Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

Obama Signals Early Onset of Dems’ Walker Derangement Syndrome

Pundits pricked up their ears earlier this week when President Obama decided to play favorites in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The president went out of his way to blast Scott Walker for his vow to get rid of the weak deal Obama has struck with Iran, saying that the Wisconsin governor ought to “take some time to bone up on foreign policy.” It wasn’t the first such shot at Walker by Obama, who also singled him out for attack on his signing of a Wisconsin right-to-work bill and even poked fun at Walker in his Gridiron dinner speech for not condemning Rudy Giuliani for saying he didn’t love America. Considering that no other Republican in the crowded GOP presidential field has gotten this kind of attention from the country’s top Democrat, at this point it’s worth asking why. The answer lies in part in the possibility that Walker really is a frontrunner to succeed Obama. But more than that, the governor seems to have what may be a prerequisite for the presidency in this era of hyper-partisanship: the ability to evoke a derangement syndrome among his opponents.

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Pundits pricked up their ears earlier this week when President Obama decided to play favorites in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The president went out of his way to blast Scott Walker for his vow to get rid of the weak deal Obama has struck with Iran, saying that the Wisconsin governor ought to “take some time to bone up on foreign policy.” It wasn’t the first such shot at Walker by Obama, who also singled him out for attack on his signing of a Wisconsin right-to-work bill and even poked fun at Walker in his Gridiron dinner speech for not condemning Rudy Giuliani for saying he didn’t love America. Considering that no other Republican in the crowded GOP presidential field has gotten this kind of attention from the country’s top Democrat, at this point it’s worth asking why. The answer lies in part in the possibility that Walker really is a frontrunner to succeed Obama. But more than that, the governor seems to have what may be a prerequisite for the presidency in this era of hyper-partisanship: the ability to evoke a derangement syndrome among his opponents.

That Walker, of all Republicans, is the one that seems to have gotten Obama’s attention this year is a curious development. Indeed, the only person the president seems to dislike more than Walker is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But if the current trend continues, Walker, who was subjected to death threats and a campaign of intimidation over his clashes with public-worker unions, may soon be reading about how White House officials consider him to be “chickens*!t too. It’s also interesting that the president would bother to talk about Walker as a critic of the disastrous deal he has made with Iran when many other Republicans, as well as a few courageous Democrats, have also stated their opposition.

The Democratic pushback against Walker must be traced to the polls that have vaulted him from marginal presidential contender to first-tier status in the GOP race. The president has signaled, perhaps to Hillary Clinton’s dismay, that he intends to work hard for the Democrats in next year’s presidential election, so getting started early on Walker makes sense in that context.

But the nasty tone that Obama has employed toward Walker bespeaks something a little more than partisanship. As CNN noted, Walker seems to have gotten under Obama’s skin in a way that even more bitter critics of the president like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul don’t seem to have accomplished.

The answer for this irritation with Walker is a recognizable phenomenon. Over the course of the last 20 years, what we have seen is that each of the men who emerged from the cauldron of presidential politics had one thing in common. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all demonstrated the capacity to provoke extreme reactions from partisan opponents. Clinton derangement syndrome on the right gave way to Bush derangement on the left and then to Obama derangement syndrome. We don’t know how 2016 will play out or who will win the presidency, but the one thing we can be sure of is that whoever does prevail will be someone that will drive the other party crazy.

We already know that Hillary Clinton can do that to conservatives, who not only haven’t gotten over their antipathy to her husband but have already been fed enough material by the putative 2016 Democratic candidate to fuel four or eight more years of that derangement syndrome. But the question remains which of the pack of Republicans are best suited to wreak havoc on liberal sensibilities.

One could argue that a firebrand like Cruz fits that bill. But as we have seen with our last three presidents, derangement syndromes do the most damage to their victims when the object of their dislike is someone that can otherwise be portrayed as an ordinary, even likeable person by their supporters. Walker, with his ordinary-guy, can-do pragmatist persona has that. But more importantly, he has already shown that he can drive Democrats nuts in a way that other Republicans may not be able to do.

At a time when a number of successful Republican governors have made their mark, none has been subjected to as much abuse as Walker. His decision to push through reforms of collective bargaining in order to save his state from bankruptcy provoked an epic struggle in Madison in which Democrats tried to shut down the government by having legislators flee the state while union thugs flooded the state capitol building. Walker was subjected to unprecedented personal abuse and then forced to defend his tenure in a recall election halfway through his first term in office. He survived the storm, got his bills passed, and then easily fended off the recall. He then followed that with a decisive re-election victory giving him three wins in a purple state in four years. Each time, Democrats thought they had him beaten only to see him prevail and get stronger in the process. That’s the same kind of thing that drove Republicans nuts about Bill Clinton.

Walker has a lot to prove before he can really be called a frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Recent gaffes have shown that for all of the attention he got in Wisconsin, the white heat of a presidential contest is another thing entirely. But President Obama and other Democrats seem to be telling us that Walker has that intangible quality that seems to be essential to electoral success at a time when partisanship is getting increasingly bitter all the time. If we’re looking to see which of the GOP candidates is more likely to drive Democrats over the edge, Walker might really be the one who heads into 2016 with a clear advantage.

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Hillary Clinton and the Language Police

With each Hillary Clinton presidential campaign comes the requisite language policing from her supporters. Before the 2008 election, some argued it was sexist to call her “Hillary,” a claim that lost most of its force when it became clear that Clinton herself wanted to use her first name. And now we have the latest attempts to rule out certain words or phrases: Hillary’s poor social skills apparently must not be named, especially with words like “polarizing.” But her supporters are doing her no favors.

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With each Hillary Clinton presidential campaign comes the requisite language policing from her supporters. Before the 2008 election, some argued it was sexist to call her “Hillary,” a claim that lost most of its force when it became clear that Clinton herself wanted to use her first name. And now we have the latest attempts to rule out certain words or phrases: Hillary’s poor social skills apparently must not be named, especially with words like “polarizing.” But her supporters are doing her no favors.

In late March, a group calling itself Clinton’s “Super Volunteers” decided to let the media know they’d be watching coverage of Clinton and would push back on the use of any of the words they’ve decided are unfair:

So these words are now off the table: “polarizing,” “calculating,” “disingenuous,” “insincere,” “ambitious,” “inevitable,” “entitled,” “over-confident,” “secretive,” “will do anything to win,” “represents the past,” and “out of touch.”

The thinking here, of course, is that these kinds of words are attached to Clinton in a way that they wouldn’t be attached to male candidates — that people wouldn’t call Clinton “ambitious” if she weren’t a woman, that there is a double-standard for such traits.

Some are pretty funny: you can’t say “inevitable”? This is self-parody. What the members of the Clinton campaign’s Sea Org are actually proving is that accurately describing Clinton is itself a negative act because she has built a career on negativity and the ever-present air of corruption.

The Clintons are experienced practitioners of the politics of personal destruction. That nastiness can easily translate to being “polarizing.” But maybe, say some defenders, “polarizing” is unfair because everyone’s polarizing. That’s the case made in a New York Times Magazine piece. Here’s Mark Leibovich:

Initially, reporters said Clinton was “polarizing” because she was a transitional figure in the culture wars as they existed a quarter-century ago. She was a working woman and full political partner with (gasp) feminist tendencies. Among would-be first ladies in the early 1990s, these were exotic qualities. Today Hillary Clinton is a cautious and exceedingly diplomatic politician, perhaps to her detriment. (She is often criticized for being “calculating” and “robotic.”) If anything, her willingness to be deliberate, speak carefully and appeal to the political center was a big part of what sank her with liberal Democrats who opted for Barack Obama in 2008. If Clinton really were polarizing, wouldn’t the left be more excited about her? Wouldn’t people be roused from their “Clinton fatigue”?

Well, no. That’s not what it means to be polarizing in this context. Clinton isn’t polarizing because she’s liberal; she’s polarizing because she’s Nixonian. Richard Nixon was a political centrist, even liberal on some issues. According to Leibovich’s logic, that should make him less polarizing. I doubt many would agree.

With Hillary, a very common question surrounding each new revelation of her political activity is: How many laws did she break? This results in her having to rely on her most fanatical supporters, since defending rampant rule-breaking from someone who aspires to be put in charge of the American government is hard to do on the merits. It requires personally attacking critics and the press, which in turn only increases the polarization–again, with it originating from Hillary’s camp.

Leibovich adds:

When people say Clinton is polarizing, they are largely indicting her by association. She has been a fixture of our political climate for so long that the climate defines her. But the political climate has not been made, or polarized, by mysterious outside forces. It is us. You could argue that the act of showing up at CPAC and cheering a red-meat speech from the likes of Ted Cruz is an act of self-polarization, or at least an indication that common cause with Clinton probably was not much of a possibility to begin with.

