Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

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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If Young Voters Are Up for Grabs, Dems Are in Trouble

Heading into the 2016 presidential election, Democrats remain convinced that their victory is already baked into the electoral cake. The last two presidential votes have seen them rack up enormous majorities among minorities, women, and young voters. With immigration reform stymied, they think the growing numbers of Hispanic voters are firmly in their pockets. And they are sure that Hillary Clinton’s presence at the top of their ticket will ensure a clear advantage among women. They’re also sure that young voters will be as liberal next year as they were in 2008 and 2012 when they turned out in record numbers to back Barack Obama. But what if their assumptions about the nation’s youth are wrong? That’s the question Democrats need to ask themselves today after the publication of a new poll from Harvard University’s Institute on Politics. According to the poll, voters aged 18-29 are now far less likely to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 than they were in the last two such elections. That sets up a race that resembles 2004 more than 2008, which is a possible recipe for a Republican victory.

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Heading into the 2016 presidential election, Democrats remain convinced that their victory is already baked into the electoral cake. The last two presidential votes have seen them rack up enormous majorities among minorities, women, and young voters. With immigration reform stymied, they think the growing numbers of Hispanic voters are firmly in their pockets. And they are sure that Hillary Clinton’s presence at the top of their ticket will ensure a clear advantage among women. They’re also sure that young voters will be as liberal next year as they were in 2008 and 2012 when they turned out in record numbers to back Barack Obama. But what if their assumptions about the nation’s youth are wrong? That’s the question Democrats need to ask themselves today after the publication of a new poll from Harvard University’s Institute on Politics. According to the poll, voters aged 18-29 are now far less likely to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 than they were in the last two such elections. That sets up a race that resembles 2004 more than 2008, which is a possible recipe for a Republican victory.

Most pundits assumed that the Republicans’ stronger showing among young voters in the 2014 midterms was a statistical glitch produced by the lower turnout in that election than in a presidential year. But the type of advantage that Democrats enjoyed when Barack Obama was their candidate may vanish when he retires.

The Harvard poll shows that a generic Democratic candidate will still win the 18-29 year old vote in 2016 by a 55-40 percent margin. That’s a clear edge, but it is nowhere near as decisive as President Obama’s 66-32 percent win among young voters in 2008 or his 60-37 victory in that demographic in 2012. In fact that 55-40 result bears a startling resemblance to the 54-45 margin among 18-29 year olds that John Kerry won over President Bush in 2004.

What possible reason could there be for such a swing among voters assumed to be so liberal on social issues that they’d never consider voting for the GOP?

One is obvious. Barack Obama’s historic importance as our first African-American president as well as his personal appeal made him a unique political figure. No other Democrat, not even the person trying to be the first female president, can match his hold on the electorate, especially young people who were particularly vulnerable to Obama’s “hope and change” mantra. As much as many Democrats would prefer to think the gains they made in 2008 and 2012 are now part of the permanent infrastructure of American politics, they may be ephemeral.

The second is that the changing economic environment for young people entering the work force may be leading them to think more about fiscal issues than social ones like gay marriage and abortion that work to the advantage of liberals. Moreover, the anti-Iraq war sentiments that dominated the 2008 election may have gradually moderated to the point where a lot of young people are worrying as much if not more about the threat of terrorism.

The caveat here is that elections are not fought and won by generic candidates. If Republicans nominate someone who turns off young voters or who emphasizes social issues that hurt the GOP then they may slip back. By the same token, one who can run as a representative of a new generation seeking to challenge a tired and possibly corrupt retread such as Hillary Clinton stands a chance of exceeding the 2004 totals. Also troubling for Democrats is the real possibility that Clinton fatigue, accentuated by the Clinton Cash charges that continue to drip, drip, drip out, will further depress the Democrats’ brand.

But the main conclusion to draw from these figures is that no one in either party should make any assumptions about the 2016 electorate from 2008 or 2012. Change is the one constant in politics as well as life and that means things could get better for the Democrats, but also the very real possibility that they could get worse. Either way, the path to an Electoral College majority for Republicans that many on the left have come to see as a fantasy may be far more realistic than they care to think. If, as the Harvard poll illustrates, young voters are up for grabs, anything is possible.

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Do the Clintons Have Enough Scapegoats for an Entire Presidential Campaign?

The latest series of Clinton corruption scandals have allowed voters to get a preview of the way Hillary would govern if she were elected president. Most of that has focused, rightly, on the pay-for-play issues and the way the Clintons profited from taking official actions that harmed American security interests. But now the Clintons have completed the picture by also revealing just how they would handle revelations of misdeeds while in office. In true Clintonian fashion, they’ll pass the buck. The Clintons remain allergic to anything resembling accountability.

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The latest series of Clinton corruption scandals have allowed voters to get a preview of the way Hillary would govern if she were elected president. Most of that has focused, rightly, on the pay-for-play issues and the way the Clintons profited from taking official actions that harmed American security interests. But now the Clintons have completed the picture by also revealing just how they would handle revelations of misdeeds while in office. In true Clintonian fashion, they’ll pass the buck. The Clintons remain allergic to anything resembling accountability.

We shouldn’t miss the significance of the Clintons’ latest effort to dodge the blame for the influence-peddling scandals. What the Clintons are telling us, essentially, is that they are incapable of ensuring the honesty and integrity of any organization over which they preside. And the next such organization would be, if they have their way, the United States government.

Last week, it was revealed that Bill Clinton facilitated deals for donors to the Clinton Foundation, as well as those who paid him directly in speaking fees, to give the Russians control of a huge chunk of American uranium deposits–and that those deals needed Hillary Clinton’s approval as secretary of state, which she provided. Additionally, in an attempt to hide foreign influence peddling, the Clinton Foundation filled out years of false tax returns. And yet, the Clintons’ response to this is the following, via Politico:

The acting chief executive of the Clinton Foundation addressed mistakes that the philanthropic organization has made in a blog post on Sunday, while also emphasizing that its policy regarding donor disclosure and foreign governments is “stronger than ever.”

Maura Pally, the organization’s CEO and senior vice president, women and youth programs, said that the foundation “will likely refile” tax forms for some years after a voluntary external review, which found that it had “mistakenly combined” government grants with other donations.

“So yes, we made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps to ensure they don’t happen in the future,” Pally wrote. “We are committed to operating the Foundation responsibly and effectively to continue the life-changing work that this philanthropy is doing every day.”

