Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeb Bush

Can the Iran Deal be Reversed ‘on Day One?’

It isn’t getting the same attention as the high-profile brouhaha over Donald Trump’s disgusting comments about John McCain’s military service, but a quieter and potentially more significant dispute has emerged between two of the Republican frontrunners over the Iran deal. Read More

It isn’t getting the same attention as the high-profile brouhaha over Donald Trump’s disgusting comments about John McCain’s military service, but a quieter and potentially more significant dispute has emerged between two of the Republican frontrunners over the Iran deal.

Scott Walker said: “We need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on the very first day in office.” Jeb Bush replied that, while he too opposes the deal, it’s unrealistic to expect that it can be terminated on the first day of a new presidency: “At 12:01 on January, whatever it is, 19th [2017], I will not probably have a confirmed secretary of state; I will not have a confirmed national security team in place; I will not have consulted with our allies. I will not have had the intelligence briefings to have made a decision. If you’re running for president, I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this.”

The subtext: Walker thinks Bush is a squish; Bush thinks Walker is simplistic.

Who’s right here? Should terminating the agreement be the objective on day one of the next presidency?

As it happens, I think both candidates have a decent point. (Full disclosure: I have advised both candidate but haven’t endorsed either one.) Walker made his pledge not only to establish his conservative credentials in foreign policy but also to send a signal to European and other companies that might be thinking of doing business with Iran by calling into question whether the agreement with Iran will survive. Symbolically Walker is sending the right message of resolute opposition to the deal, and Bush is (inadvertently, I hope) creating doubts about whether opposition to the deal will be a defining feature of his administration.

But Bush is right that unraveling the accord won’t be simple—and not only because it will take a while for the next administration to get its foreign policy team in place. That’s actually the least of the problems.

For a start, there is the fact that the most effective sanctions on Iran are those imposed by our European allies through the United Nations. The U.S. has not done much business with Iran for years. We can re-impose unilateral sanctions, probably with the stroke of a president’s pen, but we cannot do the same with the multilateral sanctions that have truly put pressure on Tehran. If the next president is to have any hope of putting Iran back into the sanctions box, he or she will have to do some heroic diplomatic work to convince our allies to go along or else risk open economic warfare with our closest allies.

Imposing unilateral American sanctions would be just a symbolic move that would not seriously hurt Iran and could very well help it. The deal that Obama has reached makes clear that Iran will exit the treaty if the U.S. even thinks about re-imposing sanctions, thus escaping any limitations on its nuclear program. It could then dash to a nuclear breakout. By that point, Iran would have pocketed well over $100 billion in benefits, so it could have its cake and eat it too: getting both a nuclear weapon and a financial windfall. And it would be able to do so with at least the tacit support of the international community, because absent pretty clear evidence of Iranian cheating, Tehran would be able to blame the new American administration for destroying the deal.

This is an indication of what makes the current deal so pernicious — it will be very hard to escape. And yet, the major elements of the deal are likely to be implemented as soon as this week when the U.N. Security Council is likely to ratify the accord, thus dropping multilateral sanctions on Iran within probably six months or so. Congress will be unable to stop this move even if it can somehow muster a veto-proof majority to vote down the deal (which is unlikely).

The best bet for the next president could well be to calculate that, with the treaty at least placing some limitations on the Iranian nuclear program and with Iran already have gotten its financial windfall, it might be better to keep the accord in place while taking other steps to counteract Iran’s growing power grab (for instance, doing more to support moderate Sunnis across the region), reversing the decline in American defense spending which is hollowing out our military, and building the case, both at home and abroad, for re-imposing sanctions and even using force if necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear program (a credible threat of military action will be a prerequisite if there is any hope for renegotiating a better deal.)  In other words, to reassert the deterrence and containment of Iran.

To succeed at this difficult undertaking, the next president will need to create a comprehensive campaign, in cooperation with allies, and that is simply not going to be possible on day one. But laying the foundation can begin now, and that requires expressing resolute opposition to this deeply flawed treaty.

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Walker the Presidential Candidate

Scott Walker is now officially in the race for the presidency, and he has the best story to tell in the Republican primary field. In the video he released today, he says he will face fighters who haven’t won battles and political winners who haven’t scored policy victories — while he is a fighter who has won his battles. This is a fair depiction. He is the most accomplished Republican governor in the country, with a startling record of political achievement in Wisconsin. You probably know his story already, but if you don’t, I commend to you the book he wrote with Marc Thiessen, Unintimidated, which is a rare politician’s book in that it actually tells a gripping and dramatic story and does it well. Read More

Scott Walker is now officially in the race for the presidency, and he has the best story to tell in the Republican primary field. In the video he released today, he says he will face fighters who haven’t won battles and political winners who haven’t scored policy victories — while he is a fighter who has won his battles. This is a fair depiction. He is the most accomplished Republican governor in the country, with a startling record of political achievement in Wisconsin. You probably know his story already, but if you don’t, I commend to you the book he wrote with Marc Thiessen, Unintimidated, which is a rare politician’s book in that it actually tells a gripping and dramatic story and does it well.

A Republican with a history of winning elections in a politically divided state and a Democratic-majority city, Walker came into the governorship of Wisconsin to find his state and its municipalities and towns in the grip of a budgetary crisis that was going to force classic bad-policy layoffs that favored union workers with long tenures over everybody else. He literally faced down violent mobs and occupiers, changed the rules, then faced a recall election and a reelection campaign — both of which he won. And he and the Republican legislators in Wisconsin have continued to reform the state’s way of doing business.

Having seen him in action as a politician and heard him speak at large gatherings and in small rooms, I think the key to Walker is his imperturbability. He is a man with an astoundingly level temperament. It is clearly very difficult if not impossible to rile him, a quality central to his ability to ride out controversies and attacks and assaults that would have torn other politicians to pieces.

The flipside of that is that he cannot really get too excited, and he can’t quite rally others to his cause through the power of his presence or his words. His announcement speech showed energy and fluency — but while it was not dispassionate, it was in no way emotive.

He can be good-natured, and in an understated way he projects an air of terrific self-confidence, but Walker is in neither an inspirational nor an aspirational candidate. His opening slogan is “Reform, Growth, Safety,” which gets the job done but doesn’t exactly sing. But you got a sense of what a smart and savvy politician he is when he got himself into the news stories on the pending Iran deal by insisting he would cancel it on Day One of his presidency.

In this regard, he is basically the polar opposite of Marco Rubio, his fellow top-tier candidate. Rubio is all inspiration and aspiration. Perhaps the best extemporaneous political speaker of our time, Rubio can leave you with your jaw on the floor. He is pure star power. Walker wants his offhanded manner to win you over in due time.

This is the problem in this race for Jeb Bush, who has raised vastly more money than either and is leading at the moment — he doesn’t get you in the kishkes the way Rubio does and he doesn’t have a contemporary record the way Walker does. But the reason these three have to be considered in a manner different from others in the race is that they show aspects of command — Walker does; Rubio inspires; Jeb simply is—that seem to elude most of the others, accomplished though they may be.

Walker is a tough politician who wears his toughness lightly. That’s what he has to sell.

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The GOP 2016 Field Prepares New Assaults on ObamaCare

If those who declared debates over the onerous Affordable Care Act dead and buried in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict in King v. Burwell had any sense of history, they would have known that their prediction was more a statement of faith than objective assessment of prevailing political realities. ObamaCare will never be the “settled law” its supporters wish it were until the public sheds its suspicion of it. Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that the Court’s decision in King likely preserves elements of the law as part of the American social compact, although that was probably the case the moment the bill was signed. Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is groundless. In fact, the Court’s decision in King has only made it more likely that the GOP will continue its crusade against Barack Obama’s health care reform law. Read More

If those who declared debates over the onerous Affordable Care Act dead and buried in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict in King v. Burwell had any sense of history, they would have known that their prediction was more a statement of faith than objective assessment of prevailing political realities. ObamaCare will never be the “settled law” its supporters wish it were until the public sheds its suspicion of it. Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that the Court’s decision in King likely preserves elements of the law as part of the American social compact, although that was probably the case the moment the bill was signed. Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is groundless. In fact, the Court’s decision in King has only made it more likely that the GOP will continue its crusade against Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

Republicans are rightfully aghast at the deplorable logic the majority of Supreme Court justices used to justify yet another reinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act. The Court abandoned its role as a neutral arbiter of legal text, ignored precedent, and virtually rewrote the statute so that the federal government could do legally what it had been doing illegally for months. The GOP’s more cynical elements are surely thanking the Supreme Court under their breaths, however, for this latest bit of jurisprudential gymnastics. If the Court had ruled in the opposite direction, Republicans would have faced a dramatic political conundrum. They would have been compelled to reintroduce those subsidies the Court stripped from the law into the majority of states that did not elect to establish their own federal insurance exchange marketplace. They would have been forced to endorse, all or in part, the mandates that oblige Americans to purchase a product from a private service provider at gunpoint. They would have invited a civil war that would have torn the party apart and might have cleaved the conservative wing away from the GOP permanently. The Roberts Court rescued the Republican Party from this trap.

