Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Chris Christie Buys a Presidential Lottery Ticket

Why is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie running for president? Christie was seen as a formidable contender after his landslide re-election victory in 2013, but his chances were diminished by the impact of the Bridgegate scandal. Moreover, once he began making moves toward a run in the last year, many on the right made it clear they had never forgiven the governor for his ill-timed hug of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that took place days before the 2012 election. Though his name recognition is second only to that of Jeb Bush, polls show him on the bubble in the second tier of Republican presidential candidates in 11th place and in danger of missing the cut for the crucial first debate on Fox News in August. Just as serious is the facts that many of the same important donors that once urged him to run in 2012 have no abandoned his camp to support other GOP contenders. So what is he doing announcing for president today? The answer is that this run is the moral equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. His chances aren’t good but, in a field without a true frontrunner, his chances are no worse than most of the candidates. After spending years pointing toward this goal, why not give it a try?

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Why is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie running for president? Christie was seen as a formidable contender after his landslide re-election victory in 2013, but his chances were diminished by the impact of the Bridgegate scandal. Moreover, once he began making moves toward a run in the last year, many on the right made it clear they had never forgiven the governor for his ill-timed hug of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that took place days before the 2012 election. Though his name recognition is second only to that of Jeb Bush, polls show him on the bubble in the second tier of Republican presidential candidates in 11th place and in danger of missing the cut for the crucial first debate on Fox News in August. Just as serious is the facts that many of the same important donors that once urged him to run in 2012 have no abandoned his camp to support other GOP contenders. So what is he doing announcing for president today? The answer is that this run is the moral equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. His chances aren’t good but, in a field without a true frontrunner, his chances are no worse than most of the candidates. After spending years pointing toward this goal, why not give it a try?

The scenario for a Christie win is pretty slim. After passing on Iowa, he will have to win or place in New Hampshire and then hope he catches fire while the candidates seeking to win some of the same moderate voters like Jeb Bush implode. Stranger things have happened but, like the people who buy lottery tickets or gamble in the casinos in his state, Christie’s decision seems more like an exercise in wishful thinking than hard political calculation.

Even Christie’s detractors have to admit he brings great political skills to the race. He is a great speaker and undaunted by criticism or challenges, characteristics that will stand him in good stead in the debates that will be crucial in determining the arc of the campaign (assuming that is, that he can get into the first debates rather than be relegated with the others at the bottom of the polls). There is also no denying that his blunt truth-telling style appeals to a lot of people. Indeed, his style was the key to understanding his rise to power in New Jersey as well as the way his YouTube putdowns of liberals who challenged him at town hall meetings made him a national figure. Christie also has a sense of humor and the resiliency needed to survive the maelstrom of a national campaign.

It’s also true that his years of preparation for this moment have equipped him with substantive positions on a variety of issues. Having spent the last few months giving detailed speeches on entitlement reform and foreign policy, Christie enters the race ready to mix it up with substance in a way that some of his rivals are clearly not.

But looming over all of this is the question of his personality and Bridgegate; elements that many pundits believe render his hopes utterly futile.

Let’s concede that most Republican primary voters don’t care much about the traffic scandal that transformed him from a darling of the media to a punch line. Nor is there a shred of proof that he was involved in the bizarre plot to tie up traffic on the George Washington Bridge as part of his staff’s plot to take revenge on a mayor who failed to endorse the governor. But the charge resonated with the public because it seemed entirely in keeping with the bullying style Christie has always employed against political opponents and the press. While his opening campaign video seeks to play on the virtues of his no-holds-barred style, a lot of voters understandably see his “sit down and shut up” approach to dissent as consistent with the Bridgegate scheme. Though this mini-scandal received coverage that was disproportionate to its importance, it stuck with him because of that. It’s also hard to imagine that sort of attitude playing well on national campaign trail under far more intense scrutiny that he has received up until now.

But even if Bridgegate had never happened, Christie was always a long shot for the Republican nomination. Though he has conservative credentials on most important issues, including litmus tests for the GOP like abortion, the perception in the base is that he is a RINO and that is a tag that is almost impossible to shake once it is applied to a politician. The Obama hug is responsible for much of this, but it is also an inevitable consequence of being a governor of blue Northeastern state in a party dominated by the south and the west.

But even if we dismiss that label as meaningless, Christie’s formidable resume still falls short of that of his chief competitors. He’s not as much of a moderate or as comfortable representing the party establishment as Jeb Bush. He is not nearly as heroic a figure as Scott Walker when it comes to defying the unions or Democrats in state disputes (and Christie’s stature as a successful governor has been markedly diminished by plunging popularity and fiscal setbacks in New Jersey). He’s also not as good a speaker or as charming and charismatic as Marco Rubio.

Add up all these factors and you have a candidate with little chance to win. But let’s also understand that Christie isn’t likely to have a better chance four or eight years from now. Since he is term-limited as governor and without a realistic option for a Senate seat (and it is impossible to imagine Christie being a member of a deliberative body), it’s either the presidency or nothing for him. Perhaps he will shine so brilliantly in the debates and Bush, Walker and Rubio will all flop. Probably not, but you’ve got to be in it to win it so why not try?

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Did Ted Cruz Just Pull a John Kerry on Trade?

Senator Ted Cruz started off his presidential campaign with a bang but, in recent weeks, he’s been falling back in the polls as other candidates have gotten most of the publicity. Part of that stemmed from the ability of his competitors to steal the spotlight with their own announcements as well as the ability of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio to inch ahead of the pack and form what looks like a top tier in a race that may eventually include up to 20 candidates. With only four percent of Republicans supporting him in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Cruz seems to be lagging in the competition for his natural constituency: Tea Party voters. So in order to recapture their affection, Cruz needs to do something to illustrate once again that he is the true rebel against the GOP party establishment. His answer: come out against the fast-track trade bill currently working its way through Congress. A stand geared toward exploiting conservative animus toward President Obama and illegal immigration may give him a boost. But the only problem with this decision is that Cruz already voted for the Trade Protection Authority (TPA) bill back in May. He’s claiming that nefarious secret deals between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democrats are motivating his switch. But a Ted Cruz flip on trade could undermine the key element to his political identity as the one man in Washington who will never compromise on his principles. Read More

Senator Ted Cruz started off his presidential campaign with a bang but, in recent weeks, he’s been falling back in the polls as other candidates have gotten most of the publicity. Part of that stemmed from the ability of his competitors to steal the spotlight with their own announcements as well as the ability of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio to inch ahead of the pack and form what looks like a top tier in a race that may eventually include up to 20 candidates. With only four percent of Republicans supporting him in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Cruz seems to be lagging in the competition for his natural constituency: Tea Party voters. So in order to recapture their affection, Cruz needs to do something to illustrate once again that he is the true rebel against the GOP party establishment. His answer: come out against the fast-track trade bill currently working its way through Congress. A stand geared toward exploiting conservative animus toward President Obama and illegal immigration may give him a boost. But the only problem with this decision is that Cruz already voted for the Trade Protection Authority (TPA) bill back in May. He’s claiming that nefarious secret deals between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democrats are motivating his switch. But a Ted Cruz flip on trade could undermine the key element to his political identity as the one man in Washington who will never compromise on his principles.

As Cruz notes in his Breitbart.com op-ed explaining his change of heart, he is an ideological supporter of free trade. But he took a lot of criticism from some Tea Partiers for his vote in favor of TPA who seem to think anything that President Obama favors should be opposed. In the piece, Cruz exploits fears about trade leading to efforts toward amnesty for illegal immigration and sounds a populist note about opposition to reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank whose fate has become tied to that of TPA. Sounding more like the Ted Cruz who took the GOP down the rabbit hole of the government shutdown than the more reasonable senator who voted for a trade bill that most of his party has always supported, Cruz now says the whole thing must be stopped.

Trade appeared to be the one issue on which common ground could be found between the administration and the Republican leadership in Congress. Though the left wing of the Democrats and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has so far prevented passage of TPA, the vote today to end debate on the measure in the Senate (on which Cruz was on the losing side) seems to ensure that it will ultimately be passed and signed into law.

Cruz’s enlistment to the ranks of those trying to stop the trade bill does not appear to have derailed the legislation. But that does not appear to be his main objective. Instead, Cruz is making a cold hard calculation that he can rally a critical mass of his party’s base to his candidacy by positioning himself in opposition to the party establishment. The Ex-Im bank issue doesn’t have a lot of resonance with the grassroots, but merely mentioning immigration in connection with the name Obama may be enough to convince a lot of Republicans that Cruz is once again leading the charge against a party establishment they despise. Running against “backroom deal-making” is always popular, and most Tea Partiers already like Cruz and think any cooperation with the Obama White House is wrong in principle.

But there’s something of an air of desperation to this move that makes me think that Cruz’s normally deft touch with the party base may be slightly out of order here.

It’s all well and good to accuse Mitch McConnell of being a slippery customer or criticizing House Speaker John Boehner of acting the tyrant in punishing House Republicans who rebelled on this issue. But it is just as easy to accuse Cruz of putting himself into a tacit alliance with Pelosi and the labor unions in an effort to halt much needed international trade as it is to label supporters of TPA as being closet Obama-lovers. As much as many Tea Partiers have opposed the bill because of the Obama connections, standing up against free trade is still a better tactic to win the Democratic nomination than that of the Republicans.

Moreover, Cruz is also setting himself up for a classic putdown in the presidential debates. Every one of his competitors will hope for a chance to call out Cruz for pulling a John Kerry on trade by saying he opposed it after he voted for it. That’s not a winning formula for Cruz, who hopes to parlay a brilliant speaking style (and champion debating skills) into a shot at the Republican nomination. Up until now, the one thing you could never accuse Ted Cruz of doing is flip-flopping on the issues. With his turnabout on trade, that record is broken.

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Confederate Flags and Political Football

The more we know about the ravings of alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, the more repugnant he seems. A website that has now come to light reveals not only that he had been contemplating a dramatic gesture that turned out to be a murderous attack on a historic black church in Charleston but that he was also an anti-Semite who embraced neo-Nazi symbolism and spat on and burned the American flag. Yet most of the commentary about him seems to revolve around the flag he did like: the Confederate battle flag. Roof was a lone wolf terrorist with an unsophisticated approach to white supremacist theories, but his embrace of neo-Confederate symbols has resonance because, unlike the Hitlerian references or the gutter language he used about blacks and Jews, the Confederate flag is still embraced by many Americans as a symbol of their southern heritage. And that is what is making the debate about the banner flying over the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol a politically divisive political matter that is being used to trip up some of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. But as much as I believe, as I wrote on Friday, that it is time for that flag to come down, and that the GOP field should join the call for an end to its display on government property, pundits and Democrats need to be careful about using this as a litmus test for 2016 since their own leading candidate isn’t entirely clean of this taint either.

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The more we know about the ravings of alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, the more repugnant he seems. A website that has now come to light reveals not only that he had been contemplating a dramatic gesture that turned out to be a murderous attack on a historic black church in Charleston but that he was also an anti-Semite who embraced neo-Nazi symbolism and spat on and burned the American flag. Yet most of the commentary about him seems to revolve around the flag he did like: the Confederate battle flag. Roof was a lone wolf terrorist with an unsophisticated approach to white supremacist theories, but his embrace of neo-Confederate symbols has resonance because, unlike the Hitlerian references or the gutter language he used about blacks and Jews, the Confederate flag is still embraced by many Americans as a symbol of their southern heritage. And that is what is making the debate about the banner flying over the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol a politically divisive political matter that is being used to trip up some of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. But as much as I believe, as I wrote on Friday, that it is time for that flag to come down, and that the GOP field should join the call for an end to its display on government property, pundits and Democrats need to be careful about using this as a litmus test for 2016 since their own leading candidate isn’t entirely clean of this taint either.

