy and juvenile though it is, shines through: whatever your policies, to simply care about poor people makes you sound “pretty Democratic,” as the intellectually cloistered president sees it.

This helps Democrats because even if Republicans come around to demonstrating the empathy they supposedly lack, it sends the message that the Democrats were right. Walker rejects the premise.

Beinart explains how the media missed this story until now:

Walker’s rise illustrates the pitfalls of media coverage of the GOP race. Not many national reporters live within the conservative media ecosystem. They therefore largely assume that in order to win over the non-white, female, millennial and working class voters who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates must break from conservative orthodoxy, if not substantively, then at least rhetorically. Journalists are also drawn to storylines about change. Thus, when potential GOP candidates show signs of ideological deviation, the press perks up. After 2012, Marco Rubio garnered enormous media attention for his efforts at immigration reform. Rand Paul’s transgressions—whether on foreign policy, civil liberties or race—make headlines almost every week. In covering the launch of his new Super PAC, journalists made much of Jeb Bush’s discussion of income inequality and his fluent Spanish. Most recently, reporters have lavished attention on Mitt Romney’s new focus on the poor.

The lesson, as I interpret it, is that the press and the Democrats speak the same language. That’s not surprising; the mainstream press, especially during national elections, functions as a messaging office for the Democrats. Because of this, they just assume that in order to be a serious presidential candidate you have to be like them, like the Democrats.

Walker doesn’t agree. And he’s been extraordinarily successful of late by not agreeing.

Part of the media’s terrible coverage of national politics is the reliance on the personal: it matters to them who is saying it more than what is said. Romney got tagged as uncaring because he’s rich. But the classic conservative policies don’t reek of plutocracy when coming from the new crop of Republican stars, many of whom came from modest beginnings or are the children of immigrants, or both. Walker doesn’t even have a college degree, which itself is incomprehensible to modern Democrats, who are elitist and credentialist and genuinely don’t know what life is like in much of the country.

And neither does the media. Which is how someone like Walker could be so successful and still blindside the national press, who would struggle to find Wisconsin on a map. And it’s why Walker is a threat to other high-profile Republicans who have accepted the Democratic/media framing of the issues in order to make a national pitch. Only one of them can be right.

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Is It Already Too Late for Hillary to Delay Her Candidacy?

Timing is everything, so it’s no wonder Hillary Clinton is thinking hard about when she wants to go from being an informal candidate for president to a formal candidate for president. But one challenge she’s facing is that it may already be too late to adjust the calculus. The news that she is considering delaying her announcement shows why that is.

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Timing is everything, so it’s no wonder Hillary Clinton is thinking hard about when she wants to go from being an informal candidate for president to a formal candidate for president. But one challenge she’s facing is that it may already be too late to adjust the calculus. The news that she is considering delaying her announcement shows why that is.

Politico broke the news this morning that Clinton, seeing no reason to jump in the race just yet, may wait until this summer, some time around July, to announce. It’s not surprising, since the previous times she was expected to announce have come and gone. She’s in a bit of a holding pattern right now; she could announce at any time, and so she never does. But now that she’s far enough into the prospective campaign, her decisions can’t really be made so quietly. To paraphrase the band Rush, if she chooses not to decide she still has made a choice.

The reason for her not to delay her announcement, in fact, is right there in the justification for it. To wit:

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Democrats tell POLITICO.

The delay from the original April target would give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, without the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”

Advisers said the biggest reason for the delay is simple: She feels no rush.

“She doesn’t want to feel pressured by the press to do something before she’s ready,” one adviser said. “She’s better off as a noncandidate. Why not wait?”

There are two reasons here for her to delay her candidacy. One of them is correct but carries too much risk in acknowledging its truth. The other is probably wrong.

Take the first reason: she’s “expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination.” Unless Elizabeth Warren runs, which doesn’t seem all that likely right now, this is true. And the way you know it’s true is that it’s virtually impossible to claim any of the other candidates poses a threat to Clinton with a straight face.

Go ahead and try it: tell yourself that Martin O’Malley, or Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, or self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, or Crazy Uncle Joe Biden stands in the way of Hillary’s coronation. It’s laughable.

But here’s the catch: Hillary can’t say that. The weak non-Hillary field has become part of the narrative of the election. So saying that she’s delaying her candidacy becomes a statement that she can afford to delay her candidacy because her opposition is a collective joke.

This could easily backfire. It could encourage someone else to jump in the race after Hillary does, on the theory that Clinton miscalculated. It could also breed resentment toward her for acting “inevitable.” And it’s possible it would spook the national party into remembering that when Hillary says she’s inevitable, she might actually be trying to paper over weaknesses that would emerge in the general election instead of in the primaries.

There is no surer way for Hillary to cement her reputation as an entitled legacy candidate and elitist with royal self-regard than to declare the field unworthy of her entrance until the crown has been fitted and polished. Even if it doesn’t attract additional candidates, it’s not a storyline she wants to help along.

The second reason was summed up by her advisor: “She’s better off as a noncandidate. Why not wait?”

But is she? I don’t think so. We’re living in a very different media universe even from the last time she ran. Case in point: the New York Times put a reporter on the Clinton beat in the summer of 2013. Soon after the move was made, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan noted that “Mrs. Clinton may consider her future up in the air, but The Times apparently does not. Or at least it’s hedging its bets.”

It was a smart move by the Times, and Chozick’s reporting has rewarded their bet on Clinton’s candidacy.

Certainly, the types of stories that get filed on Hillary from around the political press are different from the ones that would be filed were Hillary officially in the race. But they aren’t benefiting her. Clinton’s gaffes get covered now, and any policy debate allows her to work off the rust ahead of time.

Also, as I noted in December when the press was on her case over her speaking fees, we were going to get some ridiculous and unfair stories because reporters needed copy. Does Hillary want her early-campaign coverage to be shaped by tales of her demands for the provision of crudité and hummus and rectangular-shaped pillows at each commencement address?

Hillary has learned that she can’t bore the press into submission. And that there’s a danger in believing her own hype. At least that’s what she should have learned. Her most recent actions suggest those lessons have yet to sink in.

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