Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scott Walker

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 Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is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 Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is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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Scott Walker’s Reagan-Nixon Test

The brouhaha over the latest ambush interview of Scott Walker hadn’t even finished before the Wisconsin governor got some very good news that diminished the importance of some of his latest slipups with the press. The Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans published today showed Walker with an astonishing 12 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor among fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. But with success in a presidential race comes scrutiny, and Walker has been getting a lot of from sources that do not share the enthusiasm for his policies that exist among a broad spectrum of potential GOP voters. Though he’s polling well, his less-than-sparkling performance when grilled by liberal journalists about such ridiculous topics as evolution and whether President Obama is a Christian shows that he’s not only got a lot to learn about being a presidential candidate. The reaction to these stories also shows that he has a choice to make about what kind of a Republican he wants to be: Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon?

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The brouhaha over the latest ambush interview of Scott Walker hadn’t even finished before the Wisconsin governor got some very good news that diminished the importance of some of his latest slipups with the press. The Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans published today showed Walker with an astonishing 12 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor among fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. But with success in a presidential race comes scrutiny, and Walker has been getting a lot of from sources that do not share the enthusiasm for his policies that exist among a broad spectrum of potential GOP voters. Though he’s polling well, his less-than-sparkling performance when grilled by liberal journalists about such ridiculous topics as evolution and whether President Obama is a Christian shows that he’s not only got a lot to learn about being a presidential candidate. The reaction to these stories also shows that he has a choice to make about what kind of a Republican he wants to be: Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon?

With more than 11 months to go before they vote, nobody in Walker’s camp should be celebrating yet. But his streak to the top of the GOP field after a remarkably successful couple of months promoting his prospective candidacy should cause those anointing Jeb Bush as the overwhelming favorite and frontrunner to start hedging their bets. As I’ve written here before, Walker’s fights against union thugs and their Democratic enablers in Wisconsin made him a folk hero to Tea Partiers and other conservatives while his strong record of both electoral success and good governance along with a positive persona and commonsense approach to economics has endeared him to establishment Republicans too. His humble background also makes him attractive to a party that should have learned that nominating millionaires isn’t the way to shed their image as the party of the rich.

But nobody gets to be president without going through the gauntlet of intense press scrutiny that is part of any national campaign. No matter what you’ve gone through on a state level—even in a purple/blue state like Wisconsin—it doesn’t compare to playing in the big leagues of presidential politics. Walker has gotten a taste of that in the last month as he’s found himself being quizzed about topics that have no relevance to the presidential race. His fumbles when faced with these absurd questions became fodder for the national press that viewed his equivocations about Darwin’s theory and the president’s faith to be proof that he was either a troglodyte fool or an incompetent bungler waiting to be taken down by a ravenous liberal media much in the manner that an unprepared Sarah Palin was felled during the 2008 campaign.

But Walker isn’t taking any of this lying down and he has reportedly used these questions to help fuel his fundraising by asking supporters whether they are going to let the liberal media crucify him over nonsense. Some conservative writers agree. Over at the National Review, Charles Cooke writes that rather than Walker being wrong-footed, it was the media that was embarrassing itself by trying to make a meal out of such inconsequential stuff.

But as much as I sympathize with Walker, I find myself more in agreement with veteran media writer Jack Shafer who points out in a Politico magazine article that what he is going through is par for the course for any presidential candidate, liberal or conservative. Shafer’s right. The “gotcha” journalism Walker and his supporters are denouncing is as old as American democracy. But even if we concede, as we should, that conservatives face a higher bar than liberals and that the bias of the press ensures that they will focus more on trying to make candidates like Walker look stupid, that doesn’t absolve the governor of his obligation to rise above this test and to even turn it to his advantage.

Like it or not, every Republican has the same choice when faced with a biased liberal mainstream media. They can rage at the media or they can rise above it.

There is some advantage to running against the liberal press, as doing so is sure to engender sympathy with the conservative base. Sarah Palin has retained a large following, albeit not large enough to ever cause her to risk her niche as a political celebrity by facing the voters again, by doing just that.

