The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 11
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
- Hillary’s bad week
- O’Malley’s much, much worse week
- Marginal Republican candidates
Hillary Clinton: Last week was a difficult week for Hillary Clinton, as two separate Canadian-linked scandals related to the Clintons’ non-profit organizations received major media coverage an discussion.
A poll showed that a majority of Americans view Clinton as untrustworthy. The Democrats’ wisdom in accepting a primary process in which she is basically the only viable candidate seems to become increasingly shaky.
And as bad as last week was, this week will likely be worse. The long-awaited book Clinton Cash arrives on shelves Tuesday, revealing multiple Clinton conflicts of interest and potential attempts by foreign governments and businesses to curry favor with President Obama’s first secretary of State. A bevy of Canadian donors appears to have been hidden from sight under false representations. Much weirdness awaits.
But hang on a second. As a strange accompaniment to this dissonant note, there’s another tune being sung here. Just as everything seems to go wrong, Clinton has actually become even more inevitable than she was before. Clinton has, as of now, won the primary for lack of viable opposition.
Are you confused at all?
It turns out that the Baltimore riots that occurred last week over the death of Freddie Gray didn’t just push Clinton scandals off the front page — they also took a huge bite out of the only Democrat who, at this point, appears likely to pose any sort of serious challenge to her candidacy for the Democratic nomination.
Martin O’Malley: Just as Hillary Clinton’s scandals grow worse, her arguably most plausible Democratic challenger has probably become toast — burnt just like the city he used to govern.
Don’t just try to look at his problem through the stereotypical lens. The Baltimore riots (and the city’s general high crime) aren’t just a problem for O’Malley in a general election, where a Republican candidate could could conceivably attack him with a law-and-order message over the fact that he spent 16 years in power as mayor and governor over the city that has just now exploded.
Yes, that is true, but what’s happened now is arguably an even bigger problem for O’Malley in a Democratic primary. This isn’t well-known at this point, but he was a law-and-order mayor who promoted mass-arrest policing. It didn’t work, and it didn’t ingratiate him with much of the city’s black population, and it will raise questions for black Democratic voters in other states’ primaries.
Go back a decade, for a moment, to a time when O’Malley was still Baltimore’s mayor and Robert Ehrlich, a moderate Republican, was governor. As it happens, Ehrlich was significantly ahead of his time on criminal justice reform issues that a more libertarian Republican Party is now embracing. At the time, though, he was breaking new ground.
When Ehrlich and O’Malley faced off in the 2006 general election (O’Malley won that race), Ehrlich made a big deal of the fact that under O’Malley, 108,000 arrests had been made in Baltimore in 2005 (20,000 without charges), even though Baltimore had only about 640,000 residents. For reference, New York City, which is more than ten times as large, arrested less than 140,000 people last year in all crime categories combined, and less than 200,000 even if you count stop-and-frisk actions. (By way of anecdote, residents of Baltimore relate to us that in those times they found themselves called to jury duty with unusual frequency because there were so few people eligible to serve.)
Not that it did him much good in the election , but Ehrlich was very specific in this criticism of O’Malley, who frequently butted heads with him on criminal justice issues. Ehrlich specifically noted that O’Malley’s much-touted zero tolerance push was saddling as many young black men as possible with rap sheets that would affect their future and limit their legitimate employment options to the point that fewer who wish to find real work will be able to do so. And indeed, as late as 2013, O’Malley — by then well into his second term as governor — was complaining that police in Baltimore weren’t arresting enough people.
Fast forward to today. O’Malley is now positioning himself as an anti-establishment left-Democrat — more liberal than Hillary on trade, and with more practical governing experience than her or Bernie Sanders. And to be sure, he’s a longshot at this point. But what will happen if O’Malley ever becomes a threat?
Hillary Clinton will travel to Baltimore to speak. (She’s been known to brave sniper fire, so this shouldn’t be a probleem.) She will make this an issue in Maryland itself and in states where black voters comprise up to half of the Democratic primary vote. Don’t even be surprised to see her cite Ehrlich favorably — it’s okay, after all, to agree with Republicans who are beaten, gone and out of politics for good. If she can demonstrate that O’Malley was even more out of touch with black urban concerns than (gasp!) a white Republican governor, then she’s outflanked him on the left without even having to offend the Right.
Christie desperately hopes to prevent donors from defecting to Jeb Bush. Good luck with that. For any Christie backer looking for a center-right lifeline, Jeb has probably never looked better than he does now. It’s hard to imagine the Christie campaign reaching the stage of official launch under the current circumstances. Christie will likely never be directly tied to his aides’ decision to create massive traffic problems in Fort Lee, but the issue becomes bigger after an aide pleads guilty to causing them.
George Pataki: It seems like a slight waste of space, but it’s an amusing one. While we’re at it, one of the best assessments of the former New York governor’s chances appeared in the Washington Post last week in the form of a quote from Republican operative Rick Wilson:
“Let’s just say a meteor strikes the first debate, and kills everyone except Pataki, who is stuck in traffic. Let’s hypothesize for a moment,” Wilson said. He thought. No. It still wouldn’t be Pataki. They’d find somebody else.
That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?