Mitt Romney showed that he still has the ability to influence the national debate when he rightly tweeted that the Confederate flag should come down now to honor the nine victims of Roof’s rampage. Romney’s statement led to all the presidential candidates being asked whether they agree. The results of those inquiry reveal a lot about both the candidates and their worries about offending some GOP voters in South Carolina whose primary is an early and crucial test of strength in the presidential contest.

The first to pass the test was Jeb Bush, who noted that while he was governor of Florida, “we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged.” Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio echoed that admirable sentiment. But, as Politico notes, his record on the issue is far from pristine since he apparently was a supporter of a failed bill in that state’s legislature that would have stopped Bush from removing other Confederate symbols from state grounds by executive order.

Carly Fiorina agreed with Romney but also noted that this was a decision for South Carolinians. Ohio Governor John Kasich said he would take it down but that it was up to the people of South Carolina.

Others simply stuck to the state’s rights angle. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who reversed his anti-big government principles in order to pander to Iowans on ethanol subsidies, seemed to be operating from the same playbook here by issuing a statement that referred to the flag controversy as a “state issue” to be debated but only after the victims were buried. Ted Cruz also said this was something for South Carolinians to discuss but that he could see both sides of the issue. South Carolinian Lindsey Graham said the compromise that led the flag to be taken down from the Capitol building itself but kept on its grounds should be respected and that we should differentiate the killer from any symbol he might have embraced. Rand Paul had no comment at all.

The Republicans are, of course, right that the presence of this flag is a state rather than a federal issue. But for some of them, fear of offending those who still harbor some sort of nostalgia for a symbol of the Confederacy seems to override other more compelling factors. This is not a matter of political correctness but of a compelling need to take a stand against what is the most visible and well-known symbol of racism. It ought to supersede other concerns, especially in the wake of a massacre.

Yet those on the left who think this issue is a useful political weapon to deploy against the Republicans should remember that Democrats’ putative presidential candidate spent 12 years as the First Lady of Arkansas before assuming the same role in the White House. Though some have called Bill Clinton our “first black president,” or at least used to do so until we actually elected an African-American in 2008, during his six terms as governor of Arkansas he did nothing to ban Confederate Flag Day observances or to remove other rebel symbols from state property. While Hillary Clinton is on record as calling for the removal of the flag from the South Carolina capitol and has responded to the Charleston killings with powerful rhetoric condemning racism, her hands are not entirely clean on this issue either.

But that glaring instance of hypocrisy won’t stop the liberal media from roasting the GOP so long as so many of their leading candidates are punting on the flag. I agree with Hotair.com’s Ed Morrissey who wrote that if South Carolina wants to keep its Confederate flag, they could do so, but only at the expense of being an early primary state. If the legislature there doesn’t act to take it down, the South Carolina primary should be moved to the end of the presidential election season thus ending the state’s disproportionate political influence. That will remove this noxious distraction from the national political agenda.

But if that doesn’t happen, Republicans shouldn’t be surprised if some of their candidates wind up tripping over themselves by refusing to do the decent thing and follow Romney’s example by calling for the flag’s removal. That flag shouldn’t be a political football but it will remain one so long as some in the GOP continue to fumble it.

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Jeb Bush Makes His Case

After more than half-a-year of being in the “exploratory stage” of the campaign, on Monday former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it official: He’s running for president. His announcement speech was very well crafted — elegant and deft, forceful in some parts and demonstrating a light touch in others. It crisply covered a lot of ground and was aimed at several different audiences. And based on the reviews, it was a successful launch. Now the work really begins.

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After more than half-a-year of being in the “exploratory stage” of the campaign, on Monday former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it official: He’s running for president. His announcement speech was very well crafted — elegant and deft, forceful in some parts and demonstrating a light touch in others. It crisply covered a lot of ground and was aimed at several different audiences. And based on the reviews, it was a successful launch. Now the work really begins.

The outlines of the Bush strategy are fairly clear: to reveal his character, what motivates him, and parts of his interior life (he refers to it as “showing my heart”); to remind people of his public record (he was an extremely successful, conservative two-term governor of Florida); and to lay out his vision for America (the “right to rise,” rapid and widely shared economic growth, and a more decent and just society).

The way to achieve his vision, the Bush argument goes, is with a 21st-century governing agenda that will remove the barriers to success – and the capacity to put his ideas into effect. That is where his record in Florida comes into play. “I know we can fix this,” Bush said. “Because I’ve done it.” He was a reforming governor who will be a reforming president, one who is “willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation’s capital.”

On the matter of his surname and dynastic concerns, Jeb Bush dealt with it head-on:

Campaigns aren’t easy, and they’re not supposed to be. And I know that there are good people running for president. Quite a few, in fact. And not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open – exactly as a contest for president should be. The outcome is entirely up to you – the voters.

It is entirely up to me to earn the nomination of my party and then to take our case all across this great and diverse nation.

I’m familiar with the arguments of some on the right who are wary of a Bush candidacy. Some of those concerns are responsible, if in my judgment misguided. Others are less responsible, including those who assert that he’s a RINO, a “moderate Democrat,” a “neo-statist,” indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton, and so on. Those charges are bizarre, given Bush’s record as governor of Florida – a record that was, in the words of George Will, “measurably more conservative” than that of Ronald Reagan during his two-term governorship of California. (I’ve made that point, and laid out the case to justify it, before.) Whatever concerns there are among Republicans about Jeb Bush, the one that he’s not a full-spectrum or principled conservative is among the weakest.

Here’s the key thing to understand: For some on the right – not all by any means, but some — substance, philosophy and governing achievements don’t matter all that much. What does matter to them is style – and the style they prefer is strident, angry, and apocalyptic. They are suspicious of the outsider. They view themselves as persecuted and America as on the road to becoming a “Third World hell hole.” The word “compromise” repulses them. And they view party outreach as a sign of weakness.

Jeb Bush, whom I first met during his first term as governor, has a fundamentally different approach to politics, and to life. He’s not in a state of perpetual agitation. He is at ease with himself and the world around him, which is something that can’t be said about some of his critics.

None of this means Jeb Bush will be the nominee. Nor does it mean that he’s above criticism or that he’s the only person in the race conservatives should support. A whole array of factors needs to go into that decision, and there are some very impressive and accomplished people running, with more to enter soon. (I should say here that I’ve offered free counsel to his campaign and to others who have since entered the presidential race, as well as Members of Congress, all consistent with my position as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And I’m happy to do so to anyone who asks, including Hillary Clinton. But my guess is she’d reject my policy ideas.)

The purpose of a primary is to judge which candidate is able to rise to the challenge; to allow them make their case based on their character and countenance, experience and achievements, judgment and political skills, governing ideas and vision. As Jeb Bush said on Monday, it’s entirely up to the candidates to earn the nomination of their party and then to take their case all across this great and diverse nation.

It looks to me like he’s off to a pretty good start.

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The GOP Joins the Circus With Donald Trump

If you thought the 2016 Republican presidential race was going to be a sober affair, Donald Trump had other ideas. Trump jumped into the GOP race today with a long rant in which he boasted of his prowess as a negotiator and dismissed his competitors as a bunch of unintelligent losers who deserve to be thrown off a game show. It was a characteristically bizarre as well as an oddly compelling piece of political theater. But rather than attempting to analyze the laundry list of positions on the issues that he put forward in his speech, pundits would do better to ask whether Trump really intends to spend the next several months attempting to win the Republican nomination. If Trump is prepared to invest the time and the considerable personal wealth he has at his disposal in this enterprise, then the attitude toward his candidacy should not be limited to the mixture of dismay and mockery with which it was greeted by most of the press. A clownish, albeit opinionated celebrity, Trump doesn’t deserve serious consideration from the voters. But his presence will disrupt the race in ways that we can’t predict. Like it or not, if he meant what he said today, the Republican Party has just joined the Donald Trump circus.

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If you thought the 2016 Republican presidential race was going to be a sober affair, Donald Trump had other ideas. Trump jumped into the GOP race today with a long rant in which he boasted of his prowess as a negotiator and dismissed his competitors as a bunch of unintelligent losers who deserve to be thrown off a game show. It was a characteristically bizarre as well as an oddly compelling piece of political theater. But rather than attempting to analyze the laundry list of positions on the issues that he put forward in his speech, pundits would do better to ask whether Trump really intends to spend the next several months attempting to win the Republican nomination. If Trump is prepared to invest the time and the considerable personal wealth he has at his disposal in this enterprise, then the attitude toward his candidacy should not be limited to the mixture of dismay and mockery with which it was greeted by most of the press. A clownish, albeit opinionated celebrity, Trump doesn’t deserve serious consideration from the voters. But his presence will disrupt the race in ways that we can’t predict. Like it or not, if he meant what he said today, the Republican Party has just joined the Donald Trump circus.

Given Trump’s history as publicity hound rather than an actual office seeker, it’s entirely possible that this announcement was, like his past flirtations with presidential runs, merely a stunt that will soon be retracted. If so, the rest of the GOP field will breathe a sigh of relief. Though not even the least interesting or intelligent of the Republican presidential wannabes need fear a comparison with Trump as a potential commander-in-chief, they should all be worried about the way the developer/television personality has of sucking the oxygen out of a room.

While every election can be counted on for a sideshow or two, Trump’s entry is significant because of the likelihood that it would put him on the platform for the initial series of presidential debates. Even before he announced, polls consistently showed Trump getting enough support to land him in the top ten, the cutoff point for entry into the first debate hosted on Fox News.

One might hope that when placed alongside more qualified candidates, Trump will be exposed as a buffoon and quickly forgotten. Even when he’s on the right side of an issue, his positions may be inconsistent, poorly thought out and come across like promotions for a reality show. But he’s an experienced performer who has a knack for tossing out one-liners and quips that are easily remembered. That doesn’t mean he can use the debates to actually give himself a chance to win. Voters aren’t that dumb. But his very presence on the stage and his willingness to say outrageous things will, almost by definition, give him a disproportionate amount of the attention and news coverage that will result from the debates. That means that even though his effort will come across as an out-of-control ego trip, Trump will deprive some other candidates of the chance to shine and prove their worth.

In a race this crowded, that will be a crucial factor since virtually all of the more serious contenders know they must do well in the debates if they are to have a chance to win. That’s a tall enough order even without the distraction that Trump will provide. This will not merely be a circus that could make it harder for one of the leading candidates to break out of the pack. It could also present difficulties for any of the less well known candidates to break into the top tier.

Part of the problem is that the mainstream media tends to judge all Republicans by the ravings of any one of them. It’s a given that Trump’s presence at the debates and on the stumps will be a standing distraction, as the media will inevitably be drawn to his gaffes and outrageous pronouncements and demand that his competitors respond. But he could wind up hurting all Republicans by saying dumb things that will tarnish them all if only by association. The Todd Akin precedent here will apply in a way that it would not if Trump were merely a spectator to the presidential derby. If he’s in it, each one of his statements will be brandished by the left as a club to beat all conservatives, even if most want nothing to do with him.

This was already a race without a real frontrunner and more than a few possible winners and others with the ability to make a splash. But Trump’s addition has the potential to change it in ways that we can’t predict. No matter what he says or does, if he sticks with it, he will have an impact on the outcome and not one that most Republicans should be pleased with.

