Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

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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What Will Nemtsov’s Assassination Mean for Hillary?

On February 27, Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and a liberal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin. It wasn’t the first time a Russian figure who ran afoul of Putin paid the ultimate price—think Sergei Magnitsky or Anna Politkovskaya—but it was among the most brazen attacks, or at least the most brazen attack that didn’t involve polonium. Unknown assailants killed Nemtsov, a critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just two days before a major opposition rally. Any doubt that Vladimir Putin is anything but a cold, calculating psychopath, an aggressive despot who seeks not Russian greatness, but rather his own unquestioned power, should now be put to rest.

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On February 27, Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and a liberal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin. It wasn’t the first time a Russian figure who ran afoul of Putin paid the ultimate price—think Sergei Magnitsky or Anna Politkovskaya—but it was among the most brazen attacks, or at least the most brazen attack that didn’t involve polonium. Unknown assailants killed Nemtsov, a critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just two days before a major opposition rally. Any doubt that Vladimir Putin is anything but a cold, calculating psychopath, an aggressive despot who seeks not Russian greatness, but rather his own unquestioned power, should now be put to rest.

Hillary Clinton rose to prominence not on her own merits as an elected leader, but rather as a first lady. She might be smart and talented, but her path to power was not her own. Granted, she leveraged her prominence to run and win a Senate seat in New York, but she approached the office with extreme caution and simply bided her time; she certainly will not go down as a great legislator. After surprising no one and running for the presidency in 2008, she got her chance when President Barack Obama appointed her to be his secretary of state. It is chiefly the legacy of these four years in office that provide the only window into Clinton’s executive experience and policy judgment.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but few secretaries of state appear to have been so quickly proved wrong on the major initiatives they oversaw. Like it or not, Clinton’s foreign-policy legacy—the experience she needs to prove that she is worthy of answering the 3 a.m. phone call—rests upon her tenure at the State Department. And it is here that the Russian reality might come crashing down upon Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

President Obama took the Iran issue as his own—asking the Iranian leadership figuratively to unclench its fist—leaving Clinton in charge of Russia. Clinton shaped and oversaw the so-called “reset.” The conceit of the reset was the belief on Obama and Clinton’s part that their predecessors had mishandled the Russian relationship and allowed it to derail. George W. Bush was far from perfect on the issue—his claim to have looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul showed poor judgment and misplaced trust—but he quickly calibrated his policies to reality as the real Putin showed through. Clinton’s reset at best reflected a willingness to forgive and forget the Russian occupation of Georgia and, at worst, showed a complete ignorance of Putin and his ambitions.

Had Clinton learned from her mistakes, she might not be tied to Putin today. But, even against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Clinton insisted that her reset policy was a success, that it somehow benefited the United States’s security and position in the world. Alas, the opposite is demonstrably true. Russia is far more aggressive today than it has been in decades. Russian bombers not only probe NATO defenses in Europe, but also may soon patrol the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Then, of course, there was the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). In order to win congressional approval for a deal riddled with holes, the State Department withheld information from Congress which detailed Russian cheating on previous agreements. Clinton’s point person on the new START was her undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, Ellen Tauscher. Tauscher subsequently left the State Department and joined the Atlantic Council, where she sought to further the reset with an initiative called “Mutually Assured Stability,” a silly name for an idea that treated Russian ambitions naively. There is no stability when the Kremlin sniffs weakness. What was incredible about Tauscher’s project was that she accepted Kremlin money to underwrite it. The Kremlin founded the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) to act as its representative in the NGO world. Clinton had hundreds of staffers, and dozens claimed to be her close aides, so can she really be held accountable for what Tauscher did after leaving the State Department? Normally, the answer would be no. But Clinton has since brought Tauscher back as a key aide in one of the shadow groups organizing her campaign. That suggests Clinton is doubling down on her embrace of Russia even as Putin shows his true colors.

Few presidential elections revolve around foreign policy. Americans tend to vote with their wallets. But 2016 may be an exception: Obama’s diplomatic and national-security strategy had now been tried and found wanting. Obama did not cause the Arab Spring, but his belief in leading from behind allowed wildfires in Libya and Syria to spin out of control. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has reinforced a malaise not seen since the Carter years. Add into this mix that Clinton, if she runs, will have to run on her State Department tenure and it seems evident that foreign policy will matter in 2016. If Clinton cannot admit an error, that’s bad enough. If she truly believes her ideas and actions on Russia were to the benefit of international security, then that suggests a far greater question of judgment.

The more Putin embraces the paranoia and worldview of former Soviet Premier Josef Stalin—a comparison which will only be highlighted by Nemtsov’s murder—the more Clinton may find her State Department tenure not to be her greatest asset, but instead her Achilles’ heel.

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Call Clinton Foundation Action What It Was: Corruption

So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

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So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

In 2010, however, the Algerian government, through its embassy in Washington D.C., allegedly gave the Clinton Foundation $500,000 in theory to support earthquake relief in Haiti. Now, the Haitian earthquake was devastating, and Algeria doesn’t have an embassy in Port-au-Prince and so on the surface, a donation is plausible.

But to believe that Algeria chose the Clinton Foundation randomly or because it was best positioned to work in Haiti beggars belief. After all, the Clinton Foundation does not appear to specialize in emergency relief. Its Haiti program page charts activity dating back only to 2010, the year of the Algerian donation. Most countries seeking to donate to Haitian earthquake relief might simply have answered the United Nations’ emergency call for assistance. There was also the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund stood up specifically for the purpose of Haiti earthquake relief and, with its mission completed, now folded.

Now, Algeria is a problematic regime at best. Through the Cold War, it was firmly in the Soviet camp. It has waged proxy war against Morocco, one of the most pro-Western, moderate Arab countries and continues to sponsor the totalitarian Polisario Front. To believe that its aims were humanitarian are belied by its persistent theft—according to Europe’s anti-fraud office—of humanitarian assistance donated by the European Union for the use of refugees in its remote Tindouf province. Rather, it seems that Algiers simply sought to influence the secretary of state with a back-channel donation. Now, let’s assume the Clinton Foundation passed money forward on earthquake relief, but the Foundation is famous for its high overhead, that is, support for the Clintons’ luxurious travel preferences, so a significant portion of the Algerian donation likely never made it to the Haitians in need. And let’s assume that Clinton was simply open to her Foundation taking money from everyone without enabling those donations to influence her decisions. The appearance of corruption is unavoidable.