And what does a red-meat speech from Ted Cruz include? Does it advocate for destroying evidence wanted by Congress? Breaking government rules to hide your taxpayer-funded activities from the people? Putting serious and sensitive government intelligence at risk by making it easier for the Chinese and the Russians to see our files than the relevant congressional committees? Running facets of a parallel government, with an entirely private server and a private spy shop feeding you intel? Using your family’s private philanthropic foundation as a super-PAC for foreign governments and then using the internal grant process to bleach the fingerprints off those checks?

I could go on, but I think the point is clear. Hillary lives by one standard, one set of rules, one book of laws, and wants everyone else to have to live by another. This aspect of her political personality is, at its core, aggressively contemptuous of the American people. And that’s pretty polarizing.

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Why Rand Paul Doesn’t Need to Tell Us Why He’s Running (But Hillary Does)

Contrary to what may seem like a mad dash for the Republican presidential nomination, the distribution of candidate announcements so far has actually been quite rational. Those who had the most to gain by jumping into the race early have done so. Tomorrow brings the beginning of the next phase: the entry into the race of the group of candidates known as “everyone else.”

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Contrary to what may seem like a mad dash for the Republican presidential nomination, the distribution of candidate announcements so far has actually been quite rational. Those who had the most to gain by jumping into the race early have done so. Tomorrow brings the beginning of the next phase: the entry into the race of the group of candidates known as “everyone else.”

Tomorrow Rand Paul is expected to officially launch his presidential campaign. A week later, Marco Rubio will likely do the same. And on the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton may formally announce her candidacy as early as the day after Rubio’s campaign launch. The campaign will be underway in earnest, though this will start a less interesting chapter in the 2016 story.

Although Jeb Bush has not officially launched his campaign, he was the first to make an announcement that made plain the fact that his campaign was functionally underway and also opened the gates to the 2016 primary race. This made a great deal of sense: it was unclear if Jeb really was going to run, and he wanted to assuage all doubt and signal to donors and staffers he was in.

Jeb is also vying for the affections of the party establishment, and he had a chance to deliver a knockout blow to his chief establishment rival, Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor is limited in what steps he can take toward a candidacy right now and is bound by his day job. Jeb isn’t, and so he knew if he could jump in and crowd out the donor/staffer field on the establishment side of the race, he could make it impossible for Christie to have a path to the nomination, and maybe even convince him not to run at all.

The next candidate to remove all doubt, and the first to officially announce his campaign, was Ted Cruz. The Texas senator seemed more likely than Jeb to run, but that perception might have had something to do with the fact that Cruz is currently in office and Jeb isn’t, and Cruz’s actions in the Senate always seemed to be aiming at something larger than the individual votes around which they were taken.

But Cruz is also a young, freshman senator in a (prospective) field with other young, freshman senators. It made sense that one of the freshmen toying with the idea of running for president would sit this one out and wait for a future election, especially if they felt generally confident in their reelection prospects. Cruz fit the bill of the member of the club who might have been most likely to wait. Jumping into the race officially, then, was the smart play: like Jeb, there was a genuine will-he-or-won’t-he aspect to his compelling freshman term, even if he did always seem to lean toward running.

Cruz also might have an in-state rival for conservative affection in Rick Perry. Cruz will benefit greatly from a head start on Perry, a three-term governor with national connections and some (rather bumpy) presidential campaign experience.

In other words, those who needed a head start entered the race early enough to get one. The natural reaction of the others, then, would be to enter the race as well and limit that head start. And so that’s what they’re doing.

Tomorrow Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy, and he’s released a campaign trailer to preview it. We’re told he’s a “new kind of Republican,” and the message on screen at the close of the video says: “On April 7 one leader will stand up to defeat the Washington machine and unleash the American dream.” It’s a message clearly directed at Cruz, Rubio, and any other members of Congress considering running (Lindsey Graham, Peter King). This, too, makes sense: Paul actually benefits from Jeb winning establishment backing and older candidates reinforce his past-vs.-future message. Cruz, however, is a real impediment to his chances of winning the nomination, though it’s unclear how he’ll present himself as more of an outsider than Cruz.

But the key is that he doesn’t have to–at least not yet. The announcement doesn’t have to break any new ground or present anything more than a general message. Politicians with relatively strong name identification build their own reputations over time. Paul doesn’t need to say anything more than “I’m running.”

And it puts into stark relief the difference between such politicians and those who actually need to say who they are and what they stand for on every re-introduction. Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign is a perfect example. She has nothing interesting to say about anything. The news stories on her campaign take on a distinctly dopey quality because of this.

Commentators had some fun with an Associated Press dispatch on Clinton in late February. As the Free Beacon notes, the AP’s initial headline was “Clinton says she would push problem-solving if she runs.” It was later changed to “Clinton says she would push for inclusive problem-solving.”

Clinton is running for president because she believes it’s owed to her. Her new campaign focus is no better. Here’s the AP from this morning: “Clinton to start 2016 bid with focus on voter interaction.” Hillary Clinton is now willing to do anything to become president, even if it means talking to the unwashed masses.

This problem keeps cropping up because Clinton stands for nothing and believes nothing, and is at constant pains to justify her candidacy. Rand Paul doesn’t have to justify anything, which is why his announcement tomorrow won’t actually be very dramatic. And that’s a good thing.

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Can U.S. Slash Military Budget When Russia’s Preparing for War?

The battle over sequestration continues, as Congress mandates that the Pentagon continue to slash the U.S. army down to pre-World War II levels. Meanwhile, the Iranian military is resurgent, peace deal or not, with the Islamic Republic increasing its defense budget by some 33.5 percent. Then, again, being militarily active in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq takes money.

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The battle over sequestration continues, as Congress mandates that the Pentagon continue to slash the U.S. army down to pre-World War II levels. Meanwhile, the Iranian military is resurgent, peace deal or not, with the Islamic Republic increasing its defense budget by some 33.5 percent. Then, again, being militarily active in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq takes money.

Perhaps President Obama believes he has solved the Iran problem, or is well on his way to doing so. But even if his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to insist her “reset” policy with Russia worked, Russian President Vladimir Putin poses an increasing threat to international security, as anyone in Georgia or Ukraine can attest. Obama may believe the situation has stabilized—after all, press attention has moved on—but it looks like the situation might soon go from bad to worse.

According to this analysis in The Interpreter, Russian military spending has increased sharply. Of course, it is pretty certain that the real budget is even higher than the official, sanitized version. According to the article, based on the analysis of Russian economist Andrey Illarionov as published on opposition leader Garry Kasparov’s website:

Between the time that Putin came to power up to January 2014, the Moscow economist and commentator says, Moscow has spent on average 2.5 to 3.2 percent of GDP on the military, with the figure tending to rise over time. During the first 13 years of his rule, Illarionov says, spending in constant prices went up 2.6 times…. After Putin made his final decision to intervene in Ukraine in February 2014, he says, Moscow’s military expenditures “were increased by more than twice,” a figure that suggested the Russian government intended not only to seize and occupy Crimea but all of what it calls “Novorossiya.” In February, March and April of last year, Russian military spending amounted to 6.7 percent of GDP and 27.7 percent of all budget expenditures.

The situation is getting worse. Here’s the alarming section:

According to Illarionov, official Russian government figures show that “the situation radically changed” in the first two months of this year, the latest period for which figures are available. Average monthly military spending increased 2.3 times, compared to the May-December 2014 period, 3.3. times compared to the last pre-war period, and 8.8 times compared to 2000. For those two months alone, he says, military spending was more than 1.3 trillion rubles – that is, more than 20 billion US dollars – and it constituted 43.3. percent of the federal budget and 12.7 percent of Russia’s admittedly diminished GDP.

So, the Russian economy is getting worse, yet Putin is rapidly expanding his defense budget. The question is to what end? Alas, it seems not to be a question which the White House cares to consider, although certainly the leaders of the Baltic States and Poland are. Perhaps Congress should as well, because continuing sequestration is leaving the United States dangerously unprepared to face a mounting crisis which, if Illarionov’s analysis is true, seems to be looming ever larger. Vladimir Putin exploits weakness and indecision, characteristics which for too long Obama has projected. The United States cannot afford sequestration. Rather than resolve budget deficits, sequestration will make them worse because such weakness is encouraging dictators to aggression in a manner which no U.S. president will be able to long ignore.

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How Republicans Keep Bailing Out Obama’s Inept Foreign Policy

The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiators are learning a tough lesson: you can’t succeed in high-stakes international diplomacy with only carrots. So naturally, they’re leaning on Republicans in Congress–the group the Obama White House has treated as the true enemy here–for the sticks. It’s not the first time. It turns out Obama doesn’t really want to exclude the GOP from foreign policy after all; he merely wants them to wait until he’s on the verge of failure to intervene on his behalf.

