Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scott Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker and the Rage Factor

“If the general cannot overcome his anger and has his army swarm over the citadel, killing a third of his soldiers, and yet the citadel is still not taken, this is a disastrous attack,” Sun Tzu’s advice for martial planners preparing to lay siege to a fixed position was never truer. The left has been storming Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s citadel for years, incurring great casualties and sapping their breastworks of strength in the process. And yet, they continue to come, dashing themselves in waves against Walker’s seemingly impregnable position. What compels this fools’ rush? The Light Brigade’s charge into a battery of Russian guns was driven by error and pride, but the 118 British cavalrymen who died on that Crimean battlefield were posthumously lionized in romantic poetry not as victims of their reckless commanders but as the romantic champions of a lost and noble cause. So, too, are the liberal casualties lost to Walker’s advance fêted. In their anger, Walker’s opponents have repeatedly made tactical mistakes that should now, in hindsight, be appreciated for what they were: foreseeable disasters. Instead, ideology has clouded judgment. Walker’s opponents are prone to careless errors, and those errors are not condemned as evitable disasters but lauded as demonstrations of devotion to an ideal.  Read More

“If the general cannot overcome his anger and has his army swarm over the citadel, killing a third of his soldiers, and yet the citadel is still not taken, this is a disastrous attack,” Sun Tzu’s advice for martial planners preparing to lay siege to a fixed position was never truer. The left has been storming Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s citadel for years, incurring great casualties and sapping their breastworks of strength in the process. And yet, they continue to come, dashing themselves in waves against Walker’s seemingly impregnable position. What compels this fools’ rush? The Light Brigade’s charge into a battery of Russian guns was driven by error and pride, but the 118 British cavalrymen who died on that Crimean battlefield were posthumously lionized in romantic poetry not as victims of their reckless commanders but as the romantic champions of a lost and noble cause. So, too, are the liberal casualties lost to Walker’s advance fêted. In their anger, Walker’s opponents have repeatedly made tactical mistakes that should now, in hindsight, be appreciated for what they were: foreseeable disasters. Instead, ideology has clouded judgment. Walker’s opponents are prone to careless errors, and those errors are not condemned as evitable disasters but lauded as demonstrations of devotion to an ideal. 

The latest causalities of the eternal effort to derail Scott Walker’s Shermanesque march of annihilation through the formerly unassailable commanding heights of Democratic influence are the activists that pursued the “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin. In the summer of 2014, a Wisconsin special prosecutor alleged that Walker was at the center of a “criminal scheme” involving the coordination of conservative organizations and fundraisers that helped him to become the first governor in American history to survive a recall election in 2012. But the charges were flimsy and plainly politically motivated. Shortly after that, that prosecutor backtracked and contended that Walker was never the target of this investigation.

But those who were in the special prosecutor’s crosshairs, like Walker aide and “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill” (Act 10) architect Cindy Archer, were subject to the most egregious forms of political intimidation. In the early morning hours one day this past April, Archer and her family were awoken to SWAT-like police forces that forced her to open her house up to a search. With tipped off reporters looking on, police ransacked her home, barking orders and throwing, as she claims, her “dead mother’s belongings,” among other effects, around the house in a most “disrespectful way.” In the end, the police departed with just a cellphone and a laptop. Archer wasn’t the only target of this manner of persecution.

“This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform,” National Review’s David French noted.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court mercifully ended the madness. “To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” the Court’s final disposition read. “It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a ‘perfect storm’ of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent Unnamed Movants and those who dared to associate with them.”

The decision was a victory for justice over thuggery. Add another scalp to Walker’s growing collection.

Wisconsin’s 45th governor has been inspiring fits of irrational rage since he came into office amid the Republican wave of 2010. In 2012, he defeated an ill-advised recall effort by a larger margin than he managed to secure in his first election. The recall was seen as a test of the strength of organized labor, an ailing institution hurled into chaos by Walker’s successful reform of state unions’ collective bargaining rights, and national labor spent tens of millions on the failed effort to oust Walker from office. The governor’s comfortable reelection victory in 2014 represented another stunning humiliation for labor.

“What the labor movement now has to ask itself is: How could it lose three times — in 2010, a 2012 recall vote and now in Walker’s 2014 re-election — to the nation’s most blatantly anti-union governor?” asked Politico’s labor reporter, Timothy Noah. “How especially in Wisconsin, cradle of the early 20th-century Progressive movement and birthplace of public-sector unionism? If not here, where?”

The crisis of identity has propelled Walker’s political opponents into spasms of inchoate fury. Like George W. Bush before him, the left presumes that Walker’s inclination toward evil is matched only by his stupidity. The President of the United States who oversaw the implosion of Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the return of interstate war in Europe during his tenure, has had the temerity to accuse Walker of being ignorant on how foreign affairs are conducted. NBC News echoed the charge when Walker observed decorum by refusing to criticize Barack Obama on his approach to foreign affairs overseas – the presumption was that he couldn’t rather than that he wouldn’t. Of course, that scolding occurred in between self-satisfied affirmations from the left and the media who presumed, incorrectly as it happens, that they were fully abreast of the latest thinking among evolutionary scientists. Having left college a few credits shy of a degree in order to take a job offer, many of Walker’s opponents have followed a similar course of implying, or suggesting outright, that he lacks the requisite intellectual heft to serve as president. And of course – of course – Walker has been accused of embracing racial and racist politics. “Unlike Mitt Romney — who was merely adopted by the world of racially polarized politics — Walker was born in it and molded by it,” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Bouie.

The whistles blow and over the parapets they rush; headlong into a hail, and every time with the same fervor of the last, broken wave. Ultimately, their headlong charges and the victories they yield to Walker only embolden his supporters. You would think the left would have adapted by now, but their judgment is clouded. Among the Republican 2016 candidates, only Walker inspires this kind of frustration among liberals. While figures like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have also undermined the left’s powerbases in organized labor and academia, he does not move liberals to commit frenzied tactical errors. Perhaps it is Walker’s mild mannered and seemingly imperturbable comportment that so irritates his opponents. Perhaps it is something even more intangible.