The Affordable Care Act now continues its fraught implementation without having any bipartisan imprimatur. The GOP put not a single fingerprint on this law in 2010, and they were not compelled to lay a hand on it in the intervening years. As such, Republicans can continue to campaign against this law in whole rather than in part, and a variety of prominent 2016 candidates have elected to do just that.

The next stage in the GOP’s fight against the Affordable Care Act will be a legislative one. It has centered on the expansion of the “nuclear option” invoked by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013. While in the majority, the outgoing Democratic Senate leader altered Senate guidelines so that rule changes need only be approved by a simple majority and then eliminated the minority right of filibuster for judicial nominations. Now, a handful of Republican 2016 candidates contend that this rule change should be expanded so that the filibuster cannot prevent a narrow GOP majority from repealing the ACA altogether in 2017.

“I think we Republicans first need to unify behind the replacement,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told radio host Hugh Hewitt last week. When asked if he would be open to breaking the filibuster to “ram though repeal and replacement,” Bush said that he would “consider that.”

Another frontrunner in the race to secure the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, endorsed the idea more emphatically.

“There are a lot of Republican Senators who love the filibuster. Rick Santorum told me you don’t need to break the filibuster to repeal ObamaCare,” Hewitt asked the Badger State governor. “But if it’s necessary to do so, will you urge your Republican colleagues to invoke the Harry Reid rule that he used last year that he used to break the filibuster to repeal ObamaCare root and branch?”

“Yes,” Walker replied. “Absolutely.”

Expect this new line of attack against ObamaCare to soon become part of the Republican Party’s 2016 platform.

When Democrats sacrificed the rights of the minority in the Senate for fleeting and temporary gain, they knew they would be inviting this sort of backlash. But, despite myriad provocations, the GOP Senate majority has thus far declined to give their colleagues a dose of their own medicine. In February, Democrats successfully blocked a proposal to defund elements of the Department of Homeland Security that would forestall the implementation of the president’s constitutionally dubious executive actions on immigration. The move was so brazen that it “radicalized” even otherwise temperate voices within the party like the columnist Charles Krauthammer. “Go bold. Go nuclear. Abolish the filibuster,” he advised. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to scorch the earth.

His was a move that proved prescient; if the GOP accelerates the pace of the dilution of minority rights in the upper chamber begun by Democrats, they should do so only when the party’s governing coalition is at stake. If a Republican presidential candidate won the White House in November 2016, he or she would almost certainly also have Republican majorities in Congress. To fail to do all within their power to dismantle ObamaCare in that eventuality would rightly be seen as a gross betrayal of the new governing majority’s mandate.

Let’s be clear: there is a lot not to like about the virtual abolishment of the filibuster. Minority rights are a cherished parliamentary tool, and growing factionalism in Congress will only be exacerbated by the filibuster’s effective elimination. Moreover, it’s quite untoward for presidential contenders like Walker and Bush to fail to observe that their province as president ends at the steps of the Capitol Building. It would perhaps have been more republican if they had responded to this line of inquiry by deferring to the leader of the Senate in the 115th Congress, whoever that might be. But the estimable era of Coolidge-esque stoicism is over. It is now the role of America’s chief executive to lead on virtually all matters of state, including those that should be the exclusive domain of the legislative branch.

The fight over the Affordable Care Act is far from over, although the nation might have witnessed the end of the beginning last week. The battle over the future of this controversial law and its impact on American society now shifts back to the political battlefield, onto the shoulders of the field of presidential contenders and, ultimately, the 2016 electorate.

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The 2016 October Surprise Already in the Works

The term “October Surprise” has its origins in a ploy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to announce just days before the 1972 election that peace was at hand in Vietnam, thus fulfilling Richard Nixon’s pledge from years prior to end the war and deflating the campaign of Democrat George McGovern.

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The term “October Surprise” has its origins in a ploy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to announce just days before the 1972 election that peace was at hand in Vietnam, thus fulfilling Richard Nixon’s pledge from years prior to end the war and deflating the campaign of Democrat George McGovern.

The true popularity of the term, however, dates to a conspiracy theory espoused by Gary Sick, a Carter administration National Security Council aide. Sick suggested, without really any evidence at all as a congressional investigation subsequently determined, that the Ronald Reagan campaign conspired with Tehran to undercut the release of U.S. hostages and so undermine Carter’s chance to resolve the Iran hostage crisis in the days before the 1980 election. The theory was nonsense. Sick repeatedly contradicted himself and falsified what little evidence he did have. When challenged by journalists and congressional investigators on other key points, Sick was unable to substantiate his charges, although he presumably made a lot of money in the interim though book sales.

It has now become a regular feature of elections to have enterprising journalists or politicos with whom they sometimes collaborate to drop a bombshell story shortly before elections with the goal of swaying it. By the time the truth behind the sometimes sensational charges becomes clear, those who planted the stories hope that it will be too late for the target of their opprobrium.

Just days before the 2000 presidential election, for example, a prominent Democratic politician in Maine revealed that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in that state nearly a quarter century before. That didn’t sway the election, but it might have if a few thousand more voters had latched on.

And, in October 2004, eight days before the U.S. presidential election, the New York Times reported that looters had made off with 380 tons of explosives after U.S. forces had failed to secure Iraq’s Al-Qa’qaa military facility. The implication, of course, was that Bush administration incompetence was contributing to the deaths of Americans at the hands of a growing insurgency. After the election, it turned out that much of the reporting about Qa’qaa was inaccurate.

And, just four days before the 2008 election, news broke that Senator Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyang was an illegal immigrant living in Boston.

So what will the 2016 October Surprise be? Keep a look out for the “Iraq Inquiry” or so-called Chilcot Report. Against the backdrop of the Iraq War’s (and George W. Bush’s) deep unpopularity, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed John Chilcot, a former British civil servant with significant experience in Great Britain’s intelligence service, to head an inquiry into the origins of the 2003 Iraq War. Chilcot and his staff interviewed dozens of British officials, as well as a handful of American officials. As often occurs in such cases, limiting the witnesses to a relatively narrow subset of officials enables the Commission to direct its conclusions in the direction which the politicians or officials involved in the inquiry wish.

Most British officials expect that, when the Iraq Inquiry is released, it will add sustenance to the conspiracies surrounding the Iraq War. Indeed, in Great Britain, some of these conspiracy theories are already being treated as fact in mainstream newspapers. Some of those interviewed in the United Kingdom either have political axes to grind, bucks to pass, or were philosophically opposed the Iraq war. Former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, for example, has called the Iraq war illegal and has said that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet was misled into thinking it was legal. (Short also accepted money from Hezbollah’s television station, according to British press reports; perhaps that suggests ideological slipperiness rather than a search for truth).

The Americans interviewed are a more limited lot. They skew to the State Department and studiously avoid most Defense Department civilians at any level, from the Secretary of Defense on down. But, as everyone knows from the Iraq Study Group or the UN’s various investigations into Gaza, such reports are often written to fulfill political goals. They uphold the maxim, garbage-in, garbage-out, although a few more ego-driven witnesses will trade the bragging rights of having been called for the drawback of allowing their names as witnesses to lend superficial credibility to the report.

While the last interviews occurred in 2011, Chilcot has repeatedly delayed the release of the report to the growing frustration of many among Britain’s political leadership. On June 17, 2015, he announced yet another delay. Indeed, it now looks like Chilcot might not release his report until sometime next year. Now, here’s the catch. A quick glance of the American interviewees shows that some are among the advisors to leading Republican presidential candidates.

It will be very hard for a candidate like Jeb Bush, for example, who has already stumbled over the Iraq war question, to dismiss a report unfairly castigating his brother if that report’s conclusions bashing the White House and the George W. Bush administration are based upon the testimony of a key member of his brain trust. But, whomever the candidate is, let us hope they use the next year to prepare for the poison that may emanate from London shortly before Americans head to the polls.

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Jeb Bush Makes His Case

After more than half-a-year of being in the “exploratory stage” of the campaign, on Monday former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it official: He’s running for president. His announcement speech was very well crafted — elegant and deft, forceful in some parts and demonstrating a light touch in others. It crisply covered a lot of ground and was aimed at several different audiences. And based on the reviews, it was a successful launch. Now the work really begins.

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After more than half-a-year of being in the “exploratory stage” of the campaign, on Monday former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it official: He’s running for president. His announcement speech was very well crafted — elegant and deft, forceful in some parts and demonstrating a light touch in others. It crisply covered a lot of ground and was aimed at several different audiences. And based on the reviews, it was a successful launch. Now the work really begins.

The outlines of the Bush strategy are fairly clear: to reveal his character, what motivates him, and parts of his interior life (he refers to it as “showing my heart”); to remind people of his public record (he was an extremely successful, conservative two-term governor of Florida); and to lay out his vision for America (the “right to rise,” rapid and widely shared economic growth, and a more decent and just society).

The way to achieve his vision, the Bush argument goes, is with a 21st-century governing agenda that will remove the barriers to success – and the capacity to put his ideas into effect. That is where his record in Florida comes into play. “I know we can fix this,” Bush said. “Because I’ve done it.” He was a reforming governor who will be a reforming president, one who is “willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation’s capital.”

