Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Are Walker and Rubio the Frontrunners?

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of the 2016 field set out to measure candidates’ support using a slightly different metric and got a very interesting result. If the numbers are right, the poll would go a long way toward answering several important questions about the GOP, conservative primary voters, and the double-edged sword of high name recognition.

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The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of the 2016 field set out to measure candidates’ support using a slightly different metric and got a very interesting result. If the numbers are right, the poll would go a long way toward answering several important questions about the GOP, conservative primary voters, and the double-edged sword of high name recognition.

The poll asked respondents of both parties whether they could see themselves supporting each candidate for the nomination. It would, theoretically, test how close each prospective candidate already is to their own support ceiling. The numbers could change, of course. It’s easy to imagine a misstep or a policy pronouncement causing some voters to write off a particular candidate. It’s less likely early on, but certainly possible along the way, that voters who have already written off a candidate could change their minds. (If their preferred candidate is gone, they’ll need a second or a third choice.)

But as a snapshot of where the GOP is right now (the expected coronation of Hillary Clinton makes the Democratic side of this poll pretty boring for the time being), the poll has very good news for some and very bad news for others. The bad news is for Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. First, Jeb:

Mr. Bush, an early favorite for the Republican nomination among GOP donors, faces more resistance within his party. Some 49% of people who plan to vote in GOP primaries said they could see themselves supporting Mr. Bush and 42% said they couldn’t, the survey found. Poll participants view him more negatively than positively, with 34% seeing him in an unfavorable light and 23% viewing him favorably.

Being underwater on the favorability ratings is bad but not fatal for a candidacy. The truth is, if this election is anything like its predecessors in 2012 and 2008, everybody’s negatives are going up. No one’s running ads against each other yet, and they’re rarely taking clear shots at each other either. The early caucuses and primaries plus the debates will fix that.

But the 42 percent of GOP primary voters who say they won’t consider voting for Jeb Bush is a high number to start from, especially since he has high name recognition to go with it. Jeb might find it tougher to change minds than less well-known candidates.

The poll is truly terrible, however, for Chris Christie:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would start the race in a deep hole, the new survey found, with 57% of likely GOP primary voters saying they couldn’t see themselves supporting his candidacy, compared with the 32% who said they could. Only Donald Trump, the businessman and reality television star, fared worse, with three out of four primary voters doubtful they could support him.

As elated as we all should be by Trump’s disastrous polling, no other candidate should ever want his name followed by “only Donald Trump…” Having a majority of the Republican primary electorate say they can’t envision voting for him is a nightmare number for Christie. To overcome that, he’d have to hang around long enough to consolidate establishment support to even have a chance. But he can’t win the establishment primary either, thanks to Jeb Bush’s presence in the race as well as a couple of conservative candidates who could appeal to establishment backers as well.

It raises the question: Does Christie see the writing on the wall? At some point, there is just not going to be a visible path, let alone a realistic path, to the nomination for the New Jersey governor. Even mapping out a longshot strategy becomes a riddle when the numbers and the fundamentals of the race look like this.

What’s just as interesting, however, is which candidates have flipped those numbers. Marco Rubio and Scott Walker are at the top of the list:

The two Republicans who begin the race on the strongest footing in the poll are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. More than half of GOP primary voters said they were open to supporting Messrs. Rubio or Walker, compared with 49% who said so of Mr. Bush.

Resistance within the party to Messrs. Rubio and Walker is far lower than for Mr. Bush: Some 26% said they couldn’t see themselves supporting Mr. Rubio, and 17% said so of the Wisconsin governor.

The Journal does note that Walker does not have high name recognition, so his numbers might be open to more fluctuation. But the fact of the matter is Walker and Rubio have incredibly high support ceilings for such a wide-open race.

And it’s easy to see why. Walker and Rubio are likely to be quite palatable to establishment voters and donors even while they appeal to the grassroots. Both Walker and Rubio could put together a broad coalition of Republican voters. Both represent states the GOP would like to win in the general, with Rubio representing the all-important Florida. Both are young, and both are reform-minded conservatives.

And both will have their profiles elevated by tussles with the Obama White House, Walker on right-to-work laws and Rubio on foreign policy. It’s that last part that rivals should fear. The president and vice president have both tried to pick fights with Walker this week over union reforms, and Rubio’s opposition to the Cuba deal specifically and foreign policy (he’s on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) more generally is just getting started.