While Walker is certainly a formidable general election candidate, he is not unbeatable. Walker’s critics are correct to note that his many statewide electoral victories occurred in years that were not characterized by a general election turnout (although the size of his margins of victories probably means their outcome wouldn’t have changed). Reports that indicate he is acting as his own political strategist are deeply disturbing. If they are true, that might account for why Walker has so carelessly stumbled over and flip-flopped on issues like a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants and the rights of same-sex couples. Walker is a vulnerable candidate in many ways. But his singular ability to blind his enraged opponents is a unique source of strength, and he would be wise to capitalize on it.

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Walker the Presidential Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker’s Flip-Flop Problem

During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker’s decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker’s office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker’s willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

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During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker’s decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker’s office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker’s willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

This isn’t the first time Walker has been accused of flipping on immigration. Back in March, I noted that the Wall Street Journal reported that the governor had told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans that he favored amnesty for illegals. That was consistent with his past stands on the issue prior to his entering the presidential contest. As late as 2013, he backed a path to citizenship for those here without documentation. But, as they did with Moore, Walker’s staff denounced the Journal article even though the paper had three witnesses to back up their account.

Walker understands that, while he appears to have held onto his spot in the first tier of Republican candidates, his path to the nomination depends on winning Iowa. To do that, he has calculated that he must position himself firmly on the right. His hope is to crush challenges from the likes of Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and, now, Donald Trump before emerging to take on the winner of the titanic struggle between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in Florida and/or a surprise moderate winner in New Hampshire in what will ultimately be the finals of the GOP contest over the course of the rest of the campaign.

But in order to do that, he needs to allow no room on his right flank on the issue of immigration. While he is as potentially vulnerable on immigration to criticism from the right as Marco Rubio (who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he has subsequently backed away from), Walker has tried to compensate in the past few months by assuming a stance of strident opposition to amnesty proposals. But his discomfort with this pose seems to come out every now and then such as the speech in New Hampshire or his talk with Moore where he tries to assure more moderate Republicans that he is “not going nativist.”

In this latest case, no doubt Walker’s camp will accuse the New York Times of playing “gotcha” journalism in an effort to embarrass him. But while the bias of the Times against Republicans is real, in this case the material they’re working with is the product of Walker’s own penchant for hedging privately in a way that makes his public statements sound hypocritical or false.

As I also noted back in February, when Walker adjusted his views on ethanol subsidies in Iowa in the same manner, a pattern of behavior is emerging. Instead of sticking to his past positions on these issues, Walker has shown a disturbing willingness to chuck them aside in order to gain votes among Iowa farmers and conservatives. While such behavior is not exactly unusual in politicians, it is in marked contrast to the sort of exemplary conduct that first brought him to national attention.

Walker is still a dynamic speaker and has a lot of the elements that ought to make a perfect candidate for the Republican nomination. His everyman persona, strong record as a governor, and mix of mainstream and conservative positions puts him in a sweet spot where he should be able to command support from Tea Partiers and mainstream establishment Republicans, who want a fiscal conservative, and evangelical Christians who seem him as one of their own. But a tendency to waffle on a key issue like immigration is a bad sign both for his campaign and his ability to govern effectively on the national stage.

With the first GOP debate only a month away, it is no longer possible to excuse Walker’s missteps as the inevitable mistakes of a rookie on the national stage. Walker needs to make up his mind about immigration and stick to it. Walker’s flip flop problem is real. If he continues to need his staff to pressure people to walk back accounts of his flip-flopping, he’s going to find himself outflanked by conviction conservatives on the right who need no such help as well as other Republicans who are prepared to stick to their guns in the same manner that Walker demonstrated back in 2011 when he was besieged by the unions.

 

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The GOP 2016 Field Prepares New Assaults on ObamaCare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Walker replied. “Absolutely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Walker Backs Corporate Welfare for Bucks

The strategy behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s run for the Republican presidential nomination is based on the idea that he can appeal to several key GOP constituencies. Many in the party establishment like him because they believe he is electable due to his record as a proven winner in a blue/purple state. Evangelicals rightly see him as one of theirs. Foreign policy hawks hope his first forays into defense issues confirm initial impressions that he is a reliable supporter of his party’s traditional stands. Just as important, Tea Partiers have also cheered him as the man who stood up to union thugs and in the name of fiscal reform. It was Walker’s confrontations with the unions made him a conservative folk hero and a presidential possibility. But a recent decision about expending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on building a new basketball arena for the National Basketball Associations Milwaukee Bucks calls into question his Tea Party bona fides. If, as this story seems to suggest, Walker is capable of behaving like the same sort of big government Republicans whose unprincipled spending and embrace of corporate welfare generated the backlash that created the Tea Party, it’s hard to see how he can be their standard bearer in the GOP primaries next year.

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The strategy behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s run for the Republican presidential nomination is based on the idea that he can appeal to several key GOP constituencies. Many in the party establishment like him because they believe he is electable due to his record as a proven winner in a blue/purple state. Evangelicals rightly see him as one of theirs. Foreign policy hawks hope his first forays into defense issues confirm initial impressions that he is a reliable supporter of his party’s traditional stands. Just as important, Tea Partiers have also cheered him as the man who stood up to union thugs and in the name of fiscal reform. It was Walker’s confrontations with the unions made him a conservative folk hero and a presidential possibility. But a recent decision about expending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on building a new basketball arena for the National Basketball Associations Milwaukee Bucks calls into question his Tea Party bona fides. If, as this story seems to suggest, Walker is capable of behaving like the same sort of big government Republicans whose unprincipled spending and embrace of corporate welfare generated the backlash that created the Tea Party, it’s hard to see how he can be their standard bearer in the GOP primaries next year.

Walker is characteristically unabashed about his support for this project. He claims that if the state, county, and municipal authorities had not agreed to pony up over $250 million in taxpayer funds for the building of a new arena for the Bucks, the team would have left Milwaukee. That would, he asserts, have cost the state $419 million in lost revenues over the next 20 years. He rightly asserts that projects like this have become commonplace around the nation. But when Walker claims this is a “good deal” for Wisconsin, he is almost certainly wrong.

