Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

Hillary’s Bet: Voters Want More ‘House of Cards,’ Less ‘Veep’

One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

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One of the central plotlines in Denis Johnson’s latest novel, The Laughing Monsters, is of a couple of rogue NATO-aligned troublemakers attempting to sell stray uranium to some misfits pretending to be Mossad. The book portrays Westerners as cynics seeking to exploit the post-9/11 global security scramble for profit. I thought the plot was basically silly, but it has seemed less so with every new story about the Clintons. With the latest revelation about the Clintons profiting from the sale of uranium to shady characters, needless to say, The Laughing Monsters seems not silly at all but almost restrained and minimalist compared to what Bill and Hillary Clinton have actually been up to.

This raises a question: As much as Americans like their dark and cynical political fantasy, are they really ready to elect the Clintons and make it a reality?

One comparison to which the Clintons are often subjected is the Underwoods of the American adaptation of House of Cards. But I find this one unconvincing, not least because the Clintons don’t (despite some imaginative conspiracy theories) go around killing those who pose an obstacle to their accumulation of power. When it comes to House of Cards, truth really isn’t stranger than fiction.

But House of Cards does provide at least a useful discussion point because it seems to represent the dark fantasy of American politics. President Obama himself likes to joke that he wishes real life were more like the dead-souled politics of House of Cards. As Time reported in 2013: “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient,” Obama told tech industry leaders. “It’s true. It’s like Kevin Spacey, man this guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.”

It’s Obama’s version of Tomfriedmanism: every so often, a bit of ruthless authoritarianism is worth the further decay of freedom and democracy.

Of course, in real life, Washington D.C. far more closely resembles HBO’s Veep, in which those in power are awkward and bumbling and, well, human. There is perhaps something reassuring in the House of Cards model in the belief that things are a certain way because powerful people want them to be that way. But there is, in fact, not really such a thing as presidential stability, and often the more stable it looks from the outside the more it truly resembles a Jenga tower. (A good example is FDR, the closest thing since Washington that America has had to an indispensable man. Only in death did it become fully clear the democratic rot over which FDR presided.)

But the House of Cards frame is useful for another reason: while the Clintons are obviously not cold-blooded killers, they are unlike any other family in American politics. And as Hillary runs for president, she will be asking the country to vote its dark fantasies into reality. Do Americans like House of Cards for the escapism, or do they secretly wish life was really like that?

There is reason to think they’re beginning to get uneasy with this. As our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, according to Quinnipiac a majority of voters don’t think Hillary is honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents. Here’s Chris Cillizza on those numbers:

That’s a remarkable set of findings — and speaks to the divided mind the public has about the Clintons broadly and Hillary Clinton specifically.  There’s a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for. There’s also widespread distrust in her personally.  People admire her but don’t know if she’s honest.

And that is the central problem for Clinton with this series of stories today. It affirms for people that there is always some piece — or pieces — of baggage that come with electing the Clintons to anything.  It’s part of the deal.  You don’t get one without the other.

Make no mistake: Forcing people to decide whether Clinton’s readiness for the job outweighs the fact that it’s always something with these people is not the choice the Clinton team wants on the ballot in November 2016.

If it’s not the choice the Clintons want people to make, then they’re really not so confident that America’s ready for Claire Underwood. But there’s an argument to be made that such questions are fully irrelevant to the actual election.

For example, Democrats are mostly going to support Hillary, and Republicans will generally be happy to stay on their side of the dividing line. And Democrats are not going to vote Republican just because Hillary is dishonest and untrustworthy. In that Quinnipiac poll, she beats each major Republican candidate. The point is not that those numbers can’t or won’t change but that the same voters who say she’s untrustworthy and dishonest would still pick her over the other guy.

And without a serious Democratic primary challenger, Hillary can continue to rally support based on the premise that it’s either her or the Republicans. The GOP might hope for voter apathy come Election Day, but how many Democrats will stay home when they have another chance to make history?

Clintonian corruption is not a disqualifying factor to a great many voters–at least not yet. But on the other hand, the Quinnipiac poll was taken before the latest revelations that the Clintons were personally enriched by steering American strategic resources into the hands of the Russians (and thus the Iranians) when Hillary was secretary of state. There might be a limit, in other words, to how much voters are willing to stomach. And Hillary’s already making them queasy.

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The ‘Clinton Cash’ Allegations Are a Test of the Democratic Party’s Health

The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

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The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

One thing about these stories is that they demonstrate the mainstream media have spent the Obama years resolutely not doing their jobs—which means that Hillary Clinton has not actually been vetted the way, say, every major Republican in the race has been. (Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the subject of intense scrutiny from Florida media, Scott Walker from Wisconsin media, Chris Christie from New York-area media, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz from Texas media, Bobby Jindal by Louisiana media, and so on.) This story—the story of the Clinton Foundation overall— has been hiding in plain sight from 2010 onward. Thus, Democratic voters who like her and believe she is the best person for them are operating on the basis of incomplete information owing to a systematic lack of scrutiny by a media largely unwilling (consciously and unconsciously) to do the deep digging into Obama administration troubles—especially during the first term, when such digging might have served the interests of Republicans in 2012.

But here we are. These stories and more are unavoidable now, and the classic Clinton dodges (which I detail today in a New York Post column) aren’t going to work very well in response to them.

Which brings up the Democratic party, its voters, and its overall health. The condition of the party is a complex one. At the presidential level, the results of the past five elections suggest Democrats go into 2016 with a mild structural advantage; it would seem that, all things being equal, they can depend on a nationwide floor around 48 percent, while the GOP floor is probably a point or a point and half below that. Brilliant get-out-the-vote innovations from 2008 and 2012 will doubtless be added to as we head into the coming year.

On the other hand, the national condition of the Democratic Party outside the presidential realm is terrible. Since 2009, Democrats are down 60 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. Republicans held 22 governor’s mansions in 2009; now they hold 31. Democrats have an astounding 910 fewer state legislators than they did when Barack Obama took office. The GOP has majorities in 67 of the 99 state legislative bodies in the United States, more than at any time since the 1920s.

So Democrats go into 2016 in good structural shape for a presidential bid but in horrendous overall shape as a political party when it comes to holding the levers of power everywhere else.

Hillary Clinton’s ability so far to clear the field—with the exception of a former governor of Maryland who ended office wildly unpopular in his own state—is a mark of the party’s sclerosis. Even when George H.W. Bush was running as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1987-88, there were six other serious contenders, five of them figures of note in the party: Senate GOP leader and one-time vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the wildly popular Rep. Jack Kemp, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Pat Robertson. If Bush had stumbled badly, or if scandal had surrounded him, Dole in particular was right there to pick up the slack.

That was the mark of a party that had been strengthened rather than weakened by its years in the White House.

The biggest polling news today—from a Quinnipiac survey completed before the blockbuster story—indicates that 61 percent of self-described independents find Hillary Clinton “untrustworthy.” That is a dangerous number for her and her party. If everything that has happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen to Hillary Clinton does not surface a challenger or two more threatening to her than Martin O’Malley, the party she will lead in 2016 will be more the wounded animal than the national force.

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Did We Just Find the Corrupt Hillary Clinton Cash Quid Pro Quo?

Hillary Clinton’s allies and surrogates have been working hard in recent days to discredit the allegations, contained in a forthcoming book, about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative influencing her decisions during her time as secretary of state. But Hillary loyalists are going to find it quite a bit harder to pooh-pooh the furor over Clinton Cash today after the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton State Department approved the sale of one of America’s largest uranium mines to a unit of the Russian state nuclear agency after those involved with the sale had donated a staggering $2.35 million to the Clinton charity and former president Bill Clinton had been invited to speak in Moscow by another firm with ties to the Kremlin for an equally astounding $500,000 honorarium. At the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest behind a decision that seems to strengthen one of America’s leading geopolitical foes is obvious. At worst, those searching for a clear case of a corrupt quid pro quo between the Clintons and foreign donors have found their answer.

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Hillary Clinton’s allies and surrogates have been working hard in recent days to discredit the allegations, contained in a forthcoming book, about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative influencing her decisions during her time as secretary of state. But Hillary loyalists are going to find it quite a bit harder to pooh-pooh the furor over Clinton Cash today after the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton State Department approved the sale of one of America’s largest uranium mines to a unit of the Russian state nuclear agency after those involved with the sale had donated a staggering $2.35 million to the Clinton charity and former president Bill Clinton had been invited to speak in Moscow by another firm with ties to the Kremlin for an equally astounding $500,000 honorarium. At the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest behind a decision that seems to strengthen one of America’s leading geopolitical foes is obvious. At worst, those searching for a clear case of a corrupt quid pro quo between the Clintons and foreign donors have found their answer.

Since the pre-publication publicity began about Clinton Cash, family loyalists have been faithfully trotted out on news shows to bash author Peter Schweizer as a right-wing hack and claim there was nothing new about anything contained in the book even as they admitted they hadn’t read it. But most tellingly, they have asserted that talk of any quid pro quo between foreign entities that funneled cash to the Clintons and U.S. policy from 2009 to 2012 is ridiculous.

