Commentary Magazine


Topic: immigration

Rubio, Immigration, and the Long Road to the Nomination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics in an Age of Epic Transition

“For only the third time since the founding of the United States we are in the early or transition phase of a new era in American and global history,” according to University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow. He adds, “from the narrower point of view of economic and social history, however, we are in the early stages of a transition phase faster than anything we have encountered in more than 100 years, the largest since the economic and industrial revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th century.”

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“For only the third time since the founding of the United States we are in the early or transition phase of a new era in American and global history,” according to University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow. He adds, “from the narrower point of view of economic and social history, however, we are in the early stages of a transition phase faster than anything we have encountered in more than 100 years, the largest since the economic and industrial revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th century.”

These quotes by Professor Zelikow appear in a article in Politico by Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik. Mr. Sosnik writes that we are “going through the most significant period of change since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution”–including a convergence of economic, technological, and demographic forces–“that is transforming every aspect of our lives.”

Mr. Sosnik asserts the point more than he proves it–but his analysis, as well as the one by Professor Zelikow, strikes me as basically right. There is certainly “change that’s churning beneath the surface,” in Sosnik’s words, and this may be a “hinge” moment in American history.

In his article, Sosnik pays particular attention to demographic changes, pointing out that a demographic transformation is changing who we are as a country. He points out that as recently as 1980, 80 percent of the United States population was white. Last year the figure had dropped to 63 percent. And a recent report, “States of Change,” projects that whites will be less than 44 percent of the total population by 2060.

Mr. Sosnik argues that the shifts we are experiencing are “going to change which voters matter and which states matter.” The political center of gravity in America will shift from the Midwest to faster growing, ethnically diverse states like Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada. Of special interest to Republicans: Most of the fastest-growing states in America–which are trending younger and more diverse–are no longer solid Republican base states.

The Republican Party, particularly if it hopes to be successful at the presidential level, needs to take these shifts into account. Some on the right seem to want to ignore these changes, or deny them, or undo them. None of these options are wise, and if pursued, each of them will fail.

For Republicans to succeed, they need to produce political leaders, and most especially a presidential nominee, who understands how our nation is changing; who can explain what these changes mean; and who can convince voters who are not now voting for the Republican Party why it’s best able to harness the forces that have been unleashed.

The Republican nominee needs to explain to voters why this transformative moment shouldn’t be feared but grasped; why it presents us not only with tremendous challenges but also with extraordinary opportunities.

This will require putting forward a modern, creative 21st century agenda that addresses middle-class concerns like higher education and health-care costs, wage stagnation and stalled social mobility. It means nominating a conservative standard-bearer who is a reformer and change agent, who voters believe can lead America to a new era of prosperity and renewal. And it means choosing a person to represent the party who, when saying our best days are ahead of us, is actually believable–and who inspires confidence in skeptics rather than simply inciting passion in supporters.

This is an admittedly tall order, and whoever is the nominee will need to present their case in ways that are authentic to them. But it does strike me that these elements are important, given where the Republican Party is, where the nation is, and where the nation is going.

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Liberal European Policy to Blame for African Migrant Deaths

In recent days, perhaps 200 African migrants died while trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies just 70 miles off the North African coast. Every year, African migrants also die trying to make the crossing to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession 62 miles off the African coast. Meanwhile, around 600 African migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast. If migrants manage to scale the fence separating those two enclaves from Morocco—and last year 16,000 African migrants tried to do so at Melilla alone (of which 5,000 were successful)—then they are on European soil and can seek asylum.

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In recent days, perhaps 200 African migrants died while trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies just 70 miles off the North African coast. Every year, African migrants also die trying to make the crossing to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession 62 miles off the African coast. Meanwhile, around 600 African migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast. If migrants manage to scale the fence separating those two enclaves from Morocco—and last year 16,000 African migrants tried to do so at Melilla alone (of which 5,000 were successful)—then they are on European soil and can seek asylum.

Whenever migrants drown trying to make the hazardous crossing, either over water to European islands or overland to European enclaves in Africa, human-rights groups wring their hands and immigration activists criticize European governments and their militaries for failing to intervene and rescue the migrants. The pattern, however, continues even as, over the years, thousands if not tens of thousands have perished.

Alas, if the goal is to save the lives of the African migrants, then the biggest enemies to the health and safety of the migrants are well-meaning European politicians, human-rights organizations, and advocates for liberal immigration policies. The problem is incentive: No matter where the illegal alien steps foot, so long as it’s European soil, then he or she has won the jackpot. To treat all European lands as equal for the purposes of immigration, however, is an arbitrary decision, and should not be the basis of law.

There are other models. If the Europeans truly cared about African lives, they might consider Australia’s experience. For years, Australia was a choice destination for illegal migrants. Unscrupulous human traffickers would extort thousands of dollars from migrants who would then board rickety boats in order to reach outlying Australian islands. Once they touched land, they hoped, they would be in Australia and transported safely to the mainland. The Australian government solved the problem by declaring that no automatic right to Australian residence nor freedom of travel for illegal migrants from outlying Australian islands to the mainland. The next step was for Canberra to negotiate agreements with Nauru and Papua New Guinea for the transport of migrants there. That might be OK for those fleeing political persecution—after all, they could be safe as safe in Nauru or Papua New Guinea as they would be in Australia—but it wasn’t so attractive for economic migrants. And, let’s face it, 99 percent of the migrants trying to reach Europe or Australia are economic migrants. Australia also isolated many illegal migrants in camps until they could be processed. It’s quite one thing to reach Ceuta, travel to the European mainland, and then sit back and relax in a Spanish or Italian café on the backs of generous European welfare packages; it’s quite another thing to spend one’s day in a camp in Papua New Guinea, Nauru, or Christmas Island. To reach Australia might still be an objective, but it is an increasingly distant one. There are still disasters, but fewer migrants try to make the perilous journey, and fewer still lose their lives as a result. The willingness of the Australian navy to intercept in international water and divert is admirable and prevents further accidents still.

So back to Europe: If the Europeans want to stop the death of thousands of migrants—and, remember, those killed on the waters of the Atlantic or Mediterranean are only the tip of the iceberg as many lose their lives to terrorists and bandits as they traverse West or Central Africa and the Sahel—then it’s imperative to remove the incentive to gamble with their and their children’s lives. Here, there’s also an interplay between migration and security, for the same networks which help smuggle or insist on protection money from the smugglers are those like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or criminal networks like the Polisario Front which pose larger threats to regional and perhaps even European security.

If the European Union truly cares about African lives, it’s imperative that they cease rewarding those who reach outlying islands or enclaves. Migrants who reach those territories should remain there, in camps if need be. There should be no right of migration, for example, for non-citizens to move from Ceuta or Melilla across the Mediterranean or illegal immigrants in the Canary Islands across the Atlantic on ferries or commercial flights just because they scaled a fence or stepped foot on a beach.

Reach Melilla? Well, that’s your final destination. Reach Ceuta? Ditto. Arrive in the Canaries? Well, you’ll be interred there for years before an inevitable return to the African mainland. Can’t return to the Central African Republic, Nigeria, or Libya because of political violence? Well, if safety is the concern, then detention camps in Benin, Togo, or Ghana await. It would be far cheaper for the European Union to provide aid to those countries or territories or others like them to maintain camps for illegal migrants than it would be to pay European welfare. In the meantime, the European Union would create a disincentive to make the perilous journey. It is the maintenance of that incentive which causes death. And for those groups which seek to increase rather than decrease the reward for illegal migration, let’s call a spade a spade: They have blood on their hands.