Virtually every study of the fiscal impact of major government investment in sports stadiums and arenas show that the long-term public benefits are negligible. The big winners in these transactions are always the owners of the teams who are handed facilities designed to vastly increase their revenues and lower their tax bills. The rush to build stadiums and to imagine them as centerpieces of urban redevelopment is classic corporate welfare. Though one can, as Walker does, claim that if the teams follow through on their blackmail attempts, states and cities will lose revenue, sports venues are a notably less lucrative investment for governments than other less visible projects for industry or other purposes. The history of the last generation of stadium construction in this country shows a consistent theme of huge cost overruns that make initial rosy projections such as those offered by Walker to be pure fiction. In some cases, such as the building of an expensive new stadium for baseball’s Marlins in Miami (which was at first first opposed and then supported by Jeb Bush when he was governor of Florida but ultimately pushed through by his successor Charlie Crist and the city of Miami), the gap between the promises and the reality in terms of costs for the taxpayers of south Florida was so large as to amount to blatant fraud.

But while it is the owners of the teams who benefit the most, they are not the only ones who are made happy by these projects. Also pleased are the fans of the teams who may not like paying more taxes but view that issue separately from the trauma of possibly losing their hometown team. Politicians who stand up to blackmail by teams that are already often getting large tax breaks but want more as well as free stadiums tend to be blamed for voters for the blow to local morale that occurs when a team pulls out and heads for greener and more lucrative pastures elsewhere.

Seen in that light, Walker’s decision to buy into the arena project for the Bucks makes sense. But such motives always serve as excuses for big spending. Giving everyone who can help you what they want is the essence of patronage politics. Pork barrel spending for stadiums makes everyone happy except those who care about government’s bottom line.

Once built, ordinary taxpayers, even those who are ardent fans, may come to resent their generosity. After all, the team owners make fortunes largely by building stadiums and arenas that are far more expensive than the previous venues. Moreover, the economics of these projects are always predicated on the fact that the new stadiums reserve the best seats for corporate sponsors and other wealthy ticket buyers that are out of reach for the average Joe who wants to take his family to a game. Such taxpayers wind up going far less often and then sitting in lousy seats at sky high prices and paying outlandish amounts for fast food and drink when they do.

Nobody wants to lose their team no matter where they live or what the sport might be. The image of forlorn Brooklyn heading into a half-century of depressed melancholy after losing the Dodgers in 1957 is the example that mayors and governors have before them whenever a team tries to shake them down. But rather than crying into our beer about such tragedies, taxpayers need to call this sort of thing by its right name: It’s socialism for sports team owners. As such, no governor who wants the reputation of a fiscal conservative should want any part of it. That’s especially true when one considers that the billionaires who will grow wealthier as a result of Walker’s decision are close allies of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Scott Walker has been a successful governor and will always be seen by conservatives as the St. George who slew the dragon of oppressive municipal unions that are bankrupting states and municipalities. But his backing of the Bucks arena shows he’s no Tea Partier.

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Jeb Bush 2016 Frontrunner Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Left’s Shaming of Scott Walker

For those on the left, there is a crisis in America: A crisis of judgmentalism. Among the class of liberal activists, it seems as though no offense to sensibilities is as unpleasant as the articulation of one’s disapproval of socially objectionable behavior.

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For those on the left, there is a crisis in America: A crisis of judgmentalism. Among the class of liberal activists, it seems as though no offense to sensibilities is as unpleasant as the articulation of one’s disapproval of socially objectionable behavior.

Liberals are aware of the acute health emergency posed by obesity and are foursquare behind taxpayer-funded efforts to regulate and monitor the public’s calorie intake, but don’t you dare “fat-shame.” Similarly, most liberals would concede that the transmission of STDs and profligate pregnancy outside wedlock are nothing to be proud of, but “slut-shaming” is the height of hypercritical disparagement. It’s certainly not advisable to imbibe to a point where you might become unaware of your surroundings and endanger yourself and others, but only a despicable scold would indulge in “drunk-shaming.” Competition is key to success and students should be encouraged to perform their best, but posting a class’s test grades for all to see is a gross example of “grade-shaming.” And don’t you dare question the validity of the shaming above lest you be accused of “shame-shaming.”

“If it feels good, do it” has been appended to include the addendum, “with impunity.” Freedom from consequence has become the paramount goal, even if the actions in question are deleterious to society. The ironic twist to all this is that the left’s antipathy toward those deemed overly judgmental is, in fact, being judgmental. I know, I know; consistency, hobgoblins, small minds, and all that.

There are, however, some examples of shaming that the left continues to find noble. It is no accident that the targets of their censure are exclusively conservative, the ultimate offense meriting a scolding. The latest target of the left’s lofty discrimination is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. According to a prominent Hillary Clinton donor, Walker’s failure to graduate college with a degree renders him intellectually incapable of occupying the Oval Office.

In an interview with The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, Clinton donor and Florida-based attorney John Morgan unloaded on Walker and the fundamental trait that should disqualify him from holding office higher than the chief executive of a state.

Warning: Salty language to follow:

“Walker would be the first president with a GED,” Morgan said, alluding to the fact that the Wisconsin governor doesn’t have a college degree. “We just cannot have a dumb shit as president. Total dumb shit.”

Walker’s team didn’t comment on the “dumb shit” characterization.

Morgan went on to call former Hewlett-Packard CEO “Cruella de Vil,” substantiating the cliché that doctrinaire liberals are compelled to caricature their Republican opponents as either evil or stupid.

But this refreshingly unguarded comment exposes even more structural problems with which the present incarnation of the Democratic Party is coping. Long ago lost is the coalition of voters that sent Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and even Clinton to the White House. In a recent mea culpa for National Journal, Emerging Democratic Majority co-author John Judis acknowledged that the Republican Party has emerged as the preferred party for those without a college degree. The 2014 midterm results indicate that the GOP is making substantial inroads with those who have only a four-year degree, while those who have a post-graduate degree or higher remain stalwart Democratic supporters. That is, however, a small pool from which to draw unflinching supporters.

At a time when millions of American families are struggling to send their children to four-year institutions, and with still more millions of Americans rediscovering the value of vocational education and blue-collar career paths, it is perhaps ill-advised to be insulting those who decline to attend college. That is doubly true for Scott Walker, who only failed to graduate with a degree because he left his university a few credits shy when he received a lucrative job offer in the middle of his senior year. And as for those liberals who would object to suggesting that the comments of one donor are indicative of the party’s thinking on this issue, they would be advised to turn to Charles and David Koch for comment.

