Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican Party

A Welcome Tipping Point for Republicans and the Confederate Flag

As everyone knows by now, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina lasted week, allegedly perpetrated by a racist, Dylann Roof, there have been renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds.

Among Republicans, those calls have come from prominent lawmakers from South Carolina, most especially  Governor Nikki Haley, who is playing a significant role in transforming this debate. Among those running (or are likely soon to run) for president, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry signaled early on they wanted the flag taken down. Scott Walker, after days of hesitation, then followed. So, now, has Rand Paul. (Here’s a good score card of who stands where.) Read More

As everyone knows by now, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina lasted week, allegedly perpetrated by a racist, Dylann Roof, there have been renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds.

Among Republicans, those calls have come from prominent lawmakers from South Carolina, most especially  Governor Nikki Haley, who is playing a significant role in transforming this debate. Among those running (or are likely soon to run) for president, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry signaled early on they wanted the flag taken down. Scott Walker, after days of hesitation, then followed. So, now, has Rand Paul. (Here’s a good score card of who stands where.)

Yet several others – including Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio – have said it’s a decision best left to South Carolinians. They have so far remained basically neutral when it comes to rendering a judgment on the Confederate flag.

They shouldn’t. In politics there are a lot of hard calls; this isn’t one of them.

As the old arguments in favor of allowing the Confederate flag to fly on state grounds crumble before our eyes — they already seem bizarrely antiquated — it’s worth recapitulating the reasons the debate has changed in such a decisive way. The first one has to do with the history of the Confederate flag. For all the talk from defenders of the flag who insist otherwise, it was a symbol of slavery, white supremacy, and the dissolution of the Union. The flag was fundamentally about hate, not heritage; about subjugation, not Southern ancestry. There is a reason white supremacist groups embrace the Confederate flag as their symbol, and it doesn’t have to do with its aesthetic appeal.

The second reason has to do with the history of the Republican Party. It was founded in the 1850s by anti-slavery activists and in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Its slogan in 1856 was “free labor, free land, free men.” The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was America’s “great emancipator” who freed the slaves. So the Confederate flag was never a symbol associated with the Republican Party – including in South Carolina, where the flag was first flown over the statehouse in 1962, at the request of Democrats in the state like Governor Fritz Hollings and Representative John A. May. Yet the Republican Party has somehow found a way to get itself attached to this toxic symbol of division and repression.

The third reason it’s an obvious decision to call for the Confederate flag to come down is political. Among those who have a reaction to the flag, more than three times as many  say they have a negative reaction as a positive reaction.

Beyond that, the United States is rapidly changing. It’s becoming increasingly non-white. One reason Republicans are consistently losing presidential elections is that they are doing dismally among minorities. For example, in 2012 the Republican nominee won just 17 percent of nonwhite voters. (The white share of the eligible voting population has been dropping by about two points every four years, and next year minorities may make up a record 30 percent of the vote.) Republicans are unlikely to endear themselves with this rising demographic if they refuse to take a stand against flying the Confederate flag.

There is, finally, the issue of civic comity. The Confederate flag not only represents the ugliest part of our history; it is a symbol that makes many Americans feel like outsiders in their own land, alienated from their fellow citizens. Not giving that kind of offense is a basic commitment of democratic life.

But there are still holdouts. In his appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who in 2008 finished second to John McCain in the Republican primaries delegate count, claimed the Confederate flag is not an issue for someone running for president. Governor Huckabee told host Chuck Todd, “if you can point me to an article and section of the Constitution in which a United States president ought to weigh in on what states use as symbols, then please refresh my memory on that.” Set aside the fact that people running for president weigh in on matters beyond the scope of the Constitution all the time. (A few weeks ago Huckabee spoke out on the matter of Caitlyn Jenner’s sex-change operation, an issue on which the Founders were silent.) It seemed entirely lost on Governor Huckabee that the Confederate flag was the symbol of a rebellion against and violent assault on the very Constitution Mr. Huckabee invoked.

To their credit, in just a few days a rapidly growing number of Republicans – Governor Haley and the presidential candidates I mentioned, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others, with many more to follow – have urged the Confederate flag be taken down. We’re clearly at a much-welcomed tipping point. The tragic event in Charleston, and the extraordinary grace demonstrated by the families of the victims, seems to have allowed long-standing arguments to gain traction in ways they never had before. And for those Republicans who are still agnostic or ambivalent when speaking on this issue, they need not be. They should view this as an opportunity to finally put to rest an issue that has bedeviled their party; to stand four-square against a symbol of cruelty and, in so doing, remind voters that theirs is the proud Party of Lincoln.

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Donald Trump Is a Stain on the Republican Party

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson has an excellent column eviscerating Donald Trump, who earlier this week announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Gerson’s column follows another insightful commentary, this one by our own Jonathan Tobin, who offers observations about what a Trump candidacy might mean for the Republican Party.

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The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson has an excellent column eviscerating Donald Trump, who earlier this week announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Gerson’s column follows another insightful commentary, this one by our own Jonathan Tobin, who offers observations about what a Trump candidacy might mean for the Republican Party.

I, too, worry Trump’s presence will damage the image of the Republican Party. I say that because Trump is a buffoon, a narcissist, and deeply unserious. Unfortunately his presence in the race – and especially on the debate stage, should he be invited to participate – will guarantee enormous attention. His idiocies have the potential to dominate the show, particularly since elements within the press will be eager to make him representative of the Republican Party. As Jonathan puts it, “The Todd Akin precedent here will apply in a way that it would not if Trump were merely a spectator to the presidential derby. If he’s in it, each one of his statements will be brandished by the left as a club to beat all conservatives, even if most want nothing to do with him.”

Which brings me to conservatives and Mr. Trump. In a piece published on Thursday, I argued

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.

This point helps explain the appeal Trump has to some on the right. After all, Trump is hardly a conservative on the issues. In the past he’s advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare didn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Today he attacks those who want to reform Social Security and Medicare, the main threats to our fiscal future. He was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008. As of 2011, he had given a majority of his $1.3 million political contributions to Democrats, including Harry Reid. If that wasn’t enough, Trump has a fondness for conspiracy theories, from linking autism to vaccinations to being America’s most prominent birther.

What, then, could possibly be the attraction of Trump to conservatives? For some, it seems, the attraction is found in the Trump style, which is precisely the concern. Mr. Trump’s announcement speech was rambling, vague, shallow, simplistic, insulting, ad hominem, and self-obsessed. He has no governing agenda and no governing philosophy; all he has is an attitude. And that attitude is crude and off-putting. Trump would be temperamentally and intellectually unqualified to run for the state legislature; running for president is ludicrous. But that’s where we are.

I’m not quite sure what the Republican Party and the conservative movement can do about Trump. If he polls well enough to be invited to participate in the debates, it’s hard to keep him out. Doing so might become a rallying point for him and his supporters. But here’s what I know they shouldn’t do, which is to be sympathetic towards him and his candidacy. Nor should they speak as if Trump has something to useful and constructive to offer. To say, as Fox’s Eric Bolling did, that Trump is “refreshing.” He isn’t.

Donald Trump is a stain on the Republican Party and conservatism, and leaders of the party shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

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The Worst Climate Change Canard

Foresight is a utopian goal. Even the brightest and most well-versed in their fields often fail to accurately predict the future. “Of course they do,” you might say. “Who is subjected to the unreasonable expectation that they peer into a crystal ball and anticipate future events?” Well, for starters, those with the unenviable task of keeping America safe from all manner of threats. Read More

Foresight is a utopian goal. Even the brightest and most well-versed in their fields often fail to accurately predict the future. “Of course they do,” you might say. “Who is subjected to the unreasonable expectation that they peer into a crystal ball and anticipate future events?” Well, for starters, those with the unenviable task of keeping America safe from all manner of threats.

History is brimming with predictions related to national security imperatives that were upheld as veritable canon right up until the moment they were abandoned as flawed. In just the last quarter century, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the denuclearization of South Africa, China’s rise, and the events of 9/11 and their infinite consequences all confounded the soothsayers. Prediction in the realm of defense-related issues is a fraught enterprise.

