Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Shutting Up the Kochs Isn’t Democracy

The announcement by the Freedom Partners, the network of political fundraising groups supported by Charles and David Koch, that they would commit to spending $889 million in the 2016 election cycle was greeted with public dismay and private joy by Democrats. The Koch brothers’ efforts will be centered on statewide and national issue advocacy in 2016 and will likely rival the amounts spent by either major party. That opens the two libertarian siblings and their friends to charges that they are buying an election if not the presidency itself. Considering that the Kochs have been treated as public enemies by Democrats for the past few years, their spending plans will fit neatly into liberal talking points about campaign finance reform as well as the GOP being the party of the rich. But while there’s no denying that $889 million is a lot of money, the notion that such an amount can buy the presidency is absurd. So, too, is the implicit assumption that they and those who agree with them are the only ones spending megabucks on political advocacy. Even more to the point is the fact that the efforts of the left’s bulwark—the mainstream media—is left out of the discussion about campaign finance altogether.

Read More

The announcement by the Freedom Partners, the network of political fundraising groups supported by Charles and David Koch, that they would commit to spending $889 million in the 2016 election cycle was greeted with public dismay and private joy by Democrats. The Koch brothers’ efforts will be centered on statewide and national issue advocacy in 2016 and will likely rival the amounts spent by either major party. That opens the two libertarian siblings and their friends to charges that they are buying an election if not the presidency itself. Considering that the Kochs have been treated as public enemies by Democrats for the past few years, their spending plans will fit neatly into liberal talking points about campaign finance reform as well as the GOP being the party of the rich. But while there’s no denying that $889 million is a lot of money, the notion that such an amount can buy the presidency is absurd. So, too, is the implicit assumption that they and those who agree with them are the only ones spending megabucks on political advocacy. Even more to the point is the fact that the efforts of the left’s bulwark—the mainstream media—is left out of the discussion about campaign finance altogether.

Let’s concede that what the Kochs and their allies are doing gives them a very loud say in the political debate. But the notion that even $900 million in expenditures buys the White House is a joke. After all, both presidential candidates exceeded that amount in 2012 with Barack Obama’s reelection effort setting new records for fundraising. Though Democrats have blasted the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as a blow to democracy, both liberals and conservatives have benefited from it.

That’s because it has allowed more political advocacy from all sorts of people and groups. For every Sheldon Adelson or Koch brother there’s a liberal billionaire like Tom Steyer or George Soros putting up equal or greater amounts to put forward their ideas.

Indeed, as I noted last year, the OpenSecrets.org site run by the left-wing Center for Responsive Politics compiled a list of the largest political donors in the period stretching from 1988 to 2014. It revealed that most of the biggest givers were in fact inclined to support Democrats and left-wing causes. Twelve of the top 16 names on the list were unions while the other four were business groups that gave to both parties. Koch Industries ranked a paltry 59th on that list. When all the contributions for the 2016 election cycle are added together, the Kochs and the other conservatives and libertarians who have joined forces with them may rank higher but you can count on unions and other left wing donors and groups shoveling just as much money at their favorites.

Moreover, the focus on the Kochs, who have been smeared by gutter politicians like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid as “anti-American” for having the temerity to try and speak up for their belief in economic freedom, is especially hypocritical since the premise of these attacks is the notion that their political speech is somehow illegitimate. The reason why Citizens United is so opposed by Democrats and their mainstream media allies is that a system where political speech is limited by arcane campaign-finance laws is one where the liberal press and broadcast media—whose right to both editorialize and slant the news is protected by the First Amendment—are elevated and where conservatives voices are marginalized. Though this imbalance has been rectified somewhat by Fox News and talk radio, there’s little question that without Citizens United, the liberal establishment much preferred a situation where outside groups were effectively silenced, thereby tilting the political playing field in their direction.

Rather than seeking to shut up the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson, or, for that matter, Steyer or Soros, liberals should be welcoming a free market of ideas. They should also remember that though money gives a candidate a voice and a leg up, it couldn’t buy any election. Instead of seeking to restrict political speech, both parties should be welcoming more of it. The Kochs will have their say. So will liberals. In the end, the voters will decide and choose the arguments and the candidates they like best, whether or not the Kochs, Harry Reid, or the mainstream media likes the outcome. That’s called democracy. Critics of Citizens United and the Kochs should remember that shutting people up is called something else.

Read Less

New Liberal Attack Meme: Romney 3.0 a ‘Mission From God’

So far the reviews about the rollout of a campaign to elect Mitt Romney president in 2016 haven’t been raves. Many Republicans and conservatives see no reason to give their 2012 nominee another shot at the big prize. The rationale for a third attempt at the presidency seems lacking especially in the context of a large field of fresh and appealing GOP candidates. But given his advantages in terms of name recognition and money, his chances can’t be entirely discounted. But unfortunately for Romney, that will put him back in the cross hairs of liberal mainstream media that skewered him mercilessly last time out. As today’s feature in the New York Times about the role religion might be playing in his decision shows, they won’t be any nicer this time. After the Obama machine successfully branded the first Mormon major party candidate as “weird”—a dog whistle for prejudiced charges that he was an adherent of a bizarre minority faith—the liberal attack meme this time will be to mock him as a man on a religious mission rather than a sober patriot trying to help his country.

Read More

So far the reviews about the rollout of a campaign to elect Mitt Romney president in 2016 haven’t been raves. Many Republicans and conservatives see no reason to give their 2012 nominee another shot at the big prize. The rationale for a third attempt at the presidency seems lacking especially in the context of a large field of fresh and appealing GOP candidates. But given his advantages in terms of name recognition and money, his chances can’t be entirely discounted. But unfortunately for Romney, that will put him back in the cross hairs of liberal mainstream media that skewered him mercilessly last time out. As today’s feature in the New York Times about the role religion might be playing in his decision shows, they won’t be any nicer this time. After the Obama machine successfully branded the first Mormon major party candidate as “weird”—a dog whistle for prejudiced charges that he was an adherent of a bizarre minority faith—the liberal attack meme this time will be to mock him as a man on a religious mission rather than a sober patriot trying to help his country.

According to the Times, the reason Romney is running again has more to do with his religion than anything else. It leads with a story of a Mormon admirer telling him to run because it was part of a “higher calling” from his faith. It goes on to speak of his “sense of service and patriotism” being rooted in “his abiding Mormon faith.” It says that “his religion is the lens through which he often filters achievements and setbacks in his life.”

Of course, the same could be said of many, if not most of his fellow Americans, though it is likely that is not true of many members of the press corps and other pillars of the liberal media establishment.

Even more to the point, the conceit of the piece is that a third Romney run will be more open about his faith rather than downplaying it as was the case in 2012, when Republicans said little about their candidate’s exemplary record of personal service to his church and his charitable behavior. If true, that would be a good idea since the more voters learn about what a truly decent individual Romney is, the more they are bound to like him, a point that came across very clearly in the Netflix documentary Mitt.

But while it makes sense for Romney to speak more about his personal faith and the way it has inspired his private behavior as well as his public service, it should be remembered that the media has very different motives. As much as the GOP campaign did not center on Romney’s religion, it was no secret. To the extent that it was discussed then, it was generally in the context of efforts to brand him as extreme or, as the Obama campaign plan intended, as “weird.”

The Times rediscovery of Romney’s faith was replete with discussions of whether the candidate thought himself the fulfillment of a religious prophecy—a “white horse” whose purpose is to save the nation—rather than merely a sober analysis of his character. The point of such efforts isn’t so much to flesh out the outlines of a deeply religious man as it is to paint him as something of a nut whose background is alien to most Americans.

That this is deeply unfair almost goes without saying. But Romney should expect plenty of it whether he talks more about faith or if, as he did in 2012, he stuck to wonkish analyses of issues, something that he probably feels more comfortable doing. Romney and his family are wrestling with the question of whether another run would be a function of duty or an obsessive pursuit of long cherished personal goal. But the editors and reporters at the Times seem to be viewing his decision as more a farcical Blues Brothers’ “Mission from God” than a principled process that deserves respect. Even Republicans who believe another Romney candidacy isn’t a good idea should be angry about the prospect of the press enjoying another game of “pin the tail on the Mormon” at their former standard-bearer’s expense.

Read Less

Marco Rubio Finds His Voice

While the Iowa Freedom Summit got most of the attention over the weekend, three potential Republican presidential candidates—Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz—engaged in a preview of the 2016 GOP foreign-policy debate at a forum in California. Both Cruz and Rubio are the sons of Cuban immigrants, and when the debate turned to the recent Obama administration decision to normalize relations with the island prison, Paul learned the hard way that ideological principles, if paired only with theoretical knowledge, struggle when challenged by personal experience.

Read More

While the Iowa Freedom Summit got most of the attention over the weekend, three potential Republican presidential candidates—Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz—engaged in a preview of the 2016 GOP foreign-policy debate at a forum in California. Both Cruz and Rubio are the sons of Cuban immigrants, and when the debate turned to the recent Obama administration decision to normalize relations with the island prison, Paul learned the hard way that ideological principles, if paired only with theoretical knowledge, struggle when challenged by personal experience.

Foreign policy rarely plays too much of a role in general elections, though since 9/11 it has probably had a more sustained impact on voters, since the country was at war. But whatever its effect on the 2016 general election, it will likely be an important part of the conversation in the battle for the GOP nomination, due in large part to the presence of Rand Paul. The senator advocates a “conservative realism” (though I’ve pointed out in the past why it’s really more of a utopian realism) and thus gives voice to conservative critics of the party’s interventionist status quo. And if Rubio runs—and indications are that he’s leaning toward a run—the GOP will have its most eloquent spokesman for a robust American presence in the world in decades. Add in Cruz’s legendary debating skills, and the three-man forum over the weekend provides a glimpse of the battles yet to come.

According to The Hill, Rubio pressed his advantage on foreign affairs:

In making his case, Rubio argued the next Republican nominee needs to be a foreign policy expert with a “global strategic vision” who understands the “seriousness, breadth, and scope of the challenges we face” internationally.

Taking an apparent swipe at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who electrified conservatives over the weekend at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Rubio also said the GOP nominee shouldn’t necessarily come from the party’s stable of conservative governors.

“Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said. Walker is planning a trip to Israel soon in a move meant to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

Governors tend to have a certain advantage over senators, in that they usually have a clear record. This is especially true during times of divided government, and for much of his time as Senate majority leader Harry Reid made it a Democratic priority to grind the Congress to a halt, not even passing basic legislation like budgets. But the other side of that coin is foreign policy: governors don’t usually have much experience there, while senators—if they’re on the right committees—do. And Rubio does.

But the Cuba debate reveals the other advantage Rubio and Cruz have. Namely, the kind of granular and personal understanding of an issue that even a few years on a foreign affairs committee won’t get you. That benefit, of course, has its limits. Personal experience can help a candidate craft a more compelling message, but there is no such thing as a true trump card in such debates. On Cuba, Paul also has one advantage: the polling is on his side. Americans appear ready for a policy shift there. Rubio and Cruz will be arguing passionately and intelligently, but they’ll begin by spotting Paul a few points here.

That, however, could change. One interesting aspect of the polling on Cuba is that President Obama’s policy has received higher marks than his handling of the issue, which suggests that there is still plenty of room to argue about how poorly Obama negotiated this deal. Today’s report from the Associated Press also demonstrates why even the approval numbers of the policy itself could slide back in the other direction if it continues to be mishandled:

Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama’s surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.