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Walker’s Problematic Solution to His Immigration Problem

Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

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Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

Walker’s previous positions in support of President George W. Bush’s push for immigration reform—including the 2006 bill favoring a path to citizenship co-sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy—and providing in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants are not as well known as Rubio’s advocacy for the bipartisan comprehensive bill that passed the Senate in 2013. Rubio eventually backed away from the bill in favor of a position that prioritized border security. That position was seen as both the result of political calculation as well as part of the country’s reassessment of the situation after the surge of illegals at the Texas border last summer. To hardliners on the issue, that’s a flip-flop they won’t let him get away with. But the Wisconsin governor, who was flying far under the national radar on this issue until recently, is now facing the kind of scrutiny that goes with running for president. If conservatives are holding Rubio accountable for his positions, it stands to reason the same radio talkers and pundits flaying Rubio will do the same to Walker.

Walker’s plan to avoid getting sunk by the base is to do more than changing his mind on amnesty. He’s taken the most strident anti-immigration position of any Republican candidate. By stating his willingness to enact restrictions on legal immigration along some as-yet-unstated formula that would supposedly protect American workers from foreign competition, Walker is banking on the idea that this will not only distract conservatives from his past apostasy but allow him to own the issue as one that will endear him to the party base. Just as importantly, it enables him to connect the issue to his basic economic and social message which seeks to shift the Republican focus from aiding the cause of business to that of support for working and middle-class Americans who are getting the short end of the stick in President Obama’s anemic economic recovery. That bolsters his attempt to portray himself as an ordinary American running against Republican and Democratic millionaires, i.e. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

That sounds like smart politics, and in a crowded Republican field anything that allows a candidate with a lot of mainstream appeal like that of Walker to also get a potential grip on the portion of the party base that cares deeply about immigration makes sense. President Obama’s extralegal efforts to create amnesty for millions of illegals by executive orders has also made comprehensive reform toxic for many Americans who care about the rule of law. But there is a big difference between taking a stand against amnesty for illegals and seeking to restrict future legal immigration into the country.

It is one thing to say that reform of our broken immigration system must be preceded by efforts to ensure that a solution for the plight of the 11 million illegals already here is not followed by a new surge across the borders by those seeking the same good deal. It is quite another to start pandering to those who view any sort of immigration with distaste. It is a myth to assert that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers since it’s not as if those already here are being denied opportunities to pick fruit, clean hotel rooms, or bus restaurant tables.

So long as they are talking about illegals alone, Republicans can defend their stands as pro-rule of law and not anti-Hispanic. But if Walker is going to favor new restrictions even on those attempting to play by the rules, it will be hard to argue that the point of such a position is not based on a broader effort to prevent immigration. That’s a stand that some opponents of immigration reform have flirted with before but it’s not one that Republicans should be playing with. It’s all well and good for Walker to try and stay in the party mainstream on the issue but he needs to remember that stands that can be easily confused with prejudicial attitudes toward immigrants will haunt a candidate in a general election. Walker, who has shown progress in getting up to speed on foreign policy, is a candidate that Democrats rightly fear. But as much as he should avoid making the same mistake as Jeb Bush and run against the base, right now it looks as if he’s forgetting that he will need more than the base if he wants to be elected president.

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Why the Angry Left Needs Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You Poor Enough to Be President?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story is about Scott Walker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Signals Early Onset of Dems’ Walker Derangement Syndrome

Pundits pricked up their ears earlier this week when President Obama decided to play favorites in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The president went out of his way to blast Scott Walker for his vow to get rid of the weak deal Obama has struck with Iran, saying that the Wisconsin governor ought to “take some time to bone up on foreign policy.” It wasn’t the first such shot at Walker by Obama, who also singled him out for attack on his signing of a Wisconsin right-to-work bill and even poked fun at Walker in his Gridiron dinner speech for not condemning Rudy Giuliani for saying he didn’t love America. Considering that no other Republican in the crowded GOP presidential field has gotten this kind of attention from the country’s top Democrat, at this point it’s worth asking why. The answer lies in part in the possibility that Walker really is a frontrunner to succeed Obama. But more than that, the governor seems to have what may be a prerequisite for the presidency in this era of hyper-partisanship: the ability to evoke a derangement syndrome among his opponents.

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Pundits pricked up their ears earlier this week when President Obama decided to play favorites in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The president went out of his way to blast Scott Walker for his vow to get rid of the weak deal Obama has struck with Iran, saying that the Wisconsin governor ought to “take some time to bone up on foreign policy.” It wasn’t the first such shot at Walker by Obama, who also singled him out for attack on his signing of a Wisconsin right-to-work bill and even poked fun at Walker in his Gridiron dinner speech for not condemning Rudy Giuliani for saying he didn’t love America. Considering that no other Republican in the crowded GOP presidential field has gotten this kind of attention from the country’s top Democrat, at this point it’s worth asking why. The answer lies in part in the possibility that Walker really is a frontrunner to succeed Obama. But more than that, the governor seems to have what may be a prerequisite for the presidency in this era of hyper-partisanship: the ability to evoke a derangement syndrome among his opponents.

That Walker, of all Republicans, is the one that seems to have gotten Obama’s attention this year is a curious development. Indeed, the only person the president seems to dislike more than Walker is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But if the current trend continues, Walker, who was subjected to death threats and a campaign of intimidation over his clashes with public-worker unions, may soon be reading about how White House officials consider him to be “chickens*!t too. It’s also interesting that the president would bother to talk about Walker as a critic of the disastrous deal he has made with Iran when many other Republicans, as well as a few courageous Democrats, have also stated their opposition.

The Democratic pushback against Walker must be traced to the polls that have vaulted him from marginal presidential contender to first-tier status in the GOP race. The president has signaled, perhaps to Hillary Clinton’s dismay, that he intends to work hard for the Democrats in next year’s presidential election, so getting started early on Walker makes sense in that context.

But the nasty tone that Obama has employed toward Walker bespeaks something a little more than partisanship. As CNN noted, Walker seems to have gotten under Obama’s skin in a way that even more bitter critics of the president like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul don’t seem to have accomplished.