To be fair, some of the leaks about the book’s content bolstered that point. To unpack just one of the allegations, it must be admitted that the notion that contributions from Colombia to the Clinton kitty was the reason why the Obama administration pushed ahead with a free-trade deal with that important American ally is absurd. But the sale of the Uranium One company that controls a major source of that rare and strategic material is something else entirely. The tale of how the Putin regime wound up in possession of American uranium mines is complicated. But boiled down to its essentials, the facts are clear. Those who stood to profit by the sale of the Canadian firm that controlled the mine to Rosatom, a company owned by the Russian atomic energy agency, poured massive amounts of money into the coffers of the Clinton Global Initiative. And Putin allies invited Bill Clinton, who had a history of involvement and profiting by his association with shady figures and governments in the former Soviet Union, to speak in Moscow for half a million dollars. Not long after, the State Department’s committee tasked with the duty of approving foreign investment in strategic materials in the United States approved the sale.

Clinton apologists are claiming today that there is no proof that the secretary of state intervened in the decision made by the department’s committee. But that means nothing. Cabinet officials have many ways of conveying their wishes to subordinates.

What is most suspicious about the involvement of the Clintons in this matter is the deceptive behavior of their foundation. Contributions from the Canadian who profited from the sale to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as others connected to his company and stood to gain from the deal were not fully reported and were only discovered when journalists examined the tax returns of those involved.

Even worse, these sorts of donations expressly violated the undertakings given by Hillary Clinton to President Obama upon accepting her appointment at State to publicly disclose all donors. That these donations were hid from public view is, at the very least, a sign of a mens rea—guilty knowledge and willful intent to do wrong, and not a mere oversight.

For the foundation to now tell us that they will be more transparent in the future and will not take money from countries that are not U.S. allies is meaningless. The avalanche of cash from less than savory foreign powers and businesses to the Clintons has already happened. The foundation that supports Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton in high style has accumulated $250 million in assets by trading on the influence not only of a former president but also of a sitting secretary of state and a possible future president.

Let’s be frank about these donations. While the Clinton Global Initiative is reported to have helped fund a lot of good work around the planet, the same can be said of many other charities that do far more. The reason why this charity and the three people who run it have grown immensely rich is not because of their much-publicized good intentions and good deeds but because foreign governments and international businesses believe donating to it will do them a world of political good. The nice term for such activity on the part of the Clintons is influence peddling. A less flattering way of describing it would be corruption.

As I wrote earlier this week, there is no precedent for an ex-president to be running such a large charity or for him to be doing so while his spouse serves as secretary of state and plotting a future run for the White House. None but the Clintons, who seem to play by different rules than everybody else on everything from perjury to government emails, would have even tried this, let alone get away with it. But now that Hillary is running for president, this can of worms is being opened and what we’re discovering isn’t pretty.

At this point, it’s no longer possible to dismiss the Clinton Cash controversy as recycled trash. Clinton has a lot of questions to answer about letting Putin get hold of American uranium after her family was funneled a ton of cash from Russian associates. Her only possible defense is that she made this decision because she genuinely believed in the comical “reset” with Putin’s Russia, which constitutes evidence of the sort of bad judgment that makes her time at State appear to be an even bigger failure than we thought. And her family foundation needs to answer questions about false tax returns and violated agreements.

This would be bad news for them even if Hillary were retiring to private life. But for a presidential candidate, even one with massive assets and without strong rivals for her party’s nomination, this is a potential catastrophe.

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Hillary, Obama, and the Corruption of American Foreign Policy

There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

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There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

We already knew the Russian “reset” was a humiliating failure, and that the Iran deal was well on its way to being one as well. But the latest Clinton scandal shows that the reset itself was also tainted by corruption and the product of Obama getting outmaneuvered even more than we previously thought. If you don’t think foreign policy is important in a presidential election, just take a look at how easily Obama was played by Putin and how detrimental to American interests Obama’s attempts to sit at the adult table have been.

Now we know, for example, that a Russian state energy company took control of one-fifth of American uranium production in a series of moves facilitated by Bill Clinton and approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as donations from the major players in this saga flowed into the Clinton family foundation and cash payments went directly to Bill Clinton from the Russians.

But there’s more. For obvious reasons, the official line was that the uranium mined here in the States by the foreign entities could not be exported without additional licensing. That was a lie–as the owner of a Wyoming ranch discovered when he noticed the uranium from his property leaving the country anyway:

Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license — which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing plant in Canada.

Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has, in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers, said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being shipped from the Wyoming mines.

Amazing. Even the truth is never the truth with the Clintons. They said don’t worry about exporting because Uranium One doesn’t have an export license. They just conveniently forgot to add that the license was given to the transport company instead. And the Clintons broke their agreement with the Obama administration to provide transparency on such deals and prevent direct foreign influence peddling, and they even filed false tax returns to hide their shenanigans from the IRS.

So it wasn’t only that Putin had run circles around Obama, using the “reset” to reach into Obama’s back pocket with one hand while shaking Obama’s hand with the other. He did so with the enabling of Obama’s own sitting secretary of state, who was running institutions of a parallel government allowing foreign dictators to circumvent U.S. rules to increase their control of American energy assets, all the while getting both the Russians and the Clintons rich.

Additionally, the Russian energy agency involved here, Rosatom, is a chief partner in Iran’s nuclear program with regard to reactors and uranium supplies. Sean Davis explains why this is such an important detail:

The former secretary of state has remained relatively silent on the proposed Iranian nuclear deal thus far, apparently for good reason. Her opposition could sink Rosatom’s 2014 deal to provide enriched uranium to eight Iranian nuclear reactors for their entire life cycles, potentially enraging the wealthy investors who funneled millions to her family’s foundation. And if she clearly endorses the deal and Iran ends up using the enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, opponents could blame Hillary for approving the deal that enabled Russia to provide all that uranium to the Iranians.

She is, it should be pointed out once again, running for president of the United States. In the meantime, the country is still dealing with the fallout of the institutional corruption Hillary brought to the State Department and to American foreign policy. That foreign policy is Obama’s too.

It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to clean up this mess. But that effort will only be stymied by the fact that this mess is still the operating principle of American foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran.

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Hillary’s Woes Help O’Malley Grow a Spine

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

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Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t gotten much respect from the pundits for his plans to run for president. Since up until now O’Malley has been treating Hillary Clinton with a deference that is not compatible with a serious challenge to her grip on the Democratic nomination, why should anyone take him seriously? But the days of O’Malley bowing and scraping before the might of the Clintons may be over, and that may have more to do with Clinton’s problems than O’Malley growing a spine.

O’Malley is now firing shots at Clinton about trade, indicating he plans to try to run well to her left. Though his chances of beating her still may be calculated as being somewhere around zero, O’Malley’s sudden switch from timidity to truculence toward the former first lady is significant because it illustrates how the accumulation of bad news for Clinton is changing perceptions about her vulnerability. Clinton’s shaky launch of her candidacy and her inability to evade the taint of scandal is making O’Malley’s challenge look less like an exercise in futility.

With a 50-point lead over O’Malley and any other possible rival, even a political earthquake may not be enough to derail Clinton’s path to coronation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next summer. But even Clinton loyalists must understand that the drip-drip-drip of scandals combined with her wooden campaign style is emboldening even seemingly tame opponents such as O’Malley.

Throughout the last several months, O’Malley has acted as if he wanted to ask the Clintons for permission before he said a word about Hillary. Such deference made it appear that he was running for a spot on her ticket, not to replace her on the top spot. But the strident tone adopted by O’Malley when he took after her today in the course of demonstrating his opposition to President Obama’s trade bill showed that the days of his saying, “please, may I” before even glancing at her are over.

Granted, most Democratic primary voters don’t care about Clinton’s callous disregard of the rules and any sense of accountability that her email scandal illustrated. Nor do many of them seem particularly worked up about the Clinton Cash accusations about the way former President Clinton raked in honorariums and contributions for the family charity from foreign donors while his wife was serving as secretary of state despite the obvious and unprecedented conflict of interest.

But Clinton’s attempt to play the populist in an attempt to head off a challenge from the left by Senator Elizabeth Warren—the one Democrat who is seen as having even a small chance of knocking her off—isn’t convincing even her most ardent fans. Nor are even they impressed by the stilted nature of her campaign so far. Despite her vast resources at her disposal as she begins raising the billions she plans on spending over the course of the next year and a half, as well as the fear that the Clinton attack machine inspires among most Democrats, O’Malley is sensing that all these advantages are masking some real weaknesses.

If the Clinton Cash charges stick rather than fade away as the chorus line of Clinton apologists trotted out on cable news keep insisting, then for the first time in this cycle it might be possible for a non-Clinton candidate to start eating into her enormous lead. That might lead to a scenario where O’Malley may finally benefit from being the only mainstream Democrat who had the chutzpah to challenge Hillary. Of course, that might lead Warren to come out of hiding and jump into the race. But if not, that’s the point where O’Malley will be transformed from a joke to a genuine thorn in Clinton’s side.

We’re a long way from that point, but O’Malley’s new boldness is a warning sign for Clinton that it’s not just Republicans who realize what a lousy candidate she still is. Many Democrats resent not having a competitive race and will be prepared to back a long-shot challenger if only to make things more competitive. Which means that far from coasting to the nomination, she may actually have to spend some of the billions she is planning on raising on winning the nomination. That’s good news for O’Malley as well as for Republicans who would relish the spectacle of Democrats turning on each other rather than merely lying in wait for whomever it is that emerges from the GOP primaries.