But Republicans who want to win need to emulate Ronald Reagan’s example and smile and shrug off the brickbats hurled at him by liberal journalists. A similarly good-natured George W. Bush did the same for as long as he could until the backwash of the Iraq War and the 2008 economic collapse overwhelmed him.

Instead, all too many conservatives opt for the Richard Nixon approach to the media, labeling them as enemies and snarling defensively at their attempts to trip them up.

The point is, the best way to deal with “gotcha” journalism is not to harp on the stupid questions you’re asked but to simply answer them in ways that don’t provide your opponents with juicy sound bites. The fault lies not in the press for asking Walker to give them some good material but with the governor for stumbling over questions that could be answered easily without saying something dumb or embarrassing. If Walker is going to be undone by a few easy questions now, how is he going to handle even worse as the campaign heats up?

Scott Walker has shown that he has the talent to win tough races and to be undaunted by liberal press. That’s part of what makes him such an attractive presidential candidate. But he won’t do it by whining about “gotcha” journalism. It’s time for him to be Reagan, not Nixon. If he can’t, his lead won’t last.

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Watch As the Media Creates A False Race Narrative in Real Time

The Obama administration’s recent losing streak has been a problem not only for the president but also for the bearers of bad news. As I wrote yesterday, the political media get noticeably uncomfortable when the White House’s failings can’t be easily spun away. What they needed was a distraction. And that’s exactly what they got when Politico reported Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser casting doubt on whether Barack Obama “loves America.” In the media’s completely predictable and utterly embarrassing overreaction, you could watch two narratives develop in real time.

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The Obama administration’s recent losing streak has been a problem not only for the president but also for the bearers of bad news. As I wrote yesterday, the political media get noticeably uncomfortable when the White House’s failings can’t be easily spun away. What they needed was a distraction. And that’s exactly what they got when Politico reported Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser casting doubt on whether Barack Obama “loves America.” In the media’s completely predictable and utterly embarrassing overreaction, you could watch two narratives develop in real time.

An overarching rule of the mainstream media’s in-kind contribution to the Obama political machine is to avoid anything that can be construed as actual debate. So while Giuliani’s comments were following in Obama’s own footsteps, as the president has not hesitated to question the patriotism of those who disagree with him, the outrage was immediate. In an indication of just how bad things have been for the Obama White House lately, the press has now made “Giuliani was mean to Dear Leader” a two-day story. And they’ve also telegraphed how they hope to take it further.

The first way is to make it part of the 2016 conversation. This is generally how the press responds to any controversial statements by a Republican: try to get the other Republicans on the record about it. Thus while Democrats are never held responsible as a party for the extreme statements made by fellow liberals, Republicans are to be hounded by the president’s attack dogs for the perceived thought crime of any other Republican.

Scott Walker was asked about it, and gave the proper reply: he’s not Giuliani’s keeper. So the press went to annoy other Republicans. Talking Points Memo posted a piece describing the leftist media’s battle plan: “5 Points On How Obama’s Love For America Became The GOP’s Next 2016 Test”:

“I’m not questioning his patriotism. He’s a patriot, I’m sure,” Giuliani said. “What I’m saying is that in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things I used to hear Bill Clinton say, about how much he loves America.”

In a Thursday morning interview on CNBC, Walker was asked about Giuliani’s remarks but declined to comment on whether he believed Obama “loves America.”

Later in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stood apart from his GOP counterparts by openly saying he has “no doubt” Obama loves the country, although he disagrees with the President’s policies.

And before long, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued a statement declaring his refusal to condemn Giuliani’s comments because the gist of them was “true.”

With that, it was official: Whether the President of the United States actually loves the United States had become the debate du jour among potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

Notice Republicans did not actually set out to make this silly debate a litmus test. But as TPM points out, the media did. And so it shall be.

And while this may seem haphazard, as if the media’s just throwing whatever it can against the wall to change the conversation from Team Obama’s serial incompetence, there’s a point here. Why does the left want Republicans to talk about Giuliani’s criticism of Obama? Because they—of course—have deemed it racist.