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The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiators are learning a tough lesson: you can’t succeed in high-stakes international diplomacy with only carrots. So naturally, they’re leaning on Republicans in Congress–the group the Obama White House has treated as the true enemy here–for the sticks. It’s not the first time. It turns out Obama doesn’t really want to exclude the GOP from foreign policy after all; he merely wants them to wait until he’s on the verge of failure to intervene on his behalf.

A couple of news outlets picked up on State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments yesterday, in which she expressed the administration’s growing frustration with Iran. The Iranians have been offered the store, and they keep delaying. Harf was reduced to wondering what the Iranians could possibly want–How can we get you behind the wheel of this nuclear accord today?–and threatening to get the adults involved. From Haaretz:

The deadline for reaching a framework agreement between Iran and the six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — on Iran’s nuclear program ends at midnight Tuesday. Despite continuous talks and marathon meetings between the negotiating teams at this city’s Beau Rivage Palace Hotel Monday, gaps still remain between the parties’ positions.

The American team began showing signs of irritation at Iran’s conduct Monday afternoon, with acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf saying in an interview with CNSNews.com that the time had come to see whether the Iranians were capable of taking decisions. “So we really need to see from the Iranians if they’re willing to get to yes here,” she said.

“Everyone knows that Congress is waiting to act if we can’t get to an agreement,” she noted.

Let’s set aside whether in fact “everyone knows” that piece of information, because the Obama administration has been working to undermine, water down, delay, and in many cases prevent sanctions against Iran throughout this presidency, present time very much included. The interesting aspect to Harf’s comments is that the administration is not even attempting to play both good cop and bad cop here (the State Department used to utilize the late Richard Holbrooke for such roles); she’s pointing out that if negotiations fail Congress will act, and the president might not be able to stop them.

This is nothing new. I wrote in June 2012 that when the State Department was trumpeting the freeing of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng while Hillary was in Beijing, it turned out that what had the greatest effect on the negotiations over his release were the actions of Congress. Republicans held a hearing to draw attention to Chen’s plight, and it made the Chinese government nervous. That, at least, was what the Chinese government seemed to indicate.

And it’s been confirmed by Chen as well. “The Blind Dissident,” as he’s known, just released a memoir of his struggle for freedom. The Wall Street Journal’s David Feith reviewed it, and pointed to Chen’s own characterization of the fight over his release. Here’s Feith:

Once in talks with their Chinese counterparts, though, U.S. officials, fearful of spoiling the bilateral mood before a high-level summit set for the following week, buckled. According to Mr. Chen, within two days they began pressuring him to leave the embassy and accept assurances of his safety from the same Chinese government that had detained, tortured and otherwise brutalized him for seven years. “Negotiating with a government run by hooligans,” he writes, “the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in.”

So how’d he get free? Feith explains: “Republican Chris Smith, Democrat Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers ‘proved to be principled and fearless friends of the Chinese people,’ he writes, and ‘the voice of the American people made itself strongly felt at the bargaining table.’ Two weeks later, with his wife and two children, Mr. Chen was on a flight to the U.S.”

The point isn’t to remove all credit from Clinton. I imagine that having the secretary of state in Beijing for a high-profile visit and negotiating in person helped tremendously. It’s possible, even likely, that both Clinton and the Chris Smith-led congressional effort were necessary, and that Chen’s freedom wouldn’t have been secured without them.

And that’s the point. In neither case–the China deal or the Iran deal–were Congress’s essential efforts recognized and appreciated by the administration at the time. Congressional Republicans, especially, were treated as boorish intruders who didn’t understand the intricacies and delicate nuances of international diplomacy. That was false then, and it’s false now.

The truth is that Obama needs congressional Republicans. He has a habit of wandering into situations for which he’s unprepared, and he needs Republicans to intervene to stave off disaster. The idea of the Republicans as the adults in the room certainly clashes with the media’s shallow narrative of events. But what matters most is that despite his public statements, Obama seems to realize that responsible international diplomacy requires the involvement of his political rivals, whether he likes it or not.

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Did Martin O’Malley Go Off-Script?

Earlier this month I noted the growing Democratic refrain that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would both benefit from Hillary having some real competition for the nomination in 2016. For Hillary, she could test out her responses to various lines of questioning and sharpen her debating skills. For Democrats, they’d get a better nominee or possibly even a different nominee if something emerged to knock Hillary from the race. (Better in the primaries than in the general.) I also noted that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did not seem to be auditioning for the role of genuine rival. But maybe that’s changing.

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Earlier this month I noted the growing Democratic refrain that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would both benefit from Hillary having some real competition for the nomination in 2016. For Hillary, she could test out her responses to various lines of questioning and sharpen her debating skills. For Democrats, they’d get a better nominee or possibly even a different nominee if something emerged to knock Hillary from the race. (Better in the primaries than in the general.) I also noted that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did not seem to be auditioning for the role of genuine rival. But maybe that’s changing.

On Sunday’s This Week, O’Malley took a couple shots at the Democratic frontrunner:

“Let’s be honest here,” O’Malley said. “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

O’Malley also hinted that a Clinton nomination is not a sure thing, possibly alluding to the 2008 primary, when she was also thought to have had it locked down.

“History is full of times when the inevitable frontrunner is inevitable right up until he or she is no longer inevitable,” he said.

Yet as Jesse Walker notes, not only did O’Malley not name Hillary, he demurred when pressed and spoke in generalities about the campaign. “This just isn’t the way an insurgent candidate talks,” Walker wrote.

Isn’t it? I’m not convinced this wasn’t O’Malley’s own timid, slightly goofy way of trying to dispel the notion that he’s the Mikhail Prokhorov of Clinton’s coronation. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose, but I think the subject of O’Malley’s comment is telling.

There are two kinds of criticism of Hillary Clinton from her fellow Democrats. The first is issue-based, designed to portray Clinton as out of touch with the party’s true political identity. For example, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, may run in the Democratic primary as a way to trumpet the issue of inequality. “Today, in my view, the most serious problem we face as a nation is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality,” Sanders told the Brookings Institution last month. “This is a profound moral issue. It is an economic issue, and it is a political issue.”

Bernie Sanders, like most of the potential Democratic candidates, does not pose a serious threat to Hillary’s chances. But Clinton is simply not a credible advocate of the kind of economic-justice policies the far left would like to see. Not only is she too close to Wall Street for the redistributive left, but the entire raison d’être of her current career appears to be to massively increase the amount of money in politics, including from foreign (and deeply illiberal) sources. Hillary’s fine with Sanders’s candidacy, because she’ll always look like a more serious Democrat when running against an actual socialist.

There is, as we’re reminded endlessly, a more threatening version of a populist candidacy: that of Elizabeth Warren, who could actually beat Hillary. But Warren does not seem any closer to actually running today than she was yesterday or the day before, so the smart money’s on Hillary avoiding this particular trap.

Another issue-based critique of Hillary from the left will be her hawkishness. Clinton is a liberal interventionist, a proponent of the kind of light-footprint military intervention we saw in Libya. She is also more open to humanitarian missions than Barack Obama is, and she knows she’s somewhat vulnerable on matters of war and peace because that’s precisely the contrast Obama was able to draw in 2008.

But she wouldn’t be running against Obama. She might be running instead against former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. When he announced his exploratory committee, he said the U.S. must “redefine and strengthen our national security obligations, while at the same time reducing ill-considered foreign ventures.” It’s the sort of broad platitude he repeats from time to time, and it won’t harm Hillary.

Even Webb’s supporters are (for the most part) realistic about this. “Jim Webb, I acknowledge, is probably not going to become our next president,” wrote the Nation’s William Greider. “But he has the possibility of becoming a pivotal messenger.” And Hillary’s just fine with that: any candidate who makes her look more like a centrist without actually threatening her chances to win the nomination, and therefore doesn’t force her to her left during the primaries, is more of a help than a hindrance anyway.

But there’s a second kind of Clinton critique: one that has less to do with policy and more about character. And this one can potentially hurt Hillary even coming from someone who won’t defeat her in the primaries. That’s because the kinds of stories that stick are ones that conform to a preexisting narrative, unfair as it often is. Hillary is nearing the end of her career, which means her public persona is close to set in stone–no matter how many different ways she programs herself to laugh.

Had O’Malley kept his criticism to economic policy or even climate change, it would have been unexceptional. But pointing out Hillary’s sense of personal entitlement and her family’s stature as American royalty risks reminding even some Democrats that they don’t really like the idea of Hillary’s candidacy as much as they’d like to, even if they like her personally.

So is the key takeaway from O’Malley’s comments that he refused to use Hillary’s name–or that he didn’t have to? It’s a distinction that may tell us more about whether he’s really willing to take on the Clintons, or merely aiming to share in the spoils of what he hopes is her eventual victory.