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Scott Walker Rejects Your Premise

The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

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The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

The Wisconsin governor is enjoying a bit of a boomlet right now, as Peter Beinart notes in a sharp piece on Walker’s unapologetic conservatism. And he’s earned it. He won three statewide elections in four years, and did so with national media attention and the concerted lunatic tactics of public unions (death threats, violence, compulsive Hitler comparisons) aimed at him and his supporters. He won comfortably and with a smile on his face. Walker never lost his composure and never stooped to the level of his fanatical liberal opponents.

None of this is news. What’s changed is that Walker has, in the last week, gone national. His speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit earned rave reviews, and was followed with what appears to be the first pro-Walker presidential ad. And everyone seems to have noticed what Walker’s opponents in Wisconsin have learned the hard way, repeatedly: he’s a formidable politician. This should worry his GOP rivals not only because of Walker’s win streak, but also because Walker is doing something many of them aren’t: he’s setting the terms of the debate instead of following the terms the Democrats have set.

A good example of how this plays out concerns Mitt Romney, who had been flirting with another presidential run. Romney was hurt by his infamous “47 percent” remark in which he appeared to write off voters he considered contentedly dependent on government. It became a catchphrase for the Republicans’ so-called empathy gap.

Before deciding to pass on running again, Romney had been trying to undo the lingering damage of the Monopoly Man reputation by expressing his concern for the poor. He was rewarded for stepping into this rhetorical bear trap with a giddy President Obama in full class warrior mode, as Politico notes:

“Even though their policies haven’t quite caught up yet, their rhetoric is starting to sound pretty Democratic,” Obama said of the Republicans during a House Democratic retreat. “We have a former presidential candidate on the other side and [who is] suddenly deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great, let’s go. Let’s do something about it.”

Even when trash talking, the president is not exactly a wordsmith. But the point, clumsy and juvenile though it is, shines through: whatever your policies, to simply care about poor people makes you sound “pretty Democratic,” as the intellectually cloistered president sees it.

This helps Democrats because even if Republicans come around to demonstrating the empathy they supposedly lack, it sends the message that the Democrats were right. Walker rejects the premise.

Beinart explains how the media missed this story until now:

Walker’s rise illustrates the pitfalls of media coverage of the GOP race. Not many national reporters live within the conservative media ecosystem. They therefore largely assume that in order to win over the non-white, female, millennial and working class voters who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates must break from conservative orthodoxy, if not substantively, then at least rhetorically. Journalists are also drawn to storylines about change. Thus, when potential GOP candidates show signs of ideological deviation, the press perks up. After 2012, Marco Rubio garnered enormous media attention for his efforts at immigration reform. Rand Paul’s transgressions—whether on foreign policy, civil liberties or race—make headlines almost every week. In covering the launch of his new Super PAC, journalists made much of Jeb Bush’s discussion of income inequality and his fluent Spanish. Most recently, reporters have lavished attention on Mitt Romney’s new focus on the poor.

The lesson, as I interpret it, is that the press and the Democrats speak the same language. That’s not surprising; the mainstream press, especially during national elections, functions as a messaging office for the Democrats. Because of this, they just assume that in order to be a serious presidential candidate you have to be like them, like the Democrats.

Walker doesn’t agree. And he’s been extraordinarily successful of late by not agreeing.

Part of the media’s terrible coverage of national politics is the reliance on the personal: it matters to them who is saying it more than what is said. Romney got tagged as uncaring because he’s rich. But the classic conservative policies don’t reek of plutocracy when coming from the new crop of Republican stars, many of whom came from modest beginnings or are the children of immigrants, or both. Walker doesn’t even have a college degree, which itself is incomprehensible to modern Democrats, who are elitist and credentialist and genuinely don’t know what life is like in much of the country.

And neither does the media. Which is how someone like Walker could be so successful and still blindside the national press, who would struggle to find Wisconsin on a map. And it’s why Walker is a threat to other high-profile Republicans who have accepted the Democratic/media framing of the issues in order to make a national pitch. Only one of them can be right.

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In Praise of Ted Cruz

In the past I’ve been critical of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but in his questioning of President Obama’s choice for attorney general, Loretta Lynch–which occurred during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee–was not just skillful but superb.

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In the past I’ve been critical of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but in his questioning of President Obama’s choice for attorney general, Loretta Lynch–which occurred during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee–was not just skillful but superb.

Senator Cruz’s tone was respectful but firm. He stayed away from theatrics and polemics. He didn’t personalize the line of inquiry. In doing so, he kept the focus right where it needed to be.

But more than that, Senator Cruz exposed the lawlessness that is at the core of President Obama’s executive amnesty, and he did so in a logical, step-by-step manner. Senator Cruz started with the fact that Ms. Lynch supports what the president did, and then probed her thinking in order to find out what limits there are on the government’s power, if any at all. What he found is that there are none–at least none that are rooted in the Constitution and anything more than arbitrary parameters and presidential whim. If the president wants to provide amnesty to five million illegal immigrants, then why not 12 million? What’s to stop him? Senator Cruz wanted to know. Ms. Lynch had no answer.

What about the Obama administration printing millions of work authorizations in direct conflict with federal law? Is that a problem? Ms. Lynch was unwilling to say. And then Senator Cruz put forward a devastating hypothetical. Assume that in 2017 President John Cornyn instructs his secretary of the treasury not to collect any taxes in excess of 25 percent, based on “prosecutorial discretion.” Or that President Cornyn broadens his ambitions and decides, using the infinitely elastic Obama-era definition of prosecutorial discretion, he won’t enforce federal labor laws and environmental laws? Once again, Ms. Lynch had nothing to say, no defense to offer.

What Senator Cruz did was to reveal Mr. Obama’s utter disdain for the Constitution and what a fundamentally lawless and capricious president he is. He showed that Mr. Obama views himself in possession of kingly powers. And he demonstrated that there are simply no checks on government power, at least according to the legal theory that is guiding the Obama administration.

This is the progressive vision–radical, unmoored, dismissive of the Constitution, and indifferent to the rule of law–and it’s being realized in the Obama presidency. It’s to his credit that Ted Cruz exposed this in his short colloquy with the woman who wants to be America’s next attorney general.

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Now It Can Be Told, Eric Holder Edition

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee today in her first step on the path toward confirmation. The key question around this initial hearing was about President Obama’s executive amnesty, not anything controversial in Lynch’s past or expected to arise in the near future. Which is why Lynch should know from the outset that her nomination is in good shape.

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Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee today in her first step on the path toward confirmation. The key question around this initial hearing was about President Obama’s executive amnesty, not anything controversial in Lynch’s past or expected to arise in the near future. Which is why Lynch should know from the outset that her nomination is in good shape.

Lynch is a highly confirmable nominee, even in these times of political polarization. For the left, her identity-politics credentials are impeccable: she’d be the first African-American woman to be attorney general. Far more interesting is her appeal to the right. Democrats have initiated an unusual sales job to convince enough Republicans to approve her nomination. Their case for her, at least with regard to conservatives, involves throwing Eric Holder under the bus before he can clean out his desk.