On the matter of his surname and dynastic concerns, Jeb Bush dealt with it head-on:

Campaigns aren’t easy, and they’re not supposed to be. And I know that there are good people running for president. Quite a few, in fact. And not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open – exactly as a contest for president should be. The outcome is entirely up to you – the voters.

It is entirely up to me to earn the nomination of my party and then to take our case all across this great and diverse nation.

I’m familiar with the arguments of some on the right who are wary of a Bush candidacy. Some of those concerns are responsible, if in my judgment misguided. Others are less responsible, including those who assert that he’s a RINO, a “moderate Democrat,” a “neo-statist,” indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton, and so on. Those charges are bizarre, given Bush’s record as governor of Florida – a record that was, in the words of George Will, “measurably more conservative” than that of Ronald Reagan during his two-term governorship of California. (I’ve made that point, and laid out the case to justify it, before.) Whatever concerns there are among Republicans about Jeb Bush, the one that he’s not a full-spectrum or principled conservative is among the weakest.

Here’s the key thing to understand: For some on the right – not all by any means, but some — substance, philosophy and governing achievements don’t matter all that much. What does matter to them is style – and the style they prefer is strident, angry, and apocalyptic. They are suspicious of the outsider. They view themselves as persecuted and America as on the road to becoming a “Third World hell hole.” The word “compromise” repulses them. And they view party outreach as a sign of weakness.

Jeb Bush, whom I first met during his first term as governor, has a fundamentally different approach to politics, and to life. He’s not in a state of perpetual agitation. He is at ease with himself and the world around him, which is something that can’t be said about some of his critics.

None of this means Jeb Bush will be the nominee. Nor does it mean that he’s above criticism or that he’s the only person in the race conservatives should support. A whole array of factors needs to go into that decision, and there are some very impressive and accomplished people running, with more to enter soon. (I should say here that I’ve offered free counsel to his campaign and to others who have since entered the presidential race, as well as Members of Congress, all consistent with my position as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And I’m happy to do so to anyone who asks, including Hillary Clinton. But my guess is she’d reject my policy ideas.)

The purpose of a primary is to judge which candidate is able to rise to the challenge; to allow them make their case based on their character and countenance, experience and achievements, judgment and political skills, governing ideas and vision. As Jeb Bush said on Monday, it’s entirely up to the candidates to earn the nomination of their party and then to take their case all across this great and diverse nation.

It looks to me like he’s off to a pretty good start.

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The Humbling of Jeb Bush

If you got the impression from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign rollout that he appeared to believe his party’s nomination was quite simply his due, you weren’t alone. Bush’s decision to reveal his intention to explore a presidential bid in mid-December of last year indicated that he knew the 2016 field would be a crowded one and that he would have to make his case to the Republican electorate early and often. But his actions betrayed a sense of self-assuredness that indicated he did not really believe the contest would be a close one. The pathway to the nomination has, however, been a harder slog for Bush than he anticipated. Today, reeling from the humbling he has endured at the hands of events and the prospective Republican primary electorate, Jeb Bush is adapting and changing course. Read More

If you got the impression from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign rollout that he appeared to believe his party’s nomination was quite simply his due, you weren’t alone. Bush’s decision to reveal his intention to explore a presidential bid in mid-December of last year indicated that he knew the 2016 field would be a crowded one and that he would have to make his case to the Republican electorate early and often. But his actions betrayed a sense of self-assuredness that indicated he did not really believe the contest would be a close one. The pathway to the nomination has, however, been a harder slog for Bush than he anticipated. Today, reeling from the humbling he has endured at the hands of events and the prospective Republican primary electorate, Jeb Bush is adapting and changing course.

The former Sunshine State governor famously entered the race for the presidency just weeks after he declared that his candidacy would be one that would “lose the primary to win the general.” Bush insisted that he would not allow the campaign to force him to violate his principles merely in order to secure the requisite delegates at the Republican National Convention.

Bush resented what he believed the 2012 primary process did to Mitt Romney, and he appeared to regard the conservative movement that constitutes the Republican Party’s base as an obstacle in his quest to win the White House. “I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that’s kind of where we are,” Bush said in 2012. “I think it changes when we get to the general election. I hope.”

So the former governor determined that he would simply ignore the demands of a primary campaign and position himself as the inevitable Republican nominee as early as he could. Toward this end, Bush would decline to attack his fellow Republican presidential candidates; to even acknowledge his competition is to reduce his own stature the thinking went. But Bush did not quickly emerge as the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination, as he believed he would. His most potent early competitors, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, have failed to implode. Bush’s stature in his home state could not derail the candidacy of his protégé, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. This week, Bush abandoned the delusion that the nomination was his to lose when his campaign engaged in a variety of high-profile personnel changes.

Jeb Bush had been humbled, and it was precisely those agitators within the conservative movement he was once so determined to ignore who delivered that humiliation.

“In interviews this week, dozens of Bush backers and informed Republicans — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly — described an overly optimistic, even haughty exploratory operation,” the Washington Post reported on Thursday. “Strategic errors were exacerbated by unexpected stumbles by the would-be candidate and internal strife within his team, culminating in a staff shake-up this week.”

“Donors were getting a little edgy,” outside Bush advisor Vin Webber told Post reporters. “No one is ready to jump ship. Nobody has lost heart. But they have watched other candidates rise in the polls.”

Webber puts a brave face on a situation that is grimmer than he lets on. Two sources recently told the Post that Bush’s Right to Rise PAC would not be able to raise the $100 million it had anticipated it would before the end of June. “At the right time, we will release a very formidable number,” PAC strategist Mike Murphy said. And the sum that Bush’s allies will raise is almost certain to be intimidating, but the failure to meet expectations will leave a lot of savvy Republican investors within Bush’s orbit wondering if they will recoup a return. For Bush, the family well might already be drying up.

Jeb Bush’s quest for the nomination is far from over, and he might have righted his ship by embracing a new course. If the former Florida governor is able to win his party’s presidential nomination, he will be a better general election candidate for having endured this chastening experience. Over the last six months, Bush learned the obvious: you cannot win the general if you don’t win the primary.

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Jeb Bush 2016 Frontrunner Blues

The Jeb Bush juggernaut took another public relations hit this week as stories surfaced of a shakeup in his campaign team. After a few months in which Bush seemed to be stumbling, the former Florida governor has reshuffled his staff putting in place a new supposedly more aggressive campaign manager. Though this is not to be compared to the complete collapse of Ben Carson’s operations, it is still the sort of inside politics story that undermines the basic conceit of Bush’s campaign: that he is the frontrunner who will inevitably win the nomination. Some of his opponents, like Governor Scott Walker, want us to keep thinking of Bush as the top dog leaving space for other first-tier candidates to have room to maneuver. But it appears that even Bush’s camp now accepts that he can’t win the nomination by dominating fundraising or garnering establishment endorsements. While neither this development or other recent stumbles necessarily precludes his ultimate victory, a new tough campaign staff is no substitute for the thing that really seems to be lacking in his effort so far: a reason why he should be president other than it being his turn.

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The Jeb Bush juggernaut took another public relations hit this week as stories surfaced of a shakeup in his campaign team. After a few months in which Bush seemed to be stumbling, the former Florida governor has reshuffled his staff putting in place a new supposedly more aggressive campaign manager. Though this is not to be compared to the complete collapse of Ben Carson’s operations, it is still the sort of inside politics story that undermines the basic conceit of Bush’s campaign: that he is the frontrunner who will inevitably win the nomination. Some of his opponents, like Governor Scott Walker, want us to keep thinking of Bush as the top dog leaving space for other first-tier candidates to have room to maneuver. But it appears that even Bush’s camp now accepts that he can’t win the nomination by dominating fundraising or garnering establishment endorsements. While neither this development or other recent stumbles necessarily precludes his ultimate victory, a new tough campaign staff is no substitute for the thing that really seems to be lacking in his effort so far: a reason why he should be president other than it being his turn.

Bush’s supporters are right when they say that his campaign hasn’t flopped during the first half of 2015. Any candidate who can raise $100 million in a few months can’t be called a failure. With that kind of cash in hand, Bush can weather any number of political storms and stay in the race long after another candidate with similar woes might be sunk. Bush hasn’t established a lead in the polls over the rest of the GOP field, but he remains at or near the top in virtually every poll even though that means he remains in the vicinity of ten percent.

Moreover, despite the lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for a third Bush presidency and the dismay about the candidate’s less-than-scintillating performance so far, he maintains a clear path to the nomination. If Bush can simply stay in the front of the pack of GOP contenders over the next several months, place in the top two or three in Iowa and then win New Hampshire, where his more moderate approach appears to be playing better than in the Hawkeye State, that will set him up nicely for the rest of the primary season. The assumption at that point is that he could then knock off former protégé Marco Rubio by beating him in Florida. If none of the other more conservative candidates are able to emerge from the pack, they will eliminate each other, and, as Mitt Romney did in 2012 as the sole moderate, Bush will cruise the rest of the way. Or at least that’s what Bush supporters hope will happen.