Pally also addressed the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with Canadian businessman Frank Giustra, who set up an independent charity called the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership.

The fact that individual donors are not listed on the foundation’s site is not an effort to avoid transparency, she said, noting that Canadian law requires charities to get prior permission from each donor to disclose their identities.

Ah yes, mistakes were made. Also, blame Canada. Welcome to Hillary 2016: it’s not only someone else’s fault–whatever it is–but it also might be some other country’s fault.

There is, in fact, nothing shocking whatsoever in what Hillary’s trying to pull here. And that in itself should be shocking.

Hillary’s camp actually previewed this defense somewhat, by saying there was no proof that she personally signed off on the deals that needed her State Department’s approval. Sound familiar? It should: we heard it with regard to Libya as well. An American ambassador was killed in a terrorist attack after months of warnings of such attacks and a request for additional security, all made to Hillary’s State Department.

Yet after the deadly attack–in the aftermath of a war that was fought precisely how Hillary wanted to fight it–we were told that maybe those very important requests and briefings didn’t get all the way to Hillary. After all, she had to do some delegating: maybe the furniture questions, as we’ve seen, were the only ones to get all the way to the top, but the requests for security in a war zone could be handled by Frank in the mailroom. At least she didn’t try to blame Benghazi on Canada.

Hillary uses the complexity of bureaucracy to claim she didn’t know. And that’s why the Clinton Foundation scandals read like a Rube Goldberg rendering of political and financial corruption.

It’s bad enough for officials of the government to use the bureaucracy to insulate themselves from accountability, but they are merely availing themselves of the system’s perks. The Clinton Foundation, and the Clintons’ personal bank accounts, into which speech fees went, are the Clintons’ constructs. They arranged their family enterprise to mimic the way the federal government fleeces taxpayers while shielding those at the top from responsibility for their misdeeds.

The bet made by the Clintons was that reporters wouldn’t be sharp or dogged enough to connect all the dots. And they were almost right. Peter Schweizer, who wrote the forthcoming book Clinton Cash, has been the engine driving much of this. But reporters are building on what he’s uncovered, and putting their resources to good use. There are a lot of dots to connect, but once you connect them, you see a pretty disturbing picture.

Once reporters did connect those dots, Hillary had a fall-gal at the ready: an executive at the Clinton Foundation, as if it were some free-floating entity only loosely tied to the Clintons themselves, when in fact it is not only their family business but also served as a kind of super-PAC for Hillary while she was still at State at which her top aides served simultaneously while on her staff at the State Department.

That was a brilliant stroke, having someone not named Clinton at the foundation admit fault and apologize. But it’s getting a bit predictable, and if the scandals keep coming at this pace the Clintons are going to run out of scapegoats. The public, however, is likely to stop falling for it long before that.

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Six Reasons Why the Donor Primaries Won’t Decide the GOP Race

For the political left, there’s only one surefire antidote for the depression brought on by the spectacle of the Clinton Cash corruption: talk about big donors deciding the Republican presidential nomination race before it even starts. The focus on donors such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers is understandable. The casino mogul and the network of donors connected to the Kochs have the ability to inject tens of millions into the campaigns of favorite candidates. That sort of vital help can keep dying candidacies alive and maybe put strong ones over the top. So when Politico reports that Marco Rubio has “taken the lead in the Adelson primary” or Reuters claims that the Kochs are backing Scott Walker (or, according to Salon, backing away from the Wisconsin governor), it’s major political news. But before we start diving into the usual stories about Adelson and the Kochs deciding the identity of the nominee by writing a few checks, it’s time to take a reality check. Here are six reasons why the big donors won’t decide things for the Republicans:

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For the political left, there’s only one surefire antidote for the depression brought on by the spectacle of the Clinton Cash corruption: talk about big donors deciding the Republican presidential nomination race before it even starts. The focus on donors such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers is understandable. The casino mogul and the network of donors connected to the Kochs have the ability to inject tens of millions into the campaigns of favorite candidates. That sort of vital help can keep dying candidacies alive and maybe put strong ones over the top. So when Politico reports that Marco Rubio has “taken the lead in the Adelson primary” or Reuters claims that the Kochs are backing Scott Walker (or, according to Salon, backing away from the Wisconsin governor), it’s major political news. But before we start diving into the usual stories about Adelson and the Kochs deciding the identity of the nominee by writing a few checks, it’s time to take a reality check. Here are six reasons why the big donors won’t decide things for the Republicans:

The Big Donor Track Record Isn’t That Good

I know this runs counter to liberal conspiracy theories, but there’s no evidence that major donors have ever been able to buy an election for a candidate who would otherwise not have been taken seriously. The best example of this comes from Adelson who, next to the Kochs, is the conservative liberals love to hate the most. Adelson very much wanted to influence the 2012 Republican race but in Newt Gingrich, he picked a candidate who couldn’t win. Adelson’s donations kept Gingrich in the race perhaps long after he might otherwise have dropped out. But he couldn’t will him to victory. No amount of money could have.

There Are Too Many Big Donors to Allow Any One to Dominate

Another problem for conspiracy theorists is that America is a very wealthy country with a lot of really rich people, including some who are obsessed with politics. For every Adelson backing a Gingrich, there was a Foster Friess bankrolling Rick Santorum. And if Adelson doesn’t wind up embracing Rubio this time, the Florida senator’s longtime wealthy friend Norman Braman will. The Bush dynasty has their backers. Scott Walker’s small-government principles and battles with the unions may bring him the support of the Kochs, but many big donors who are also associated with their group may back Ted Cruz. Were all the Republican major donors to conspire together and back only one, that might make it hard for a challenger to compete. But that would be a description of what’s going on in the Democratic Party now as the Clinton cash machine enforces discipline on the left. Right now, that’s just not possible in a Republican Party whose donors are as diverse as the Democrats inaccurately claim their party to be.

The GOP Field is Too Big and Too Strong

Mega-donors like Adelson and the Kochs can have a disproportionate impact on elections when the choices are few. But that’s not the case for Republicans in 2016. The deep GOP bench has put forward a bevy of promising candidates with even those that many people think can’t win a general election, like Ted Cruz, demonstrating genuine appeal to a large number of Republicans. That creates an interesting dynamic that makes it harder for an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush to follow the Mitt Romney model of gliding to the nomination as weak opponents fall by the wayside. But it also makes it more difficult for any one donor or set of donors, like the many who fell in line behind Bush when he launched his candidacy in December, to have anything more than a marginal impact on the outcome. All of those candidates are going to need money to be competitive, but that just makes it more difficult for individual billionaires and millionaires to become kingmakers.

