Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Can the Hillary Email Counter-Attack Keep Working?

Anyone wondering how the Clintons get away with things that would sink ordinary political mortals got another lesson this past weekend in how to deflect even the most damning of stories. The revelation reported by the New York Times that the Justice Department is actually investigating the fact that Clinton transmitted classified material on her private email server was shocking news. But the pushback from the Clinton campaign on the latest about the Hillary email scandal was both immediate and forceful. But the question is can a scorched earth campaign based on denial of obvious facts continue to prevail indefinitely? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether Clinton’s nomination for president is as inevitable as most of us have long thought it to be.

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Anyone wondering how the Clintons get away with things that would sink ordinary political mortals got another lesson this past weekend in how to deflect even the most damning of stories. The revelation reported by the New York Times that the Justice Department is actually investigating the fact that Clinton transmitted classified material on her private email server was shocking news. But the pushback from the Clinton campaign on the latest about the Hillary email scandal was both immediate and forceful. But the question is can a scorched earth campaign based on denial of obvious facts continue to prevail indefinitely? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether Clinton’s nomination for president is as inevitable as most of us have long thought it to be.

As our Noah Rothman noted on Friday, the Times soon began walking back some of its original reporting almost immediately though the basic substance of the charge remained unchallenged even in a completely revised version that was published on Saturday. The retreat continued on Monday with Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor, scolding the news staff for being over-eager and too ready to believe anonymous sources leading to a story “fraught with inaccuracies.” That surrender on the part of a publication that is normally impervious to criticisms of far more substantive problems with articles encouraged the Hillary camp to switch from defense to an all-out offensive designed to brand the story as purely an invention of House Republicans investigating the Benghazi terror attack with Politico dutifully supplying an article that helped feed the notion that the whole thing was a kerfuffle generated by the same wicked “right-wing conspiracy” that has dogged the poor Clintons for many years.

But for all of the tut-tutting on the left about “inaccuracies,” the basic elements remain intact.

Contrary to her public assurances when she initially answered some questions about the email controversy at the United Nations in March, it now appears virtually certain that some of the emails sent on the former secretary of state’s private email was classified in nature. There is some dispute over whether every one of them was classified at the time it was transmitted, but there is no longer any doubt that Clinton lied when she said she used only one device with this email and that apparently there were more than just a few communications that were classified. Nor was her assertion that all of the emails that concerned her work were saved on government servers as opposed to the home email server she employed true.

It is no longer possible to believe her claims that all work emails were turned over to the government. Others, including some with classified information, may well have been kept, but we’ll never know. Despite the subpoenas that were issued to her (which she also falsely denied getting), tens of thousands of other emails were destroyed when she wiped the server.

In doing so, she violated government rules set down by President Obama. But whether the investigation being contemplated by the Department of Justice is “criminal” as the Times originally suggested or merely a “security” probe is a difference without a distinction. The same point applies to the fact that the investigation, assuming it actually takes place, may target subordinates operating under Clinton’s orders rather than her alone. But no matter how this shakes out, anyone who thinks mishandling classified information and violating rules about such material is a minor thing should remember that General David Petraeus was forced to resign as head of the CIA and then humiliated with a judicial proceeding that ended with a guilty plea. Such “inaccuracies” don’t undercut the fact that Clinton broke rules and has repeatedly lied about it. Both the rule breaking and the lying are the sorts of behavior that can and often have landed lesser mortals in deep legal trouble.

Yet the Clinton machine and many in her press cheering section continue to act as if the whole thing is an invention of her foes. And their winning of the news cycle over the weekend to the point where it appeared as if House Republicans rather than the former first lady were the ones in political trouble merely confirms the truism that a good offense is the best defense.

Can they continue to get away with it?

The short answer, at least as far as legal jeopardy is concerned, is probably yes. Despite the leak that an investigation is underway, the odds that Attorney General Loretta Lynch or President Obama will ever sign off on indictments of the Clinton staff for their violations of the law, let alone of the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, are astronomical. The only way this affair will ever lead to prosecutions is if a GOP president and AG order one in 2017, and it’s likely that if the Republicans are running things then they will have enough to do without exacting vengeance on a defeated Hillary Clinton.

As far as the political impact, the same answer may be true in the short run. Most Democrats seem to be as indifferent to Hillary Clinton’s crimes and misdemeanors as they were to her husband’s lack of morality.

But the triumphalist tone of the recent counterattacks from the Clinton camp notwithstanding, she and her handlers cannot be indifference to her growing problems. The email scandal may not land her in the legal trouble she so richly deserves, but it will feed negative poll numbers that can no longer be ignored. The latest CNN poll shows that, for the first time, Hillary’s favorability ratings are underwater. The CNN/ORC survey showed that 48 percent viewed Clinton unfavorably with only 45 percent favorable. That’s the first time since 2001 that she has been in negative territory and a massive reversal from the 63-35 percent favorable ratings she had after she left office as secretary of state in 2013.

It is those concerns, along with the distinct sense among many in the Democratic base that she is an inauthentic liberal, especially when compared to a genuine leftist like Bernie Sanders, that is behind the large crowds greeting Clinton’s leading challenger and the soft poll numbers in battleground and early voting states. Though it would be foolish to underestimate the willingness of the Clintons to do anything to win, it is now almost thinkable that she might actually be denied her party’s nomination.

So while any conclusions from the investigation the Times revealed last week may never see the light of day, the idea that her rule-breaking and lying will have no repercussions is unfounded. The Clintons may have won the last news cycle but the increasing damage to her already shaky credibility means they may also be losing the war.

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Four Reasons Trump Will Fade

Yesterday, our John Podhoretz spoke for many Americans when he found it impossible to view the rise of Donald Trump in the polls with anything but despair. John’s description of Trump’s approach to issues was entirely correct. In a business where outsize egos are a dime a dozen, Trump’s megalomania is a defining characteristic and his bluster has served to cover up the fact that he has a deplorable record on conservative issues and has no coherent approach to governance or ideology. The size of the support he has engendered is troubling because he could well alter the outcome of the 2016 election by either capturing the Republican Party nomination outright or it could encourage him to try a third party run that will guarantee victory for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But before we write off the GOP’s chances and begin the process of explicating the new political age of Trump, a moment of calm is called for. Though everything we are seeing in the last few weeks lends credence to the notion that the Trump phenomenon is real and permanent, it is important to remember that is it just as likely that the real estate mogul turned reality star turned presidential candidate will fizzle long before the votes start getting counted next winter. What follows are four reasons Trump will fade.

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Yesterday, our John Podhoretz spoke for many Americans when he found it impossible to view the rise of Donald Trump in the polls with anything but despair. John’s description of Trump’s approach to issues was entirely correct. In a business where outsize egos are a dime a dozen, Trump’s megalomania is a defining characteristic and his bluster has served to cover up the fact that he has a deplorable record on conservative issues and has no coherent approach to governance or ideology. The size of the support he has engendered is troubling because he could well alter the outcome of the 2016 election by either capturing the Republican Party nomination outright or it could encourage him to try a third party run that will guarantee victory for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But before we write off the GOP’s chances and begin the process of explicating the new political age of Trump, a moment of calm is called for. Though everything we are seeing in the last few weeks lends credence to the notion that the Trump phenomenon is real and permanent, it is important to remember that is it just as likely that the real estate mogul turned reality star turned presidential candidate will fizzle long before the votes start getting counted next winter. What follows are four reasons Trump will fade.