Now, many states in the Middle East are woefully corrupt. Often, this corruption occurs because of a lack of legal framework defining what would ordinarily be a conflict of interest. There’s the problem of first sons, for example, with Middle Eastern leaders—Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, among others—each engaging in business with their sons acting as business agents. In the United States, we call it corruption, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the law. It’s a type of business practice with which Algerians are both aware and comfortable. And in Hillary Clinton they seem to have believed they found a kindred spirit. Now, this doesn’t mean Clinton violated the law, but a competent secretary of state understands perception is often more important than reality. Her actions and those of her Foundation have at the very least undercut the ability of future American governments to make serious efforts to undercut corruption abroad, for Algerians and others will simply call American officials hypocritical given Clinton’s favorite charity and namesake accepting the cash. Hillary Clinton can plead that no corruption occurred—perhaps it depends what the meaning of “is” is—but the rest of the world simply won’t buy the spin. Judgment matters.

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Green Hypocrisy and the Hillary Scandals

One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

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One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

The planned coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s nominee without the hassle of a serious primary has certainly helped both the Democrats and Clinton in the obvious ways (party unity, fundraising, etc.). But the foreign-money scandal and the reaction to it show how this also represents an obstacle to both.

It’s an obstacle to Clinton because she has delayed officially declaring her candidacy since she has no true rival to push her to enter the race earlier. That means she’s spending this time not only raking in questionable cash from foreign governments but, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted last night, she doesn’t have the campaign communications shop up and running, or at least in midseason form. Thrush tweeted:

This may surprise some Clinton watchers who are used to the Clintons’ obsessive pushback PR machine, but it shouldn’t. Hillary’s acceptance of questionable cash is not done. Indeed, she reopened foreign donations after leaving the State Department with the intention, it appears, to turn off the spigot again when her campaign becomes official (if not after). That means any rapid-response team would have to be kept in the loop on all incoming donations, especially the shady ones. This is not easy to do if the Clintons also wanted to accept the donations in the utmost secrecy.

Hillary’s advantage, then, was (and is) also her disadvantage: keeping the foreign money coming in as late as possible.

This is an obstacle for Democrats in general because they have essentially already taken their oath of loyalty to Clinton. There is no Plan B. This is important, because the Clintons are notorious grudge holders. So when Democratic interest groups want criticism of the Clintons aired, it’s helpful for them to have opposing candidates through which to filter that criticism. The candidate is already on the Clintons’ bad side, and he or she is looking for ammunition anyway. And if Clinton is weak and ought to be challenged or defeated, the primaries are the time to do so. Without a candidate to launch plausible lines of attack against Clinton, the interest groups retreat and reveal the fact that most liberal interest groups are Democratic Party groups looking for an excuse to attack Republicans.

In other words, via Reuters, this is what happens:

Hillary Clinton’s connections to oil and gas interests has created a dilemma for some environmental groups, troubling activists for whom she would be the natural candidate to support for president.

So how are they dealing with this “dilemma”? With a self-imposed gag order, of course:

Uncharacteristically, many green groups normally quick to attack politicians linked to oil and gas companies shied away from commenting on the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with these donors.

The Environmental Defense Action Fund had no comment because it does not have anyone with knowledge of the subject, a spokesman said. Another business friendly green group, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund also declined, saying it would discuss the issues “when we have declared candidates.” The World Wildlife Fund had no comment.

The Reuters explanation for this towering monument to hypocrisy is priceless. I’d like to meet the person able to keep from laughing out loud when Reuters offers up this cartoon spin:

The reluctance to criticize Clinton reflects her mixed record on climate change. She has made two recent appearances at green-related events, addressing a League of Conservation Voters dinner in December, where she talked about the need to produce natural gas in a way that minimizes pollution. She also spoke at a green energy conference in September.

You see, she may be tied to the oil companies and taking donations from petrostates, but she attended a League of Conservation Voters dinner, so let’s call it a wash.

Of course it may be true that she has done some important things for climate change, like talk and speak and ramble and rant and maybe talk some more. At the very least, her emission of hot air raises awareness of the potentially harmful gas all around us.

But I don’t think a single person is fooled by the spinelessness of the green lobby. These pressure groups exist to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans. Nothing has changed about their political activism or their role or their raison d’être. Instead, they’re merely exposed as the partisan actors they are.

Even though that’s true, on some level it should engender some sympathy. Because those who act out against the Clintons are punished, and that isn’t good for anybody’s green agenda either. If the World Wildlife Fund gets sidelined, who will pretend to save the polar bears?

The lesson here is that there is a danger in going all-in on one candidate and being “Ready for Hillary” long before the campaign even begins. And “Stuck with Hillary” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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Clintons’ Qatari Cash Should End Democrats’ Koch Attacks

When people mention the trouble that Bill Clinton might cause if he’s returned to the White House for a Hillary Clinton presidency, the implication is usually about the trouble he caused the last time he was in the White House, only this time he’d presumably have more time to make such trouble. But the recent stories on the once and possibly future first couple raise a host of red flags having (almost) nothing to do with the former president’s pursuit of–let’s call it companionship. It’s not about skirt chasing, so it’s less headline grabbing; but it’s far more relevant to the presidency.

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When people mention the trouble that Bill Clinton might cause if he’s returned to the White House for a Hillary Clinton presidency, the implication is usually about the trouble he caused the last time he was in the White House, only this time he’d presumably have more time to make such trouble. But the recent stories on the once and possibly future first couple raise a host of red flags having (almost) nothing to do with the former president’s pursuit of–let’s call it companionship. It’s not about skirt chasing, so it’s less headline grabbing; but it’s far more relevant to the presidency.

The first two stories were from the Wall Street Journal, showing the Clinton Foundation was raking in donations from foreign governments as Hillary’s candidacy gets underway and also that Hillary had promoted as secretary of state companies that donated to the foundation. The latest such story is from Politico, and it details the problematic role that Bill Clinton has played in all this.

The story concerns the “big-money” speeches Clinton gave while his wife was secretary of state. He was required to get approval from his wife’s State Department in case there were any ethical gray areas and, wouldn’t you know it, he almost always got them.

There are two separate issues. The first is influence peddling:

The records also highlight a blind spot in the ethics deal the Clintons and the Obama transition team hammered out in 2008 with the involvement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: While the pact subjected Bill Clinton’s moneymaking activities to official review, it imposed no vetting on donations to the Clinton Foundation by individuals or private companies in the U.S. or abroad.