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The “New Hillary” Reboot Changes Nothing

Saturday’s rally for Hillary Clinton was supposed to re-launch her presidential candidacy and if the goal of the Roosevelt Island event was to garner massive media coverage, it was a great success. Though she had previously announced her intention to run, the first months of her campaign have been so disastrous that a reboot was clearly necessary. But though she didn’t stumble in her remarks, Clinton’s sharp left turn on virtually every issue in a speech that was more a laundry list of concerns for focus groups than anything else reinforces the impression of inauthenticity that has already caused so much trouble. Clinton has flipped on a host of issues from the more centrist stances she adopted in the Senate and before that as a key player in her husband’s administration. Emphasizing the “new Hillary Clinton” who will “fight” for left-wing causes may seem like the smart play to Clinton and her handlers who are now acting as if the Democratic nomination is up for grabs. But while they may think they can reboot again next summer once the general election campaign begins, this strategy not only diminishes her chances of being elected, it is exactly why polls tell us most Americans don’t trust her.

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Saturday’s rally for Hillary Clinton was supposed to re-launch her presidential candidacy and if the goal of the Roosevelt Island event was to garner massive media coverage, it was a great success. Though she had previously announced her intention to run, the first months of her campaign have been so disastrous that a reboot was clearly necessary. But though she didn’t stumble in her remarks, Clinton’s sharp left turn on virtually every issue in a speech that was more a laundry list of concerns for focus groups than anything else reinforces the impression of inauthenticity that has already caused so much trouble. Clinton has flipped on a host of issues from the more centrist stances she adopted in the Senate and before that as a key player in her husband’s administration. Emphasizing the “new Hillary Clinton” who will “fight” for left-wing causes may seem like the smart play to Clinton and her handlers who are now acting as if the Democratic nomination is up for grabs. But while they may think they can reboot again next summer once the general election campaign begins, this strategy not only diminishes her chances of being elected, it is exactly why polls tell us most Americans don’t trust her.

Like past attempts by politicians to re-imagine themselves (“new Nixon”), Hillary’s second start to her campaign was to a large degree a sleight of hand maneuver. Her problems stemmed from blows to her reputation from revelations about her bizarre use of private emails and the ethical questions that arose once the press began scrutinizing the Clinton Family Foundation. Clinton’s inability or unwillingness to candidly address these issues dovetailed with her refusal to speak to the press after she began her campaign to give her the impression of a woman trying to run for president in a bubble.

Clinton is supposed to start giving interviews to local press outlets this week while still shunning more aggressive national reporters. But the problem goes deeper than whether she’s dodging the press altogether as opposed to giving canned and evasive answers to questions. If Clinton’s trust and favorability ratings are under water, it’s not because she hasn’t given interviews. It’s because the public understands that she is a chameleon who will change her positions as often as she changes her accent. Her willingness to adopt a southern drawl in the south and then drop it when north of the Mason-Dixon line is one of the most obvious and shameless bits of pandering by a politician since Thomas Edison first recorded sound. But while that might be forgiven, the country has also noticed that Clinton has made a hard left turn on both foreign and domestic issues that gives the lie to her pose as a “fighter.”

The most obvious instance this past week was her steadfast refusal to take a stand one way or the other on the trade bill that failed in the House last Friday because rank and file Democrats opposed President Obama. Clinton had been on record supporting this concept throughout her time as secretary of state and before that in the Senate. But she stayed silent as Obama went down to a humiliating defeat and then said nothing about it the next day in her speech. Subsequently, she tried to play both ends against the middle by saying she wanted a modified trade bill. This does nothing to further the cause she once supported and also fails to satisfy the unions that flexed their muscles last week on the vote.

That her reboot that aims to show her as a “fighter” happened on the very days that her backers were busy rather fruitlessly trying to spin her cowardice as principle on the cable news shows was bad luck. But the new emphasis on personal biography isn’t likely to help her overcome that setback.

We’re told we’re going to hear a lot about how Mrs. Clinton’s mother’s humble beginnings and struggles influenced her. But Clinton’s decision to run against the same Wall Street that backed her in 2008 by slamming the chutzpah of hedge fund managers making more than kindergarten teachers also opens the former First Lady up to the same sort of scrutiny. The problem with the Clinton Cash scandal is not just that it raised serious conflict-of-interest questions that haven’t been answered. It’s that it reminded voters that the Clintons have grown wealthy by giving speeches and profited handsomely from a foundation that is more a political slush fund than anything else.

The left loves Clinton’s new emphasis on soaking the rich. But this is the same Hillary who claimed to be “dead broke” the year she and her husband received $18 million in book advances. It’s the same Hillary who made hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. This marks her as a hypocrite on income inequality. The biography she wants to run on tells us the only operating principle in her political career is opportunism. That’s why she changed positions on foreign policy (Iraq, Cuba); social issues like gay marriage, immigration, abandoning her husband’s stances on crime and, of course, trade.

The new Hillary is talking more like a left-winger to ensure that no one gets to her left in the next year as she waltzes to the Democratic nomination. But she’s still the same politician that voters view with unease even if they’d like a woman to be president and are unsure about her potential GOP rivals. This is a dilemma no amount of repackaging can fix and in fact efforts to do so only remind us of her former stances. Clinton’s shady ethics and shifting positions indelibly mark her as a politician no one outside of her party base can trust. Just as Republicans were rightly chided for forcing Mitt Romney so far to the right that it hurt him in the general election in 2012, the new Hillary is an unforced error that may come back to haunt the candidate in the fall of 2016.

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Jeb Bush 2016 Frontrunner Blues

The Jeb Bush juggernaut took another public relations hit this week as stories surfaced of a shakeup in his campaign team. After a few months in which Bush seemed to be stumbling, the former Florida governor has reshuffled his staff putting in place a new supposedly more aggressive campaign manager. Though this is not to be compared to the complete collapse of Ben Carson’s operations, it is still the sort of inside politics story that undermines the basic conceit of Bush’s campaign: that he is the frontrunner who will inevitably win the nomination. Some of his opponents, like Governor Scott Walker, want us to keep thinking of Bush as the top dog leaving space for other first-tier candidates to have room to maneuver. But it appears that even Bush’s camp now accepts that he can’t win the nomination by dominating fundraising or garnering establishment endorsements. While neither this development or other recent stumbles necessarily precludes his ultimate victory, a new tough campaign staff is no substitute for the thing that really seems to be lacking in his effort so far: a reason why he should be president other than it being his turn.

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The Jeb Bush juggernaut took another public relations hit this week as stories surfaced of a shakeup in his campaign team. After a few months in which Bush seemed to be stumbling, the former Florida governor has reshuffled his staff putting in place a new supposedly more aggressive campaign manager. Though this is not to be compared to the complete collapse of Ben Carson’s operations, it is still the sort of inside politics story that undermines the basic conceit of Bush’s campaign: that he is the frontrunner who will inevitably win the nomination. Some of his opponents, like Governor Scott Walker, want us to keep thinking of Bush as the top dog leaving space for other first-tier candidates to have room to maneuver. But it appears that even Bush’s camp now accepts that he can’t win the nomination by dominating fundraising or garnering establishment endorsements. While neither this development or other recent stumbles necessarily precludes his ultimate victory, a new tough campaign staff is no substitute for the thing that really seems to be lacking in his effort so far: a reason why he should be president other than it being his turn.

Bush’s supporters are right when they say that his campaign hasn’t flopped during the first half of 2015. Any candidate who can raise $100 million in a few months can’t be called a failure. With that kind of cash in hand, Bush can weather any number of political storms and stay in the race long after another candidate with similar woes might be sunk. Bush hasn’t established a lead in the polls over the rest of the GOP field, but he remains at or near the top in virtually every poll even though that means he remains in the vicinity of ten percent.

Moreover, despite the lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for a third Bush presidency and the dismay about the candidate’s less-than-scintillating performance so far, he maintains a clear path to the nomination. If Bush can simply stay in the front of the pack of GOP contenders over the next several months, place in the top two or three in Iowa and then win New Hampshire, where his more moderate approach appears to be playing better than in the Hawkeye State, that will set him up nicely for the rest of the primary season. The assumption at that point is that he could then knock off former protégé Marco Rubio by beating him in Florida. If none of the other more conservative candidates are able to emerge from the pack, they will eliminate each other, and, as Mitt Romney did in 2012 as the sole moderate, Bush will cruise the rest of the way. Or at least that’s what Bush supporters hope will happen.

But with a few days to go before his official announcement, confidence in that scenario playing out in that fashion can’t be all that high. Despite some of his own stumbles, Walker appears to be ready to compete with Bush for both conservative and moderate voters. Even more threatening to Bush is the way Rubio has emerged as a possible competitor for establishment support. A race with this many serious candidates, as well as a number who aren’t all that serious, can’t be easily predicted. Moreover, Bush can’t win by merely surviving. He must be seen as the winner, or at least not the loser, in the debates. And he’s going to have to hope that none of the candidates to his right catch fire.

But more than any of that, what Bush needs to tell us next week when he announces and as he proceeds, why it is that we have to have another president with the same name. Go down the roster of GOP hopefuls and whether they are likely to win or not, all have tremendous passion and raison d’être for their candidacies. Fair or not, the impression is that Bush has been merely biding his time and now believes this is his moment. For all of the advantages his name brings him, he doesn’t have that kind of personal following. Nor, at least to date, does his campaign exhibit the passion or the pluck that characterize his competitors. That must change quickly. If it doesn’t shake off the frontrunner blues, he’ll never be able to subdue the challenges from Walker or Rubio that stand as obstacles to his scenario for victory.

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Can Ben Carson’s Campaign Problems Stop Him?

The stories about the implosion of Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign are the ultimate inside baseball stuff for political junkies. Only they would care about the fact that there has been a mass exit from his political operation in recent weeks. Since Carson’s poll ratings are, at least for the moment, unaffected by any travail inside his camp, what difference does any of it make? Maybe none, as there are precedents for a candidate having similar woes in the year before the contest that have gone on to win their party’s nomination (see, McCain, John, 2008). Carson, who has been floating along in the race on the strength of his appeal as a speaker to right-wing audiences who like his no-holds-barred approach and don’t care about his lack of political experience or policy know-how, seems pretty cavalier about the mechanics of running for president. Perhaps his candidacy will serve as a new model that will prove organization doesn’t matter in the age of the Internet. Then again, maybe he shouldn’t be sure. With the first debate looming in August and the need to get ready in the first states to vote looming after that, it could be that the revised campaign calendar will show us that 2016 isn’t the year to try running without a staff.

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The stories about the implosion of Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign are the ultimate inside baseball stuff for political junkies. Only they would care about the fact that there has been a mass exit from his political operation in recent weeks. Since Carson’s poll ratings are, at least for the moment, unaffected by any travail inside his camp, what difference does any of it make? Maybe none, as there are precedents for a candidate having similar woes in the year before the contest that have gone on to win their party’s nomination (see, McCain, John, 2008). Carson, who has been floating along in the race on the strength of his appeal as a speaker to right-wing audiences who like his no-holds-barred approach and don’t care about his lack of political experience or policy know-how, seems pretty cavalier about the mechanics of running for president. Perhaps his candidacy will serve as a new model that will prove organization doesn’t matter in the age of the Internet. Then again, maybe he shouldn’t be sure. With the first debate looming in August and the need to get ready in the first states to vote looming after that, it could be that the revised campaign calendar will show us that 2016 isn’t the year to try running without a staff.

The John McCain example is a cautionary tale for journalists who like to make predictions early in an election cycle. McCain’s 2008 effort fell apart in mid-2007 as his campaign suffered a similar implosion to that experienced recently by Carson. But even though he had to start again from what seemed like nothing, McCain had time to recover before going on to win in New Hampshire and lock up the nomination early as his leading opponents all knocked each other off in unlikely fashion.

Can Carson pull off the same trick? No.

First off, McCain started off that race as the front-runner and once he found his feet again, he quickly rose to the top again since his stature as a war hero and GOP darling of the news media (at least until he was stacked up against Barack Obama) gave him a lot of room for error.

