Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are Walker and Rubio the Frontrunners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hiding Hillary’s Emails in Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary Clinton’s Trained Seals and Their Tiresome Act

Good grief.

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Good grief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Times’s Amy Chozick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Democrats and the Hillary Train Wreck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clinton’s Parallel Government and Obama’s Great Miscalculation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary’s Emails Raise Questions That Require Answers

In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

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In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

In addressing Clinton’s violation of the rules, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, the former first lady and secretary of state isn’t guilty of a host of possible crimes until she can prove herself innocent. But we needn’t raise the ghost of Vince Foster or Whitewater, let alone indict her on charges of sending men to their deaths in Benghazi or selling the country down the river to Persian Gulf oil states, to accept the fact that this highly suspicious.

As an expert in the field told the New York Times:

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” said Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.

At the very least, the bizarre decision to forgo a government email while serving as secretary of state is a violation of the rules that apply to all those in high office. The regulations exist since all such emails are government records, much the same as correspondence and dispatches were in the era when snail mail was the only form of written communication. Government accounts are also far more secure than any personal account, a factor that Clinton was irresponsible to ignore in this era of cyber warfare. She was not the only secretary of state to use a personal account. But she’s the only to use it exclusively. As such, none of her emails were preserved during her time in office. It is only subsequent to her leaving her post to prepare for a presidential run that her staff began the process of sorting through her emails and deciding which of them should be sent to the government to be archived.

That the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee would behave in this manner is not all that surprising. The Clintons are legendary for their conspiratorial mindset and lack of transparency. But despite her spokesperson’s claim that she followed the letter and the spirit of the law, we are still left with the question of who got to decide which of her emails were private and which was government business and what were the criteria they used.

But as our Seth Mandel wrote last month when the scandal about foreign governments being solicited for donations by the former president while his wife ran U.S. foreign policy broke, transparency is not a minor concern when it comes to the Clintons. We don’t have to assume that she was personally participating in this highly corrupt practice to be curious about whether the same email account that she used to conduct business was also receiving communications about her husband’s success in shaking down governments for contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative. The mixing of her government business with her family’s private ambitions was bad enough even if one doesn’t take for granted, as we probably must, that all such donations were bribes aimed at winning the good will of a secretary of state, if not a future president. But now that we know that her emails were not automatically being preserved for the archive, it’s not unreasonable to worry that somewhere in this treasure trove of information are some nuggets that may not put her and her affable spouse in a flattering light, if not legal jeopardy.

If Clinton is smart, she will repress her instinctual reflex to stonewall and release her emails as Jeb Bush, one of the people who hope to oppose her in November 2016, has done. At the very least she should choose someone not associated with her family political machine to go through these communications and redact those that are truly personal. If not, she shouldn’t be surprised if this issue haunts her throughout the coming election year. More to the point, if Clinton doesn’t realize how damning this looks and the need to be above board when running for president, she will be disqualifying herself for the job.

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How Republicans Benefit from Carly Fiorina’s Candidacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Howard Dean and the Elmer Fudd Theory of Economic Policymaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Will Nemtsov’s Assassination Mean for Hillary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Call Clinton Foundation Action What It Was: Corruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Hypocrisy and the Hillary Scandals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clintons’ Qatari Cash Should End Democrats’ Koch Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, further:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jeb’s Strength Is Also His Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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Why Governments “Invest” in the Clintons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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General Romney Refights the Last War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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