“One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in,” Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. “Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable.”

Paul will be watching this carefully. His one major disadvantage on the Cuba issue is that he is reliant on the Obama administration’s handling of negotiations. The president’s bumbling foreign policy could easily lead to Paul being saddled by a flailing Cuba policy that Paul might have handled better. (It’s inconceivable that, for all his faults, Paul could possibly be a worse negotiator than Obama.)

And Cuba’s not the only such issue. On Iran, unsurprisingly, both Rubio and Cruz took a harder line, saying all options should be on the table while Paul was reduced to straw-man arguments about negotiations. Here, too, his fate for now is in the president’s hands. Fair or not, Obama’s thus-far disastrous Iran policy, which hasn’t stopped its march toward nuclear capability while also enabled it to expand its influence across the Middle East, is what voters will associate with talk of engagement that isn’t backed up by a credible threat of force or additional sanctions.

Obama’s name might not be on the ballot, but thanks to his handling of foreign affairs, his policies will be—not just in the general election, but in both parties’ nominating contests as well.

Read Less

Jeb Doubles Down on Challenging GOP Base

Anyone who thought that Jeb Bush was kidding when he made noises late last year about challenging his party’s base while running for its presidential nomination better think again. In a speech given yesterday in San Francisco, Bush reaffirmed his support for immigration but also made clear that he believed, “We need to find a path to legalized status for those who have come here and have languished in the shadows.” But while Bush was staking out a centrist position on immigration, most of the other potential Republican candidates were in Des Moines attending the Iowa Freedom Summit where they were coming down on the opposite side of that issue as well as the Common Core education curriculum that Bush also supports. The juxtaposition of these two events again raises the question whether anyone, even someone as talented as Bush, can win by flouting the sentiments of most of his party’s activists.

Read More

Anyone who thought that Jeb Bush was kidding when he made noises late last year about challenging his party’s base while running for its presidential nomination better think again. In a speech given yesterday in San Francisco, Bush reaffirmed his support for immigration but also made clear that he believed, “We need to find a path to legalized status for those who have come here and have languished in the shadows.” But while Bush was staking out a centrist position on immigration, most of the other potential Republican candidates were in Des Moines attending the Iowa Freedom Summit where they were coming down on the opposite side of that issue as well as the Common Core education curriculum that Bush also supports. The juxtaposition of these two events again raises the question whether anyone, even someone as talented as Bush, can win by flouting the sentiments of most of his party’s activists.

Bush wasn’t the only would-be candidate missing in Des Moines. Mitt Romney, who continues to act as if he is ready for a third try for the presidency, was also absent and the presence of the two moderate heavyweights was reportedly noted with scorn by some of those in attendance. But while we’re still a year away from voting in the first-in-the-nation caucus, the decision of Bush to double down on his immigration stand illustrates just how different his approach to the 2016 race is from the rest of the field.

Bush isn’t wrong when he notes that those who are opposed to a path to legalization need to come up with a better answer than deportation (or the tragicomic “self-deportation” idea that helped sink Romney in 2012) for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. This is a long-term problem that requires a solution that goes deeper than slogans. That is the same attitude that motivated his older brother to make a futile attempt to pass immigration reform in 2005 and led a number of other conservatives (including Senator Marco Rubio, a possible 2016 rival) to support a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill that allowed for a path to citizenship in 2013. As Rubio learned to his sorrow, most Republicans opposed that position at that time. But while Rubio has backed off, Bush is digging in despite the fact that, if anything, conservative opposition to what most still call “amnesty” has only increased.

While any support for legalization was always going to be an uphill slog among Republicans, two events in the intervening years have made it even more difficult.

The first was the surge in illegal immigration this past summer that threatened at one point to overwhelm the country’s resources as unaccompanied minors flooded over into Texas from Mexico. Though some argued that worsening conditions in Central America was the primary motivation for what happened, it was also clear that pro-amnesty rhetoric from President Obama and other prominent figures on both sides of the aisle had raised unreasonable expectations among potential illegals. This convinced Rubio and many other pro-reform politicians and pundits (such as myself) that the comprehensive approach of the Senate bill was wrong. The border had to be secured first before any consideration should be given to amnesty.

But far more important, at least as far as the discussion about this issue among Republicans was concerned, was President Obama’s decision to grant de facto amnesty to up to five million illegals via executive orders last month. This decision offended many that might otherwise agree with both the president and Bush that a solution must be found for the illegals. It raised the specter of one-man rule and ignored the Constitution with respect to the right of Congress to pass the laws of the land. One may try, as Bush will, to treat this as a separate issue from that of immigration reform. But, thanks to Obama, the two are now inseparable. One can’t talk about a path to legalization anymore without, in the same breath, acknowledging that Obama’s extra-legal moves have fundamentally altered the debate. That makes it even more difficult to advocate more amnesty, as Bush is doing, without it making it appear as if he is on the same side as Obama. That may be unfair but that is the way the issue will be framed and the former Florida governor is too experienced a political hand to expect anything different.

Much of the liberal mainstream media may believe opposition to amnesty will make it impossible for Republicans to ever win another national election. But while the Hispanic vote is a major factor, the rest of the country is unhappy with amnesty and illegal immigration in a way that can swing many working and middle-class voters of all races to the GOP. Bush is assuming he’s on the right side of history with his stance but Obama may have permanently altered the political landscape on this question in a way that makes his position less saleable among all voters and poison for Republicans.

Bush has other problems besides immigration and Common Core. Romney’s decision to jump in eliminates the possibility that he can monopolize the establishment vote. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s seeming determination to run (he deserves credit for showing up in Iowa despite his unpopularity among conservatives) also complicates things for Bush. He has great assets too, including a famous name, a conservative record as governor, a thoughtful approach to the issues, and the ability to raise all the cash he needs. Bush may also believe the altered primary and caucus schedule and rules in 2016 will benefit him. But his fate will hang more on the validity of his thesis that you can win by running against the base than anything else. If he can pull it off, it will make history and put him in a great position to win the general election against the Democrats. But count me as one of those who will believe it is possible after I see him do it and not before.

Read Less

Jeb’s ‘Shock and Awe’ Campaign Isn’t Thinning 2016 GOP Field

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush’s strategy for winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is based on what campaign aides are calling a “shock and awe” approach that will intimidate potential opponents. The plan is for the former Florida governor to blitz Republican donors around the nation and raise so much money that other GOP contenders will decide they have no chance. But while Bush has certainly done himself a world of good in the last months as he jumped into the race early enough to earn the title of the frontrunner, the plan isn’t working. Bush not only hasn’t deterred Mitt Romney from taking the first steps toward a 2016 run; the field is rapidly filling with serious candidates that many thought wouldn’t run, like Senator Marco Rubio as well as not so serious ones like Senator Lindsey Graham and businesswoman Carly Fiorina. The Bush fundraising tour may be impressive, but other Republicans appear to be insufficiently shocked and awed.

Read More

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush’s strategy for winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is based on what campaign aides are calling a “shock and awe” approach that will intimidate potential opponents. The plan is for the former Florida governor to blitz Republican donors around the nation and raise so much money that other GOP contenders will decide they have no chance. But while Bush has certainly done himself a world of good in the last months as he jumped into the race early enough to earn the title of the frontrunner, the plan isn’t working. Bush not only hasn’t deterred Mitt Romney from taking the first steps toward a 2016 run; the field is rapidly filling with serious candidates that many thought wouldn’t run, like Senator Marco Rubio as well as not so serious ones like Senator Lindsey Graham and businesswoman Carly Fiorina. The Bush fundraising tour may be impressive, but other Republicans appear to be insufficiently shocked and awed.

Bush met with the primary obstacle to his 2016 hopes earlier this week in what one conservative blogger humorously slammed as a “RINO Yalta.” Though supposedly the meeting with Mitt Romney in Salt Lake City was scheduled before he made it clear that he still wants to be president, presumably Bush was still hoping to persuade the 2012 nominee to back him this time or at least to back off on his plan for a third try at the presidency. But apparently Mitt was also neither shocked nor awed by Jeb’s prospects. What former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt described as a “gentlemanly conversation” has still left the two establishment heavyweights competing for the same donors and moderate GOP voters. It also seems to leave others hoping for the same type of support like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie out in the cold.

But the establishment logjam is exactly what is encouraging other Republicans like Rubio to jump in. Were either Bush or Romney to have the moderate niche to themselves, it might set up a repeat of the 2012 race when Mitt coasted to the nomination as a field of weak conservatives split the rest of the votes. But Rubio and other conservatives are right to think that at this point it doesn’t matter how many fundraisers Bush attends in the next couple of months. Nor is the size of his already impressive campaign war chest likely to deter candidates who understand that the crowd on the ballot gives virtually any of them a real shot to score a breakthrough in one or more of the early primaries and use that as a launching pad toward the nomination.

Not all of them are actually running for president in a serious sense. Fiorina who fell short in her bid to win a California Senate seat in 2010 is too moderate to have even a prayer to win the nomination of what is a clearly conservative party. Nor is someone with her pro-choice views on abortion likely to be tapped for the second spot on a national GOP ticket. But she is a very plausible candidate for a Cabinet seat in the next Republican administration, assuming one takes office in 2017. At the very least, Republicans will be grateful to have at least one woman on the platform when their 2016 contenders debate, especially one who won’t say goofy things about vaccines as Michele Bachmann did in 2012.

Graham’s motivations for making noises about the presidency are more obscure. Though he can reasonably claim to be the candidate who can champion his friend John McCain’s strong foreign-policy views, Rubio can do that too and with more eloquence. Graham isn’t establishment enough to compete for that kind of support while also being disliked by Tea Partiers. If Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the candidate who is best positioned to unite both establishment types and Tea Partiers, Graham is the polar opposite in the way he brings both factions together in antipathy for him.

But whatever we might think about the forlorn hopes of Fiorina or Graham or even Rubio’s brightening prospects, the one firm conclusion we can draw about the 2016 GOP race at this point is that no one is being deterred from running by Bush’s all-out push to lock up major donors. Bush may still be a strong candidate, though it remains to be seen whether anyone can run, as he has seemed to indicate that he will, against his party’s base rather than seeking to win it over and still get the nomination. But if Jeb is going to win next year, he’s going to have to do it by defeating any and all comers the old-fashioned way: by out-campaigning them and receiving more votes. Shock and awe isn’t working in a race where seemingly everybody feels free to jump into the pool.

Read Less

John Kasich Shows Republicans How to Talk About Values

David Brooks, in assessing a possible GOP presidential field, calls Ohio governor John Kasich “easily the most underestimated Republican this year.” That strikes me as right.

Read More

David Brooks, in assessing a possible GOP presidential field, calls Ohio governor John Kasich “easily the most underestimated Republican this year.” That strikes me as right.

In 2014, Kasich won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key swing state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. He’s also one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. He would add a lot to a presidential race, and in fact he probably already has, for the reason Brooks homes in on.