But no record of failure will keep future generations from bellying up to the table and pushing in their chips. The latest fad that has come to dominate the attentions of our would-be Cassandras is the matter of climate change, and specifically the immediate threat this phenomenon poses to American national security. Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampell is the latest to submit a classic example of partisan agitation disguised as dispassionate analysis related to this vogue subject on Thursday. She contended in that essay that the Republican 2016 presidential field, one primarily composed of various breeds of hawks, is so blinkered by their ideology that they have thus far refused to address at least one glaring national security threat: That posed by global temperature fluctuations and the chaotic weather patterns the result.

In this painfully transparent bit of political advocacy masquerading as defense analysis, Rampell praised Barack Obama’s sagacity on climate issues and scoffed at the GOP field for signing the “No Climate Tax Pledge.” In a galling and audacious effort to frame Republicans as fear-mongering cynics and climate change alarmists as sober forecasters, Rampell contended that those GOP aspirants that do not regard weather pattern shifts as a threat as grave as, say, the invasion and annexation of territory in Europe by a revanchist nuclear power, are simply “incoherent.”

“Actually it’s worse than incoherent,” she averred. “It’s an oxymoron.”

But this piece did not consist entirely of polemics. Rampell did marshal some evidence to buttress her contention that America’s defense establishment is growing ever more concerned about the threat posed by climate change. To support that conclusion, she produced the Pentagon’s 2014 “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.” Rampell noted that the DOD has dubbed climate change a potential “threat multiplier.” She added that this report, and others like it, have “warned in no uncertain terms of the severe threats” posed by climate changes.

No climate catastrophist would earn his or her stripes without deploying the vituperative and insulting claim that those who remain skeptical of the doomsday scenarios are indulging in “denialism.” The appropriation of the term, once exclusively used to describe the virulent strain of anti-Semitism that dubbed the Holocaust a myth so as to delegitimize post-War reparations to the Jewish people, has become a common form of self-validation among modern armchair climatologists. Only a few on the right would “deny” that the ever-changing climate is, in fact, changing, but many others do take issue with the notion of anthropogenic global warming or the many proposed means of addressing it. Rampell’s use of that term is as crude as it is ill-informed, but so is her citation of the Pentagon’s 2014 climate report.

There is perhaps no field of study (or commerce, as the case may be) as flawed as the climate-related catastrophic prediction market. The late 20th Century, contentions that a coming ice age and the “population bomb” would leave the planet a dystopian Hellscape by no later than the year 2000 should have shown all aspiring Malthusians the error of their ways. Unfortunately, the last generation’s example has not stopped their forbearers from staring dismally into computer models and warning of 50 million climate refugees by the year 2010 or the end of snow. The same is true of DOD predictions, some of which the Pentagon is compelled by law to make on a semi-regular basis.

Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, composed a rather brilliant dissection of the psychology and chronological constraints that render much defense-related prediction useless in his 2011 report, Driving in the Dark: Ten Propositions about Prediction and National Security. In this paper, Danzig concluded that a bureaucracy’s predictive abilities are necessarily limited. You won’t, however, hear that concession from the Pentagon. “Conceding uncertainty would weaken budgetary claims, power, and status,” Danzig noted.

“The number and diversity of variables that influence the national security environment confound multi-decade forecasting,” Danzig added. “Accurate prediction would need to anticipate changes in, among other things, technologies, economies, institutions, domestic and international politics and, of course, the nature of warfare. Each of these alone would be imponderable. Getting them all right at once is wildly improbable. Worse still, the evolution of these variables is complex and nonlinear.”

As for the Pentagon’s 2014 weather report, it is not the first Defense Department document to warn of a possible coming climate catastrophe. In 2004, the DOD issued a similar report that predicted that by now the polar ice caps would melt away every summer, low-lying parts of California and the Netherlands would flood, and global temperatures would rise by as much as half a degree per year.

“When you are looking at worst-case 10 years out, you are not trying to predict precisely what’s going to happen, but instead trying to get people to understand what could happen to motivate strategic decision-making and wake people up,” Pentagon consultant and co-author of this report, Doug Randall, told the Washington Times. “But whether the actual specifics came true, of course not. That never was the main intent.”

Rampell cites this report in her column, but she does not make note of the many frightful predictions that failed to come to pass.

And don’t expect any more climate-related reports from that other agency responsible for the preservation of American national security, the CIA. America’s intelligence establishment shuttered that project. “A CIA spokesman confirmed that the agency had ended its MEDEA program, a 1990s-era intelligence program restarted in 2010 under President Obama,” National Journal reported. “The collaboration gave scientists access to intelligence assets like satellite data to study climate change and inform on how its impacts could inflame conflicts.” That revelation comes just days after President Obama insisted that climate change is and remains “a serious threat to our country.”

Any military historian who has studied the assault on Gallipoli or the siege of Bastogne will tell you that weather is and will always be a major factor with which a military’s logistical planners must contend. But the limits to mankind’s predictive capabilities should be evident to anyone who has ever seriously studied the history of climate science. Making climate-related predictions with a preordained conclusion in mind, and a transparently political one at that, reduces the subsequent analysis to something utterly dismissible.

But more disturbing is the notion expressed by Rampell and others that the threat posed by unpredictable weather is commensurate with that represented by Beijing’s construction of artificial islands meant to serve as military bases in the South China Sea’s contested archipelagos, Moscow’s destabilization and outright invasion of its neighbors, or the Islamic State’s expansionism, terrorism, and weakening of the very idea of Westphalian sovereignty. To equate these threats with handwringing over the temperature and weather is illogical. Perhaps the impulse to equate weather with armed conflict is psychological; a means of assuaging one’s implicit guilt for being so consumed with frivolities. Maybe it is a plea of sorts — a way in which climate fanatics might stake their claim to a place at the adults’ table.

There is one thing that Rampell did prove with her brief column. There is someone in this debate that is so rigidly dogmatic that they cannot be trusted to opine with any authority on American national security affairs, but it isn’t the GOP’s 2016 field.

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The Only Iran Contradictions Are Obama’s

The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

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The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

If critics of the current Iran deal had their way, we wouldn’t roll the situation back to November 2013. Rather, we’d go back to where we were before the president discarded the enormous economic and political leverage it had over the Islamist regime when he signed off on that pact. The interim deal fundamentally altered the landscape of the negotiations because, as critics repeatedly charged at the time, for the first time the West implicitly granted an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium and to hold onto its nuclear infrastructure in a flat contradiction of past United Nations resolutions. It loosened sanctions whose enacting had taken long years of congressional debates over Obama administration objections and foot dragging from allies and frenemies like Russia and China. And it established a model by which Iran would be allowed to hold onto the considerable stockpile of enriched uranium it amassed in a form that could be easily and quickly reconverted for potential use for a bomb.

That result was obtained by a series of breathtaking concessions by the Obama administration that flatly contradicted the president’s 2012 campaign promises about Iran in which he pledged that any deal with the regime would be predicated on the end of its nuclear program. But both the president and Secretary of State Kerry claimed it was the best that could possibly be achieved because the Iranians wouldn’t agree to anything better. More than that, using the president’s trademark straw man style of argument, they asserted the only alternative to bending to the will of the ayatollahs was war. That was, of course, absurd, since the clear alternative was to stick to the tough sanctions that were in place and then tighten them further to squeeze Iran to the point where its failing economy and low oil prices would bring the regime to its knees. Once there it might be expected to be more amenable to restrictions that would actually forestall their efforts to build a bomb.