Many donors hedge their bets

The notion of a big donor tapping one person to be their personal Manchurian Candidate is the nightmare of leftists who fear Republican money will buy the presidency. But in practice, many large donors hedge their bets and give support to more than one candidate. That’s actually the genius of the group of donors that come together under the Koch brothers umbrella since many spread their wealth around. Given the fact that many of the GOP candidates share a worldview (Rand Paul is the one true outlier on foreign policy), it’s logical that a lot of givers find it hard to choose and don’t. The real impact of the Kochs will be after the Republican nominee is chosen when Republicans will try and unite around their standard-bearer. Until then, it will be a big money free-for-all rather than something in which a few individuals make a decision for an entire party.

Unions and Left-Wing Donors Still Throw Around As Much Money

The obsessive focus of the liberal mainstream media on Adelson and the Kochs ignores a key fact about American politics: liberals can always outspend conservatives. That seems counter-intuitive since it is assumed that most rich people would prefer lower taxes and therefore want Republicans in charge. But there are two problems with that thesis. One is that for every conservative mega-donor who is a libertarian like the Kochs or a foreign-policy hawk and dedicated friend of Israel like Adelson there appears to be a left-wing moneybags dedicated to opposing those views. Tom Steyer spends his money backing politicians who are environmental extremists while George Soros donates his loot to support those who oppose a strong America or Israel (or groups that seek to undermine Israel’s diplomatic stance and political support like J Street). More than that, the unions spend every bit as much as right-wing donors to keep Democrats and liberals in line. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reported last year, their spending far outranks those of big GOP donors. If anyone is buying elections, it’s them.

Money Doesn’t Guarantee Victory

Liberals justify their ongoing efforts to suppress political speech with complicated campaign-finance laws because they believe elections can be bought. But American political history is strewn with examples of well-funded candidates who flopped or fell short. Would-be presidents like John Connally (1980) and Phil Gramm (1996) are just the most blatant examples of how money can’t buy you love in politics if the voters don’t like what they see. Many wealthy men like Nelson Rockefeller and Mitt Romney have failed to win the presidency. In our modern and chaotic system, it is true that the ability to raise money is a requirement. But in that sense it merely acts as a test of a candidate’s appeal. Anyone who is incapable of inspiring support from a wide range of donors isn’t going to win anyway. But rich or poor, the voters always have the final say on nominations and elections. So while winning the Adelson and Koch primaries doesn’t hurt and can do a candidate a great deal of good, it is no guarantee of success.

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Hillary’s Bet: Voters Want More ‘House of Cards,’ Less ‘Veep’

One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

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One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

This raises a question: As much as Americans like their dark and cynical political fantasy, are they really ready to elect the Clintons and make it a reality?

One comparison to which the Clintons are often subjected is the Underwoods of the American adaptation of House of Cards. But I find this one unconvincing, not least because the Clintons don’t (despite some imaginative conspiracy theories) go around killing those who pose an obstacle to their accumulation of power. When it comes to House of Cards, truth really isn’t stranger than fiction.

But House of Cards does provide at least a useful discussion point because it seems to represent the dark fantasy of American politics. President Obama himself likes to joke that he wishes real life were more like the dead-souled politics of House of Cards. As Time reported in 2013: “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient,” Obama told tech industry leaders. “It’s true. It’s like Kevin Spacey, man this guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.”

It’s Obama’s version of Tomfriedmanism: every so often, a bit of ruthless authoritarianism is worth the further decay of freedom and democracy.

Of course, in real life, Washington D.C. far more closely resembles HBO’s Veep, in which those in power are awkward and bumbling and, well, human. There is perhaps something reassuring in the House of Cards model in the belief that things are a certain way because powerful people want them to be that way. But there is, in fact, not really such a thing as presidential stability, and often the more stable it looks from the outside the more it truly resembles a Jenga tower. (A good example is FDR, the closest thing since Washington that America has had to an indispensable man. Only in death did it become fully clear the democratic rot over which FDR presided.)

But the House of Cards frame is useful for another reason: while the Clintons are obviously not cold-blooded killers, they are unlike any other family in American politics. And as Hillary runs for president, she will be asking the country to vote its dark fantasies into reality. Do Americans like House of Cards for the escapism, or do they secretly wish life was really like that?

There is reason to think they’re beginning to get uneasy with this. As our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, according to Quinnipiac a majority of voters don’t think Hillary is honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents. Here’s Chris Cillizza on those numbers:

That’s a remarkable set of findings — and speaks to the divided mind the public has about the Clintons broadly and Hillary Clinton specifically.  There’s a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for. There’s also widespread distrust in her personally.  People admire her but don’t know if she’s honest.

And that is the central problem for Clinton with this series of stories today. It affirms for people that there is always some piece — or pieces — of baggage that come with electing the Clintons to anything.  It’s part of the deal.  You don’t get one without the other.

Make no mistake: Forcing people to decide whether Clinton’s readiness for the job outweighs the fact that it’s always something with these people is not the choice the Clinton team wants on the ballot in November 2016.

If it’s not the choice the Clintons want people to make, then they’re really not so confident that America’s ready for Claire Underwood. But there’s an argument to be made that such questions are fully irrelevant to the actual election.

For example, Democrats are mostly going to support Hillary, and Republicans will generally be happy to stay on their side of the dividing line. And Democrats are not going to vote Republican just because Hillary is dishonest and untrustworthy. In that Quinnipiac poll, she beats each major Republican candidate. The point is not that those numbers can’t or won’t change but that the same voters who say she’s untrustworthy and dishonest would still pick her over the other guy.

And without a serious Democratic primary challenger, Hillary can continue to rally support based on the premise that it’s either her or the Republicans. The GOP might hope for voter apathy come Election Day, but how many Democrats will stay home when they have another chance to make history?

Clintonian corruption is not a disqualifying factor to a great many voters–at least not yet. But on the other hand, the Quinnipiac poll was taken before the latest revelations that the Clintons were personally enriched by steering American strategic resources into the hands of the Russians (and thus the Iranians) when Hillary was secretary of state. There might be a limit, in other words, to how much voters are willing to stomach. And Hillary’s already making them queasy.