Governor Kasich’s inaugural speech was about values and virtues, about the good life and the good society. He spoke about economic growth as being a means to help those who live in the shadows of society. He warned about the toxicity of an ethic of instant gratification; the importance of personal responsibility, resilience, teamwork, family, and faith; and about empathy being the first ingredient in compassion. According to the Ohio governor, we have to “reach out to those who have been forgotten, disenfranchised, ignored, or who are suffering, and to reach out to them in the way they need.” He pointed out that just because someone has a different opinion, it doesn’t make them an enemy. “We’re not here just to keep up with the Joneses and outrun everyone else,” Kasich said. “We’re here to serve and to love and to heal—in keeping with the spirit of a power far greater than ourselves.” In his tribute to the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Kasich said, “He stands as a shining example of the power that one person can have on the world forever when they’re true to their faith and let themselves be a vessel for the Lord.”

These are sentiments authentic to Governor Kasich and deserve praise in their own right. Yet there is also a useful political purpose to them. I say that because they offer the beginnings of a roadmap for Republicans when it comes to dealing with the “values” issues.

These days, lots of Republicans are spooked when it comes to talking about culture and social issues. They’re afraid of being characterized as judgmental, censorious, and puritanical. The demagoguery of the Democrats (Republicans are waging a “war on women” and want to ban contraception), combined with a culturally liberal press and significant shifts in public attitudes, has made them afraid of talking about “values.”

They need not be. What Governor Kasich is doing is to show Republicans how to speak about our culture and moral aspirations in a way that is quite different than Republicans have in the past–in ways that are more uplifting, self-reflective, generous in spirit, and appealing. No one is going to confuse John Kasich with Franklin Graham. Some social conservatives won’t like that; they will consider it a capitulation.

I don’t think that’s right, in part because I find Governor Kasich’s temper of mind and the orientation of his heart to be more aligned with the precepts and spirit of his faith, Christianity, than others who speak in its name. One does not have to be angry, brittle, and condemnatory to be faithful–and humility, forbearance, kindness, and grace in the public square are not signs of weakness or apostasy. One can be both principled and pleasant at the same time.

And one other thing: If Republicans develop a vocabulary that frames moral issues in the context of human dignity and human flourishing–explaining why there is a right and wrong ordering of our lives and loves and why we need to strengthen our character-forming institutions–it will make the public more open to hearing from them on what Kasich calls the “volatile” issues, by which he probably means same-sex marriage and abortion. Even on these issues, there are better and worse ways to present your case. (On abortion, for example, the pro-life case can be made on the grounds of expanding the circle of protection to the most vulnerable members of the human community.)

A smart political strategist told me years ago that if you’re seen as the aggressor in the “culture wars,” it can blow up in your face. If that wasn’t true a generation ago, it’s certainly the case now, for Republicans. That isn’t a reason for them to avoid talking about moral truths; it’s a reason to talk about them in the appropriate way.

John Kasich is showing Republicans and conservatives how to do that. They’d be wise to listen to him.

Read Less

Ben Carson’s Outsiderism for Its Own Sake

On the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 2006, Slate invited some of its critics to temper the “self-congratulation” with some humbling criticism. Jonah Goldberg’s contribution was to knock Slate for turning its own penchant for contrarianism into a caricature. “Contrarianness is a great and good thing—when driven by reason and facts. But contrarianness for its own sake is often the very definition of asininity.” Unfortunately, this description soon became apt for a certain archetype of Republican presidential candidate as well–a role currently filled by the increasingly absurd Ben Carson.

Read More

On the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 2006, Slate invited some of its critics to temper the “self-congratulation” with some humbling criticism. Jonah Goldberg’s contribution was to knock Slate for turning its own penchant for contrarianism into a caricature. “Contrarianness is a great and good thing—when driven by reason and facts. But contrarianness for its own sake is often the very definition of asininity.” Unfortunately, this description soon became apt for a certain archetype of Republican presidential candidate as well–a role currently filled by the increasingly absurd Ben Carson.

Here are three things that are true: Washington D.C. is a bubble; the mainstream media is biased against conservatives; and the political class is often too far removed from the ethos of the private sector. And so, conservatives have an admirable and instinctive attraction to “outsiders.” In part, this is because they are; conservatism is the American counterculture. So outsiderism is often a breath of fresh air. But outsiderism for its own sake seems to lead too many conservatives to abandon the very critical thinking that makes their conservatism so valuable in the first place. And candidates like Carson take advantage of that.

Carson has, in the past, made extreme comments. His points of comparison for modern liberal big-government policies have included slavery and Nazism. And yesterday, speaking at the Republican retreat, he had this to say about America’s founders and the current crop of terrorist organizations waging war against the West:

“A bunch of rag tag militiamen defeated the most powerful and professional military force on the planet. Why? Because they believed in what they were doing. They were willing to die for what they believed in,” Carson told a luncheon audience of national committee members. “Fast forward to today. What do we have? You’ve got ISIS. They’ve got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for it while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness. We have to change that.”

Carson then preemptively criticized the press, whom he said would seize on the comments.

The last sentence there is as important to the story as the controversial comments themselves. Carson not only makes extreme statements; he says them knowing they’ll be considered extreme and believes this is its own form of validation.

Carson, true to form, starts out with something that is true: political correctness is eroding the West’s respect for its own identity. Then he says something insane, by comparing our own political correctness unfavorably to ISIS, which enforces a much stricter political correctness by cutting off people’s heads. Carson then completes the formula by pretending that the backlash to his comments proves his point.

The problem here is that Carson and his supporters, in the quest to puncture the D.C. media bubble, have created a situation just as problematic. In Carson’s world, the more criticism he receives the greater the righteousness of his declarations. There appears to be no way to break this loop.

In its writeup of Carson’s latest comments, CNN adds:

It’s that very penchant — for frank and often controversial comments — that has made him so popular with the GOP base, and turned the retired neurosurgeon into a rising conservative star who just last month polled third in a CNN/ORC survey of the potential GOP presidential field.

I don’t know if the first contention is true. It sounds right, but any statement on why conservatives support a candidate for president should have more to it than equating correlation with causation. As for Carson’s own polling, I don’t think it’ll hold up. I wish I could say that’s because his views will be recognized as amateurish demagoguery. But more likely it’s because of the quality of the prospective 2016 field.

In 2012, the volatile GOP nominating race was appropriately dubbed the “bubble primary” by ABC News. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all spent time getting a sudden boost of support as the “not-Romney” candidate. Early in the race, some viewed Tim Pawlenty as the one to watch; others thought Michele Bachmann was being vastly underestimated; still others wanted Chris Christie to jump into the race. Before the election got underway, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (who didn’t end up running) and Jon Huntsman were the ones who scared many Democrats the most.

These posts used to include a statement along the lines of “with the caveat that we don’t know who will actually be running…” but we know much more about the field now. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul are in. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal are not too far behind. And Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, and even Mitt Romney are obviously strongly considering it. This is not a field in which boomlets are likely to fall into people’s laps; they will have to be earned.

The quality of the field is an obstacle for Ben Carson, who wouldn’t have been nominated even in 2012 and stands less of a chance in 2016. And the grassroots conservatism of many of the candidates this time around undercuts the idea that he’ll be kept out by fearful insiders. Outsiderism for the sake of outsiderism won’t win in 2016, but that doesn’t mean an outsider won’t.

Read Less

Room For Rand? Actually, For Everyone.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul told Sean Hannity that he wouldn’t run for president “just for educational purposes,” but would only do so if he thought if he thought he could win. To which a great many Republicans might have responded that if he felt that way, he should probably pass on the attempt. The chances that Paul could expand on his libertarian base have diminished due to the increased attention on Islamist terror after ISIS and the Paris attacks. But despite all that, Paul isn’t crazy to think that he could win the GOP nomination next year. With the pileup of plausible establishment candidates as well as the plethora of strong conservatives either in the race or considering it, the Republican race is, as Karl Rove wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, “the most volatile and unpredictable Republican contest most Americans have ever seen.” This means that despite the confidence among some large donors that they will be able to pick from Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, or Chris Christie, the sheer size of the field may enable someone far less electable like Paul to win pluralities and actually win the nomination.

Read More

Last week, Senator Rand Paul told Sean Hannity that he wouldn’t run for president “just for educational purposes,” but would only do so if he thought if he thought he could win. To which a great many Republicans might have responded that if he felt that way, he should probably pass on the attempt. The chances that Paul could expand on his libertarian base have diminished due to the increased attention on Islamist terror after ISIS and the Paris attacks. But despite all that, Paul isn’t crazy to think that he could win the GOP nomination next year. With the pileup of plausible establishment candidates as well as the plethora of strong conservatives either in the race or considering it, the Republican race is, as Karl Rove wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, “the most volatile and unpredictable Republican contest most Americans have ever seen.” This means that despite the confidence among some large donors that they will be able to pick from Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, or Chris Christie, the sheer size of the field may enable someone far less electable like Paul to win pluralities and actually win the nomination.

That explains Paul’s confidence as he came out swinging this week, taking shots at establishment heavyweights like Bush and Romney and expressing his disdain for Senator Marco Rubio, who has strongly criticized the Kentucky senator’s support for some of President Obama foreign-policy initiatives. It isn’t clear whether Rubio, who could put forward perhaps the strongest alternative to Paul’s foreign-policy approach among the GOP field, will actually run. But his point about Paul being much closer to Obama on these issues than he is to most Republicans is well taken.

In a relatively small field of candidates, Paul’s foreign-policy views might consign him to the margins just as was the case for his far more extreme father Ron, whose posse of libertarian voters is expected to fall into Rand’s lap. But in a field with so many potential first-tier candidates, it is realistic to think that primaries could be won with relatively small percentages of the vote. Most importantly, if more than one establishment candidate or even three are seriously competing, that changes the entire dynamic of the race and will make it possible, maybe even probable, that someone other than that trio will eventually emerge as the victor.

That runs counter to conventional wisdom about Republican nominating contests that have in the past few cycles revolved around the futile efforts of challengers to knock off front-runners with establishment backing. The Republican National Committee has changed the rules for next year’s contest by limiting the number of debates and by pushing back caucuses and primaries by a month in an effort aimed at staging a contest that will lead to a relatively quick victory by a consensus candidate. But those changes could help create a stalemate in a race where no one candidate has enough support to dominate the field. That means that any one of a large number of candidates, including Paul, is able to construct a scenario that will end with an acceptance speech in Cleveland in July 2016.

If that frightens the establishment, it should. Their assumption that Bush or Romney, or perhaps even Christie (whose chances are, at best, very poor) will prevail is based on the belief that the conservatives in the race simply can’t win the nomination. But in such a scrum, Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, or perhaps even Rick Santorum could theoretically win a few states with very small pluralities and then take some winner-take-all states later in the process that will enable them to amass enough delegates to coast to victory.

Of these, Paul’s scenario is perhaps the most realistic, since he will start with a large chunk of voters already in his pocket. Though his ceiling is relatively low, his base might be enough to win him some victories before any of the alternatives are able to strike back.

It’s far from clear that any of the establishment candidates are strong enough to win the nomination. As poorly received as Romney’s entry into the race has been, few have tried to refute his assumption that Bush’s decision to run against the party’s base may be a fatal mistake. But whether or not he is fated to lose, the former Florida governor is wrong if he thinks the size of the field will not materially impact his chances of winning. If this is an election in which no one will need a consensus to squeak to victory in Republican primaries, don’t be surprised if a consensus about a single candidate never emerges. That means the Republicans may well be stuck with a candidate without much chance to win a general election. That nightmare scenario is exactly what Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are counting on.

Read Less

Free Bobby Jindal!