But with a few days to go before his official announcement, confidence in that scenario playing out in that fashion can’t be all that high. Despite some of his own stumbles, Walker appears to be ready to compete with Bush for both conservative and moderate voters. Even more threatening to Bush is the way Rubio has emerged as a possible competitor for establishment support. A race with this many serious candidates, as well as a number who aren’t all that serious, can’t be easily predicted. Moreover, Bush can’t win by merely surviving. He must be seen as the winner, or at least not the loser, in the debates. And he’s going to have to hope that none of the candidates to his right catch fire.

But more than any of that, what Bush needs to tell us next week when he announces and as he proceeds, why it is that we have to have another president with the same name. Go down the roster of GOP hopefuls and whether they are likely to win or not, all have tremendous passion and raison d’être for their candidacies. Fair or not, the impression is that Bush has been merely biding his time and now believes this is his moment. For all of the advantages his name brings him, he doesn’t have that kind of personal following. Nor, at least to date, does his campaign exhibit the passion or the pluck that characterize his competitors. That must change quickly. If it doesn’t shake off the frontrunner blues, he’ll never be able to subdue the challenges from Walker or Rubio that stand as obstacles to his scenario for victory.

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Do Hillary’s Bad Poll Numbers Matter? Yes.

Hillary Clinton and her supporters are probably telling themselves not to be alarmed by the latest CNN/ORC poll. They must acknowledge that the headlines will rightly trumpet the fact that in just two months the former First Lady has gone from a net plus 11 percent positive rating to a negative four percent in terms of her favorability. Just as bad if not worse are the numbers that tell us that clear majorities of Americans don’t consider her honest, trustworthy, care about them, or inspire confidence. But Clinton still has a staggering 46 percent lead over any other Democrat and leads all Republican contenders in head-to-head matchups, although not by the same large margins that she once enjoyed. That means that no matter what most Americans think about her, she is certain to be the Democratic nominee and head toward November 2016 with, at worst, an even chance of winning the presidency. That’s not a bad place to be for any presidential candidate 17 months before the election. But the more one drills down into Hillary’s numbers, the less confident Democrats should be.

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Hillary Clinton and her supporters are probably telling themselves not to be alarmed by the latest CNN/ORC poll. They must acknowledge that the headlines will rightly trumpet the fact that in just two months the former First Lady has gone from a net plus 11 percent positive rating to a negative four percent in terms of her favorability. Just as bad if not worse are the numbers that tell us that clear majorities of Americans don’t consider her honest, trustworthy, care about them, or inspire confidence. But Clinton still has a staggering 46 percent lead over any other Democrat and leads all Republican contenders in head-to-head matchups, although not by the same large margins that she once enjoyed. That means that no matter what most Americans think about her, she is certain to be the Democratic nominee and head toward November 2016 with, at worst, an even chance of winning the presidency. That’s not a bad place to be for any presidential candidate 17 months before the election. But the more one drills down into Hillary’s numbers, the less confident Democrats should be.

The Clinton camp will say that once their campaign cranks up and begins spending up to $2 billion on selling the country on Hillary’s greatness and trashing Republicans, the current slide will be reversed. To some extent, they may be right. As President Obama proved in 2012, if you are able to define your opponents with ads that slime their reputations as well as negative coverage from a helpful mainstream liberal media, half the battle will already be won.

But Hillary’s rising negatives point to the basic problem facing Democrats in 2016. We have been endlessly lectured that the Democrats’ main advantage was and remains a demographic one with women and minorities voting for them in numbers sufficient to offset any GOP strengths elsewhere. That’s true, but focusing solely on that breakdown ignores the fact that the Democrats’ real advantage was in having a candidate that a majority of Americans liked and, to some extent, trusted. Though his charms were lost on most Republicans, Barack Obama was and, to some extent still is, a magical political figure. He was not only liked by most voters he also made them feel good about themselves because of his historical status as our first African-American president. Hillary may hope that being the first female president will have the same resonance, but that may be more wishful thinking than hard analysis. As much as her identity as a woman will be a huge positive factor for her candidacy, that enthusiasm is tempered by the negative view that most Americans have about her personally. Though liberals keep telling us that the Clinton Cash scandals, Benghazi, and other Clinton problems are right-wing media conspiracies, they appear to have taken a toll on Clinton’s image.

Unlike most of the Republican candidates who must struggle to become better known and then try to avoid being defined by Democratic attacks, Hillary’s not only has universal name recognition but her identity is so fixed in the public imagination that it’s not clear that negative ads would even do all that much damage to her. Large numbers of Americans like her and nothing will change that. At the same time, an equally large group dislikes her so intensely that virtually nothing could make them support her. That puts her in a far less formidable position than Obama had in either of his presidential runs. Even if we concede that the Democrats start out with a stranglehold on 247 Electoral College votes to the Republicans having 206 with only 85 toss-ups that will determine the outcome.

Winning those key swing states will require the sort of enthusiasm that Obama inspired among the base. Can Hillary have the same sort of appeal? Since hard-core Democrats don’t care about the Clintons’ scandals, the answer is maybe. But Clinton will need to do more than mobilize her base. The most discouraging numbers in the CNN poll isn’t so much those terrible numbers about trustworthiness. It’s the fact that her favorability among independents is so poor, with a 54-41 negative result.

There are some other interesting facts to be gleaned from the CNN poll on the Republican side. In terms of who is ahead among the huge GOP field, the results are as useless as that of any other national poll. The leading candidates are all bunched together with only a few percentage points separating them and those on the bottom, like Carly Fiorina and newly declared candidate Lindsey Graham barely registering any support. That tells us nothing about who is set up to do well in the early voting states or which of them has any real advantage over the others.

What is significant is that Jeb Bush, the person many anointed as the Republican frontrunner and the one best suited to win a general election, is doing worse against Clinton in head-to-head matchups than any of the others. Even worse is the fact that poll respondents identified Bush more with the past than the future by a 62-34 percent margin. That has to be extremely frustrating for him, as he hasn’t held office in over 8 years and Clinton who has played a key role in the last two Democratic administrations gets a pro-future rating by a puzzling 51-45 percent margin. It seems obvious that a lot of people are confusing him with his older brother or father, but it may also be another piece of evidence that a lot of Americans don’t like the idea of a third Bush in the White House. That puts the conventional wisdom about the inevitability of a Bush-Clinton general election very much in doubt.

Marco Rubio had better news since he not only led the pack with an admittedly meager 14 percent but was also the most popular second choice. He also had the highest rating of being identified with the future of any candidate from either party.

Taken as a whole, none of this data should change our evaluations of what sets up to be a Clinton coronation for the Democrats, a confusing scrum for the GOP, and a general election in which both sides have a chance. That’s not terrible news for Clinton, but it shows that this will be a much more competitive election than the last two presidential contests. That means Democrats who think they can’t lose the presidency need to think again.

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Damned Lies and Fact-Checkers

If Mark Twain were around he would have to modify his famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to add another category of lies–reporter’s attempts at fact-checking politicians. This practice has become prevalent in recent decades, but more often than not it is simply a way for reporters to sneak dubious editorializing into the guise of an ostensibly straight news story — to try to put forward their own spin and bias in opposition to the politicians’ spin and bias.

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If Mark Twain were around he would have to modify his famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to add another category of lies–reporter’s attempts at fact-checking politicians. This practice has become prevalent in recent decades, but more often than not it is simply a way for reporters to sneak dubious editorializing into the guise of an ostensibly straight news story — to try to put forward their own spin and bias in opposition to the politicians’ spin and bias.

Case in point is this article from the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler awarding Jeb Bush “four Pinocchios” for his alleged lack of truthfulness. What is it that Bush said that is so wrong? Did he claim that Obama was a secret Muslim? That one of his GOP rivals was a Ku Kluxer? That Hillary Clinton had ordered the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi?

Not quite. Here is the statement from Jeb that so offended Glenn Kessler:

“ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.”

Kessler claims this is a lie because “to a large extent, the Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda of Iraq,” and AQI came into being while George W. Bush was president. AQI even proclaimed an Islamic State in Iraq in 2006 after the death of its founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

It’s certainly true that ISIS is an outgrowth of AQI, but what Bush said was right, not wrong. While the chaotic conditions of Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003 allowed AQI to flourish, it was largely defeated during the surge in 2007-2008. Kessler cites a 2009 US intelligence assessment that AQI “is likely to retain a residual capacity to undertake terrorist operations for years to come.” But the rest of the report, which Kessler, to his credit, also cites, goes on to note:  “AQI, although still dangerous, has experienced the defection of members, lost key mobilization areas, suffered disruption of support infrastructure and funding, and been forced to change targeting priorities.”

I would go further and say that by the time the U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011, AQI, while still in existence, was no longer a significant strategic threat to the well-being of the Iraqi state. It had, in a word, been defeated.

What happened next? A civil war broke out in Syria, the US did little to stop it, and the chaotic conditions which then prevailed in Syria allowed AQI to get a fresh lease on life. Soon it had metamorphosed into the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, and using Syria as its base, it expanded back into Iraq. In 2014 it proclaimed a caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq–a new Islamic State that never previously existed.

What Jeb Bush said, then, is certainly true: the Islamic State did not exist when George W. Bush was president, and al-Qaeda in Iraq was essentially defeated during his administration. It emerged stronger than ever in no small part because of Obama’s neglect of the region.