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The ‘Clinton Cash’ Allegations Are a Test of the Democratic Party’s Health

The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

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The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

One thing about these stories is that they demonstrate the mainstream media have spent the Obama years resolutely not doing their jobs—which means that Hillary Clinton has not actually been vetted the way, say, every major Republican in the race has been. (Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the subject of intense scrutiny from Florida media, Scott Walker from Wisconsin media, Chris Christie from New York-area media, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz from Texas media, Bobby Jindal by Louisiana media, and so on.) This story—the story of the Clinton Foundation overall— has been hiding in plain sight from 2010 onward. Thus, Democratic voters who like her and believe she is the best person for them are operating on the basis of incomplete information owing to a systematic lack of scrutiny by a media largely unwilling (consciously and unconsciously) to do the deep digging into Obama administration troubles—especially during the first term, when such digging might have served the interests of Republicans in 2012.

But here we are. These stories and more are unavoidable now, and the classic Clinton dodges (which I detail today in a New York Post column) aren’t going to work very well in response to them.

Which brings up the Democratic party, its voters, and its overall health. The condition of the party is a complex one. At the presidential level, the results of the past five elections suggest Democrats go into 2016 with a mild structural advantage; it would seem that, all things being equal, they can depend on a nationwide floor around 48 percent, while the GOP floor is probably a point or a point and half below that. Brilliant get-out-the-vote innovations from 2008 and 2012 will doubtless be added to as we head into the coming year.

On the other hand, the national condition of the Democratic Party outside the presidential realm is terrible. Since 2009, Democrats are down 60 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. Republicans held 22 governor’s mansions in 2009; now they hold 31. Democrats have an astounding 910 fewer state legislators than they did when Barack Obama took office. The GOP has majorities in 67 of the 99 state legislative bodies in the United States, more than at any time since the 1920s.

So Democrats go into 2016 in good structural shape for a presidential bid but in horrendous overall shape as a political party when it comes to holding the levers of power everywhere else.

Hillary Clinton’s ability so far to clear the field—with the exception of a former governor of Maryland who ended office wildly unpopular in his own state—is a mark of the party’s sclerosis. Even when George H.W. Bush was running as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1987-88, there were six other serious contenders, five of them figures of note in the party: Senate GOP leader and one-time vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the wildly popular Rep. Jack Kemp, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Pat Robertson. If Bush had stumbled badly, or if scandal had surrounded him, Dole in particular was right there to pick up the slack.

That was the mark of a party that had been strengthened rather than weakened by its years in the White House.

The biggest polling news today—from a Quinnipiac survey completed before the blockbuster story—indicates that 61 percent of self-described independents find Hillary Clinton “untrustworthy.” That is a dangerous number for her and her party. If everything that has happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen to Hillary Clinton does not surface a challenger or two more threatening to her than Martin O’Malley, the party she will lead in 2016 will be more the wounded animal than the national force.

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Hillary’s Woes Help O’Malley Grow a Spine

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

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Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

O’Malley is now firing shots at Clinton about trade, indicating he plans to try to run well to her left. Though his chances of beating her still may be calculated as being somewhere around zero, O’Malley’s sudden switch from timidity to truculence toward the former first lady is significant because it illustrates how the accumulation of bad news for Clinton is changing perceptions about her vulnerability. Clinton’s shaky launch of her candidacy and her inability to evade the taint of scandal is making O’Malley’s challenge look less like an exercise in futility.

With a 50-point lead over O’Malley and any other possible rival, even a political earthquake may not be enough to derail Clinton’s path to coronation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next summer. But even Clinton loyalists must understand that the drip-drip-drip of scandals combined with her wooden campaign style is emboldening even seemingly tame opponents such as O’Malley.

Throughout the last several months, O’Malley has acted as if he wanted to ask the Clintons for permission before he said a word about Hillary. Such deference made it appear that he was running for a spot on her ticket, not to replace her on the top spot. But the strident tone adopted by O’Malley when he took after her today in the course of demonstrating his opposition to President Obama’s trade bill showed that the days of his saying, “please, may I” before even glancing at her are over.

Granted, most Democratic primary voters don’t care about Clinton’s callous disregard of the rules and any sense of accountability that her email scandal illustrated. Nor do many of them seem particularly worked up about the Clinton Cash accusations about the way former President Clinton raked in honorariums and contributions for the family charity from foreign donors while his wife was serving as secretary of state despite the obvious and unprecedented conflict of interest.

But Clinton’s attempt to play the populist in an attempt to head off a challenge from the left by Senator Elizabeth Warren—the one Democrat who is seen as having even a small chance of knocking her off—isn’t convincing even her most ardent fans. Nor are even they impressed by the stilted nature of her campaign so far. Despite her vast resources at her disposal as she begins raising the billions she plans on spending over the course of the next year and a half, as well as the fear that the Clinton attack machine inspires among most Democrats, O’Malley is sensing that all these advantages are masking some real weaknesses.

If the Clinton Cash charges stick rather than fade away as the chorus line of Clinton apologists trotted out on cable news keep insisting, then for the first time in this cycle it might be possible for a non-Clinton candidate to start eating into her enormous lead. That might lead to a scenario where O’Malley may finally benefit from being the only mainstream Democrat who had the chutzpah to challenge Hillary. Of course, that might lead Warren to come out of hiding and jump into the race. But if not, that’s the point where O’Malley will be transformed from a joke to a genuine thorn in Clinton’s side.

We’re a long way from that point, but O’Malley’s new boldness is a warning sign for Clinton that it’s not just Republicans who realize what a lousy candidate she still is. Many Democrats resent not having a competitive race and will be prepared to back a long-shot challenger if only to make things more competitive. Which means that far from coasting to the nomination, she may actually have to spend some of the billions she is planning on raising on winning the nomination. That’s good news for O’Malley as well as for Republicans who would relish the spectacle of Democrats turning on each other rather than merely lying in wait for whomever it is that emerges from the GOP primaries.

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Why the Angry Left Needs Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

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Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

Clinton starts the campaign as not just an ally of the Wall Streeters her party has been demonizing for years, but also as someone whose family foundation has served as a kind of super-PAC allowing foreign governments to pitch in to her campaign-in-waiting. (The campaign is no longer “in waiting,” yet the Clintons are still accepting donations from foreign governments.) So she needed to try to strike a populist tone, and did so.