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Why the Angry Left Needs Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

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Hillary Clinton’s attempts to clear the Democratic field by being everything to everyone is necessitating the kind of seesaw reporting that should come with a coupon for Dramamine. Various portions of the Democratic base are aware that Hillary is contradicting herself (and them) to other groups, but they’re taking a lie-to-the-other-guy comfort in it: it’s me, they keep telling themselves, that Hillary truly loves. And one day we’ll be together. The media coverage of this is dizzying.

Clinton starts the campaign as not just an ally of the Wall Streeters her party has been demonizing for years, but also as someone whose family foundation has served as a kind of super-PAC allowing foreign governments to pitch in to her campaign-in-waiting. (The campaign is no longer “in waiting,” yet the Clintons are still accepting donations from foreign governments.) So she needed to try to strike a populist tone, and did so.

Yet that necessitated stories gauging Wall Street’s reaction to her populist pose. Politico talked to her Wall Street supporters and found that they fully understood she was playing the Warren Wing of her party like a fiddle, and didn’t mean a word of it. “Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street backers: We get it,” proclaimed the headline.

Of course such stories, paired with the continuing revelations about all of Clinton’s money and privilege, meant she’d have to swing wildly back portside. So she did, with today’s story in the New York Times portraying her as the original Elizabeth Warren. But Clinton only knows extremes, and so her allies offered the following anecdote to boost her populist bona fides:

Mrs. Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a “toppling” of the wealthiest 1 percent, according to several people who were briefed on Mrs. Clinton’s policy discussions but could not discuss private conversations for attribution.

Still, Mrs. Clinton will pitch that “toppling” with a very different style than Ms. Warren, a bankruptcy expert whose populist message has been laser-focused on holding Wall Street accountable. Mrs. Clinton will present proposals for changes in the tax code as a way of also investing in education, infrastructure and communities.

I highly doubt Hillary herself ever used the word “toppling” when discussing what to do about the top one percent’s accumulation of wealth. And if she did use the word, it’s explained in the next paragraph that she was already hedging on whether she really intended to burn America’s financial center to the ground. She was jumping so far to the left she had an almost instinctual spring back to the center in one rhetorical flourish.

As the old Yiddish saying goes, you can’t dance at two weddings with one tuches. Which is why Hillary is further cementing her reputation as someone who believes nothing and so will say anything.

But the more interesting question than whether Hillary really intends to “expropriate the expropriators” is why she says the crazy things she says. Why she has to, in other words, at least pretend to keep her inner Leninist within reach and speak to her party as if it’s a gathering of the mob.

One reason is that the left wing is no longer really so much of a wing, but rather integrated into the body of the Democratic Party: the extremists are mainstream. Another is that the left has totally lost its bearings, and actually sees Hillary’s weaknesses as strengths when set to the right unhinged purposes.

To see what I mean, take this chilling, infuriating story by David French in National Review. It’s a long essay on the way liberal Wisconsin prosecutors launched a secretive assault on supporters of Scott Walker, replete with pre-dawn police raids and the violation of numerous constitutional rights, not to mention the damage to innocent Wisconsinites’ reputations. The whole story in all its horrifying details must be read to be believed, but the reason it was made possible was because the Democratic district attorney abusing his powers was doing so under the rubric of a “John Doe” investigation. French writes:

John Doe investigations alter typical criminal procedure in two important ways: First, they remove grand juries from the investigative process, replacing the ordinary citizens of a grand jury with a supervising judge. Second, they can include strict secrecy requirements not just on the prosecution but also on the targets of the investigation. In practice, this means that, while the prosecution cannot make public comments about the investigation, it can take public actions indicating criminal suspicion (such as raiding businesses and homes in full view of the community) while preventing the targets of the raids from defending against or even discussing the prosecution’s claims.

The left has come completely unglued. And it’s the ends, not the means, that they most care about. This is hinted at in the closing quote of the Times piece on Hillary:

Mrs. Clinton “wakes up asking how she can accomplish real things for families, not who she can attack,” said Gene B. Sperling, an economic adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He added, “When she shows that fighting populist edge, it is for a purpose.”

Government coercion for a good cause. It doesn’t get much more dangerous than that in a democracy, but it also doesn’t get much more suited to the Clintons’ skill set. And Hillary’s above-the-law posture is clearly an asset in this quest. Liberals who want to replicate nationwide what they’ve done in Wisconsin might not like all of the Clintons’ politics but they must be giddy at the thought of having the Clintons back in power–as long as they have a seat at the table.

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Hillary Clinton’s Tangle of Corruption

Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

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Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

I’m speaking in this instance of the donations by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. As Jonathan made note of yesterday, a New York Times story on the forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash, asserts that “foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.”

When the secretary of state has a policy of pay-to-play, that is bad enough. It reinforces the impression that Mrs. Clinton is a tangle of corruption, dishonest and untrustworthy, and playing by rules that apply to her and her husband but not to others. That has happened time and again with the Clintons; it’s the pattern and habits of a lifetime. And there’s no indication it will change. The portrait of Mrs. Clinton is that of a hardened, brittle, unreflective, and self-justifying individual. Whatever problems she faces are always the result of others, often the “right-wing conspiracy” she has invented in her over-active imagination.

But that’s not the only complicating factor for Mrs. Clinton. The other is that she has badly damaged her ability to wage a culture war/”war on women” campaign against Republicans. Because whatever outlandish charge she makes against Republicans, they will sound positively enlightened compared to the repression of women and gays that occurs in nations (like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, et cetera) that have given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. It looks for all the world as if those nations gave money to buy the silence of the Clintons–and their investment paid off.

One can only imagine the political firestorm if the tables were turned and nations that brutally oppress women and gays had funneled money to a foundation of a Republican running for president in order to gain favor while he served as America’s chief diplomat–not to mention the deletion of 30,000 emails on a secret (and inappropriate) server. The coverage would be intense and unremittingly negative.

On top of all that, the Schweizer book says that even as Hillary Clinton is portraying herself as a “champion for everyday Americans,” from 2001 to 2012 the Clintons’ income was (at least!) $136.5 million. Not bad after claiming she and her husband were “dead broke” after they left the White House. During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, Schweizer writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.” (“Of the 13 [Bill] Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more,” Schweizer writes, “only two occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”)

Unlike her husband, Mrs. Clinton is not a naturally likable public figure. Her ethical transgressions make her less so. Which means Republicans are likely to face a person with thoroughly average political skills running with a considerable amount of ethical baggage but also a mountain of cash (estimates are that her campaign will raise up to $2.5 billion). Beating her in 2016 won’t be easy, but it’s certainly doable.

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Are You Poor Enough to Be President?

If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

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If you went to central casting looking for someone who could earnestly defend Bill and Hillary Clinton’s shady financial claims, you could hardly do better than Governor Shamwow himself, Terry McAuliffe. And that’s precisely what Meet the Press did yesterday. Yet in the process of trying to substantiate Hillary’s claim to being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House after Bill’s presidency, the Virginia governor, former Clinton campaign manager, and built-for-QVC traveling salesman did end up making a relevant point about the 2016 presidential election.

Clinton’s insistence she was broke post-presidency was obviously ridiculous, which is probably why McAuliffe rushed out to defend it:

“I cannot tell you the distress in that family at that time, with all the issues and all the legal fees, banks refusing to even give them a mortgage. So listen, people go through tough financial times,” he said.

McAuliffe’s comments came when asked about remarks from Clinton quoted in his book depicting the former first lady saying “we own nothing” and “it was really horrible” when leaving the White House.

“They had nothing compared to a lot of rich friends,” host Chuck Todd pressed.

But it was the next part of the interview that was more interesting:

McAuliffe pointed to Clinton’s upbringing in an attempt to cast the presumed Democratic presidential frontrunner as someone who knows hardship, noting her “middle-class roots” and that her mother was abandoned.

This is the 2016 presidential election in a nutshell, and Hillary is far from the sole offender. Her Republican rivals are, if anything, even more desperate to project the false populism of poverty.

It recalls a classic McDonald’s commercial in which older diners are engaged in an uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways competition over childhood hardships. If memory serves (I can’t find the clip online), it ends with one elderly diner talking about walking barefoot when the diner behind him snaps “Feet? You had feet?”

The major difference between that commercial and the 2016 campaign is that the candidates are competing for most recent poverty, with the trump card being somehow still poor even today and running for president. At this rate we’ll be lucky if a future nominee doesn’t win the primaries on the strength of a biography that consists of still living with his parents. (On the other hand, being a grown adult who isn’t very good with money does seem to be a presidential prerequisite these days.)

This afternoon, CNN posted an article whose headline asked the following question: “Can a Jos. A Bank suit win the White House?” I bet now you wish we could go back to talking about Chipotle.

The story is about Scott Walker:

Presidential hopeful and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boasted in New Hampshire last weekend that he shops for suits at Jos. A Bank. It’s famous for its huge discount deals. “All suits — Buy 1 get 3 FREE” reads the site’s current promotions.

Walker is using his everyman wardrobe to resonate with middle class voters.

“The shirt is from Kohl’s. The suit is from Jos. A Bank,” Walker, a Republican, told a crowd in New Hampshire over the weekend.