You can criticize Jeb for failing to note that it was his brother’s policies — specifically the failure to establish security in Iraq in 2003-2006 — that made AQI a threat in the first place, but what he said was truthful if not necessarily complete. To argue otherwise is tendentious — akin to calling a politician a liar for saying that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 because its predecessor, the Whig Party, had been founded in 1833.

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Who’s Winning the Foreign Policy Primary?

Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

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Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

As I wrote earlier this week, the grilling of Bush about Iraq and the legacy of his brother George W. wasn’t the discussion Republicans needed to have. But as Bush fumbled various responses, he seemed unprepared for questions to which he should have had a ready response. The point wasn’t that his various answers were wrong. Rather, it was the impression that didn’t seem to have command of foreign policy issues at his fingertips and his political skills had grown rusty in the 13 years since he last ran for office.

By contrast, Rubio’s foreign policy address was both eloquent and to the point as he gave voice to a coherent worldview about the need for American strength and vision. In a GOP field that is long on domestic issue strength but short on foreign policy expertise, Rubio’s command of the issue proved he was not merely competent but head and shoulders above the competition. That seemed especially true during a week when in addition to Bush’s troubles, one of their leading competitors, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, was in Israel for his first trip to the country. He was, he said, there to listen, but his main goal seemed to be to avoid the press overhearing any gaffes like the ones he made during his trip to London earlier this year. Walker was shielded from press scrutiny and questions the entire time he was in Israel. Even the press-shy Hillary Clinton provided more transparency this week than Walker.

As for Rubio, he was both optimistic about the power of American exceptionalism and aware of the serious nature of the threats facing the country. Rubio provided an in-depth of the failures of the Obama administration on issues like Iran, Israel, Russia and China. But this was more than just the usual litany of complaints about the last six years. His three pillared approach to the challenges of the future — military strength, protecting the economy against nations like Russia and China that seek to threaten the free flow of international trade and standing up for the nation’s core values — illustrated his nuanced understanding of the challenges facing the nation. The Rubio doctrine was not just about flexing America’s muscles and stopping the apologies and appeasement that have characterized the Obama years but is based on a positive vision of why American strength is essential the preservation of peace and prosperity.

But it must be admitted that Rubio wasn’t the only Republican candidate scoring points on foreign policy this week. Senator Rand Paul has been on the defense on foreign affairs for much of the past year. With ISIS on the rise and the Islamist terror threat growing in danger Paul has been eager to shed his well-earned reputation as an isolationist. But Bush’s inability to escape the Iraq War trap gave Paul an easy target. The Kentucky senator hasn’t much to offer the country when it comes to an alternative to Obama’s policies in the Middle East since he is, if anything to the left of the president on these issues. But when the conversation turns to the unpopular Iraq War, Paul is in his comfort zone.

He even used that as an opening to attack Rubio for supporting foreign aid. Though depriving allies, such as Israel, of essential help, has long been a staple of Paul’s neo-isolationism that nowadays masquerades as “realism,” it’s the sort of point that remains a popular applause getter on the stump. But it took a lot of brass for Paul to tag Rubio as being on “the wrong side of history” because of his belief that a judicious distribution of aid to friends was an essential part of preserving American strength.

Though his position doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, Paul’s willingness to stand up against a forward American stance abroad and aid does at least provide a competing foreign policy vision for Republican voters. It’s doubtful they would prefer Paul’s channeling of his inner Bernie Sanders to Rubio’s more Reaganesque approach. But when compared to Bush’s agonized dance around his brother’s record or Walker’s blank slate (not to mention Ben Carson’s sheer ignorance of foreign policy), it does set up a serious competition between the two senators.

Bush may be raising the most money but in the foreign policy primary, he’s trailing Rubio badly. There’s plenty of time for him and the others to catch up. But right now on Rubio and Paul are the ones who are most engaged in a vital debate about the future of America and the soul of the Republican Party.

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The False Iraq War Gotcha Narrative

Jeb Bush caused a kerfuffle with his answer to a question on Fox News Channel about the Iraq War. Megyn Kelly asked him: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” He answered:  “I would have. And so would Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. So would have everybody that was confronted by the intelligence they got.” They would have if they had the intelligence. That’s not saying everybody would now. News flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

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Jeb Bush caused a kerfuffle with his answer to a question on Fox News Channel about the Iraq War. Megyn Kelly asked him: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” He answered:  “I would have. And so would Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. So would have everybody that was confronted by the intelligence they got.” They would have if they had the intelligence. That’s not saying everybody would now. News flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

Various commentators on left and right have pounced on this answer even though it was pretty obvious that, as he later clarified, Bush misheard—he was clearly saying he supported the invasion based on “knowing what we knew then,” rather than “knowing what we know now.” Bush subsequently said it was a “hypothetical” question that he couldn’t answer. The other Republican candidates, on the other hand, are all generally saying they wouldn’t have supported the war in hindsight.

No one’s asking me, but I would like to try and answer anyway. It’s not an easy question but it’s one I’ve pondered, having been one of many who supported the war effort. I can’t tell the candidates what to say but I can tell you what my own thinking is.

If I had known exactly how the war would turn out—with American troops being pulled out prematurely, leaving Iraq to the tender mercies of Iranian militias and ISIS—I would not have supported the invasion. It’s a close call but Saddam Hussein’s regime, bad as it was, was probably preferable to the current situation in Iraq as long as sanctions remained in place. At least Saddam was a bulwark against Iranian expansion.

And I would never have supported military action against Saddam in the first place if I didn’t believe, in common with the leaders of the United States and all of our allies and even Saddam’s own generals, that he had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was an evil ruler but the U.S. can’t simply go around using its military power to knock off every dictator on the planet—there has to be a specific threat to U.S. national security to justify military action and absent the WMD (and the lack of any verifiable links between Saddam and al Qaeda) such a threat was absent.

But even after the U.S. went in based on false intelligence (which, as the Robb-Silberman commission found, was the fault of the intelligence community and not the White House), it would still have been possible to turn Operation Iraqi Freedom into a net positive—if, that it is, it had actually delivered Iraqi freedom rather than chaos.  Despite numerous missteps in the early going from 2003 to 2007, the “surge,” which President Bush courageously ordered in 2007 in the face of nearly total opposition, actually made it possible to imagine that the administration’s high hopes for Iraq might be vindicated.  Violence fell by more than 90 percent and Iraqi politics began to function again. In 2010 Vice President Biden, no less, even bragged that he was “very optimistic” about the outcome in Iraq.

That optimism was shattered by two of the Obama administration’s disastrous decisions: first, the move to back Nouri al Maliki as Iraq’s prime minister after the 2010 election (even though he was not the top vote getter; Ayad Allawi was); second, the failure to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement in 2011 to keep US troops in Iraq. Both of these miscalculations paved the way for the rise of an Iranian-dominated sectarian regime in Baghdad that victimized Sunnis and sparked a backlash in the form of ISIS. The situation was further aggravated by President Obama’s failure to do more to help the moderates in Syria’s civil war—that left Syria wide open as a staging ground for ISIS to launch an offensive into Iraq which conquered much of the Sunni Triangle.

In short, Iraq didn’t have to become the disaster it is today. Better decisions between 2003 and 2010—e.g., sending more US troops to keep law and order in 2003, not disbanding the Iraqi army in 2003, not pursuing de-Baathification as avidly as the Coalition Provisional Authority did, not backing Maliki for reelection, not pulling U.S. forces out in 2011—could very well have produced very different results. Iraq could have emerged as a contributor to regional stability rather than as a breeding ground of extremism. And while the Bush administration bears the blame for the disasters of 2003-2007 (as well as credit for the near-miraculous turnaround of 2007-2008), the Obama administration bears the blame for the post-2011 disasters. Unfortunately the U.S. left Iraq just as badly as it entered it—with no plan in either case to stabilize an inherently volatile situation.

An honest accounting thus leaves plenty of blame all around—it doesn’t feed a simple “gotcha” narrative where supporters of the invasion were all evil and opponents of it all good. The lesson of Iraq? In the future hawks should be more careful about advocating military action (especially the toppling of foreign leaders without a good day-after plan) and doves more careful about advocating pullouts once intervention has taken place. Unfortunately more recent experience in Libya (where the Obama administration helped topple a dictator without any day-after plan) and Afghanistan (where Obama is planning a pull-out at the end of 2016 with reckless disregard for the likely consequences) shows how hard it is to act on the lessons of history, even very recent history.