Lynch is the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She is regarded as a tough and fair prosecutor, charming and up-front. But perhaps the best example of the way Democrats are convincing Republicans of her virtues is this New York Times profile of her from January 12. It begins with a story:

While interviewing aspiring prosecutors for jobs in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, Loretta E. Lynch, an African-American Democrat who grew up in the segregated South, often poses a favorite question.

You are investigating a violent crime in a minority neighborhood. The crucial witness, a kindhearted grandmother, will not testify. The case hangs in the balance. What do you do?

Many applicants think they know the answer she wants. They offer thoughts on the challenges of policing troubled neighborhoods and the need for sensitivity to the concerns of witnesses. But in a soft voice bearing hints of North Carolina, Ms. Lynch tells them they are wrong.

“Nana’s going to jail,” she says.

What’s the upshot of this story? That Lynch is no hostage to racial grievance politics. That her pursuit is justice, not postmodern “fairness” or empathy before the law. That to her, the rule of law comes before political correctness or partisan accounting. She is, in other words, everything that Eric Holder is not:

Ms. Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to become the next attorney general, is easy to misread. Mr. Obama predicted that she would carry on the legacy of Eric H. Holder Jr., an African-American who proudly declared himself an activist and became the administration’s most outspoken voice on race.

But while Ms. Lynch shares Mr. Holder’s views on issues such as the strained relations between the police and minorities, her friends and colleagues describe someone cautious and comfortable staying in the background who sees her role as that of a traditional prosecutor and not a civil rights advocate. …

There is no doubt that Ms. Lynch is sensitive to issues of race and criminal justice, said Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard law professor, an old friend and one of the “triplets” at Cahill. But “she’s not an ideologue,” Ms. Gordon-Reed said. “She’s not going to do things to please some wing. She’s not a caricature of anything. She is a prosecutor.”

This is yet another installment of a game the media plays that sometimes rankles conservatives. It might be called, “Now it can be told.” It plays out like this: conservatives level an entirely accurate accusation at a liberal political figure; liberals respond that they are simply shocked at the level of incivility conservatives are inserting into our politics; when it becomes convenient later on, liberals tacitly acknowledge that, yes, conservatives were right all along, as they so often are.

Eric Holder was a terrible attorney general. But much of that was because he saw himself as a partisan actor. All attorneys general get accused these days of “politicizing justice,” so it doesn’t advance the argument much to claim that Holder was a special kind of toxic stooge. Though that’s pretty obviously true.

When Holder officially leaves his post, there will be numerous columns from the right-of-center press detailing his many, many failings as attorney general. This isn’t that column. Instead, I think it’s far more interesting to note the extent to which the left praises Lynch as the un-Holder.

The Times even does a kind of meta version of this today, writing that “Her allies have sought to differentiate her from Mr. Holder, an outspoken liberal voice in the administration who clashed frequently with Republicans who accused him of politicizing the office,” in an article that seeks itself to do precisely that, from a newspaper that has been the leading clearinghouse of such Lynch-Holder differentiation.

Eric Holder couldn’t get confirmed today, because he turned out to be precisely the kind of attorney general who believes in selective justice, personal vendettas, and self-righteous crusades that turn the country against itself. Of course, that’s the attorney general the left wanted, so they couldn’t be too honest with the country until he was confirmed.

But now there’s a serious, ethical, lawful, responsible nominee who just wants to do her job. And that is an entirely different kind of nominee from Eric Holder. So now it can be told–now, in fact, it must be told.

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Jeb Bush Pivots to the General Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The GOP’s Resurging Public Image

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Scott Clement write about a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

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The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Scott Clement write about a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The spike in the party’s standing comes after Republicans picked up nine seats to take control of the Senate, raised their numbers in the House to the highest level in more than half a century and added new governorships to its already clear majority.

In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.

This news is welcome news for the GOP. What it means, I think, is that the American people are giving the Republican Party a careful second look in the aftermath of the multiplying failures of the Obama presidency. (Not only do 50 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable impression of the Democratic Party; a majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the presidency, the economy, immigration, and international affairs, while a plurality disapprove of how he’s handling the threat of terrorism.) It’s quite striking that those surveyed give Republicans in Congress a nine-point advantage over Obama when it comes to handling both the economy and immigration.

At the same time, this boost in the GOP’s image is at least in part a temporary development, one you’d expect in the wake of a very successful midterm election. To their credit, the congressional leadership of the Republican Party has been smart enough to avoid taking steps that might have led to a government shutdown, which would have more than washed away the progress the party has made without achieving anything useful.

The task of the GOP during the next two years is to act in ways that are responsible and adult-like, that shift perceptions of it from being the Party of No to being the party of prosperity and the middle class. There are limits to what the Republican Party can do without a presidential nominee. But between now and when it chooses one, the GOP can avoid traps set for it by the president, present itself as a principled and constructive force in American politics, and hand off to the eventual nominee a party that is better positioned than it has been in a decade.

That may not be everything–but it wouldn’t be nothing, either.

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Who Wins Boehner v. Cruz, Part II? Both.

In the fall of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he was not interested in setting off a confrontation that would lead to a government shutdown. But against his will and his better judgment, members of his caucus, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, dragged him into doing exactly that. The result was a political disaster that gave President Obama the one political triumph of an otherwise dreadful second term. The question today is whether the same cast of characters led by Cruz can force the speaker into another shutdown. Indications are that this time Boehner will resist the Tea Party caucus and a shutdown, at least in the short term, will be avoided. That will be a victory for Boehner and an indication that he will be more in control of the House in the next two years than he was in the current Congress. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz may also benefit from this scenario.

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In the fall of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he was not interested in setting off a confrontation that would lead to a government shutdown. But against his will and his better judgment, members of his caucus, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, dragged him into doing exactly that. The result was a political disaster that gave President Obama the one political triumph of an otherwise dreadful second term. The question today is whether the same cast of characters led by Cruz can force the speaker into another shutdown. Indications are that this time Boehner will resist the Tea Party caucus and a shutdown, at least in the short term, will be avoided. That will be a victory for Boehner and an indication that he will be more in control of the House in the next two years than he was in the current Congress. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz may also benefit from this scenario.

As Politico reported yesterday, Cruz and his Tea Party colleagues are running into stiff resistance even from fellow conservatives in both the House and the Senate who have no appetite for another drubbing at the hands of the president and his media cheerleaders even if all are sympathetic to the idea of some kind of congressional pushback in response to the president’s executive orders on illegal immigrants. As our Pete Wehner wrote earlier this week, polls still show that the GOP would be the loser in any such confrontation, just as it was in 2013 even if it could be argued that the president was just as much, if not more responsible for sending the government to the brink.

Cruz and his allies want an immediate response to President Obama’s lawless end-run around Congress’s refusal to do his bidding on amnesty for illegals in the form of a proposal that will defund the Department of Homeland Security’s carrying out of the president’s orders and set in motion a battle that would probably lead to a shutdown. But most Republicans prefer the compromise proposed by Boehner that would fund the government for the next year while allowing DHS to operate only for a few months as the GOP formulated a response to the orders.