Yes, I know. To even suggest that Trump is not the embodiment of a new political revolution will bring down on me both scorn and vitriol from the celebrity candidate’s many fans that will compete with each other to channel their hero’s trademark viciousness in excoriating critics.

The attacks from Trump loyalists on that score won’t be entirely unreasonable. Trump’s support may not last but until it does disappear his fans are entitled to see it as a substantial endorsement of his personality and combative nature if not every aspect of his candidacy. Before we try to bury Trump, it’s important to understand that his boomlet is a genuine reflection of frustration on the part of a portion of the Republican base.

The key element that Trump exploited was anger about illegal immigration. Some of that can be dismissed as rooted in prejudicial attitudes toward Hispanics. Trump’s offensive comments about Mexican illegal immigrants being rapists and drug dealers may have rightly earned him some harsh condemnations but there is a portion of the electorate that is actually turned on by a willingness to flout both convention and courtesy. He is, after all, a reality TV star and the same qualities that work for him in that format help him in politics.

But not all of this is about prejudice. Much of it has to do with resentment of the political establishment of both parties. The fact that he is not really a conservative and hasn’t much idea about how government works doesn’t bother those who are so angry that they applaud a simple-minded blowhard approach that can’t distinguish between the political process and the problems it is failing to address. As our Pete Wehner noted last week, this is a case of populism masquerading as conservatism but that won’t stop Trump from garnering a sizeable share of a GOP base that may have, at least for the moment, decided that a full-blown outsider like Trump is to be preferred to other genuine conservative insurgents who are working within the political system including someone like Ted Cruz who seems at times to be attempting to blow it up from within.

But while it may seem like the Trump tide will never recede, let’s remember a few key facts about Donaldmania.

First, polls taken in the July of the year before a presidential election are not a reliable barometer of what the situation will be in the fall let alone the following winter and spring. Trump’s poll numbers are a product of enormous media coverage, celebrity and a contrarian streak in the body politic that will always applaud a genuine outlier. It may be permanent, but it could also vanish as quickly as it arose.

Second, the first debates may, as John pointed out, be all about Trump. But there is no reason to assume that his bluster will carry the day in that kind of a forum where he cannot hush critics or control the questions. Even if he blithely assumes that the force of his personality and celebrity will crush his more conventional opponents, that blind confidence could wind up making him look like a fool when arrayed against policy wonks and champion debaters who, unlike Trump, actually know what they are talking about when it comes to policy questions.

Third, the assumption on the part of some that a public that has been watching Trump on TV for years already knows all it cares to learn about the man is equally unfounded. I doubt that most of those on the right applauding his outrageous act are aware of Trump’s long history of backing for liberal causes and even his financial support for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns and their family charity that operates as a political slush fund for the former first couple. Will that matter? Trump thinks not, but he shouldn’t be so sure. Trump has been subjected to intense scrutiny as a celebrity, but he has yet to learn that the gossip page items that actually help a TV star will hurt a presidential wannabe.

Fourth, as I noted last week, the basic culture of American democracy is something that is designed to trip up demagogues. This wouldn’t be the first case of populism run amuck in American history and there are some obvious examples of outlier figures having a major impact on the outcome of elections. A charismatic figure like William Jennings Bryan may not have offered any more of a coherent approach to governance than Trump in the 1890s, but the force of his rhetoric captured the Democratic Party for a generation. And, as John noted, Trump may turn out to be the second coming of Ross Perot with equally disastrous implications for Republicans as that Third Party candidate that effectively handed the country over to the Clintons. Americans many not always see through charlatans running for office, but underestimating their ability to smell a fraud is a sucker’s bet.

Make a note to call me a false prophet if I’m wrong, but the bottom line is that I still say Trump won’t be the GOP nominee. More than that, I believe we’ll look back at the panic he caused in the GOP this summer as another example of how the political class and pundits can be so wrapped up in the moment that they fail to see the big picture. It’s time to take a deep breath and wait for the inevitable moment when the air starts to come out of his balloon.

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The Chaotic, Backbiting GOP Does Not Look Like a Governing Party

For the moment, try to put yourself in the position of a swing voter who will determine the course of the 2016 presidential election and the nation. You are frustrated with the direction in which the country is headed. You may not resent the gains social progressivism has made over the years, but you are concerned that they have come at the expense of the liberty of others. Those gains have come at a cost acutely felt by your friends and neighbors. Though you do not harbor any ill will towards them, those who benefit most from the advance of the liberal agenda are people who you may never meet and who, for you, are entirely hypothetical. The pace of the economic recovery has been engagingly unenergetic. The threat of a new contraction looms forever just over the horizon, even as you struggle to meet today’s financial burdens. Abroad, America has never looked more threatened and less respected by adversary and ally alike. It’s time for a change in direction, but toward what? Republicans have gone to great lengths to reestablish the trust of voters after George W. Bush’s second term and the 2007-2008 financial collapse sapped the public’s faith in the GOP’s governing program. Gradually, painstakingly, Republicans have won back the voters’ support and hold more elected offices today than they have for close to a century. But all that improvement threatens to be undone by the not inaccurate impression among voters that the GOP is in crisis — at war with itself — and that it may be unable to serve as a responsible governing party. Read More

For the moment, try to put yourself in the position of a swing voter who will determine the course of the 2016 presidential election and the nation. You are frustrated with the direction in which the country is headed. You may not resent the gains social progressivism has made over the years, but you are concerned that they have come at the expense of the liberty of others. Those gains have come at a cost acutely felt by your friends and neighbors. Though you do not harbor any ill will towards them, those who benefit most from the advance of the liberal agenda are people who you may never meet and who, for you, are entirely hypothetical. The pace of the economic recovery has been engagingly unenergetic. The threat of a new contraction looms forever just over the horizon, even as you struggle to meet today’s financial burdens. Abroad, America has never looked more threatened and less respected by adversary and ally alike. It’s time for a change in direction, but toward what? Republicans have gone to great lengths to reestablish the trust of voters after George W. Bush’s second term and the 2007-2008 financial collapse sapped the public’s faith in the GOP’s governing program. Gradually, painstakingly, Republicans have won back the voters’ support and hold more elected offices today than they have for close to a century. But all that improvement threatens to be undone by the not inaccurate impression among voters that the GOP is in crisis — at war with itself — and that it may be unable to serve as a responsible governing party.

Contrary to pervasive but shallow consensus opinion among a prominent cast of political analysts, Barack Obama is not a popular president. While the Oval Office occupant is not as unpopular today as he has been in the recent past, that’s damnation by faint praise. “To date, Obama has been unpopular for more than two-thirds of his tenure,” The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost observed. “If he stays under 50 percent for the remainder of his term, he will have been unpopular for longer than any postwar leader.” His anointed Democratic successor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is also struggling. A recent Quinnipiac University survey of the key early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire revealed that Clinton’s favorability ratings had collapsed. Those findings were confirmed by NBC News/Marist University, which revealed that Clinton’s favorability among registered voters had sunk to -19 and -20% in Iowa and New Hampshire respectively. Nationally, according to Gallup, Clinton favorability rating is now underwater at 43 to 46 percent, “tilting her image negative and producing her worst net favorable score since December 2007.”