Concerns about individuals seeking influence by dropping money in both buckets arose soon after the first few Bill Clinton speech proposals landed at Foggy Bottom. In a 2009 memo greenlighting those talks, a State Department ethics official specifically asked about possible links between President Clinton’s speaking engagements and donations to the Clinton Foundation. However, the released documents show no evidence that the question was addressed.

That phrase, “imposed no vetting,” is essential to the Clintons’ scheme. A donation to the Clinton Foundation is not instead of a donation to Bill or Hillary; it’s just a way to hide the details of a donation to Bill or Hillary.

And that’s related to the second issue: transparency. The Clintons were only technically vetting money given directly to Bill under this State Department setup. And yet, even those records are incomplete:

Doubts also remain about the transparency of the ethics deal. Obtaining details on how the approval process played out in practice has been difficult and slow. For nearly three years after POLITICO filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the records in late 2009, the State Department released no information.

Heavily redacted documents began to emerge only after the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in 2013. So far, the department has not committed to a date to produce all of the records.

And, further:

How thoroughly State Department ethics officers vetted the requests remains unclear because of document redactions.

Some show lawyers there searching the Internet for information on the people or entities involved. One speech request generated a query to the acting chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, but the details of the exchange were redacted in the released documents.

Painter said that if the State Department did not know in advance about the specific fees involved for speeches or consulting deals, it would be difficult to judge whether sponsors were overpaying for Bill Clinton’s services.

“That would be a gap if they didn’t find out at all,” the ethics lawyer said.

Now, to suggest that this is solely a Bill Clinton problem for Hillary is not quite right. After all, the foundation was in his name while she was secretary of state and yet companies she would champion as the nation’s chief diplomat were plunking money into the foundation. The foundation also had a self-imposed ban on foreign-government contributions while she was at Foggy Bottom but the “ban wasn’t absolute,” so it wasn’t much of a “ban.”

When Hillary left the State Department, her name was added to the foundation and it resumed accepting the foreign money, eschewing even basic subtlety. So it’s not just about Bill; Hillary has been quite active in passing the hat herself once she turned toward running for president.

Now that there have been calls from both Republicans and Democrats to rein in the sleaze, the Clintons are contemplating going back to the old system. But that old system is the one with horrendous transparency, obvious ethical problems, and the appearance of impropriety at all times.

One thing is for certain: with the Clintons raking in the cash from foreign governments in anticipation of her candidacy, every single Democrat’s accusation of “dark money” and “Koch brothers cash” levied at Republicans should be ignored, without exception. As Kim Strassel wrote, the Clinton Foundation is essentially a super-PAC. And the candidate accepting contributions from Qatar and Saudi Arabia is in no position to lecture anyone on influence peddling and American democracy.

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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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Why the 2016 Primaries Will Be a Wild Ride for the GOP

Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

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Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

Why the reversal? To start, the Democrats are not dealing from a position of strength. The fact is that their midterm defeats of 2010 and 2014–not just in the Senate, but state governorships as well–have decimated the party’s bench. There are precious few credible presidential candidates who could run, besides Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden were not so gaffe-prone, he might be able to challenge her, and he might still. But beyond that their bench is weak. So, it is not so much that Clinton’s stature is much improved compared to 2008, when she faced a broad, formidable field for the nomination; it is, rather, that the quality of her would-be competitors has dropped markedly.

Meanwhile, the Republican triumphs in the Senate and governorships have created a wealth of would-be candidates. Ironically, Obama has been very good for the Republican Party. There are a plethora of prospective candidates–Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Rick Snyder, and Scott Walker–who became a senator or governor during the Obama era, in part by running against him. Further, an unpopular Obama helped Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal cruise to their reelections, in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And the same considerations even apply to Ben Carson. Would he be running strongly in Iowa right now if he had not publicly criticized ObamaCare in front of the president?

Still, there is more to the story. Usually, we think of the Democratic Party as a motley assortment of various, often contradictory interest groups, more or less evenly matched. This is why Jimmy Carter could come from nowhere to win in 1976, why Gary Hart could almost take the nomination from Walter Mondale in 1984, why Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton could win their contests even though a majority of Democrats voted for somebody else, and ultimately why Barack Obama basically tied Hillary Clinton in 2008. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is strikingly uniform–more or less the married, white middle class–and this homogeny has facilitated its coronation process. There are just fewer disagreements among Republicans, so they come together on a nominee in an orderly fashion.

This conception of the GOP is not quite right. As I argue in my new book A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, the Republican Party has long been factional as well, just less so than the Democrats. In the late 19th century, for instance, it was an alliance between the middle class, Yankees of New England, industrialists and financiers, Midwestern factory workers, and Western farmers. More often than not, these groups saw eye to eye, but issues like tariffs, the gold standard, and civil-service reform could split them into factions. These divisions were nothing compared to 19th century Democrats–who somehow combined the Southern plantation gentry with the ethnic vote in the big Northern cities–but they were still there, and still mattered under the right circumstances.

Today, the same remains true. Republicans are still factional, even if they are more united than the Democrats. There is the “establishment,” which resides mostly in Democratic-controlled areas like New York City and Washington D.C., but provides the campaign contributions, experts, and consultants necessary to run campaigns; there are cultural conservatives, particularly strong in Midwest caucus states like Iowa; there are small-government reformers, who turn out to vote in New Hampshire primaries; there are pro-growth Sun Belters in states like Florida and Texas; there are pro-military Republicans, for instance in South Carolina; and there are libertarian-style Republicans, strong in Western caucus states. And so on. These groups are all closer to one another than any are to the Democrats, but there are disagreements among them. In the Obama era, there has been tension within the GOP on how quickly and aggressively the party should challenge the president, as well as what to do about immigration reform.

In fact, the Obama administration–while unifying Republicans in shared opposition to the Democratic party–has created some pretty heated disagreements within it about what to do next. We see this in Congress now, as it struggles to formulate and implement an agenda to counter Obama’s. And we probably are going to see it in the primary battle next year, as a major bone of contention will not be whether the country should depart from the Obama policies, but how dramatically it should do so.

And ironically, the strength of the prospective field is probably exacerbating the internal cleavages as well. Right now, each of those factions can point to a credible candidate who agrees predominantly with its perspective. Sometimes, there may be more than one. The establishment figures like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. The cultural conservatives adore Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Scott Walker is the first choice among reformers. Libertarians like Rand Paul. The field is so strong that no faction within the party is forced to say, “OK–my ideal candidate isn’t running. So, who is my compromise choice?”