Carson’s popularity should not be underestimated. He has proved to be a viral video machine as the power of television and the Internet have turned his attacks on President Obama and liberal Democrats into opinion poll gold. There is no recent precedent for a celebrity to parachute into the presidency (the last person to be elected president without prior experience in politics was the general who defeated Adolf Hitler). But Carson’s exposure on Fox and on the talk show circuit seems to have given him enough support from voters who like the idea of a glib talking brain surgeon who makes outrageous suggestions as president to keep him in the front rank of GOP hopefuls.

The debate calendar and the rules that will eliminate any candidate from the first Fox debate in August if they are not in the top ten of an average of polls puts pressure on the field to campaign aggressively this summer. Anyone who doesn’t make the first debate cut or the subsequent first-string debate on CNN is going to have a hard time convincing anyone they are serious candidates. Since Carson has been good on national polls but weak on local organization, in theory, the calendar crunch won’t affect him.

But unlike in the summer of 2007, when McCain could quietly rebuild his effort without much scrutiny, the 2008 race will be red hot these next two months. If Carson can’t get out of his own way or have an effective organization while others, even some who aren’t considered serious threats for the nomination, his poll numbers may start falling.

Moreover, without effective state or national efforts, voters who are being asked to choose between other contenders who are serious about the nomination may drop him. Though Carson seems to assume that if he hangs in the race long enough, he’ll get his chance at winning, the window of opportunity for candidates to impress may be much smaller this time around than in previous cycles.

As much as some people may think that changes in modes of communication have made it easier to reach the voters without a traditional campaign apparatus, the truth is the ability to connect with voters and to raise money via technology actually places a premium on having a good staff and organization. Far from being unnecessary to a celebrity like Carson, he needs that sort of help as much, if not more than anyone. If he thinks he can slide through the schedule without a campaign, he may be in for a rude awakening and sooner than he thinks. It may not take a brain surgeon to run a campaign, but even a brain surgeon needs an effective staff and the ability to run one if he wants to even think about running for president.

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Does Rick Perry Really Deserve a Second Look?

As the candidates for the 2016 race announce one by one, it’s clear that those who announced early got more mileage out of the formal openings of their candidacy than those who waited. As the log jam of would-be presidents starts to pile up, our cynicism waxes and our patience wanes whether or not those reactions are entirely justified by the slim chances of the candidates in question. Yet, no candidate’s announcement has generated more cynicism than that of former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry’s launch of his campaign wasn’t short on glitz or substance, and his subsequent tour of the cable news channels and morning shows showed up to be ready for the challenge and in seemingly good form. Why then the underwhelming reaction? The answer is obvious. His disastrous 2012 run including his memorable “oops” moment in one of the debates when his mind went blank when he sought to list the federal departments he would close has prejudiced many journalists, if not the voters, against his cause. Yet Perry’s effort will provide an answer to one of the perennial questions: does anyone really get a second chance to make a first impression?

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As the candidates for the 2016 race announce one by one, it’s clear that those who announced early got more mileage out of the formal openings of their candidacy than those who waited. As the log jam of would-be presidents starts to pile up, our cynicism waxes and our patience wanes whether or not those reactions are entirely justified by the slim chances of the candidates in question. Yet, no candidate’s announcement has generated more cynicism than that of former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry’s launch of his campaign wasn’t short on glitz or substance, and his subsequent tour of the cable news channels and morning shows showed up to be ready for the challenge and in seemingly good form. Why then the underwhelming reaction? The answer is obvious. His disastrous 2012 run including his memorable “oops” moment in one of the debates when his mind went blank when he sought to list the federal departments he would close has prejudiced many journalists, if not the voters, against his cause. Yet Perry’s effort will provide an answer to one of the perennial questions: does anyone really get a second chance to make a first impression?

Let’s start off by acknowledging that Perry has as good a case to be made for his candidacy as most of his Republican competitors. He has a long record of economic growth as governor of one of the country’s largest and most prosperous states. He has a real grasp of the discussion about job creation and also played a key role in shaping the debate about illegal immigration, an issue that resonates with GOP primary voters. He talks the talk that evangelicals want to hear, and his mantra about government not being our savior hits the sweet spot for Tea Partiers. He also can speak persuasively about foreign policy, is a strong supporter of Israel, and is an Air Force veteran to give him credibility on defense issues.

That checks off virtually all of the key constituencies and issues for Republicans. When you figure in the fact that he’s a seasoned political veteran rather than a relative political neophyte like some running ahead of him in the polls, there’s a good case to be made that he should be considered as worthy of the nomination as any of his rivals.

But that’s not the impression you’re getting from the press. That’s causing some to push back on the low-key reception he’s getting as a case of the media deciding the race rather than letting the voters do so.

There’s some truth to that assertion, but before we hang the press let’s remember something else. Four years ago, all the same positives could have been brought up to defend his candidacy. But what happened in the fall of 2011 wasn’t just a single “oops” moment. It was a gradual unraveling of a candidate for which the “oops’ was merely the coup de grace rather than a singular event that sunk him.

It should be remembered that when Perry entered the race the day of the Iowa Straw poll that year (a piece of timing that ruined Michele Bachmann’s one triumph), he did so not as an outlier but as a frontrunner. At a time when Mitt Romney’s campaign was still mired in the backwash of ObamaCare, Perry parachuted into the contest as the next great thing. Though few outside of Texas knew all that much about him, his initial poll numbers put him way ahead of a weak Republican field. A GOP electorate that was dubious of Romney and unenthused about the rest of a motley crew of contenders seemed poised to embrace the Texas governor. Though he entered late in the cycle at that point all he needed to do was to avoid disaster, and it’s arguable that he would have cruised to a victory. Indeed, Romney’s forces and some of his allies among conservative pundits were in panic in September 2011 and concentrated their efforts on trying to convince journalists to spread smears circulated by left-wing opponents in Austin.

But as we all know now, he didn’t avoid disaster. A decent though uninspiring performance in his first debate was followed by a few weak ones and then his “oops” moment put a fork in his candidacy.

After the fact, we were told that the reason for his lousy debate performances was a bad back. Perry was unprepared and not healthy enough to put up with the rigors of a presidential contest, and it showed. Though all we tend to remember is one gaffe, Perry was an unimpressive candidate who was clearly not ready for prime time.

Now we are informed that he’s healthy and has spent the last few years studying up on policy. To some extent, his good opening performance reflects that assertion. And since America is, as we’ve always been told, a nation of second acts, why should Perry get another chance. If he excels on the stump and in the opening debates (assuming he can get on the stage as one of the top ten contenders according to the polls at the time), then why wouldn’t he get a chance to shoot to the top in a race where none of even the most formidable contenders have a real edge on each other?

The obvious answer is that there is no real reason why he can’t win under those circumstances. Except, that is, for one.

It’s not the bogus indictment of Perry that a liberal prosecutor obtained in which he’s being arraigned for using his veto power. That is bound to be dismissed and will, if anything, generate sympathy from conservatives.

It’s this: Perry’s golden opportunity to win the Republican nomination was in 2012. He could have commanded the support of conservatives without much effort had he not been exposed as comically unprepared. Four years later, there are just too many tough opponents all fighting for the same votes. Indeed, with Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz in the mix, it’s arguable that Perry can’t even count on Texas being a strong base for his candidacy.

In theory, Perry may win over Republicans over in the end but it’s hard to believe anyone will ever take him as seriously as they did in August and September 2011. That was his golden chance. He may get a second chance to make a first impression among those who don’t remember the last election. But his moment has passed. The betting here is that it will not return no matter how well he does this time around.

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Marco Rubio Speeding Tickets Are Political Gold

The woods are full of presidential candidates these days. That’s a development that is not exactly being greeted with joy by most voters who may already be bored with a presidential race that has 18 months left to go. But the gaggle of candidates is good news for political reporters who are being sent out by their editors to beat the bushes for negative stories about their backgrounds. That’s certainly true of the liberal mainstream media and the GOP field. Today’s entry in what will be a long running series of investigations into their lives comes from the New York Times, which discovered, to their horror, that the junior senator from Florida likes to drive fast. As the headline on the piece reads, “Marco Rubio and His Wife Cited 17 Times for Traffic Violations.” That may shock some people, but the bet here is that, if anything, this is exactly the sort of story that will help rather than hurt Rubio.

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The woods are full of presidential candidates these days. That’s a development that is not exactly being greeted with joy by most voters who may already be bored with a presidential race that has 18 months left to go. But the gaggle of candidates is good news for political reporters who are being sent out by their editors to beat the bushes for negative stories about their backgrounds. That’s certainly true of the liberal mainstream media and the GOP field. Today’s entry in what will be a long running series of investigations into their lives comes from the New York Times, which discovered, to their horror, that the junior senator from Florida likes to drive fast. As the headline on the piece reads, “Marco Rubio and His Wife Cited 17 Times for Traffic Violations.” That may shock some people, but the bet here is that, if anything, this is exactly the sort of story that will help rather than hurt Rubio.

The story has all the detail you want if you’re a traffic court fan. Since 1997, Rubio has gotten four moving violations while his wife has gotten 13. That’s a lot, and both have been compelled to take those remedial driver’s ed classes that people with more than a couple of tickets are often sentenced to sit through. Perhaps this will incline some self-righteous observers to denounce Rubio and his wife as thoughtless or reckless. But if anyone at the Times thinks Marco Rubio’s speeding tickets will hurt his chances of being elected president, they know nothing about Americans and their feelings about cars or traffic cops. Indeed, Rubio’s tendency to push the speed limits will remind Americans of a couple of things that he would like them to associate him with.

The first is youth. Rubio is one of the youngest candidates in the race. Some have already pointed out, with good reason, that electing another youthful freshman senator to be president doesn’t sound like such a great idea. That’s especially true if you’re a Republican who has spent the last eight years denouncing Barack Obama. But Americans like the idea of a man who is about possibilities rather than the baggage of past campaigns. That, along with a strong policy record on domestic and foreign policy issues, is the whole point of the Rubio candidacy. As a recent CNN/ORC poll showed, more than any other presidential contender, he’s the one most associated with the future rather than the past. And although Americans are a rapidly aging population, which ought to make more mature candidates like Hillary Clinton and, say, Jeb Bush — more natural choices for the presidency — our culture still worships youth almost as much as it loves cars.

Let me go further and say that, while traffic safety is vitally important and speeding is a potentially dangerous activity, there’s little doubt that traffic cops are even more disliked by most Americans than politicians or journalists. We all know that the point of traffic enforcement policy today is raising revenue, not safety. If everyone who has ever driven above the speeding limit or committed some traffic infraction identifies with the image of the senator being pulled over, he has little to worry about.

But there’s another aspect to this story that helps Rubio. In recent years, Republicans candidates have been subjected to some pretty tough examinations by the mainstream liberal media. Supposedly prestigious news organizations have stooped to publishing stories that didn’t pass the smell test, but which served the purpose of smearing their characters.

In 2008, that meant a huge New York Times feature alleging an affair between Senator John McCain and a lobbyist. This thinly veiled piece of unsourced gossip trashed McCain’s reputation even though it was based on the flimsiest of evidence and didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

In 2011, the Washington Post ran a huge expose on Texas Governor Rick Perry alleging that his family owned a hunting camp with a racially offensive name even though it’s not clear that this had anything to do with Perry or that it was anything more a name on a slab of rock that had since been painted over.

In 2012, the Post subjected Mitt Romney to the indignity of a similarly extensive story that centered on a prank he and some of his friends played on another boy during high school. The incident, in which a boy who would one day declare that he was gay, got a haircut, was treated with the same gravity as stories about serial killers.