Clinton’s favorability ratings are no doubt a reflection of her personal shortcomings and distaste for the fact that she has such a limited regard for voters’ intelligence that she would repeatedly – compulsively — mislead them. But they are also a reflection of the country’s natural desire to move on from the Obama era after his two terms in the White House. Polls show that twice as many Americans believe the country is headed down the wrong track, and that has been the case consistently since the middle of 2010. From the expansion of same-sex marriage rights nationally to extended access to federally subsidized health insurance to the furling of the Confederate flag over public grounds; progressives have enjoyed a variety of social issues victories, and voters are not thrilled about it. “The poll finds all three issues are fairly divisive among the public at-large, with large shares seeing policy shift in a direction at odds with their views,” read a Washington Post report on a recent survey that found voters are uncomfortable with the direction “progress” has taken in recent years.

All this suggests that the 2016 political landscape should be fertile ground in which Republicans can sow the seeds of electoral victory. But the coming election will not merely be a referendum on the last eight years – it will also be an up or down vote on whether Republicans are ready to retake hold of the reins of government. At present, they don’t look like they are.

Over the weekend, an internecine squabble among Senate Republicans exploded into an outright row. A long-term highway funding bill, which has become an unattractive vehicle through which America’s political class rewards a variety of valued constituencies, became a proxy battlefield on which Republican officeholders waged a variety of fights. From renewing the expired Export-Import Bank, to defunding Planned Parenthood, to repealing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans went to war with one another over what the party’s various factions in Congress see as pressing priorities. In an effort to block debate over the legitimacy of federal subsidies for Planned Parenthood, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adopted a favored tactic of his Democratic predecessor, Harry Reid, and used a procedural maneuver to prevent further amendments to and subsequent debate on that piece of legislation.

“What we saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over again was a simple lie,” presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz said of the majority leader last week on the floor of the U.S. Senate. “We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false. That has consequences for how this body operates.”

“We’re not here on some frolic or to pursue personal ambitions,” Utah Senator Orrin Hatch shot back. “We must ensure that the pernicious trend of turning the Senate floor into a forum for advancing personal ambitions, for promoting political campaigns, or for enhancing fundraising activities comes to a stop.” Hatch added that Cruz’s conduct had been a “misuse of the Senate floor.”

In 2014, Republicans won a majority in the upper chamber of Congress just large enough to yield the party committee chairmanships and to block Democratic legislation from reaching the president’s desk, but not large enough to advance legislation of their own. But the Republican pitch to conservatives that increasingly rests on decisively winning the next election, always the next election, is starting to ring hollow. “Being a negative force is not nothing, and blocking bad policy is worthwhile,” The Federalist’s Ben Domenech wrote. “But when given the opportunity to put good policy into place, or to take steps to make such policy more feasible in the future, where is the Republican Party to be found?”

Nowhere, he argues. It’s an argument that resonates to an ever larger number of Republican base voters. “Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago,” the Pew Research Center revealed this week. Only two-thirds of self-identified Republicans view their party favorably, down from 86 percent in 2014. The GOP is viewed positively today by just 32 percent of the public compared to the Democratic Party’s 48 percent.

To some extent, this internal tension is healthy. Only a minority coalition is small enough to ensure that most of its members agree on specific policy proposals. But a Republican Party at war with itself does not look to the persuadable voter like a party that is capable of governing in the executive. The truly independent voters who determine the outcome of national elections don’t care about the Export-Import Bank or the parliamentary machinations that have so roiled conservatives. They care about whether or not they’re handing the levers of power to an undisciplined group of loose cannons and ideologues, and, to a marginally tuned in swing voter, that’s what the GOP looks like today. In concert with the spectacle that has become of the admittedly nascent Republican presidential primary race, it is only natural that voters would be asking themselves if the GOP should again be trusted with the White House.

Voters are ready to make a change. If history is any guide, they will swing in a more conservative direction. As was the case in 2013 when the GOP forced a showdown over ObamaCare that shut down the government, a saving grace for Republicans can be found in the happy fact that it remains an off year. Voters have time to make up their minds, and today’s fights will be forgotten well before the first votes are cast in 2016. If, however, the disunity that characterizes Republican intraparty politics today remains the party’s defining feature by next autumn, the public will be disinclined to reward the GOP with the presidency.

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Conservatism and the Channeling of Popular Passions

Last week, in the context of the rise in political support on the right for Donald Trump, I wrote about the distinction between populism and conservatism. There is room for populism within conservatism, I said, but it should not define it.

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Last week, in the context of the rise in political support on the right for Donald Trump, I wrote about the distinction between populism and conservatism. There is room for populism within conservatism, I said, but it should not define it.

In expanding on this thought, it might be useful to invoke one of the most magnificent of the American founders. In his book Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father, Michael Signer writes about the importance James Madison placed on governing the passions. “The greatest danger Madison saw for America lay within the body politic itself,” Signer writes:

The passions were native to human beings and thus to democracy. His project since youth had been to discipline, tame, and channel the passions. The checks and balances Madison ultimately proposed in his constitution would help contain the passions, preventing them from taking over entirely. But to channel and govern them would require leaders like Madison – individuals with the mission of steering the anger and love and hatred and enthusiasm of the country’s people toward governance of themselves.

One of the 20th centuries greatest public intellectuals, Irving Kristol, made a similar point in his July 25, 1985 Wall Street Journal column (Adam White of the Manhattan Institute was the person who alerted me to it). Mr. Kristol wrote the following:

My friend the late Martin Diamond, one of the most thoughtful of political scientists, used to say that the American democracy is based on one key assumption: that the people are usually sensible, but rarely wise. The function of our complex constitutional structure is to extract what wisdom is available in the people, at any moment in time, and give it a role in government Our system of representation (as distinct from direct, participatory democracy) is supposed to play this role, as do the bicameral Congress, the separation of powers, our federal arrangements, and the Constitution itself with its careful delineation of rights and prerogatives. Ultimately, of course, the popular will cannot be denied in a democracy. But only “ultimately.” Short of the ultimate, the Founders thought it appropriate that popular sentiments should be delayed in their course, refracted in their expression, revised in their enactment, so that a more deliberate public opinion could prevail over a transient popular opinion.

The threat to a more deliberate public opinion was what we now call populism (the term wasn’t known at the time of the founders). But there are better or worse manifestations of populism, and in his column Kristol argued that the common sense of the American people had been outraged over the course of two decades by “the persistent un-wisdom of their elected and appointed officials.” To the degree that we are witnessing a crisis in our democratic institutions, he wrote 30 years ago, it was a crisis of our disoriented elites, not of a blindly impassioned populace. Which is why Kristol was rather untroubled by, and even somewhat sympathetic to, what he called a “new populism,” whose purpose was to bring the governing elites to their senses.

Which brings us to the here and now. We’re at a moment in which there’s tremendous anger among many Americans, who are deeply unhappy with our governing elites. This anger and unhappiness is largely justified, though it also needs to be said that the American people are also complicit in the government they have and the people they elected. (The messiness we see in our politics is a result, at least in part, of the public’s conflicting desires.)

One of the great tasks of conservative statesmanship today is precisely the one Madison so brilliantly understood, which is not to dismiss the passions and legitimate anger of the people but to channel and shape them in constructive ways – to advocate solutions rather than to stoke resentments, to affirm the better rather than the darker instincts of our nature. This Madisonian ideal is still the standard by which voters – especially those who say they revere the Constitution and its architects — should judge those who seek to lead this good and generous and remarkable republic.