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Jeb’s Defense of W Isn’t Wrong, Just Not What GOP Needs

Liberal pundit Roger Simon was aiming for a cheap laugh when he wondered whether Jeb Bush had been “dropped on his head as a child” in a Politico piece in which he skewered the presidential contender for comments made last week about Iraq and other remarks in which he said his elder brother George would be his top adviser on the Middle East. According to Simon and most of the left, the only thing for which George W. Bush should be remembered is a disastrous war in Iraq. But even for those who don’t view things from the same partisan liberal perspective as Simon, Jeb got himself in trouble by defending the decision to invade Iraq. That since-corrected statement can be defended as can the notion of W being a good man to have as an adviser on U.S.-Israel relations. But the problem for Jeb isn’t that what he said about Iraq and foreign policy isn’t entirely or even mostly wrong. It’s not. The catch is that this exchange reminds Republicans of the two major reasons why nominating Jeb may not be such a hot idea: the dynasty problem and the fact that it would give Democrats a chance to run again against the former president rather than having to defend the records of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

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Liberal pundit Roger Simon was aiming for a cheap laugh when he wondered whether Jeb Bush had been “dropped on his head as a child” in a Politico piece in which he skewered the presidential contender for comments made last week about Iraq and other remarks in which he said his elder brother George would be his top adviser on the Middle East. According to Simon and most of the left, the only thing for which George W. Bush should be remembered is a disastrous war in Iraq. But even for those who don’t view things from the same partisan liberal perspective as Simon, Jeb got himself in trouble by defending the decision to invade Iraq. That since-corrected statement can be defended as can the notion of W being a good man to have as an adviser on U.S.-Israel relations. But the problem for Jeb isn’t that what he said about Iraq and foreign policy isn’t entirely or even mostly wrong. It’s not. The catch is that this exchange reminds Republicans of the two major reasons why nominating Jeb may not be such a hot idea: the dynasty problem and the fact that it would give Democrats a chance to run again against the former president rather than having to defend the records of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Let’s specify first that Jeb clearly blundered when asked by Megyn Kelly whether, given everything we know now, whether he would support the invasion of Iraq. Instead of acknowledging the mistakes that were made and the fact that weapons of mass destruction weren’t found, Bush answered a different question. He said that placed in that moment again with what he knew then, he would still have backed the idea and that Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war and defended it for years until it became too unpopular to do so) would have too. He’s right that most leading figures in both parties supported the war at the time. It’s also both unfair and untrue to claim that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence or that they cooked it to justify their goals.

Moreover, Jeb was right to note that the surge ordered by his brother in 2007 retrieved a dangerous situation. The sign of a true leader is the ability to admit a mistake and then change course to achieve the objective, something our current president is incapable of doing. When W left office in January 2009, Iraq was a war that had been won, something that the Obama administration acknowledged. If Iraq is back to being a disaster today, it’s solely the fault of President Obama whose decisions led to a wrongheaded evacuation of American troops that created the vacuum into which ISIS moved in recent years.

Let’s also acknowledge that contrary to Simon’s snark, George W. Bush is a good suggestion for someone to consult with about the U.S.-Israel alliance. When Obama came into office he said the reason for the stalemate in the Middle East was that Bush was too close to Israel. By establishing more daylight between Israel and the United States he thought he could achieve peace. But six years of constant fights with Israel that have led to open threats about the administration abandoning Israel at the United Nations haven’t brought us closer to peace. To the contrary, the daylight Obama sought encouraged more violence and Palestinian intransigence. More importantly, Obama’s decision to try for détente with Iran has alienating all of America’s allies in the region, the Arab states as well as Israel. For all of the abuse hurled at W from the left, the Middle East he left us looks pretty good in comparison to the chaos Obama has enabled.

But even if everything Jeb said about his brother is true, and most of it is, that doesn’t really help his cause.

The isolationist moment in American politics that seemed to give Senator Rand Paul a shot at the nomination has passed. Support for a foreign policy that seeks to exert American influence and defend its interests is important to most Republican primary voters and Bush has certainly articulated well thought out positions that will win him votes. But though a lot of Republicans are happy to defend the honor of W or even Dick Cheney against leftist slanders, that isn’t really the conversation anyone in the GOP wants to have right now.

To be fair to Jeb, it’s not as if he has gone out of his way to start this discussion. The comments about W and Israel were generated by the anger among many members of the pro-Israel community (and not just the billionaire that owns casinos) about former Secretary of State James Baker’s attacks on the Jewish state. The longtime faithful Bush family retainer is listed as one of Jeb’s advisers. Bringing up W was the only way he had of disassociating himself from Baker without actually throwing him under the bus.

But bearing the Bush family name brings with it clear disadvantages as well as benefits. Republicans know they’ll be better off nominating someone from a more humble background who can’t, as Mitt Romney was, be portrayed as a heartless plutocrat. Just as Hillary will carry around a lot of negative baggage, Jeb can’t escape the tired, old and deeply destructive arguments about Iraq. He may be a candidate who brings experience as a governor and well considered policy positions on both domestic and foreign issues. He’s also shown a willingness to and avoid flip-flopping even if it means daring the base to oppose him on immigration and the Common Core education standards. That illustrates character if not always the best political judgment.

But his greatest problem remains the challenge of trying to be the third president Bush. It’s certainly possible for him to overcome that obstacle. But whether or not it is fair, this latest kerfuffle illustrates how great the burden that W’s record will be for Jeb.

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A Lesson in How Faith Improves Politics

Jeb Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. It’s a beautifully written speech, and it constitutes the kind of thoughtful and balanced reflection on Christian faith that is unusual to find, especially among political leaders. To do justice to it requires me to quote extensively from it, so I shall.

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Jeb Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. It’s a beautifully written speech, and it constitutes the kind of thoughtful and balanced reflection on Christian faith that is unusual to find, especially among political leaders. To do justice to it requires me to quote extensively from it, so I shall.

Much of the commentary about the speech focused on Governor Bush’s defense of religious liberty, and understandably so, given the urgency of the matter. In speaking about what Bush called the Obama administration’s use of “coercive federal power” against the Little Sisters of the Poor — in which the federal government’s contraception and abortion mandate has attempted to force the Little Sisters to act in violation of their Catholic faith — Bush said this:

What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it. Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith. Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience – and in a free society, the answer is No.

But to me the most interesting parts of the address were those in which Governor Bush described how many critics of Christianity perceive it as a “backward and oppressive force… something static, narrow, and outdated… some obstacle to enlightened thought, some ancient, irrelevant creed wearing out its welcome in the modern world.”

Governor Bush described Christianity in a very different, and much truer and more textured, way. Faith doesn’t give answers to every question, he said, and it doesn’t spare us from doubt or difficulties in life. But if often awakens the conscience. “One of the great things about this faith of ours is its daring, untamed quality, which is underrated,” Bush said, adding:

As moral wisdom goes, for example, loving our neighbors seems kind of an easy call – especially if we already like them. But how about loving our enemies, too, as a bold challenge to leave our comfort zone and lift our sights to larger purposes?

As for the suggestion that Christianity is a static faith, that sure isn’t how it reads in the original. Offhand, I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than “the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Governor Bush also spoke about how, whether we acknowledge it or not, the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament still provide the moral vocabulary we use in America. He quoted C.S. Lewis, who said that trying to separate ideals from the source of ideals is like “a rebellion of the branches against the tree”, and added this:

Justice, equality, the worth of every life, the dignity of every person, and rights that no authority can take away – these are founding moral ideals in America, and they didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice,” Bush said, “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.”

In their unwillingness to bend to elite opinion, many people of the Christian faith believe thus: “Wherever there is a child waiting to be born, we say choose life, and we say it with love. Wherever women and girls in other countries are brutally exploited, or treated as possessions without rights and dignity, we Christians see that arrogance for what it is. Wherever Jews are subjected to the oldest bigotry, we reject that sin against our brothers and sisters, and we defend them.” The former Florida governor also spoke about a generation of Christians who are “striving to be protectors of creation, instead of just users, good shepherds instead of just hirelings – and that moral vision can make all the difference.”

When you read the speech in whole, what stands out, I think, is that Governor Bush is articulating his understanding of the Christian faith in a way that is principled but not harsh, in a manner that is persuasive rather than aggressive, unapologetic and not offensive. He cares very much about the state of the culture, but he’s no culture warrior. This speech was his effort to unwind some fairly widespread caricatures, to represent his faith in a way that invites understanding rather than promotes division and distrust.

To be sure, there is a gap between what the Christian faith calls us to be and how many of us carry that out in our daily lives. We are broken people whose hearts are often conflicted and divided. And too often we use faith as an instrument to achieve other, less elevated purposes. It’s true, too, that some of the most visible and vocal Christian leaders – speaking in ways that are shrill and graceless, angry and anxious — have given their faith a bad name.

But it’s also true that for many millions of people, the Christian faith has sanded off some of their rougher edges, making them more generous and alert to the suffering of others. Having received grace, they are better able to dispense grace. They are often found volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, befriending inner city children and the elderly, working at crisis pregnancy and drug addiction centers, helping people in other lands whose lives have been blown apart by natural disasters and epidemics. Most people of faith don’t life heroic lives or make heroic sacrifices. But their faith does make them better than they would otherwise be. It makes them somewhat more likely to extend a hand of mercy, or write a note of condolence, or offer a listening ear to people in pain and need. And in some cases we see how faith gives people the strength to face death with great dignity and equanimity, reminding them that life on this earth is but a single chapter in a much longer and glorious story.

Yes, people’s faith sometimes informs their politics. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, sometimes – maybe even more times than you might imagine – it makes our politics better than it would otherwise be. (See William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. for more.) That is, I think, what Jeb Bush was saying in his exceptional commencement address.

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Will Rubio Be Sunk By Immigration?

Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

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Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

Rubio, who won a Senate seat as a Tea Party insurgent challenging establishment Republican (turned independent and then Democrat) Charlie Crist, saw his stock fall badly among movement conservatives when he embraced a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 that promised illegals a path to citizenship. The bill died in the House, and Rubio took such a drubbing among GOP activists that it appeared that his once promising 2016 hopes were at an end. But Rubio ultimately walked away from the bill declaring, as did many of his House colleagues, that a necessary reform of the immigration system would have to wait until the border was secured. The 2014 surge of illegals at the Texas border vindicated that opinion and Rubio seemed to have subsequently put himself in line with the views of much of the party base.

But though Rubio now says a comprehensive approach to immigration is neither politically possible nor good policy, he’s not willing to disavow the concept of ultimately allowing some illegals a way to come in out of the shadows. That’s what he said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation even as he admitted that it could only happen after a “long process” that wouldn’t involve “a massive piece of legislation” that reform advocates, including President Obama, demand. However, that disclaimer may not be enough to persuade many Republicans that he hasn’t disqualified himself from presidential consideration.

That’s the gist of the abuse being flung at Rubio by radio talkers like Laura Ingraham and pundit Anne Coulter, all of which seem aimed at labeling Rubio as a Hispanic version of moderate Lindsey Graham. They won’t forgive Rubio for his past advocacy of the Senate bill. As far as they are concerned anything that smacks of amnesty for illegals, either by President Obama’s extralegal executive orders or constitutional legislation, is equally suspect. Bush, who is counting on establishment support, already knows that the party base won’t back him. Indeed, at times, Bush has seemed to be willing to run against the base in the hope that this would facilitate his general-election campaign if he wins the nomination.

But Rubio is neither foolish enough to run against the base nor possessed of sufficient establishment backing that he can afford to ignore taunting from radio talkers that can fire up people against him.

In a race in which foreign policy plays a major role, Rubio, the most articulate of the likely contenders on security and defense issues, can expect to shine. His launch also reminded the country about why so many Republicans thought he was the perfect candidate to help them break the mold of the last two elections in which the GOP seemed to be doomed to permanent minority status. The bump he received recently in the polls is an indication that he has a higher ceiling than many of those Republicans planning on jumping into the fray. But it remains to be seen whether any candidate who needs, as Rubio does, to get some share of the conservative vote can survive the pasting he’s going to continue to get from elements of the activist core that consider any leniency on immigration to be the third rail of politics.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback (Because It Isn’t)

The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

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The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

Hillary was not inevitable, as it turned out, which is why she’s back running again this year. But she seems inevitable again, and this time more so. Are pundits who may be repeating their mistake with Hillary repeating the same mistake by dismissing Chris Christie’s chances to win the GOP nomination?

In a word, no.

The New Jersey governor has launched what is being termed a “comeback” tour, and the plan appears to have both a geographic center and a policy one. As the Washington Post reports:

Chris Christie kicked off a two day swing to New Hampshire with a sober prescription for tackling escalating entitlement spending.

The New Jersey governor and potential Republican presidential candidate proposed raising the retirement age for Social security to 69, means testing for Social Security, and gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Christie outlined his proposals on entitlement reform at a speech Tuesday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

“In the short term, it is growing the deficit and slowly but surely taking over all of government. In the long term, it will steal our children’s future and bankrupt our nation. Meanwhile, our leaders in Washington are not telling people the truth. Washington is still not dealing with the problem,” Christie said.

“Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not,” the governor added.

As Hail Marys go, there is logic to this plan. Geographically, it makes sense. The crowded field of social conservatives and candidates with Midwest ties/appeal makes Iowa a stretch for Christie. New Hampshire, on the other hand, is much closer to home for a northeastern Republican, and ideologically probably a better fit than Iowa for someone like Christie.

Additionally, the idea that candidates might waste resources trying to win Iowa at the expense of New Hampshire isn’t crazy at all. In fact, since 1980, for every presidential-election year in which there was no Republican presidential incumbent, Iowa and New Hampshire chose different winners. This streak almost ended in 2012 when it appeared Mitt Romney won Iowa and then went on to win New Hampshire, but once all the votes were counted it turned out Rick Santorum had actually won Iowa. The smart money, then, in New Hampshire is never on the winner of the Iowa caucuses (at least not when it’s an open seat). Christie probably knows this.

However, with such a crowded field, even assuming the Iowa winner doesn’t also win New Hampshire (and he will still likely compete there for votes anyway) Christie will have a steep hill to climb. Jeb Bush is his most significant rival for establishment votes, and Bush will have lots of money to blanket the northeast in ads while Christie’s campaign is just getting out of the gate. Rand Paul will likely be competitive in New Hampshire, with its libertarian streak (his father did reasonably well in New Hampshire). And then there will still be Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and others.

On the policy side, I don’t think I even need to point out the risk involved in making entitlement reform the centerpiece of your agenda. It is bold, and Christie does need to stand out from the pack. He needs conservative votes, not just establishment support, and conservatives might be more amenable to such cuts (in theory at least, and it’ll vary depending on which piece of the safety net we’re talking about).

Christie is very good in person, so the town hall format should help him. He’s also got the “straight-talker” bona fides to at least portray himself as the guy who’s telling you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. But that can go south in a hurry, considering Christie’s temper.

And further, as Harry Enten points out today, “The Politics Of Christie’s ‘Bold’ Social Security Plan Are Atrocious.” Enten writes:

According to a January 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, Republicans are more likely than Democrats, independents and the general public to say that income should not be a determining factor in receiving Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of Republicans believe that Social Security should go to only those below a certain income level. Seventy percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposal. …

In a September 2013 Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center poll, 58 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 were opposed to raising the age of eligibility on Social Security. Just 33 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 support such a proposal. According to an April 2013 Fox News survey, Republicans overall are more split. Still, does Christie really want to try to push the idea of raising the retirement age in New Hampshire, where 56 percent of primary voters are over the age of 50? For a moderate Republican like Christie, New Hampshire is a crucial state. His plan doesn’t seem like smart politics.

No, it doesn’t. But Christie can’t really afford to play it safe. Or can he? Is he learning the wrong lesson himself from 2008? McCain’s comeback was not due to bold conservative reform plans. If anything, he was the “safe” candidate in the field: the war hero with clean hands and decades of service. As other, more hyped candidates flamed out early, McCain simply remained standing.

He also benefited from the electoral math, specifically in having others in the race like Mike Huckabee who could siphon votes from Romney without posing a serious threat to McCain.

Then again, considering the strength of the field this year, Christie can’t plausibly expect every other serious candidate to implode. So he’s going for broke. It’s an interesting idea that may be making headlines today but will ultimately be a footnote in the story of 2016.

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Rubio, Immigration, and the Long Road to the Nomination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jeb’s Identity Crisis Fuels Rubio Challenge

According to the New York Times, it’s a tale of Shakespearean dimensions. The decision of Senator Marco Rubio to run for the presidency rather than defer to the candidacy of his onetime mentor and close friend Jeb Bush is depicted as a tragedy for those Floridians who know and like both of them. Two men, one older and one younger, united by their conservative principles and belief in reform of big liberal government are now locked in what may prove to be a bitter battle that may, in the heat of what promises to be a long hard fight, eventually turn into a personal grudge match. That’s one way to look at it and no one should doubt that the competing narratives of a young man who wouldn’t wait his turn or an older one whose time and family dynasty is part of the past rather than future is a big part of the story. But there’s another, perhaps more important way to understand why Rubio felt there was no reason to defer to Bush: the latter’s identity crisis has left many Republicans wondering why, other than a chance to fulfill family destiny, he is running at all.

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According to the New York Times, it’s a tale of Shakespearean dimensions. The decision of Senator Marco Rubio to run for the presidency rather than defer to the candidacy of his onetime mentor and close friend Jeb Bush is depicted as a tragedy for those Floridians who know and like both of them. Two men, one older and one younger, united by their conservative principles and belief in reform of big liberal government are now locked in what may prove to be a bitter battle that may, in the heat of what promises to be a long hard fight, eventually turn into a personal grudge match. That’s one way to look at it and no one should doubt that the competing narratives of a young man who wouldn’t wait his turn or an older one whose time and family dynasty is part of the past rather than future is a big part of the story. But there’s another, perhaps more important way to understand why Rubio felt there was no reason to defer to Bush: the latter’s identity crisis has left many Republicans wondering why, other than a chance to fulfill family destiny, he is running at all.

Part of this identity crisis is on display as Jeb Bush’s large and seemingly unwieldy campaign is undergoing something of a civil war when it comes to foreign policy. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Bush is seriously considering appointing Elbridge Colby, a think tank veteran who is an advocate of containing a nuclear Iran rather than seeking to forestall this awful possibility, as foreign policy director of his campaign. If this happens, it will be interpreted as a sign that the so-called realists have prevailed at the expense of their hawkish rivals within Bush’s camp.