Yet that necessitated stories gauging Wall Street’s reaction to her populist pose. Politico talked to her Wall Street supporters and found that they fully understood she was playing the Warren Wing of her party like a fiddle, and didn’t mean a word of it. “Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street backers: We get it,” proclaimed the headline.

Of course such stories, paired with the continuing revelations about all of Clinton’s money and privilege, meant she’d have to swing wildly back portside. So she did, with today’s story in the New York Times portraying her as the original Elizabeth Warren. But Clinton only knows extremes, and so her allies offered the following anecdote to boost her populist bona fides:

Mrs. Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a “toppling” of the wealthiest 1 percent, according to several people who were briefed on Mrs. Clinton’s policy discussions but could not discuss private conversations for attribution.

Still, Mrs. Clinton will pitch that “toppling” with a very different style than Ms. Warren, a bankruptcy expert whose populist message has been laser-focused on holding Wall Street accountable. Mrs. Clinton will present proposals for changes in the tax code as a way of also investing in education, infrastructure and communities.

I highly doubt Hillary herself ever used the word “toppling” when discussing what to do about the top one percent’s accumulation of wealth. And if she did use the word, it’s explained in the next paragraph that she was already hedging on whether she really intended to burn America’s financial center to the ground. She was jumping so far to the left she had an almost instinctual spring back to the center in one rhetorical flourish.

As the old Yiddish saying goes, you can’t dance at two weddings with one tuches. Which is why Hillary is further cementing her reputation as someone who believes nothing and so will say anything.

But the more interesting question than whether Hillary really intends to “expropriate the expropriators” is why she says the crazy things she says. Why she has to, in other words, at least pretend to keep her inner Leninist within reach and speak to her party as if it’s a gathering of the mob.

One reason is that the left wing is no longer really so much of a wing, but rather integrated into the body of the Democratic Party: the extremists are mainstream. Another is that the left has totally lost its bearings, and actually sees Hillary’s weaknesses as strengths when set to the right unhinged purposes.

To see what I mean, take this chilling, infuriating story by David French in National Review. It’s a long essay on the way liberal Wisconsin prosecutors launched a secretive assault on supporters of Scott Walker, replete with pre-dawn police raids and the violation of numerous constitutional rights, not to mention the damage to innocent Wisconsinites’ reputations. The whole story in all its horrifying details must be read to be believed, but the reason it was made possible was because the Democratic district attorney abusing his powers was doing so under the rubric of a “John Doe” investigation. French writes:

John Doe investigations alter typical criminal procedure in two important ways: First, they remove grand juries from the investigative process, replacing the ordinary citizens of a grand jury with a supervising judge. Second, they can include strict secrecy requirements not just on the prosecution but also on the targets of the investigation. In practice, this means that, while the prosecution cannot make public comments about the investigation, it can take public actions indicating criminal suspicion (such as raiding businesses and homes in full view of the community) while preventing the targets of the raids from defending against or even discussing the prosecution’s claims.

The left has come completely unglued. And it’s the ends, not the means, that they most care about. This is hinted at in the closing quote of the Times piece on Hillary:

Mrs. Clinton “wakes up asking how she can accomplish real things for families, not who she can attack,” said Gene B. Sperling, an economic adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He added, “When she shows that fighting populist edge, it is for a purpose.”

Government coercion for a good cause. It doesn’t get much more dangerous than that in a democracy, but it also doesn’t get much more suited to the Clintons’ skill set. And Hillary’s above-the-law posture is clearly an asset in this quest. Liberals who want to replicate nationwide what they’ve done in Wisconsin might not like all of the Clintons’ politics but they must be giddy at the thought of having the Clintons back in power–as long as they have a seat at the table.

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Hillary Clinton’s Tangle of Corruption

Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

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Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

I’m speaking in this instance of the donations by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. As Jonathan made note of yesterday, a New York Times story on the forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash, asserts that “foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.”

When the secretary of state has a policy of pay-to-play, that is bad enough. It reinforces the impression that Mrs. Clinton is a tangle of corruption, dishonest and untrustworthy, and playing by rules that apply to her and her husband but not to others. That has happened time and again with the Clintons; it’s the pattern and habits of a lifetime. And there’s no indication it will change. The portrait of Mrs. Clinton is that of a hardened, brittle, unreflective, and self-justifying individual. Whatever problems she faces are always the result of others, often the “right-wing conspiracy” she has invented in her over-active imagination.

But that’s not the only complicating factor for Mrs. Clinton. The other is that she has badly damaged her ability to wage a culture war/”war on women” campaign against Republicans. Because whatever outlandish charge she makes against Republicans, they will sound positively enlightened compared to the repression of women and gays that occurs in nations (like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, et cetera) that have given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. It looks for all the world as if those nations gave money to buy the silence of the Clintons–and their investment paid off.

One can only imagine the political firestorm if the tables were turned and nations that brutally oppress women and gays had funneled money to a foundation of a Republican running for president in order to gain favor while he served as America’s chief diplomat–not to mention the deletion of 30,000 emails on a secret (and inappropriate) server. The coverage would be intense and unremittingly negative.

On top of all that, the Schweizer book says that even as Hillary Clinton is portraying herself as a “champion for everyday Americans,” from 2001 to 2012 the Clintons’ income was (at least!) $136.5 million. Not bad after claiming she and her husband were “dead broke” after they left the White House. During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, Schweizer writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.” (“Of the 13 [Bill] Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more,” Schweizer writes, “only two occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”)

Unlike her husband, Mrs. Clinton is not a naturally likable public figure. Her ethical transgressions make her less so. Which means Republicans are likely to face a person with thoroughly average political skills running with a considerable amount of ethical baggage but also a mountain of cash (estimates are that her campaign will raise up to $2.5 billion). Beating her in 2016 won’t be easy, but it’s certainly doable.

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Will Rubio Be Sunk By Immigration?

Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

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Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

Rubio, who won a Senate seat as a Tea Party insurgent challenging establishment Republican (turned independent and then Democrat) Charlie Crist, saw his stock fall badly among movement conservatives when he embraced a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 that promised illegals a path to citizenship. The bill died in the House, and Rubio took such a drubbing among GOP activists that it appeared that his once promising 2016 hopes were at an end. But Rubio ultimately walked away from the bill declaring, as did many of his House colleagues, that a necessary reform of the immigration system would have to wait until the border was secured. The 2014 surge of illegals at the Texas border vindicated that opinion and Rubio seemed to have subsequently put himself in line with the views of much of the party base.