They’ll be in the spotlight, drawing fire from the White House. It’s a great way to build name recognition and conservative support at the same time, and it’s an avenue few other candidates will have so open to them.

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Hiding Hillary’s Emails in Plain Sight

It is an old saying that the best place to hide a book is in a library. And surely the best place to hide an embarrassing email (or thousands of them) is in a vast pile of emails.

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It is an old saying that the best place to hide a book is in a library. And surely the best place to hide an embarrassing email (or thousands of them) is in a vast pile of emails.

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, and almost no one else, noted yesterday a paragraph in Friday’s New York Times story on the ongoing Hillary Clinton email uproar:

In October, the State Department sent a letter to Mrs. Clinton and all former secretaries of state back to Madeleine K. Albright, seeking emails and other documents in their possession that related to their government work.

Finally, in December, dozens of boxes filled with 50,000 pages of printed emails from Mrs. Clinton’s personal account were delivered to the State Department. Those documents were then examined by department lawyers, who found roughly 900 pages pertaining to the Benghazi attacks.

Why, in an age when the push of a single button can produce an electronic copy of even the biggest file, would someone deliver “dozens of boxes” filled with paper copies that had been printed out one by one?

In order to hide a book in a library, that’s why.  At least I can imagine no legitimate reason to do so.

In electronic form, one can quickly search on such key words as “Benghazi” and “Christopher Stevens” to find the relevant documents. On paper they must be read, one by one, by soon bleary-eyed individuals, looking at their watches and wondering how early they can get away with leaving for lunch. After all, 50,000 pages of typing paper make a stack 16 feet 8 inches high.

It is interesting that while Clinton apologists Lanny Davis and James Carville are making fools of themselves trying to justify the unjustifiable, the mainstream media is, for once, not doing its oh-look-a-squirrel routine with this Democratic scandal. Indeed, it has dominated the political news for more than a week. That’s why James Carville accused the New York Times (!) of running with right-wing talking points.

The reason, I think, is that this story has, in spades, the aspect most beloved by journalists: it fits the narrative. The Clintons are perceived as self-absorbed, rules-are-for-little-people edge-skaters. As George Will said on Fox News Sunday, “The Clintons are the sort of people who could find a loophole in a stop sign.” This powerfully reinforces that image, especially with such blasts from the past as Carville and Davis reminding us of the Washington scandals of the 1990s.

Mrs. Clinton has apparently decided to hold a news conference on this, but to take no questions, a sure sign this episode has no simple, justifiable explanation. I doubt it will lay it to rest.

One wonders if more and more Democrats are now wondering to themselves, “If not Hillary, who?”

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Hillary’s Undeserved Reputation as a Champion of Women Is Imploding

Hillary Clinton’s decision to base her 2016 presidential campaign on the fact that she’s a she is running into some problems. DNC vice chairwoman Donna Brazile wrote last week that “This time, Hillary will run as a woman.” Brazile said Hillary spent “much of her 2008 campaign seemingly running away from the fact that she is a woman,” and that this time she’s clearly made the decision to run toward her womanity. Whatever that means in practice, the recent Clinton Foundation scandals have converged with her unimpressive record as secretary of state to complicate the narrative.

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Hillary Clinton’s decision to base her 2016 presidential campaign on the fact that she’s a she is running into some problems. DNC vice chairwoman Donna Brazile wrote last week that “This time, Hillary will run as a woman.” Brazile said Hillary spent “much of her 2008 campaign seemingly running away from the fact that she is a woman,” and that this time she’s clearly made the decision to run toward her womanity. Whatever that means in practice, the recent Clinton Foundation scandals have converged with her unimpressive record as secretary of state to complicate the narrative.

Last week I wrote about Carly Fiorina’s longshot candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, highlighting her CPAC speech and her effective line of attack against Hillary Clinton. We’re now seeing just how effective it is. Two of Fiorina’s sound bites in particular stand out. Of Clinton, she said: “She tweets about women’s rights in this country, and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights.” And: “Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”

Those attacks have now found their way into a New York Times story on the hypocrisy of Hillary talking up women’s rights while her foundation was accepting hefty donations from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries with poor records on women’s rights. And it threatens to turn the Hillary campaign’s entire raison d’être into a liability.