In the last couple of days, two quotes from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made the rounds. Neither quote was particularly noteworthy in itself, but the juxtaposition shows why Jindal, who is testing the waters for a presidential campaign, seems to be plagued by false starts. There are two Bobby Jindals, and they are getting in each other’s way.

Read More

In the last couple of days, two quotes from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made the rounds. Neither quote was particularly noteworthy in itself, but the juxtaposition shows why Jindal, who is testing the waters for a presidential campaign, seems to be plagued by false starts. There are two Bobby Jindals, and they are getting in each other’s way.

On Monday, Reason’s Nick Gillespie called attention to a curious statement from Jindal as the governor was courting religious leaders in Iowa: “The reality is I’m here today because I genuinely, sincerely, passionately believe that America’s in desperate need of a spiritual revival.” Jindal added: “We have tried everything and now it is time to turn back to God.”

Gillespie countered that “What ails the government is not a deficit of religiosity but a nearly complete failure to deal with practical issues of spending versus revenue, creating a simple and fair tax system, reforming entitlements, and getting real about the limits of America’s ability to control every corner of the globe.”

I’d add that when we think about the character of the citizenry, it isn’t just about what government policies force people to do (or not to do), nor do we need the president to be the country’s spiritual leader. Politicians who instinctively lean on government action as a way to regulate behavior often forget the ennobling role of freedom in America. Religious freedom has strengthened spiritual practice here in comparison to most other Western nations, and the American ethic of personal responsibility does more to cultivate moral seriousness than presidential speeches about spiritual malaise.

But of course Jindal doesn’t need to be told this. He knows it, and even nods to it in other speeches. Over at the Weekly Standard, Daniel Halper posts a preview of a forthcoming speech on foreign policy that Jindal will deliver in London. Jindal will criticize Hillary Clinton’s “mindless naiveté” in her call for American leaders to “empathize” with our enemies. And the speech challenges Muslim leaders to defend their faith (and their reputations) from the extremists among them. But he will also say this:

In my country, Christianity is the largest religion. And we require exactly no one to conform to it. And we do not discriminate against anyone who does not conform to it. It’s called freedom.

Now, to be fair, Jindal’s two comments are not mutually exclusive. He can believe we need to turn back to God and also that we’re all free to decline to do so. But the spirit of his remarks really calls attention to his great weakness as a candidate: inauthenticity.

Jindal is a wonk–not in the American leftist mold, but actually smart. And he’s a good governor. I suspect this is part of Gillespie’s frustration with Jindal, though I wouldn’t put words in his mouth. Gillespie opens his post with a rundown of Jindal’s accomplishments and conservative bona fides. Here is how Gillespie’s post begins:

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) has proven to be one of the most effective and incorruptible legislators that the Bayou State has had. Unlike a long line of pols from Louisiana, he is neither a demagogue, a racist, nor simply a criminal willing to take bribes and cut shady deals for his pals. A few years back, he pissed off Republicans by rightly insisting that the GOP stop being “the stupid party” when it came to policy debates.

He’s worked hard to help reform school finance in a way that accelerates not just choice for students and parents but better results too; he’s privatized and contracted-out many states services at great savings; and he’s pushed for common-sense policies such as making birth control available without a prescription.

Jindal has also presided over a period of strong economic growth. Last year, when challenged by an MSNBC commentator over his economic record, Jindal said: “In Louisiana, we now have more people working, highest incomes in our state’s history. Larger population than ever before. And the president can’t say all those things about the country. Our economy has grown 50 percent faster than the national GDP, even since the national recession.”

Salivating at the prospect of catching Jindal in a lie, the “fack-checker” site PolitiFact looked into Jindal’s claim and found that “Jindal actually understated the comparison.” Jindal was more right than even he knew. Jindal’s position on domestic energy production is admirable as well.

So Jindal has a fluent grasp of the issues and is fully comfortable discussing them at length. He also has a record to run on. But when Jindal takes his campaign national, he lapses into a particularly striking habit of pandering, perhaps because pandering on identity politics doesn’t come so naturally to him.

Conservatives and libertarians who appreciate what Jindal brings to the table on policy want the campaign to let Jindal be Jindal. Not Mike Huckabee at home and John Bolton abroad. Other prospective candidates fill those roles (such as, well, Huckabee and Bolton).

Jindal isn’t wrong in his critique of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. And he obviously shouldn’t leave any issue completely to his rivals; if he wants to be president, he needs to display a well-rounded political philosophy. But he also needs to be himself. He’s a terrible panderer, and that is one of his finest virtues: he doesn’t know how to pretend to be something he’s not. And so he should stop trying.

Read Less

Romney’s Entry Doesn’t Diminish Christie’s Chances. They Were Always Lousy.

The conventional wisdom about Mitt Romney’s apparent entry into the 2016 presidential race is that it will have a negative impact on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s hopes. With Romney and Jeb Bush both competing for establishment support and donors, most observers have been saying that there is simply no room for Christie to carve out enough space for a viable candidacy. But according to reports emanating from Trenton, Christie and his advisors are untroubled by Romney’s entry and supremely confident that the governor can raise all the money he needs and has plenty of time to get into the race later in the year without having to rush. On the surface it sounds convincing, but if Christie thinks he’s fooling anyone by affecting to be unconcerned, he’s wrong. Even if Romney flops, Christie already had more problems and baggage than any of the other 2016 contenders. The notion that most Republicans are prepared to swoon over his delayed entry is more a manifestation of his impressive self-regard than a competent analysis of the situation.

Read More

The conventional wisdom about Mitt Romney’s apparent entry into the 2016 presidential race is that it will have a negative impact on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s hopes. With Romney and Jeb Bush both competing for establishment support and donors, most observers have been saying that there is simply no room for Christie to carve out enough space for a viable candidacy. But according to reports emanating from Trenton, Christie and his advisors are untroubled by Romney’s entry and supremely confident that the governor can raise all the money he needs and has plenty of time to get into the race later in the year without having to rush. On the surface it sounds convincing, but if Christie thinks he’s fooling anyone by affecting to be unconcerned, he’s wrong. Even if Romney flops, Christie already had more problems and baggage than any of the other 2016 contenders. The notion that most Republicans are prepared to swoon over his delayed entry is more a manifestation of his impressive self-regard than a competent analysis of the situation.

Christie is right that Romney’s hurried and seemingly ill-conceived re-entry into presidential politics has not exactly gone as the 2012 nominee might have liked. Romney’s attempt to position himself as being both to the right of Jeb Bush on some issues and as the anti-poverty candidate seems like a poorly thought out mix of scenarios. Though he starts with a great many assets in terms of recognition and personal sympathy, Romney may have miscalculated. While most Republicans are quick to agree that he was proven right on a great many issues and that Romney should have won in 2012, they also know that the reason he didn’t had as much to do with their candidate’s shortcomings as it did with President Obama’s advantages. The idea of trying his luck again, this time against Hillary Clinton, is not something that is setting the GOP base afire.

It’s also true that Bush and Romney will not suck every GOP donor dry. Many are deciding to wait and see how the race develops and whether other serious candidates like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will jump in.

But the basic fallacy underlying the optimism in the Christie camp has less to do with the potential impact of Romney’s entry than with the lack of any clear constituency for the New Jersey governor either within the Republican base or its mainstream wing.

Assuming that Christie is still planning on running—and there is no reason to doubt that he will—he starts out as the candidate perceived to be the least conservative in the field. Most conservatives have never forgiven him for his self-promoting keynote speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention during which he forgot to promote the party’s presidential candidate or for his much-publicized hug of President Obama in the week before the election in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And while most Republicans take a dim view of the mainstream media hype machine that treated a traffic jam as somehow worse than real government misdoing like the IRS scandal, Bridgegate hurt his standing with many people who not unreasonably saw it as a reflection of his arrogant style of governance. The jury is also out on whether the angry and confrontational style of governance that works in New Jersey will play as well in states like New Hampshire or Iowa. There is no precedent for a candidate whose motto seems to be, “sit down and shut up,” winning a nomination in the age of television and the Internet.

Christie can rightly boast that he was a big success as head of the Republican Governors Association and that his efforts did lead to a string of unexpected victories across the nation for GOP gubernatorial candidates. But the assumption that everyone he helped in 2014 will back him in 2016 is more wish than analysis. If, as the New York Times quotes one of his supporters speaking of the GOP class of 2014, “his approach is ‘I elected you,’” he will soon find out that no matter how much money he raised for these people, they think their victories were principally the function of their own merit and the public’s dim view of President Obama and the Democrats. Cashing in IOUs from incumbent politicians, who can renege if they choose with impunity, is easier said than done. Moreover, other governors who don’t labor under the burden of Christie’s faux scandal or his anger management issues may have stronger claim on the title of pragmatic problem solver that he seemed to own during his triumphant reelection campaign in 2013.

The point is, the scenario for a Christie victory in the 2016 primaries was always premised on the same presumptions as those underlying the hopes of Bush and Romney: being the dominant establishment candidate while a host of right-wingers split the conservative vote. With two or three people already competing in the hidden establishment primary, as our John Podhoretz wrote today in the New York Post, the crowd in the center benefits the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and perhaps Walker and hurts Bush, Romney, and Christie. As unpopular as Bush and Romney are with the base, Christie is even less liked outside of the ranks of the GOP establishment and its donors. His chances of winning were not great even before Bridgegate turned him into a national joke and permanently damaged his hitherto strong political brand (even if the scrutiny and the blame for that political prank were always unfair). No matter how poorly received Romney’s decision has been, his entry makes a successful Christie campaign for the presidency even less likely. What it doesn’t change is the fact that the odds of Christie actually winning the nomination in a party that he is out of step with were always lousy.

Read Less

Cruz Goes Back to the Future on Jerusalem

Once upon a time, American politicians proved their pro-Israel bona fides to voters and donors by regularly proclaiming their support for moving the United States Embassy to the State of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Support for moving the embassy, which is kept out of the country’s capital because of America’s continuing non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, was universal among both Democrats and Republicans and both parties regularly included planks to that effect in their platforms when nominating candidates for president. But eventually even the most ardent members of the pro-Israel community figured out that this was a cheap pander and stopped talking so much about it. But Senator Ted Cruz, who is a likely 2016 presidential candidate, hasn’t gotten that memo and he has proposed a new bill with fellow Republican Dean Heller of Nevada that will force the State Department to finally move the embassy. This is a futile exercise, but the text of the bill as well as the collective yawn it has induced from the pro-Israel community tells us a lot about both Cruz and the current state of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Read More

Once upon a time, American politicians proved their pro-Israel bona fides to voters and donors by regularly proclaiming their support for moving the United States Embassy to the State of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Support for moving the embassy, which is kept out of the country’s capital because of America’s continuing non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, was universal among both Democrats and Republicans and both parties regularly included planks to that effect in their platforms when nominating candidates for president. But eventually even the most ardent members of the pro-Israel community figured out that this was a cheap pander and stopped talking so much about it. But Senator Ted Cruz, who is a likely 2016 presidential candidate, hasn’t gotten that memo and he has proposed a new bill with fellow Republican Dean Heller of Nevada that will force the State Department to finally move the embassy. This is a futile exercise, but the text of the bill as well as the collective yawn it has induced from the pro-Israel community tells us a lot about both Cruz and the current state of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If you are thinking that such a new bill is unnecessary, you are not entirely wrong. Back in 1995 when then Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was preparing for his quixotic quest for the presidency in 1996, he shepherded a bill to passage that called for moving the embassy. But it also contained a waiver that allowed the president to declare that the move could not be accomplished for fear of harming the peace process or for security reasons. Since then, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have signed such a waiver every six months rendering Dole’s law as futile as his presidential ambitions. Cruz’s bill removes the waiver and would, if enforced (something that would be easier said than done), actually compel the embassy to be moved.