The speaker will probably need some Democratic votes to pass his version of the continuing resolution to keep funding the government as well as the assurances of Senate Democrats and the president that they will not seek to obstruct the measure in the waning days of the lame duck Congress. That is an indignity that he was not either prepared or able to suffer in 2013 but he will do so now both because he wishes to avoid a shutdown and because he wishes to send a message to the House that it will be he who is running things in the next Congress as Republicans seek to show the country that they can govern responsibly once they have control of both the House and the Senate.

Both of these goals make sense. And on the heels of their midterm victory, it behooves Republicans to combat the obstructionist image that their liberal opponents have tarred them with, especially if they hope to win back the White House in 2016.

If, as it seems now, Boehner gets his way, it will be portrayed as a victory for the party establishment and a sign that the Tea Party’s sway over Capitol Hill is waning. It will also not unreasonably be thought of as a defeat for Cruz, whose first two years in the Senate have been highlighted by his ability to exercise an unusually powerful influence over both events and the nature of the debate on these issues for a freshman. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz’s interests are by no means hurt by Boehner’s victory.

Cruz’s goal here is not just to force congressional Republicans to, as he said yesterday, “do what you promised” when campaigning against the president’s executive orders. Even if Boehner gets his way this month and avoids a shutdown, Cruz will be able to come back and demand more than another mere symbolic vote against Obama’s orders in the spring. Indeed, with the Department of Homeland Security on a hiring spree in order to find enough staff in order to carry out Obama’s amnesty plan, support for a defunding proposal that will stop DHS in its tracks is likely to grow in the coming months, meaning that this won’t be the last time Cruz bedevils Boehner on a potential shutdown confrontation.

Yet just as important from Cruz’s perspective is the fact that these votes will demonstrate to the conservative base of the GOP that Cruz isn’t merely an annoyance to his Senate colleagues and Boehner. Win or lose, these votes and the battles on the floor of both the House and the Senate will allow Cruz to assume the mantle of the leader of conservative insurgents against the Washington establishment in a way that not even some of the popular Republican governors thinking about running for president will be able to do. Any result, be it victory or defeat, on the efforts to stop Obama’s immigration orders will burnish Cruz’s image as the one member of the Senate who isn’t afraid to challenge either party, a formula that he rightly thinks will be useful in presidential primaries in 2016.

Boehner and the establishment may fend off Cruz’s insurgency both now and in March. But this won’t be the last word on the senator. Quite the contrary: Cruz now believes with good reason that he is in a no-lose situation on both immigration and the future of Congress. Even if the speaker wins Boehner v. Cruz Part Two, Cruz isn’t coming out of the situation as the loser, no matter who wins.

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On Filibuster and Executive Action, Beware the Lure of Reciprocity

The opportunity to curb the expansion of power in American governance and to prevent its establishment as a new status quo presents itself with the first transfer of power after the policy change. The Cold War architecture put in place by the Truman administration was criticized, but ultimately held steady, by Eisenhower, essentially solidifying a bipartisan postwar Washington consensus. The war on terror established by the Bush administration was demagogued endlessly by Barack Obama–until Obama became president himself. The war on terror is now a bipartisan Washington consensus. So what will be with the Obama era’s expansion of authority?

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The opportunity to curb the expansion of power in American governance and to prevent its establishment as a new status quo presents itself with the first transfer of power after the policy change. The Cold War architecture put in place by the Truman administration was criticized, but ultimately held steady, by Eisenhower, essentially solidifying a bipartisan postwar Washington consensus. The war on terror established by the Bush administration was demagogued endlessly by Barack Obama–until Obama became president himself. The war on terror is now a bipartisan Washington consensus. So what will be with the Obama era’s expansion of authority?

The most controversial was Obama’s own power grab: his end-run around Congress “to change the law” (in Obama’s own words) on immigration by approving an executive amnesty. But there was also Harry Reid’s decision to nuke the filibuster in order to pack courts to protect ObamaCare. Both have touched off a debate on the right over how to respond. The Reid Senate’s change in rules and norms is less headline-grabbing than Obama’s, of course; but it’s more pressing: Republicans are about to take over control of the Senate. The question of whether and how to mimic Obama’s precedent-setting immigration action is still hypothetical: Republicans have to win the White House before it matters.

But both are significant. And they have given rise to a “taste of their own medicine” caucus in the conservative movement, demonstrating the lure of power and retribution even in democratic politics.

Conservatives are debating whether to use what might be called the “Reid Rule” and the “Obama Rule” if and when they next have the opportunity to do so. Should they use the precedent of executive action to effectively change the way Americans are taxed, for example? And should they reassemble the filibuster that Reid took apart or leave it in its crumpled heap, the better to confirm their nominees as well?

And here it is important to make a distinction. Some want to use the Democrats’ newly created power because turnabout is fair play and unilateral disarmament is to embrace doormat status. Others want to use those expanded powers in order to return preexisting rules and norms to their proper place, because to use those powers for conservative ends would show liberals–who would lose their minds–the consequences of such power grabs, thus establishing deterrence.

As an example of the first, we have Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s comments, as reported by The Hill today:

We shouldn’t return to the old [filibuster] rule. We should teach these blunderheads that they made a big mistake. And we have the votes to stop bad judges if we want to. And frankly I intend to win with our candidate the presidency in 2016 and we will give them a taste of their own medicine.

“Blunderhead” may be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about Harry Reid.

As an example of the latter, we have Gabriel Malor’s piece in the Federalist two weeks ago. Malor was responding to Charles C.W. Cooke’s National Review Online column warning against embracing the power grab: “As a didactic exercise, this approach is all well and good. And yet, I have of late begun to see some on the Right treating the tactic as more than just idle levity or debaters’ flair. Rather, they have started to mean it. … I am afraid that I consider this approach to be little short of suicidal, and I can under no circumstances look forward to a system in which the executive may pick and choose which laws he is prepared to enforce.”

Malor responded that the president’s executive amnesty was not his first use of the Obama Rule. He has been, in Malor’s appropriate phrasing, “a non-executing executive” with regard to DACA (an earlier immigration action), unilateral delays of unpopular ObamaCare requirements, and now executive amnesty. There is no mechanism to stop him, according to Malor; impeachment is off the table, as is shutting down the government:

Which means that we are living in a crapsack world where Democratic presidents get to make an end run around Congress when they find it convenient to do so. And yet, Cooke writes that Republican presidents should nevertheless voluntarily hold themselves bound to an altogether more restrictive code of behavior. This unilateral disarmament would be political suicide. It leads directly to a world where Democratic programs and policies are easily implemented and enforced, but where Republican ideas face a host of self-inflicted procedural hurdles, followed by the chance that even if a conservative idea were to become law, a Democratic executive could simply ignore it.

This is probably the best case for conservatives to put limited-government principles on hold and join the arms race. But perhaps it’s not quite fair to say proponents of using the Obama Rule are truly setting aside their principles. The argument, really, is that it might be the only way left to return to past norms by inspiring a mutual ceasefire.

I think conservatives would, understandably, very much like this to be true. But I don’t think that it is.

History shows that the surest way to cement a status quo, especially regarding presidential power, is for it to be adopted by the next president of the other party. Presidents rarely (in the modern era, it might even be accurate to say “never”) unilaterally give up authority that has been vested in the office by their predecessors. Thanks to the media, Republicans would also likely lose this fight in the court of public opinion.