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Exit Harry Reid, and His Self-Serving Myth

The two most popular questions in the wake of the announcement that Democratic Senator Harry Reid won’t run for reelection are: Who will replace him in his Senate seat, and who will replace him in the leadership? These are both good questions (though it increasingly appears Chuck Schumer will replace Reid in the leadership without too much of a fight). But in addition, another unavoidable question is what Reid’s pending retirement says about his own hopes for his party’s chances to retake the Senate majority. The answer is: he is clearly pessimistic.

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The two most popular questions in the wake of the announcement that Democratic Senator Harry Reid won’t run for reelection are: Who will replace him in his Senate seat, and who will replace him in the leadership? These are both good questions (though it increasingly appears Chuck Schumer will replace Reid in the leadership without too much of a fight). But in addition, another unavoidable question is what Reid’s pending retirement says about his own hopes for his party’s chances to retake the Senate majority. The answer is: he is clearly pessimistic.

Whether that’s correct remains to be seen especially because the quality of the candidates in the various Senate races has yet to be determined. That played a role in the fact that Reid is still in the Senate in the first place: he successfully intervened in the Republican primary in 2010 on behalf of the weakest general-election candidate in the race. And it absolutely made a difference.

But no one who has followed Reid’s career can miss his hunger for power or his efforts to rebuild Senate procedure around an utter contempt for the minority party. And both of those are surely factors in the timing of his retirement. In that sense, then, Reid’s retirement is a bad omen for Democrats. That’s not because they can’t hold the seat–indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the Democrats would have an even better chance to hold the seat without the increasingly incoherent demagogue muttering about libertarian activists hiding under his bed.

Nor can it be said that Reid is retiring because he’s giving up on the Senate. Reid gave up on the Senate a long time ago, which is about when he polished off his sledgehammer and starting swinging away at the procedural foundations of what was once unironically called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” In much the way that Ted Kennedy destroyed the Supreme Court confirmation process and thus the intellectual core of the judicial branch’s democratic role, the Senate is not likely to ever fully recover, if it recovers at all, from Reid’s prolonged assault on its democratic character.

The difference now is that Reid has to live in the minority. In other words, he has to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes (though it’s more likely that Reid’s driver would chauffeur him that mile) and he doesn’t much like it. Reid is the classic example of the authoritarian attitude “for my friends–everything. For my enemies–the law.” Rules are for chumps, as far as Reid is concerned.

It tells you something interesting about Reid. He has built his career with an aura of toughness, the scrappy former boxer who can throw–and take–a punch. Perhaps that’s always been a myth, or perhaps he’s mellowing with age (though his constant temper tantrums would suggest otherwise), but it turns out Reid isn’t so tough after all. He’s brittle, unprincipled, and surprisingly whiny.

Reid, the man who lives at a D.C. Ritz Carlton, keeps as much distance from the masses–whose odor Reid publicly laments–as is possible in a city like Washington. He could never live like the encumbered taxpayer he leeches off of, and he could never sit in the same powerless Senate minority he requires of his own political opponents. He’s a pampered squish; an entitled hypocrite. He is weak.

Which is why he’s leaving. He’s had enough. When the Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, Reid’s team lashed out, in public, at the Obama White House. To someone like Reid, it’s always someone else’s fault, even though he was the Senate team leader. And now he’s taking his ball and going home. Serve in the loyal opposition, the faithful minority? Who could live like that, like a common person? What is he, a farmer?

What’s interesting is that Democrats didn’t appear to have an impossible climb back to the majority just two years after losing it. The electoral landscape is relatively favorable to them, and they will presumably have presidential-year turnout with the Clinton money machine behind it. They were not facing such long odds.

Apparently Reid doesn’t agree. He’s taken the measure of his fellow Democrats and found them wanting. If he can’t return to power, he might as well go live his life of luxury without the headache of having to answer to the people. All along, we thought Reid was a fighter. Turns out, he’s a coward. He’ll be missed if only because he was such a perfect poster child for all that ails American politics.

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Stale Hillary Won’t Benefit From Start of GOP Race

After a steady stream of bad news for Hillary Clinton over the past year, Democrats are taking heart. Senator Ted Cruz’s formal announcement for the presidency officially began the competition for the Republican presidential nomination and that means Hillary’s fans are hoping the public’s focus will no longer be on Clinton’s emails, her gaffes, or the embarrassing sense of entitlement that she seems to have about both her party’s nomination and the presidency itself. Instead, they’re hoping that the internecine warfare between Cruz and the large field of fellow Republicans who will soon be following in his footsteps and announcing their candidacies will be all we’ll be hearing about, leaving Clinton free to fade out of the public consciousness until sometime in 2016 when she can begin her campaign in a manner of her own choosing. That’s the conceit of a Politico piece that claims Cruz will be a “wrecking ball” whose scorched earth attacks on other Republicans will be helping Hillary more than the cause of the Texas senator. But while there’s some truth to this idea, Democrats are wrong to believe Clinton will benefit from the start of the GOP race. That’s because the Republicans will be attacking her as much as each other and the increased attention paid to the race will keep the pressure on the former first lady in a way that she has already shown she doesn’t handle well.

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After a steady stream of bad news for Hillary Clinton over the past year, Democrats are taking heart. Senator Ted Cruz’s formal announcement for the presidency officially began the competition for the Republican presidential nomination and that means Hillary’s fans are hoping the public’s focus will no longer be on Clinton’s emails, her gaffes, or the embarrassing sense of entitlement that she seems to have about both her party’s nomination and the presidency itself. Instead, they’re hoping that the internecine warfare between Cruz and the large field of fellow Republicans who will soon be following in his footsteps and announcing their candidacies will be all we’ll be hearing about, leaving Clinton free to fade out of the public consciousness until sometime in 2016 when she can begin her campaign in a manner of her own choosing. That’s the conceit of a Politico piece that claims Cruz will be a “wrecking ball” whose scorched earth attacks on other Republicans will be helping Hillary more than the cause of the Texas senator. But while there’s some truth to this idea, Democrats are wrong to believe Clinton will benefit from the start of the GOP race. That’s because the Republicans will be attacking her as much as each other and the increased attention paid to the race will keep the pressure on the former first lady in a way that she has already shown she doesn’t handle well.

Democrats are relishing the prospect of Cruz tearing into his Republican rivals and they’re not wrong about the fact that he may leave scorched earth behind him. In turn, other GOP candidates will respond and attack each other and the resulting donnybrook may not always be an edifying spectacle. Conservatives will lambast Jeb Bush for his alleged moderation as well as for his stands on immigration and Common Core while each of the possible non-Bushes hoping to be the standard bearer for the right will attack each other. Meanwhile, someone like Scott Walker may fire in both directions as he seeks the sweet spot in between the Tea Party and the establishment constituencies to which he simultaneously appeals.

In theory, that ought to make things easier on Hillary, but she and her Democratic supporters are forgetting a couple of important details.

One is that while Republicans will certainly be regularly violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment about not attacking fellow Republicans, they will also be concentrating their fire on the former first lady. It’s a given that all those running for the GOP will be lambasting President Obama and all his works, particularly ObamaCare. But they won’t ignore the person that each of them hopes to be opposing in November 2016.

Part of the problem for Hillary is that the collapse of Obama’s foreign policy with Russian aggression, the rise of ISIS, and appeasement of Iran serves as a reminder that Clinton spent four years as the 44th president’s secretary of state. Clinton and her admirers like to think that her tenure at Foggy Bottom is a great asset to her candidacy as it lends her both experience and gravitas. It’s also true that compared to her disastrous successor John Kerry, Clinton comes across as the second coming of Henry Kissinger or John Foster Dulles. But the Benghazi attack wasn’t the only disaster on her watch. The tragicomically Russian “reset” was her idea and it looks worse every month as Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine continues. Clinton will also have to ask questions about what she was doing when ISIS was filling the vacuum left by her boss’s bug out from Iraq and failure to act on the crisis in Syria. In what is shaping up to be the first foreign-policy election since 2004, Clinton’s experience at State is looking increasingly like a liability.

Just as important, the lack of credible Democratic challengers to Clinton ensures that she, along with President Obama, will be a staple of GOP presidential stump speeches. And the House Committee investigating Benghazi will keep probing for possible scandals. It was their efforts that turned up the shocking story about her private email server. Clinton should also expect to be hit hard about foreign donations to her family foundation as nations sought to curry favor with a sitting secretary of state and a possible president.

All this means that while a Republican civil war will take up a lot of airtime, there will still be plenty of interest in Clinton’s problems and shortcomings. Ted Cruz may attack other Republicans, but if Clinton is expecting the next several months to be a vacation from criticism and coverage of her foibles, she’s dreaming.

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Will Democrats Challenge Obama on Israel?

During the weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran, the White House orchestrated a media campaign to persuade Democrats that the speech was an effort to inject partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though Netanyahu was foolish to walk into that trap, the charge was somewhat misleading since it was President Obama who used this as a wedge to break up an otherwise solid bipartisan consensus in favor of more sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration is threatening to isolate Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the question arises whether the president’s efforts to rally Democrats behind him on Iran will stop them from criticizing his decision to increase tensions with the Jewish state. The answer to that question will tell us whether the Democrats, once a wall-to-wall stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment, have been sufficiently influenced by the president’s stands to the point where he needn’t worry about any significant pushback about his threats from within his party or its likely next presidential candidate.