Will this be a bad thing for the GOP? Possibly. Sean Trende has highlighted the possibility of no clear nominee being found prior to the convention, but that is unprecedented in the modern era. It could still happen, but nobody in the party has an interest in such disunion right before the general election. The most likely outcome is that somebody will emerge to unite a critical mass of the various forces, and become a consensus choice–maybe that candidate will not win a majority of the primary vote, but he or she will have won more than anybody else and be acceptable to all the major factions. And, just like in the free market, political competition can spark innovation and generate upside surprises. The battle will not only improve the ultimate nominee’s campaign skills, but maybe point the way to a better line of attack against Clinton in the general election. If Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” works for capitalism, it can work for Republican politics, too.

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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Why Governments “Invest” in the Clintons

“The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.” After Clinton left the State Department, it appears the foundation quietly resumed passing the hat around to foreign governments, who are no doubt well aware they’re dealing with the possible next president. It sounds icky–as almost any story about Clintonian influence peddling does. But it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to point out that the ethical questions it raises are not simply theoretical.

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“The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.” After Clinton left the State Department, it appears the foundation quietly resumed passing the hat around to foreign governments, who are no doubt well aware they’re dealing with the possible next president. It sounds icky–as almost any story about Clintonian influence peddling does. But it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to point out that the ethical questions it raises are not simply theoretical.

In 1995, 20-year-old Alisa Flatow, a North Jersey native, was killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza. The investigation that followed eventually showed Iran’s hand in the attack, and in Palestinian terror in general. The family sued the Iranian government, and won $247.5 million in damages. It was enabled by legislation: the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 allowed Americans to bring suit against foreign governments which are also sponsors of terrorism, and then-New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg added an amendment to put teeth in the bill.

Iran, obviously, refused to pay up. So a judge ordered Iranian assets in America to be seized and sold to pay the judgment. That’s when the Iranians got some help–from President Bill Clinton. As Seth Lipsky wrote last year:

When it came time for Flatow to collect, an incredible thing happened. The Clinton administration went into court and took the side of Iran against Alisa.

It had panicked when Flatow, aiming to enforce the judgment he’d won, sought to claim a building that the Iran ambassador had used as a residence in Washington. Enforcing the judgment, the Clinton administration claimed, would wreak diplomatic havoc. Eventually, the U.S. government paid Flatow and a number of other terror victims a small settlement out of taxpayer funds. In exchange, the U.S. government, at least in theory, will eventually get to settle up with Iran.

One of the Iranian assets was a building at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York, which was partially owned by the Alavi Foundation. The U.S. government tried to argue that Alavi was not an Iranian-government asset and so should be left alone. But the investigation, spearheaded by former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office, eventually found otherwise and also found that two major world banks, Credit Suisse and Lloyds, were helping the Iranians illegally access the American financial system. The case soon also found similar action by French bank BNP Paribas, which last year pled guilty.

But the Alavi Foundation was grateful for Clinton’s intervention on the Iranian government’s behalf and against the victims of terrorism. In 2006 and again in 2008, the foundation donated more than $50,000 total to the Clinton Foundation.

Again: as president, Clinton protected Iranian front groups from being held accountable for terror. They thanked him by cutting fat checks to Clinton after he left office.

This is why stories such as the Journal’s make people uncomfortable. It’s because the Clintons’ behavior is too often just as slimy as it appears. It doesn’t just sound bad–it is. It’s also a reminder that what the Iranians are doing now to Barack Obama they did to Clinton too: demand (and receive) protection and a degree of immunity in return for negotiations that go nowhere.

According to the Journal, first-time donors include the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have ramped up donations as well. And it’s important to note that ever since 2008 (or even before), governments understand that when they’re dealing with Hillary Clinton they’re dealing with someone who might soon be the most powerful person in the world. Back in 2012, I called attention to this passage from Susan Glasser’s story on Hillary’s negotiations with the Chinese government to free dissident Chen Guangcheng:

What would it take for her to run again for president in 2016? “Nothing,” she replied quickly. Then she laughed. Even the Chinese, she said, had asked her about it at Wednesday night’s dinner, suggesting she should run. They were “saying things like, ‘Well, you know, I mean 2016 is not so far away.… You may retire, but you’re very young,’” Clinton recalled.

Maybe, I ventured, that’s why they had in the end been willing to accommodate her on Chen; they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

Not “maybe.” The Clintons are an investment, and they always have been. And as president, Hillary wouldn’t be able to pick and choose which issues to deal with. As American University’s James Thurber told the Journal, “she can’t recuse herself.” That the Clintons have chosen to renew foreign donations on the eve of Hillary’s presidential campaign shows that the more things change, the more the Clintons stay the same.

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Is It Already Too Late for Hillary to Delay Her Candidacy?

Timing is everything, so it’s no wonder Hillary Clinton is thinking hard about when she wants to go from being an informal candidate for president to a formal candidate for president. But one challenge she’s facing is that it may already be too late to adjust the calculus. The news that she is considering delaying her announcement shows why that is.

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Timing is everything, so it’s no wonder Hillary Clinton is thinking hard about when she wants to go from being an informal candidate for president to a formal candidate for president. But one challenge she’s facing is that it may already be too late to adjust the calculus. The news that she is considering delaying her announcement shows why that is.

Politico broke the news this morning that Clinton, seeing no reason to jump in the race just yet, may wait until this summer, some time around July, to announce. It’s not surprising, since the previous times she was expected to announce have come and gone. She’s in a bit of a holding pattern right now; she could announce at any time, and so she never does. But now that she’s far enough into the prospective campaign, her decisions can’t really be made so quietly. To paraphrase the band Rush, if she chooses not to decide she still has made a choice.

The reason for her not to delay her announcement, in fact, is right there in the justification for it. To wit:

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Democrats tell POLITICO.

The delay from the original April target would give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, without the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”

Advisers said the biggest reason for the delay is simple: She feels no rush.

“She doesn’t want to feel pressured by the press to do something before she’s ready,” one adviser said. “She’s better off as a noncandidate. Why not wait?”

There are two reasons here for her to delay her candidacy. One of them is correct but carries too much risk in acknowledging its truth. The other is probably wrong.

Take the first reason: she’s “expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination.” Unless Elizabeth Warren runs, which doesn’t seem all that likely right now, this is true. And the way you know it’s true is that it’s virtually impossible to claim any of the other candidates poses a threat to Clinton with a straight face.