As for the filibuster, it is far less crucial to the future of American constitutional governance than bold expansions of presidential authority. It also has some arguably detrimental uses, for example against judicial nominees, where there is some bipartisan support for setting it aside. There’s room for Hatch to stick it to Reid without undermining the American system of government, but not a ton of room. I’m not sure that’s true about the Obama Rule. And conservatives must be realistic about the implications of taking such action themselves.

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The Baleful Effects of the Obama Presidency

In his fine post on last night’s speech, Jonathan wrote, “But President Obama has made that impossible by firing the first shot in a political war intended to further polarize the nation. Nothing could be more cynical or less high-minded.”

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In his fine post on last night’s speech, Jonathan wrote, “But President Obama has made that impossible by firing the first shot in a political war intended to further polarize the nation. Nothing could be more cynical or less high-minded.”

This is not incidental damage to our republic.

There is such a thing as a nation’s political and civic culture. Ours is in some disrepair right now. This isn’t the only time that’s been the case, for sure. Politics in a free society–any free society–guarantees some amount of division and polarization. But beyond a certain point it’s not normative or healthy; and if there are large, difficult problems that need to be addressed, as is now the case, the political system has to work. Right now it’s not.

Why it’s not is a complicated matter. But there’s no question that President Obama bears a great deal of the responsibility for our political distemper. His announcement last night that he’s going to employ means that he himself deemed to be lawless and unconstitutional, in order to get his way on immigration, is guaranteed to further roil our politics. Indeed, it may well have been done in part to do just that. Whatever his motivations, Mr. Obama has taken an unprecedented step that will further split apart not just our two parties but our nation.

It’s worth reminding ourselves, then, that when he first ran for president, Mr. Obama not only promised to place greater limits on executive power; he also promised to “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” His election, he informed us, was a sign we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on a stage in Grant Park on the night of his election, “especially when we disagree.” And on the day of his inauguration he came to proclaim “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

Yet here we are, six years later, with a president who has caused greater division and conflict, who has deepened public cynicism, and who has chosen–eagerly and gleefully chosen–conflict and discord over unity of purpose. This may not be the worst sin of the Obama era, but it ranks quite high on the list.

Other presidents have made mistakes, and some have committed impeachable offenses. But I would be hard-pressed to name a president who has so selfishly and narcissistically injured our constitutional order and political culture. The baleful effects of the Obama presidency are now nearly incalculable.

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Did Obama Unite the GOP on Immigration?

Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

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Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

In the past, Obama has been fairly skilled in dividing Republicans against themselves, especially on the issue of immigration. And one might have expected something similar this time as well. Republicans are not, after all, of one mind in how to respond to the executive action he plans to announce tonight. Obama has twice scuttled immigration reform, once as senator and prospective presidential candidate and once as president as well, because the issue was thought to hurt Republicans with Hispanic voters.

The issue also seemed to weaken the Republican presidential fields. In 2012 Rick Perry stumbled badly over an immigration question at a primary debate and never really recovered. And for 2016, prospective candidates found themselves on different sides of the issue: Marco Rubio helped get comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, Rand Paul wavered but ultimately voted against it, and Ted Cruz was opposed.

That, and the fact that reform died in the House anyway, was a setback for Rubio. The Florida senator had since recovered some of his earlier momentum thanks in part to the president’s vast array of foreign-policy blunders, and the president’s executive amnesty is likely to help the two GOP rising stars who voted for immigration reform last year: Rubio and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

Immigration hawks will still remember their votes for the reform bill. But the president’s actions do two things that will help them. First, it removes some of the fear the grassroots might have in what action a hypothetical President Rubio might take on immigration. That is, if amnesty is already done, then the only things that are left are issues that Republicans tend to broadly agree on, such as border security.

It’s true that comprehensive immigration reform was unlikely to pass the House in the near future anyway, but Obama has essentially taken the part of it that conservatives like the least off the table. There’s no looming threat of amnesty; it’s here. Having already supported immigration reform, Rubio will get some credit from Hispanic voters. But will his opposition to executive amnesty lose them?

That’s where the second aspect of Obama’s miscalculation comes in. By making such an obvious power grab, he has made opposition to his actions intellectually much simpler. The words “king” and “emperor” have been thrown around; Ted Cruz even referenced Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline today, as if Obama would even know who that is:

“When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end to that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?” he said, using the beginning of Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline.

Even Democrats seem to have no idea how to explain how the executive amnesty is legal.

Which is to say: it’s very easy to criticize this move without attacking immigrants–though the media, surely, will attempt to conflate the two. And doing so also enables Republican candidates to come out strongly against Obama’s power grabs more generally, and his immigration actions specifically, to a conservative audience in the same way they would do so to a general-election audience, without having to flip-flop or triangulate.

Obama has been criticized for this power grab by even traditionally supportive left-leaning media, such as the Washington Post and the Economist, because of the precedent it would set and the left’s fear of reprisals. This debate isn’t about the policy anymore, and anyone who pretends otherwise is selling something. Obama has given even supporters of immigration reform a way to oppose amnesty without opposing immigration in itself.

Obama has made the conversation about the damage this act would do to American democracy. That’s very comfortable terrain for Republicans, who are thus far more united on this issue than they would otherwise be.

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Obama Is About to Commit an Act of Constitutional Infamy

The president will present his case on behalf of his forthcoming executive order on amnesty tomorrow at 8 p.m. I certainly hope President Obama addresses the arguments against his action that were repeatedly and passionately made by … President Obama. Our friends at National Review have put together a nice video here; I’d urge you to watch it. Mr. Obama is now acting like, in his words, an “emperor.” His hypocrisy is, even by his standards, staggering.

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The president will present his case on behalf of his forthcoming executive order on amnesty tomorrow at 8 p.m. I certainly hope President Obama addresses the arguments against his action that were repeatedly and passionately made by … President Obama. Our friends at National Review have put together a nice video here; I’d urge you to watch it. Mr. Obama is now acting like, in his words, an “emperor.” His hypocrisy is, even by his standards, staggering.

But hypocrisy is not unusual in politicians and presidents; firing a missile aimed at our constitutional form of government is. And that is what Mr. Obama is about to do.

As the liberal law professor Jonathan Turley put it last night, this is a “particularly dangerous moment” for the president to defy the will of Congress yet again, just 15 days after an election in which the American people registered their emphatic (anti-Obama) judgment. “What the president is suggesting is tearing at the very fabric of the Constitution,” according to Professor Turley. “We have a separation of powers that gives us balance. And that doesn’t protect the branches — it’s not there to protect the executive branch or legislative branch — it’s to protect liberty. It’s to prevent any branch from assuming so much control that they become a threat to liberty.”

What is about to happen may be the low point in a presidency filled with them. Mr. Obama is acting in a way that he himself knows–that he himself has said–is unconstitutional and indefensible. No matter. In an act of unmatched narcissism and selfishness, the president will create–he is thirsting to create–a constitutional crisis that is utterly unnecessary and will further polarize our political culture.

Mr. Obama is about to commit an act of constitutional infamy. This is a stain that will stay with him.