But though Rubio now says a comprehensive approach to immigration is neither politically possible nor good policy, he’s not willing to disavow the concept of ultimately allowing some illegals a way to come in out of the shadows. That’s what he said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation even as he admitted that it could only happen after a “long process” that wouldn’t involve “a massive piece of legislation” that reform advocates, including President Obama, demand. However, that disclaimer may not be enough to persuade many Republicans that he hasn’t disqualified himself from presidential consideration.

That’s the gist of the abuse being flung at Rubio by radio talkers like Laura Ingraham and pundit Anne Coulter, all of which seem aimed at labeling Rubio as a Hispanic version of moderate Lindsey Graham. They won’t forgive Rubio for his past advocacy of the Senate bill. As far as they are concerned anything that smacks of amnesty for illegals, either by President Obama’s extralegal executive orders or constitutional legislation, is equally suspect. Bush, who is counting on establishment support, already knows that the party base won’t back him. Indeed, at times, Bush has seemed to be willing to run against the base in the hope that this would facilitate his general-election campaign if he wins the nomination.

But Rubio is neither foolish enough to run against the base nor possessed of sufficient establishment backing that he can afford to ignore taunting from radio talkers that can fire up people against him.

In a race in which foreign policy plays a major role, Rubio, the most articulate of the likely contenders on security and defense issues, can expect to shine. His launch also reminded the country about why so many Republicans thought he was the perfect candidate to help them break the mold of the last two elections in which the GOP seemed to be doomed to permanent minority status. The bump he received recently in the polls is an indication that he has a higher ceiling than many of those Republicans planning on jumping into the fray. But it remains to be seen whether any candidate who needs, as Rubio does, to get some share of the conservative vote can survive the pasting he’s going to continue to get from elements of the activist core that consider any leniency on immigration to be the third rail of politics.

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Are You Poor Enough to Be President?

If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

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If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

Clinton’s insistence she was broke post-presidency was obviously ridiculous, which is probably why McAuliffe rushed out to defend it:

“I cannot tell you the distress in that family at that time, with all the issues and all the legal fees, banks refusing to even give them a mortgage. So listen, people go through tough financial times,” he said.

McAuliffe’s comments came when asked about remarks from Clinton quoted in his book depicting the former first lady saying “we own nothing” and “it was really horrible” when leaving the White House.

“They had nothing compared to a lot of rich friends,” host Chuck Todd pressed.

But it was the next part of the interview that was more interesting:

McAuliffe pointed to Clinton’s upbringing in an attempt to cast the presumed Democratic presidential frontrunner as someone who knows hardship, noting her “middle-class roots” and that her mother was abandoned.

This is the 2016 presidential election in a nutshell, and Hillary is far from the sole offender. Her Republican rivals are, if anything, even more desperate to project the false populism of poverty.

It recalls a classic McDonald’s commercial in which older diners are engaged in an uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways competition over childhood hardships. If memory serves (I can’t find the clip online), it ends with one elderly diner talking about walking barefoot when the diner behind him snaps “Feet? You had feet?”

The major difference between that commercial and the 2016 campaign is that the candidates are competing for most recent poverty, with the trump card being somehow still poor even today and running for president. At this rate we’ll be lucky if a future nominee doesn’t win the primaries on the strength of a biography that consists of still living with his parents. (On the other hand, being a grown adult who isn’t very good with money does seem to be a presidential prerequisite these days.)

This afternoon, CNN posted an article whose headline asked the following question: “Can a Jos. A Bank suit win the White House?” I bet now you wish we could go back to talking about Chipotle.

The story is about Scott Walker:

Presidential hopeful and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boasted in New Hampshire last weekend that he shops for suits at Jos. A Bank. It’s famous for its huge discount deals. “All suits — Buy 1 get 3 FREE” reads the site’s current promotions.

Walker is using his everyman wardrobe to resonate with middle class voters.

“The shirt is from Kohl’s. The suit is from Jos. A Bank,” Walker, a Republican, told a crowd in New Hampshire over the weekend.

Walker has actually made his shopping at Kohl’s a regular feature of the campaign. In his defense, there is a point: in a January speech he explained how his wife had to teach him how to shop there properly, by waiting for deals, clipping coupons, and using reward points. Lesson learned, Walker finally returned to Kohl’s to buy a shirt and “the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!” (I’m sure former Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, whose family started the chain more than a half-century ago, was just delighted to hear it.)

Should we care which candidates shop at Kohl’s? No, we should not. Which is what made encountering the following note in the CNN story a pleasant surprise:

So what suits do other presidential hopefuls wear? Does the suit say anything about them or their policy? We don’t know.

Spokespersons for Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz did not respond for comment. Senator Rand Paul’s spokesperson declined to comment.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that this election is an outlier in this regard. In fact, it’s long been a tradition in American politics to lay claim to the famous American up-from-your-bootstraps work ethic and economic mobility.

And the candidates have perfectly valid reasons to partake in this tradition. Hillary Clinton is doing so because she is very, very rich, a situation made possible partly because the regular rules that apply to “everyday Americans” don’t apply to the Clintons. Hillary would like to shed the image of her as an out-of-touch crony capitalist extraordinaire. The problem is that the image is accurate.

Republicans are doing so both to contrast themselves with the rich and privileged Clintons as well as to continue exorcising the ghost of 2012, specifically Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. Conservatives hope to banish the image of the country club Republican, and are going out of their way to push back on the perennial media narrative of uncaring right-wingers. If the current string of Clinton scandal revelations continues at this clip, however, they won’t have to do much at all to look more relatable than the Democratic royal family they’re running against.

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‘Clinton Cash’ and an Unprecedented Question

Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

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Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

On its face, the reports about Schweitzer’s book appear to indicate that what he has done is merely to collate a vast array of material about the Clintons, their charity, and U.S. foreign policy, and to attempt to connect the dots between subjects that Bill and Hillary would like very much for us to keep separate. In response, the Clinton machine is trotting out the gang of usual suspects to put it down as politicized reporting that unfairly attempts to stigmatize the work of a noble charity as well as to besmirch Hillary’s record at the State Department.