Though many of those listed as his foreign policy advisors take a much stronger stand on Iran than Colby, it did not escape the attention of pundits that Bush also listed former Secretary of State James Baker on the roster of those he is listening to. Bush may be a faithful Bush family retainer who served President George H.W. Bush in a variety of capacities but he is also one of the leading “realists” in the country with foreign policy stands on Iran and Israel that more closely resemble those of President Obama than his Republican antagonists. Jeb Bush tried to disassociate himself from Baker’s decision to endorse Obama’s threats to Israel when he spoke at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. But Colby’s appointment will only fuel speculation that, at least on foreign policy, he will closely resemble his father, who had a poor relationship with Israel.

On domestic policy, Bush seems similarly torn between conservative reformist positions such as his sensible proposal to privatize elements of veteran’s health care and stands on issues that seemed designed to provoke his party’s base on immigration and education. He may see no contradiction between the sensibilities of the Tea Party and advocacy for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and the Common Core curriculum but most conservative activists beg to differ. Bush was a conservative governor of Florida when Rubio was one of his able lieutenants in the state’s legislature but he has drifted to the center on some issues.

The former governor remains a font of interesting ideas and proposals and always takes a thoughtful and intelligent approach to resolving problems. But there seems no driving vision behind his candidacy as there is for other contenders such as Rubio, who will attempt to combine a strong foreign policy vision (in direct contradiction to the stands of Baker and Colby) with a more conservative fiscal approach that made him a Tea Party favorite when he first ran for the Senate in 2010.

Ambition and personal issues may be important parts of the puzzle as to why these two former allies are now at odds over who should be the next Republican presidential nominee. But Rubio can hardly be blamed for not stepping aside in favor of a man who, for all of his many virtues, seems to have no compelling rationale for his candidacy other than it being his turn. As the leading moderate in the race and with a large organization and all the money he can spend, Bush’s chances for the nomination shouldn’t be discounted. But his “shock and awe” launch has failed to cow the field or convince anyone of his inevitability. Unless and until he can explain why we need a third President Bush beyond dynastic considerations, he shouldn’t be surprised that former allies feel no compunction about elbowing him aside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker’s Front Runner Problem

In the last three months, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone from being just one of a crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates to one of the frontrunners in the early going. Where other possible contenders are talking about potential, Walker can point to polls that show him to be, along with Jeb Bush, one of the only two candidates that is getting double digit support in virtually every primary and caucus state that has been surveyed so far. But with such a rise comes the potential for a fall and for all of his strengths as a candidate, a string of gaffes and hard-to-defend flip flops illustrates the perils of playing on the big stage for the first time, especially when you’ve been anointed as a likely front runner. Though Walker’s defenders will be right when they say it’s too early to be making any judgments about his capacity to thrive in the white hot lights of a presidential election, what we’ve seen from him lately has been troubling.

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In the last three months, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone from being just one of a crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates to one of the frontrunners in the early going. Where other possible contenders are talking about potential, Walker can point to polls that show him to be, along with Jeb Bush, one of the only two candidates that is getting double digit support in virtually every primary and caucus state that has been surveyed so far. But with such a rise comes the potential for a fall and for all of his strengths as a candidate, a string of gaffes and hard-to-defend flip flops illustrates the perils of playing on the big stage for the first time, especially when you’ve been anointed as a likely front runner. Though Walker’s defenders will be right when they say it’s too early to be making any judgments about his capacity to thrive in the white hot lights of a presidential election, what we’ve seen from him lately has been troubling.

The genius of Walker’s candidacy was his ability to appeal to a variety of constituencies within the party. Tea Partiers and other conservatives love his stand against taxes and spending as governor as well as cheering his epic successful struggle against state worker unions. Evangelicals like that he’s the son of a minister and can speak to their concerns as one of them. Some establishment Republicans like his air of competence and support for fiscal sanity. Those who rightly want Republicans to Even foreign policy hawks seem sympathetic to him though there isn’t much in his record to justify their hopes that he will turn out to be their ally.

That’s a potent formula that makes him seem a much more likely nominee — as well as a competitive general election candidate — compared to the more narrow appeals of other Republicans including Bush who is encountering stiff resistance to his mainstream pitch on the right. But even strengths can have built-in liabilities. It’s one thing to be able to attract votes from different groups. It’s quite another to set out to pander to a variety of voting blocs. Candidates who do that are likely to get caught in contradictions or find themselves labeled as flip-floppers.

That’s what happened to Walker last month in Iowa when he strayed from his small government mantra to make an exception for support for measures that prop up the ethanol industry. Walker isn’t the first candidate to discover a new love for corn-base fuels while trolling for votes in Iowa. But that was an embarrassing departure for a man who built a reputation as someone who is willing to stand up to mobs and thugs in order to stick to principled positions.

Fortunately for Walker, ethanol is not something most voters, even conservatives, care that much about even if the subsidies doled out to Iowa corn farmers is a boondoggle that undermines the claim of Republicans to stand for small government. But his latest attempt to be all things to all people is a bigger problem.

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans on March 13 that he favors allowing illegal aliens being allowed to stay in the country and to eventually be allowed a path to citizenship. The only problem is that he’s been telling Republicans elsewhere that he opposes amnesty and citizenship for Republicans. But as the Journal notes, his prior opposition to amnesty during these early days of the 2016 campaign contradicts previous statements about illegal immigration uttered prior to his becoming a prospective presidential candidate in which he favored a more liberal stance on the issue. As late as 2013, he was backing a path to citizenship for illegals. And if that weren’t confusing enough, Walker’s office denied he’d endorsed amnesty in New Hampshire, calling the Journal article “erroneous,” even though the paper says three witnesses back up their reporting.

Walker wouldn’t be the only Republican in the race supporting amnesty in one form or another. Marco Rubio co-sponsored the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 which included a path to citizenship even though now he says the border must secured first. Jeb Bush is still advocating that position.

But the key here is to be consistent. As much as Bush’s position may alienate many conservatives, at least they know where he stands. If Walker is going to keep trying to tailor statements for specific audiences in this manner, this won’t be the last such gaffe he commits. Even worse, his otherwise bright hopes for the presidency will be blighted by charges of hypocrisy and flip-flopping. That doesn’t mix well with his tough, competent governor persona.

It may be that Walker will get better as the months pass and by the time the campaign in the early caucus and primary states has begun in earnest, he will be back on track reclaiming his image as a conservative folk hero who isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in no matter how intense the pressure on him will be.

But that Scott Walker has seemed to be absent lately as the Wisconsin governor adjusts to the far more intense spotlight of a national campaign. Unless he returns, Walker’s good poll numbers will fade long before Iowa votes. Being a front-runner in March of the year before a presidential election is better than being thought of as a hopeless case. But if being all things to all people becomes your modus operandi, you’re never going to make it to the White House.

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Baker Creating J Street Challenge for Jeb

The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

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The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

Baker won’t be the only celebrity in attendance at the conference. White House chief of staff James McDonough will also be there signaling the president’s approval for his faithful liberal fans. That’s an encouraging development for a group that, despite its boasts about supplanting AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, has struggled for influence even during the administration of a president they ardently support. J Street has little juice on Capitol Hill, as only hard-core left-wingers tend to endorse their proposals with the overwhelming majority of members of both political parties rightly understanding that AIPAC remains the address for the pro-Israel community.

Even the Obama administration has often bitterly disappointed J Street, especially during the president’s re-election campaign, when the White House made clear that its focus was on appeal to the mainstream pro-Israel community, not its left-wing base. In 2012, the president not only addressed the AIPAC conference but also went farther toward the pro-Israel community on the Iran nuclear issue than ever before.

But in recent months as Obama openly feuded with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the president’s pursuit of détente with Iran, J Street has been feeling more love from the administration. After the White House responded to Netanyahu’s re-election with petulance and threats, J Street is thrilled with a president who seems to have finally decided that he need not hide his disdain for the Jewish state’s electorate.

Baker served the last president before Obama who engaged in feuds with Israeli leaders. Though rightly considered egregious at the time, George H.W. Bush’s provocations against the Shamir government seem tame when compared to Obama’s stunts. But as the moving force behind the elder Bush’s attacks on AIPAC as well as a policy of pressure against the Jewish state, Baker is rightly remembered as a foe of Israel.

Baker did help the campaign of George W. Bush, especially during the Florida recount. But he was a consistent critic of Bush 43’s foreign policy. While it is to be expected that he would rally to support the third member of the Bush clan to seek the presidency, for someone so publicly identified with Jeb’s campaign to be the keynoter at J Street’s conclave creates a much bigger problem for the candidate than even Michael Rubin thought a few weeks ago.

Simply put, Bush can’t let Baker’s appearance at the J Street event go unremarked upon. He must either explicitly distance himself from Baker’s appearance and from J Street’s support for Obama’s threats against Israel or ask Baker to formally disassociate himself from his presidential effort. That will be hard for Jeb as, like the rest of this family, he prizes loyalty and Baker has been the most faithful soldier in their family retinue for decades. But if he allows this to pass without telling the world that he condemns J Street’s activities and Baker’s support for Obama’s policies, it will taint him and his campaign. The man who would be Bush 45 has a strong record of personal support for Israel and was rightly among the first to congratulate Netanyahu on his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election. But if he keeps Baker on now, it will be difficult to argue that he can be counted upon to stand with Israel against Obama.

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