From the Times’s Amy Chozick:

And for someone who has so long been lampooned, and demonized on the right, as overly calculating, playing up her gender as a strength would also allow her to demonstrate her nurturing, maternal — and newly grandmotherly — side to voters whom she may have left cold in the past.

Even her most strident critics could not have predicted that Mrs. Clinton would prove vulnerable on the subject.

But the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei — all of which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.

The department’s 2011 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the last such yearly review prepared during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure, tersely faulted the kingdom for “a lack of equal rights for women and children,” and said violence against women, human trafficking and gender discrimination, among other abuses, were all “common” there.

Saudi Arabia has been a particularly generous benefactor to the Clinton Foundation, giving at least $10 million since 2001, according to foundation disclosures. At least $1 million more was donated by Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.

I don’t really understand the editorializing comment “Even her most strident critics could not have predicted that Mrs. Clinton would prove vulnerable on the subject,” which doesn’t really sound plausible at all, but everything else is about right. It’s the collision of two critiques of Clinton that make this such a complicated story for Hillary. First, there has been the ongoing (and at times unintentionally comical) attempt by Hillary’s partisans to name any serious accomplishment in her time at Foggy Bottom and coming up emptyhanded. And the second is the rank hypocrisy and influence peddling at the Clinton Foundation.

The first critique makes the second harder to deflect. If Hillary had been able to accomplish anything besides logging lots of miles, she could balance the fact that her foundation was taking cash from the subjugators of women worldwide. At the same time, it’s a problem of Hillary’s own creation, not only because of her role in the scandals but also because she’s apparently chosen to make women’s rights the central plank in her campaign.

That, in its own weird way, makes a great deal of sense. The actual reason Hillary is running for president is because she believes it’s her turn and she’s entitled to it. That’s it, but it’s not a very compelling personal story. Running as the potential first woman president is a way of projecting that entitlement onto half the electorate. She’s entitled to it because you’re entitled to it, or so goes the logic. She’s running as Oprah; look under your seat, ladies: there’s a presidency for each of you.

This would be the moment for Hillary and her defenders to point to all her major accomplishments in the world of women’s rights. But they don’t exist. And the Times story makes this abundantly clear. Here is how the story begins:

It was supposed to be a carefully planned anniversary to mark one of the most important and widely praised moments in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political career — and to remind the country, ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, about her long record as a champion for the rights of women and girls.

Instead, as Mrs. Clinton commemorates her 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing in back-to-back events in New York, she finds herself under attack for her family foundation’s acceptance of millions of dollars in donations from Middle Eastern countries known for violence against women and for denying them many basic freedoms.

Hillary Clinton is going on tour to remind voters that she made what she considers a great speech in 1995. And instead of unadulterated adulation, she’s dealing with the dawning realization on the voting public that an old speech promoting women’s rights is all she’s got. Once she attained power on the world stage she became not a liberator of women but the beneficiary of largesse from some of the world’s worst oppressors of women.

All Hillary Clinton’s been able to change in the last twenty years is her address. And dredging up an old speech will only serve as a reminder of that fact.

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Walker, Cruz, Bush and the Iowa Crucible

It is now conventional wisdom that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a first-tier candidate, if not the frontrunner, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. It is just as much a given that Senator Ted Cruz is not regarded as likely to win the nomination. The reasons why this is so were on display yesterday at the Iowa Ag Summit, a cattle call event that brought leading politicians from both parties to Des Moines to hawk their wares to farm-state voters. As in the past, the agriculture industry and political observers were interested to see which of the potential candidates would show their obeisance to corn farmers by supporting ethanol subsidies and, in particular, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that mandates its use in gasoline. Though Walker has opposed the RFS in the past, as Politico noted, this year he acted like the Iowa frontrunner the polls tell us he is and backed it. By contrast, Cruz launched a frontal attack on it. It’s not clear that such a stand is as sure a guarantee of political death as it has been in the past. But these two stands as well as Jeb Bush’s more equivocal approach provide us with a chance to see how the crucible of principle works these days in Iowa as the rest of the country pays close attention.