Yet however much they huff and puff about the effrontery of those who dare to question the Clintons’ behavior, they can’t entirely squelch concerns about the way the couple has pushed the conventional boundaries of ethical political behavior in ways that are completely unprecedented in American political history. Though this is being viewed as a purely political question, there’s more here than just an opportunity for conservatives and Republicans to throw dirt at the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. Even if you admired the previous Clinton presidency and think Hillary would make an admirable successor to Barack Obama, the facts about the Clinton charity and the way it has solicited donations give even liberals a queasy feeling about the manner in which has operated. More than that, there is simply no previous example of a former president and his family creating such an entity that is dependent in part on foreign riches while one of its principals has been actively conducting American foreign policy and preparing for a future presidential run.

It must be conceded that just because there has never been anything like the Clinton power couple before doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. But in an era when conflicts of interest involving public officials are often justifications for lengthy and costly investigations–and possible prosecution if authorities think they can substantiate a link, however circumstantial, between official behavior and actions from donors that benefit an official and/or his or her family–the most favorable way of characterizing the Clintons’ behavior is to say that it is very fishy. Yet we should probably take it as a given that the Clintons and their lawyers are likely so savvy about how to push the envelope on ethics that they have been careful to avoid breaking any laws or at least that they have done so in ways that will make it difficult, if not impossible for them to be prosecuted.

It is also true that former President Clinton’s conduct seems very much in line with the kind of activity that nowadays we treat as normal from former members of the House and Senate who routinely cash out on their political careers after retirement or defeat at the polls by becoming lobbyists, consultants, or otherwise profiting from their status as former power brokers. Past presidents have often been involved in charity work, though never on the scale of the Clinton Global Initiative before. But even if other former chief executives have made money speaking, those paying them exorbitant honorariums were never before doing so while a presidential spouse was in power or planning to get it, raising issues of quid pro quo transactions that have never before been lodged before against one of our former presidents and their families.

Are the American people are really comfortable with the idea of a former president profiting from the largesse lavished upon him and the charity he runs from foreign sources while his wife presides over the State Department while biding her time before running for president? Clinton’s defenders are anxious that we think it no big deal while their antagonists seem to think that merely pointing out what is already on the record about their behavior is enough to disqualify Hillary from consideration in 2016. But what we don’t know is which of these two possible responses characterizes the thinking of the electorate.

It is possible that just as Bill Clinton broke new ground in violating norms about personal behavior in the White House without forfeiting the support of many, if not most Americans, so, too, the tale of the “Clinton Cash” will similarly be forgiven, if not altogether ignored by enough Americans to ensure their return to the White House. But just as there is no precedent for their behavior and the questions they have raised about the intersection of policy, charity, and speeches for profit, there is also none that can give us an answer to this question about how such hijinks influence presidential elections. All we know is that the Clinton way of doing charity work for profit and power has raised questions about Hillary’s candidacy and her party in ways that not even the sagest pundits can be sure about the people’s response to this mess.

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How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out

Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat for (separate) interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the subject of their appreciation of Jewish thought and culture came up. Here was the relevant comment from Obama:

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

And here’s the exchange from Goldberg’s interview with McCain:

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Roth’s work, of course. But Obama’s answer smacked of check-the-box pop blandness. When it came to discussions of philosophy and literature, Obama always seemed to be reading from Wikipedia summaries. McCain’s answer, on the other hand, demonstrated deep and true engagement with the subject matter, and it showed why his respect and affinity for the Jewish people came through so strongly.

Put simply, when it came to Jewish thought and history, McCain simply got it. Obama was lost at sea.

Which is why Obama’s flagging approval rating among Jews isn’t too surprising, whereas a major change in the presidential vote share would have been more surprising.

It makes sense for American Jews to register disapproval of Obama at this point in his presidency, for a few reasons. First, he’s earned it. Obama has never been able to fake a connection with the Jewish people that just wasn’t there, the way it was with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He never passed the “kishkes” test, so to speak, and never even really came close to passing it.

So he was always dependent on his policies speaking for him. Some of the president’s defenders try to point out that Obama has just pushed for a peace agreement along the lines of his predecessors, and that he is unfairly maligned for it. This is false: the differences may appear subtle to outsiders and rookies, but they are monumentally important.

Additionally, he has less of a margin for “error,” as it were, with his policies because he couldn’t make anyone believe that he truly loved the Jewish state and merely wanted what was best for it. Therefore, the trust in him was always going to be less when it came to throwing tantrums over Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the like.

The second reason it makes sense for Jews to make their voices heard now is that Obama has already been reelected, and so there won’t be any concern by left-leaning Jews that they may drive voters to (gasp!) vote Republican, or take other such action that would have actual consequences. This is a safe protest. It lets the president know his juvenile hounding of Israel and his overall incompetence are areas of genuine concern for a demographic group that has consistently been among his most reliable supporters.

And the third reason is that, as far as electoral coalitions are concerned, the Obama era is over. Not only are we past his reelection, but we’re also beyond the second-term congressional midterms. This, then, is a message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership for 2016.

In the end, it probably won’t matter much, especially because Hillary will no doubt say the right things over and over before Election Day 2016. That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.

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Hillary Clinton Is Terrified of People. Will It Matter to Voters?

If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

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If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

IJ Review has a fun side-by-side comparison of what happened when the entertainment-news site TMZ attempted to question Marco Rubio in an airport, and what happened when TMZ tried to corner Hillary Clinton in an airport. Rubio walked over to the cameraman smiling, and chatted for a bit about his campaign, music, and even gracefully handled a question about his wife being an ex-cheerleader. He never looked uncomfortable, or bothered by the questions.

The video of Clinton consists entirely of her walking away in silence, hearing but ignoring the cameraman.

You may think that if there’s any fear at play in that video, it’s fear of the media or of accountability. And that’s surely true. But Hillary’s campaign rollout is revealing that it’s a more generalized fear than that: the woman who wants to be the next president is terrified of people.

Politico reports that while Hillary launched her campaign promising to fight for “everyday Americans,” she would prefer to do so at a distance. She drove to Iowa to meet with voters, but it turned out to be the early stages of a Potemkin campaign:

That’s because she didn’t actually have much face time with regular Iowans who weren’t handpicked by her campaign.

In part, that was by design: Clinton didn’t meet with that many people, period. The strategy going in was to focus on small groups — rather than stage big rallies — and to cultivate more intimate experiences. But Clinton’s foray into Iowa was also an exercise in preaching to the choir, largely executed in the safety of controlled environments.