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During the weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran, the White House orchestrated a media campaign to persuade Democrats that the speech was an effort to inject partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though Netanyahu was foolish to walk into that trap, the charge was somewhat misleading since it was President Obama who used this as a wedge to break up an otherwise solid bipartisan consensus in favor of more sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration is threatening to isolate Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the question arises whether the president’s efforts to rally Democrats behind him on Iran will stop them from criticizing his decision to increase tensions with the Jewish state. The answer to that question will tell us whether the Democrats, once a wall-to-wall stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment, have been sufficiently influenced by the president’s stands to the point where he needn’t worry about any significant pushback about his threats from within his party or its likely next presidential candidate.

In the past few days, the White House temper tantrum about its least favorite foreign leader’s stunning election victory has escalated from mere petulance at the setback to threats about acquiescing or supporting resolutions at the United Nations Security Council. That changes the dynamic about the debate over Israel in a fundamental way.

Throughout the first six years of the Obama presidency it was possible for Democrats to claim with varying success that the administration had not undermined the alliance with Israel. But in the last two years, the president has become increasingly belligerent toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. He wrongly blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative even though it had been the Palestinians who blew up the talks by making an end run around the negotiations to the United Nations and by signing a unity pact with Hamas. The White House not only unfairly criticized Israel for its measures of self-defense during last year’s war against Hamas but also cut off the resupply of ammunition to the Israel Defense Forces during the fighting.

Yet that was just a foretaste of the bitterness that would come as the president violated his campaign pledges and began an effort to appease Iran that would allow it to keep its nuclear program. If Netanyahu’s Iran speech was the last straw for Obama, the president’s anger about the prime minister’s re-election sent him over the edge. Using Netanyahu’s statements about his unwillingness to create a Palestinian state under the current circumstances, the White House is now openly threatening to “re-evaluate” its approach to the peace process. But by that they don’t mean re-thinking Obama’s obsessive blaming of Israel and absolving the Palestinians of all responsibility for their decisions that have made peace impossible. Instead, they seem to be indicating that in the final two years of the Obama presidency with no need to bow to political pressures, the president will finally be able to vent his hostility to Netanyahu and begin a process of brutal pressure designed to thwart the will of the Israeli electorate and force the country into dangerous concessions even as he barters its security in order to create a new détente with Iran.

At this point it would seem incumbent on leaders of the Democratic Party to speak up to restrain the president from carrying out these threats. Though many of them don’t like Netanyahu and also resent the obvious closeness between the prime minister and some Republican leaders, their complaints about partisanship infecting the U.S.-Israel relationship have become self-fulfilling prophecies. With polls showing a distinct split between the parties in which Republicans are clearly more likely to be strongly supportive of Israel than the Democrats, the Obama-Netanyahu spat has become the wedge by which elements of the anti-Israel left have been able to assert with some justice that they are making inroads against the heretofore bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus.

Particular focus will fall on Hillary Clinton as she prepares for her coronation as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential campaign. In the past she has veered between strident criticism of Israel (a point that was emphasized during her four years as Obama’s secretary of state) and returning to the sort of standard pro-Israel rhetoric that was part of her persona as a senator from New York from 2000 to 2008. Clinton would like to continue to claim that she is strong supporter of Israel without the distraction of having to take a stand on Obama’s actions. But the statements from the White House may have made that impossible.

The bottom line is that neither Clinton nor any other leading Democrat can pretend that their backing for Israel cannot be questioned if they stay silent about Obama’s threats. Even worse, were they to equivocate or back the president as he isolates Israel at the United Nations or cuts back on military aid — a stance that is sure to tempt Hamas or Iran’s ally Hezbollah to resume rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism — it would place them outside the pro-Israel consensus that they have long claimed to uphold.

It’s one thing for them to blame Netanyahu for supposedly being too close to Republicans. It is quite another for Democrats to assert that they can be neutral about an administration that is seeking to isolate Israel while simultaneously embracing a vicious anti-Semitic Iranian regime that continues to threaten the Jewish state with annihilation.

Though there is a growing constituency on the left that is hoping to legitimize anti-Israel stands, including support for boycotts and divestment as well as pressure on the Jewish state to bow to Palestinian demands that have been rejected by the Israeli people at the ballot box, Clinton is making a mistake if she thinks she can avoid having to choose between the pro-Israel community and Obama’s stands. The same applies to other Democrats. If Obama doesn’t step back from the brink, Democrats must decide whether they wish to truly abandon support for Israel to the Republicans or if they are prepared to openly fight a president who appears on the brink of trashing an alliance still supported by the majority of Americans.

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Hillary, the Dems’ Inauthentic Irishwoman

Undaunted by the questions that continue to be raised about her use of emails while secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was in full pre-presidential campaign mode yesterday accepting an award from an Irish-American group on the even of St. Patrick’s Day. If that strikes you as a head-scratcher, you’re not alone. Mrs. Clinton has no Irish ancestry. As such, the event, which the Clinton camp hoped would provide at least a temporary respite from queries about her deletions of tens of thousands of emails from a home server that she refuses to turn over to a neutral party to see if official documents were held back or erased rather than turned over to the government as they should have been, was another reminder of her political weakness, not her strengths.

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Undaunted by the questions that continue to be raised about her use of emails while secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was in full pre-presidential campaign mode yesterday accepting an award from an Irish-American group on the even of St. Patrick’s Day. If that strikes you as a head-scratcher, you’re not alone. Mrs. Clinton has no Irish ancestry. As such, the event, which the Clinton camp hoped would provide at least a temporary respite from queries about her deletions of tens of thousands of emails from a home server that she refuses to turn over to a neutral party to see if official documents were held back or erased rather than turned over to the government as they should have been, was another reminder of her political weakness, not her strengths.

The justification for the honor was her role in promoting peace in Ireland. Except, as was amply discussed back in 2008 when she falsely claimed to have “helped bring peace to Northern Ireland,” she had no role in the talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But no matter, as the New York Times reports today, those involved in the event included a number of major donors to the Democratic Party who are, no doubt, hoping that their bundling efforts will eventually be rewarded by being named U.S. ambassador in Dublin, a point that did not go unmentioned in the proceedings. Put it down as just another piece of political nonsense but this minor story once again demonstrates the putative Democratic presidential nominee’s Achilles Heal: her inauthenticity.

To her credit, Clinton didn’t repeat her past claims of being involved in the Irish peace talks. But she did claim that her efforts at reaching out to Irish women had played a role in making peace possible. The notion that a century of Ireland’s “troubles” only came to an end after America’s First Lady took part in staged photo ops during state visits is, to put it mildly, preposterous. Such assertions, framed in feminist rhetoric, are ripe fiction but they are not, strictly speaking, palpable lies, such as her past talk about helping to make the Irish peace or of dodging bullets in during visits to Serbia.

Instead, this sort of thing is more in line with past Clinton fibs such as her claim to have been a lifelong fan of the Yankees when she was running for a New York Senate seat. But the common theme that runs through all of this is the essential fakery of Clinton’s public career that is bereft of actual accomplishments.

After four years as secretary of state when, as opposed to her role on the sidelines as First Lady, Clinton was the American diplomat at the table with foreign leaders, you’d think she wouldn’t think it smart to remind us of her bogus claims about Ireland. But the problem with her supposedly impressive resume is that her time at the State Department gives her little to boast about. During the campaign, I doubt we’ll hear about her much ballyhooed “reset” with Russia. Not only was that effort comically mismanaged, Russia’s aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine leaves her vulnerable to the charge of presiding over a period of attempted appeasement of the Putin regime that encouraged that autocrat to further aggression.

Seen in that light, Clinton’s fake diplomacy in Ireland seems to be an asset or at least not as much of a liability as it was once seen, rather than a reminder of her predilection for embroidering the truth.

Clinton’s lack of accomplishments as secretary of state doesn’t bother Democrats any more than her arrogant refusals to play by the same rules that governed every other government employee when it came to email and document transparency. But they should be bothered by the ongoing signs that her big problem in 2008 — the lack of an authentic identity and the ability to connect with ordinary voters — is still very much in evidence. Last week’s news conference about the emails showed that her political skills — which were never very strong to begin with — are rusty. The Irish story won’t sink her by itself or even be much remembered next year. But the more she feeds the impression of inauthenticity, the weaker she appears. That is something that is making Democratic activists nervous, as they appear stuck with a candidate who shows no signs of having learned from her past mistakes.