That was bad, but it was far preferable to the Iranians’ astonishing victory in the negotiations that followed. Building on past concessions extracted from the West, the Iranians are now in a position where they will be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges, their impregnable nuclear plant at Fordow, maintain their pace of nuclear research, and keep their stockpile of uranium in an agreement that will actually expire in 15 years, after which they will be free to do anything they like. Nor does this deal constrain their building of ballistic missiles that could reach the West or force them to stop supporting terrorism, threatening Israel with destruction, or undermining the stability of moderate Arab regimes. On top of that, the Iranians are making it clear they will not allow surprise inspections (the only way the West has a prayer of monitoring compliance) or open up their facilities so the United Nations can assess its progress on military use of nuclear technology, flatly contradicting the assertions about the deal made by Kerry. Compared to this debacle, the November 2013 agreement seems very stout indeed.

We are also told by the administration that the Iranians have abided by the interim deal but given the paucity of Western intelligence about the secret nuclear sites that all the parties openly concede must be there and the lack of real inspections, such assertions are at best conjectures but more likely mere wishful thinking.

Given a choice between maintaining the status quo and agreeing to a new deal that will allow the Iranians to easily cheat their way to a bomb quickly or get one by showing a bit more patience while actually abiding by it, the status quo is far more palatable. But that doesn’t mean that first retreat was wise or serve as a testimonial for a follow-up agreement that doubles down on appeasement in an unprecedented manner.

Having taken us down this road with Iran in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible to stop or even turn back to a situation where the West might regain its leverage over Iran, the administration’s apologists are in no position to claim that their opponents are being inconsistent. The problem here is not a partisan Republican opposition that will disagree with anything the president does but an administration that has piled mistake upon mistake to create a situation that isn’t easily rectified. The baseline established by the interim deal made the concessions of the current agreement inevitable. The United States would be wise to start walking back these mistakes, undeterred by false arguments about war or Iran never agreeing to a better deal. But the president is so committed to the chimera of détente with the Islamist regime he will never admit his initial mistakes. Instead, he claims they were brilliant strokes and press toadies like Milbank applaud such deceptions. The only “Iran Contradictions” here are the ones between Obama’s concessions and his promise to stop them from getting a bomb.

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Rubio’s Path Is Steep But Doable

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, the obstacles in his way are formidable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP Doesn’t Play Fair. They Back Israel.

New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

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New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

As the Times points out, it used to be the Democrats who were the pro-Israel party and Republicans were the ones who were divided on the issue. That changed in the last quarter of the 20th century as GOP leaders like Ronald Reagan (who, despite clashes with Prime Minister Menachem Begin early in his tenure, was rightly seen as a warm supporter of Israel) and the influence of evangelical voters made life difficult for Republicans who were opposed or even merely unenthusiastic about the Jewish state. By the time of George W. Bush, whose closeness to Israel was something Obama set out on his first day in office to change, the GOP was unified behind the Jewish state. Even an outlier on foreign policy like Senator Rand Paul, whose father was hostile to it, has made a concerted effort to at least appear to be pro-Israel as he attempts to make a serious bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

What the Times leaves out of their story is that the opposite trend has been happening among Democrats as polls have consistently shown lower support for Israel among them for more than 20 years.

To some on the left, like J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami, strong support for Israel and opposition to efforts to pressure it to make suicidal concessions to its foes is a sign of growing radicalism among Republicans. But, unsurprisingly, he has that backwards. By embracing Israel, Republicans have moved into the mainstream on a key foreign policy issue since most Americans feel a tremendous sense of kinship with it for a variety of reasons, including religious motivations as well as its status as America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East.

The change among Republicans distresses the J Street crowd and those even farther on the left who eschew mere pressure tactics on the Israelis and prefer to isolate it or support the efforts of those who wish to destroy it.

Other more mainstream Democrats think there’s something fishy about it since it puts them in the position of having to compete with a rival party where backing for Israel is universal while they are forced to admit that many Democrats, including the president of the United States, are not exactly fans of the Jewish state and its democratically-elected government. But their claims that Republicans are making Israel a partisan issue are false. It is the Obama administration that has sought to break up the bipartisan consensus in Congress in favor of more sanctions against Iran or support for the Netanyahu government by appealing to the partisan loyalties of Democrats.

Whereas the president is seeking to convince Democrats to be less supportive of Israel and its security, Republicans understand that putting yourself on the wrong side of the issue is politically dangerous. That’s why Jeb Bush was quick to disassociate himself from James Baker’s attacks on Israel in front of J Street, in spite of the fact that the former secretary is a faithful Bush family retainer.

This doesn’t mean that there still aren’t Democrats who back Israel though they have been awfully quiet about the way the president has been bashing Netanyahu and the Israeli electorate in the last week. But what it does mean is that there is no use pretending that the bulk of the two parties are united on the issue. As the Times reports, there’s no longer much room in the GOP for opponents of Israel. At the same time, President Obama has transformed the Democrats from a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment to the home of most of its most vicious critics. Supporters of Israel, no matter their partisan affiliation, should be delighted about the former and deeply worried abou the latter. If voters are noticing the difference it isn’t because the GOP is acting unfairly. It’s because some of the most important Democrats in the country have abandoned Israel.

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Who Turned Israel Into a Political Football?

In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

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In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

Rep. Israel is a member of the Democrats’ House leadership team and a fervent partisan so it is to be expected that his instincts always seek to put the president and his party in the best possible light. But what he is doing here is more than just following White House talking points. This is a diversionary effort intended to distract otherwise pro-Israel Democrats from the fact that their party has been hijacked by an administration that has, from its first moments in office, sought to distance the U.S. from its Israeli ally.

In our COMMENTARY editorial on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations that President Obama has precipitated we discuss at length the history of the administration’s behavior toward the Jewish state. Suffice it to say the quarrel between the two governments didn’t begin when Netanyahu decided to accept an invitation to address Congress on the nuclear threat form Iran. The prime minister’s choice to give an address criticizing the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran gave the White House a chance to divert attention from their indefensible policy. For weeks, the issue because Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol and not a decision by the president to offer Iran a deal that will enable it to keep its nuclear program, breaking his 2012 reelection campaign promise.

The purpose of this tactic was not so much to encourage Democrats to boycott Netanyahu’s speech (something only a few dozen of them wound up doing) but to persuade some of them to abandon their support for increased sanctions on Iran. Up until this January, backing for more Iran sanctions that are intended to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear talks was overwhelming and bipartisan in nature. But the president sought to use party loyalty as leverage to get Democrats to break up that bipartisan consensus and oppose a strong stand on Iran.

If that was not bad enough, Netanyahu’s win last week set off an administration temper tantrum that seemed aimed at downgrading the alliance with America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Yet the response from congressional Democrats was, with few exceptions, silence.

In his Politico article, Rep. Israel rightly cites instances in the past when Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took stands that were opposed by the pro-Israel community. But what happened in response to those lamentable events puts the current position of most Democrats in a very unflattering light. At those times, pro-Israel Republicans did not hesitate to publicly criticize the head of their party. In the case of the elder Bush, his clash with AIPAC over loan guarantees to the state of Israel prompted a crisis among Jewish Republicans, causing them to abandon him in the 1992 presidential election as he received the lowest vote total for a GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater.

But, with a few notable exceptions, Democrats have reacted to Obama’s verbal assaults and whitewashing of Palestinian intransigence (the true obstacle to peace in the Middle East) by either keeping quiet or actually taking sides with the administration against the pro-Israel community. When faced with the demands of partisanship or their principles, most Democrats have done as Rep. Israel did and stood with Obama even as he fecklessly pursued a weak and dangerous nuclear deal with Iran and engaged in a personal vendetta against the democratically elected government of the Jewish state.

Rep. Israel’s response to this discouraging spectacle is not some much needed introspection about the failure of his party to stand up to the president but an attempt to blame it all on Republicans. To his way of thinking, the problem isn’t that a Democratic president is abandoning Israel and embracing Iran, but that some Republicans have noticed that many rank and file Democrats don’t seem to have a problem with any of this.

The congressman is right that no one ought to question his personal love for the Jewish state with which he shares a name. Nor should anyone on the right jump to the conclusion that all Democrats no longer care about Israel. Though polls have shown far greater levels of support for Israel among Republicans than Democrats for the last two decades (a trend that long predated the Obama-Netanyahu feud), a clear majority of those who identify with the party of Jefferson and Jackson still back the Jewish state.