Walker has actually made his shopping at Kohl’s a regular feature of the campaign. In his defense, there is a point: in a January speech he explained how his wife had to teach him how to shop there properly, by waiting for deals, clipping coupons, and using reward points. Lesson learned, Walker finally returned to Kohl’s to buy a shirt and “the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!” (I’m sure former Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, whose family started the chain more than a half-century ago, was just delighted to hear it.)

Should we care which candidates shop at Kohl’s? No, we should not. Which is what made encountering the following note in the CNN story a pleasant surprise:

So what suits do other presidential hopefuls wear? Does the suit say anything about them or their policy? We don’t know.

Spokespersons for Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz did not respond for comment. Senator Rand Paul’s spokesperson declined to comment.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that this election is an outlier in this regard. In fact, it’s long been a tradition in American politics to lay claim to the famous American up-from-your-bootstraps work ethic and economic mobility.

And the candidates have perfectly valid reasons to partake in this tradition. Hillary Clinton is doing so because she is very, very rich, a situation made possible partly because the regular rules that apply to “everyday Americans” don’t apply to the Clintons. Hillary would like to shed the image of her as an out-of-touch crony capitalist extraordinaire. The problem is that the image is accurate.

Republicans are doing so both to contrast themselves with the rich and privileged Clintons as well as to continue exorcising the ghost of 2012, specifically Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. Conservatives hope to banish the image of the country club Republican, and are going out of their way to push back on the perennial media narrative of uncaring right-wingers. If the current string of Clinton scandal revelations continues at this clip, however, they won’t have to do much at all to look more relatable than the Democratic royal family they’re running against.

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‘Clinton Cash’ and an Unprecedented Question

Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

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Democratic loyalists are reacting in predictable ways to the flurry of publicity for a new book about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton got rich via donations from foreign governments to their charity due out in a few weeks. Their instincts tell them to dismiss the allegations in Peter Schweitzer’s book as just the latest manifestation of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get the Clintons, to use Hillary’s memorable phrase from the 1990s. But the attention being paid to the book by the New York Times and not just Fox News is making it hard to do so. It remains to be seen whether Schweitzer’s charges about foreign entities making massive contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative as well as paying enormous speaking fees to the former president in return for favors from the State Department when the former first lady led it will be substantiated. But what cannot be disputed is that the Clintons have behaved in an unprecedented manner. The real question is whether their pushing of the boundaries of ethical behavior will ultimately be seen as disqualifying or if, instead, be disregarded as just one more set of rules that the once and future first family can ignore with impunity.

On its face, the reports about Schweitzer’s book appear to indicate that what he has done is merely to collate a vast array of material about the Clintons, their charity, and U.S. foreign policy, and to attempt to connect the dots between subjects that Bill and Hillary would like very much for us to keep separate. In response, the Clinton machine is trotting out the gang of usual suspects to put it down as politicized reporting that unfairly attempts to stigmatize the work of a noble charity as well as to besmirch Hillary’s record at the State Department.

Yet however much they huff and puff about the effrontery of those who dare to question the Clintons’ behavior, they can’t entirely squelch concerns about the way the couple has pushed the conventional boundaries of ethical political behavior in ways that are completely unprecedented in American political history. Though this is being viewed as a purely political question, there’s more here than just an opportunity for conservatives and Republicans to throw dirt at the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. Even if you admired the previous Clinton presidency and think Hillary would make an admirable successor to Barack Obama, the facts about the Clinton charity and the way it has solicited donations give even liberals a queasy feeling about the manner in which has operated. More than that, there is simply no previous example of a former president and his family creating such an entity that is dependent in part on foreign riches while one of its principals has been actively conducting American foreign policy and preparing for a future presidential run.

It must be conceded that just because there has never been anything like the Clinton power couple before doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. But in an era when conflicts of interest involving public officials are often justifications for lengthy and costly investigations–and possible prosecution if authorities think they can substantiate a link, however circumstantial, between official behavior and actions from donors that benefit an official and/or his or her family–the most favorable way of characterizing the Clintons’ behavior is to say that it is very fishy. Yet we should probably take it as a given that the Clintons and their lawyers are likely so savvy about how to push the envelope on ethics that they have been careful to avoid breaking any laws or at least that they have done so in ways that will make it difficult, if not impossible for them to be prosecuted.

It is also true that former President Clinton’s conduct seems very much in line with the kind of activity that nowadays we treat as normal from former members of the House and Senate who routinely cash out on their political careers after retirement or defeat at the polls by becoming lobbyists, consultants, or otherwise profiting from their status as former power brokers. Past presidents have often been involved in charity work, though never on the scale of the Clinton Global Initiative before. But even if other former chief executives have made money speaking, those paying them exorbitant honorariums were never before doing so while a presidential spouse was in power or planning to get it, raising issues of quid pro quo transactions that have never before been lodged before against one of our former presidents and their families.

Are the American people are really comfortable with the idea of a former president profiting from the largesse lavished upon him and the charity he runs from foreign sources while his wife presides over the State Department while biding her time before running for president? Clinton’s defenders are anxious that we think it no big deal while their antagonists seem to think that merely pointing out what is already on the record about their behavior is enough to disqualify Hillary from consideration in 2016. But what we don’t know is which of these two possible responses characterizes the thinking of the electorate.

It is possible that just as Bill Clinton broke new ground in violating norms about personal behavior in the White House without forfeiting the support of many, if not most Americans, so, too, the tale of the “Clinton Cash” will similarly be forgiven, if not altogether ignored by enough Americans to ensure their return to the White House. But just as there is no precedent for their behavior and the questions they have raised about the intersection of policy, charity, and speeches for profit, there is also none that can give us an answer to this question about how such hijinks influence presidential elections. All we know is that the Clinton way of doing charity work for profit and power has raised questions about Hillary’s candidacy and her party in ways that not even the sagest pundits can be sure about the people’s response to this mess.

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How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out

Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat for (separate) interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the subject of their appreciation of Jewish thought and culture came up. Here was the relevant comment from Obama:

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

And here’s the exchange from Goldberg’s interview with McCain:

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Roth’s work, of course. But Obama’s answer smacked of check-the-box pop blandness. When it came to discussions of philosophy and literature, Obama always seemed to be reading from Wikipedia summaries. McCain’s answer, on the other hand, demonstrated deep and true engagement with the subject matter, and it showed why his respect and affinity for the Jewish people came through so strongly.

Put simply, when it came to Jewish thought and history, McCain simply got it. Obama was lost at sea.

Which is why Obama’s flagging approval rating among Jews isn’t too surprising, whereas a major change in the presidential vote share would have been more surprising.

It makes sense for American Jews to register disapproval of Obama at this point in his presidency, for a few reasons. First, he’s earned it. Obama has never been able to fake a connection with the Jewish people that just wasn’t there, the way it was with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He never passed the “kishkes” test, so to speak, and never even really came close to passing it.

So he was always dependent on his policies speaking for him. Some of the president’s defenders try to point out that Obama has just pushed for a peace agreement along the lines of his predecessors, and that he is unfairly maligned for it. This is false: the differences may appear subtle to outsiders and rookies, but they are monumentally important.

Additionally, he has less of a margin for “error,” as it were, with his policies because he couldn’t make anyone believe that he truly loved the Jewish state and merely wanted what was best for it. Therefore, the trust in him was always going to be less when it came to throwing tantrums over Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the like.

The second reason it makes sense for Jews to make their voices heard now is that Obama has already been reelected, and so there won’t be any concern by left-leaning Jews that they may drive voters to (gasp!) vote Republican, or take other such action that would have actual consequences. This is a safe protest. It lets the president know his juvenile hounding of Israel and his overall incompetence are areas of genuine concern for a demographic group that has consistently been among his most reliable supporters.

And the third reason is that, as far as electoral coalitions are concerned, the Obama era is over. Not only are we past his reelection, but we’re also beyond the second-term congressional midterms. This, then, is a message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership for 2016.

In the end, it probably won’t matter much, especially because Hillary will no doubt say the right things over and over before Election Day 2016. That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.

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Hillary Clinton Is Terrified of People. Will It Matter to Voters?

If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

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If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

IJ Review has a fun side-by-side comparison of what happened when the entertainment-news site TMZ attempted to question Marco Rubio in an airport, and what happened when TMZ tried to corner Hillary Clinton in an airport. Rubio walked over to the cameraman smiling, and chatted for a bit about his campaign, music, and even gracefully handled a question about his wife being an ex-cheerleader. He never looked uncomfortable, or bothered by the questions.

The video of Clinton consists entirely of her walking away in silence, hearing but ignoring the cameraman.

You may think that if there’s any fear at play in that video, it’s fear of the media or of accountability. And that’s surely true. But Hillary’s campaign rollout is revealing that it’s a more generalized fear than that: the woman who wants to be the next president is terrified of people.

Politico reports that while Hillary launched her campaign promising to fight for “everyday Americans,” she would prefer to do so at a distance. She drove to Iowa to meet with voters, but it turned out to be the early stages of a Potemkin campaign:

That’s because she didn’t actually have much face time with regular Iowans who weren’t handpicked by her campaign.

In part, that was by design: Clinton didn’t meet with that many people, period. The strategy going in was to focus on small groups — rather than stage big rallies — and to cultivate more intimate experiences. But Clinton’s foray into Iowa was also an exercise in preaching to the choir, largely executed in the safety of controlled environments.

All told, she met with less than a few dozen Iowans who weren’t pre-selected.