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The GOP Needs to Make Inroads in the Big 10 States

Stuart Rothenberg, writing in Roll Call, points out that 10 states–Wisconsin, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio–will deter the next occupant of the White House. The other 40 states aren’t terribly relevant, since their partisan voting habits are so well established. (If a state like Indiana trends Democratic, as it did in 2008, it’s clear that a rout is underway.)

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Stuart Rothenberg, writing in Roll Call, points out that 10 states–Wisconsin, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio–will deter the next occupant of the White House. The other 40 states aren’t terribly relevant, since their partisan voting habits are so well established. (If a state like Indiana trends Democratic, as it did in 2008, it’s clear that a rout is underway.)

According to Mr. Rothenberg:

Successful Republicans in the Big Ten states tend to be conservatives who avoid the extremist label and can appeal to voters on both a personal and political level. They tend to be more optimistic and upbeat than some in their party, and they don’t make it easy for their opponents to demonize them.

These may seem like qualities that every candidate does and should have, but they aren’t.

GOP candidates whose angry, confrontational style and ideological messages play best to the party’s base may find receptive audiences in key presidential primary and caucus states (particularly early ones), but those kinds of candidates will have problems appealing to key voters in the Big Ten states in November.

The argument that there are tens of thousands of conservatives in key states who don’t bother to vote because the GOP doesn’t nominate conservative-enough nominees is unconvincing.

That strikes me as quite right. The issue isn’t simply about content, though that of course matters. The issue is also about tone, disposition, temperament, likeability, and the ability to persuade those who might vote for a Republican but over the last several cycles have not.

Republican live in an era in which, at the presidential level, they are at a disadvantage. Consider: In each of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia—which currently total 242 electoral votes—as base states, leaving them only 28 votes short of the 270 necessary to win the White House.  Republicans, on the other hand, have won just 13 states with 102 electoral votes six times in a row—only 38 percent of the needed 270. Which means the Republican Party needs to make inroads into what Rothenberg calls the Big 10.

That’s certainly doable, given the problems the Democratic Party will be facing in 2016, from Obama fatigue and the harmful effects of his two terms in office, to its intellectual exhaustion and reactionary policies, to a likely nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is a mediocre political talent. But it’s still going to take a Republican of considerable skills and unusual appeal to win 20 months from now. And if a Republican does win, it will be because it’s an individual who (among other qualities) is a winsome and principled conservative, not an angry and dogmatic one. Because the latter kind of conservative, while they can win in some states, won’t win in very many (if any) of the Big 10 states.

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Does It Matter That Hillary Broke the Rules?

The latest twist in the Hillary Clinton email saga is one that her allies and apologists are dismissing as a meaningless technicality. But it’s the sort of thing that will allow her critics as well as the House of Representatives’ special committee investigating the Benghazi attacks to continue sniping away at her. More to the point, the unanswered question about whether or not she signed the usual form upon leaving her post at the State Department specifying that she had turned over all documents and materials to the government creates the possibility for legal difficulties that will plague the putative Democratic presidential candidate in the coming months. While Democrats will do their best to ignore the topic, it begs the question as to whether more talk about the Clintons playing by their own set of rules will have any impact on the former first lady’s ability to win the same independent voters that made the difference for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

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The latest twist in the Hillary Clinton email saga is one that her allies and apologists are dismissing as a meaningless technicality. But it’s the sort of thing that will allow her critics as well as the House of Representatives’ special committee investigating the Benghazi attacks to continue sniping away at her. More to the point, the unanswered question about whether or not she signed the usual form upon leaving her post at the State Department specifying that she had turned over all documents and materials to the government creates the possibility for legal difficulties that will plague the putative Democratic presidential candidate in the coming months. While Democrats will do their best to ignore the topic, it begs the question as to whether more talk about the Clintons playing by their own set of rules will have any impact on the former first lady’s ability to win the same independent voters that made the difference for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Those making a meal out of the issue of the emails are not likely to make much of an impression on the base of the Democratic Party. In the absence of a credible challenger—and so long as Elizabeth Warren wants no part of a rumble with the Clinton machine, that remains the case—Democrats are not so much ready for Hillary as stuck with her. And, as with her husband’s White House shenanigans, that will obligate party loyalists to ignore her secretive operating procedures and the question of whether she has played by the same rules that other public officials ignore at their peril.

The point about the exit document is that it puts Clinton on the spot. Either she signed the document and possibly perjured herself because we know that she did not turn over all documents. Or she chose not to sign it and therefore violated standard procedures that apply to all Cabinet officers as well as government employees.

Since all her emails—those that she says were related to official business printed out on 55,000 pages as well as the ones she says were personal and subsequently deleted on the server located in her home—were not turned over to the State Department when she left, the question of the document being signed is a ticklish one. That’s because other officials have gotten into big trouble for violating such pledges. Some of the trouble former CIA director David Petraeus found himself faced with is related to the fact that the classified documents from his public service he gave to his biographer and lover were not technically supposed to be in his home, even though their presence there or even their publication would not have harmed the nation’s security. We are entitled to ask why letting Clinton keep hers on a home server and then delete some of them based on her claim that they were purely personal is kosher while others wind up in the soup for not entirely dissimilar technical violations of the rules?

But like the question of whether Bill Clinton lied under oath, Hillary’s defenders are going to tell us that this is just a detail and a picayune one at that. But even if we do trust that she can be relied upon not to delete emails related to official business, a broken rule or a lie on a document makes it a lot harder to buy the “trust me” defense she is offering in response to the accusations.

Partisan Democrats may not be happy about it, but they are now obligated to react to every revelation about the emails as well as the former secretary of state’s arrogant dismissal of questions by telling us to “move on” the same way they did when it was her husband who was embarrassing his party. But the Hillary Clinton we saw at her press conference on Wednesday has neither the charm nor the political skills to pull off the same kind of escape act that allowed Bill to escape the consequences of his actions. Politicians with his appeal can get away with breaking the rules with impunity. If the next real race Hillary finds herself in is a general election campaign against a battle-tested Republican, she may illustrate the fact that those with far less charisma are unlikely to be so fortunate.

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How Hugh Hewitt Could Shape All the GOP Primary Debates

There were several reasons that Republican primary debates have had such an impact in the last couple of election cycles for those seeking the GOP nomination, including that neither year had a Republican incumbent, the growth in influence of the grassroots, and the participation of non-politicians as candidates. But an additional reason the debates had such an effect was that the mainstream media moderators insisted on asking migraine-inducingly stupid questions. And so the increasing role of conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt is, as Jim Geraghty notes this morning at NRO, an encouraging development. But I wonder: with an adult in the room like Hewitt, will liberal moderators get serious too?

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There were several reasons that Republican primary debates have had such an impact in the last couple of election cycles for those seeking the GOP nomination, including that neither year had a Republican incumbent, the growth in influence of the grassroots, and the participation of non-politicians as candidates. But an additional reason the debates had such an effect was that the mainstream media moderators insisted on asking migraine-inducingly stupid questions. And so the increasing role of conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt is, as Jim Geraghty notes this morning at NRO, an encouraging development. But I wonder: with an adult in the room like Hewitt, will liberal moderators get serious too?

Geraghty points out that Hewitt will not only moderate a debate but he has already stepped into that role by subjecting Republican politicians to tough interviews on his radio show, just as he does to those on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. If you go in to an interview with Hewitt unprepared, you’ll be left licking your wounds. Geraghty writes:

An obvious observation: Hillary Clinton will never subject herself to questioning from Hugh Hewitt.

And I contend there is no equivalent to Hugh on the Left. (I’d put Jake Tapper and Chuck Todd somewhere in the center region.) There is not a single liberal media personality who enjoys interviewing prominent Democratic officials, offering them tough, challenging questions, tough follow-ups, and making his interview subjects sweat the details.

Members of the progressive aristocracy don’t treat each other that way.

In truth, conservatives are so naturally suspicious of those seeking power, especially establishment figures, that it’s not easy for aspiring Republican nominees to avoid tough questioning along the way from any number of figures on the right, to say nothing of the questioning they get from the left. To state the obvious: this is not good for Hillary, nor is it particularly healthy for the republic to have power-obsessed pols treated like royalty.

But it’ll be interesting to see the effect of what Geraghty calls “The Hewitt Primary” on two other groups involved in the GOP nominating contest: liberal journalists and conservative firebrands. They might seem to be at odds, but they have in fact had a symbiotic relationship in recent years.

Take the 2012 debates. Mitt Romney may have been the best debater of the bunch—polished, wonky, photogenic, and even-tempered. But the most entertaining man on the stage was usually Newt Gingrich, who has a ready command of history, a combative posture, and an unwillingness to play by the media’s rules. (It inspired the great tumblr, “Newt Judges You.”) And Newt was helped tremendously by the fact that his liberal questioners were so willing to set him up, allowing Gingrich to turn the debates into a bonfire of the inanities.