The problem here is partisanship, but not one caused by the Republicans. The unwillingness of most Democrats to tell the president that they won’t tolerate his attacks and threats being aimed at Israel may mark a turning point in the history of their party. Faced with a choice between an Obama administration that has gone off the tracks on Israel and Iran, Democrats are not speaking up, as they should. When partisans like Rep. Israel demand that loyal Democrats back the president on Iran and the peace process, he is the one that is turning the Jewish state into a political football, not his Republican opponents who haven’t hesitated to oppose the administration. If he wants to prove his pro-Israel bona fides, Rep. Israel needs to start criticizing the president, not the GOP.

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Is There a Realistic Ted Cruz Scenario?

A broad cross-section of Republican officeholders, major donors and conservative pundits are agreed on one thing: Ted Cruz has no chance to be elected president. The junior senator from Texas marked the fifth anniversary of the signing of ObamaCare by announcing his candidacy for the presidency today at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia and no one in the chattering classes thinks he has a prayer of being sworn into office as commander-in-chief in January 2017. Just about everyone thinks his positions on the issues are too extreme and that his advocacy of the 2013 government shutdown and the complete antipathy of the rest of the Senate and the party establishment make it impossible for him to win. Even those who sympathize with his politics tend to agree that he just isn’t likeable enough to gain his party’s nomination, let alone win a general election against a Democrat. But his detractors need to understand something. As his announcement this morning showed us, he is a fabulous speaker and a dynamic personality with a unique appeal. The scenario that Cruz is hoping will make him the GOP nominee may be a very shot indeed but it is not crazy.

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A broad cross-section of Republican officeholders, major donors and conservative pundits are agreed on one thing: Ted Cruz has no chance to be elected president. The junior senator from Texas marked the fifth anniversary of the signing of ObamaCare by announcing his candidacy for the presidency today at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia and no one in the chattering classes thinks he has a prayer of being sworn into office as commander-in-chief in January 2017. Just about everyone thinks his positions on the issues are too extreme and that his advocacy of the 2013 government shutdown and the complete antipathy of the rest of the Senate and the party establishment make it impossible for him to win. Even those who sympathize with his politics tend to agree that he just isn’t likeable enough to gain his party’s nomination, let alone win a general election against a Democrat. But his detractors need to understand something. As his announcement this morning showed us, he is a fabulous speaker and a dynamic personality with a unique appeal. The scenario that Cruz is hoping will make him the GOP nominee may be a very shot indeed but it is not crazy.

When stacked against those of his Republican competitors, it’s easy to see why few think the Texan has much of a chance. The party elites that are, as Nate Cohn rightly points out in his New York Times Upshot column about Cruz today, still important to winning nominations, are united in their opposition to him. He will raise money but nowhere near as much as Jeb Bush or even other conservatives like Scott Walker. Nor can he claim to be the sole candidate seeking to appeal to Tea Party conservatives, who tend to adore him, or even the evangelicals that he is courting by announcing at the school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Cruz is also widely hated by most of his Senate colleagues and tends not to come across as a guy most people would want to have a beer with. Last week’s viral story about Cruz supposedly scaring a little girl at a New Hampshire event was inaccurate and unfair. If anything, a look at the tape of the encounter showed him to be sensitive and actually quite caring about the child’s reaction to his rhetoric about President Obama setting the world on fire. But it resonated because that is how most adults, Republicans and Democrats alike, tend to think about him. Indeed, I think the likeability factor is a much more important obstacle for Cruz to overcome than his ideology. As a recent Wall Street Journal poll illustrated, the number of those who can envision supporting him barely outnumber those who say they can never back him.

But even if admit up front that Cruz’s path to victory is as steep as can be imagined, the party establishment and others that loathe him would still be foolish to underestimate him or his power to play a serious role in the GOP race.

If there is anything that we have learned about him in the two and a half years since he began throwing bombs in the Senate and upsetting his colleagues, it is that Cruz is utterly undaunted by criticism or long odds. In the view of more moderate conservatives, that makes him unwilling to listen to common sense. But it also gives him a certain power that more realistic figures lack. You may think Ted Cruz is over-the-top but he does not care.

He brings to the race certain strengths that his rivals lack. As I noted backed in December, “If you’re going to make comparisons to 2012 candidates, imagine someone with the folksiness of Rick Perry (albeit in a Cuban Texan version), the passion of Santorum on populist and social conservative issues, the debating skill of Newt Gingrich, and the wonkish grasp of details of a Mitt Romney and you have a fair idea of what Cruz brings to the table.”

Though debates will not be as ubiquitous this time as they were in 2012, they will still be crucial. Cruz’s ability to eviscerate opponents is something his opponents should fear. Nor is he, despite his embrace of suicidal tactics like the shutdown, someone who will embrace crackpot positions on vaccines or show ignorance about foreign policy.

Jeb Bush is the darling of the establishment. Scott Walker is in a sweet spot that can embrace the party establishment, Tea Partiers and evangelicals. Rand Paul has the libertarians. Marco Rubio is the strongest voice on foreign policy and can also appeal to both wings of the party. Mike Huckabee will compete with him for the populist vote and Rick Santorum for religious conservatives. Others will have their own strengths. But the sheer size and strength of this field (especially compared to 2012) makes is more likely that someone we now consider an outlier may break through. Cruz isn’t likely to be the one who will do so but neither is it insane to think that he might. Others also face long odds, but few have his potent political skills.

The problem for those writing off Cruz’s candidacy as absurd is that the very same factors that make him so unappealing to his Senate colleagues and the party establishment can endear him to grassroots voters. He may be inexperienced in office with only two years in the Senate on his resume but he is also untainted by the compromises that responsible officials must make because he has never compromised on any issue. If Cruz can tap into the Tea Party base and become its standard bearer, he will be a formidable candidate in the early primary states. After that, it will be anyone’s game. Right now, that’s about as realistic a scenario as any of his competitors can claim.

None of that changes the fact that it is hard to see how he could win a general election and Republicans who want to win are not only never going to consider him but will move heaven and earth to stop him if he does get close to the nomination. But they should not assume that this is a possibility they’ll never have to contemplate. The Ted Cruz scenario for Republicans is a very long shot but those chuckling about his early announcement are making assumptions that the party base may not back up.

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Will Democrats Challenge Obama on Israel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The GOP Needs to Make Inroads in the Big 10 States

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

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

According to Mr. Rothenberg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iran and the Perils of One-Man Rule

The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leadership is provoking predictable cries of outrage from liberals and Democrats. Obama administration supporters are decrying the missive as a blatant attempt to sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. By warning Tehran that any deal approved by President Obama may be revoked by his successor after January 2017, the GOP caucus is opening itself up to charges of extending partisan warfare to foreign policy. But the letter, intended as much as a shot fired over the bow of the president as it was a lesson in the U.S. Constitution for the ayatollahs, made an important point. No matter what you think about the administration’s blatant push for détente with the Islamist regime, the president’s plans to craft an agreement that will not be submitted to Congress for approval means the senators are correct about its status in law. More importantly, they are highlighting an issue that transcends the nuclear question, even though that is a matter of life and death. A president that seeks to ignore the constitutional separation of powers cannot complain when his critics point out that his fiats cannot be expected to stand the test of time.

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The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leadership is provoking predictable cries of outrage from liberals and Democrats. Obama administration supporters are decrying the missive as a blatant attempt to sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. By warning Tehran that any deal approved by President Obama may be revoked by his successor after January 2017, the GOP caucus is opening itself up to charges of extending partisan warfare to foreign policy. But the letter, intended as much as a shot fired over the bow of the president as it was a lesson in the U.S. Constitution for the ayatollahs, made an important point. No matter what you think about the administration’s blatant push for détente with the Islamist regime, the president’s plans to craft an agreement that will not be submitted to Congress for approval means the senators are correct about its status in law. More importantly, they are highlighting an issue that transcends the nuclear question, even though that is a matter of life and death. A president that seeks to ignore the constitutional separation of powers cannot complain when his critics point out that his fiats cannot be expected to stand the test of time.