The Politico piece is a guided tour through Hillary’s Iowa trip and the carefully selected groups of “regular people” she met and spoke with along the way and who asked her canned softball questions that were really just liberal talking points with a question mark at the end.

But then, something happened that threatened to shake the very foundations of her Iowa trip: someone spoke to her unscripted. Politico tells the terrifying tale:

But Clinton appeared less at ease in less controlled situations. When two reporters yelled questions at her about why she ignored a 2012 letter from congressional investigators asking about her personal email use at the State Department, and why she appeared to change her position on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Clinton bolted from the room without a word to the news media.

The subheadline of the Politico article is: “Clinton’s foray into Iowa was an exercise in preaching to the choir, executed in the safety of controlled environments.” That seems like an accurate summary of the trip as well as Hillary’s hopes for the campaign. She is uneasy when she doesn’t approve everyone’s placement in the room and when she doesn’t know what they’re going to say to her. She needs pre-programmed responses to questions. The act of thinking on the fly, of deciding for herself what she believes–of actually believing something, anything–is too much for her.

The extent to which Clinton’s interactions with the public must be stage-managed can get quite ridiculous. In September at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, Hillary pretended to grill a steak that had been pre-grilled for her in order to fulfill the obligatory photo op. A picture of Hillary flipping a pre-cooked steak at a steak fry is possibly the quintessential image of Hillary’s presidential ambitions.

The question, as always, is whether any of this is going to matter. Hillary’s a disaster when actually speaking extemporaneously, so there’s an argument to be made that the image of an entitled aspiring monarch running away from “everyday Americans” at full speed is an improvement over what she might say when asked a question that hasn’t been pre-written and pre-answered.

But the contrast between her and the Republicans like Rubio, who wear a smile easily and are willing to interact with voters, is not going to be kind to her during this long campaign. Get to know America, Mrs. Clinton. You just might like it if you give it a chance.

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More Nixonian Moments for Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s first official campaign appearance yesterday after announcing her candidacy on Sunday set off a media circus as reporters chased her around Iowa in search of a big political story. But though Clinton’s wooden appearance at a community college was newsworthy, it was not quite as interesting as the one about her that surfaced in Washington. As the New York Times reports, it turns out that contrary to the spin from her camp, Mrs. Clinton was actually asked about whether she was using a private email account to conduct business while serving as secretary of state a full two years ago. As long ago as December 13, 2012, Clinton was asked by Rep. Darrel Issa, the chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight, whether this was the case. Mrs. Clinton never replied to the query that would blow up in her face in 2015. In doing so, it must be admitted that the former first lady saved herself from possible charges of lying to Congress. But the revelation that she wiped her home server clean when she was already on notice that the House wanted to know about the emails is one more brick in the wall of Nixonian stonewalling that makes it hard to take her claims of transparency or of being the candidate of “everyday Americans” seriously.

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Hillary Clinton’s first official campaign appearance yesterday after announcing her candidacy on Sunday set off a media circus as reporters chased her around Iowa in search of a big political story. But though Clinton’s wooden appearance at a community college was newsworthy, it was not quite as interesting as the one about her that surfaced in Washington. As the New York Times reports, it turns out that contrary to the spin from her camp, Mrs. Clinton was actually asked about whether she was using a private email account to conduct business while serving as secretary of state a full two years ago. As long ago as December 13, 2012, Clinton was asked by Rep. Darrel Issa, the chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight, whether this was the case. Mrs. Clinton never replied to the query that would blow up in her face in 2015. In doing so, it must be admitted that the former first lady saved herself from possible charges of lying to Congress. But the revelation that she wiped her home server clean when she was already on notice that the House wanted to know about the emails is one more brick in the wall of Nixonian stonewalling that makes it hard to take her claims of transparency or of being the candidate of “everyday Americans” seriously.

Of course, Clinton and her supporters are dismissing the significance of this latest piece of an embarrassing scandal saying, as all those caught making mischief do, that the voters want to hear about more important things. To that end, Clinton was engaging in staged photo-ops in Iowa where she had to pretend to listen and to care about what community college students thought. Clinton’s demeanor or speaking style is so forced that she makes a stiff like Mitt Romney seem charismatic. Though there is little doubt about her inevitable coronation as the Democratic presidential nominee, convincing voters to embrace a candidate who is clearly out of practice when it comes to faking interest in what those who aren’t paying her six-figure honorariums have to say remains a problem.

But the drip-drip-drip of stories about the emails should remind voters that the apt comparison for Clinton is not Romney (GOP groups hope to demolish her with negative ads the same way Democrats eviscerated the 2012 Republican nominee) but the president whose impeachment Hillary worked to obtain as a young lawyer.

Clinton’s apologists can complain all they want about her critics seeking to distract voters with fake scandals, but the fact remains that she conducted herself in office in an unaccountable manner and then covered up evidence of her activities by using a private email server that was eventually destroyed even as House committees sought information it contained as they began the investigation of the Benghazi terror attack. Her private account shielded her communications from investigators and the press. The successful effort to cover this up and then to ensure that no one will ever know the truth about Clinton’s work was a brilliant piece of lawyering that will guarantee that her secrets will never be uncovered, whatever they might be.

Liberals are right when they say Clinton did nothing that will cause her to be subjected to investigations aimed at punishing her for violating or pushing the boundaries of government accountability regulations. But they are wrong when they assert this is meaningless. As the woman who intends to serve what will, in effect, be Barack Obama’s third term in the White House, the spectacle of such deceitful behavior that skirts the boundaries of legality is exactly the sort of thing that may be fatal to Democratic efforts to reassemble the hope-and-change coalition that won in 2008 and 2012. Combined with her shaky performances in even the most controlled circumstances such as yesterday’s show in Iowa, this is a bad beginning to a presidential campaign that ought to already be running smoothly.

Bad retail political skills combined with inauthenticity, a penchant for secrecy, and stonewalling is a bad combination for politician, though not necessarily ones that bar one from winning the White House. Unfortunately, the only real precedent for such a person winning the presidency is Nixon. That’s a bad omen for a woman that hopes to lead the party that regards him as the symbol of everything they hate about American politics.

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The Real Reason Bill de Blasio Hasn’t Endorsed Hillary

Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

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Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

To recap, here’s what de Blasio said when asked directly about endorsing Hillary on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD:

Well, in the last quarter century, they’ll have had a Clinton as president for eight years of that last quarter century, so that’s going to be difficult. Let me ask you this, are you for her now, unequivocally? Or do you want to wait to see if she takes your advice on moving to a more progressive agenda?

BILL DE BLASIO:

I think like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear, bold vision for progressives–

CHUCK TODD:

But you’re technically not yet endorsing her?

BILL DE BLASIO:

No, not until I see, and again, I would say this about any candidate, until I see an actual vision of where they want to go. I think she’s a tremendous public servant. I think she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office. And by the way, thoroughly vetted, we can say that. But we need to see the substance.

The Clintons demand loyalty above all else, and de Blasio was Hillary’s campaign manager for the Senate in 2000. So this certainly looked to some in Clintonland like a betrayal. Clinton ally Hilary Rosen responded angrily on Twitter, with a classic Clintonian threat:

The whole thing was, I thought, blown way out of proportion. But reporters spent the next couple days asking de Blasio if perhaps he had reconsidered his comments about the Central Committee chairwoman. Politico reports this morning that he’s sticking to his story:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is standing by his remarks on “Meet the Press” that he is not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. …

“It’s the same things I’ve said publicly: progressive taxation, raising wages and benefits, investment in infrastructure and education, the willingness to tax the wealthy so we have the resources to actually change the dynamic in this country,” the progressive Democratic mayor said.

This obstinacy has inspired some quizzical looks. Who shrugs off the horse’s head in the bed? What’s de Blasio up to?

In fact, there is a very good reason for Bill de Blasio to keep his initial distance from Hillary: self-preservation. Hillary Clinton, and the crony capitalist aristocracy she represents, is a direct threat to de Blasio’s career.

Remember, de Blasio was swept into office on the combined power of one good television ad and the tide of left-wing populism that sought to turn the animating ideas behind Occupy Wall Street into something productive. The Tea Partiers didn’t just rage against the government (they also didn’t defecate on police cars, as their liberal counterparts did); they got involved, ran candidates for office, formed a congressional caucus, and shaped legislation.

So as terrible as the policy preferences of de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are, and as shallow as their understanding of basic economics continues to be, there was at least something healthy about their elections: it showed left-wingers re-engaging with the democratic process. Warren has secured a place for herself as a national figure. She occupies a safe Senate seat and sits on the banking committee, and even has a legion of fans who want her to run for president. She demonstrated her transformation into the Democrats’ Ted Cruz with her recent attempt to shut down the federal government over a policy dispute. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going anywhere.

The same is not necessarily true of de Blasio. That’s why he scheduled a trip to Iowa to talk about inequality, and why he continues to act as though he’s a single-issue activist instead of an influential political executive.

But far more of a danger to de Blasio is the looming success of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. As Ben Domenech wrote in the September issue of COMMENTARY, the populist base of the Democratic Party will be one casualty of Hillary’s coronation: “She is still the Hillary who spent six years on the Walmart board of directors; the Hillary at her most comfortable rubbing elbows in Aspen, the Hamptons, and Davos; the Hillary whose family foundation depends on the donations of big banks and held its annual donor briefing in the auditorium of Goldman Sachs, which reportedly paid her $400,000 for two speeches last year,” Domenech wrote, adding: “The past few years have been better for Wall Street than anybody, and when it comes to the battles over regulation, taxation, and trade policy, the progressive base seems ready to concede defeat.”