Cruz’s legislation also calls for the State Department to recognize Israel as the place of birth for those Americans born in Jerusalem, which dovetails with a 2002 law that was also passed by Congress but which the government has chosen to evade or ignore. This is a controversy that has landed in the Supreme Court as the justices are currently considering a case in which an American family is claiming the legislation passed by Congress should dictate government decisions while the administration argues that the executive branch must have the final say on foreign policy.

But the legal tangles this legislation attempts to unravel are clearly secondary to Cruz’s intent and the reaction, or lack thereof, it will generate among pro-Israel activists.

It must be acknowledged that the invocation of the embassy issue is no longer a surefire battle cry among the Jewish community. Too many politicians have made promises along these lines that they never had any intention of keeping for anyone to get too worked up about the issue. Indeed, many on the left and even some sober centrists, both here and in Israel, would prefer that Americans shut up about the embassy. Like appeals for equal prayer rights for Jews on the Temple Mount, the likely violent reaction that an embassy move would generate among Palestinians and other Muslims and Arabs would, they argue, not be worth the trouble.

Thus there was little clamor for a new Jerusalem bill and no indication that many pro-Israel Jews, outside of that minority that already support him, will be publicly thanking Cruz for his effort. Indeed, so unpopular is the Tea Party hero among most Jews, the vast majority of whom remain liberals and Democrats, that he is likely to only engender more derision for what will be called ’90s-style politics than a genuine expression of support for Israel. The fact that he could not procure a Democratic co-sponsor for his bill also tells us a lot about how disliked he is by his fellow senators on both sides of the aisle.

But while cynicism about any Jerusalem bill is appropriate, Cruz deserves credit for proposing something that would, in contrast to Dole’s transparent and generally ineffective pander, actually do something about the problem rather than pretend to. Unlike previous efforts, a waiver-free Jerusalem bill is exactly what it says it is. That’s in keeping with Cruz’s brusque take-no-prisoners style that has alienated Republicans and Democrats. But it is also exactly what the situation requires.

Though this bill has little chance of surviving a certain Obama veto if it passes, it is nonetheless a productive suggestion that might actually send a message to the Palestinians that their attempts to bypass the peace process by way of the United Nations has consequences. Moving the embassy wouldn’t preclude Jerusalem’s division if both parties agreed to such a measure. But it does tell the Palestinians in a clear way that the United States is not prepared to indulge the fiction that Israel does not control its capital any longer. Moreover, threats of Arab violence on this subject simply lack credibility since it is not clear that an embassy move would motivate Muslims any more than the canards about Israel destroying the Temple Mount mosques.

Yet a pro-Israel community that has largely forgotten about the Jerusalem embassy question isn’t likely to rally to Cruz’s defense against administration critics on the issue. One may dismiss this as an attempt to entice Jewish donors to back his presidential bid. But like his speech last summer in which he lambasted those members of a group who attacked Israel in order to appease those who persecute Middle East Christians, Cruz has taken a correct position that will earn him little applause among those who are most concerned about the issue. This may be a pander, but instead of dismissing him as a bomb thrower or an ambitious office seeker, it would be nice if his more moderate Senate colleagues recognized that, at least in this instance, Cruz has actually offered a practical and principled solution.

Read Less

Rivals Should Heed Santorum’s Appeal to Working Class Voters

The 2016 Republican presidential race continued to be clarified today when Rep. Paul Ryan announced that he was passing on a run for the nomination. Whether it was due to Ryan’s interest in making a difference as chair of the Ways and Means Committee in the coming years or because his running mate on the 2012 GOP ticket Mitt Romney entered the race, Ryan’s exit from the race is the first major withdrawal of a potential contender. But Romney isn’t the only 2012 retread eager to try his luck again. As the New York Times reports, Rick Santorum came out swinging today against all of his most prominent rivals for the Tea Party and social conservative vote. But while Mike Huckabee and Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio may not be shaking in their boots about Santorum, they would probably be well advised not to entirely dismiss him.

Read More

The 2016 Republican presidential race continued to be clarified today when Rep. Paul Ryan announced that he was passing on a run for the nomination. Whether it was due to Ryan’s interest in making a difference as chair of the Ways and Means Committee in the coming years or because his running mate on the 2012 GOP ticket Mitt Romney entered the race, Ryan’s exit from the race is the first major withdrawal of a potential contender. But Romney isn’t the only 2012 retread eager to try his luck again. As the New York Times reports, Rick Santorum came out swinging today against all of his most prominent rivals for the Tea Party and social conservative vote. But while Mike Huckabee and Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio may not be shaking in their boots about Santorum, they would probably be well advised not to entirely dismiss him.

Santorum should be forgiven for having an attitude these days. Almost all pundits, including me, gave him short shrift in the lead-up to the 2012 primaries but he proved us all wrong. His indefatigable campaigning and a deft touch when it came to appealing to social conservatives and working-class voters allowed him to ascend to the first tier of GOP candidates when several other better funded and better known Republicans fell by the wayside even before the voting started. Santorum narrowly won the Iowa Caucus (though we would not know that for several days) and then went on to beat eventual nominee Romney in a dozen more states enabling him to claim the dubious title of runner-up in a race where only first place counts.

Since, by tradition, Republicans like to nominate someone who has already tried and waited his turn, Santorum might have thought he’d get some respect heading toward 2016, but he’s gotten none. The deep GOP bench of new faces, successful governors, as well as establishment heavyweights like Jeb Bush and Romney have caused Santorum, who still wants to be president as much as he ever did, to be overlooked again.

He thinks this is unjust and attacked Huckabee as a tax and spend big government liberal who doesn’t deserve to win back the Iowa social conservatives who backed him in 2008 and then switched to Santorum in 2012. He denounced Cruz and Paul as “bomb throwers” who get nothing done in the Senate. He refrained from trashing Rubio, whose work on foreign-policy issues has to engender the former Pennsylvania senator’s respect, but that’s probably only because he might assume the Floridian won’t choose to compete with Jeb Bush for his state’s donors. Santorum also thinks the trio of freshman senators have no business running for president with such thin resumes, a point that should resonate with critics of Barack Obama’s administration.

This didn’t bother those potential candidates much with some, like one of Paul’s representatives, answering with a reminder that Santorum was ousted from the Senate in a 2006 landslide and has spent most of his time since then trying to get elected to a much higher office.

While the jury is out on whether Huckabee’s long stint as a Fox News host will have helped or hurt his chances for a political comeback, both Cruz and Paul will arrive in Iowa with built-in national constituencies after years of being in the center of national debates. Santorum may also have to compete against figures like Rick Perry and, more importantly, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who can make compelling cases as outsiders who have governed states successfully.

So it will take more than Santorum flashing some of the sharp elbows he occasionally showed during his 12 years in the Senate to get past newcomers to the GOP presidential derby that will start ahead of him in the polls and in the ability to raise money. Indeed, given that the talent level in the 2016 Republican field seems to be far greater than the 2012 version where Santorum shined, it can be argued that he has virtually no chance to repeat his limited success, let alone beat out both sets of conservative and establishment candidates for the nomination.

But Santorum still shouldn’t be ignored. That’s because, alone of all the 2012 GOP candidates, Santorum sought to speak for working-class voters as well as their socially conservative values in a way that was persuasive as well as strategically smart.

In 2012, Republicans proved that running a man who could be caricatured as the man on the Monopoly box come to life isn’t a good idea. If they are to win in 2016, they’ll need to engage the interest and the support of the sort of Reagan Democrat whose vote is up for grabs in most elections. There may be others, notably Walker, who may be better able to strike this tone. But the ability to harness Tea Party principles to the sensibilities of ordinary, non-wealthy voters is a must if Republicans expect to win. Until other Republicans prove that they’ve learned the lesson Santorum taught us in the last primary season, he deserves to be treated as a serious candidate, albeit an extremely long shot, in a crowded Republican field.

Read Less

Mitt and Jeb Are Right About Each Other

Much to the surprise of those who thought Mitt Romney was done with presidential politics after failing to defeat Barack Obama’s bid for reelection, the 2012 Republican nominee is indicating that he is running again. Last Friday’s announcement to supporters that he is seriously considering jumping into the fray for 2016 was necessitated by Jeb Bush’s recent announcement. Any further delay would have been fatal to his hopes as Bush is rapidly working to secure the support of major financial donors from the party’s establishment faction who might otherwise be expected to give to Romney. This will alter the course of the battle for the nomination, but what we need to unpack today is the rationale for each candidate and the nature of the critiques these two not dissimilar heavyweight contenders are making of each other. What many Republicans who are sympathetic to both men must admit is that they are both right about each other.

Read More

Much to the surprise of those who thought Mitt Romney was done with presidential politics after failing to defeat Barack Obama’s bid for reelection, the 2012 Republican nominee is indicating that he is running again. Last Friday’s announcement to supporters that he is seriously considering jumping into the fray for 2016 was necessitated by Jeb Bush’s recent announcement. Any further delay would have been fatal to his hopes as Bush is rapidly working to secure the support of major financial donors from the party’s establishment faction who might otherwise be expected to give to Romney. This will alter the course of the battle for the nomination, but what we need to unpack today is the rationale for each candidate and the nature of the critiques these two not dissimilar heavyweight contenders are making of each other. What many Republicans who are sympathetic to both men must admit is that they are both right about each other.

If reports about Romney’s statements to his past and perhaps future backers are true, the former Massachusetts governor thinks Bush isn’t the right candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in 2016. Romney believes that it is foolish for the GOP to ask Americans to vote a third member of the same immediate family into the White House within a span of three decades especially after the way George W. Bush limped out of the presidency in January 2009 in the wake of the Iraq War and a financial collapse. Though there is no indication that he has any personal dislike for Jeb or any of the Bush clan, he also seems to think Jeb faces the same liability for his participation in the investment world. The Romney camp believes Bush faces severe challenges in his quest for the nomination because of his support for the Common Core education program and his more liberal approach to immigration reform.

Even more to the point, Romney may believe any Republican who runs against the base, as Bush has seemed to signal that he will do, is not likely to be able to beat back the challenge from Tea Party and other conservative contenders that would be less electable in November.

But those criticisms are matched by Bush’s thinking about a third try by Romney for the White House. Jeb and his backers see another Romney candidacy as exactly what the party doesn’t need. Romney had his chance and failed, in no small measure because he was a poor retail politician who lacked the ability to tell his own very good story convincingly or to defend himself against smears about his business career. Indeed, Bush’s early steps taken toward the nomination—including resignation from corporate boards, the massive early release of his emails while governor, and ten years of tax returns—indicate that he has studied Romney’s campaign closely and has no intention of making the same mistakes. He also believes that Romney’s pandering to the party base during the primaries helped sew the seeds of his defeat in November, leading him to think that the only path to victory for Republicans lies in nominating someone with a strong conservative record who is nevertheless willing to take centrist stands.

These are strong arguments, but the problem for Republicans listening to their respective appeals is that both men are right.