All told, she met with less than a few dozen Iowans who weren’t pre-selected.

The Politico piece is a guided tour through Hillary’s Iowa trip and the carefully selected groups of “regular people” she met and spoke with along the way and who asked her canned softball questions that were really just liberal talking points with a question mark at the end.

But then, something happened that threatened to shake the very foundations of her Iowa trip: someone spoke to her unscripted. Politico tells the terrifying tale:

But Clinton appeared less at ease in less controlled situations. When two reporters yelled questions at her about why she ignored a 2012 letter from congressional investigators asking about her personal email use at the State Department, and why she appeared to change her position on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Clinton bolted from the room without a word to the news media.

The subheadline of the Politico article is: “Clinton’s foray into Iowa was an exercise in preaching to the choir, executed in the safety of controlled environments.” That seems like an accurate summary of the trip as well as Hillary’s hopes for the campaign. She is uneasy when she doesn’t approve everyone’s placement in the room and when she doesn’t know what they’re going to say to her. She needs pre-programmed responses to questions. The act of thinking on the fly, of deciding for herself what she believes–of actually believing something, anything–is too much for her.

The extent to which Clinton’s interactions with the public must be stage-managed can get quite ridiculous. In September at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, Hillary pretended to grill a steak that had been pre-grilled for her in order to fulfill the obligatory photo op. A picture of Hillary flipping a pre-cooked steak at a steak fry is possibly the quintessential image of Hillary’s presidential ambitions.

The question, as always, is whether any of this is going to matter. Hillary’s a disaster when actually speaking extemporaneously, so there’s an argument to be made that the image of an entitled aspiring monarch running away from “everyday Americans” at full speed is an improvement over what she might say when asked a question that hasn’t been pre-written and pre-answered.

But the contrast between her and the Republicans like Rubio, who wear a smile easily and are willing to interact with voters, is not going to be kind to her during this long campaign. Get to know America, Mrs. Clinton. You just might like it if you give it a chance.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback (Because It Isn’t)

The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

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The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

Hillary was not inevitable, as it turned out, which is why she’s back running again this year. But she seems inevitable again, and this time more so. Are pundits who may be repeating their mistake with Hillary repeating the same mistake by dismissing Chris Christie’s chances to win the GOP nomination?

In a word, no.

The New Jersey governor has launched what is being termed a “comeback” tour, and the plan appears to have both a geographic center and a policy one. As the Washington Post reports:

Chris Christie kicked off a two day swing to New Hampshire with a sober prescription for tackling escalating entitlement spending.

The New Jersey governor and potential Republican presidential candidate proposed raising the retirement age for Social security to 69, means testing for Social Security, and gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Christie outlined his proposals on entitlement reform at a speech Tuesday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

“In the short term, it is growing the deficit and slowly but surely taking over all of government. In the long term, it will steal our children’s future and bankrupt our nation. Meanwhile, our leaders in Washington are not telling people the truth. Washington is still not dealing with the problem,” Christie said.

“Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not,” the governor added.

As Hail Marys go, there is logic to this plan. Geographically, it makes sense. The crowded field of social conservatives and candidates with Midwest ties/appeal makes Iowa a stretch for Christie. New Hampshire, on the other hand, is much closer to home for a northeastern Republican, and ideologically probably a better fit than Iowa for someone like Christie.

Additionally, the idea that candidates might waste resources trying to win Iowa at the expense of New Hampshire isn’t crazy at all. In fact, since 1980, for every presidential-election year in which there was no Republican presidential incumbent, Iowa and New Hampshire chose different winners. This streak almost ended in 2012 when it appeared Mitt Romney won Iowa and then went on to win New Hampshire, but once all the votes were counted it turned out Rick Santorum had actually won Iowa. The smart money, then, in New Hampshire is never on the winner of the Iowa caucuses (at least not when it’s an open seat). Christie probably knows this.

However, with such a crowded field, even assuming the Iowa winner doesn’t also win New Hampshire (and he will still likely compete there for votes anyway) Christie will have a steep hill to climb. Jeb Bush is his most significant rival for establishment votes, and Bush will have lots of money to blanket the northeast in ads while Christie’s campaign is just getting out of the gate. Rand Paul will likely be competitive in New Hampshire, with its libertarian streak (his father did reasonably well in New Hampshire). And then there will still be Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and others.

On the policy side, I don’t think I even need to point out the risk involved in making entitlement reform the centerpiece of your agenda. It is bold, and Christie does need to stand out from the pack. He needs conservative votes, not just establishment support, and conservatives might be more amenable to such cuts (in theory at least, and it’ll vary depending on which piece of the safety net we’re talking about).

Christie is very good in person, so the town hall format should help him. He’s also got the “straight-talker” bona fides to at least portray himself as the guy who’s telling you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. But that can go south in a hurry, considering Christie’s temper.

And further, as Harry Enten points out today, “The Politics Of Christie’s ‘Bold’ Social Security Plan Are Atrocious.” Enten writes:

According to a January 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, Republicans are more likely than Democrats, independents and the general public to say that income should not be a determining factor in receiving Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of Republicans believe that Social Security should go to only those below a certain income level. Seventy percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposal. …

In a September 2013 Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center poll, 58 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 were opposed to raising the age of eligibility on Social Security. Just 33 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 support such a proposal. According to an April 2013 Fox News survey, Republicans overall are more split. Still, does Christie really want to try to push the idea of raising the retirement age in New Hampshire, where 56 percent of primary voters are over the age of 50? For a moderate Republican like Christie, New Hampshire is a crucial state. His plan doesn’t seem like smart politics.

No, it doesn’t. But Christie can’t really afford to play it safe. Or can he? Is he learning the wrong lesson himself from 2008? McCain’s comeback was not due to bold conservative reform plans. If anything, he was the “safe” candidate in the field: the war hero with clean hands and decades of service. As other, more hyped candidates flamed out early, McCain simply remained standing.

He also benefited from the electoral math, specifically in having others in the race like Mike Huckabee who could siphon votes from Romney without posing a serious threat to McCain.

Then again, considering the strength of the field this year, Christie can’t plausibly expect every other serious candidate to implode. So he’s going for broke. It’s an interesting idea that may be making headlines today but will ultimately be a footnote in the story of 2016.

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