De Blasio isn’t, however. Elizabeth Warren could survive the receding tide of liberal populism because she has transitioned seamlessly into a progressive cog in the bureaucratic statist machine. Warren sold out the moment she was presented with the opportunity to wield state power to settle scores.

De Blasio, however, has no such job security and no obvious fallback plan. What de Blasio has instead is the great media megaphone of New York City. And he intends to use it.

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Rubio, Immigration, and the Long Road to the Nomination

Yesterday, on the day of the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Marco Rubio had two very good reasons to talk about immigration. And that’s the problem. Rubio took a risk in trying to reform the federal immigration system. It was, in many ways, an admirable risk, since the system really does need an overhaul, and Rubio seems to have learned an important lesson about prioritizing border security and preventing another border surge over increasing low-skilled immigration. But it was an expensive lesson.

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Yesterday, on the day of the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Marco Rubio had two very good reasons to talk about immigration. And that’s the problem. Rubio took a risk in trying to reform the federal immigration system. It was, in many ways, an admirable risk, since the system really does need an overhaul, and Rubio seems to have learned an important lesson about prioritizing border security and preventing another border surge over increasing low-skilled immigration. But it was an expensive lesson.

The first reason Rubio had to talk about immigration was that he was asked. He gave an interview to NPR’s Steve Inskeep, and at one point in the wide-ranging discussion the subject turned to immigration. Rubio mentioned that he understands now that immigration reform can’t be “comprehensive,” as he had hoped, especially because distrust of massive government legislation is so high. He also talked about how difficult it would be to get such legislation passed during Obama’s presidency. (Obama has famously torpedoed immigration reform time and time again.)

And then Inskeep asked about the presidential election and the Hispanic vote, and the two had this exchange:

How do you keep from getting hammered on that in a general election where the Hispanic vote may be very important?

Well, I don’t know about the others, but I’ve done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did. I mean, I helped pass an immigration bill in a Senate dominated by Democrats. And that’s more than she’s ever done. She’s given speeches on it, but she’s never done anything on it. So I have a record of trying to do something on it. It didn’t work because at the end of the day, we did not sufficiently address the issue of, of illegal immigration and I warned about that throughout that process, as well, that I didn’t think we were doing enough to give that bill a chance of moving forward in the House.

It’s understandable that Rubio chose this answer. The phrasing of the question hemmed him in a bit, tying immigration reform to the Hispanic vote. But the truth is, supporting immigration reform will not do much for Republicans’ attempts to win over Hispanic voters, and “taking the issue off the table” by actually successfully passing and instituting reform won’t do much more.

As far as attempting to pass reform, this is because Hispanic voters have much more in common with Democrats than Republicans on policy than simply immigration. And Republicans knew this even before the 2012 election. On the day of that election, for example, I pointed out a poll showing President Obama getting 73 percent of the Hispanic vote and Hispanic voters trusting Obama and the Democrats on the economy over Mitt Romney and the Republicans by a 73-18 percent margin.

Other polls have shown similar results with even more specifics, but the numbers in that poll were so clear as to be a neon sign: Hispanic voters were, like their fellow voters, concerned about the economy. That poll also indicated that promising to address immigration reform wasn’t very valuable to Hispanic voters, because they didn’t believe congressional cooperation would have improved much no matter who won.

And “taking it off the table” doesn’t get you very far either, because it won’t be done by 2016 anyway (in part because Democrats don’t want to take this issue off the table). It might help somewhat, but it’s not the main issue and treating it as if it were can be a distraction. This is also why mainstream reporters will always want to tie immigration reform to the Hispanic vote: the odds are against it, and therefore they can keep badgering Republicans on it.

The other good reason Rubio had for talking about immigration is that Republican candidates are already pivoting to the general election by contrasting themselves with Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush does this because he wants to prove himself to the establishment and look like a frontrunner. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Rubio will do this because they are young enough to pitch the election as “yesterday” vs. “tomorrow.” (Rubio did this explicitly, and brilliantly, in his announcement speech.) Age is no advantage against each other, though, for the latter three.

Rubio also had perfect timing to turn his criticism to Hillary, since she announced her campaign the day before he did. It’s possible she thought she was upstaging him, but he turned it to his advantage flawlessly. Going forward, the GOP candidates will surely criticize each other, but Rubio was right to turn toward the general this week, and doing so opens the door to talk about immigration.

But Rubio doesn’t have to run from this issue to avoid antagonizing the base. He just has to understand that pivoting to the general election before the actual general election is different than after winning the nomination, because he’s making his pitch to Republican primary voters.

The “I can beat Hillary” rationale does not have a great track record, if 2007-08 is any guide. But whatever credit Rubio will get for attempting immigration reform, he’s already received. For now he needs to remember who his audience is, because if he’s lucky they’ll be his primary audience for the next year.

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Clintonian Gibberish: The New Language of American Politics

If I asked you to which economic class you believe you belong, statistics tell me you’re probably going to say “middle class.” If I asked you, say, what kind of American you are, logic tells me you will back away slowly. What you almost certainly won’t do is say: “everyday American.” And this contradiction tells us much about Hillary Clinton’s latest effort to erase the meaning from every word she can get her hands on, sparing none. And a New York Times story accepting her framing today confirms it: the new language of American politics is gibberish.

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If I asked you to which economic class you believe you belong, statistics tell me you’re probably going to say “middle class.” If I asked you, say, what kind of American you are, logic tells me you will back away slowly. What you almost certainly won’t do is say: “everyday American.” And this contradiction tells us much about Hillary Clinton’s latest effort to erase the meaning from every word she can get her hands on, sparing none. And a New York Times story accepting her framing today confirms it: the new language of American politics is gibberish.

Of course Hillary won’t be abandoning talk of the “middle class.” That will still be part of her campaign rhetoric. But deliberately putting “everyday Americans” up as the rhetorical centerpiece of her campaign is designed to do something specific. Hillary, who is nothing like you and could not possibly understand your daily struggles, is just like you because she understands your daily struggles, she swears. Also–and this is important–she’s really not an oddball. Scout’s honor.

Don’t take my word for it. You can read that in the Democrats’ newspaper of record, the New York Times. Here’s the lede of today’s piece on the contrasting image challenges of Clinton and the Republicans: “On one side is a crowd of Republicans trying to look presidential. On the other side is a lone Democrat trying to look normal.”

Considering that Hillary’s opening campaign gambit is jumping out at unsuspecting strangers from a van, I’m not quite sure her definition of “normal” lines up with how “everyday Americans” might define the word. Nonetheless, there is her greatest obstacle: she is a train wreck when forced to interact with people who aren’t paying her two hundred grand to speak at their corporate retreat.

Allow me to be Captain Obvious for a moment: you can’t fake authenticity. But one way Hillary will attempt to do so is by diluting the English language until there are no more words, just empty sounds, hand gestures, and facial expressions.

The truth is that while “middle class” has been stretched to its limits as a descriptive term, it still actually means something. It’s not just about annual take-home pay, either. Politicians and economists talk about the middle class because a strong middle class means certain types of jobs are still being created, economic mobility is more than a pipe dream, and a balance of voters’ economic interests keeps something of a level playing field.

And it’s even helpful, in its own way, that the phrase “middle class” is adopted by so many Americans who probably aren’t middle class. It tells you something about the aspirations and self-perceptions of so many voters. And it’s important ideologically to both sides. Many conservatives hope the middle class can act as a bulwark against both the relentless expansion of the welfare state and crony capitalism at the top, while liberals hope the middle class will join their campaign of economic piracy around which they base their pitchforks-and-torches politics.

Candidates don’t generally overtly go for the “rich vote,” but neither do they pretend the poor represent a strong donor base that can fund their campaigns or a tax base that can fund their initiatives. It’s all about the middle class, even if just rhetorically. So as vague as “middle class” can be when it comes to self-identification, the phrase “everyday Americans” is vaguer still.

And that’s the point. Merriam-Webster defines “gibberish” as “unintelligible or meaningless language” and “pretentious or needlessly obscure language.” The Hillary Clinton campaign’s communications strategy is the dictionary definition of gibberish. Bill Clinton may have deployed this strategy from time to time, but gibberish is all Hillary speaks.

And that’s because Hillary has no rationale for being president outside wanting to be president and believing it’s owed to her. (How’s that for “everyday American?”) So her supporters, who are going to vote for her anyway, want more details from her, and she can’t imagine why she would oblige. From Politico:

“I can’t believe I missed ‘Game of Thrones’ for this,” said one Democrat who sat through the call for former Clinton staffers at 9:30 p.m. EDT Sunday. …

The feeling of an information vacuum extends to Clinton’s campaign website, which still does not list her policies or issue stances, and her schedule remains empty except for a handful of small events in Iowa. On her road trip — during which she is likely making many calls to major donors, said one veteran Clinton ally — she has no pre-planned stops.

The Game of Thrones quote captures the dynamic nicely. Her loyal foot soldiers report for duty, and they simply want enough information to head out into battle. But when it comes to information, especially policy details, Hillary’s response is essentially: Make me.