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Presidents and Power Grabs: A Lesson From Harry Truman

There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

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There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

Indeed, the president’s actions might very well be legal, and they may survive a legal or constitutional (or even political) challenge. Even if they are not constitutional, the public rarely cares nearly as much about process as about policy. This favors the president, whose unilateral executive actions cannot be filibustered or vetoed. We like to think of our political system as one that restrains the executive, just as it restrains the other branches, through competition. And that’s true. But enough of the fundamentals of American politics favor the president to make it crucial that if the system is going to survive, presidents must not grab at all the power they can just because they won’t be stopped.

A good example of the right outlook of a president comes from Harry Truman. He notably and unilaterally rolled back several of what he thought were FDR’s power grabs. But the thought process behind one of those decisions stands out: Truman’s refusal to run for reelection in 1952.

In 1947 Congress passed the 22nd amendment, which forbade an elected third presidential term. It was ratified in 1951. The amendment was written to exclude the sitting president–Truman–from its restrictions, however, so as not to be seen as a Republican Congress targeting a sitting Democratic president. Truman was elected in 1948, and could have run again in 1952.

Yet he already knew in April 1950–before the Korean War–that he had no interest in testing those limits, or lack thereof. And here we have, from Truman’s biographer Robert J. Donovan, what Truman was thinking at the time, having written out his determination. Donovan smartly devotes a (brief) chapter to this decision, but here is what Truman wrote the day he made this decision:

“Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson as well as Calvin Coolidge stood by the precedent of two terms. Only Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and F.D.R. made the attempt to break that precedent. F.D.R. succeeded.

“In my opinion eight years as President is enough and sometimes too much for any man to serve in that capacity.

“There is a lure in power. It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.

“This is a Republic. The greatest in the history of the world. I want this country to continue as a Republic. Cincinnatus and Washington pointed the way. When Rome forgot Cincinnatus, its down fall began. When we forget the examples of such men as Washington, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, all of whom could have had continuation in the office, then will we start down the road to dictatorship and ruin. I know I could be elected again and continue to break the old precedent as it was broken by F.D.R. It should not be done. That precedent should continue–not by a Constitutional amendment but by custom based on the honor of the man in the office.

“Therefore to reestablish that custom, although by a quibble I could say I’ve only had one term, I am not a candidate and will not accept the nomination for another term.”

It’s significant also that Truman wrote this down but did not announce it at the time. He was not posturing or making excuses or trying to burnish his image in the minds of voters. He also didn’t want to be seen as a lame duck. And that just goes to show that he was, or would have been, an otherwise serious candidate for reelection.

But Truman’s words, as crisp and humble and wise as they may be, are not altogether easy to read nowadays. They serve as a rebuke to the way the presidency has grown in stature and power and they are also a reminder that not every president seeks to take all he can and that we shouldn’t simply assume presidents will expand their authority as far as the law will let them.

Truman understood that there is something about power that is unhealthy both for the man who possesses it and for those over whom he wields it. Getting presidents to act with that in mind shouldn’t take a constitutional amendment, Truman thought.

And he’s right, and it’s what makes Obama’s power grab so disconcerting. Truman understood that legally enforced limits aren’t the kinds of limits that show, shape, or test a person’s character. The limits presidents place on themselves, as honorable public servants, are. Something is lost, then–a great deal, in fact–when the law is the only limit on a president’s actions.

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What Should Republicans Do to Stop This Aggressively Unconstitutional President?

It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

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It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

By now none of this should  surprise us. Yet on some level it’s hard to believe an American president would do something that is, as a friend of mine puts it, “constitutionally unconscionable”–and so at odds with what Obama himself has said repeatedly. Yet we are where we are, and Republicans need to prepare to respond to the president’s provocations.

What to do?

Some of the same people who embraced the stratagem that led to the government shutdown in 2013–they thought it would be a marvelous, can’t-miss, the-nation-will-rally-to-our-side idea–are eager to do the same thing again. The problem, of course, is that the government shutdown was a failure, for reasons I sketched out here. It didn’t achieve its purpose (repealing the Affordable Care Act), the public hated the shutdown, and by an overwhelming number Americans blamed Republicans for it. We know as an empirical fact that the GOP badly hurt its reputation with the public, and it took time to repair it. It doesn’t help that the same people who were so sure of the Ted Cruz-led gambit now refuse to admit it turned out much different, and much worse, they they said it would. In fact, some of them are even claiming it worked, which is simply silly.

That said, I’m not in principle opposed to creating a series of showdowns over funding the government to try to force the president to back down on his expected plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (just as I wasn’t opposed to it as a means to defund the Affordable Care Act). The issue for me is one of efficacy and prudence. Will it work–or will it backfire? Will it help strengthen the conservative cause or set it back? Will Mr. Obama be forced to back down, or will he emerge stronger and Republicans weaker?

The issue has nothing to do with how much one opposes ObamaCare or is troubled by the president’s unconstitutional actions related to illegal immigrants. The most vocal advocates for government shutdowns often frame this as if they’re strongly opposed to the president’s agenda whereas those who are wary of the shutdown are not. That’s simply not the case. The difference has to do with tactics, not with the end goals. (Representative Paul Ryan thought the steps Republicans took that eventually led to the shutdown were unwise, and he’s done far more than almost anyone you can name to undo ObamaCare and advance a conservative governing agenda.) The mistake is to assume that simply because you support a particular approach the rest of America will, too; that because you think the nation should see things just as you do means it will.

Because I believe that what the president is about to do is egregious–constitutionally and institutionally, as an aggressive attack on the role of Congress and the separation of powers–I’m open to all sorts of recourses. Certainly Republicans in Congress need to respond in some manner. Those advocating a government shutdown aren’t being moronic or irresponsible; they want to protect our constitutional form of government. But neither are those who are warning against a shutdown being weak, impotent, or cowardly. It’s a matter on which intelligent people can disagree.

If you believe as I do that a government shutdown would in the end hurt more than help the conservative cause–that it simply won’t achieve its aim and it will cause collateral damage in the process–the obvious thing to do is to shift the fight onto terrain that is more favorable to the GOP. Republicans should therefore amass all the actions at their disposal to inflict maximum damage on Mr. Obama while not walking into his government shutdown trap. I wonder, for example, whether Republicans might simply refuse to act on the president’s judicial and Cabinet nominees unless and until he undoes his (forthcoming) executive action. Can similar steps be taken on a range of other issues? Can Republicans basically hit the “off” switch when it comes to the normal procedures and cooperation that takes place between a president and Congress, regardless of which party is in control?

It does strike me that we are facing an exceptional situation; that the president is inviting this needless confrontation and that he needs to pay quite a high price for it. It won’t be as high as many of us wish, but we have to adjust around that fact. The challenge for conservatives is to act in ways that are wise and realistic; that are guided not by fury but by clear thinking; and that ultimately persuade people to our point of view. We need calm, sober, intelligent, and enlightened individuals who can advance the arguments for constitutionalism and the rule of law. Because right now we have a president who is subverting both.

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Immigration, the Media, and Fictitious Conservative Heartlessness

President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

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President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

Stelter, the former New York Times media writer, hosts the Sunday morning show Reliable Sources, which examines the media coverage of major issues. Yet rather than offering some much-needed criticism, Stelter’s show has an unfortunate tendency to further elevate the media’s sense of self-importance. A case in point was yesterday’s “Red News/Blue News” segment on immigration.

The point of the regular segment is ostensibly to show how conservative and liberal outlets are covering a story, often talking right past each other. But yesterday Stelter took the opportunity to declare that the media weren’t reflecting the debate on the right and on the left; they were, instead, setting the terms of the debate for the brainwashed masses.