Romney understands all too well the difficulty of trying to arouse the base if is convinced the party’s candidate doesn’t represent their views. The assumption that the establishment candidate always wins in the end may be unfounded in 2016 when a far more formidable array of conservatives will be running. And though the reputation of George W. Bush has risen considerably during the six miserable years of the Obama presidency, he’s also not wrong to assert that there is something profoundly unsettling about the GOP embracing a political dynasty of this sort. If the Democrats are, as seems almost certain, going to nominate a Clinton, the Republicans’ best opportunity should be with a talented and fresh face, not another Bush, albeit one that is as talented and serious as Jeb. Though his name is famous, we also don’t know how well Jeb will do under the pressures of a presidential campaign since he has never personally done it before.

Nor is it clear that even Bush’s attempts to forestall or pre-empt a Democrat assault on his character will succeed since that party’s attack machine will be primed and ready to smear no matter what he does to prevent it. Having already been thoroughly slimed by the Obama reelection campaign, it is possible to argue that Romney won’t be as badly hurt by another round of low blows. Indeed, having lost gamely while battling long odds and making assertions that were subsequently proven to be true, Romney may start out the race with a degree of sympathy from the mainstream media accorded no other Republican (even if it is likely that those good feelings will disappear once it’s clear he is running again).

But Bush is also right that another Romney run is unlikely to yield a better result than the last attempt. Bush may not be the freshest face on the Republican bench, but it is surely fresher than that of a man making his third run for the presidency. Presidential fever is something that few politicians get over and Romney’s decision to run seems motivated as much by ambition as any genuine belief that no other Republican can win. Even if he has absorbed some of the lessons of his defeat, no amount of analysis can fix Romney’s basic defects as a candidate. We all know he is a very good man but it requires a considerable suspension of disbelief to think that he will be a better or wiser candidate in 2016 than he was in 2012 or 2008.

So where does that leave the GOP?

Having Romney and Bush both in the race will make it harder for anyone else to run in the hidden establishment primary, meaning that a Chris Christie candidacy is looking like even more of a long shot than it did a few weeks ago. It also ought to encourage conservatives to jump in since it will mean there will be no repeat of the 2008 and 2012 races where a single well-funded moderate was able to overwhelm a split conservative faction. The presence of Romney makes the race even more unpredictable and should tempt figures like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who combines Tea Party support with stands that endear him to the establishment to think that perhaps 2016 will be a year in which a non-establishment candidate who is not considered a bomb-thrower can win.

But most of all, the entry of Romney into the race will mean a tremendous struggle for the hearts and minds of the GOP center. Having gotten in first and with his family’s network behind him as well as having the support of many other establishment types, Bush must be considered as having the edge until proven otherwise. But he must also worry that the two will ultimately knock each other off and let someone new, whether or not they are more electable, have a chance.

Read Less

More to Scott Walker Than Battling Unions

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sworn in for a second term and to no one’s surprise, some of his most vociferous critics, such as the editors at the New York Times, seem to be disappointed. That’s not just because liberals and Democrats have expended enormous resources trying to end his political career both in a failed recall effort and his recent successful reelection campaign. What really bothered them about his triumphant second inaugural in Madison is that he seems to lack interest in another knockdown drag-out battle with unions such as the nasty dustups that highlighted his first years in office. While being sworn in for a second term, Walker pointedly did not express support for plans to enact right-to-work legislation that would further erode the power of the unions. That’s not what opponents who would like to continue their vendetta against him were anticipating and even some members of the Republican majority in the state legislature weren’t happy about it either. But Walker’s decision to try and stay out of that fight shows that he has a wider agenda than just that one issue. It also is a clear indication, as if one were needed, that he is very interested in running for president in 2016.

Read More

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sworn in for a second term and to no one’s surprise, some of his most vociferous critics, such as the editors at the New York Times, seem to be disappointed. That’s not just because liberals and Democrats have expended enormous resources trying to end his political career both in a failed recall effort and his recent successful reelection campaign. What really bothered them about his triumphant second inaugural in Madison is that he seems to lack interest in another knockdown drag-out battle with unions such as the nasty dustups that highlighted his first years in office. While being sworn in for a second term, Walker pointedly did not express support for plans to enact right-to-work legislation that would further erode the power of the unions. That’s not what opponents who would like to continue their vendetta against him were anticipating and even some members of the Republican majority in the state legislature weren’t happy about it either. But Walker’s decision to try and stay out of that fight shows that he has a wider agenda than just that one issue. It also is a clear indication, as if one were needed, that he is very interested in running for president in 2016.

Walker has supported right-to-work legislation in the past but though the majority leader of the State Senate says he plans to present such a bill, the governor obviously wants no part of that tussle. But Wisconsin voters not only gave Walker a third victory in four years. They also increased the Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature. That’s encouraged the Senate majority leader to push for a bill that would end the ability of unions to force even those who are opposed to them to contribute to their coffers and he may have the votes to do just that.

But Walker seems to feel that unlike his efforts to prevent unions from bankrupting the state in his first term, this is a war of choice that both he and Wisconsin can live without. Instead, he wants to dedicate this next year to proving that he is a commonsense executive who is more interested in getting things done to improve the lives of the voters than in engaging in ideological battles.

That’s a smart strategy for any governor intent on building on his past victories in a second term. But it is also a good idea for someone with his eyes on the White House. Though the battles he fought with union thugs who sought to silence and intimidate their opponents forever endeared Walker to the conservative base of the GOP, he knows that another such bloody fight would be more of a distraction than a feather in his cap. Indeed, his inaugural speech seemed to indicate his 2016 strategy in which he would tout the contrast between the needless strife and gridlock in Washington and his effective style of governing.

Instead of locking horns with a union movement that he has already hamstrung with limits on collective bargaining that make it difficult for them to hold a cash-starved state hostage in negotiations for new state worker contracts, Walker prefers to concentrate his efforts on job creation. That’s something that would not only help Wisconsin but would do a great deal to burnish Walker’s image as a potential president. His emphasis on controlling taxes and spending also highlights his qualifications for fixing Washington’s budget mess with the same strong conservative medicine he has given Wisconsin.

Can his strategy work?

It’s far from clear that the state’s Democrats or Republicans are particularly interested in cooperating with Walker’s plans. Democrats will look to sabotage and demonize a national GOP star as they have always done. Meanwhile conservatives in the legislature think they’d be foolish not to use their victories to enact all of their agenda. But even some Democrats appear to think that Walker’s influence over his state party is sufficient to allow him to stop anything that might serve as a distraction or a burden to his plans.

With Jeb Bush seemingly already the victor of the hidden establishment primary and a host of other candidates thinking about getting into the race, Walker has a difficult task ahead of if he hopes to win the GOP nomination next year. But just as he has managed to retain the affection of Tea Partiers and social conservatives while also endearing himself to many in the party establishment, Walker seems to be counting on his ability to thread the needle and make himself acceptable to all branches of his party. But as he has shown throughout his time as governor, those who underestimate him are in for a shock.

There was always more to Walker than the union-basher stereotype that his opponents love to hate. It remains to be seen if he can mount a credible campaign for president or if he will hold up as well on the national stage as he has on that of his state. But by carefully steering his administration away from fights that won’t enhance his electoral appeal, Walker is signaling that he is a very serious candidate for president.

Read Less

Jeb Bush Pivots to the General Election

Convention wisdom has it that the next Republican presidential nominee will have to appeal to the base in the primaries and then pivot back to the center in the general election. Jeb Bush, who is not getting along all that well with the base at the moment, is challenging that assumption. He’s already pivoting to the general election, before anyone on either side of the aisle has even officially declared their presidential candidacy.

Read More

Convention wisdom has it that the next Republican presidential nominee will have to appeal to the base in the primaries and then pivot back to the center in the general election. Jeb Bush, who is not getting along all that well with the base at the moment, is challenging that assumption. He’s already pivoting to the general election, before anyone on either side of the aisle has even officially declared their presidential candidacy.

In reality, there wasn’t much of a way to avoid having both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush involved in the election this early. For Clinton, her desire to be president coupled with the fact that she left office after Obama’s first term as secretary of state meant that she would be treated as a candidate unless she expressly and convincingly declined to run. For Jeb, there are several reasons to jump in now. Not only does he crowd out the field for the “establishment primary,” as Jonathan has written. He is also making a smart strategic choice to pretend he’s already won the nomination.

For a candidate branded as the establishment choice and who will have specific issues on which the base will register their disapproval (in Jeb’s case immigration, Common Core) there are usually two ways to try to win conservatives over. One way is claim that you represent the true conservative position. In other words, reject the premise that you have ever deviated from conservatism at all. The other way is to do what Mitt Romney did, and insist that whatever your past ideological infractions, you now possess a convert’s zeal. Romney’s attempt to do this was a disaster; he simply declared he was “severely conservative.” (I’m reminded here of Jonah Goldberg’s description of Romney: “He speaks conservatism as a second language, and his mastery of the basic grammar of politics is often spotty as well.”)

Jeb wants nothing to do with either play. Maybe he’ll win some points for refusing to pander, though he’s just as likely to lose those points for presumption and entitlement. He doesn’t want to debate labels and categories; he wants to talk policy. And, in the manner of a frontrunner expecting to maintain his lead, he wants to talk about his theoretical general-election opponent:

Jeb Bush is wasting no time taking on Hillary Clinton, even though neither party’s potential 2016 standard-bearer has officially committed to a presidential bid.

Speaking at a closed-press fundraiser in Connecticut on Wednesday night, Bush suggested to potential donors that the former secretary of state would have to explain President Barack Obama’s foreign policy mistakes, Hearst Connecticut Media reported Thursday.

The outlet, anonymously citing attendees who heard Bush’s remarks, reported that the former Florida governor took another not-so-subtle jab at Clinton.

“He said, ‘If someone wants to run a campaign about ’90s nostalgia, it’s not going to be very successful,’” Hearst Connecticut Media reported, citing another person present at the event.

Jeb’s seeking to neutralize two of Hillary’s advantages: her husband’s success, on which she’s built her own career, and her resume, which includes being secretary of state. To the former, Bush reminds her that Bill Clinton’s time in office was a long time ago, especially in political terms. It does not help Hillary to remind voters of her age or her distaste for the modern moment.

And to the latter, Hillary was a poor secretary of state. As has been noted repeatedly, she has no accomplishment to point to. But more than that, the job of leading the Department of State is a managerial position, an executive responsibility. To have an ambassador killed on her watch while State was ignoring threats to his safety and his own mission’s requests for security is terrible management. Her excuse seems to be that she didn’t see all the information–in other words, that she was a disengaged executive who was too busy taking selfies with movie stars to tend to the details.

As for Jeb’s overall strategy, it is far from foolproof. Rudy Giuliani employed a similar strategy in 2007-08. He also had earned disapproval from the base and wanted to pitch his candidacy as the way for the right to unite and defeat Hillary. But the right didn’t play along. Conservatives wanted to hash out the issues long before turning to the general election. In the end, Hillary wasn’t even the nominee.

That is less likely this time around. And Jeb Bush’s deviations can be overcome. (Giuliani was a pro-choice Republican, an obstacle more daunting in a Republican primary than a national education policy.) Ultimately, the base will play an important role in choosing the nominee. So Jeb’s hopes may rest on the number of candidates and the base’s grassroots disorganization to splinter conservative opposition to him. And jumping in this early puts his main rival–Chris Christie–at a deep disadvantage.