When Juan Williams suggested that Gingrich’s critique of welfare-state dependency was racist, Newt made mincemeat of the question and the questioner. When John King decided to lead off one debate by invoking tabloid coverage of an ex-wife of Gingrich’s comments, Newt similarly shamed King about the sorry state of the media as evidenced by what moderators considered worthy of debate.

There were others, of course, and it wasn’t only Gingrich. Geraghty quotes Hewitt as saying viewers of debates moderated by him would be “much more likely to hear about the Ohio-class submarine than contraceptives.” It’s a reference to what has become the flagship model of inane questioning of Republican candidates: George Stephanopoulos asking Mitt Romney if states could ban birth control. It was the very definition of a nonsense question, an example of Democratic officials-turned-media personalities steering debates miles away from anything relevant to American voters and into an attempt to partake in the culture wars as an operative and not a journalist.

Republican candidates are also often asked about their views on evolution, though it’s usually clear the journalists asking the question don’t actually understand the topic of evolution in the slightest. Probably the best response to such questions was in 2007 when the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believed in man-caused global warming. Fred Thompson appropriately said he wasn’t doing hand shows today.

And that gets at something that has been frustrating to Republicans for years: media ignorance of the issues translates into moderators’ total and utter lack of seriousness in questioning those who would be president. The presence of someone like Hugh Hewitt, who has a strong grasp of the issues and wants an intelligent debate, could encourage his liberal co-moderators to behave like adults and study up on the issues. It could also hurt candidates who are relying on “gotcha” questions and moderator nonsense to build their grassroots credibility as a straight-talking truth teller. But overall, it would be better for everyone involved, and the country at large, if everyone followed Hewitt’s example.

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Jobbers and Crash-Test Dummies Won’t Solve Hillary’s Problems

The Obama administration and its defenders have had the habit of spinning the unpopularity of failing and failed policies by diagnosing the president with a “communications problem.” Now Democrats, horrified by Hillary Clinton’s disastrous press conference and inability to spin away the corruption, secrecy, and national-security scandals related to her time as secretary of state are taking a similar line: she needs to get back in midseason form. Unfortunately for them, their solution isn’t a solution at all.

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The Obama administration and its defenders have had the habit of spinning the unpopularity of failing and failed policies by diagnosing the president with a “communications problem.” Now Democrats, horrified by Hillary Clinton’s disastrous press conference and inability to spin away the corruption, secrecy, and national-security scandals related to her time as secretary of state are taking a similar line: she needs to get back in midseason form. Unfortunately for them, their solution isn’t a solution at all.

Democrats should start with two realizations. The first is that Hillary was unable to offer a good explanation for her decision to jeopardize national security and avoid accountability with her email-server scheme because there isn’t one. What she did was wrong, and dangerous, and smacks of the corruption we’ve all come to associate with the Clintons. There is no excuse for what she did, which is why she’s been unable to offer one–and why she has had to torture language in particular Clintonian fashion to obfuscate the issue.

The second realization is that history suggests this is Hillary Clinton in midseason form. In 1997, upon accepting an ensemble cast award at the Screen Actors Guild awards for Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld stepped up the podium and said: “My name is Jerry Seinfeld and I am a bad actor.” Hillary and her ensemble cast of hacks and spin doctors should take the same approach. Her name is Hillary Clinton, and she is a bad politician. Terrible, in fact. She’s just not good at this. That doesn’t mean she can’t win–of course she can, and she would go into the general election with some structural advantages. But it won’t be on the strength of her political talents.

So Democrats should approach this subject with some practical sense of what kind of changes a talentless politician at the end of her career could possibly be expected to make. And they are, as Jonathan Tobin wrote yesterday, in something of a bind: they’re ready for Hillary and now they’re stuck with her too. The New York Times talked to Democrats and found a more modest rationale for her candidacy:

Congressional Democrats are counting on a strong Clinton campaign to help lift them back into the majority. Party leaders at all levels want her fund-raising help and demographic appeal. And from the top of the party to its grass roots, Mrs. Clinton’s pseudo-incumbency is papering over significant disadvantages: a weak bench, a long-term House minority and a white middle class defecting to the Republican Party faster than the Democrats’ hoped-for demographic future is expected to arrive.

Mrs. Clinton, many Democrats say, is simply too big to fail.

“There is no one else — she’s the whole plan,” said Sarah Kovner, a leading Democratic donor and fund-raiser in New York.

So if Democrats are stuck with Hillary (though in fairness, many are still plenty optimistic about having her as their nominee), they need to make the best of it. And while Democrats would like to believe her recent press conference and her insomnia-curing speeches are just signs of rust, the truth is she’s only slightly worse than she’s been in the past, which is quite dreadful. Can rust rust? If so, then perhaps they’re at least technically right.

The next question, then, is: How do they get her candidacy in better shape? Here it seems pretty clear that the coronation that bestows so many other advantages on Hillary does hold her back in this regard. She needs competition, Democrats agree. But they also agree that she needs–and here’s where this gets comical–“competition” that can’t beat her. She needs jobbers, sparring partners. Stella needs to beat some poor Democrat like a rented goalie to get her groove back.

Not all Democrats feel that way, of course. Some want a real debate over the issues. Over at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent is surely correct when he writes:

The continuing controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails, culminating (for now) in yesterday’s contentious sparring with reporters, is likely to deepen the desire among Democratic activists and voters for a real Democratic presidential primary. That might force Clinton to spend months sharpening her handling of questions such as those swirling around her emails — not to mention her positions on key issues — under questioning from fellow Democrats.

The goal: A real debate pitched to an audience of Democratic voters, rather than an endless, grueling Hillary-versus-the-press death struggle.

But who are Democrats getting instead? Martin O’Malley. The former Maryland governor is not serious competition, and he’s not even trying to be. He’s even pulling punches on the email scandal. Sargent quotes another Post report explaining O’Malley’s approach thus:

His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clinton’s Republican critics.

Sargent is rightfully displeased with this. But what should anybody expect? After all, O’Malley reportedly asked the Clintons’ permission to run. Maybe he’s decided he has to clear all criticism of Hillary with Hillary herself as well. What will O’Malley say about the Clinton scandal? He’ll let you know as soon as Hillary’s staff gets back to him with a list of approved words and phrases.

But even if O’Malley weren’t asking the Clintons’ permission to borrow the car and extend his curfew just this once, he’s still not going to change the dynamics of the race. The concern with Hillary was never that she was going to run literally unopposed. It was that she was not going to have the kind of serious competition who could force her off-message or challenge her in a debate.

Elizabeth Warren could change the dynamics of the race. Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders can’t. But Warren could also win, and the Clinton team doesn’t want real competition, it wants crash-test dummies. And so that’s what they’ll get.

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Democrats Are Ready for Hillary and Stuck with Her

There was good news and bad news for Democrats yesterday. The good news was that after a week of ominous and politically damaging silence, Hillary Clinton emerged to answer questions from the press about her emails and demonstrated that she had no intention of letting this story deflect her from her goal of winning the presidency. The bad news was that barely-suppressed rage about having to answer those questions and arrogant “trust me” attitude not only failed to defuse this controversy, it also raised serious questions as to whether she had the temperament to run a successful campaign for the presidency. Taken together, it is more or less a perfect storm for a party seeking to hold onto the White House next year without having Barack Obama on the top of the ticket. It’s not just that there are unanswered questions about her conduct and judgment that will linger. It’s that the woman who stood up in front of the press at the United Nations yesterday made Mitt Romney look like a great retail politician.

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There was good news and bad news for Democrats yesterday. The good news was that after a week of ominous and politically damaging silence, Hillary Clinton emerged to answer questions from the press about her emails and demonstrated that she had no intention of letting this story deflect her from her goal of winning the presidency. The bad news was that barely-suppressed rage about having to answer those questions and arrogant “trust me” attitude not only failed to defuse this controversy, it also raised serious questions as to whether she had the temperament to run a successful campaign for the presidency. Taken together, it is more or less a perfect storm for a party seeking to hold onto the White House next year without having Barack Obama on the top of the ticket. It’s not just that there are unanswered questions about her conduct and judgment that will linger. It’s that the woman who stood up in front of the press at the United Nations yesterday made Mitt Romney look like a great retail politician.

An intrepid band of Clinton apologists and rationalizers are out in force throughout the media today telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see here and that any questions you might have about all this has been planted in your brain by the vast right-wing conspiracy that hates the Clintons. But if all Clinton can do is to say that we should trust her, all the spin in the world can’t make this go away.

That a person serving in an administration pledging transparency would think it more “convenient” to merge her work and personal emails together on a home server certainly raises questions about the former secretary of state’s judgment. As Politico reports today, cyber-security experts are having a field day picking apart the notion that her choice was in the best interests of the United States. She may admit now that it would have been smarter to do what everyone else in the government does and use an official email for work. Doing so would have been in keeping with both the letter and the spirit of the regulations that she keeps insisting she didn’t violate.