After playing a clip of Fox host Megyn Kelly interviewing GOP Senator Jeff Sessions about the executive amnesty and before putting up a clip of Charles Krauthammer using a form of “the I word,” as Stelter calls it–impeachment–Stelter says this:

Notice what the banner on the screen said. It said, “Plan May Let Millions of Illegals Stay,” illegals.

And when “The New York Times” confirmed FOX’s scoop in advance on Thursday, “The Times” headline said, plans may allow millions of immigrants to stay and work, immigrants.

See, it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures. It’s the language, it’s the narrative. By Thursday, the FOX narrative was about lawlessness, President Obama acting unlawfully.

Stelter apparently wasn’t even listening to clip he played, because what he said is just plain wrong. But first, here’s how the “blue news” played it. “What you will almost never hear on FOX, though, what you’re unlikely to see on red state is the blue news narrative,” Stelter says. “That’s a very different one. That narrative is about families being wrecked by deportations and about a president standing up for what’s right and delivering on a campaign promise.”

Stelter then played a couple clips from liberal outlets, which included this exchange from MSNBC:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are American families that are being torn apart by a policy that doesn’t work.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: So why can’t a story like that move conservatives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t see the pro-family aspects of what we’re talking about here.

At that point, Stelter sought to wrap up the segment by imparting the following piece of wisdom to his viewers:

And I will try to answer that question for you. It’s because red news and blue news are talking about two separate things.

In this case, MSNBC is talking about what they would say is morality, while FOX is talking about what they would say is legality. Morality and legality.

There are two reactions to this. The first is that Stelter apparently believes that conservatives don’t see the liberal side of this issue because they watch Fox News, and vice versa. The idea that Fox brainwashes its viewers rather than reflecting the debate they’re having amongst themselves but can’t find on the other mainstream media channels is certainly a popular idea among leftists who want to discredit both Fox and the conservative movement.

Though most intelligent people know it’s just a caricature, the left’s extreme partisans don’t know or don’t care. For Stelter to trade in this tells you that media critics, like the supposedly nonpartisan “fact checker” columnists in newspapers, are simply joining the debate on one side, not enlightening their audience with honest assessments. And in defense of liberal viewers, the same can be said of Stelter’s judgment of “blue news.” I can assure Stelter that MSNBC and its nine viewers are not setting the agenda of American liberalism.

The second response to Stelter’s segment is to note that even the Fox programs that his staff researchers watch for his show prep don’t say what Stelter says they say. Here is the text of the brief clip Stelter played of Sessions’s response to Kelly:

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: And every one of these individuals are going to be given a photo I.D., a Social Security number, and the right to take a job in America, jobs that too few exist and too many Americans are looking for. It’s just the wrong policy and it will incentivize more illegality in the future.

So is it true that, as Stelter says, “it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures”? Certainly not. Sessions is talking about the impact on employment and the number of jobs available as well as the warning that the practical effect of the executive amnesty will be far larger in number because it will incentivize further illegal immigration. And although Stelter would like to portray the right (with a nod to the MSNBC hosts he excerpts) as cold and impervious to the human factor, the opposite is the case. It’s just that Sessions is talking about the human cost to current citizens and future immigrants.

And it’s not as though the right doesn’t have an ongoing debate about the degree of compassion due illegal immigrants. We talk about that here at COMMENTARY quite often, but that aspect of the debate has been elevated for a couple of years now since both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich used their 2012 presidential candidacies as a platform to advocate for keeping immigrant families together even if they came here illegally.

Maybe Stelter just watched a few minutes of Fox and didn’t see such an argument advanced. But that’s no excuse to play liberal talking heads leveling that accusation and then pretty much endorsing it (“I will try to answer that question for you”) instead of challenging it, all so conservatives could fit into the neat box that allows Stelter to condemn the supposed insularity of his cable competitors.

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Obama’s Immigration Stall Fooling No One

Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

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Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

As Politico reports, some Democrats are demanding that the president go farther and promise not to issue any executive orders that would unilaterally transform our immigration system even after the congressional vote. In particular, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has asked that the president make it clear that the postponement of his plans be made permanent. Angus King of Maine, an independent that caucuses with the Democrats agrees and he isn’t even running for reelection this year.

The reason for their concerns can be seen in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out earlier this week that showed the public now trusts Republicans to deal more effectively with immigration than Democrats by a 35 to 27 percent margin. That’s a startling reverse of the numbers in the same poll on this issue from last December when Democrats had a 31-26 percent edge. The jump in the GOP numbers can be attributed to the surge of illegal immigrants across the Texas border as a result of the belief that the president would offer amnesty to illegals soon.

Last year’s bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill that sought to both offer a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already here and to tighten security at the border may have been popular. But in the wake of this summer fiasco on the Rio Grande, conservative arguments that the border must be fixed before a solution for the illegals now makes a great deal of sense.

Even more importantly, outside of Hispanic activists who have been clamoring for Obama to use executive orders to unilaterally change the law without the consent of Congress, even Democrats are very uncomfortable with the notion of Obama running roughshod over the Constitution to deal with immigration.

Even worse, as Hagan’s public fears make clear, no one was fooled by Obama’s transparently political motives for postponing his planned moves. Merely putting off the decision until after the election hasn’t defused the issue for those who are rightly upset about the president’s power grab. Conservatives were already more energized about this election than liberals but the possibility that the president will ignore the will of Congress and try to govern without its consent is exactly the sort of issue that will drive the GOP base to the polls. By contrast, the president’s punt will likely depress his liberal base especially as Hispanics are disappointed by Obama’s broken promise after so much hype about the plan over the summer.

Even as most of her southern Democratic colleagues are losing ground in the polls, Hagan got a boost in the polls last week as a result of a strong debate performance against GOP opponent Thom Tillis. But the race is still very close and Hagan knows it might will turn on the possibility that Obama will seek to thwart the Constitution and act on his own to grant millions of illegals a path to legalization if not citizenship. It could also potentially doom any hope of getting enough Republicans to vote for an immigration reform bill at some point in the future because distrust of the president is so intense.

It may be that Obama’s desire to bypass Congress and do as he likes may be sufficiently high that he will refuse to disavow acting on his own. That would be in character for a president who acts at times as if he is allergic to cooperating with the legislative branch. But if he continues to threaten to act in this manner, his party may pay a high price.

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Obama Is Destroying Traditional Democratic Issue Advantages

Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

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Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

Health care is one obvious example. Historically it’s been an issue on which Democrats have dominated Republicans. No more. While the public still trusts Democrats more than Republicans on health care, the margin is single digits. And a recent poll shows that nearly 60 percent (58) of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care. Health care was a central issue in the GOP landslide in the 2010 mid-term elections, and it’s a key subject in this year’s mid-term elections as well. In almost every instance, Democrats are playing defense on health care.

Then there’s immigration, another issue that until now has been a potent one for Democrats. No more. A poll last week by AP-GfK shows that immigration is now President Obama’s worst issue. More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue in general. Just 31 percent approve. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out, “when you separate those most passionate about the issue, the difference is even more stark, with 57 percent opposed and just 18 percent in favor. That’s more than three-to-one.” A CNN/Opinion Research poll from June showed Obama’s worst two issues were gun policy and illegal immigration.