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It is now conventional wisdom that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a first-tier candidate, if not the frontrunner, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. It is just as much a given that Senator Ted Cruz is not regarded as likely to win the nomination. The reasons why this is so were on display yesterday at the Iowa Ag Summit, a cattle call event that brought leading politicians from both parties to Des Moines to hawk their wares to farm-state voters. As in the past, the agriculture industry and political observers were interested to see which of the potential candidates would show their obeisance to corn farmers by supporting ethanol subsidies and, in particular, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that mandates its use in gasoline. Though Walker has opposed the RFS in the past, as Politico noted, this year he acted like the Iowa frontrunner the polls tell us he is and backed it. By contrast, Cruz launched a frontal attack on it. It’s not clear that such a stand is as sure a guarantee of political death as it has been in the past. But these two stands as well as Jeb Bush’s more equivocal approach provide us with a chance to see how the crucible of principle works these days in Iowa as the rest of the country pays close attention.

Given that recent history tells us that winning Iowa requires a candidate to support the ethanol boondoggle that helps support corn farmers, it’s hard to quarrel with Walker’s decision. Walker needs to win Iowa and he feels he can’t afford to antagonize the farmers and the Ag industry groups that will pour millions into the GOP caucus fight to support candidates that back ethanol and oppose those who don’t. Walker is a man who has taken chances in his political life, taking on the unions and left-wing special interests in Wisconsin and winning fights that made him a conservative folk hero. But he sees no great benefit to playing the same game with Iowa farmers. He played it safe at the Ag Summit.

By contrast, Cruz knows that if he is to assume leadership of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, it won’t be by playing it safe. Instead, he chose to take on the ethanol/corn interests head on saying he was there to “tell them the truth.” There was no hedging his bets or resort to nuance. He said he’s against corporate welfare and the government picking winners and losers. Ethanol and the RFS are exactly that and he opposes them.

Does that doom him in Iowa? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not. Corn may be king in Iowa but not everyone who votes in the GOP caucus is looking to the federal government for a handout or hoping that government policies will keep pushing up the value of their land. Moreover, there is a case to be made that what voters want is principle rather than pandering. With many conservatives who talk a good game about small government nevertheless falling over themselves to make an exception for ethanol in order to win in Iowa, Cruz may be able to stand out as the candidate who isn’t willing to sell out.

It also presents an interesting contrast to Bush’s belief that he, too, won’t pander in order to win the nomination. Yesterday in Iowa, the former Florida governor reiterated his support for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens as well as his continued backing for the Common Core education standards. That’s consistent with his theory that seems to hold that in order to win in November 2016, he’s going to have to stand up to his party’s base on issues where he disagrees with it. But he wasn’t willing to extend that principle to ethanol. On that issue, he was all nuance yesterday, floating ideas about eventually phasing out the RFS “somewhere in the future.”

I believe it’s a mistake to think that any candidate can run against his party’s base and win its nomination, though Bush has an opportunity to prove me wrong. But I think it’s hard to take that sort of stance seriously when the same candidate is unwilling to be just as tough on a local GOP constituency whose desires for subsidies runs afoul of the party’s basic principles about the role government in the economy.

Walker appears to have made a powerful impression on the audience in Des Moines yesterday, taking shots at Jeb Bush for having “inherited fame and fortune” and signaling farmers that he will do their bidding. That may ensure that he will hold onto his current lead and follow in the footsteps of past ethanol appeasers like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney and do well in the first-in-the-nation caucus.

It’s a long, hard slog to next winter but if Walker is to be knocked off, I doubt that Bush’s odd combination of challenging the party core on hot-button issues while folding on ethanol will do the trick. Cruz may still be a long shot but I think he’s right in thinking that the only way for him to prevail is to slay all the sacred cows and not just those in states other than Iowa. As much as his well-earned image as an uncompromising zealot may make him an unlikely nominee, sticking to his guns on even this Iowa litmus test will make an interesting experiment in modern politics. Though Cruz is widely accused of debasing our political culture with his take-no-prisoners style, he may actually be enhancing it by giving us an example of what it means to stand on principle. And he may do himself no harm in the process.

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End the GOP’s Iowa Ethanol Panderfest

Wherever Iowa famers gather, presidential candidates are never in short supply. So if you’re planning on attending the annual Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines tomorrow, it may be difficult to avoid tripping over potential Republican contenders. But not all the GOP hopefuls will be there. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are skipping the event. Why? Both oppose the renewable fuel standard, a measure beloved by Iowa corn growers that requires blending corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply. Rubio and Jindal aren’t the ones who have crossed the Iowa agriculture industry. Other candidates have voted for measures seeking to eventually end ethanol subsidies. But the farm lobby has forced Republicans who believe in the free market to bend to their will before and is determined to punish those who don’t pledge allegiance to ethanol and make them pay at the Iowa Caucuses next year. The question is, will 2016 mark the moment when conservatives prefer their principles to corn-based votes?