But it bears repeating that allowing her to decide which emails were private or public is not, despite her assertions, what all government employees must do. To the contrary, she appears to be the only person so empowered. That she then deleted those emails she considers personal is not only troubling; it is inexplicable. As our John Podhoretz writes today in the New York Post, those emails about Chelsea’s wedding are precisely the kind that most people keep. It’s junk that ordinary email users delete, not those concerning important personal events. And blaming it, as she did, on the fact that her husband shared the use of the server won’t wash because he keeps telling us that he doesn’t use email.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy monger or a Clinton hater to realize that this is all very fishy. Even if wrongdoing is not being covered by her absurd decisions, the story makes her appear foolish if not downright stupid.

But, for the moment, let’s leave the question of what’s in those emails that weren’t handed over to the State Department to Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chair of the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack. Instead, let’s just focus on the former first lady’s performance yesterday.

You’d have to be a devout Clinton loyalist to view her stiff, angry, and arrogant demeanor as anything but off-putting. The sense of entitlement and the resentment at having to explain herself, the basic job of every politician, was palpable. Contempt for the press, even those seeking to fawn on her, is one thing. But what came through most was that she really doesn’t think the public is entitled to answers other than her canned responses about trusting her. And the longer the presser went on, the worse she came across.

It wasn’t merely a bad show. It was a neon sign telling Democrats that they are stuck with a candidate without the kind of appeal needed to win tough elections. But the really bad part of this for her party is that rather than having mellowed or improved in the eight years since Barack Obama snatched the 2008 Democratic Party nomination from her grasp, Clinton’s political skills have actually deteriorated.

As her disastrous book tour last year proved, being in the State Department rather than the Senate seems to have damaged Clinton’s never particularly deft grasp of retail politics. She does well enough when isolated from questions or the public but when put in the cross hairs of a press corps that smells blood, she reveals herself to be a fragile, even brittle personality that has no natural flair for the profession she has chosen. By comparison to the Hillary we saw yesterday, even a stiff like Mitt Romney looks easygoing and natural.

This ought to be an open invitation to other Democrats to jump into the 2016 race against such a weak candidate. But given the strength of the Clinton machine and the poll numbers that illustrate that all possible Democratic alternatives other than Elizabeth Warren are ciphers, there’s no reason to think that she is any less likely to win the nomination. That means that Democrats are not only ready for Hillary. They’re stuck with her. Given their many advantages in any presidential election (a docile media being just the most prominent), they shouldn’t despair of victory especially with a candidate who is seeking to make history. But winning with such a poor candidate is going to be tough sledding, especially if the Republicans put up a plausible alternative.

Rather than putting the email story to rest, yesterday’s press conference wound up illustrating just how hard it’s going to be to elect Hillary Clinton president.

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Sorry Hillary, Presidential Candidates Can’t Get Away With a “Trust Me” Defense

Hillary Clinton may have thought she was defusing the controversy over her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state by admitting that it would have been “smarter” for her not to have done it at her United Nations press conference today. But even if you are prepared to accept her excuse that this decision was based on a desire for greater “convenience,” the notion that the nation should simply accept that the process by which she decided which emails could be handed over to the government and which could be deleted amounted to simply telling the country that they were obligated to trust her. Perhaps her many fans will accept that, as will Democrats who feel they have no choice but to sink or swim with their putative nominee for president in 2016. But the resentful tone of her comments during the presser and her adamant refusal to consider any effort to provide some transparency for her private home email server will only fuel more cynicism about her poor judgment. This may be all she has to say about it now, but this story isn’t going away.

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Hillary Clinton may have thought she was defusing the controversy over her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state by admitting that it would have been “smarter” for her not to have done it at her United Nations press conference today. But even if you are prepared to accept her excuse that this decision was based on a desire for greater “convenience,” the notion that the nation should simply accept that the process by which she decided which emails could be handed over to the government and which could be deleted amounted to simply telling the country that they were obligated to trust her. Perhaps her many fans will accept that, as will Democrats who feel they have no choice but to sink or swim with their putative nominee for president in 2016. But the resentful tone of her comments during the presser and her adamant refusal to consider any effort to provide some transparency for her private home email server will only fuel more cynicism about her poor judgment. This may be all she has to say about it now, but this story isn’t going away.

Clinton’s attitude was clear. She expected us to simply take her word for it that there was nothing wrong with using a private home email server to conduct government business. That gave her the ability to hold back or delete any work communications that she deemed unflattering, inconvenient or, even worse, indicative of her involvement in her husband’s fundraising abroad for their family foundation.

Though she claimed that she subsequently turned over any email that could “possibly” be work related, the decisions were not made by a third party or even a government official but by her and her faithful staff with no accountability.

When pressed about this practice, she disingenuously claimed that her conduct was no different from that of any government employee who must make a decision about which records are work-related and which are private. But other government employees don’t work exclusively on a private email with a server located in their home.

When asked about the dismissal of an ambassador for offenses that seem suspiciously similar to her own practices, she dismissed it without further explanation. She was never asked about her blistering 2007 denunciations of Bush administration figures for using private emails even though none of them did so exclusively or operated out of a home server to which the government had no access.

But the main takeaway from the press conference wasn’t so much her absolute refusal to allow any neutral party to examine that server or to explain why she provided the emails in printouts rather than electronic form to the State Department to make it harder for them to be examined. Nor is the excuse of “convenience” or even her minor admission of error the real story here.

Rather, it was the barely concealed disdain with which Clinton faced questions about her behavior and the contemptuous demand to be blindly trusted that will be most remembered. Clinton clearly thinks it is beneath her dignity to be held accountable for violating government rules and a practice that runs counter to basic security protocols.

But what Clinton doesn’t understand about what is happening is that while her secretive behavior might have been tolerated while she was married to a serving president or even serving as secretary of state, it won’t wash when you’re running for president.

Instead of simply saying she was wrong and turning over the server to the government archives for it to revisit her decisions, Clinton thinks it is enough to say that her good intentions are enough of a defense for her behavior. Pervading her remarks was a sense of entitlement and impatience with those who don’t take her conduct at face value that is incompatible with the transparency that is expected of prospective presidents. Though she never said the words aloud, it was difficult not to believe that Clinton thought having to fend off 20 minutes of questions about her emails was yet another manifestation of the mythical “vast, right-wing conspiracy” that she still seems to believe is the only reason why Americans don’t trust her or her husband.

Though she answered questions, her lack of good answers and arrogant confidence that she should be trusted were enough to silence the matter seemed more in keeping with the stance of a dowager queen than a presidential hopeful. As long as Elizabeth Warren stays on the sidelines, Democrats may have no viable alternative to Clinton. But even Clinton loyalists watching this performance must now be thinking that she lacks the political instincts required for a successful presidential candidate.

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Are Walker and Rubio the Frontrunners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hiding Hillary’s Emails in Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary Clinton’s Trained Seals and Their Tiresome Act

Good grief.

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Good grief.

Over the last few days we’ve seen one former Clinton aide and acolyte after another come out of the woodwork to defend yet another Clinton from yet another series of scandals.

It’s like a tired, awful syndicated series that’s been cancelled but just won’t go away.

In one corner, it was Lanny Davis being methodically taken apart by Fox News’s Chris Wallace. In another corner was the Ragin’ Cajun, James Carville, whining about “cockamamie right wing talking points” being responsible for this story. (The New York Times is well known, of course, for writing its stories based on right-wing talking points.) And what would Old Home Week be without the man Jon Stewart once pounded to dust, the always classy Paul Begala, insisting that voters “do not give a sh*t. They do not even give a fart” about the story that Mrs. Clinton set up a private email account while she was Secretary of State. If those three weren’t enough, there was the right-wing-hit-man-turned-left-wing-hit-man, David Brock, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to defend Mrs. Clinton.

Watching these men react like trained seals is pathetic, causing a wave of Clinton Fatigue to once again wash over America. But it’s also poignant, at least to this degree: The Clintons have a long history of pulling people, including some undoubtedly decent people, into their orbit–and once having done so, sending them out to defend the Clintons’ various and sundry corruptions. And that, in turn, has a corrupting effect on the Clintons’ defenders. By that I don’t mean they become personal corrupt. But they often do become intellectually corrupt. If you think that judgment is too harsh, I’d urge you to watch Mr. Davis, an intelligent man, get all tripped up in his effort to defend what Mrs. Clinton did. (His inability to explain why setting up a personal email account would be preferable to having a government email account is almost painful.)

Messrs. Davis, Carville, Begala, and Brock begin with a supposition: The Clintons must be defended at all costs, regardless of the facts, come what may. Doing that for some people would be easy; doing it for Hillary and Bill Clinton is impossible. Their entire political lives have involved crossing ethical lines and destroying their opponents. Eventually, though, they end up destroying their defenders as well.

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

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

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

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

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

From the Times’s Amy Chozick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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