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Huckabee Is the Trump Surge’s Latest Victim

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has shown his hand. Perhaps no Republican presidential candidate has made it more apparent that their strategic approach to winning over a critical mass of GOP primary voters was upended by the arrival of the brash and alluring populist Donald Trump. The reality television star’s primary appeal to Republican voters is, somewhat paradoxically, his undiluted antipathy toward the Republican Party. That was previously a niche occupied by Cruz. Where the Texas senator cautiously exploited factionalism within the GOP, Trump has done so recklessly and without regard for the long-term consequences for intraparty comity. But Cruz is not the only Republican candidate who has found his position usurped by the upstart celebrity candidate. Once the most prominent social conservative and protectionist candidate in the race, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has also revealed how threatened his position is by the Trump ascendency.  Read More

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has shown his hand. Perhaps no Republican presidential candidate has made it more apparent that their strategic approach to winning over a critical mass of GOP primary voters was upended by the arrival of the brash and alluring populist Donald Trump. The reality television star’s primary appeal to Republican voters is, somewhat paradoxically, his undiluted antipathy toward the Republican Party. That was previously a niche occupied by Cruz. Where the Texas senator cautiously exploited factionalism within the GOP, Trump has done so recklessly and without regard for the long-term consequences for intraparty comity. But Cruz is not the only Republican candidate who has found his position usurped by the upstart celebrity candidate. Once the most prominent social conservative and protectionist candidate in the race, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has also revealed how threatened his position is by the Trump ascendency. 

Over the weekend, Huckabee found himself in a position he has been unable to achieve for weeks: he was back in the news. The press he was receiving was not, however, the favorable kind. In an interview with Breitbart, Huckabee excoriated President Barack Obama and his administration for securing a nuclear deal with Iran that he determined substantially undermines Israel’s security. “By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” Huckabee averred crassly.

The substance of Huckabee’s comments might be debatable. Those with an appreciation for the Israeli – indeed, the Jewish – experience might agree with the former Fox News Channel host’s intentionally theatrical posturing. In an American political context, however, his assertion was entirely unhelpful for those who are opposed to the terms of the nuclear deal and have undertaken the Sisyphean task of convincing congressional Democrats to reject it. What’s more, Huckabee’s comments exposed a level of insecurity the public has rarely seen in the outwardly confident Natural State governor.

After entering the race, Huckabee immediately rocketed to the top-tier of the national polls. By February, the Real Clear Politics average of polls of Republican primary voters pegged his support just slightly lower than that of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Huckabee had even surpassed the tea party favorite Ben Carson in his average level of support among GOP voters. Today, however, Huckabee’s support has crumbled. The story is the same in Iowa, the caucus state Huckabee won outright in 2008 and where he must finish strong if he is to remain competitive when the nominating contest migrates into more establishmentarian battlegrounds. According to the Real Clear Politics average of Iowa polls, Huckabee now trails Walker, Bush, Trump, Carson and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

In retrospect, it makes sense that Trump’s insurgent candidacy would rob Huckabee of his backing from the fraction of Republicans he was targeting. In a brilliant analysis for the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti exposed the extent to which those members of the Republican coalition that were attracted to Huckabee would also be drawn to Trump.

That Trump is not a conservative, nor by any means a mainstream Republican, is not a minus but a plus to the radical middle. These voters are culturally right but economically left; they depend on the New Deal and parts of the Great Society, are estranged from the fiscal and monetary agendas of The Economist and Wall Street Journal. What they lack in free market bona fides they make up for in their romantic fantasy of the patriotic tycoon or general, the fixer, the Can Do Man who will cut the baloney and Get Things Done.

Huckabee has run as a protectionist, and not merely in matters related to trade. The former Arkansas governor presented himself as a preserver all that was cherished in the 20th Century – from the assistance programs of the Great Society to its social norms and proscriptions. “If it’s not fair trade, it’s not free trade,” Huckabee said of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. “We have a lot of globalists and frankly corporatists instead of having nationalists who put forward the best interests of the United States and working families.” Only the most committed populist would openly associate himself with outright nationalism.

In June, the former governor cast himself as the candidate that would preserve without substantial reforms overburdened social welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security. “Unlike some in Washington who want to cut benefits for seniors, I will protect Social Security and Medicare,” Huckabee insisted. “Period.” To the extent that Trump can be held to his word, the billionaire real estate developer has also rejected substantial reforms to entitlement programs.

Of course, Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican heap is largely due to the fact that the field lacked a hardline anti-illegal immigration candidate. That was once Ted Cruz, but the goalposts have shifted so that what now constitutes hardline is embracing fanciful notions of mass deportation and walls that alone manage to stem the flow of aliens over the southern border while eschewing political correctness in the process. No one, including Huckabee, has been willing to emulate Trump’s alienation of persuadable Hispanic voters. “I would never besmirch all the people who come here because I think, sometimes, we get wrapped up in how many people are coming. The real question is why are they coming?” Huckabee noted when asked for his thoughts on Trump’s claim that Mexico was directing its criminals to cross the U.S. border. “They come to help their families, some of the hardest-working people… and I think this is often lost — some of the most conservative, family-oriented and faith-based people I have ever witnessed.”

Huckabee is learning the hard way that you cannot out-Trump Donald Trump. He has deftly managed to ingratiate himself to the elements within the GOP coalition that hunger for pugnacity from their 2016 nominee, but also for one who fights not on behalf of reform but preservation. Cruz and Huckabee presented a responsible and, thus, watered down version of the forcefulness a substantial portion of the GOP primary voting base wanted to see from their nominee. Only those Republicans who present a competing governing vision will manage to avoid being inundated by Trump’s expanding wake.

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The Donald is Still Hillary’s Best Friend

Hillary Clinton has long had good reason to like Donald Trump. The real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star-turned-Republican presidential candidate was a major donor to her campaigns for the Senate. He also gave $100,000 to the thinly-disguised political slush fund that is the Clinton Family Foundation, giving him the unique status as both a potential Hillary opponent and an enabler of the Clinton Cash scandals. But the former First Lady has even more immediate reasons to be grateful to The Donald. Trump’s domination of the news cycle the last few weeks has not only sucked all the oxygen out of the room for other Republican candidates. The relentless coverage of his every move and outrageous statement has also had the effect of obscuring the slow motion implosion of her presidential campaign. Had he stayed on the sidelines to kibitz as he has in previous election cycles, it might have been Hillary’s horrific poll numbers and her increasing weakness against an implausible Bernie Sanders candidacy might be leading the cable news shows. Instead, we’re treated to daily analyses of Trump putdowns of fellow Republicans and coverage of his appearances as if they were global summits. If this keeps up — and at this point, there’s no reason to think it won’t — Hillary may be able to ride out the summer and the fall without too much attention being paid to her troubles.

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Hillary Clinton has long had good reason to like Donald Trump. The real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star-turned-Republican presidential candidate was a major donor to her campaigns for the Senate. He also gave $100,000 to the thinly-disguised political slush fund that is the Clinton Family Foundation, giving him the unique status as both a potential Hillary opponent and an enabler of the Clinton Cash scandals. But the former First Lady has even more immediate reasons to be grateful to The Donald. Trump’s domination of the news cycle the last few weeks has not only sucked all the oxygen out of the room for other Republican candidates. The relentless coverage of his every move and outrageous statement has also had the effect of obscuring the slow motion implosion of her presidential campaign. Had he stayed on the sidelines to kibitz as he has in previous election cycles, it might have been Hillary’s horrific poll numbers and her increasing weakness against an implausible Bernie Sanders candidacy might be leading the cable news shows. Instead, we’re treated to daily analyses of Trump putdowns of fellow Republicans and coverage of his appearances as if they were global summits. If this keeps up — and at this point, there’s no reason to think it won’t — Hillary may be able to ride out the summer and the fall without too much attention being paid to her troubles.