Jeb has thus far played his cards right. The frontrunner label is his to lose, but there’s plenty of time for him to do so.

Read Less

The Right’s Unwise Eisenhower Nostalgia

There is something to be said for the desire to be seen as a political reformer in America today. It suggests energy and creativity, and often reveals a welcome intellectual curiosity. Reform conservatives–“reformicons”–have justly earned this reputation, putting forth serious policy proposals and demonstrating a mastery of details. Some on the right have now come forward to claim the reformicon mantle for foreign policy, in the process adding momentum to the latest trend in Republican foreign-policy thinking: misplaced nostalgia for Dwight Eisenhower.

Read More

There is something to be said for the desire to be seen as a political reformer in America today. It suggests energy and creativity, and often reveals a welcome intellectual curiosity. Reform conservatives–“reformicons”–have justly earned this reputation, putting forth serious policy proposals and demonstrating a mastery of details. Some on the right have now come forward to claim the reformicon mantle for foreign policy, in the process adding momentum to the latest trend in Republican foreign-policy thinking: misplaced nostalgia for Dwight Eisenhower.

To be sure, there is much to admire in Eisenhower. But it doesn’t add any clarity to conservative policy planning to admire things about Eisenhower that didn’t actually exist. This week two of the right’s foreign-policy minds, Colin Dueck and Roger Zakheim, wrote a piece for National Review Online sketching out what they say is a reform-conservative foreign policy with a GOP candidate “who will play Eisenhower” as its avatar. As sensible as many of their principles are, the article contains neither much reform nor an accurate portrayal of Ike.

They pitch the coming GOP foreign-policy debate as a modern-day battle between Eisenhower and Taft. They cast Rand Paul as the champion of the Taftites, but I don’t think they’re being quite fair to Paul when they say those on his side of the debate “see American military power itself — rather than external challenges such as Russia, China, or the Islamic State — as the single greatest threat to American interests.” His father, Ron Paul, probably believes this. Rand believes in strategic retrenchment that, I think, underestimates the repercussions of such retrenchment but which does not replicate the noxious rhetoric of his father’s acolytes.

So what would a reform-conservative foreign-policy doctrine look like? Here’s their description:

It would preserve uncontested U.S. military supremacy. It would make clear distinctions between allies and adversaries, while supporting the former and resisting the latter. It would work from the understanding that the United States faces a range of serious international competitors that are not about to disappear anytime soon. It would look to push back against our adversaries through robust, coherent strategies of pressure. It would take great care before committing America’s armed forces to combat — and then do so, when finally required, in a deadly serious way.

This sounds almost exactly like … the reigning conservative foreign-policy consensus. I’m not sure what about that description is “reform”–which is fine with me, because those are sound principles. They just happen to be sound principles that have been guiding most conservative foreign-policy thinkers. It’s such a general description, in fact, that I could imagine it appearing on any GOP 2016 candidate’s issues page.

But the authors see this as a back-to-our-roots conservative reform. They write: “President Eisenhower, for example, pursued a national-security policy very much in keeping with the principles cited above.”

He most certainly did not.

The obvious hole in this plot is the second in their list of principles: “It would make clear distinctions between allies and adversaries, while supporting the former and resisting the latter.” If this sounds like Ike to you, we’re having a very strange foreign-policy debate.

Two of the most famous foreign-policy incidents on Ike’s watch were the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian uprising. Eisenhower fumbled the attempt to keep American partnership in the Aswan Dam and influence on the Suez Canal, which Egypt then nationalized. And he forcefully opposed the allies’ attempts to break Nasser’s hold.

In his recent book on postwar American foreign policy, Stephen Sestanovich writes: “Suez was no mere transatlantic disagreement, but a strategic defeat from which Britain and France never recovered. This was, in a sense, Eisenhower’s goal. He and Dulles now went beyond merely wanting American allies to fail. The United States actively and decisively promoted their failure.” Ike’s public stand against Britain, France, and Israel later in the crisis “combined outrage with undisguised pleasure at the chance to join world opinion against old-fashioned imperialism.”

Ike’s decision not to intervene in the Kremlin’s quashing of the Hungarian uprising certainly has many defenders, but I doubt it qualifies as making “clear distinctions between allies and adversaries, while supporting the former and resisting the latter.” Ike’s foreign policy was muddled, improvised, confused, and often shallow. Eisenhower’s caution was followed by the next Republican president, Richard Nixon. It wasn’t until Reagan that Republicans had a foreign policy consistent with the principles Dueck and Zakheim lay out.

Of course, the Iraq War is the elephant in the room, and Dueck and Zakheim choose to acknowledge it this way:

Those of us who are reform conservatives on national-security issues respond to a different set of circumstances than did President George W. Bush more than ten years ago. We have cut our teeth on the debates of the past few years — not prior eras. We did not mastermind Bush’s war in Iraq.

That seems really to be what this is about: the foreign-policy factory worker’s ritual denunciation of Bush. I don’t have a ton of patience for this. I wasn’t part of this supposed evil cabal of warmongers that led us into Iraq either. I was a sophomore in college when the 9/11 attacks enduringly changed our foreign-policy debate. But I don’t feel the need to claim clean hands every time I expound on foreign affairs.

Conservatives who believe that the principles that guided much of Bush’s foreign policy are perfectly acceptable unless they’re held by people who actually served in Bush’s inner circle are engaging in school-cafeteria politics. And transferring Bush’s principles to Eisenhower in order to launder political capital is not constructive. Ike was a hero, and he deserves to be remembered as one. But as president, his foreign policy was eventually left behind for a reason.

Read Less

Huckabee Should Have Stayed on TV

Mike Huckabee’s announcement this past weekend that he was ending his run as host of a show on the Fox News Channel left little doubt that he was seriously considering running for president. The former Arkansas governor made a respectable try for the White House in 2008 earning an upset triumph in the Iowa caucus and had a reasonable argument for his claim that he, rather than Mitt Romney, was the runner-up to eventual winner John McCain. With a popular folksy manner and the loyalty of fellow evangelicals, Huckabee might be said to have as good a chance as any of the long list of potential contenders or at least to the title of leading conservative candidate. But such optimism about his chances fails to take into account the fact that 2016 isn’t 2008.

Read More

Mike Huckabee’s announcement this past weekend that he was ending his run as host of a show on the Fox News Channel left little doubt that he was seriously considering running for president. The former Arkansas governor made a respectable try for the White House in 2008 earning an upset triumph in the Iowa caucus and had a reasonable argument for his claim that he, rather than Mitt Romney, was the runner-up to eventual winner John McCain. With a popular folksy manner and the loyalty of fellow evangelicals, Huckabee might be said to have as good a chance as any of the long list of potential contenders or at least to the title of leading conservative candidate. But such optimism about his chances fails to take into account the fact that 2016 isn’t 2008.

While few in the GOP establishment are taking him seriously, not everyone is dismissing Huckabee. In an interesting piece on Real Clear Politics, Scott Conroy argues that with Iowa coming first in January as it always does and a Super Southern Primary following early on in March 2016, the thinking in some quarters is that Huckabee can, at the very least, duplicate his early 2008 success if not make a serious run at the nomination. According to this argument, Huckabee’s best ally is the calendar that emphasizes states in which evangelicals play a larger role than in other states later in the campaign.

There’s something to be said for this reasoning, in that Huckabee hasn’t disappeared in the nearly seven years since his presidential campaign ended. By hosting a Fox News show for the last few years, he has managed to stay on the radar of conservatives. While not among the higher-rated cable shows, Huckabee has nevertheless burnished his reputation as a genial and intelligent speaker often as interested in human-interest stories as in political controversies. That continued popularity in some parts of the right has enabled him to maintain decent polling numbers that often place him above or even with more talked-about 2016 contenders such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul. It’s likely that with that profile he can raise enough money to be at least competitive in the early stages when the terrain is most favorable to his hopes.

But the notion that Huckabee can pick up where he left off in 2008 is still somewhat fanciful.

Let’s start with the fact that the field that Huckabee snuck up on to score an unexpected win in Iowa is nothing like the one he will face a year from now. Chief among those challengers for his particular niche of Republican voters is Rick Santorum who narrowly won Iowa in 2012 with the same formula of beating the bushes in every county of the state. But both of them will also be up against Ted Cruz who will have his own appeal to evangelicals as well as Tea Partiers and other conservatives. And that’s not even counting, among others, the second coming of Rick Perry and the possible candidacy of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who may be able to bridge the gap between the party’s establishment and activist wings.

Just as important is that his opponents will see him coming this time. The fact that the conservative Club For Growth is already starting to attack him for what it claims is his big government pro-tax and spending record in Arkansas is damaging by itself. But it’s also a harbinger of the kind of opposition research that will raise his negatives in ways he never experienced in 2008.

Time has not stood still in the last eight years and Huckabee will find that the room he once had to himself in the party is not only crowded but filled with younger, hungrier candidates who are better prepared to fight for it out. Considering that his chances of actually winning the nomination are slim and those of his being elected in November even slimmer, his decision to abandon his TV perch seems like more a case of hubris than of sound planning. A year from now, as he seeks to get back into the media after what is likely to be an unsuccessful second try for the presidency, he may rue his decision to leave Fox for what seems like a rather unlikely scenario for success.

Read Less

Jeb Is Christie’s Problem, Not the Cowboys

Almost exactly one year after the Bridgegate scandal sucked the air out of his 2016 presidential boomlet, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is being criticized today for something equally bizarre. The video of the governor’s joyous embrace of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after their favorite football team won a playoff game yesterday quickly went viral causing some to speculate whether his closeness with a man who is widely despised will further undermine his efforts to win the White House. Such speculation is patently ridiculous. But those who are wondering today whether Christie’s once bright hopes are fading aren’t off base. Jeb Bush’s recent decision to all but declare his intention to run for the presidency has to some extent pre-empted the field in the hidden primary to gain the support of the GOP establishment. Though we’re a year away from the first votes being cast in Iowa, if Christie doesn’t get into the game soon he may find that he lost the nomination even before he began to fight for it.

Read More

Almost exactly one year after the Bridgegate scandal sucked the air out of his 2016 presidential boomlet, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is being criticized today for something equally bizarre. The video of the governor’s joyous embrace of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after their favorite football team won a playoff game yesterday quickly went viral causing some to speculate whether his closeness with a man who is widely despised will further undermine his efforts to win the White House. Such speculation is patently ridiculous. But those who are wondering today whether Christie’s once bright hopes are fading aren’t off base. Jeb Bush’s recent decision to all but declare his intention to run for the presidency has to some extent pre-empted the field in the hidden primary to gain the support of the GOP establishment. Though we’re a year away from the first votes being cast in Iowa, if Christie doesn’t get into the game soon he may find that he lost the nomination even before he began to fight for it.

Let’s dismiss the Cowboys critique out of hand. As even Matt Lewis admitted in a Daily Beast piece that tries but fails to convince readers that Christie will be hurt by his embrace of Jones, being a fan of a team with a national following that is based in the reddest of red states isn’t a political mistake for a Republican. He isn’t running again for governor so unhappy fans of the teams that most New Jersey voters root for (the Giants, Jets, and Eagles—none of whom made this year’s playoffs) won’t be able to retaliate. Nor is Jones so unpopular that the luxury box hug fest would really be a political liability.