You get the picture. If you’re a Republican, expect anything in your post to be treated as a death penalty offense no matter what it might be. If you’re a Clinton, even contemporary scandals and genuine conflicts of interest involving foreign donors and national security issues, are items we should dismiss as the product of the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

So, if the worst thing they can dig up in Marco Rubio’s biography is that he and his wife have gotten multiple traffic tickets, that’s good news for his presidential prospects. It’s also a subliminal message that he’s a man with his future ahead of him and touch with the ordinary business of life that privileged elites may have forgotten about. That’s especially true if he’s eventually matched up with a former First Lady who hasn’t sat in the front seat since the first George Bush was president. Besides, if he wins, he and his wife will never drive again. There may be better or worse reasons to vote for or against him. But, seen from that perspective, perhaps a vote for Rubio really is a vote for traffic safety.

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It’s 1968 All Over Again

Superficially, the parallels between the issues that will likely to come to dominate the 2016 presidential election and those of another election year, 1968, are eerie.

Abroad, Americans have grown uncomfortable with the president’s halfhearted conduct of a necessary but unloved war. It has become inescapably clear that the tempo of operations is dictated by domestic political concerns rather than strategic considerations in theater. Internationally, a terrible ideology diametrically opposed to Western democratic ideals appears to be gaining ground, attracting support in unlikely corners of the globe, and exporting terrorism and insecurity into the heart of the West. And at home, public fears about the breakdown of order in America’s urban centers and the relationship between law enforcement officials and the public they serve are approaching the forefront of voters’ minds. This presents Republicans an opportunity they would be wise to exploit, but it would be a mistake for the party to think it can simply run the next Richard Nixon and win the White House. Read More

Superficially, the parallels between the issues that will likely to come to dominate the 2016 presidential election and those of another election year, 1968, are eerie.

Abroad, Americans have grown uncomfortable with the president’s halfhearted conduct of a necessary but unloved war. It has become inescapably clear that the tempo of operations is dictated by domestic political concerns rather than strategic considerations in theater. Internationally, a terrible ideology diametrically opposed to Western democratic ideals appears to be gaining ground, attracting support in unlikely corners of the globe, and exporting terrorism and insecurity into the heart of the West. And at home, public fears about the breakdown of order in America’s urban centers and the relationship between law enforcement officials and the public they serve are approaching the forefront of voters’ minds. This presents Republicans an opportunity they would be wise to exploit, but it would be a mistake for the party to think it can simply run the next Richard Nixon and win the White House.

When voters cast their ballots in 1968, their apprehension in regards to accelerating urban violence was palpable. In the four years that preceded that election, rioting in Watts, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New York City, Detroit, Newark, and even right outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago tore at the nation’s social fabric. Today, urban and race-related rioting has again come to occupy American minds as places like Ferguson and Baltimore erupt in self-defeating property destruction and violence. Some believe that these riots are a portent of things to come, and the Long Hot Summer of 1967 will recur in 2015.

And as was the case in 1968, a cottage industry has developed around the idea that policing is not the solution to the problem of urban chaos but the cause of it. President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission, chaired by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, laid the blame for unrest in inner cities primarily at the feet of the police officers that patrolled them. Heavy handedness, a lack of representation on those forces by black residents, and genuine racial discrimination played a role in fostering a sense of hopelessness and creating the conditions that resulted in a backlash, the Kerner Report indicated. “White society” had created two “separate and unequal” systems in America, and threatened to develop into an American version of “Apartheid.”

47 years later, and an African-American president and his two African-American attorneys general are contending with similar urban violence, but the recommendations for how to deal with the situation haven’t changed all that much. Today, chronic black unemployment and empirical racial disparities in the criminal justice system have accentuated the often-legitimate perception among minorities that a double standard is at play. As in 1968, it is vogue to blame the authorities – and local police forces in particular – for the outbreak of unrest.

But voters did not share that belief in 1968. Running as a “law and order” candidate, Richard Nixon handily won the argument over how to address urban unrest, and his prescription offered little deference to the conclusions in the Kerner Report. Today, the left is relearning the lessons of a half-century ago. Citing a Princeton University study released last month, New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait observed that it is demonstrable that “riots make America more conservative.”

“The physical damage inflicted upon poor urban neighborhoods by rioting does not have the compensating virtue of easing the way for more progressive policies; instead, it compounds the damage by promoting a regressive backlash,” the liberal columnist observed.

To borrow an aphorism from the decade of discontent, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Today, as a likely result of the left’s demonization of American police, urban law enforcement officials are unable or unwilling to perform the necessarily risky work of policing urban environments. “Violent crime — killings, robberies, rapes and assaults — is rising in half of the 10 biggest U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, where the rate is up 25 percent,” NBC News reported. “Murders are up in four of the biggest cities, most notably New York, the nation’s poster child for crime reduction.” Baltimore has experienced its deadliest May since 1972. “Meanwhile, arrests have plummeted since April’s unrest in Baltimore, with only 1,177 people arrested so far in May compared to 3,801 in the same month last year,” the Baltimore Sun revealed. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson called the spike in violent crime the results of a “Ferguson effect,” and blamed his city’s 17 percent hike in violent crime and 25 percent spike in murders on their inability to conduct proactive policing operations.

New York City’s self-styled progressive icon, Mayor Bill de Blasio, outright accused his own police force of racism in the wake of a grand jury’s failure last year to indict the officer responsible for the accidental death of Eric Garner. His careless calumny resulted in a virtual work stoppage by the NYPD, and has yielded a hike in the murder rate that has touched even the glittering showpiece borough of Manhattan. Illustrative of the left’s intellectual bankruptcy and its inability to be responsive to public perception, de Blasio is preparing to blame this condition on the city’s inventory of already tightly controlled firearms.

The GOP will and should be tempted to run on a law and order platform, but it would be a mistake if the party abandoned its nascent commitment to pursue criminal justice reforms. Sentencing reformation and the scaling back of the objective failure that is the War on Drugs would go some way toward addressing the black community’s antipathy toward law enforcement. What’s more, Republicans would do well to continue to emphasize the accurate critique of the left that they appear to believe that “black lives matter” only when they are taken by white police officers. Their primarily African-American residents disproportionately feel the spike in violence in urban centers. Moreover, the blight that is left in the wake of urban violence often takes generations to repair. While the left daydreams about urban “uprisings,” Republicans would do well to note that they are concerned more with the preservation of black lives and livelihoods than realizing a Marxist revolution fantasy at the expense of American minorities.

It is not 1968, and the Republican Party would do well to disabuse themselves of the notion that it is. There are, however, political opportunities in the left’s self-satisfied myopia and their failure to internalize the lessons of that turbulent period that would be irresponsible for the GOP to ignore.

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Do Hillary’s Bad Poll Numbers Matter? Yes.

Hillary Clinton and her supporters are probably telling themselves not to be alarmed by the latest CNN/ORC poll. They must acknowledge that the headlines will rightly trumpet the fact that in just two months the former First Lady has gone from a net plus 11 percent positive rating to a negative four percent in terms of her favorability. Just as bad if not worse are the numbers that tell us that clear majorities of Americans don’t consider her honest, trustworthy, care about them, or inspire confidence. But Clinton still has a staggering 46 percent lead over any other Democrat and leads all Republican contenders in head-to-head matchups, although not by the same large margins that she once enjoyed. That means that no matter what most Americans think about her, she is certain to be the Democratic nominee and head toward November 2016 with, at worst, an even chance of winning the presidency. That’s not a bad place to be for any presidential candidate 17 months before the election. But the more one drills down into Hillary’s numbers, the less confident Democrats should be.

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Hillary Clinton and her supporters are probably telling themselves not to be alarmed by the latest CNN/ORC poll. They must acknowledge that the headlines will rightly trumpet the fact that in just two months the former First Lady has gone from a net plus 11 percent positive rating to a negative four percent in terms of her favorability. Just as bad if not worse are the numbers that tell us that clear majorities of Americans don’t consider her honest, trustworthy, care about them, or inspire confidence. But Clinton still has a staggering 46 percent lead over any other Democrat and leads all Republican contenders in head-to-head matchups, although not by the same large margins that she once enjoyed. That means that no matter what most Americans think about her, she is certain to be the Democratic nominee and head toward November 2016 with, at worst, an even chance of winning the presidency. That’s not a bad place to be for any presidential candidate 17 months before the election. But the more one drills down into Hillary’s numbers, the less confident Democrats should be.

The Clinton camp will say that once their campaign cranks up and begins spending up to $2 billion on selling the country on Hillary’s greatness and trashing Republicans, the current slide will be reversed. To some extent, they may be right. As President Obama proved in 2012, if you are able to define your opponents with ads that slime their reputations as well as negative coverage from a helpful mainstream liberal media, half the battle will already be won.

But Hillary’s rising negatives point to the basic problem facing Democrats in 2016. We have been endlessly lectured that the Democrats’ main advantage was and remains a demographic one with women and minorities voting for them in numbers sufficient to offset any GOP strengths elsewhere. That’s true, but focusing solely on that breakdown ignores the fact that the Democrats’ real advantage was in having a candidate that a majority of Americans liked and, to some extent, trusted. Though his charms were lost on most Republicans, Barack Obama was and, to some extent still is, a magical political figure. He was not only liked by most voters he also made them feel good about themselves because of his historical status as our first African-American president. Hillary may hope that being the first female president will have the same resonance, but that may be more wishful thinking than hard analysis. As much as her identity as a woman will be a huge positive factor for her candidacy, that enthusiasm is tempered by the negative view that most Americans have about her personally. Though liberals keep telling us that the Clinton Cash scandals, Benghazi, and other Clinton problems are right-wing media conspiracies, they appear to have taken a toll on Clinton’s image.

Unlike most of the Republican candidates who must struggle to become better known and then try to avoid being defined by Democratic attacks, Hillary’s not only has universal name recognition but her identity is so fixed in the public imagination that it’s not clear that negative ads would even do all that much damage to her. Large numbers of Americans like her and nothing will change that. At the same time, an equally large group dislikes her so intensely that virtually nothing could make them support her. That puts her in a far less formidable position than Obama had in either of his presidential runs. Even if we concede that the Democrats start out with a stranglehold on 247 Electoral College votes to the Republicans having 206 with only 85 toss-ups that will determine the outcome.

Winning those key swing states will require the sort of enthusiasm that Obama inspired among the base. Can Hillary have the same sort of appeal? Since hard-core Democrats don’t care about the Clintons’ scandals, the answer is maybe. But Clinton will need to do more than mobilize her base. The most discouraging numbers in the CNN poll isn’t so much those terrible numbers about trustworthiness. It’s the fact that her favorability among independents is so poor, with a 54-41 negative result.

There are some other interesting facts to be gleaned from the CNN poll on the Republican side. In terms of who is ahead among the huge GOP field, the results are as useless as that of any other national poll. The leading candidates are all bunched together with only a few percentage points separating them and those on the bottom, like Carly Fiorina and newly declared candidate Lindsey Graham barely registering any support. That tells us nothing about who is set up to do well in the early voting states or which of them has any real advantage over the others.

What is significant is that Jeb Bush, the person many anointed as the Republican frontrunner and the one best suited to win a general election, is doing worse against Clinton in head-to-head matchups than any of the others. Even worse is the fact that poll respondents identified Bush more with the past than the future by a 62-34 percent margin. That has to be extremely frustrating for him, as he hasn’t held office in over 8 years and Clinton who has played a key role in the last two Democratic administrations gets a pro-future rating by a puzzling 51-45 percent margin. It seems obvious that a lot of people are confusing him with his older brother or father, but it may also be another piece of evidence that a lot of Americans don’t like the idea of a third Bush in the White House. That puts the conventional wisdom about the inevitability of a Bush-Clinton general election very much in doubt.