There’s no point denying that Trump is the most entertaining presidential candidate we’ve had in a long time even if he’s also the least thoughtful and most vulgar. Every Trump event, such as the chaotic dog-and-pony show he put on at the border in Laredo, Texas yesterday, is transformed by the sheer unpredictability of his behavior into a global news event covered obsessively by the cable news networks. The same goes for every interview as pundits and journalists wait for Trump to insult one of his GOP rivals or to hint, as he has this week to the horror of his party, that he might run as a third-party candidate next year if the Republican National Committee offends him with “unfair” treatment.

For the moment, all this has the effect of leaving all the more credible would-be GOP opponents of Hillary flailing in frustration at Trump’s antics, insults and ability to rise in the polls. The more they hit back the more Trump likes it since it feeds his image as a “fighter” who is out to knock off a failed political establishment. But the cooler heads among them have to know that it can’t last. Sooner or later, Trump is going to start being scrutinized the way presidential candidates are examined and his record of support for liberals and liberal causes will start to take the air out of his balloon. Trump’s negatives are too high to allow him to be a legitimate threat for the nomination let alone the general election. Republicans should also be confident that his buffoonish persona is also bound to trip him up enough times to ultimately undermine any notion that he ride the support of a populist surge and anger about illegal immigration to the nomination.

But the help all of this is giving to Hillary is priceless. Trumpmania has enabled her to fly beneath the radar even when she weighs in on hot button issues. Her defense of Planned Parenthood in the face of their infant body parts sale scandal may impress the liberal base of the Democratic Party, but it also exposes her to attack. Yet no one is talking about Hillary allowing her to get away with continuing to refuse to talk to the press.

More important, the Trump factor has also almost silenced discussion of Hillary’s toxic poll numbers in battleground states against possible GOP opponents as well as the terrible results she gets on whether people trust her. In a normal political year, this would become the number one story lending further momentum to the surprisingly effective challenge to her coronation by Senator Bernie Sanders or even tempting other more plausible candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren or Vice President Joe Biden into the race.

Clinton also has to hope that Trump is so enjoying the ride he’s on that he won’t want to get off even when he fails to win primaries next winter and spring. It’s easy to imagine Trump manufacturing some feud with the RNC and attempting a third-party run next summer and fall. Of course, that would be the ultimate favor for Hillary and the Democrats since it would more or less guarantee her election as president no matter how weak a candidate she proved to be.

The extension of the Trump campaign well into 2016 is the ultimate nightmare for Republicans, but there is little they can do about it other than to try and ignore him and hope, as they should, that the overwhelming majority of voters reject his brand of faux conservatism. In the meantime, he will continue to give aid and comfort to the Clinton campaign that is far more valuable than his past financial support for their fake charity or her Senate campaigns.

 

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Has John Kasich Been Trumped?

Ohio Governor John Kasich entered the presidential race today with a loaded resume and a strategy aimed at getting him onto the first tier debate stage on Fox News next month in Cleveland. Kasich’s credentials as a veteran House member, Fox News host, and a successful governor ought to make him a serious contender for 2016. And his decision to wait until only a couple of weeks before the August 6th debate before officially announcing his entry into the race ought to ensure that an announcement bump in the polls will help him make the cut. That may yet happen and Kasich — the 16th and probably the last GOP candidate to declare — could come from out of nowhere and have chance to win next year. But the resume and the timing don’t appear to be having the impact he hoped for. Rather than following in the footsteps of his idol Ronald Reagan as the leader of the conservative movement, Kasich enters the race being seen by much of his party’s base as the second coming of Jon Huntsman, whose disastrous 2012 presidential run is a model of everything a Republican shouldn’t do. And rather than benefit from his timing, Kasich’s announcement lands smack in the middle of the Donald Trump media frenzy meaning that, unlike other candidates, he may not benefit much from the late start.

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Ohio Governor John Kasich entered the presidential race today with a loaded resume and a strategy aimed at getting him onto the first tier debate stage on Fox News next month in Cleveland. Kasich’s credentials as a veteran House member, Fox News host, and a successful governor ought to make him a serious contender for 2016. And his decision to wait until only a couple of weeks before the August 6th debate before officially announcing his entry into the race ought to ensure that an announcement bump in the polls will help him make the cut. That may yet happen and Kasich — the 16th and probably the last GOP candidate to declare — could come from out of nowhere and have chance to win next year. But the resume and the timing don’t appear to be having the impact he hoped for. Rather than following in the footsteps of his idol Ronald Reagan as the leader of the conservative movement, Kasich enters the race being seen by much of his party’s base as the second coming of Jon Huntsman, whose disastrous 2012 presidential run is a model of everything a Republican shouldn’t do. And rather than benefit from his timing, Kasich’s announcement lands smack in the middle of the Donald Trump media frenzy meaning that, unlike other candidates, he may not benefit much from the late start.

Given Kasich’s strong conservative credentials dating back to his earlier support for Reagan and his impressive record in the House, any comparison to a man like Huntsman that served in the Obama administration and then ran against the GOP base seems deeply unfair. But the analogy fits and not only because he seems to have hired many of the same consultants that guided the former Utah governor’s fiasco of a campaign. Kasich’s stands on common core and Medicare expansion, as well as his willingness to challenge the base on social justice issues, has given him the aura of a Jeb Bush-lite. That positions him to compete against both Bush and Chris Christie for moderate Republican voters but without the advantage of spending the last several months out on the campaign trail trying to establish his candidacy.

The Huntsman example is instructive for more than just Kasich. In both 2008 and 2012, Republicans nominated moderates rather than conservatives. But in neither of those cases did either John McCain or Mitt Romney run against the party base. No matter how many right-wingers are competing for the loyalty of the Tea Party and seemingly leaving an opening for a moderate to win, antagonizing those who make up the backbone of your party is a formula for disaster, not victory.

But the biggest problem at the moment for Kasich is the way the timing of his announcement has been Trumped by the media’s Donald obsession. Throughout the spring, each announcement has given each candidate a bump in the polls though some have been bigger than others. But even a minor boost in the polls would be a lifesaver for Kasich if it enabled him to break into the top ten and thus ensure his place on the main stage at the Fox debate. Kasich currently ranks 11th in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. If that doesn’t change, he’s going to be left on the sidelines on August 6th along with Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and George Pataki.

But it’s not clear that with arguments about Trump dominating the news that Kasich will get much attention. Nor, to be fair to the media, is it likely that the Ohio governor’s lengthy and rambling announcement speech likely to generate much enthusiasm among the voting public the way the speeches from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker did. In a weaker field that might not matter, but our first impression of Kasich was of man who couldn’t match his competition in terms of his ability to speak about his vision for the country or the rationale for his candidacy.

There may have been a rationale for a John Kasich candidacy but his decision to play the moderate rather than compete for conservative votes and his collision with the Trump juggernaut may reproduce the same results a far less worthy candidate like Huntsman obtained. Waiting until July may have seemed smart in the spring, but it turned out to be a serious mistake that will lengthen the odds against him.