Christie’s presence in the owner’s box does raise some interesting questions about whether the governor paid for what must be a very expensive ticket. As the International Business Times points out, since the state of New Jersey has a significant business relationship with the National Football League, the potential for damaging ethics violations is always present when public officials accept the hospitality of team owners. But, until the contrary is proven, since Christie is a former federal prosecutor and no dummy, let’s assume he has not left himself exposed on this front. In which case, the whole Cowboys thing is a nonstory.

But Christie’s future in presidential politics is very much up in the air at the moment. As bizarre as it may be to think about things this way, although we are only in January 2015, time is running out for presidential candidates to start serious preparations for 2016. More to the point, Bush’s prescient moves to not only declare his interest but to resign from the corporate and non-profit boards on which he has served since the end of his second term as governor of Florida has caused many wealthy GOP donors to flock to his cause.

While Christie is rightly confident of his ability to raise enough money to run a competitive race, Bush’s ability to steal a march on him is a serious problem. Both Bush and Christie are essentially competing for the same donors and voters. Though both can make strong arguments that they are conservative enough to earn the support of grassroots Republicans, both have also become the focus of the base’s hostility. Some Tea Partiers will never forgive Christie for his embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy while Bush’s support of Common Core and immigration reform have also left some on the right unfairly branding him a RINO. In order to win the nomination, either of them would have to dominate the GOP establishment wing while the large cast of conservatives knock each other off. That’s how both Mitt Romney and John McCain won the nomination and it could easily be done again if the same conditions were repeated.

But by coming in so early, Bush has pre-empted Christie in a way that has to have his backers feeling nervous. The push for Bush has also quieted all talk about Mitt Romney running again because of his lack of faith in any of the establishment choices. With Christie handicapped to some extent in his fundraising efforts by New Jersey’s strict pay-to-play laws, the longer he refrains from matching Bush’s commitment to running, the harder it will be for him to rally enough backing to make an effort worthwhile. Indeed, if Bush’s moves are countered before long by similar efforts by Christie, the governor may discover he has waited too long especially since the moderate Republicans both seek to represent understand all too well that a knockdown drag-out fight between the two could make it much easier for a conservative they think can’t win a general election, like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, to be nominated. If Christie wants to win the establishment primary, he may have to jump into it long before he may have previously planned.

Read Less

Can Christie Find His Foreign Policy Voice?

He may be openly considering a run for the presidency but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a gaping hole in his resume. Though he has been a leading public figure and a likely presidential candidate, Christie has yet to find his voice on the set of issues for which presidents have the most responsibility: foreign policy. But after years of keeping his voluble mouth shut, even when invited to speak in criticism of President Obama, the governor may be ready to start talking. Speaking in the aftermath of the president’s opening to Cuba, Christie had plenty to say about the president’s mistakes. This may be a case of him not being able to resist commenting when a local issue presented itself. But whatever his motivation, if he really wants to be president, he’s going to have to start speaking on foreign affairs with the same abandon and gusto that he employs on domestic issues.

Read More

He may be openly considering a run for the presidency but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a gaping hole in his resume. Though he has been a leading public figure and a likely presidential candidate, Christie has yet to find his voice on the set of issues for which presidents have the most responsibility: foreign policy. But after years of keeping his voluble mouth shut, even when invited to speak in criticism of President Obama, the governor may be ready to start talking. Speaking in the aftermath of the president’s opening to Cuba, Christie had plenty to say about the president’s mistakes. This may be a case of him not being able to resist commenting when a local issue presented itself. But whatever his motivation, if he really wants to be president, he’s going to have to start speaking on foreign affairs with the same abandon and gusto that he employs on domestic issues.

The local angle on the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba was the failure of the administration to obtain the return of a fugitive from justice in New Jersey. Joanne Chesimard, a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, was involved in a campaign of robberies and attacks on law enforcement officials culminating in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that left a state trooper dead, the crime for which she was sentenced to life in prison. But her criminal colleagues helped her escape prison in 1979 after which she found her way to Cuba where she lives to this day under the name of Assata Shakur. Though some African-American politicians have opposed efforts to extradite her on the grounds that they believe she was the victim of racially motivated persecution, there’s little doubt about her guilt. In the past, there were reports that the Clinton administration had offered to lift the embargo on Cuba in exchange for the return of Chesimard and 90 other U.S. criminals given safe haven there. Thus, it was disappointing that the Obama administration made no apparent effort to tie her return to the major economic and political concessions the U.S. gave the Castro regime as part of a prisoner exchange. That is especially unfortunate since it was only last year that the FBI formally added her name to its list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.”

Thus, it was both appropriate and timely for the governor to speak up on the issue in a letter sent to the White House in which he rightly said Chesimard’s continued freedom is “an affront” to the citizens of New Jersey and that she must be returned to serve her sentence before any further consideration is given to resuming relations with Havana. But, to his credit, Christie did not stop with that justified yet parochial concern. He went on to say the following:

I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people.

In doing so, Christie clearly aligned himself with Senator Marco Rubio and other conservatives who have spoken up against the Cuban deal on the grounds that it will make it less rather than more likely that conditions in the communist island prison will improve as a result of Obama’s decision. It also places Christie in opposition to Senator Rand Paul, who has defended Obama’s opening.

It’s not the first time Christie has been on the other side of an issue from Paul. In the summer of 2013, the governor spoke up and criticized Paul’s effort to force an American retreat from the battle against Islamist terrorists. But that initiative was short lived and, given Christie’s unwillingness to follow up with more details that would demonstrate his command of the issues, seemed to indicate that he wasn’t ready for prime time on foreign policy. That impression was confirmed in the time since then as the governor has often refrained from commenting on foreign policy.

But if he wants to be president, Christie must be able to demonstrate a clear view about America’s place in the world. In the White House, his main antagonists won’t be union bosses or even members of the other party in Congress but rogue nations like Russia, Iran and North Korean. If he is preparing a run for the presidency, the governor must continue to speak out and do so in a consistent and forceful manner. That’s especially true if he aspires, as he seemed to for a while last year, to be the mainstream alternative to Paul’s isolationism. If not, despite his ability to raise money and gain some establishment support, it won’t be possible to take him all that seriously as a candidate or a prospective president.

Read Less

Jeb’s Strategy: Make Everything Old News

With the year drawing to a close, Jeb Bush found himself accused of being insufficiently conservative and having to defend himself against a fired-up conservative activist base leveling the charge. It’s a familiar story, but this particular case took place fifteen years ago, in December 1999. The email exchange with a pro-life activist was a reaction to Bush’s appointment of a judge while governor of Florida, and it’s part of a massive public-records release of electronic communication by the former governor, reported on in some detail today by the Washington Post. It also sheds some more light on Bush’s 2016 strategy.

Read More

With the year drawing to a close, Jeb Bush found himself accused of being insufficiently conservative and having to defend himself against a fired-up conservative activist base leveling the charge. It’s a familiar story, but this particular case took place fifteen years ago, in December 1999. The email exchange with a pro-life activist was a reaction to Bush’s appointment of a judge while governor of Florida, and it’s part of a massive public-records release of electronic communication by the former governor, reported on in some detail today by the Washington Post. It also sheds some more light on Bush’s 2016 strategy.

For starters, the email exchange with the pro-life activist offers a glimpse into why Bush has been less than intimidated by grassroots opposition to his candidacy: he’s been dealing with this his whole career. Times have arguably changed in the Republican Party since then, and the presidential nomination fight is a different stage altogether. But for Bush, it’s easy to understand why he’s not willing to be deterred by something that’s never been able to stop him before. Here, for the record, is that 1999 exchange, as relayed by the Post:

He regularly sought to calm conservative activists who wanted him to take the government further to the right. In December 1999, Bush tangled over e-mail with an anti­abortion activist who blasted him for appointing a lawyer to a judgeship, because the lawyer had represented the owner of an abortion clinic.

Bush responded that he had not been told about the attorney’s history and, in any case, the lawyer had “received recommendations from many people who I respect.”

Nevertheless, Bush followed up and asked an aide to send the activist a list of all nominees currently before him. “We have no litmus test for judges — we are open to hearing from all Floridians,” he wrote. But he added that the woman “appears concerned about the perceived lack of opportunity to provide input.”

Bush welcomes the debate. That might further antagonize the right, or it might breed a new respect for him for not running from his decisions. But if the latter, it would almost surely be a grudging respect.

Bush has dealt with conservative dissent from his policies since well before there was a Tea Party, and he may think that precedent works in his favor. And maybe it does. But the reverse is just as likely. Conservative grassroots dissent was a different animal before the Tea Party and before new media’s influence on campaigns. Bush faced the low-calorie version of the modern conservative insurgency.

He’ll also face a roster of challengers that offers conservatives the flexibility to take their business elsewhere. But as far as Bush is concerned, conservative anger at him has not slowed him down much, and he seems determined to try to keep the streak alive.

The other aspect to the email archive is how Bush plans to use this transparency to his benefit in the 2016 race. There are two ways this could help him. The first is obvious: these are public records, so if there’s a story in there that portrays him in a negative light, it’s going to come out. He might as well get ahead of the story, spin it to suggest he has nothing to hide to minimize the story as much as possible, and get it out in public early in the race (or even before he’s technically in the race) so it’s old news by the time he’s in the middle of the nomination battle or even the general election.

Bush does not seem to be trying to hide this information in plain sight. To that end, the Post reports, “Bush’s team plans to post the e-mails on a searchable Web site early next year.”

The other way this could help Bush is by building a reputation for transparency. To be sure, what he’s doing is far from revolutionary in terms of what he’s releasing. But by getting it out there and making it easily accessible, he can at least play it as an alternative to the paranoiac secrecy of both the Clintons and President Obama. The Clintons not only famously enforce tribal loyalty but members of their inner circle aren’t above stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives to cover for the Clintons.

The Obama administration promised to be the most transparent administration ever, a phrase that has turned into a punchline. The president, in keeping with the unfortunate pattern of presidential discretion in an age of proliferating media, is more secretive than his predecessors, who were each, while in office, arguably more secretive than their own predecessors, and so forth.

It’s not a surprise, in other words, that the presidential comparison Obama evokes is Nixon. It’s just that the other presidents didn’t make such a big show of lying about their intentions to be transparent. That’s why Obama’s divisiveness is also so noticeable: he promised healing, and spent six years and counting turning Americans on each other. (Related: the Democratic Party wants you to harangue your family members with pro-Obama talking points over the holidays. Merry Christmas and happy Chanukah from the creepy statists running your government.)

The result of Obama’s Music Man routine will undoubtedly be increased cynicism toward politicians. So anyone making similar promises as Obama made during his campaign should beware the poisoned well. But if anyone can realistically promise a true transparency, it might be Bush, who could try to claim that you don’t have to wait for him to take office to test his commitment since he displayed transparency during the campaign.

Transparency is not now, and not ever going to be, an issue that catapults someone to the presidency. (You could argue “trust” is, but that’s not the same thing.) So the benefit to Bush of releasing these emails is almost surely about trying to waste news cycles on any revelation to inoculate his campaign from them later. As for his fifteen-year battle with conservatives, that too may be old news, but it’s precisely the kind of old news that feeds grudges and gains steam over time. Bush would be foolish to believe he can run like it’s 1999.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.