Why would Hillary have to divulge more information? What are you, Joe Democrat, going to do to about being taken for granted by the Clinton campaign? There’s no serious challenger to Hillary on the horizon, and she’s trying to keep together a broad coalition of interest groups. She has no reason to speak English when she can skate to the nomination speaking gibberish. The most the rest of us can do is not follow her descent into total incoherence.

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Rubio’s Path Is Steep But Doable

Marco Rubio’s timing couldn’t be better. A day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the presidency reminded us why the putative Democratic nominee will be running away from what should have been a strength—foreign policy—the Florida senator’s declaration illustrates why the youngest candidate in the field (five months younger than Ted Cruz) has a chance. Just as Clinton’s seeming inevitability is undermined by the sense that she is a stale retread from the ’90s who is looking to serve the third term of either her husband or her former boss, Rubio epitomizes the future of American politics. As a Hispanic and the son of working class immigrants, arguably the Republican candidate with the strongest command of foreign policy among the major contenders, and perhaps the best speaker, Rubio ought to rate serious consideration. But whether he does or not will depend on his ability to withstand the scrutiny and rigors of the big stage as well as that of his rivals.

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Marco Rubio’s timing couldn’t be better. A day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the presidency reminded us why the putative Democratic nominee will be running away from what should have been a strength—foreign policy—the Florida senator’s declaration illustrates why the youngest candidate in the field (five months younger than Ted Cruz) has a chance. Just as Clinton’s seeming inevitability is undermined by the sense that she is a stale retread from the ’90s who is looking to serve the third term of either her husband or her former boss, Rubio epitomizes the future of American politics. As a Hispanic and the son of working class immigrants, arguably the Republican candidate with the strongest command of foreign policy among the major contenders, and perhaps the best speaker, Rubio ought to rate serious consideration. But whether he does or not will depend on his ability to withstand the scrutiny and rigors of the big stage as well as that of his rivals.

There has always been a strong argument in favor of Rubio sitting out the 2016 race. Running now puts him in competition with his former ally and mentor, Jeb Bush, as well as obligating him to give up a Senate seat that could have been his for the indefinite future, something fellow senators Ted Cruz (not up for reelection until 2018) and Rand Paul (he may be able to avoid making a decision about staying in the Senate until after the presidential primaries are decided) may not have to do.

There is also the question as to whether Rubio’s youth and relative inexperience have not quite prepared him for presidential prime time. Though he was promoted as the next great thing by many in the GOP after their 2012 election defeat, he had a very bad 2013 that started with a dive for a water bottle during his State of the Union response speech and then cratered as the party base bitterly rejected his support for a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. By the end of that year as Rand Paul’s stock went up as even many Republicans were prepared to withdraw from engagement from the world, it seemed unlikely that Rubio would run for president, let alone be thought of as a potential first tier candidate.

But in the last year Rubio has rebounded. He managed to back away from the immigration bill by rightly concluding that the surge across the border last summer proved that security had to come first before a path to citizenship could be considered for those here illegally.

More than that, the very factor that undermined Paul’s confidence that the GOP was no longer the party of a strong America has boosted the rationale for a Rubio candidacy. As one of his party’s foremost spokesmen on foreign policy, Rubio offers a clear alternative to the once and future neo-isolationist Paul as well as defense and security neophytes like Scott Walker.

However, the obstacles in his way are formidable.

The first is that he can’t count on any one constituency to fall back on. Where Jeb Bush has the establishment, Rand Paul has libertarians, Ted Cruz has the Tea Party and, he hopes, Christian conservatives for whom he will have to compete with Walker, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, Rubio has no such base.

What he does have is the ability to reach out to all of these constituencies, though many Tea Partiers, who once boosted him in his 2010 Senate run as one of their own, will never forgive him for his past support of immigration amnesty. That’s the conceit of Scott Walker’s candidacy as well, but the Wisconsin governor has not acquired the same enemies on the right that Rubio has made.

Also against him is the Obama precedent. As can also be said of Cruz, Republicans who have been complaining about the country being run by a first-term senator may not want to try the same experiment with a conservative instead of a liberal.

On top of all that is the fact that he must, at best, expect to split Florida fundraisers with Jeb Bush. And with his poll numbers still quite low, raising money may not be easy.

But there’s a reason Rubio seems willing to gamble his Senate seat on chances that some pundits don’t consider good.

Just as Obama didn’t wait his turn in 2008, it’s not crazy to think that Rubio could catch fire too. The fact is, the polls still mean very little right now, a point that Scott Walker should keep reminding himself about. The nomination will hinge on the debates and that ought to stand Rubio in good stead. He may not be able to count on any one sector of the party, but that can help him too since it means he can’t be pigeonholed as either a Tea Party or libertarian extremist who can’t win in November (as can be said of Cruz and Paul) or a product of the establishment or the past (as is the case with Bush). And unlike Walker, he won’t have to learn about foreign policy—the main job we hire presidents to do—on the fly.

The point about a large field with no real frontrunner is that it means that any one of the candidates who can engage the imagination of the voters can win. Rubio might not turn out to have the right stuff to win a presidential nomination let alone the election. But with his immigrant/working class background, Hispanic identity, and impeccable conservative credentials on social and economic issues, he remains the computer model of the kind of candidate Republicans need to nominate. His immigrant narrative is a powerful tool that not only helps him but also hurts Jeb Bush. He is a candidate of change and youth in a way that fellow Hispanic and relative youngster Ted Cruz is not.

Can it work? It has before in American politics when John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama did it. Those are tough comparisons to live up or down. But with chances that are at least as good anyone else’s, there’s no reason for him not to give it a try.

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Why Hillary Must Run Away From Foreign Policy

There was something missing from Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy. Though she ran in 2008 as the adult who could be trusted to take a 3 a.m. crisis call and the most substantive item on her long resume is her term as secretary of state, nary a mention was made of foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this strikes her team as a smart strategy, but the most important is the fact that at a time when the world looks to be falling apart, her ineffectual frequent-flyer routine during her tenure at the State Department is a good argument for voting against Clinton, not voting for her.

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There was something missing from Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy. Though she ran in 2008 as the adult who could be trusted to take a 3 a.m. crisis call and the most substantive item on her long resume is her term as secretary of state, nary a mention was made of foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this strikes her team as a smart strategy, but the most important is the fact that at a time when the world looks to be falling apart, her ineffectual frequent-flyer routine during her tenure at the State Department is a good argument for voting against Clinton, not voting for her.

As John wrote earlier, Clinton’s expected $2 billion dollar election blitz is starting off with a mom and apple pie routine that is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “morning in America” campaign. Americans like their leaders to be optimists, not downers who are constantly telling us we’re doomed (note to file for Rand Paul). It’s also a safe play for someone with no serious competition for her party’s nomination.

Nevertheless, the emphasis on economic issues and income inequality is more than just a bow in the direction of the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. It’s an insurance policy aimed at ensuring that the one person who could derail her coronation in the summer of 2016 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia doesn’t run: Senator Elizabeth Warren. The liberal activist core is clamoring for a challenge to Clinton, a candidate they don’t trust, but in the absence of a credible challenger, she’ll be able to devote her campaign war chest to demonizing the top Republican challengers.

But in spite of these good reasons to stick to domestic issues, the complete absence of even a mention of foreign policy at a time with the Middle East in crisis, terrorism surging, Russia threatening the independence of Ukraine and the Baltic states, and President Obama fully engaged in selling his nuclear deal with Iran is remarkable.

The irony here must be difficult for Clinton to accept. Her personal approval ratings were never higher than during her four years at State, but the mere mention of her tenure there is embarrassing.

Above all, it is a reminder that although Clinton would like to be able to fully engage the same voters that turned out in droves to elect and reelect Barack Obama, she doesn’t necessarily want to remind voters that she was supposedly in charge of administration foreign policy for four years. Running for a third term of an incumbent president would be a difficult task for even a skilled retail politician, but Hillary has shown us repeatedly that this is not her strength. As I wrote yesterday, running for the third term of either Obama or her husband is a thankless task that complicates her efforts rather than easing her path to the presidency.

Though she boasts of her international advocacy for women and girls, the record on most other substantive topics is dismal. The comical “reset” with Russia was the prelude to Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. In the Middle East, Clinton presided over a policy that neglected a war-torn Syria and bugged out of Iraq enabling the rise of ISIS. And that’s not mentioning the debacle in Libya (the one example where Clinton’s alleged advocacy of a more muscular foreign policy was heeded) and the catastrophe in Benghazi that still hangs over her reputation. Being in the room with Obama when Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs won’t be enough to burnish her reputation at a time when it is clear that the president’s boasts about the end of al-Qaeda were false.

Ignoring foreign policy is also a way to escape having to take a stand on Obama’s appeasement of Iran. Iran is a tricky question for a politician who is simultaneously seeking to wrap up the liberal base and appeal to general-election voters. She can’t oppose the president but she also doesn’t want to appear as an extension of his efforts since that damages her ability to present herself as something new, even though she is very much yesterday’s news.

Clinton is correct if she thinks that bread-and-butter issues are always going to influence more voters than foreign affairs even in a time of crisis. But 2016 looks to be more of a foreign-policy election than most and that puts the former first lady at a distinct disadvantage because it is the one area where her record can be taken apart.