The answer for this irritation with Walker is a recognizable phenomenon. Over the course of the last 20 years, what we have seen is that each of the men who emerged from the cauldron of presidential politics had one thing in common. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all demonstrated the capacity to provoke extreme reactions from partisan opponents. Clinton derangement syndrome on the right gave way to Bush derangement on the left and then to Obama derangement syndrome. We don’t know how 2016 will play out or who will win the presidency, but the one thing we can be sure of is that whoever does prevail will be someone that will drive the other party crazy.

We already know that Hillary Clinton can do that to conservatives, who not only haven’t gotten over their antipathy to her husband but have already been fed enough material by the putative 2016 Democratic candidate to fuel four or eight more years of that derangement syndrome. But the question remains which of the pack of Republicans are best suited to wreak havoc on liberal sensibilities.

One could argue that a firebrand like Cruz fits that bill. But as we have seen with our last three presidents, derangement syndromes do the most damage to their victims when the object of their dislike is someone that can otherwise be portrayed as an ordinary, even likeable person by their supporters. Walker, with his ordinary-guy, can-do pragmatist persona has that. But more importantly, he has already shown that he can drive Democrats nuts in a way that other Republicans may not be able to do.

At a time when a number of successful Republican governors have made their mark, none has been subjected to as much abuse as Walker. His decision to push through reforms of collective bargaining in order to save his state from bankruptcy provoked an epic struggle in Madison in which Democrats tried to shut down the government by having legislators flee the state while union thugs flooded the state capitol building. Walker was subjected to unprecedented personal abuse and then forced to defend his tenure in a recall election halfway through his first term in office. He survived the storm, got his bills passed, and then easily fended off the recall. He then followed that with a decisive re-election victory giving him three wins in a purple state in four years. Each time, Democrats thought they had him beaten only to see him prevail and get stronger in the process. That’s the same kind of thing that drove Republicans nuts about Bill Clinton.

Walker has a lot to prove before he can really be called a frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Recent gaffes have shown that for all of the attention he got in Wisconsin, the white heat of a presidential contest is another thing entirely. But President Obama and other Democrats seem to be telling us that Walker has that intangible quality that seems to be essential to electoral success at a time when partisanship is getting increasingly bitter all the time. If we’re looking to see which of the GOP candidates is more likely to drive Democrats over the edge, Walker might really be the one who heads into 2016 with a clear advantage.

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Must Love Dogs to Be President? Not Really.

It’s very early in the 2016 presidential cycle but already the editors of the New York Times seem to have run out of coherent story ideas. That’s the only rational conclusion to be drawn from a feature that appeared on the front page of the flagship institution of the mainstream liberal press today. It’s subject: the impact of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s allergy to dogs. This is ripe territory for humor circulated on Twitter or other comedy forums and it is April Fool’s Day, but the Times isn’t kidding. Written in a deadpan style, the piece actually attempts to measure the impact that Walker’s lack of a canine pet might have on his candidacy. In it experts, such as someone from what we are told is a Presidential Pet Museum, informs us that dogs humanize candidates and make them more approachable. But though dogs have often been useful political props, the notion that this is a real problem for Walker’s candidacy is a joke. He may not win his party’s nomination or the general election but if that happens, it will have nothing to do with an allergy to dander.

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It’s very early in the 2016 presidential cycle but already the editors of the New York Times seem to have run out of coherent story ideas. That’s the only rational conclusion to be drawn from a feature that appeared on the front page of the flagship institution of the mainstream liberal press today. It’s subject: the impact of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s allergy to dogs. This is ripe territory for humor circulated on Twitter or other comedy forums and it is April Fool’s Day, but the Times isn’t kidding. Written in a deadpan style, the piece actually attempts to measure the impact that Walker’s lack of a canine pet might have on his candidacy. In it experts, such as someone from what we are told is a Presidential Pet Museum, informs us that dogs humanize candidates and make them more approachable. But though dogs have often been useful political props, the notion that this is a real problem for Walker’s candidacy is a joke. He may not win his party’s nomination or the general election but if that happens, it will have nothing to do with an allergy to dander.

It’s true that consultants love for their candidates to have pets. A successful mayoral candidate’s rented dog was a feature in the classic novel and film The Last Hurrah which detailed the way an insubstantial figure who was created by and for television could defeat a traditional political boss. Franklin Roosevelt used a supposed insult to his dog Fala to good use in his 1944 reelection campaign. Richard Nixon helped save his political career by pulling on the heartstrings of viewers when he told them of the gift of a puppy named “Checkers” to his children instead of discussing allegations of a slush fund.

In recent decades, presidential dogs have been used to good effect by presidents of both parties. George H.W. Bush’s dog Millie was credited as the author of a best-selling book. Most political observers thought Bill Clinton’s decision to get a dog during his second term was motivated by the need to help distract the public from less wholesome scandals that threatened to destroy his presidency.

But though most presidents or their family members have had pets of one kind or another, the idea that the absence of one in a Walker White House would actually impact the outcome of an election is a bit of a stretch even for the Times.

Americans generally love dogs. Moreover, the pet industry has become a huge business in a country where many people often treat their animals as if they were their children. But that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about this state of affairs. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of voters who not only wouldn’t hold his lack of a furry friend against Walker, but also might identify with him more than the editors of the Times and the proprietors of the Presidential Pet Museum might think.

After all, allergy sufferers might be just as potent a demographic group as any in a presidential election. Moreover, it could also be that people who send their dogs to spas and summer camps are likely to be liberal Democrats who would never vote for a tax-cutting governor who is a conservative folk hero for standing up to municipal worker unions.

Actually, I have no more idea whether that assumption is true than the editors of the Times have for their assumptions about dog ownership equaling likeability. Which is to say that all speculation about the dog vote in 2016 is as uninformed and ridiculous as much of what often passes for straight political coverage in the Times.

But Walker can take one piece of consolation from this bit of nonsense from the Times. If he wasn’t a serious political contender whose ability to engender support from mainstream Republicans, Tea Partiers, and evangelicals is scaring both his GOP rivals and Democrats, the Times wouldn’t have wasted space on its front page poking fun at his allergies.