Marco Rubio had better news since he not only led the pack with an admittedly meager 14 percent but was also the most popular second choice. He also had the highest rating of being identified with the future of any candidate from either party.

Taken as a whole, none of this data should change our evaluations of what sets up to be a Clinton coronation for the Democrats, a confusing scrum for the GOP, and a general election in which both sides have a chance. That’s not terrible news for Clinton, but it shows that this will be a much more competitive election than the last two presidential contests. That means Democrats who think they can’t lose the presidency need to think again.

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The Reason Why Bernie’s Booming

Maybe the New York Times is getting ahead of itself with its article today that proclaims, “Bernie Sanders Gains Momentum in Iowa.” The latest Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Democratic in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses shows that Hillary Clinton leads the race with 57 percent with Sanders still far behind at 16 percent. But, it must be conceded that for a candidate with little money and no realistic chance of actually winning the nomination, the Vermont senator is doing pretty well, especially when compared with former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley who declared his candidacy over the weekend yet is stuck at a paltry 2 percent in the same poll. Sanders is drawing relatively large crowds and, if he continues to gain ground in the polls, will attract more money. What’s putting the wind in the sails of the Socialist-turned independent running as a Democrat? The answer is simple: Though Democrats don’t want a messy primary, everybody likes a principled underdog. And Sanders is an underdog straight out of central casting.

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Maybe the New York Times is getting ahead of itself with its article today that proclaims, “Bernie Sanders Gains Momentum in Iowa.” The latest Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Democratic in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses shows that Hillary Clinton leads the race with 57 percent with Sanders still far behind at 16 percent. But, it must be conceded that for a candidate with little money and no realistic chance of actually winning the nomination, the Vermont senator is doing pretty well, especially when compared with former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley who declared his candidacy over the weekend yet is stuck at a paltry 2 percent in the same poll. Sanders is drawing relatively large crowds and, if he continues to gain ground in the polls, will attract more money. What’s putting the wind in the sails of the Socialist-turned independent running as a Democrat? The answer is simple: Though Democrats don’t want a messy primary, everybody likes a principled underdog. And Sanders is an underdog straight out of central casting.

Those who have noticed the fragility of Clinton’s candidacy are almost certainly wrong if they think she will collapse before she is anointed at their national convention next year in Philadelphia. The Clinton machine isn’t to be underestimated. The lack of a credible challenger in the mode of a Barack Obama means the narrative about the former First Lady becoming our first female president is an irresistible force that will not be turned aside.

But even if we understand that there is no way she is losing the nomination, the notion that the primaries will be a cakewalk for her is equally mistaken. There are enough left-wing Democrats who rightly see Clinton as an unprincipled chameleon bereft of principles other than an all-consuming ambition to fuel a serious challenge. Moreover, the inevitability of Clinton’s ultimate victory makes it all the more attractive for Democratic voters to cast protest votes that will, they think, send a message to the candidate, not to move too far to the center once the general election begins. The stage is set for someone to give Clinton a run for her money while not having much of a chance to actually beat her short of a complete implosion on her part. And even then, it’s not clear how badly she would have to blow herself up in order for her candidacy to completely collapse.

That only leaves the question as to who is the Democrat who can play that role?

Given the long odds, it’s understandable that not many have volunteered to be Hillary’s sparring partner. Despite his burning desire for the presidency, the bereaved Vice President Biden appears to understand that he can’t win. Other prominent Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, the darling of the left and perhaps the most credible of all possible anti-Hillary possibilities, also lack the appetite for tilting at the Clinton windmill.

O’Malley is interested and his challenge is logical if you consider him as beginning an effort that could eventually lead to victory in a future election cycle. An attractive, charismatic liberal with a good record as a mayor and a governor, O’Malley has a resume that ought to make him the most likely person to benefit from resentment of Clinton’s inevitability as well as unrest on the left. But he’s discovering that his calculation was incorrect. In fact, it is his credibility and Sanders’ lack of presidential stature that makes the latter a far better candidate to play the role of potential spoiler.

It’s likely that no one in the Sanders camp, least of all the candidate himself, thinks he can be nominated let alone win the presidency. But it’s his unsuitability that will allow him to be an effective gadfly against a certain winner. Since no one thinks Hillary can lose, that frees up anyone who has a complaint about Clinton, or the party establishment, or anything to vote for Sanders without believing they are actually putting him a step closer to the White House.

It should be noted that the underwhelming response to the revelation that Sanders wrote an article speculating about female rape fantasies could be traced in part to this same factor. Let’s concede that if a Republican had written anything like the bizarre piece the Vermont socialist penned, they would be given the Todd Akin treatment on every front page in the country and likely drummed out of public life while the story would be used as a cudgel in the Democrats fake “war on women” campaign. Instead, the mainstream liberal press has largely smirked, buried the story, and moved on from it as they generally do when their side is caught with their pants down.

But in an odd way Sanders’ rape fantasies play into the idea that he’s a quirky original with idiosyncrasies should be winked at. If so, that says something troubling about Democrats and the culture. But it is also a problem for Hillary, since it shows that there is nothing that Sanders can do to be disqualified from a perch from which he can endlessly flay her over lack of authenticity and chronic flip-flopping. The crazier Sanders appears, the more her carefully scripted and utterly fake approach to campaigning (illustrated so aptly by the astonishing and brazen way she changes her accent depending on which region of the country she is in at the time) looks.

No, Sanders can’t beat Hillary in Iowa or New Hampshire. But he is set up to win the expectations game in every contest and make her life miserable. That will be frustrating for her as well as O’Malley. But given the fact that there is nothing the Clinton attack machine can say or do that would undermine him any more than the things that come out of his own mouth and record, there’s nothing she will be able to do to stop him from becoming a left-wing folk hero. The Bernie momentum story will last far longer than she or most Democrats would like.

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Rand Paul Drops the Pretense

It is highly likely that as a result of Senator Rand Paul’s maneuvers, barring a last minute reversal, the Patriot Act will expire Sunday night. This is something of a triumph for the Kentucky senator even if it is likely to be a short-lived one. Even under the rules of the Senate which allow individual senators vast leeway to gum up the works if they so choose, it’s likely that a frustrated Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to force an end to this exhibition by Wednesday and that the House version of a renewal called the USA Freedom Act, will eventually be adopted by the Senate. It is to be hoped that the 72-hour interval won’t harm national security. But the main political conclusion to be drawn from this affair is that Paul’s long and arduous effort to attain the status of a mainstream Republican leader and presidential contender is now officially over.

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It is highly likely that as a result of Senator Rand Paul’s maneuvers, barring a last minute reversal, the Patriot Act will expire Sunday night. This is something of a triumph for the Kentucky senator even if it is likely to be a short-lived one. Even under the rules of the Senate which allow individual senators vast leeway to gum up the works if they so choose, it’s likely that a frustrated Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to force an end to this exhibition by Wednesday and that the House version of a renewal called the USA Freedom Act, will eventually be adopted by the Senate. It is to be hoped that the 72-hour interval won’t harm national security. But the main political conclusion to be drawn from this affair is that Paul’s long and arduous effort to attain the status of a mainstream Republican leader and presidential contender is now officially over.

As I noted last week, Paul’s recent filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal didn’t have the same impact of the same stunt when he executed it in early 2013. That filibuster captured the imagination of the country not just because it was well done. It worked because his concerns about the Obama administration’s use of drone attacks seemed to capture both the cynicism that many Americans felt about the government but also because it came at a time when the threat from Islamist terrorism seemed to have receded. But in the wake of the rise of ISIS as a result of President Obama’s negligence and shortsighted Middle East policies, that stance no longer resonates with as many people, especially Republican primary voters.

But rather than let a bipartisan majority of Congress work their will and allow U.S. intelligence to continue their necessary work of monitoring possible terrorist threats, Paul has doubled down on his obstructionism. The result is that, at least for a few days, he will have won and stripped the government of its ability to conduct bulk data collection. Paul and his fellow libertarian cynics about efforts to combat terrorism will assert that no harm will be done to the country, a proposition that cannot be proved or disproved without access to the sort of intelligence that is unlikely to be in the public domain or even possessed by members of the Senate. Yet, even if the country is so fortunate that nothing important will slip by its spooks during a possible 72 hour blackout, the point here is that Paul’s crusade has finally exploded the notion that he is a mere foreign policy “realist” rather than a housebroken version of his father’s old extremist libertarian faction.

McConnell was resisting the House version until this week because he rightly considered its attempt to limit the government’s ability to monitor terrorist contacts to be both unnecessary and potentially dangerous. But since neither Paul nor some left-wing Democrats who share his views would play ball, the Majority Leader was forced to embrace the House bill as the only way to effectively renew the Patriot Act before it expired. This retreat availed him little since Paul was not satisfied with having his say and getting a vote, but actually chose to let the law expire, albeit for only a few days.

Suffice it to say that if Senator Paul were the mainstream Republican, he has been trying to pose as for the last two years as he prepared his presidential run, he wouldn’t have done this. It is one thing to grandstand about these issues, even on the ludicrous premise that the government was thinking about sending drones to kill American citizens peacefully sipping coffee in Starbucks, as he did in his 2013 filibuster. It is quite another to use your power as a senator to actually halt U.S. intelligence efforts merely in order to feed the paranoia of a segment of the public.

It bears repeating that the metadata collection that he is so riled up about was both constitutional and a necessary tool for American intelligence forces as they work to continue to try and forestall attacks on the homeland as well as terrorism abroad. The National Security Agency isn’t reading your emails or listening to your phone conversations. But it will seek to do so if you are in contact with a known terrorist. The House version of the bill forces the government to go to a court before it can use any of the data it seeks. That’s an extra precaution that ought to satisfy the Patriot Act’s critics, who nevertheless cannot point to a single instance in which the government has misused the information it gleans from the procedure.

Paul’s stance puts him to the left of President Obama on this issue. That’s nothing new since his foreign policy views are, as a general rule of thumb, far closer to that of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party than those of most of his fellow Republicans. But while his calls for a weaker defense and a retreat from a position of strength abroad can sometimes be couched in terms that allow him to pose as a follower of the first President Bush, his recent antics give the lie to this effort.

Paul will likely continue to be a disruptive force in both his party and the presidential contest, especially in a field as big as the one Republicans will have in 2016. But by claiming, as our Noah Rothman noted this past week, that it was his fellow Republicans, rather than President Obama, who should be held responsible for the rise of ISIS and then his effort to torpedo intelligence collection Paul has finally dropped any pretense that he is attempt to gain the votes of mainstream conservatives.

He has, instead, reverted to being merely a slicker and more ambitious versions of his cranky extremist father. Unlike Rep. Ron Paul, Rand seemed to harbor genuine hopes of expanding beyond his small yet vocal band of libertarian backers. It was fun while it lasted, but that is over. So should be any notion that he is anything more than a factional leader who has no chance of being nominated, let alone elected president.

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Will Hillary Jump Start Fiorina’s Candidacy?

Yesterday, Carly Fiorina went to Columbia, South Carolina intending to ambush Hillary Clinton who was there for a speaking engagement. Clinton was, as is her usual practice, not offering any press availability. So while the crowd of journalists following the former First Lady offered Fiorina a large media audience, they vented their frustration on her and subjected the former Hewlett-Packard CEO to the kind of tough questioning that Clinton has so far evaded. It made for a difficult few moments for Fiorina and the encounter left some observers wondering whether she was hurting herself more than helping by seeming to shadow Clinton. In a race with up to 20 candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination where all are fighting for attention, it appears that being the scourge of Hillary has become both Fiorina’s political identity and her only shot at edging her way into contention. Will that be enough?