Go ahead and try it: tell yourself that Martin O’Malley, or Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, or self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, or Crazy Uncle Joe Biden stands in the way of Hillary’s coronation. It’s laughable.

But here’s the catch: Hillary can’t say that. The weak non-Hillary field has become part of the narrative of the election. So saying that she’s delaying her candidacy becomes a statement that she can afford to delay her candidacy because her opposition is a collective joke.

This could easily backfire. It could encourage someone else to jump in the race after Hillary does, on the theory that Clinton miscalculated. It could also breed resentment toward her for acting “inevitable.” And it’s possible it would spook the national party into remembering that when Hillary says she’s inevitable, she might actually be trying to paper over weaknesses that would emerge in the general election instead of in the primaries.

There is no surer way for Hillary to cement her reputation as an entitled legacy candidate and elitist with royal self-regard than to declare the field unworthy of her entrance until the crown has been fitted and polished. Even if it doesn’t attract additional candidates, it’s not a storyline she wants to help along.

The second reason was summed up by her advisor: “She’s better off as a noncandidate. Why not wait?”

But is she? I don’t think so. We’re living in a very different media universe even from the last time she ran. Case in point: the New York Times put a reporter on the Clinton beat in the summer of 2013. Soon after the move was made, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan noted that “Mrs. Clinton may consider her future up in the air, but The Times apparently does not. Or at least it’s hedging its bets.”

It was a smart move by the Times, and Chozick’s reporting has rewarded their bet on Clinton’s candidacy.

Certainly, the types of stories that get filed on Hillary from around the political press are different from the ones that would be filed were Hillary officially in the race. But they aren’t benefiting her. Clinton’s gaffes get covered now, and any policy debate allows her to work off the rust ahead of time.

Also, as I noted in December when the press was on her case over her speaking fees, we were going to get some ridiculous and unfair stories because reporters needed copy. Does Hillary want her early-campaign coverage to be shaped by tales of her demands for the provision of crudité and hummus and rectangular-shaped pillows at each commencement address?

Hillary has learned that she can’t bore the press into submission. And that there’s a danger in believing her own hype. At least that’s what she should have learned. Her most recent actions suggest those lessons have yet to sink in.

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General Romney Refights the Last War

A year away from the first primaries in 2016 and without having actually declared for the presidency, Mitt Romney appears to be in full campaign mode. Yesterday he was at Mississippi State University for a speech and a photo op with the school’s successful football coach eating pulled pork sandwiches, the sort of stunt that one usually sees in an election year instead of the closed-door fundraising that generally characterizes campaign activities this far in advance of the voting. But Romney’s message was not only that he was interested in running. His main point is that he has learned the lessons from his defeat at the hands of Barack Obama. Romney joked about his wealth and talked about the need for outreach to minorities and working-class voters. Those are good ideas but the notion that correcting the mistakes of 2012 gives him a good argument for the presidential nomination next year is a fallacy. As much as the Republicans do need to learn from their errors, refighting the next war with the tactics that might won the last one is a mistake that failed generals always make.

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A year away from the first primaries in 2016 and without having actually declared for the presidency, Mitt Romney appears to be in full campaign mode. Yesterday he was at Mississippi State University for a speech and a photo op with the school’s successful football coach eating pulled pork sandwiches, the sort of stunt that one usually sees in an election year instead of the closed-door fundraising that generally characterizes campaign activities this far in advance of the voting. But Romney’s message was not only that he was interested in running. His main point is that he has learned the lessons from his defeat at the hands of Barack Obama. Romney joked about his wealth and talked about the need for outreach to minorities and working-class voters. Those are good ideas but the notion that correcting the mistakes of 2012 gives him a good argument for the presidential nomination next year is a fallacy. As much as the Republicans do need to learn from their errors, refighting the next war with the tactics that might won the last one is a mistake that failed generals always make.

Most Republican activists as well as the pundit class haven’t given Romney much love since he made it clear late last month that he was interested in a third run for the presidency. But despite the negative reviews, Romney is still polling well in primary and caucus states. Even GOP voters who were never enthused about him in the first place regard him with some affection due to the strong fight he gave Obama and the fact that much of what he said in the campaign, especially about foreign policy, proved to be true. His critique of Hillary Clinton on a whole range of issues is also very much to the point. Nor can there be much doubt that he can raise all the money needed for a serious run even if Jeb Bush snatches up most of the establishment’s biggest donors. Mock him all you like but unlike many of those mentioned as possible candidates, Romney is a credible contender, especially in a crowded and highly unpredictable field.

But Republicans still need to be wary of the “I learned my lesson” routine.

Even if Romney does everything right that he did wrong the last time—and that includes not making gaffes that wrote off much of the electorate—that doesn’t get him very far in the next election.

Republicans may have needed a more minority-friendly candidate in 2012 and the same quality will be helpful in 2016. But the circumstances have changed.

In one major sense, that’s all to the good for the GOP. In 2012, they were up against a historic candidate who didn’t have to do or say much to justify support because merely voting for him made a lot of Americans feel good about correcting historic injustices. Obama’s electoral magic will not be on the ballot and even if Hillary Clinton will have her own brand of history that she will be trying to make as the first female president, it won’t have the same resonance with many voters as Obama’s efforts. Whereas Obama was a brilliant campaigner (albeit a poor president), Clinton is as much of a gaffe machine as Romney.

Moreover, Democrats won’t be running on hope and change with Clinton at the top of their ticket. Rather it will be an attempt to recycle the old Clinton magic with a feminist touch.

That is exactly why it would be a mistake for Republicans to run a recycled candidate against her.

Just as important, the assumption that Romney learning how to talk about his wealth or even his faith will help him win the next time is a profound misunderstanding of both the previous election and the next one.

Fewer such mistakes might have helped Romney in 2012, but even a perfect GOP candidate might have fallen short against Obama. Even more to the point, having a candidate who knows how to talk about being a plutocrat or even a millionaire investor isn’t the problem. The problem is avoiding nominating someone who can be falsely characterized as a member of the ruling class in this manner. The same is true in terms of minority outreach since those who were so offended by it or any other of his mistakes won’t forget Romney’s 2012 lurch to the right so quickly.

We don’t know yet what all of the most important obstacles to Republican victory will be in 2016. Each election presents its own set of challenges based on the circumstances of the moment and the dynamic of the candidates. But whatever the answer will be, obsessing about 2012 won’t get you even halfway to victory. Indeed, too much concern about the election that was recently lost almost certainly ensures that the next will also be a disaster.