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Scott Walker’s Front Runner Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No More Foreign Policy Amateurs in the White House

Last week, our Seth Mandel wrote an interesting piece about the way radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt might shape the 2016 Republican presidential contest both by hosting a GOP debate and through his probing no-holds-barred interviews with the contenders. Yesterday, as if acting on cue to prove Seth’s point, Hewitt had Dr. Ben Carson on his show in what should be considered one of the first real tests of the likely candidate’s mettle. Rather than lob softballs at the good doctor as most conservative talkers would do, Hewitt not only asked tough questions but paid particular attention to what was likely to be Carson’s weak spot: foreign policy. The results were illuminating and should alert those right-wing populists who think Carson is ready for the presidency that he is anything but.

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Last week, our Seth Mandel wrote an interesting piece about the way radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt might shape the 2016 Republican presidential contest both by hosting a GOP debate and through his probing no-holds-barred interviews with the contenders. Yesterday, as if acting on cue to prove Seth’s point, Hewitt had Dr. Ben Carson on his show in what should be considered one of the first real tests of the likely candidate’s mettle. Rather than lob softballs at the good doctor as most conservative talkers would do, Hewitt not only asked tough questions but paid particular attention to what was likely to be Carson’s weak spot: foreign policy. The results were illuminating and should alert those right-wing populists who think Carson is ready for the presidency that he is anything but.

A famed neurosurgeon, Carson is surely as intelligent as anybody who’s ever run for president. He’s not completely ignorant about foreign policy and seems to be a supporter of a strong America and an opponent of terrorism. But he was soon tripped up by faulty knowledge of some basic facts about the world and history. Though quick to offer opinions about what to do about Russia, Carson didn’t know that the Baltic States are already NATO members. When asked to identify the roots of Islamic terrorism he replied by citing the Biblical conflict between Jacob and his brother Esau, failing to realize that Islam is only 1,400 years old and not “thousands” as he claimed. He also cited the possibility that Shia and Sunni Muslims would unite against the United States when in fact the two factions are at each other’s throats in a conflict that is fueling Iran’s quest for regional hegemony.

Carson says he’s planning on studying the issues more closely in the future and seems to regard this as a minor detail that can be corrected but as Hewitt said:

I want to be respectful in posing this. But I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to become a neurosurgeon in a couple of years. And I wouldn’t expect you to be able to access and understand and collate the information necessary to be a global strategist in a couple of years. Is it fair for people to worry that you just haven’t been in the world strategy long enough to be competent to imagine you in the Oval Office deciding these things? I mean, we’ve tried an amateur for the last six years and look what it got us.

Hewitt is right. Americans elected a man in 2008 with no foreign policy experience. President Obama is an ideologue that thought he could solve problems by virtue of his personality and doesn’t listen to advice. Carson rightly answered that Obama “has been able to accomplish a great deal,” albeit in a negative way. But even he might have made fewer mistakes if he had firmer grip on the issues when he started.

Carson’s defenders will say this is “gotcha” journalism but I’m hoping Hewitt gives the same grilling to every other presidential candidate. The point is, though presidential elections are almost always decided by domestic and economic issues, it’s important to remember that the one government activity that any president has almost unlimited power is on foreign policy. And though the economy is always going to be the issue of greatest concern to most voters, most presidents are inevitably being frustrated by their limited ability to influence domestic affairs and wind up spend most of their time on foreign and defense issues.

That would apply to just about any point in history but it is especially true of our current situation in which President Obama’s feckless policies have helped lead to the rise of ISIS terrorists and his blind pursuit of détente with Iran has increased the likelihood that Tehran will acquire a nuclear weapon. In other words, this no time for a foreign policy amateur in the White House who will be overly dependent on advisors and lacks the knowledge or experience to respond adequately to crises.

Carson isn’t the only one with this problem. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be the new putative GOP frontrunner but as his recent London interview illustrated, he isn’t prepared to lead on foreign policy issues the way he is on those concerning governance, budgets and taxes.

The point is it’s up to Hewitt and others with access to these candidates to push them hard on the one topic that we truly do hire a president to manage. Nor is it sufficient for those, like Carson, who aren’t up to snuff to claim that the press is targeting them for unfair scrutiny.

Carson and anyone else who won’t know which countries are in NATO or the basic facts about the Middle East need to do more than study. Learning about war and peace issues on the fly is a hit and miss business. Even a policy wonk like Mitt Romney found himself not entirely prepared to answer President Obama in his 2012 foreign policy debate. Whoever wins the nomination will find themselves matched up against Hillary Clinton, a woman with a record of foreign policy failure but who won’t be caught in an obvious mistake, in the fall of 2016. The GOP will have to do a lot better than Ben Carson if they hope to prevail in that contest.

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Biden’s “Blackshirts?” In Wisconsin, They Work for the Unions.

You don’t need to read the polls to know that Democrats are worried about Scott Walker. In recent days, the Obama administration has been concentrating their fire on the governor of Wisconsin with the sort of fervor that is usually reserved for their chief congressional tormentors. Walker signed a right-to-work bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and both President Obama and Vice President Biden denounced him and the law. But the attention given this event wasn’t primarily motivated by Walker’s current status as a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Wisconsin law scares the Democrats because it’s yet another blow to the ability of the unions to coerce workers into providing them with the funds to pay for their political campaigns. That’s why their rhetoric against Walker and the law was so extreme. Yet when Biden claimed Republicans were seeking to use “blackshirts” to break unions, that line might better have been applied to his own side in the argument.

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You don’t need to read the polls to know that Democrats are worried about Scott Walker. In recent days, the Obama administration has been concentrating their fire on the governor of Wisconsin with the sort of fervor that is usually reserved for their chief congressional tormentors. Walker signed a right-to-work bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and both President Obama and Vice President Biden denounced him and the law. But the attention given this event wasn’t primarily motivated by Walker’s current status as a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Wisconsin law scares the Democrats because it’s yet another blow to the ability of the unions to coerce workers into providing them with the funds to pay for their political campaigns. That’s why their rhetoric against Walker and the law was so extreme. Yet when Biden claimed Republicans were seeking to use “blackshirts” to break unions, that line might better have been applied to his own side in the argument.

The Democrats’ line of attack against Walker is that he is doing the bidding of big business and seeking to oppress workers. But the debate over right-to-work laws isn’t about protecting the freedom to organize a union; it’s about safeguarding workers against coercion exercised by those who claim to speak in their name. And nowhere is that more true than in Wisconsin.