 

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American Democracy and Donald Trump’s Inevitable Collapse

Are the obituaries the mainstream media are publishing for Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy premature? That’s the line Trump apologists are bound to take today as the fallout over his attempt to question whether Senator John McCain is a war hero continues. The kerfuffle over Trump’s branding of most illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and drug dealers only endeared him further to a sizeable portion of potential Republican primary voters. They shared his anger about a porous border and instinctively distrusted the herd mentality of media and business figures that rushed to label him a political untouchable. But the real estate mogul turned reality star and his backers should not labor under the delusion that he will get a similar pass for his egregious comment about McCain even if he is getting some support from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, whose antipathy for the conventional wisdom of the day appears to be overwhelming his normally sound political instincts and judgement. If his bid is, as our Pete Wehner wrote on Sunday, “toast,” then the moral of the story isn’t so much about the sheer nastiness and lack of character that Trump demonstrated when he made that remark and then doubled down on it, as it is the way the democratic process has of sorting out the political wheat from the chaff. While many observers on both the left and the right, often speak as if the voters are fools that are easily manipulated by media puppet-masters, Donald Trump’s inevitable collapse will illustrate the ability of the American public to sort out the presidential race.

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Are the obituaries the mainstream media are publishing for Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy premature? That’s the line Trump apologists are bound to take today as the fallout over his attempt to question whether Senator John McCain is a war hero continues. The kerfuffle over Trump’s branding of most illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and drug dealers only endeared him further to a sizeable portion of potential Republican primary voters. They shared his anger about a porous border and instinctively distrusted the herd mentality of media and business figures that rushed to label him a political untouchable. But the real estate mogul turned reality star and his backers should not labor under the delusion that he will get a similar pass for his egregious comment about McCain even if he is getting some support from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, whose antipathy for the conventional wisdom of the day appears to be overwhelming his normally sound political instincts and judgement. If his bid is, as our Pete Wehner wrote on Sunday, “toast,” then the moral of the story isn’t so much about the sheer nastiness and lack of character that Trump demonstrated when he made that remark and then doubled down on it, as it is the way the democratic process has of sorting out the political wheat from the chaff. While many observers on both the left and the right, often speak as if the voters are fools that are easily manipulated by media puppet-masters, Donald Trump’s inevitable collapse will illustrate the ability of the American public to sort out the presidential race.

Let’s concede that the popularity of Trump is based on more than the name recognition that comes with both wealth and a popular television show. His good poll numbers are the product of his willingness to say outrageous things and to position himself as outside the regular political process. While his isn’t the only candidacy rooted in the idea that the voters are hungering for a non-politician, Trump’s notoriety, instinctive populism, and impulsive willingness to say whatever is on his mind makes him a magnet for the disaffected and disillusioned regardless of the merit or the consistency of any of his positions. Saying aloud whatever such voters are thinking at any given moment is neither a sign of wisdom or statesmanship but it would be obtuse to deny Trump’s raw political talent.

But no one should think Trump’s likely decline in the coming weeks will be an accident of fate. It was inevitable that Trump would eventually say something that even most conservatives would abhor. But it was also inevitable that once his comments and his record started getting the sort of scrutiny that goes with a presidential race, even some of that rationalized his illegal immigration remarks would abandon him.

That isn’t because the establishment is working its way with the press or that he is being taken out of context or unfairly criticized. Rather, it is merely the normal function of American democracy in which thoughtless extremism and gutter character assassination is always going to be seen as not keeping with the sort of behavior we expect in presidents.

Many conservatives rightly lament the way the same liberal media failed in 2008 to hound Barack Obama over some outrageous statements he made and his radical associations the way they would a conservative with similar liabilities. But the reason Obama won had less to do with media bias than his ability to act like a president in the midst of a tough race against a Clinton machine that was willing to fight dirty. His presidential temperament was not a substitute for an ability to govern but, along with the good feelings generated by the historic nature of his candidacy, it distracted most voters from his extreme agenda that was only revealed in office. Yet both our political process and the basically moderate nature of both most voters inevitably gives a boost to those candidates who understand that the exercise of great power requires more than sound bytes. They must act as if they understand the gravity of the responsibilities to which they aspire whether they actually do so or not.

As Obama’s victories demonstrated, that doesn’t ensure that we won’t elect bad presidents. But the genius of American democracy is such that candidates that are obviously unqualified to even pretend to the presidency are usually discarded long before even the nomination races heat up. If you don’t believe me about that, then ask President Michele Bachmann who seemed to be riding a wave of populist enthusiasm exactly four years ago before crashing and burning as voters — and journalists — learned more about her and heard more of her foolish statements that marked her as someone who had no business being considered for the post of leader of the free world.

Conservatives often lament with good reason the bias of a mainstream media that seeks to take out their candidates with hit pieces and prejudiced coverage. But no matter how much the process of scrutinizing candidates may be distorted by the prejudices of many in the press, not even their skewed reporting can deceive American voters for long about the essential nature of those in the race.

While he retains the capacity to harm the Republican Party’s more viable presidential candidates by focusing all attention on his gaffes and may yet do even more damage as a potential third party candidate, Trump could not hide in plain sight for long. Say what you will about the influence of money or a biased press. Denounce a nomination process that has turned into a four-year marathon if you like. But what we are witnessing is something that is natural to American politics and highly commendable. Long before the parties choose their nominees, candidates like Trump will be found out and discarded by the overwhelming majority of voters. Even if the polls are still looking positive for Trump before they take into account the McCain comments, those inclined to doubt the future of American democracy should have more faith in the American people.

 

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Who Will Pay For Hillary’s Era of Big Government?

Democrats are right about one thing. There is more to Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy than her lies about obeying government rules for her emails, destroying evidence demanded by Congressional subpoenas, and conflicts of interest between her family foundation and her work as secretary of state. Granted, it’s hard to get past Clinton’s sense of entitlement about the presidency and her arrogant resentment of the notion that she ought to be held accountable for her actions. But, influenced by the shift to the left in her party’s base, Clinton is also offering a rather ambitious agenda for the nation. Like the similar yet even more radical proposals put forward by her chief Democratic rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Clinton plan for America is offering a lot of free things as well as traditional liberal talking points. But the problem with all this free stuff is, of course, that is not free to the taxpayers who will be required to pay for it. While pundits have said the right’s ability to force GOP candidates to avoid the center is hurting their ability to win a general election, the ability of the left to pressure Clinton into calling for a new era of big government that could set America on the same path that eventually sank Greece in an ocean of debt won’t help her in November 2016.

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Democrats are right about one thing. There is more to Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy than her lies about obeying government rules for her emails, destroying evidence demanded by Congressional subpoenas, and conflicts of interest between her family foundation and her work as secretary of state. Granted, it’s hard to get past Clinton’s sense of entitlement about the presidency and her arrogant resentment of the notion that she ought to be held accountable for her actions. But, influenced by the shift to the left in her party’s base, Clinton is also offering a rather ambitious agenda for the nation. Like the similar yet even more radical proposals put forward by her chief Democratic rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Clinton plan for America is offering a lot of free things as well as traditional liberal talking points. But the problem with all this free stuff is, of course, that is not free to the taxpayers who will be required to pay for it. While pundits have said the right’s ability to force GOP candidates to avoid the center is hurting their ability to win a general election, the ability of the left to pressure Clinton into calling for a new era of big government that could set America on the same path that eventually sank Greece in an ocean of debt won’t help her in November 2016.