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Wherever Iowa famers gather, presidential candidates are never in short supply. So if you’re planning on attending the annual Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines tomorrow, it may be difficult to avoid tripping over potential Republican contenders. But not all the GOP hopefuls will be there. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are skipping the event. Why? Both oppose the renewable fuel standard, a measure beloved by Iowa corn growers that requires blending corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply. Rubio and Jindal aren’t the ones who have crossed the Iowa agriculture industry. Other candidates have voted for measures seeking to eventually end ethanol subsidies. But the farm lobby has forced Republicans who believe in the free market to bend to their will before and is determined to punish those who don’t pledge allegiance to ethanol and make them pay at the Iowa Caucuses next year. The question is, will 2016 mark the moment when conservatives prefer their principles to corn-based votes?

Ethanol and biofuels sound like a green dream that combines the needs of farmers with the nation’s desire for energy independence and less carbon-based pollution. The clout of the powerful farm lobby might have been enough to ensure that Congress subsidized the ethanol business. But the fact that Iowa becomes the center of the political universe once every four years with the campaign lasting longer every election has made corn king.

But even the outsized influence of the Hawkeye State has not been enough to suppress the growing realization that the massive federal subsidies lavished on corn growers was a boondoggle of epic proportions that has done little to help the environment and a lot for the bank accounts of those connected to this industry. After a long fight, Congress passed a sunset provision on the subsidies, but Iowans who are used to being Uncle Sam’s favored relations aren’t giving up. They are defending the renewable fuel standards against sensible criticisms and seek, as they always do, to use the first-in-the-nation caucuses to bend would-be presidents to their will.

Industry groups are prepared to invest millions in media blitzes backing candidates who conform to their wishes and oppose those who don’t. Given its past success, it’s hard to blame the corn/ethanol lobby for feeling confident that they can intimidate Republicans again.

After all, a free market supporter like Mitt Romney folded like a cheap suit in 2012 in his bid to win the caucus. As it turns out, Rick Santorum, another conservative who discovered how much he loved corn when running for president, edged him. They weren’t alone; that year Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party favorite candidate who won the Iowa Straw Poll before flopping in the caucus, also dropped her anti-government mantra long enough to embrace ethanol.

Going back to 2008, the caucus was won by Mike Huckabee, another politician who extolled the virtues of small government except when it came to federal largesse being doled out to Iowa farmers. Among the losers in Iowa that year was John McCain, the eventual nominee who largely stuck to his guns when it came to opposing ethanol subsidies.

Will a Republican Party whose mainstream as well as its Tea Party faction have spent the last several years lambasting the Obama administration for its green corruption schemes like Solyndra make an exception for Iowa again? To their credit, Rubio and Jindal say no. As the Journal notes, Jeb Bush has yet to say much about the issue but has in the past backed a Brazilian ethanol scheme that irked Iowans. Libertarian Rand Paul is in no position to genuflect to the corn growers. Tea Party stalwart Ted Cruz is risking the ire of the lobby by co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the renewable fuels standard.

But past Iowa winners Huckabee and Santorum are back to try again in 2016 and appear ready to pander to ethanol if that’s what it takes to get them into the first tier of a race with a huge field.

That leaves Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has an early but commanding lead in Iowa right now. Will Walker, a man who became a conservative folk hero by opposing big government and unions, decide that government handouts to farmers don’t offend his conscience? If not, then perhaps we will have really turned a corner. But until a candidate who spurns corn wins the caucus, Iowa will remain a quadrennial panderfest. Conservatives who are dismayed by the way their would-be standard-bearers check their principles at the state border when they enter Iowa hope 2016 is the year when this will happen.