The impact of the letter on the Iranians is a matter of speculation. The Islamist regime needs no instructions from Republicans about how to protect their interests as they’ve been successfully stringing along Western governments for more than a decade in nuclear negotiations. In particular, they have scored a series of diplomatic triumphs at the expense of the United States as President Obama has abandoned his past insistence that Iran give up its nuclear program and instead offered concession after concession to the point where the deal that is being offered to the regime is one that will let them keep their infrastructure and will “sunset” restrictions on it. If they truly intend to take advantage of this craven retreat by the putative leader of the free world as opposed to more prevarication until the clock runs out on their march to a weapon, then nothing his Republican opponents say are likely to scare them out of it.

Moreover, the Iranians may believe that the same dynamic that has worked in their favor during the course of the negotiations may similarly ease their fears once such a bad deal is in place. Even a Republican president who has campaigned against appeasement of Iran and understands the dangers of an agreement that will make it possible for Iran to get a bomb either by cheating or, even worse, by abiding by its terms, will be hard-pressed to reverse it. America’s allies will fight tooth and nail against re-imposition of sanctions on an Iran that they want to do business with no matter what that terror-supporting regime is cooking up.

The campaign against reversal will also center on the straw-man arguments used by the president and his apologists to bolster their effort to appease Iran. We will be told that the only alternative to a deal that allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power is war and not the return to tough sanctions and hard-headed diplomacy that President Obama jettisoned in his zeal for a deal.

But by planning to bypass Congress and treat his pact with Iran as merely an executive decision over which the legislative branch has no say, the president is steering into uncharted waters. Like his executive orders giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants that usurp the power of Congress to alter laws governing this issue, a nuclear deal that is not ratified by the Senate, as all treaties must be, can be treated as a presidential whim that is not binding on his successors. If it can be put into effect with only the stroke of a pen, it can just as easily be undone by a similar stroke from another president.

The difficulty of undertaking such a revision should not be underestimated. No president will lightly reverse a foreign-policy decision with such serious implications lightly. That is why an agreement that grants Western approval to Iran’s nuclear ambitions is so dangerous. That it is part of a comprehensive approach to Iran that, despite last week’s disclaimers issued by Secretary of State John Kerry, indicates that the U.S. is prepared to accept the regime’s efforts to achieve regional hegemony makes it even more perilous. Congress needs to act soon to both impose tougher sanctions on Iran and to ensure that any deal must be submitted to it for approval.

But Iran still had to be put on notice that a deal that is not approved by Congress can and should be reversed by the next president. One-man rule may make sense in Tehran, but not here. This is not a question of partisanship but a defense of both the Constitution and the security of the nation. The Iranians should know that this deal is unpopular and will have no legitimacy without congressional ratification. Rather than sabotaging diplomacy, the letter is necessary pressure on the president to remember his oath to preserve the Constitution rather than to recklessly risk the country’s safety on Iranian détente.

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Republicans Who Are Rising to the Challenge

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 72 percent of those polled say that, in general, the government’s policies since the recession have done little or nothing to help middle class people. This isn’t surprising, since median household income actually decreased after the official end of the recession in the summer of 2009. As many of us have argued before, the middle class is feeling anxious, insecure and uneasy — and they are right to feel that way.

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A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 72 percent of those polled say that, in general, the government’s policies since the recession have done little or nothing to help middle class people. This isn’t surprising, since median household income actually decreased after the official end of the recession in the summer of 2009. As many of us have argued before, the middle class is feeling anxious, insecure and uneasy — and they are right to feel that way.

This unhappiness provides Republicans with an opportunity — and two senators, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio, are stepping up at just the right time. Senators Lee and Rubio, the Tea Party’s great gifts to American politics, have put forward an outstanding tax plan. As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin writes in summarizing the plan, it would:

  • Cut the business tax rate to 25 percent (including for all pass-through business income, so that large and small businesses pay the same rate);
  • End the taxation of capital gains, dividends, and interest;
  • Allow businesses to deduct capital investments from their taxable income immediately rather than over time;
  • Consolidate today’s seven tax brackets into two brackets at a 15 percent and 35 percent rate (although business income would be taxed at 25 percent and income from savings would not be taxed);
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax and most of the deductions in the code (leaving only the charitable deduction and a capped mortgage interest deduction that would both be available to all taxpayers, not just those who itemize); and
  • Replace today’s standard deduction with a $2,000 individual ($4,000 per married couple) credit, end the marriage penalty in the tax code, and provide a new $2,500 per child credit (alongside the existing $1,000 credit, which phases out with income).

There’s more to it than that, of course, and there are still important matters still to be determined, most especially the details of the cap on mortgage interest deductions (meaning the design and level of the cap). But the key thing to take away from this effort, I think, is that it would lesson the tax burden on working families and businesses, and in doing so provide help to the middle class and promote economic growth.

“Our hope here isn’t to pick winners and losers. Our hope here is to trigger economic growth,” Senator Rubio told reporters. He added that he believes “the vast majority of Americans” would see tax cuts if the plan was implemented.

This is a model approach for Republicans, whether they are running for president, the House or Senate, governor, or state legislator: To put forward ideas that are substantive and specific, bold, and address to the needs and challenges of our time. By which I mean they will actually and materially improve the conditions of ordinary Americans.

Too often these days politics is about theatrics, about silly threats, banalities and rhetorical recklessness. What Senators Lee and Rubio have done is to provide something of an antidote to this. Like others — Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence and many more — these are serious individuals promoting good (conservative) ideas in a responsible fashion, and in a way that will appeal to voters. It’s a powerful contrast to the Democratic Party, which is reactionary, tired, increasingly bitter and out of ideas.

These are politically interesting times we’re in — and for conservatives, increasingly hopeful ones.

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Who’s Shutting Down DHS? Democrats!

With only hours to go before the deadline for a Department of Homeland Security shutdown expired, a last minute compromise attempt to continue the funding failed late Friday afternoon. After the Senate passed a temporary spending bill to fund DHS, the House took up a measure that would keep the money flowing for three weeks until a more permanent solution can be found. But though the White House and the rest of the Democratic Party have been citing Republican efforts to stop funding those parts of the DHS budget that enable President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens as the cause of the shutdown, when push came to shove it was the Democrats who voted overwhelming against the compromise that could have ended the standoff. Though efforts to try again may continue through the evening and the weekend, the House vote showed that the Democratic talking points about the GOP being the party of obstruction that has been endlessly repeated by the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section is a transparent lie.

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With only hours to go before the deadline for a Department of Homeland Security shutdown expired, a last minute compromise attempt to continue the funding failed late Friday afternoon. After the Senate passed a temporary spending bill to fund DHS, the House took up a measure that would keep the money flowing for three weeks until a more permanent solution can be found. But though the White House and the rest of the Democratic Party have been citing Republican efforts to stop funding those parts of the DHS budget that enable President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens as the cause of the shutdown, when push came to shove it was the Democrats who voted overwhelming against the compromise that could have ended the standoff. Though efforts to try again may continue through the evening and the weekend, the House vote showed that the Democratic talking points about the GOP being the party of obstruction that has been endlessly repeated by the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section is a transparent lie.

The vote on the compromise plan was a narrow defeat for the proposal put forward by House Speaker John Boehner. But while there were significant Republican defections from their leadership’s proposal, the reason the measure failed was due to the Democrats. Republicans supported the funding by a margin of 192 to 50. But Democrats opposed it by a 172-12 vote.

Why did the Democrats who have been accusing Republicans of playing politics with funding for DHS at a time when the terrorist threat from ISIS and its sympathizers is so great vote no? The answer is simple. They were playing politics.

Rather than accept a compromise that would have kept the department funded, they chose to grandstand in favor of a bill that would have extended throughout the fiscal year. That’s their privilege but if the goal here was to ensure that DHS is funded while the leaders decide on a permanent solution to a problem created by the president’s extralegal end run around Congress on illegal immigration, then their stunt failed miserably.