What’s happened, it appears, is that the public is holding the Democratic Party accountable for the failures of Mr. Obama. Americans have for the most part cast aside the airy rhetoric and promises; they’re now judging the president and his party against reality. Their propositions and policies have been tested in real time, in real circumstances, and the results have been by and large a disaster.

This hardly means Republicans are home free on these matters. But it does mean there are enormous cracks in the foundation and Republicans have a historic opportunity to make inroads on issues that were once owned by Democrats.

Barack Obama may turn out to be a historic president, but not for the reasons Democrats were hoping for.

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David Remnick’s Distorted Judgment

The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

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The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

Mr. Remnick, it’s worth noting, appeared on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose discussing the election of Obama. Mr. Remnick compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign, he said, “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Mr. Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick–who was nearly in tears during portions of the interview, which included historians–finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

Such Obama adulation is impossible to sustain these days, with the Obama presidency in ruins. Mr. Remnick has therefore decided the thing to do is to make excuses for Obama. And so on Sunday’s roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week, Remnick said this:

He’s pretty stifled [legislatively]. It’s frustrating to see his projection of frustration. You want him to suck it up and keep going at it and leading and leading. But I think history is going to show that this presidency has been stifled at every angle.

Actually, for the first two years of his presidency Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” Mr. Remnick’s comments, then, are quite misleading.

To be sure, after the epic blowout Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president has been stifled in many areas (though he is getting around that by taking a series of lawless acts). But the crushing defeat of Democrats was precisely because Obama got his way on so many things and the public was unhappy with the results. Since then, they have grown more disenchanted, to the point that Obama’s approval ratings are now among the lowest ever for a president at this juncture in his term and Republicans, right now at least, are favored to take control of the Senate. Since defending Obama isn’t easy these days, expect people like Remnick to train their fury on Republicans, attempting to portray them as nihilistic and all the rest. The thinking here is that while Obama may not be perfect–on second thought, he may not be the equal of Lincoln–Republicans are malicious and malevolent. That is the political narrative that is supposed to save New Yorker-style liberalism.

One other thing: In the context of the discussion about the president sending signals he is going to sign an executive order giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Remnick said this: “The immigration issue, first of all, I think a lot of people at this table are here because of America’s openness to immigration. I think that’s fair to say.”

It also irrelevant to the discussion. As Remnick’s co-panelist William Kristol pointed out, Remnick conflated legal immigration with illegal immigration. They are quite distinct, and our approaches to them should be, too. To treat the debate over illegal immigration as if it’s a debate about legal immigration is once again misleading.

And let’s examine the logic of Remnick’s position. It goes something like this: Most of us are here because somewhere in the past our relatives were legally allowed to immigrate to America, so we should have completely open borders and allow everyone in who wants to settle in America. QED. If the suffering peoples of Latin America, Africa, and other continents want to come to America, on what grounds is Mr. Remnick going to say no? Is there a limit to the number of people we can take in? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million? And should we give priority to the people living in, say, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti? If someone says we have to draw some lines on illegal immigration, will Remnick’s response be, first of all, most of the people making those arguments are here because of America’s openness to immigration and so they have no standing to make their case?

It’s fascinating to see how people’s political biases distort not just their objectivity but their reasoning ability. David Remnick is hardly the worst example of this; in fact, he perfectly represents a certain slice of the political class. He is a man who is intelligent but not wise, who is dogmatic even as he has convinced himself he is a model of objectivity. To be rigidly ideological is bad enough; to be so blind to it is even worse.

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Did Perry Just Boost His 2016 Chances?

Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

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Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

Perry has made no secret of his desire for another run at the White House that would, if nothing else, create a different epitaph for a heretofore-brilliant political career. Nobody wants to exit the stage as a laughingstock, which is the only word that adequately describes his performance on the stump and especially in the numerous debates that shaped the prelude to the 2012 GOP primaries. His gaffes, bizarre memory lapses (Perry’s picture should appear in the dictionary next to the word “oops”), and general lack of readiness for prime time doomed him after he appeared to be the frontrunner in the first weeks after his entry in to the race. But while you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the ongoing drama along the Rio Grande has afforded Perry an opportunity to recast his image.

The debacle along the border with Mexico is a nightmare for the Obama administration for two reasons.

One is that it’s obvious that Republicans have a point when they charge that the president’s statements about immigration reform directly caused the surge of illegals, including a vast number of unaccompanied minors that must now be housed and fed by the federal government. Immigration reform is necessary but conservatives who feared that promises about letting illegals stay or even get a path to citizenship would set off another wave of undocumented aliens heading to the U.S. were right. And though criticisms of efforts to legalize the so-called “dreamers”—people who entered this country without permission as children—seemed churlish, the arrival of all those minors from Central America in Texas undermines arguments for that reform.

The other problem is that rather than embrace his responsibility to deal with this debacle, President Obama has chosen avoidance and a characteristic emphasis on partisan politics. Most of the criticism about his behavior has centered on his refusal to visit the border even though he was headed to political fundraisers in Texas this week. This raised comparisons to President Bush’s flyby over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the president’s refusal to be accountable for the problem and his insistence on vain efforts to shift the public’s focus back to Republican opposition to immigration reform with partisan dog-and-pony shows have only made things worse.

But Obama’s peril was Perry’s opportunity and the Texas governor seized on the bad optics to become the most visible Republican in the debate this week. He demanded that Obama visit the border but then got a face-to-face meeting with the president instead. At that meeting, he emerged looking like the more serious of the two leaders as Obama joked and evaded while Perry stayed on message and sounded constructive.

Thus, at a time when no one has emerged as a true frontrunner in the 2016 GOP race, Perry was able to use a national concern to edge his way from the margins of the contest back to the center ring.

One good week doesn’t make a campaign, but his ability to use the bully pulpit of his position to become the leading GOP voice critiquing administration failures was impressive. It’s the sort of thing that will remind Republicans of why they thought he was a credible presidential candidate before he opened his mouth at the debates and made a fool of himself. This will allow Perry to underline his claims that his bad performance in the fall of 2011 was due to the aftermath of back surgery and inexperience on the national stage rather than unsuitability for high office.

It’s also ironic that Perry would boost his comeback by latching onto immigration as his key issue since it was on that point that Mitt Romney slaughtered him. While Romney was the putative moderate in the race and handicapped by his Massachusetts health-care bill that helped inspire ObamaCare, he was able to shift to the right on immigration and make Perry look squishy because of his support for in-state tuition rates for dreamers.

Can Perry really catapult himself into the first tier of GOP candidates on the strength of his border standoff with Obama? Maybe. Perry can’t help but be better than he was last time and it’s possible that a more focused and professional campaign will create a whole new image for him. But Republicans are right to be skeptical. He’ll be up against a new and probably even tougher bunch of opponents next time and Perry’s weaknesses on the stump were not illusions. While presidential candidates—especially Republicans—often improve on their second try for the office, that usually happens after being the runner-up or at least having a decent showing. They rarely shoot to the top after such a disastrous first run.

Perry remains a long shot for 2016 who is just as likely to be eclipsed by fellow Texan Ted Cruz or the host of promising new GOP candidates. But what happened this week did change the country’s impression of the governor. For the moment at least, Perry has emerged from the shadow of “oops.”

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