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Democrats and the Hillary Train Wreck

How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

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How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

There are some reasons for the Clinton camp to be confident that nothing in the story about her emails will stop Democrats from nominating her for president. The Clintons have always operated under different rules than lesser political mortals and they and their fans probably think there’s nothing to this issue that should cause Democrats to treat them differently than in the past. But the willingness of the New York Times, the flagship of the liberal mainstream media establishment to run with this story rather than treating it as just another minor sidebar generated by Republicans investigating the Benghazi attacks was an indication that Hillary could not count on getting a pass.

Nor did the story die after a day as Clinton’s camp hoped it would because there was more to it. The revelation that Clinton not only refrained from using a government (and therefore relatively secure) email address but used one whose server was located in her home is even more egregious than one would have thought. That raises questions about whether she violated government regulations instituted in 2009. Though much correspondence was subsequently handed over to the government, the decision as to what was public and what private was made by Clinton’s staff leaving open the possibility that anything that might prove embarrassing or troubling — such as Clinton’s knowledge or encouragement for efforts by her husband to raise money from foreign governments for their family foundation — was either erased or held back from archivists or the State Department.

Some Democrats are claiming that conservative critics complaining about Clinton’s emails are hypocrites because various Republican governors have been hounded about some of their own emails. That’s a fair point but only to a point. Anyone running for president is going to have to be transparent about their official conduct, an issue that Jeb Bush got in front of when he released his emails from his time as governor of Florida. But none of those Republicans were in charge of U.S. foreign policy while their spouse was shaking down foreigners for contributions to their family foundation.

Even more to the point, it is important to play the substitution game. Imagine the reaction from Democrats if highly placed figures in a Republican administration were accused of doing far less than what Clinton has done when it comes to emails. Substitute the words Dick Cheney for Hillary Clinton and just imagine the same liberals telling us there’s nothing to see and that this is mere Republican lunacy about Benghazi as their heads explode.

But actually we don’t have to use our imaginations. We can just find the video of Hillary Clinton speaking in June 2007 about accusations about Republicans like Karl Rove using private email accounts some of the time while working in the White House. Rove wasn’t violating any federal regulations as Clinton did but that didn’t stop the then junior senator from New York from decrying those in her sights of “shredding the Constitution” and engaging in corrupt activities.

Nor will this story go away. There’s plenty of exposure for everyone involved here who didn’t follow the rules. But with news organizations like the Associated Press that have already filed Freedom of Information lawsuits to find out what Clinton has been up to now discovering that there is a lot of data it wanted that the government doesn’t have, the fate of those emails that were not given to the State Department could haunt Clinton.

But none of this bothers Democrats as much as the perception that Clinton and her staff were unprepared for this latest land mine in her path and have no clue about defusing it. Though the Clinton political machine is a formidable entity, she currently lacks the kind of staff with the ability to respond immediately to problems. Instead, they bumble around for days doing little to make things better for their candidate. Clinton’s own public statements have also been entirely inadequate. Merely saying that she wants the public to have access to her emails does little to reassure since she didn’t promise to take any steps that would ensure that these communications will be brought forward or that the process by which private emails will be sorted from the official ones will be supervised by anyone but her personal minions.

As with her gaffe-ridden book tour last year, Clinton has done nothing to make it appear that she has acquired the political skills needed to weather a competitive presidential campaign. With no serious Democratic opposition in sight that means she will head into the general election next year with full coffers but unready to mix it up with what might be a strong GOP opponent. At this point the fact that she has no opposition worth the name inside her party starts to look less like a huge advantage and more like a liability.

Will this tempt Warren to run against her? If she has any interest in running for president — a question to which we don’t know the answer — it ought to. At worst, the email story is the sort of thing that will feed cynicism about Clinton among ordinary voters as well as the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. At best, it shows she has poor political judgment ad lacks the ability to comprehend and deal with problems. Either way, this train wreck makes for a poor presidential candidate and an even worse president. The former should scare Democrats who want to win in 2016. The latter should scare all Americans.

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Clinton’s Parallel Government and Obama’s Great Miscalculation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Republicans Benefit from Carly Fiorina’s Candidacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Howard Dean and the Elmer Fudd Theory of Economic Policymaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The GOP Has An Image Problem with the Middle Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker’s Reagan-Nixon Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jeb’s Strength Is Also His Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker’s Dropout Advantage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why They Fear Scott Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rand Paul Can’t Have Best of Both Worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker: the GOP’s Elizabeth Warren?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rand Can’t Inoculate Himself Against Vaccine Flap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dem Electoral College Hysteria to Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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