The essence of the fight about right-to-work legislation is that in states without these provisions unions exercise power disproportionate to their actual membership because they are able to tax non-members to fund their activities. They defend this practice by saying that when unions negotiate contracts with employers, all those who work there benefit from the results. But the problem is that labor unions have a broader agenda than collective bargaining. They also provide political and economic muscle for their Democratic Party allies.

In doing so they divert large sums deducted from the pay of both their members and non-members for use in partisan political battles that have everything to do with the clout of union bosses and little to do with the rights of workers or even their political preferences. When union members are forced to pay for political action they disagree with, that is bad enough. When non-members are similarly fleeced, that is an outrage that needs to be corrected.

Unions have protected this financial goldmine with the help of Democrats who know that what they are doing is feathering their own nests, not defending the needy or the downtrodden. Unions remain the largest source of funds for Democrat Party campaigns. Rather than Obama and Biden seeking to help workers or middle-class taxpayers, by attacking right-to-work legislation they are merely seeking to ensure a steady flow of union money to their party.

For Biden to summon up the image of “blackshirts” attacking workers is reprehensible on a number of levels. Associating Republicans and the governor of Wisconsin with Italian fascists or Nazi SS thugs is a vile slur and represents more proof that liberal complaints about Tea Partiers undermining political civility are pure hypocrisy. But it is particularly ironic for Biden to use that offensive term with respect to Wisconsin and Scott Walker.

Democrats may think Americans have short memories but it’s not so easy to forget the spectacle of union thugs and their Democratic allies attempting to shut down the state legislature in Madison in 2011 in order to prevent it from adopting laws they opposed. While Democrats regularly bloviate about Republicans doing the bidding of the Koch brothers, in Wisconsin, Democrats went all out not to do the bidding of their union funders even if it meant preventing the legislature from operating. In a government shutdown move that somehow did not provoke the same hysteria from the liberal media that GOP efforts in Washington have generated, Democrats didn’t merely try to defeat a measure that the Republican majority had successfully campaigned on, they actually tried to stop it from meeting with mob actions and legislators fleeing the state.

Other union “activists” threatened Republican members of the legislature as well as Walker and his family in a style of politics that may not have been as bloody as the work of the historical blackshirts but was still frightening. Though they failed, union thugs put a chill in democratic discourse that did little to inspire confidence in Wisconsin Democrats who went on to fail in both 2012 and 2014 to oust Walker.

For all of their talk about helping workers, Wisconsin proves that Democrats are barking up the wrong tree when they seek to demonize Walker to please their union friends. Democrats do tend to succeed when they can strike a populist tone, but modern unions are often the antithesis of the traditional image of struggling workers banding together to fight the bosses. The real freedom battle in the workplace today is the one between the union bosses and workers being pressured to pay for political payoffs to Democrats. And the more attention Obama and Biden draw to this, with or without the vice president’s absurd hyperbole, the better it will be for Walker.

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Are Walker and Rubio the Frontrunners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walker, Cruz, Bush and the Iowa Crucible

It is now conventional wisdom that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a first-tier candidate, if not the frontrunner, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. It is just as much a given that Senator Ted Cruz is not regarded as likely to win the nomination. The reasons why this is so were on display yesterday at the Iowa Ag Summit, a cattle call event that brought leading politicians from both parties to Des Moines to hawk their wares to farm-state voters. As in the past, the agriculture industry and political observers were interested to see which of the potential candidates would show their obeisance to corn farmers by supporting ethanol subsidies and, in particular, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that mandates its use in gasoline. Though Walker has opposed the RFS in the past, as Politico noted, this year he acted like the Iowa frontrunner the polls tell us he is and backed it. By contrast, Cruz launched a frontal attack on it. It’s not clear that such a stand is as sure a guarantee of political death as it has been in the past. But these two stands as well as Jeb Bush’s more equivocal approach provide us with a chance to see how the crucible of principle works these days in Iowa as the rest of the country pays close attention.

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It is now conventional wisdom that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a first-tier candidate, if not the frontrunner, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. It is just as much a given that Senator Ted Cruz is not regarded as likely to win the nomination. The reasons why this is so were on display yesterday at the Iowa Ag Summit, a cattle call event that brought leading politicians from both parties to Des Moines to hawk their wares to farm-state voters. As in the past, the agriculture industry and political observers were interested to see which of the potential candidates would show their obeisance to corn farmers by supporting ethanol subsidies and, in particular, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that mandates its use in gasoline. Though Walker has opposed the RFS in the past, as Politico noted, this year he acted like the Iowa frontrunner the polls tell us he is and backed it. By contrast, Cruz launched a frontal attack on it. It’s not clear that such a stand is as sure a guarantee of political death as it has been in the past. But these two stands as well as Jeb Bush’s more equivocal approach provide us with a chance to see how the crucible of principle works these days in Iowa as the rest of the country pays close attention.

Given that recent history tells us that winning Iowa requires a candidate to support the ethanol boondoggle that helps support corn farmers, it’s hard to quarrel with Walker’s decision. Walker needs to win Iowa and he feels he can’t afford to antagonize the farmers and the Ag industry groups that will pour millions into the GOP caucus fight to support candidates that back ethanol and oppose those who don’t. Walker is a man who has taken chances in his political life, taking on the unions and left-wing special interests in Wisconsin and winning fights that made him a conservative folk hero. But he sees no great benefit to playing the same game with Iowa farmers. He played it safe at the Ag Summit.

By contrast, Cruz knows that if he is to assume leadership of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, it won’t be by playing it safe. Instead, he chose to take on the ethanol/corn interests head on saying he was there to “tell them the truth.” There was no hedging his bets or resort to nuance. He said he’s against corporate welfare and the government picking winners and losers. Ethanol and the RFS are exactly that and he opposes them.

Does that doom him in Iowa? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not. Corn may be king in Iowa but not everyone who votes in the GOP caucus is looking to the federal government for a handout or hoping that government policies will keep pushing up the value of their land. Moreover, there is a case to be made that what voters want is principle rather than pandering. With many conservatives who talk a good game about small government nevertheless falling over themselves to make an exception for ethanol in order to win in Iowa, Cruz may be able to stand out as the candidate who isn’t willing to sell out.