The point here isn’t to say that Republicans were not doing their own grandstanding as 50 GOP members also voted no because they want no funding of DHS so long as the executive orders stand. But with almost all the Democratic caucus decided to play “chicken” with the majority and thus run the risk of defunding DHS when a compromise was there to be passed, the mainstream media’s favorite theme about Republican obstructionism just became obsolete.

Neither side is without blame in this standoff. The notion that the Republicans who are standing on principle as they seek to use their power of the purse to defund the amnesty program are the extremists while the Democrats are the adults in the room has always been pure partisan bunk. By refusing to compromise on his executive orders, the president is just as guilty of pushing the nation to the brink over DHS funding as the Republicans.

But by torpedoing a measure that would have kept the money flowing to DHS — the thing that Democrats have been telling us is the only thing that matters — the president’s party revealed themselves to be just as cynical and mindlessly partisan as anyone on the other side of the aisle. If anything, they are far worse because they are hypocrites for decrying obstructionism while acting as the prime force behind today’s gridlock spectacle. If Republicans can be smeared as “terrorists” for holding the budget hostage to make their political points, what do we call Democrats who do the same thing?

This may not stop liberals from using the same tired meme about Congressional Republicans in the future. But if they do, honest observers will remember the DHS shutdown that illustrated just how specious Democratic claims of innocence truly are.

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RE: The GOP has an Image Problem with the Middle Class

I totally agree with Pete that the GOP has an image problem, as revealed by the Pew polling data:

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I totally agree with Pete that the GOP has an image problem, as revealed by the Pew polling data:

About these findings, I’d say several things, the first of which is that Republicans would be foolish to ignore the findings or respond defensively to them. Many Republicans will of course feel these impressions are unfair, the product of biased media coverage and so forth. But they need to understand how voters see the GOP, since accepting there’s a problem is the first step toward correcting it.

As I wrote recently, Republicans should most definitely not be defensive in dealing with the mainstream media and its unrelenting bias. As Glenn Reynolds says, “Punch back twice as hard.” Be in their face, treat them contemptuously when they deserve contempt and challenge them to be fair and balanced (to coin a phrase). But do it, like Ronald Reagan, with a smile. That little rueful nod of the head Reagan perfected, (along with the immortal, “well, there you go again” that so gently, but thoroughly, eviscerated Jimmy Carter at their only debate) would go a long way towards punching back without being either nasty or angry.

Republican politicians need to always keep in mind that 1) Republicans are now the majority party, 2) their ideas are newer and far more in sync with the world of today than are the ideas of the Democrats (and the MSM) that hark back to the glory days of FDR and LBJ, 3) they are the party of the individual and the American dream, while the Democrats are more and more the party of the superrich, ever-expanding government (and thus taxes) and government dependency, 4) Republicans are the party of reform and renewal, the Democrats are the party of the status quo, Republicans are the party of tomorrow, the Democrats the party of yesterday.

But not just individual Republicans should act on these principles, so should the party as a whole. A program, starting soon, of image advertising, would do much to change the party’s image with the voters. Corporations have effectively used image advertising, not to sell a particular product but the corporation itself, for decades. So should the Republican Party.

As a neat little dividend, it would drive the MSM absolutely around the bend to have to run such ads in the midst of the evening news programs and Sunday talk shows. It might even make them clean up their acts a bit.

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Another Unforced Error for Netanyahu

What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

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What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

As his official response indicates, it is likely that the prime minister’s office saw the invitation as a trap rather than an opportunity to counter the White House spin of his speech as the Israeli government taking sides with Republicans against the White House on the question of Iran sanctions. Since he rightly believes that speaking to Congress about the dangers from Iran’s nuclear program and the need for increased sanctions is an issue that transcends partisan loyalties, Netanyahu may have thought that accepting the invite from the Democrats would have been a tacit admission that he had erred in cooking up the speech with Boehner.

He may have been right about that. But, once again, the prime minister and his advisors—people who have a better grasp of Washington culture than most Israelis—have gotten so deep into the issue that they’ve lost sight of political reality. Rightly or wrongly, the speech to Congress is widely seen as a Netanyahu attack on Obama that is resented even by Democrats who agree with the prime minister and disagree with the president on Iran sanctions and the direction of the negotiations with Tehran. Rather than viewing the invitation from the Senate Democrats negatively, he should have taken it as an opportunity to prove that he had no interest in playing one party against another. If there were a problem with the perception of him meeting with one group of senators—something that is far from unprecedented—it wouldn’t have been too hard to persuade Republicans to meet with him too.

Instead, by stubbornly sticking to his narrative about the speech to Congress and ignoring the need to acknowledge that the story has gotten away from him, Netanyahu has done more damage to his reputation and, once again, assisted the administration’s efforts to brand him as a disruptive force within the alliance. Just at the moment when it seemed the discussion was shifting from one about the prime minister’s chutzpah to the latest dangerous round of concessions being offered to Iran by the president, we get another news cycle in which the focus is on Netanyahu’s incompetent management of relations with people who should be his allies in Congress.

Acknowledging this latest blunder doesn’t mean that Netanyahu’s position on Iran isn’t correct. The administration’s reported offer of a ten-year freeze with Tehran that would grant Western approval not only for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but its eventual acquisition of a weapon is a betrayal of the president’s 2008 and 2012 campaign pledges on the issue. Though some were accusing Israel of making up stories about the talks in order to discredit the diplomatic process, it now appears that the worst fears about Obama’s push for détente with Iran are coming true. Rather than stopping Iran, the administration’s priority is making common cause with it to the detriment of the security of both America’s moderate Arab allies and the Jewish state.

This is the moment when the bipartisan pro-Israel community in this country should be uniting behind a push for more sanctions on Iran and opposition to appeasement of its nuclear ambitions. But by walking right into Obama’s trap, Netanyahu has reduced the chances of passing sanctions by a veto-proof majority. And by doubling down on this by refusing to meet with Senate Democrats, he has ensured that his speech will continue to be interpreted through a partisan lens rather than as a necessary cry of alarm that should be taken up by both parties.

It’s possible that, as I wrote yesterday, the duel with the White House may actually be helping Netanyahu in his reelection fight at home since it puts Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog in the unenviable position of being the Israeli ally of a president that is rightly viewed with suspicion by most voters in the Jewish state. But you don’t have to sympathize with either Obama or Herzog to understand that Netanyahu’s blunders are deepening the divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel just at the moment when he should be redoubling his efforts to bridge them.

In the first six years of this administration, Netanyahu was roundly abused in the American press for his arguments with the president. But on the whole he conducted himself with dignity and strength and was rarely outmaneuvered. But in the last two months, Netanyahu has not been able to get out of his own way when it comes to managing relations with Congress or the White House. It may be too late for him to step back from the speech. But it isn’t too late to try and rectify the harm he is doing by rethinking his rejection of the Democrats’ invitation.

I don’t know exactly who is advising him to make these unforced errors but whoever it is, they should be fired or ignored in the future. Whether or not Netanyahu is reelected next month, the next prime minister of Israel is going to need both Republicans and Democrats in the years to come to maintain the alliance and to manage the growing threat from Iran that Obama is encouraging rather than stopping. Much to my surprise and others who thought him a brilliant political operator, Netanyahu seems to have forgotten that.

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GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap

With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

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With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

Let’s specify that Tea Partiers and other GOP stalwarts are right to be outraged about the president’s end-run around the Constitution. The notion that a president has the right to legislate on his own simply because he says he gave Congress time to do what he wanted it to do and must now act since they failed to is absurd as well as reflecting contempt for the rule of law. Regardless of one’s views about the need for immigration reform, the president’s actions constitute an ominous precedent that presage a constitutional crisis as the executive branch runs roughshod over the normal order of government. Indeed, even many Democrats said as much last fall prior to the orders, especially those up for reelection.