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Yesterday, Carly Fiorina went to Columbia, South Carolina intending to ambush Hillary Clinton who was there for a speaking engagement. Clinton was, as is her usual practice, not offering any press availability. So while the crowd of journalists following the former First Lady offered Fiorina a large media audience, they vented their frustration on her and subjected the former Hewlett-Packard CEO to the kind of tough questioning that Clinton has so far evaded. It made for a difficult few moments for Fiorina and the encounter left some observers wondering whether she was hurting herself more than helping by seeming to shadow Clinton. In a race with up to 20 candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination where all are fighting for attention, it appears that being the scourge of Hillary has become both Fiorina’s political identity and her only shot at edging her way into contention. Will that be enough?

Heading into 2015, Fiorina’s candidacy seemed to be pointless. She had no political experience other than an unsuccessful run for a California Senate seat in 2010. Nor had she a claim on the loyalty of any of her party’s key constituencies like the Tea Party, social conservatives, foreign policy hawks or the establishment. But over the course of the last several months, she has parlayed a tart speaking style and clever barbs aimed at Hillary Clinton into some attention if not good poll numbers.

There’s no question that her reception at campaign cattle calls and on the stump has been good. Republicans seem to like her. And they love her ability to call out Clinton. Her stock attack lines about the former secretary of state needing to learn that “flying is an activity, not an accomplishment,” has made her something of a GOP star.

The fact that liberals are starting to attack Fiorina and deriding her as lacking the qualifications for the presidency and merely being a GOP version of affirmative action shows that her arrows have found their target. The resentment against Fiorina from liberals, and especially liberal women, is visceral. Their ire is not so much about her views on the issues as it is the fact that Fiorina’s gender allows her to take shots at Clinton in a manner that no man could do without being excoriated for sexism.

That makes her a useful weapon in the GOP arsenal. But is it enough to make her candidacy viable? The jury is still out on that question.

So far, all the good press she’s gotten hasn’t yet translated into a surge in the polls. The latest Quinnipiac Poll that was published today shows her with just two percent support. That’s not laughable in a field that big and with there being a five-way tie for first place. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all have just ten percent. But it still leaves her in a statistical tie for tenth place trailing Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and even the comical Donald Trump ahead of her. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has neither campaigned nor declared his intention to run, is tied with her at two percent.

Being ahead of Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham is not a negligible achievement but it also means she is in great peril of not finishing in the top ten and being, therefore, ineligible for the first GOP debate on Fox.

Thus, while it is fair to say that merely being the Republican’s designated hitter on Clinton doesn’t do much to highlight Fiorina’s case for the presidency, it does get her some attention that she might otherwise never get. The problem is that there is a difference between assuming the role of the thorn in Clinton’s side and being a serious presidential contender.

Fiorina is an impressive speaker and the more she gets a chance to appear on national forums, the better she is likely to do. But that doesn’t change the fact that she hasn’t got a core group of voters or base within the party. So long as that is true most political observers will continue to believe that she is really running for the vice presidency or a Cabinet post in a future Republican administration.

But right now, her goal is to get on the stage at the Fox debate in August. If she keeps hitting Clinton hard while also avoiding gaffes, she has a fighting chance of making the first cut and raising enough money to continue her effort. Whether or not Democrats like it, Fiorina’s anti-Hillary barbs have been hitting home. They may be enough to keep Fiorina in the race until the voting starts next winter. Though it may not provide her with a path to the nomination, let alone the presidency, Hillary is jump-starting Fiorina’s campaign.

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Why Hillary’s Listening Tour Is a Mistake

Not everything is going as planned in Hillary Clinton’s world. The putative Democratic presidential nominee’s listening tour is intended to ease her transition into the race providing her with maximum visibility and minimal exposure to press scrutiny. However, the controversies over her emails, the Clinton Cash scandal, and her Sidney Blumenthal connection and questions about the former First Family’s ethics have overshadowed her campaign appearances. Her refusal to grant even occasional press availabilities also turned into a story. Just as problematic is the fact that the dog-and-pony shows that were set up for her have a phony feel to them that has done little to shake off her political rust or to convince voters she really cares about them. But there are a couple of other serious problems to ponder here as she sits and listens to people recruited to talk to her. One has to do with the listening tour idea itself, and the other is how it is affecting her campaign.

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Not everything is going as planned in Hillary Clinton’s world. The putative Democratic presidential nominee’s listening tour is intended to ease her transition into the race providing her with maximum visibility and minimal exposure to press scrutiny. However, the controversies over her emails, the Clinton Cash scandal, and her Sidney Blumenthal connection and questions about the former First Family’s ethics have overshadowed her campaign appearances. Her refusal to grant even occasional press availabilities also turned into a story. Just as problematic is the fact that the dog-and-pony shows that were set up for her have a phony feel to them that has done little to shake off her political rust or to convince voters she really cares about them. But there are a couple of other serious problems to ponder here as she sits and listens to people recruited to talk to her. One has to do with the listening tour idea itself, and the other is how it is affecting her campaign.

Let’s start by granting that there is something appealing about a powerful person deigning to listen to the concerns of the people. Americans like their politicians to at least pretend that they care about them. Some, like Hillary’s husband Bill, turned it into an art form. But unlike her spouse, Hillary isn’t very good at the show of “feeling the pain” of others. Though she asks questions and listens intently, these photo ops have the feel of an audience with a queen rather than a politician humbly asking for support.

More to the point, instead of Democrat central casting providing peasants and villagers as props for Clinton, the notion of a candidate who only listens or pretends to do so, is counter-intuitive to the presidential election process. What citizens in a democracy need from our candidates is not so much the opportunity to tell a monarch our problems as to know what they think and want to do if we give them the power they are asking us for.

This is especially true for Clinton who has never seemed as comfortable in her own skin as better politicians like her husband or Barack Obama, the man who beat her in 2008, the last time her party was about to hand her their nomination on a silver platter. Is Hillary the tough centrist that ran eight years ago? Or is she a rebooted Elizabeth Warren clone who can rally the left wing of a party that thinks of her being as too close to Wall Street donors for their comfort?

We don’t know the answers to those questions and we’re not likely to get any so long as she is posing as the nation’s listening post.

But while a listening tour was a reasonable tactic during a period of the campaign in which she would do best to merely tread water, Clinton’s response to the people she meets is accentuating the authenticity problem.

As the New York Times reports, Clinton is bombarding her policy shop headquartered back in Brooklyn with ideas that come up as a result of her encounters in Iowa. One day, she’s fascinated with helping small businesses in what appears to be a case of her adopting the Republicans “you built that” theme from their 2012 national convention. The next, she’s back to talking about student loan debt. Then it’s back to health care, her first national political disaster.

These are all things we want our candidates to know about, but one gets the impression that Hillary is using these audiences with her public in a way that isn’t entirely healthy for her campaign. It’s not just that her campaign is short on concrete ideas and proposals. It’s that her lack of core beliefs and willingness to say whatever people want helps create an incoherent narrative that undermines any sense that she has a coherent vision of what her presidency would stand for.

Perhaps Clinton is so well-known a political brand that, unlike other candidates, she doesn’t have to convince people to identify her with a particular set of beliefs or stands on the issues. But what comes through in her listening tour is the idea that she’s taking notes on what worries voters, and she’ll get back to us later on how to incorporate those concerns in her rhetoric. The Clinton candidacy isn’t so much listening, as it is a marketing firm for a product conducting focus groups in order to mold their commodity into something people would buy.

For a candidate whose greatest flaw is a lack of authenticity, this is the worst possible strategy that can be imagined. Clinton can’t feel our pain with sincerity any more than she can tell us why she is running for president other than to give us our first woman commander-in-chief. That’s not an unworthy goal, and might be enough to win her the presidency if the Republicans field a weak candidate to oppose her. But at a stage of the election cycle when she should be establishing her identity, all she seems to be doing is reminding us that she’s still working on creating one.

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Debate Cut Will Make for a Long, Hot GOP Candidate Summer

It turns out Fox News and CNN agree on something. The two cable news networks announced the rules for the Republican presidential debates they will be sponsoring respectively in August and September, and each will employ the same rule for determining who will be on the stage. Both have decided that the huge field of GOP candidates must be winnowed down to ten and that the criteria for determining their identity will be the average results of national opinion polls of the race. With the field expected to grow to as many as 19 candidates, those who don’t make the cut will be relegated to a debate of their own. Such a choice was inevitable since having them all on together would be a television nightmare as well as too unwieldy to let any of them have much of an impact. But in a race where the debates will likely be crucial to determining the course of the campaign, this will place a premium on activity during a period when most presidential candidates often lay low. That means that for those following the Republicans, it’s going to be a long and probably extremely hot and contentious summer.

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It turns out Fox News and CNN agree on something. The two cable news networks announced the rules for the Republican presidential debates they will be sponsoring respectively in August and September, and each will employ the same rule for determining who will be on the stage. Both have decided that the huge field of GOP candidates must be winnowed down to ten and that the criteria for determining their identity will be the average results of national opinion polls of the race. With the field expected to grow to as many as 19 candidates, those who don’t make the cut will be relegated to a debate of their own. Such a choice was inevitable since having them all on together would be a television nightmare as well as too unwieldy to let any of them have much of an impact. But in a race where the debates will likely be crucial to determining the course of the campaign, this will place a premium on activity during a period when most presidential candidates often lay low. That means that for those following the Republicans, it’s going to be a long and probably extremely hot and contentious summer.

As I wrote earlier this month, in a primary race with so many credible candidates the debates will be as important as they were during the 2012 cycle. Though the Republicans have cut them down from a mind-numbing 20 to a more manageable 11, the volume of candidates is going to make it harder for any of them to expand their appeal beyond core constituencies. That means scoring points in the debates will be just about the only way for them to make headway.

With not quite so many debates happening one after another as they did in the fall of 2011, the series probably won’t have the feel of a reality show series that it had last year. But the impact may be similar. Those who stand out, as Newt Gingrich and, on occasion, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did last time, will see their standing rise. Those that fail on stage, as Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann (who got a boost from the debates but then faded amid her goofy claims about vaccines) did, will see their candidacies crash and burn.

But in order to make your mark, you’ll have to get onto the main stage, giving new meaning to the term “first tier” to distinguish the real contenders from the also-rans. Not getting into the first debates will be an effective death sentence for those in the second tier show. That will be the result not just of the smaller audience for the b-list candidates but because the loser label affixed to those who don’t make the cut will be difficult if not impossible to shake off.

What’s interesting about this is that if the debates were held now, the average of polls according to RealClearPolitics.com would leave relatively big names like Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and John Kasich on the outside looking in. Rick Santorum is currently in the crucial tenth spot with 2.3 percent support while Kasich at 2 percent, Fiorina, Jindal and Graham all at 1.3 percent.

Those standings may not hold up as candidates jump in or opt out (as Kasich might). This could create a rather odd dynamic that will alter the usual way candidates behave. Rather than spending the summer of 2015 raising money and laying low, all of the candidates, including those like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who have been mislabeled as frontrunners, are going to need to do everything in the power to boost their poll ratings. Rather than campaign activity starting slowly and then building in intensity, we may see a surge at the very start as candidates vie to get into the first tier debate.

This should be nerve-wracking for the candidates and exciting for the press and political junkies. But it should also provoke some anxiety among Republican leaders. There are candidates that may not have much chance to win but who are viewed as essential elements in building the Republican brand that may get left out. Fiorina is a classic example of such a candidate. The last thing the GOP wants is to have a top debate for the right to run against Hillary Clinton to be deprived of the one female Republican candidate, especially since Fiorina has specialized in torching the former First Lady. But unless Fiorina can somehow elevate her game in the next couple of months, she is a prime candidate for the b-list.

