The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 20
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
- Trouble for Jeb;
- Trouble for Hillary;
- Why Christie won’t catch on.
Happy Independence Day! America’s Founding Fathers (many of them, at least) signed the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago last Saturday. They put their lives on the line for an idea that was imperfectly executed, but beautiful in its simplicity. Divided government, the divine rights of sovereign peoples, and the right to revolution — these were quite extraordinary ideas in their day. One could say they remain controversial today, but much less than they were then.
Americans should never take the freedoms they enjoy today for granted. Liberty is always just one generation away from extinction.
Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush released an admirably detailed account of his personal finances last week. There’s nothing like three decades’ worth of tax returns to settle whatever lingering doubts there might have been regarding his being another Mitt Romney.
But those tax returns, and the net worth that Bush has accumulated since leaving office, nonetheless should cause some concern for those who wish to see him nominated. After all, many of the people who would be happy to see Jeb as president are currently hurling accusations at the Clintons that will be uncomfortable now that we know Jeb’s record contains some of the same problems.
Here’s an important parallel: The clearest rap against Bush so far has been his family name. The continuation of a dynasty is extremely unattractive to many voters. But of course, with Hillary Clinton in the race on the Democratic side, a slightly different consideration comes into play: Any Republican advantage based on voters’ desire to avoid a Clinton dynasty is simply canceled out if Jeb becomes the Republican nominee and becomes the heir apparent to a Bush dynasty.
As of last week, the same can now be said of Jeb’s riches, a significant amount of which (roughly $10 million) comes from speaking fees and consulting gigs of the same sort as those for which Bill Clinton has rightfully taken so much flak from the right.
Sure, it isn’t fatal for Bush, and no one has turned up evidence that he was hired to speak by people with pressing interests before the Bush administration. (But who knows?) But whether they do or not, there is no question that Jeb monetized his government service in much the same way Bill and Hillary have. The fact that their arrangements might have been more obviously corrupt than his is a detail that will likely be lost on many general election voters. An equivalence will be drawn, and any GOP advantage canceled out once again.
From an ideological perspective, Jeb probably deserves better treatment than he has gotten so far from conservatives. But assuming they want to nominate a winner, his financial disclosure is a new and additional problem that cannot be dismissed lightly.
Ruling class is as ruling class does — and Republican primary voters will have to think carefully before selecting someone who belongs to it as much as any Clinton ever has.
Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton doesn’t understand how a fax machine works, and she has some weird advice about wearing socks to bed. Okay, fine — but the emails the State Department released last week reveal much more than that. The more important story is that Sid Blumenthal had much more access to the top echelon of the State Department than anyone realized — most of all anyone in Obama’s White House, which had specifically forbidden him from being hired to her official staff.
Blumenthal, recall, tried to sell journalists during the 1990s on the idea that Monica Lewisnky had been a stalker-slash-blackmailer who victimized the poor, innocent President Clinton. Having been blocked from a job at State by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, he instead spent his days on the payroll of two Clinton-friendly organizations (one was the Clintons’ foundation, the other Media Matters) and supplying Clinton with information (mostly unreliable) about multiple countries — not just Libya, where he had financial interests, but also Afghanistan, Britain, Italy, and a number of others.
It’s all rather embarrassing for her, because she encouraged this sort of “intelligence” reporting, which evokes something from one of Evelyn Waugh’s comic novels about African affairs.
Meanwhile, the bigger Clinton shoe had dropped earlier: She withheld some work emails from the State Department, and actually edited others she turned in, based on the evidence now available. This would be a career-ender for anyone not named Clinton.
But her name is Clinton, and for the moment, she’s all the Democrats have to work with. That alone covers a multitude of sins.
Chris Christie: Once among the frontrunners, Christie finds himself at the back of the pack now that he’s announced. One doesn’t have to look that far back to remember the days when Chris Christie videos were a staple form of entertainment that conservatives loved. But he staked out a more moderate path and won a resounding re-election victory in part by sanding down his more conservative edges. That isn’t working in his favor now.
Christie may well be a victim of his George Washington Bridge scandal (even if it had little to do with him), as the conventional wisdom goes. But what’s hurting him more is that there are so many well-qualified Republicans in the running, and nearly all of them are to his right.
Christie is miles and miles ahead of the moderate alternatives of years past when it comes to conservative credentials. He isn’t even the most liberal candidate in this race — it seems that distinction is more likely to go to John Kasich, Ohio’s Republican governor, who has harangued conservatives with arguments that Jesus’ teachings would require Medicaid expansion. (Christie also expanded Medicaid in his state, but his argument was a lot less moralistic — he saw it as free money from other states’ taxpayers.)
But there simply isn’t demand for a more moderate candidate at this point — most GOP voters are satisfied with a choice between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. A few other names (say, Ben Carson or — shudder — Donald Trump) may bump up into the top tier, but they will all be conservative (or in Trump’s case, self-styled conservative) names.