But simply because something is wrong and should be stopped doesn’t necessarily mean there is a way to do it that is politically palatable. The orders were given in a way that there is no option for halting their implementation other than defunding the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which now falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The courts may rule in favor of the 26 states that have sued to halt Obama’s orders. The decision of one federal judge in Texas in favor of that suit has, at least temporarily, stopped Obama in his tracks. But unless that track works—and it is likely that it won’t—the only alternative is defunding DHS.

It is true that Republicans are attempting to keep the rest of Homeland Security operating while preventing INS from doing the president’s will with respect to amnesty. But with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.

While most Americans don’t like the idea of government shutdowns under any circumstances, furloughs for DHS employees right now is about the worst political idea anyone in Washington could come up with. The GOP could probably get away with shutting down the Department of Education or Housing or Health, Education, and Welfare or any number of other federal bureaucracies and not be hurt by it. But defunding DHS at a time of rising concern about terrorism is a political loser as well as arguably very bad policy. It not only creates another liberal narrative about Republican obstructionists trying to stop the government from operating. It also allows the president to change the subject from his lack of a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS to the old tried-and-true meme about Republicans blowing up the government.

Conservatives are right that this isn’t fair. A principled stand by the GOP against Obama’s executive orders isn’t anymore extremist than the Democrats’ refusal to compromise or step back from amnesty. The assumption that Republicans should be blamed for a shutdown is based on biased media reporting that reflects Democratic talking points. Unfortunately, the public seems to have bought it, in no small measure because the GOP’s small-government philosophy seems to make it more likely to act as if the government does deserve to be blown up.

But fair or unfair, it is a matter of political reality. As even Senator Marco Rubio noted today, shutting down DHS is simply unthinkable right now. Thus, the GOP should swallow hard and follow McConnell’s plan by passing a “clean” funding bill for DHS and then having a separate vote on a measure to stop the executive orders that will inevitably fail. If the House balks, it won’t matter that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for starting the fight with the orders and then filibustering a GOP bill to fund DHS.

Such an outcome is frustrating for party activists that turned out and elected a Republican Senate as well as a GOP-run House. But as infuriating as it may be, they need to realize that the only way to rescind those orders is going to mean electing a Republican president of the United States. And that is a prospect that will be less likely if they wind up shutting down DHS and further damaging their brand as a party at time when they should be gaining ground at the Democrats’ expense on foreign policy.

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Don’t Blame Bibi for Decline in Democrats’ Support for Israel

Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

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Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

The poll, which was taken from February 8-11, just as the furor over the Netanyahu speech was gaining steam, should reassure Israelis and their American friends that the doom-and-gloom scenarios about the collapse of U.S. support for the Jewish state in what is proving to be a very difficult second presidential term for Barack Obama are, at best, overstated. The poll showed that even after the shellacking it took in the press last summer during the Gaza war and the opprobrium that has been directed at Netanyahu personally in the last month, a whopping 70 percent of Americans still view Israel favorably or mostly favorably. Considering that 72 percent gave the same answer in February 2014, it’s clear that strong public support for Israel has hardly budged in spite of a very difficult year. By contrast, only 17 percent of Americans view the Palestinians favorably or mostly favorably, a number that has declined two percent in the last year.

When the question is asked slightly differently, in terms of which side one sympathizes with–the Israelis or the Palestinians–the results aren’t much different. Since the Palestinians’ plight naturally evokes sympathy irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict, you’d think the numbers would swing toward them. But that isn’t the case. The results show that 62 percent of Americans sympathize with the Israelis and 16 percent with the Palestinians. A year ago that result was 62-18 percent.

But the bad news for friends of Israel is the fact that the overwhelming backing for the Jewish state isn’t entirely bipartisan. Though both congressional parties are largely united in their approval for Israel, there is a marked difference when it comes to members of the public who identity with either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Republicans support Israel by an enormous margin with fully 83 percent of them aligning themselves with the Jewish state. By contrast, only 48 percent of Democrats are pro-Israel with independents at 59 percent.

It is true that Democratic support has dipped considerably in the last year. In 2014, 78 percent of Republicans were pro-Israel while 55 percent of Democrats viewed in favorably. That five-percent boost for the GOP and seven-percent dip for the Democrats might be attributed to the actions of Obama and Netanyahu. But before you jump to those conclusions, it’s important to put these numbers in the context of a decades-long trend that has showed a steady increase in GOP backing for Israel while Democrats have been consistently less enthusiastic about it.

In 1988, long before the current debates about Iran, disrespect for Obama, or Netanyahu’s chutzpah, only 42 percent of Democrats viewed Israel favorably while 47 percent of Republicans did so. Since then, the numbers have varied at times. But since 2001, Republican support has moved steadily upward to its current position above the 80 percent mark. At the same time, the figures for the Democrats have always lagged far behind. Though the Obama-Netanyahu dustup may have alienated some Democrats, put in the perspective of the last 25 years, it is barely a blip on the radar screen.

What causes more liberal voters who call themselves Democrats to think less well of Israel than conservatives and Republicans? That is a complex question to which there are no easy answers. Perhaps some buy in to the canard that Israel is a vestige of imperialism, rather than the expression of a national liberation movement for the Jews. It’s possible the views of Democrats are influenced more by the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media than Republicans, who largely ignore the tilt of the press on most issues.

But whatever the reason, the lack of sympathy for Israel on the part of many Democrats is no secret. The appalling spectacle at their 2012 national convention when a clear majority of those on the floor expressed opposition to pro-Israel resolutions were being pushed through is just a tangible example of the hostility that many on the left have for Zionism. With intellectual elites in academia and the mainline Protestant churches embracing economic warfare against Israel in the form of BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—resolutions, it is little surprise that the party such groups have more influence over would see Israel in a bad light.

These numbers don’t negate the fact that a plurality of Democrats back Israel and that some of their stalwarts in the House and the Senate are its most able advocates. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who personally stood up to President Obama to object to his slanders against pro-Israel members of Congress, is just one example.

But however you want to spin it, there’s no getting around the fact that Republicans are far more likely to be pro-Israel than Democrats and that this long predates any squabbles about the Netanyahu speech. If pro-Israel Democrats don’t like the notion that the Israelis seem to be more in sync with Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner than with the president, the fault lies with their party, not the Jewish state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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Who’s the Real Extremist? Obama or GOP?

The prevalent narrative of Washington politics over the last two years has been one in which Republican hardliners have consistently torpedoed efforts to reconcile the two parties. The Tea Party has been the scapegoat for D.C. gridlock as efforts to derail ObamaCare and other aspects of President Obama’s agenda have been highlighted as proof of this faction’s disdain for compromise and any notion of accommodation with those across the political aisle. Their suicidal charge into the government shutdown in the fall of 2013 was treated, perhaps not unfairly, as not only evidence of a lack of political judgment but also their disdain for the notion of governance itself. But by presenting a political agenda tonight in his State of the Union speech that is as ideological and divorced from political reality as anything cooked up by bitter-end Tea Partiers like Rep. Louis Gohmert, President Obama will demonstrate that it is not just the GOP that must cope with extremists. The Democrats’ obstructionists are not their House backbenchers. Rather, it is their leader who is most determined to widen the divide between the parties and make Washington ungovernable.

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The prevalent narrative of Washington politics over the last two years has been one in which Republican hardliners have consistently torpedoed efforts to reconcile the two parties. The Tea Party has been the scapegoat for D.C. gridlock as efforts to derail ObamaCare and other aspects of President Obama’s agenda have been highlighted as proof of this faction’s disdain for compromise and any notion of accommodation with those across the political aisle. Their suicidal charge into the government shutdown in the fall of 2013 was treated, perhaps not unfairly, as not only evidence of a lack of political judgment but also their disdain for the notion of governance itself. But by presenting a political agenda tonight in his State of the Union speech that is as ideological and divorced from political reality as anything cooked up by bitter-end Tea Partiers like Rep. Louis Gohmert, President Obama will demonstrate that it is not just the GOP that must cope with extremists. The Democrats’ obstructionists are not their House backbenchers. Rather, it is their leader who is most determined to widen the divide between the parties and make Washington ungovernable.