Clinton’s plans are so ironic that even the New York Times couldn’t resist bringing up her husband’s famous statement in his 1995 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over.” What was interesting about that line is that it was, of course, a reaction to the GOP’s 1994 midterm landslide. Unlike Barack Obama, who was rebuked in two such electoral thumpings in 2010 and 2014 but refused to try and deal with Congress, Clinton embraced Republican ideas and made them his own. The result was that a lot got done, and the Democrat was able to claim ownership of welfare reform and a balanced budget that had been forced upon him by his opponents.

But that sensible moment in American history might as well as happened a century ago as far as Mrs. Clinton is concerned. Given her chameleon-like ability to shift her stands on a host of issues on both domestic and foreign policy, it’s hard to say what her real principles, if she has any, are, other than, that is, a relentless ambition. But whatever is at her core, Clinton understands that if she is to mobilize her party’s base and get the large minority turnout that Obama could count on and which she desperately needs, a shift to the left is required.

That’s behind the laundry list of liberal big government programs that Clinton is prepared to roll out. She wants free college tuition, kindergarten and child care, not to mention a vast jobs bank and bonds sales to pay for free infrastructure projects, new legal protections for illegal immigrants and an expanded bureaucracy to monitor gun sales. As the Times points out, the price tag for all of this is impressive. Several hundred billion dollars would be needed to get it going and even more to sustain them.

That sounds good to liberal Democratic primary and caucus voters, though Sanders’ even pricier ideas sound even better to them. Like Sanders, Clinton plans to tell Democrats that she can pay for it by taxing the rich. But, as the Times notes, there is no evidence for a vast shift to the left on the part of the bulk of the electorate. Most Americans still think government is too big and intrusive. They also know the country is already sinking in debt that has grown exponentially on President Obama’s watch as he expanded government principally via ObamaCare.

While Clinton ran for president in 2008 as a centrist determined to revive her husband’s policies and return the country to prosperity, the 2016 version is going to be very different. It’s a subject for debate as to whether, as the Times indicates, that this reflects her true political orientation as an activist liberal in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt.

But surely even left-wingers know that the politics of the New Deal or even Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society don’t offer much help for an American economy and society that has changed fundamentally since then. What “New Democrats” like Bill Clinton understood in the 1990s was that their party had to adapt to a post-liberal age in which Americans wanted an effective and compassionate government but not the sort of intrusive federal leviathan that had caused so much damage as a result of Great Society excesses. Yet that is exactly where Clinton is heading with her proposals. The Greek example may seem far-fetched, but that is the inevitable fate of any society that writes entitlement checks that cannot be cashed.

Liberal Democrats may think their moment is returning but, like all parties in thrall to their ideologues, they are blind to the political costs of a swing to the extremes. Only the far left really believes that higher taxes on the rich can pay for their big government dreams. It is precisely those middle-class Americans that Clinton talks about representing that will pay most heavily for more government. The lurch to the left may help Clinton fend off a feeble challenge from the implausible Sanders, but she may pay a high price for a campaign that is a formula for defeat in a general election.

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Arrogant Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Have to Bother With the Truth

After months of shielding herself from the press via staged events and rope lines, Hillary Clinton finally sat down to talk with a member of the national media yesterday. But anyone thinking that a new more open, honest or humble Hillary would be unveiled in the interview with CNN’s Briana Keilar was bound to be disappointed. Much like her stilted performance back in March when she had a press conference to deal with questions about her email scandal, Clinton’s appearance did nothing to silence questions about either her trustworthiness or her political instincts. Her responses to even the softball questions lobbed into her by Keilar were not merely high-handed and clueless. They were also brazenly false and presented a portrait of an arrogant Hillary Clinton to the country that shows she believes herself to be entitled not only to the presidency but to be treated as if the normal rules of law and conduct don’t apply to her. While this shaky performance may not cause most members of her party to question her inevitable coronation as their presidential nominee in 2016, it should embolden both her Democratic challengers and potential Republican opponents to think she remains deeply vulnerable.

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After months of shielding herself from the press via staged events and rope lines, Hillary Clinton finally sat down to talk with a member of the national media yesterday. But anyone thinking that a new more open, honest or humble Hillary would be unveiled in the interview with CNN’s Briana Keilar was bound to be disappointed. Much like her stilted performance back in March when she had a press conference to deal with questions about her email scandal, Clinton’s appearance did nothing to silence questions about either her trustworthiness or her political instincts. Her responses to even the softball questions lobbed into her by Keilar were not merely high-handed and clueless. They were also brazenly false and presented a portrait of an arrogant Hillary Clinton to the country that shows she believes herself to be entitled not only to the presidency but to be treated as if the normal rules of law and conduct don’t apply to her. While this shaky performance may not cause most members of her party to question her inevitable coronation as their presidential nominee in 2016, it should embolden both her Democratic challengers and potential Republican opponents to think she remains deeply vulnerable.

The first thing to be understood about this interview is that it was as favorable a setting as she could have hoped for. Rather than press Clinton to answer tough questions about her emails or the conflicts of interest that investigations of her family foundation have brought out into the open, Keilar largely let the former First Lady get away with murder. At no point did she follow up with pointed rejoinders seeking details or ask about Sidney Blumenthal’s involvement in both her family foundation and Libya policy. Nor did she challenge Clinton on her numerous false assertions, especially where it concerned the emails. Even on policy questions, Clinton was allowed to merely voice generalities rather than specifics and given free rein to take gratuitous pot shots at her potential rivals.

But Keilar did do the country one service when she asked Clinton whether she understood why polls show that a large majority of Americans didn’t trust her and whether she took any responsibility for this. Her answers to these queries told us more about her character and her view of her place in the world than any policy speech or personality profile could possibly do:

KEILAR:  I’m wondering if you can address a vulnerability that we’ve seen you dealing with recently.  We see in our recent poll that nearly six in 10 Americans say they don’t believe that you’re honest and trustworthy.

Do you understand why they feel that way?

CLINTON:  Well, I think when you are subjected to the kind of constant barrage of attacks that are largely fomented by and coming from the Right and –

KEILAR:  But do you bear any responsibility for that?

CLINTON:  – well, I – you know, I can only tell you that I was elected twice in New York against the same kind of onslaught.  I was confirmed and served as secretary of state and I think it’s understandable that when questions are raised people maybe are thinking about them and wondering about them.  But I have every confidence that during the course of this campaign people are going to know who will fight for them, who will be there when they need them and that’s the kind of person I am.  And that’s what I will do, not only in a campaign but as president.

KEILAR:  Trusting someone to fight for them and trusting someone, these are two different things.

Do you see any role that you’ve had in the sentiment that we’ve seen, where people are questioning whether you’re trustworthy?

CLINTON:  I can only tell you, Brianna, that this has been a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many, many years.  And at the end of the day, I think voters sort it all out.  I have great confidence.  I trust the American voter.  So I trust the American voter 100 percent because I think the American voter will weight these kinds of accusations.

I mean, people write books filled with unsubstantiated attacks against us.  And even admit they have no evidence.  But of course, it’s your job to cover it.  So of course that’s going to raise questions in people’s minds.

But during the course of this campaign, just as in my two prior campaigns and in my other years of service, I have a lot of confidence that the American people can sort it all out.

KEILAR:  Would you vote for someone that you don’t trust?

CLINTON:  Well, they – people should and do trust me.  And I have every confidence that that will be the outcome of this election.