Although—or perhaps, because—this particular accusation is obviously untrue, political reporters chased it feverishly. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Confessore got Rudy on the record in response:

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

In other words: Giuliani thinks the racism angle is silly, because the aspect of Obama’s worldview he’s criticizing comes from Obama’s immersion in white environments. The president’s “blackness” has nothing to do with it; if anything, it’s the opposite.

So naturally the Times manipulated Giuliani’s statement and slapped a patently false headline on the story that seems almost designed to destroy the credibility of the reporters who got the quote: “Giuliani: Obama Had a White Mother, So I’m Not a Racist.” I don’t know if Haberman and Confessore objected, but I would hope so. They’re far more honest than their editors want you to think they are.

But the Times report did get one more good quote out of Giuliani. This one was also prefaced with concern it would be controversial, but at least this time Giuliani helped himself by saying something indisputably true:

Mr. Giuliani said he also objected to the president’s comments about the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast this month, in which Mr. Obama said that during the Inquisition, people had “committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

“Now we know there’s something wrong with the guy,” Mr. Giuliani said of the president. “I thought that one sort of went off the cliff.’’

He added: “What I don’t find with Obama — this will get me in more trouble again — is a really deep knowledge of history. I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”

As I wrote last week, Obama’s historical ignorance has come to be the defining feature of his public remarks. What was more troubling was the fact that no one around Obama seems to know much history either. But no matter: whenever the president’s own behavior is indefensible, they can always find someone to call a racist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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Scott Walker’s Dropout Advantage

It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
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It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote a column on Friday, entitled “Scott Walker Needs an Eraser,” denouncing Walker for cutting Wisconsin school funding in 2010, causing teacher layoffs. Despite the prodigious depth of her research, she failed to notice that he took office in 2011. Finally, on Sunday, the Times applied an eraser to Collins’s column and ran a correction. As Hot Air points out, the rest of the column doesn’t make much sense without the sentence that was deleted.

The Times itself ran an editorial on February 6 denouncing Walker for proposing a cut in the budget of the University of Wisconsin, implicitly arguing that a university with 180,000 students and 26 campuses could not possibly run a tighter ship. It claims he came to prominence in 2011 “with his attacks on collective bargaining rights and attempts to curtail the benefits of state workers,” as though it is impossible for state workers to have excessive benefits or too many collective bargaining rights.

It’s at it again this morning. Expect this to become a regular drum beat; the higher Walker gets in the polls the more the drum will be beaten.

But I think what really annoys both the “Paper of Record” and the intellectual snobs who think its editorial page is actually worth reading is that Walker is not an Ivy League intellectual. Indeed he didn’t go to an Ivy League school and he didn’t even graduate from Marquette, where he did go. To Howard Dean, that makes him unqualified to be president. Of course, Howard Dean, who went to Yale and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on his father’s money, thinks it has been “generations” since a president lacked a college degree. In fact it has been only two generations since Harry Truman did a great job as president in the dangerous years after World War II despite a post-high-school education consisting of only one semester at Spalding’s Commercial College, a Kansas City business school. Woodrow Wilson, in contrast, had a Ph.D. from Princeton in political science and made a total dog’s breakfast of guiding the nation through the dangerous years after World War I.

Scott Walker dropped out of Marquette, lacking only one semester. So Howard Dean is implicitly arguing that had he stayed around Marquette four months longer and taken courses on American antebellum literature, astronomy, symbolic logic, and the French Revolution, he’d be qualified to be president. As George Orwell wrote, that is an idea so stupid only an intellectual could believe it.

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, thinks Walker’s lack of B.A. after his name would be a breath of fresh air in “an Ivy-League suffocated government.” I suspect that the 68 percent of the population who also lack college degrees may well feel the same. And then, the day after the election in 2016, Gail Collins, Howard Dean, etc., will be sitting around wondering how Scott Walker could possibly have won the election. After all, they won’t have known anyone who voted for him.

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