Romney has earned a respectful hearing from Republicans. But the more he talks about last time and the tactics that would have won the last election, the less GOP voters should be paying attention to what he says.

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Adventures in Obama’s Imaginary World

It is tempting to get distracted by the cartoonishly biased framing of this Washington Post story on the Obama administration’s new executive action on environmental regulation in Alaska. But that media bias is only one of three important takeaways in the story—and in fact is the least important of the three.

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It is tempting to get distracted by the cartoonishly biased framing of this Washington Post story on the Obama administration’s new executive action on environmental regulation in Alaska. But that media bias is only one of three important takeaways in the story—and in fact is the least important of the three.

The article is about the Obama administration’s decision to “propose setting aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the White House announced Sunday, halting any chance of oil exploration for now in the refuge’s much-fought-over coastal plain and sparking a fierce battle with Republicans, including the new chair of the Senate Energy Committee.” Though it’s clear that it’s the president initiating action and those who have to live with the consequences who are reacting, the Post slaps the following headline on the piece: “Obama administration to propose new wilderness protections in Arctic refuge — Alaska Republicans declare war.”

Set aside the Post’s obvious and misplaced dramatizing. We don’t even hear from the GOP until we’re nine paragraphs into the story. If anyone’s “declar[ing] war,” it’s not the side whose comments are treated as an afterthought.

But again, that’s less important than two other aspects of the story. One is the fact that Obama’s use of executive authority is designed by someone who has lost touch with reality. Obama’s latest decision is aimed at a Congress that doesn’t exist, except in Obama’s own mind:

The new areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) proposed for wilderness designation will comprise 1.52 million acres of the refuge’s coastal plain, 5.85 million acres of the Brooks mountain range and 4.92 million acres of the Porcupine Plateau.

The move marks the latest instance of Obama’s aggressive use of executive authority to advance his top policy priorities. While only Congress can create a wilderness area, once the federal government identifies a place for that designation, it receives the highest level of protection until Congress acts or a future administration adopts a different approach.

A few years ago CBS’s Steve Kroft asked Obama, who was responding to terrible economic news with goofy smiles and stale talking points, if he was “punch drunk.” At this point, punch drunk is a best-case scenario. Congress is obviously not going to close off American energy production in order to follow the Democrats’ unicorn environmentalism. But Obama takes the step of putting up barriers that can either be added to by Congress or deconstructed by a future, more rational president.

Which brings us to the third interesting aspect of the story: the reaction of a future president. The Post makes clear that this is a setup for Hillary Clinton, who obviously has no intention of undoing the damage. In fact, she might as well be cosigning this act of economic and environmental extremism:

It also reflects the influence of White House senior counselor John Podesta, who is stepping down next month to help launch Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expected presidential bid. Podesta, who helped oversee several of President Bill Clinton’s major public lands initiatives while serving as his chief of staff, has elevated conservation issues to the top of the White House agenda since joining Obama’s staff a year ago.

In a blog post, Podesta and the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Mike Boots wrote that while the administration backs oil and gas production, the refuge is not an appropriate place. “Unfortunately, accidents and spills can still happen, and the environmental impacts can sometimes be felt for many years,” they wrote.

Obama is so focused on his legacy that he’s using an imaginary Congress to build bridges to an imaginary president. All this should be kept in mind for when Hillary makes her campaign official. She will run claiming to support the middle class and declare her intention to unlock America’s potential, no doubt triangulating on domestic energy production.

What we now know is that this will be false, and she will have tipped her hand ahead of time. She’s already running a campaign on putting American energy exploration on lockdown and building on Obama’s executive overreach. And that’s why Alaska Republicans are pushing back by the time the Post gets around to acknowledging their existence. If there is anything that is real about this delusional array of policies, it is the economic impact on those who have to live with it:

“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. . . . I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.” Murkowski spoke to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the department’s plan during a brief phone call Friday.

By “every resource at our disposal,” the Post seems to think Murkowski was talking about the Alaska National Guard. Murkowski probably meant legal resources. I don’t know what the Post’s excuse is, though it’s understandable why a reference to the rule of law went right over Podesta’s head. He responded with a condescending remark suggesting Murkowski’s reaction was unbalanced.

But nothing Murkowski said was untrue. And it gives Hillary an early look at the opposition she’ll face when, as a candidate, she’s reminded of her campaign manager’s mischief.

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Free Bobby Jindal!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama and More Republican Jews

For decades some Republicans have been predicting that the Democrats’ stranglehold on the Jewish vote was coming to an end. So it’s understandable if the Gallup poll released on Tuesday showing a shift in the number of Jews identifying as Democrats or Republicans will encourage the GOP continue its efforts to build support in that community. Nevertheless, more objective observers will be forgiven for being less enthusiastic. The results showed that at the end of 2014, 61 percent of Jews are Democrats and 29 percent Republicans. That’s a shift from only seven years ago when the figures showed the margin to be 71 to 22 percent in favor of the Democrats. But that still gives the Democrats a huge edge among Jews. Assuming that these trends hold steady, it would mean that Republicans could expect to have bare a majority of the Jewish vote in another 21 years. That won’t help their 2016 candidates much, but the question about whether they can really hope to keep gaining ground among Jews depends on which is the more decisive factor in determining Jewish political affiliation: demographic trends leading to a more Orthodox population or Barack Obama.

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For decades some Republicans have been predicting that the Democrats’ stranglehold on the Jewish vote was coming to an end. So it’s understandable if the Gallup poll released on Tuesday showing a shift in the number of Jews identifying as Democrats or Republicans will encourage the GOP continue its efforts to build support in that community. Nevertheless, more objective observers will be forgiven for being less enthusiastic. The results showed that at the end of 2014, 61 percent of Jews are Democrats and 29 percent Republicans. That’s a shift from only seven years ago when the figures showed the margin to be 71 to 22 percent in favor of the Democrats. But that still gives the Democrats a huge edge among Jews. Assuming that these trends hold steady, it would mean that Republicans could expect to have bare a majority of the Jewish vote in another 21 years. That won’t help their 2016 candidates much, but the question about whether they can really hope to keep gaining ground among Jews depends on which is the more decisive factor in determining Jewish political affiliation: demographic trends leading to a more Orthodox population or Barack Obama.