The putative Democratic candidate must, like GOP contender Rand Paul, pray that the next year brings no new crises and things become quieter in the war against ISIS and the confrontation with Iranian-backed terrorists in the region. But if not, she’s in trouble. Clinton may try to run away from foreign policy in the next year and a half, but she won’t be able to hide from it.

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Seven Takeaways From the Hillary Announcement Video

1) The video Hillary Clinton released announcing her candidacy is a liberal version of a “baseball, hot dogs, apple pies and Chevrolets” commercial—classic visual cliches evoking the America not of old but of older television commercials, only with single mothers and gay couples added to the mix.

2) The ad the video evokes, oddly enough, is the Ronald Reagan “it’s morning in America” spot from 1984. I say “oddly enough” because the implicit theme of “morning in America” was the comeback of the United States both financially and in its own self-understanding. That wasn’t spin. The ad was released during an economic growth spurt almost unimaginable today (the economy grew by 3.8 percent in 1982, 6.4 percent in 1983 and 6.3 percent in 1984—by 8.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004 alone).

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1) The video Hillary Clinton released announcing her candidacy is a liberal version of a “baseball, hot dogs, apple pies and Chevrolets” commercial—classic visual cliches evoking the America not of old but of older television commercials, only with single mothers and gay couples added to the mix.

2) The ad the video evokes, oddly enough, is the Ronald Reagan “it’s morning in America” spot from 1984. I say “oddly enough” because the implicit theme of “morning in America” was the comeback of the United States both financially and in its own self-understanding. That wasn’t spin. The ad was released during an economic growth spurt almost unimaginable today (the economy grew by 3.8 percent in 1982, 6.4 percent in 1983 and 6.3 percent in 1984—by 8.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004 alone).

3) Reagan could take credit for the changes because he was president. Hillary seems to be attempting to invoke a sense of optimism about the current American condition (at least among Democrats) for which she can realistically take no credit—which is also helpful, because to the extent that people do not feel optimistic, she doesn’t bear any responsibility for the bad feeling either.

4) Optimism is nice. The ad is nice. Hillary probably needs to look nice. She’s trying to look nice. You don’t immediately associate her with the word “upbeat.” Maybe if she spends $500 million to show she’s upbeat, people will come to agree. On the other hand, New Coke.

5) In the end, as E.J. Dionne points out, she has determined to run the way George H.W. Bush ran in 1988—and that Bush ran as “Reagan plus,” with promises to improve education and the environment. But Bush’s “thousands points of light” argle-bargle really had little to do with his landslide victory, as I recounted in my 1993 book, Hell of a Ride (now available on Amazon for the amazing price of one penny). He was Reagan’s third term, pure and simple; in the fall of 1988, Reagan hit an approval rating of 54 percent, and Bush received…53.4 percent. (And this was, of course, a decline of more than five points from Reagan’s 1984 margin of 58.9 percent. In 1986, before he fell into the trough of Iran-Contra, Reagan routinely scored approval ratings in the low 60s—a number Barack Obama has never even approached.)

6) In 1988, all the data suggested the public believed it was “time for a change.” I worked in the Reagan White House at the time, writing speeches for the president, and this was a problem we addressed head on—and helped Bush win as a result. In rally speech after rally speech, Ronald Reagan said, “People say it’s time for a change. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are the change.” The point was that the changes of the 1980s had not fully solidified and Bush was needed in large measure to assure that change was not reversed.

7) The bottom line: If Hillary is to be the second coming of George H.W. Bush, albeit a Democrat, Obama better up his game and fast. In the last quarter of 1988, when people were choosing between Bush or Michael Dukakis, the economy was growing by 5.4 percent. Reagan’s signature policies, from the tax cuts to tax reform to the defense buildup that put the Soviet Union on the track to dissolution, were all judged successes by the electorate. Obama’s signature policy, Obamacare, still polls badly—and his foreign policy isn’t looking any too good either, to put it mildly. To win, Hillary needs to be able to take advantage of the “we are the change” idea. Right now, it would work against her. Pretty badly.

 

 

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The Culture Wars v. the Culture of Life  

A few days ago I wrote a piece warning Republicans of the coming culture wars, led by Hillary Clinton, who will make the “war on women” a centerpiece of her presidential campaign. Liberals believe they can use social issues to bludgeon conservatives into submission and then defeat.

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A few days ago I wrote a piece warning Republicans of the coming culture wars, led by Hillary Clinton, who will make the “war on women” a centerpiece of her presidential campaign. Liberals believe they can use social issues to bludgeon conservatives into submission and then defeat.

There’s no question that in some cultural areas, like gay marriage, traditionalists are losing ground. But when it comes to the issue of unborn life, which has profoundly more important moral implications, notable progress has been made, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Start with the number of abortions, which has dropped from more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.06 million based on the latest data. The abortion rate in the United States is now at its lowest point since 1973. And public opinion continues to shift in a pro-life direction. For example, a recent YouGov poll found that 52 percent of those surveyed think that life begins at conception and 66 percent believe babies in the womb are people. A solid majority support restrictions on abortion, support for late-term abortion remains extremely rare, and more women than men support 20-week abortion ban laws. (Gallup’s data on historical trends, charting opinion since 1996 shows the nation has moved in a more pro-life direction.)

Despite this, the head of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, issued a statement the other day indicating that she believes there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever–which as I understand it is the de facto view held by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and most every leading Democrat. Which means that the truly radical position–a person should have the right to abort any child at any point for any reasons–is the mainstream position of the Democratic Party. (Mr. Obama, while serving as a state senator in Illinois, opposed a bill that would have restricted “abortions” after an infant is born alive. See here and here.)

This offers Republicans the opportunity to advance a culture of life in a way that is principled and shows genuine compassion and care for the most vulnerable members of the human community.

This debate pits utilitarianism against the belief in the inherent human dignity of every individual. The utilitarian approach is an assertion of the power of the strong over the weak; it therefore treats human beings as means rather than as ends. By contrast, the belief in human dignity is rooted in the Jewish and Christian tradition that regards the protection of innocent lives as one of the primary purposes of a just society. A utilitarian society will be dramatically less humane than a society that honors the principle of human dignity and extends it to those in every season and station in life.

The iconic liberal Hubert Humphrey put things this way: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

These are more than lovely words; they speak directly to the moral duties of the state. It seems to me that Republicans and conservatives, even in the current cultural climate, can make a powerful and resonant argument: Unborn children are at the dawn of life, and they deserve the protection of government. They will provide protection to unborn children, even as those on the left believe it is a sacred right to target them.

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The Announcement Isn’t the Real Hillary News

This is the real Hillary news:

This campaign will…build up to an effort likely to cost more than any presidential bid waged before, with Mrs. Clinton’s supporters and outside “super PACs” looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion in a blitz of donations from Democrats who overwhelmingly support her candidacy.

This is the reason Hillary Clinton has effectively cleared the Democratic field and the reason (even if unconscious) so many Democrats are enthusiastic about her: She’s a juggernaut. The fact that her campaign people could seriously be looking at $2.5 billion when the Obama and Romney campaigns together spent a little less than $2 billion just three years ago gives an indication of Hillary’s sheer power.

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This is the real Hillary news:

This campaign will…build up to an effort likely to cost more than any presidential bid waged before, with Mrs. Clinton’s supporters and outside “super PACs” looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion in a blitz of donations from Democrats who overwhelmingly support her candidacy.

This is the reason Hillary Clinton has effectively cleared the Democratic field and the reason (even if unconscious) so many Democrats are enthusiastic about her: She’s a juggernaut. The fact that her campaign people could seriously be looking at $2.5 billion when the Obama and Romney campaigns together spent a little less than $2 billion just three years ago gives an indication of Hillary’s sheer power.

And it makes sense. She has been at the center of the American political consciousness for nearly 25 years. She may be the most famous woman in the world, and, aside from Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the most famous non-president ever to contest for the presidency. That was true in 2008, of course, but remember, she lost the Democratic nomination because she was challenged by a brilliantly conceived campaign to her left. It’s doubtful she would have lost the general election.

Ah, but things change, and this is the point. Right now, polls say three-fifths to two-thirds of the electorate believe it’s time for a change—and if 2016 is a “change” election that will direct a headwind straight into Hillary Clinton’s path:

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll…showed 59% of registered voters believe it’s more important to find a candidate who will bring greater changes to current policies—even if that person is less experienced and tested.

Everyone who opposes her should presume Hillary Clinton will achieve her eye-popping 2016 money goal. This will have several effects.

First, it’s likely Democrats down-ticket are going to have some fundraising problems, as will the Democratic party apparatus. This could provide opportunities in Senate and House races for the Republicans in 2016.

Second, and perhaps most important, it would be disastrous for the Republican party if the nominating process goes on too long, or if an obvious nominee emerges and must still campaign through the end of March or into April because there’s a gadfly staying in. Hillary running unopposed with a virtually limitless supply of money will mean she can start going negative and defining one or more of her Republican opponents almost from the jump in 2016.

If the primary process drains the eventual candidate of money so that he must somehow make it through three months until the convention, effectively penniless—which is what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012—that could be especially problematic. Obama super PACs spent $100 million going after Romney in Ohio on the issue of job-destruction by his Bain Capital, and that money was extremely well-spent in part because it went unanswered.

Hillary Clinton starts the race either as the weakest strong candidate ever or the strongest weak candidate ever. Republicans are going to have to make sure they are in a position to exploit her weakness, because there’s no denying her strength.

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