Much will be written today and tomorrow about the president’s “Robin Hood” tax plan in which the wealthy will be taxed to supposedly benefit the middle class, even though the details of his scheme reveals that many of those who are not rich will also bear the burden of this plan. Though couched in fresh rhetoric about inequality, the entire package must be understood as nothing more than recycled class warfare and big government tax and spend policies familiar to Americans from generations of failed liberal experiments.

Some see this new populism as an attempt by the president to invest his new and more favorable poll ratings so as to put the new GOP Congress on the defensive. This will transform him from a pure lame-duck president to one who will be able to thwart the legislative branch in any effort to put forth a Republican vision for the country. Others less convincingly see it as a trial run for the ideas that could help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, a theory that ignores Obama’s egoism, a characteristic that must be taken into account when discussing anything done by the White House.

But no matter what the reasons for this strategy or whether, as liberals hope, it will serve as the foundation for future debates in their efforts to turn back the page to the era of unabashed big government and income redistribution efforts, Obama’s decision to tack hard to the left must also be seen in the context of the ongoing discussion about how to make Washington less dysfunctional.

Let’s be frank. If Tea Partiers were bashed for prizing their ideological purity over the obligation to work for consensus and compromise, what then should we think about a president who is equally unconcerned with working with a Republican Congress?

Nobody expects Obama to present Congress with a conservative wish list or to bow down to GOP demands on issues where he disagrees. But by presenting his own wish list that is as ideologically extreme as anything uttered by Ted Cruz, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that he is as unconcerned with compromise as that firebrand. So why isn’t his agenda being viewed in the same light as that of the Tea Party?

First of all, he’s the president and there’s a big difference between presenting a set of proposals from the bully pulpit of the State of the Union address and one put forward by a mere representative or senator. The president is in a unique position to steer the debate and it is only natural that he be given a certain degree of deference to do that.

But the president’s proposals aren’t merely a statement of his vision for the country. They are a salvo fired in the direction of a Congress that was just elected to pursue a completely different vision. Better presidents than Barack Obama have been presented with similarly difficult positions and responded, as did Bill Clinton, with an attempt to find common ground rather than a slap in the face. Rather than laying the foundation for the election of a second President Clinton or bolstering a legacy that is mere ephemera, the only real purpose of this raft of tax and spend ideas is to win the current news cycle and discomfit his opponents. The one aspect of being president at which Barack Obama has always excelled is campaigning and pure partisan politics.

Obama made no effort to discuss his proposals with the leadership of the House or the Senate or to get their input because they are not being presented with the idea that they will get serious consideration. They are mere rhetorical aspirations, words that mean nothing.

If that is how the president wishes to spend the public’s time at the annual event, that is his privilege. But if the public disdains Republicans for being obstructionists who don’t care about working with their opponents, then the question arises as to why Obama’s speech is being presented as being any different from their efforts. The answer is that the same liberal media bias that has been an essential element to the president’s ability to survive scandal and failure is acting as his safety net again.

As much as the public blames Congress and dislikes the Republicans for their devotion to their principles, it is not unfair to ask the mainstream media that is heralding Obama’s proposals as another installment of the New Deal to ask themselves if there is any real difference between his ideological rigidity and that of his opponents. The honest answer, and one we’re not hearing or reading much about today, is that there is none. The obstructionist-in-chief’s “Robin Hood” plan for government will do as much to make compromise impossible as any Ted Cruz speech or the actions of House Tea Partiers and is as unlikely to become law as any Tea Party manifesto. The 2015 edition of the State of the Union speech is merely more evidence that Obama is guilty of the same sin for which his foes have been routinely denounced over the course of his presidency.

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Room For Rand? Actually, For Everyone.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul told Sean Hannity that he wouldn’t run for president “just for educational purposes,” but would only do so if he thought if he thought he could win. To which a great many Republicans might have responded that if he felt that way, he should probably pass on the attempt. The chances that Paul could expand on his libertarian base have diminished due to the increased attention on Islamist terror after ISIS and the Paris attacks. But despite all that, Paul isn’t crazy to think that he could win the GOP nomination next year. With the pileup of plausible establishment candidates as well as the plethora of strong conservatives either in the race or considering it, the Republican race is, as Karl Rove wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, “the most volatile and unpredictable Republican contest most Americans have ever seen.” This means that despite the confidence among some large donors that they will be able to pick from Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, or Chris Christie, the sheer size of the field may enable someone far less electable like Paul to win pluralities and actually win the nomination.

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul told Sean Hannity that he wouldn’t run for president “just for educational purposes,” but would only do so if he thought if he thought he could win. To which a great many Republicans might have responded that if he felt that way, he should probably pass on the attempt. The chances that Paul could expand on his libertarian base have diminished due to the increased attention on Islamist terror after ISIS and the Paris attacks. But despite all that, Paul isn’t crazy to think that he could win the GOP nomination next year. With the pileup of plausible establishment candidates as well as the plethora of strong conservatives either in the race or considering it, the Republican race is, as Karl Rove wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, “the most volatile and unpredictable Republican contest most Americans have ever seen.” This means that despite the confidence among some large donors that they will be able to pick from Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, or Chris Christie, the sheer size of the field may enable someone far less electable like Paul to win pluralities and actually win the nomination.

That explains Paul’s confidence as he came out swinging this week, taking shots at establishment heavyweights like Bush and Romney and expressing his disdain for Senator Marco Rubio, who has strongly criticized the Kentucky senator’s support for some of President Obama foreign-policy initiatives. It isn’t clear whether Rubio, who could put forward perhaps the strongest alternative to Paul’s foreign-policy approach among the GOP field, will actually run. But his point about Paul being much closer to Obama on these issues than he is to most Republicans is well taken.

In a relatively small field of candidates, Paul’s foreign-policy views might consign him to the margins just as was the case for his far more extreme father Ron, whose posse of libertarian voters is expected to fall into Rand’s lap. But in a field with so many potential first-tier candidates, it is realistic to think that primaries could be won with relatively small percentages of the vote. Most importantly, if more than one establishment candidate or even three are seriously competing, that changes the entire dynamic of the race and will make it possible, maybe even probable, that someone other than that trio will eventually emerge as the victor.

That runs counter to conventional wisdom about Republican nominating contests that have in the past few cycles revolved around the futile efforts of challengers to knock off front-runners with establishment backing. The Republican National Committee has changed the rules for next year’s contest by limiting the number of debates and by pushing back caucuses and primaries by a month in an effort aimed at staging a contest that will lead to a relatively quick victory by a consensus candidate. But those changes could help create a stalemate in a race where no one candidate has enough support to dominate the field. That means that any one of a large number of candidates, including Paul, is able to construct a scenario that will end with an acceptance speech in Cleveland in July 2016.

If that frightens the establishment, it should. Their assumption that Bush or Romney, or perhaps even Christie (whose chances are, at best, very poor) will prevail is based on the belief that the conservatives in the race simply can’t win the nomination. But in such a scrum, Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, or perhaps even Rick Santorum could theoretically win a few states with very small pluralities and then take some winner-take-all states later in the process that will enable them to amass enough delegates to coast to victory.

Of these, Paul’s scenario is perhaps the most realistic, since he will start with a large chunk of voters already in his pocket. Though his ceiling is relatively low, his base might be enough to win him some victories before any of the alternatives are able to strike back.

It’s far from clear that any of the establishment candidates are strong enough to win the nomination. As poorly received as Romney’s entry into the race has been, few have tried to refute his assumption that Bush’s decision to run against the party’s base may be a fatal mistake. But whether or not he is fated to lose, the former Florida governor is wrong if he thinks the size of the field will not materially impact his chances of winning. If this is an election in which no one will need a consensus to squeak to victory in Republican primaries, don’t be surprised if a consensus about a single candidate never emerges. That means the Republicans may well be stuck with a candidate without much chance to win a general election. That nightmare scenario is exactly what Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are counting on.

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