The breakdown of the Gallup poll seems to be very much in line with the results of the Pew Survey on Jewish Americans released in October 2013 that told the story of a community that was rapidly disintegrating due to assimilation and intermarriage. While support for and interest in Israel—a key advantage for Republicans in recent years—seemed to be down among most Jews, it was greater among those who were more religious. The Gallup numbers similarly showed that the more religious a Jew was, the more likely he or she is to identify as a Republican. If those demographic trends hold and more liberal Jews drift away from Judaism as a religion or support for the concept of Jewish peoplehood, that may leave a growing Orthodox community in position to eventually claim a much larger percentage, if not a majority, of the Jewish vote.

But if that is where the Jewish vote is heading, it must be understood that such a triumph, if triumph it is, will be in the context of a rapidly shrinking demographic group. When you consider that Jews are less than two percent of the population (though they vote in much greater numbers than most other groups), a larger share of such a tiny community is not likely to be decisive even if they are concentrated in large states with a lot of electoral votes.

But we’re a long way from even that not altogether likely scenario. For now, Jews remain overwhelming liberal (as COMMENTARY’s Norman Podhoretz explained in his seminal book on the subject) and very much in the pocket of the Democrats under all but the most exceptional of circumstances.

Nevertheless, though we may deprecate the small advantage that will accrue to either party in the event of any change in the Jewish vote, the rather significant shift in the last seven years can’t be ignored. Nor is it possible to avoid the conclusion to be drawn from the fact that this period coincides with the presidency of Barack Obama. Though a large majority of Jews voted first to elect and then (albeit by a smaller margin) to reelect Obama, the corresponding increase in Jews who call themselves Republicans and decrease in Democrats cannot be understood outside of the context of the president’s near constant combat with the government of Israel during his time in office. Except for a 2012 election-year pause for a Jewish charm offensive, the hostility between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has matched the low points of the U.S.-Israel relationship during the administration of the first President George Bush. The attacks on Israel by the president and his foreign-policy team have led to a number of pointless spats. Though the president has not abandoned the alliance altogether (as evidence by the U.S. vote against a Palestinian attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to recognize their independence) the chill in relations is not a secret. That it has taken a toll on Jewish support for his party is obvious.

This is a reminder that even the Republicans’ high point in modern presidential politics among Jews is something of a mirage. In 1980, Ronald Reagan got nearly 40 percent of the Jewish vote against Jimmy Carter, setting up the first great of GOP optimism about the Jewish vote. But Reagan’s success was not duplicated in 1984 when he won an even bigger landslide than his first race. In 1992, the first George Bush helped the GOP hit bottom among Jewish voters with his antagonistic relationship with Israel.

In other words, the size of the Jewish vote for Republicans was more a function of the unacceptability of the Democratic alternative than any great affection for the Gipper. Absent a Democrat that pro-Israel Jews don’t trust, surges in the Jewish vote for Republicans don’t happen.

But as much as anger about Obama’s attitude helped Republicans, heading into the 2016 election cycle they shouldn’t count on this continuing. The likely Democratic standard bearer next year is Hillary Clinton. Though her record on Israel is actually spotty—the GOP will never let her live down her embrace of Suha Arafat and she must bear some of the responsibility for the damage to the alliance during Obama’s first term—Jewish voters are likely to trust her more than they did Obama.

On the other side of the aisle, though Jeb Bush and most of the other potential Republican candidates are friends of Israel, the rising influence of Rand Paul bodes ill for Jewish Republicans. Though he claims to be for Israel too, his neo-isolationist approach to foreign policy is rightly derided as harmful the interests of the Jewish state. Should Paul become more influential in the party in the coming years, Republicans can forget about making gains in the Jewish vote.

Thus, while demography may be helping to tilt the meter incrementally in their favor, Republicans should be more concerned with nominating a candidate that can be relied on to support Israel. Even more to the point, they have to hope the Democrats nominate another would-be president that Jews fear or dislike. Failing that, no one should expect pro-GOP trends to be decisive.

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Jeb Bush Pivots to the General Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mario Cuomo: Earnest, Humble, and Wrong

When former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, father of current Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed away last week, the remembrances were strangely silent on the entirety of Cuomo’s career in office save about three quarters of an hour of it in 1984. Like our current president, Cuomo was famous for giving a Democratic National Convention speech. Unlike our current president, this is perfectly ridiculous: he was a three-term governor of New York. But missing from most if not all of the remembrances of that famous speech is the most important aspect of it: Mario Cuomo, for all his poise and eloquence, was wrong.

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When former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, father of current Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed away last week, the remembrances were strangely silent on the entirety of Cuomo’s career in office save about three quarters of an hour of it in 1984. Like our current president, Cuomo was famous for giving a Democratic National Convention speech. Unlike our current president, this is perfectly ridiculous: he was a three-term governor of New York. But missing from most if not all of the remembrances of that famous speech is the most important aspect of it: Mario Cuomo, for all his poise and eloquence, was wrong.

The speech, which aimed populist fire at Ronald Reagan’s economic optimism, is not only being remembered on the national political stage because it was a pretty good speech; it’s also because it created a groundswell of hope among progressives that Cuomo would run for president. The speech survives with its almost mythical legacy precisely because Cuomo was smart enough–or humble enough, to be fair–not to run. Liberals like to wonder what might have been. But the truth is, we know exactly what might have been. Had Mario Cuomo run for president in 1988–the first cycle after his speech and the last real chance he’d have to run for an open presidential seat–he would have lost. And it probably wouldn’t have been close.

As far as the economic recovery was concerned, the sun was already up on Reagan’s morning in America. Here’s CNN comparing the Reagan recovery with the Obama recovery in 2012:

“The Reagan recovery had one of the fastest rates of growth we ever saw,” said Barry Bosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “If anything it was too strong. It was spectacular.”

Just take a look at the numbers:

The economy grew at 4.5% in 1983, with a few quarters of growth north of 8%. In 2011, meanwhile, the economy grew just 1.7%.

In just one month — September 1983 — the economy added more than a million jobs. For the full year, the economy added almost 3.5 million jobs, a trend that continued into 1984, an election year in which Reagan captured 49 states in a landslide victory.

Obama can claim job growth of 1.8 million in 2011. A welcome comeback, but still tepid by comparison.

Looking ahead to 2012, Obama could replicate the 243,000 jobs created in January over each of the next 11 months and still not approach Reagan’s total for 1984 of 3.9 million.