It also presents an interesting contrast to Bush’s belief that he, too, won’t pander in order to win the nomination. Yesterday in Iowa, the former Florida governor reiterated his support for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens as well as his continued backing for the Common Core education standards. That’s consistent with his theory that seems to hold that in order to win in November 2016, he’s going to have to stand up to his party’s base on issues where he disagrees with it. But he wasn’t willing to extend that principle to ethanol. On that issue, he was all nuance yesterday, floating ideas about eventually phasing out the RFS “somewhere in the future.”

I believe it’s a mistake to think that any candidate can run against his party’s base and win its nomination, though Bush has an opportunity to prove me wrong. But I think it’s hard to take that sort of stance seriously when the same candidate is unwilling to be just as tough on a local GOP constituency whose desires for subsidies runs afoul of the party’s basic principles about the role government in the economy.

Walker appears to have made a powerful impression on the audience in Des Moines yesterday, taking shots at Jeb Bush for having “inherited fame and fortune” and signaling farmers that he will do their bidding. That may ensure that he will hold onto his current lead and follow in the footsteps of past ethanol appeasers like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney and do well in the first-in-the-nation caucus.

It’s a long, hard slog to next winter but if Walker is to be knocked off, I doubt that Bush’s odd combination of challenging the party core on hot-button issues while folding on ethanol will do the trick. Cruz may still be a long shot but I think he’s right in thinking that the only way for him to prevail is to slay all the sacred cows and not just those in states other than Iowa. As much as his well-earned image as an uncompromising zealot may make him an unlikely nominee, sticking to his guns on even this Iowa litmus test will make an interesting experiment in modern politics. Though Cruz is widely accused of debasing our political culture with his take-no-prisoners style, he may actually be enhancing it by giving us an example of what it means to stand on principle. And he may do himself no harm in the process.

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End the GOP’s Iowa Ethanol Panderfest

Wherever Iowa famers gather, presidential candidates are never in short supply. So if you’re planning on attending the annual Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines tomorrow, it may be difficult to avoid tripping over potential Republican contenders. But not all the GOP hopefuls will be there. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are skipping the event. Why? Both oppose the renewable fuel standard, a measure beloved by Iowa corn growers that requires blending corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply. Rubio and Jindal aren’t the ones who have crossed the Iowa agriculture industry. Other candidates have voted for measures seeking to eventually end ethanol subsidies. But the farm lobby has forced Republicans who believe in the free market to bend to their will before and is determined to punish those who don’t pledge allegiance to ethanol and make them pay at the Iowa Caucuses next year. The question is, will 2016 mark the moment when conservatives prefer their principles to corn-based votes?

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Wherever Iowa famers gather, presidential candidates are never in short supply. So if you’re planning on attending the annual Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines tomorrow, it may be difficult to avoid tripping over potential Republican contenders. But not all the GOP hopefuls will be there. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are skipping the event. Why? Both oppose the renewable fuel standard, a measure beloved by Iowa corn growers that requires blending corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply. Rubio and Jindal aren’t the ones who have crossed the Iowa agriculture industry. Other candidates have voted for measures seeking to eventually end ethanol subsidies. But the farm lobby has forced Republicans who believe in the free market to bend to their will before and is determined to punish those who don’t pledge allegiance to ethanol and make them pay at the Iowa Caucuses next year. The question is, will 2016 mark the moment when conservatives prefer their principles to corn-based votes?

Ethanol and biofuels sound like a green dream that combines the needs of farmers with the nation’s desire for energy independence and less carbon-based pollution. The clout of the powerful farm lobby might have been enough to ensure that Congress subsidized the ethanol business. But the fact that Iowa becomes the center of the political universe once every four years with the campaign lasting longer every election has made corn king.

But even the outsized influence of the Hawkeye State has not been enough to suppress the growing realization that the massive federal subsidies lavished on corn growers was a boondoggle of epic proportions that has done little to help the environment and a lot for the bank accounts of those connected to this industry. After a long fight, Congress passed a sunset provision on the subsidies, but Iowans who are used to being Uncle Sam’s favored relations aren’t giving up. They are defending the renewable fuel standards against sensible criticisms and seek, as they always do, to use the first-in-the-nation caucuses to bend would-be presidents to their will.

Industry groups are prepared to invest millions in media blitzes backing candidates who conform to their wishes and oppose those who don’t. Given its past success, it’s hard to blame the corn/ethanol lobby for feeling confident that they can intimidate Republicans again.

After all, a free market supporter like Mitt Romney folded like a cheap suit in 2012 in his bid to win the caucus. As it turns out, Rick Santorum, another conservative who discovered how much he loved corn when running for president, edged him. They weren’t alone; that year Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party favorite candidate who won the Iowa Straw Poll before flopping in the caucus, also dropped her anti-government mantra long enough to embrace ethanol.

Going back to 2008, the caucus was won by Mike Huckabee, another politician who extolled the virtues of small government except when it came to federal largesse being doled out to Iowa farmers. Among the losers in Iowa that year was John McCain, the eventual nominee who largely stuck to his guns when it came to opposing ethanol subsidies.

Will a Republican Party whose mainstream as well as its Tea Party faction have spent the last several years lambasting the Obama administration for its green corruption schemes like Solyndra make an exception for Iowa again? To their credit, Rubio and Jindal say no. As the Journal notes, Jeb Bush has yet to say much about the issue but has in the past backed a Brazilian ethanol scheme that irked Iowans. Libertarian Rand Paul is in no position to genuflect to the corn growers. Tea Party stalwart Ted Cruz is risking the ire of the lobby by co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the renewable fuels standard.

But past Iowa winners Huckabee and Santorum are back to try again in 2016 and appear ready to pander to ethanol if that’s what it takes to get them into the first tier of a race with a huge field.

That leaves Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has an early but commanding lead in Iowa right now. Will Walker, a man who became a conservative folk hero by opposing big government and unions, decide that government handouts to farmers don’t offend his conscience? If not, then perhaps we will have really turned a corner. But until a candidate who spurns corn wins the caucus, Iowa will remain a quadrennial panderfest. Conservatives who are dismayed by the way their would-be standard-bearers check their principles at the state border when they enter Iowa hope 2016 is the year when this will happen.

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