Boiled down to its bare essentials, these answer show that Clinton appears to have learned nothing since her time in the White House when she attributed the national dismay about her husband’s personal conduct to the workings of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

In point of fact, liberal outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, not conservative publications, have largely carried out the investigations of the Clinton Foundation. Nor was the Clinton Cash book by Peter Schweizer unsubstantiated. To the contrary, it was dense with disturbing questions about the Clinton’s conduct and the way their raising of funds from foreign sources seemed to hinge on those donors expectations about the Clintons doing them favors. But rather than address ethical questions head on, she simply dismisses all the charges as political. In Clintonworld, personal responsibility is something for other people, never for Bill and Hillary.

A better politician like her husband could have disarmed these questions with humility and an admission of mistakes.

That was especially true when she was asked about her bizarre use of a private email and home server while serving as secretary of state and the fact that she withheld these communications from the government and then deleted tens of thousands of emails and wiped the server clean when asked by a House committee for the documents.

Everything I did was permitted by law and regulation.  I had one device.  When I mailed anybody in the government, it would go into the government system.

Now I didn’t have to turn over anything.  I chose to turn over 55,000 pages because I wanted to go above and beyond what was expected of me because I knew the vast majority of everything that was official already was in the State Department system.

These are all blatant falsehoods. The administration she served set up such a regulation in 2009 that would have mandated her handing all of her communications over to the government. Her withholding of documents and then their destruction did violate the rules. As did her home server. As did her choice of which to give to the government and which to withhold and then destroy. But in Clintonworld, it is apparently okay to lie brazenly and then blame the controversy on critics.

The point here isn’t just that she behaved wrongly and won’t own up to it. It’s that she still seems to consider the very act of answering questions about her conduct to be beneath her dignity. The defensive and surly tone with which she made these statements not only reeks with arrogance, it shows that the first months on the campaign trail haven’t done much to improve her political skills. Though she was never much of a natural politician, the rust that seems to have accumulated during her time as secretary of state not only remains but also appears to have grown thicker.

She has lived the last 22 years at the pinnacle of American public life lived inside the cocoon of Secret Service protection along with the trappings of the vast wealth she and her husband have accumulated through a supposed charity that operates more like a political slush fund. All this seems to have stripped her of both the common touch but also of any notion of public accountability. From her current frame of reference, the American people are simply not allowed to distrust her or even to question her ethics. She owes them no explanations or apologies even when caught in misbehavior. They must simply accept all criticisms of her as illegitimate.

Given Clinton’s enormous advantages in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s not clear that even several more months of similarly dismal performances would be enough to allow a clearly implausible challenger like Bernie Sanders to beat her. But even her most ardent supporters must today be wondering why she is unable to bend even a little bit when it comes to showing a trace of humility or willingness to admit fault. They must know it all stems from a sense of entitlement that a better politician would be at pains to hide. For all of her natural gifts, Clinton’s demeanor and defensiveness screams vulnerability against a tough opponent. It remains to be seen whether someone so bereft of basic political skills can be elected president.

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Has the Sanders Factor Flushed Out Hillary?

After running a stealth campaign that largely insulated her from annoying questions from the national press, Hillary Clinton is finally breaking her silence today with an interview on CNN. While her apologists are presenting this as a carefully calculated slow roll out of her presidential effort, Clinton’s decision to surface at this moment betrays a hint of something that might be described as concern, if not yet panic. With Senator Bernie Sanders exciting the Democratic base, attracting large crowds and polls demonstrating that he might be able to compete in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Clinton coronation may not be as certain as everybody assumed. If nothing else, the Sanders surge is drawing Clinton out into the open. The Sanders factor may create the kind of pressure that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to avoid taking stands on controversial issues. Though her camp is counting on the former secretary of state being able to handle this challenge, if she does prove unable to answer questions without flubbing or fibbing as she has so frequently in the past two years, the former first lady may be in more trouble than she or even her sternest critics believed.

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After running a stealth campaign that largely insulated her from annoying questions from the national press, Hillary Clinton is finally breaking her silence today with an interview on CNN. While her apologists are presenting this as a carefully calculated slow roll out of her presidential effort, Clinton’s decision to surface at this moment betrays a hint of something that might be described as concern, if not yet panic. With Senator Bernie Sanders exciting the Democratic base, attracting large crowds and polls demonstrating that he might be able to compete in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Clinton coronation may not be as certain as everybody assumed. If nothing else, the Sanders surge is drawing Clinton out into the open. The Sanders factor may create the kind of pressure that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to avoid taking stands on controversial issues. Though her camp is counting on the former secretary of state being able to handle this challenge, if she does prove unable to answer questions without flubbing or fibbing as she has so frequently in the past two years, the former first lady may be in more trouble than she or even her sternest critics believed.

The assumption in the Clinton camp is that their candidate is their best asset. Love her or hate her, Clinton is a smart woman with decades of experience in politics as well as a deft command of the issues after having spent so much time at the center of power in Washington. But the instinct to play it safe that dictated her refusal to take a side in the debate over a trade bill that she championed while secretary of state hasn’t been as smart a play as she thought. It exposed her to abuse from Sanders and other Democratic challengers and has caused even some of her supporters to wince as her designated surrogates on cable news shows dodged and weaved in a vain effort to convince Americans that Clinton wasn’t a flip-flopping Washington politician determined to say only what she thought people wanted to hear.

The net effect of her freezing out the press in which she not only refused to answer questions but literally roped them off from access to Clinton did nothing to instill confidence in her ability to avoid gaffes. On the plus side, after bombing on her 2014 book tour and then doing equally poorly in her attempt to silence questions about her email and Clinton Foundation scandals, expectations are so low for Clinton that anything short of an on-camera meltdown will be interpreted as a victory by her supporters. But the problem here goes deeper than whether or not she makes a fool of herself with new versions of gaffes like her claim that she was broke when she left the White House or claims that corporations don’t create jobs.

Once Hillary is in the crosshairs of serious journalists, she will be forced to come up with answers about her lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, email hijinks, Benghazi and the family charity that operates as a thinly-veiled political slush fund. Just as important, Clinton is going to have to do something more than prevaricate when asked about trade or even the deplorable Iran nuclear, especially as she seeks to portray herself as a better friend to Israel than President Obama.

There are opportunities here for her campaign but her camp’s reluctance to allow the press anywhere near her demonstrates that they know that every time she opens her mouth during the coming year, there is a chance something deeply embarrassing may come out of it. Even worse, if she wanders away from the left-wing talking points she’s been trotting out in an effort to show her party’s base that she is as liberal as Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren, there is a chance that the Sanders boomlet will become a genuine threat to her being nominated rather than just an annoyance.

With a huge financial advantage and most Democratic officeholders and party officials rightly fearful of the wrath of the Clinton attack machine, the odds are still overwhelmingly in her favor against Sanders or any other Democrat. But just as Clinton’s problems and her lack of authenticity helped create the Sanders campaign as a viable entity, so, too, does the possibility of further gaffes promise to make the coming months just as miserable for Hillary. In the last few months, all Sanders and other Democratic rivals wanted was to get her out in the open. That is now about to happen. The jury is still out as to whether that will be just a bump in the road for Hillary or just the start of another presidential nightmare for her.

 

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Chris Christie Buys a Presidential Lottery Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Did Ted Cruz Just Pull a John Kerry on Trade?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confederate Flags and Political Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jeb Bush Makes His Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The GOP Joins the Circus With Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The “New Hillary” Reboot Changes Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jeb Bush 2016 Frontrunner Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Ben Carson’s Campaign Problems Stop Him?

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

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

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

Can Carson pull off the same trick? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Does Rick Perry Really Deserve a Second Look?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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