That meant that Cuomo’s speech had to take a “yes, but…” approach to the economic recovery. But even that was fairly weak stuff. Reagan’s economy saw a decline in poverty as well. This wasn’t some recovery for plutocrats. It was a genuine economic revival.

Cuomo’s emotional appeal was, in the end, mostly just an appeal to emotion. Which helps explain why the speech–and only the speech–is so beloved by today’s progressives. One name that keeps cropping up in stories about the speech is Elizabeth Warren. Considering the shallow nature of her populism, this is actually quite insulting to the thoughtful Cuomo. There’s a reason I have Cuomo’s campaign diaries on my bookshelf behind me and not Warren’s big book of grievances. Left-wing populists really ought to take one glance at the comparison between Cuomo and Warren and wonder how they fell so far so fast. Anyone who thinks Warren can or should fill his shoes is selling something (probably on behalf of a super-PAC).

And Mario Cuomo’s nightfall-in-America routine lives on because it wasn’t tested in a national election. I don’t know how Cuomo would have fared in 1992, though I have my doubts. But had Cuomo’s anti-Reaganism actually challenged Reagan’s legacy on the national stage–that is, had Cuomo run to succeed Reagan–it would have been trounced. Perpetual pessimism about American decline did not age well during the Reagan years.

But it’s not about facts; it’s about feelings. And tales of American woe make the far left feel good; the pessimism feeds the belief that there is a wide market in America for their fantasies of national decline and vengeful redistribution on a massive scale. But as with any political platform, timing is key. Americans quite enjoyed seeing their country be both prosperous and free during Reagan’s presidency. Perhaps Warren’s timing is better than Cuomo’s?

And that consideration is really the best parallel between Cuomo and Warren. We don’t know if Warren actually wants to be president. Does she have the fire in the belly that eluded Cuomo? Maybe, maybe not. But it is highly likely she doesn’t have the Clintonian ambition she would run up against (just as Cuomo would have in 1992). It’s rare, but sometimes politicians actually set limits on themselves. Mario Cuomo did. If Warren does as well, she’ll at least earn some of this otherwise incongruous comparison.

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Jeb’s Strategy: Make Everything Old News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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How a Fugitive Family Bought the Obama W.H., Hillary, and Menendez

President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

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President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

The crux of the story is fairly simple. As the Times report begins:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

The Times notes that there are essentially two dimensions to this family story. There are the family’s “patriarchs,” Roberto and William Isaías. They ran an Ecuadorian bank until, according to Ecuadorian authorities, they ran it into the ground. They stood accused of falsifying balance sheets in order to obtain access to bailout funds. The Ecuadorian government says this fraud cost the state $400 million. They were convicted and sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

But they are not in prison. They are in Miami. (Yes, there is a difference.) They were sentenced in absentia and won’t be extradited.

Then there is Estefanía Isaías, whose case adds to the intrigue.

Estefanía was working as a television executive. She was also engaged in what American consular officials called “alien smuggling.” She was bringing people into the country under false pretenses so they could work as maids. For that, she was barred from entering the U.S.–and from a job with a major Obama campaign bundler–until recently when her ban was overturned by the Obama administration.

So how are they all free to live in the United States? The answer is as old as time: follow the money. Here’s what the Obama campaign got:

The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats. …

In 2012, the Isaías family donated about $100,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. Campaign finance records show that their most generous donations came just before a request to the administration.

And Menendez:

Ms. Isaías’s mother, María Mercedes, had recently donated $30,000 to the Senate campaign committee that Mr. Menendez led when she turned to him for help in her daughter’s case. At least two members of Mr. Menendez’s staff worked with Ms. Isaías and her father, as well as lawyers and other congressional offices, to argue that she had been unfairly denied entry into the United States.

Over the course of the next year, as various members of the Isaías family donated to Mr. Menendez’s re-election campaign, the senator and his staff repeatedly made calls, sent emails and wrote letters about Ms. Isaías’s case to Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Mills, the consulate in Ecuador, and the departments of State and Homeland Security.

After months of resistance from State Department offices in Ecuador and Washington, the senator lobbied Ms. Mills himself, and the ban against Ms. Isaías was eventually overturned.

And Hillary Clinton:

But the case involving Estefanía could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time high-ranking officials overruled the agency’s ban on Ms. Isaías for immigration fraud, and whose office made calls on the matter.

Alfredo J. Balsera, the Obama fund-raiser whose firm, Balsera Communications, sponsored Ms. Isaías’s visa, was featured recently in USA Today as a prominent Latino fund-raiser backing Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

In declaring his candidacy for president in 2007, Obama took aim at special interests “who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He continued: “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over.”

Obama has not only not changed the culture of Washington, but arguably made it more insular and susceptible to influence-buying, essentially turning the White House into eBay for ambassadorships, for example. If you’ve got your checkbook with you, Obama and Hillary and Menendez are all about constituent services. Obama’s Washington has never been for anyone other than elites and donors. And it’s never been clearer than it is today.

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Why Warren Is a Threat to Clinton

In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

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In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

[Hillary] Clinton is obviously tough, but she just can’t speak with a clear voice against Wall Street and Washington insiders. [Elizabeth] Warren’s wing shows increasing passion and strength, both in opposing certain Obama nominees and in last week’s budget fight.

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.

That strikes me as right. Senator Warren has a hold on the hearts of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in a way that Mrs. Clinton does not. And one can imagine that Warren’s anti-Wall Street stand will be in 2016 what Barack Obama’s anti-Iraq war stand was in 2008–an issue that ignites a political fire that consumes Hillary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, of course, and it remains to be seen if Senator Warren–if she decides to run–has anything like the political skills Barack Obama possesses. That’s highly unlikely. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton is quite an average political talent–inauthentic, often stiff and uninteresting, not at all a natural campaigner (as her husband was). And if there’s a compelling rationale for her to run, it’s not clear to me what it is. As President Obama’s longtime political adviser David Axelrod put it, “What happened in 2008 was that Hillary’s candidacy got out in front of any rationale for it. And the danger is that’s happening again. You hear Ready for Hillary — it’s like, Ready for What? And now Hillary’s task is to find what it is she’s running for and running about, and what would the future look like under another President Clinton. … She has to answer that question.”

Mrs. Clinton couldn’t do that in 2008; it’s an open question if she can in 2016.

The current political climate is unusually unstable for both political parties. We’re seeing populist anger from both the left and the right. At this moment it looks to be more on the rise among Democrats than Republicans. And that can’t be good news for Hillary Clinton.

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