This also ought to deter some candidates with slim chances who are still dithering about running. Starting late used to mean not declaring until the end of the year before the presidential election. Now with a premium put on winning in early polls, it may be that anyone who hasn’t gotten in yet has simply waited too long.

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Hillary Clinton’s Incredible Shrinking Electoral Targets

It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

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It was only a few months ago that Democrats were celebrating Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 election victory. Not only was America’s former chief diplomat ordained by fate to become the nation’s first female chief executive, but also she would probably win that mandate with historic margins of victory. That early enthusiasm has given way to fatalism as Democrats begin to take a critical look at their party’s inevitable standard-bearer.

The election was still two years away when Talking Points Memo’s Dylan Scott allotted 386 Electoral College votes to Clinton. That heady dispatch quoted extensively from the sequestered camp of prospective Clinton campaign staffers. They were certain that the former secretary of state would not merely revive Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition, but she would significantly augment it.

“Clinton has a record of appealing to white working-class voters — especially women — and they could be enough when paired with the Obama coalition to pull out a win,” Scott wrote. That appeal to working-class whites as well as traditional Democratic constituents like minorities and single women would yield Clinton victories in states like Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Arizona.

Much of that initial excitement has been dramatically tempered by the intervening scandal-plagued months. Today, Clinton is hoping – no, “banking on” the fact that the members of Obama’s coalition of voters will reassemble one last time to propel her back into the White House.

The Washington Post’s Anna Gearan observed on Monday that Clinton has been lurching toward the left recently despite a lack of a viable primary challenger solely in order to appeal to the dwindling true believers who made up the 2008 and 2012 electorates. To that end, embracing progressive priorities like universal paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage, debt-free college attendance, and publicly funded early childhood education make some degree of sense.

It is, however, optimistic to suggest that the recitation of liberal programmatic objectives rather than the historic nature of President Obama’s identity as the first black president contributed to assembling the last two winning Democratic coalitions. In fact, that belief may appear as ill considered in the coming weeks as Scott’s anticipation of a Clinton landslide in 2016 does today.

“The strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign,” Gearan observed. “Clinton will have to expand Hispanic support, increase turnout among independent women and still hold on to a large share of black voters who were drawn to the first African American major-party nominee.”

Few objective political observers believe Clinton will be able to turn out the president’s voting base merely because she can claim to be the first woman to have a credible shot at winning the White House. 28 percent of the electorate that turned out in 2008 was made up of minority voters. Four years later, the minority share of the electorate dropped to 26 percent. Though it is true that Hispanics and Asians voted in larger numbers for Barack Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008, it’s unclear that Clinton can recreate that performance without Mitt Romney on the ballot. Indeed, the 2014 midterm election exit polls suggested that Hispanic and Asian voters swung toward the GOP by 12 and 50 points respectively.

As for the young, unmarried women who are supposedly destined to turn out for Clinton in record numbers next year, to suggest that she can outperform Barack Obama is equally as dubious. In 2012, the president managed to win the support of between 50 and 68 percent of women voters in every state surveyed by Edison Research’s exit pollsters. “Obama already did better among female voters than almost any other Democratic candidate since data are available in 1976,” The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein noted. “In 2004, Kerry only won women by 3 points, but Obama won them by 13 points in 2008 and 11 points in 2012.” And this was amid the fabricated Republican “War on Women” that has since lost much of its luster.

Many bright political observers are equally skeptical that the working-class whites that abandoned Obama will nevertheless form a central pillar of Clinton’s electoral coalition. Chief among them is the co-author of the oft-cited Emerging Democratic Majority, John Judis. “These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced,” Judis wrote of blue-collar voters in the wake of the Democratic rout in 2014.

The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called “the office economy.” In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)

“The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans,” Judis added.

Clinton is banking on the notion that government-provided services for middle-and lower-income working professionals will lure them away from the Republican camp. But is the upshot enough to convince those toiling away in “the office economy” to endure the associated increase in their tax burden? The issue is certainly not as clear-cut as those who see Clinton winning Arkansas in 2016 would like to believe.

Formerly sanguine Democrats are certainly taking more sober stock of Clinton’s electoral prospects ahead of 2016. And Republicans haven’t even settled on a nominee yet.

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Hillary’s Foolish Amnesty Double Down

If the current objective of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is to give possible liberal challengers as little room to maneuver as possible then her remarks on illegal immigration yesterday was smart politics. The former secretary of state not only embraced President Obama’s extralegal executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegals but also went further signaling her support for an easy path to citizenship for all 11 million people currently in this country without permission. By tilting to the left in this manner, Clinton believes she is making it harder for a credible opponent to outflank her with the base of the Democratic Party. Even more, she appears to think that by doubling down on amnesty, she is guaranteeing a heavy Hispanic turnout in 2016 that will vote for her over any possible Republican rival. But as with most of her recent moves, Clinton’s strategy seems to be the product of an ill-conceived fear of the left. Though this overreaction may help the Democrats keep their stranglehold on the Hispanic vote, by going too far on amnesty, Clinton may be creating more problems than she solves for her candidacy.

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If the current objective of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is to give possible liberal challengers as little room to maneuver as possible then her remarks on illegal immigration yesterday was smart politics. The former secretary of state not only embraced President Obama’s extralegal executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegals but also went further signaling her support for an easy path to citizenship for all 11 million people currently in this country without permission. By tilting to the left in this manner, Clinton believes she is making it harder for a credible opponent to outflank her with the base of the Democratic Party. Even more, she appears to think that by doubling down on amnesty, she is guaranteeing a heavy Hispanic turnout in 2016 that will vote for her over any possible Republican rival. But as with most of her recent moves, Clinton’s strategy seems to be the product of an ill-conceived fear of the left. Though this overreaction may help the Democrats keep their stranglehold on the Hispanic vote, by going too far on amnesty, Clinton may be creating more problems than she solves for her candidacy.

Clinton’s support of Obama’s executive orders isn’t surprising. Nor is her embrace of the concept of a path to citizenship for illegals. But what she seemed to be offering her audience yesterday goes even further than the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but failed in the House in 2013. That plans, which was supported by some Republicans (though many of them, like Senator Marco Rubio, have backed away from it now), did speak of a path to citizenship. But it was accompanied with penalties and illegals being forced to go to the back of the line behind those who have followed the rules. But Clinton mentioned no such measures yesterday. Nor did she mention the need to secure the border first or actions designed to signal potential illegal immigrants that they would not face immediate deportation should they be caught.

To the contrary, Clinton’s proposal seems to be Obama’s amnesty on steroids. Her talk of a “simple, straight-forward, accessible way” for illegals to not only get on the right side of the law but to also become citizens with no muss and no fuss. If implemented, it would not only be a gift to those who have already come here illegally. It would also constitute a virtual invitation for those thinking about crossing the border to do so since they would be able to do so with impunity.

Given her growing credibility problems due to the drip-drip-drip of damaging reporting in the mainstream media about the Clinton Cash allegations, Hillary knows she has to act quickly to head off a potential run by Senator Elizabeth Warren. If Warren has any interest at all in the presidency, the Clinton Cash mess has to be tempting her since it has highlighted not only Hillary’s glaring weaknesses as a candidate but the fact that her husband Bill seems to have lost some of his touch as well. So anything that makes it harder for Warren or other left-wing opponents to gain traction makes sense for Clinton right now.

But the assumption on the part of some Democrats and their cheerleaders in the mainstream liberal media that Clinton’s shift will be a masterstroke in a general election may be incorrect. Going overboard on amnesty may help generate an even bigger Hispanic majority for the Democrats and given their status as the fastest growing demographic in the electorate that seems like a good idea. But what Clinton seems to be forgetting is that running against the rule of law has its drawbacks as well. Clinton is right when she thinks independents and other voters who are (unlike most Hispanics) up for grabs in 2016 may not want to hear harsh rhetoric about immigrants or a repetition of Mitt Romney’s tragicomic embrace of “self-deportation” next year. But talk of wholesale amnesty without more border security and no penalties for the lawbreakers will strike swing voters as being every bit as extreme as the anti-immigrant tone heard from some on the right.

Just as Republicans need to worry about being driven so far to the right in the primaries as to make the necessary course correction in the general election too difficult, so, too, must Democrats be concerned about being driven over a cliff by their left-wing base. Hillary does best when she runs as an experienced centrist not a desperate politician pandering to special interests. As much as she has reason to fear Warren and the left, Clinton might be better off stopping trying to appease her base. Taking her chances on winning the nomination while concentrating on winning the general election would be the best bet for her.

Just as important, Clinton seems to have come into this election thinking that, as was the case in 2012, Democrats would be able to define any Republican emerging from the pack in the GOP race as an extremist loser, while never letting the other side lay a glove on her. But as we’ve already seen in the early months of the race, the only person who is currently being defined by opponents is Clinton. The Clintons are coming off as dishonest, greedy and possibly corrupt. Now she is adding a touch of left-wing extremism to an already toxic mix. Anyone who thinks that taint won’t come with a price is overestimating the ability of the left to win general elections and underestimating the distaste of most voters for lawbreakers.

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Sorry, Media, but Hillary is Incompetent

A recent article in The Economist, in stating that Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite to win the 2016 presidential election, posed the question: What does she stand for? To which the author answered:

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A recent article in The Economist, in stating that Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite to win the 2016 presidential election, posed the question: What does she stand for? To which the author answered:

Competence and experience, say her supporters. As secretary of state, she flew nearly a million miles and visited 112 countries. If a foreign crisis occurs on her watch, there is a good chance she will already have been there, read the briefing book and had tea with the local power brokers. No other candidate of either party can boast as much.

Chris Cillizza, in his column published earlier today in the Washington Post, wrote this:

There is little doubt among the electorate — with the exception of conservative Republicans who will never vote for Clinton under any circumstances — that her life experiences and résumé have prepared her to do the job. First lady, senator from New York, secretary of state — no one in the field (on either side) can match those credentials.

Clinton is universally known and, generally, regarded as hyper-competent. That’s her as her best asset.

That judgment, like the one in The Economist, strikes me as baseless. Not only is Mrs. Clinton not “hyper-competent,” she is not even minimally competent.

What exactly are her brilliant achievements? Is it HillaryCare, a substantive disaster that led to a political disaster (the Republican sweep in the 1994 mid-term election)? The multiple ethical problems she’s encountered during her years in politics? Here fierce opposition to the Petraeus-led surge in Iraq long after it was obvious it was succeeding? Perhaps the Russian reset? Referring to Bashar Assad, the genocidal dictator of Syria, as a “reformer“? Or maybe her masterful handling of the Iranian Green Revolution, relations with Egypt, Libya, Israel, the attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Poland, the Czech Republic, the “pivot” to Asia and countless other failures during the first Obama term?

What exactly are her achievements – her concrete, tangible, exceptional achievements – as First Lady, senator, and secretary of state? They don’t exist. In fact, the things she has her fingerprints on have, much more often than not, turned into disasters. The case that her supporters put forward on her behalf — she has flown nearly a million miles, visited more than 100 countries, read briefing books (!) and had tea with local power brokers (!!) – highlights just how pathetic her achievements are.

The media meme that Mrs. Clinton is “competent” – nay, “hyper-competent” – is silly. During the quarter-century she’s been on the national stage, she has proved herself to be an individual of extraordinary ambition, a conspiracy theorist, ethically challenged, and a key figure in a brutal political machine. She is also, pace The Economist and Chris Cillizza, unusually inept. This judgment is not an opinion; it is based on a reasonable assessment of her actual record. Including her briefing book reading habits and tea times.

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