Authors Posts by David Freddoso

David Freddoso

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 27-

This week:

  • Sanders catching Clinton in Iowa
  • Hillary campaign offers animal fight response
  • Obama donors reportedly going to Biden

President 2016

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More bad news for Hillary Clinton came over the weekend, along the exact lines we suggested it might last week. According to the new Des Moines Register poll, she now leads Bernie Sanders by only 7 points – 37 to 30 percent – in Iowa, where she had been doing well up to now. In May, she led Sanders in this same poll by 41 points. She has lost one-third of her support in Iowa over the summer.

Quinnipiac University’s new national poll has a bright spot for her: 57 percent still believe she has “strong leadership qualities” – down just a bit from 62 percent in April.

Aside from that, though, the poll has no good news to offer for Clinton’s candidacy. And it provides several new insights into her weaknesses.

Word Association: First, there was a free word-association segment of the poll, offering respondents a chance to give one word describing each candidate. The top three answers for Clinton: “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy,” and these accounted for about 400 answers out of 1,563. (Also within the top 20 were “crook,” “untruthful,” “criminal,” “deceitful,” “email,” “Benghazi,” “corrupt,” “crooked.”)

For context, the first five responses for Jeb Bush were: “Bush,” family,” “honest,” “weak,” and “brother.” (Overall, the responses indicate that people don’t think Bush is a villain, but they do see him as a dynasty candidate.)

For even more context, the first three responses for Donald Trump were also quite negative – “arrogant,” “blowhard,” and “idiot,” “businessman,” and “clown.” Not much better than Clinton, but there is an important difference that illustrates her problem: These top responses account for only about 130 replies out of 1,563.

So Clinton is not just viewed in negative terms, but negative public opinions about her are strikingly uniform in a way they aren’t for the other candidate with similarly bad favorable numbers. It comes as no surprise that the poll also showed 61 percent now believe Clinton is not “honest and trustworthy.”

Favorability: Speaking of those favorable numbers, Clinton stands at 39 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable with the general population. That’s pretty bad. Only 11 percent of Democrats view her unfavorably, and that’s also a bad sign – she isn’t suffering the surmountable problem that congressional Republicans suffer because their own voters are so much more likely to give them low marks and vote for them anyway in November.

Clinton has little room for growth, as only 8 percent say they haven’t heard enough to form an opinion. (Trump is slightly worse at 36/54, with similar name recognition.) Among independents, her numbers are even worse: 28/61. Among voters under age 34, she is slightly underwater (40/41). But the worst part is that her favorables among women are now in negative territory as well, at 44/45. Clinton needs to excite young and women voters in order to make up for an expected drop-off of black margins and turnout from the Obama years – even if that drop-off is relatively modest. She isn’t cutting the mustard so far.

That said, this poll does not bear out what others have suggested – that Clinton trails Bernie Sanders among Democratic men in the primary. She leads him, 38 to 29, with 21 percent for Biden.

Among Democrats, Clinton still maintains 76 percent favorability and just 11 percent unfavorability. And here she pins her hopes – that she can keep up her good name among partisan Democrats and hang on against all others through the primary, amid a criminal investigation into her handling of classified information during her service as secretary of State.

Head-to-Head: Clinton’s general election polling does not at first seem as bad as these other indicators might suggest. She leads Jeb Bush 42 to 40 percent. She leads Marco Rubio 44 to 43 percent. She leads Donald Trump 45 to 41 percent.

But as we often note here, keep in mind that Clinton is a universally-known candidate with high unfavorables and very little room to grow. With the exception of Trump, the Republicans listed above are not, and all of them – even Bush – will have an easier time finding new support that doesn’t show up in the polls yet. It spells trouble for Clinton that as recently as April, she polled at or near 50 percent against all Republicans. Now she polls at or near 40 percent.

The most dangerous part of this poll for Clinton, though, is that she doesn’t poll as well against these Republicans as Biden does, even though he has slightly more room to grow and is not nearly as intensely disliked (only 39 percent unfavorable). If Democratic primary voters ever figure out that their chances with Biden are substantially better, Clinton’s support will suffer.

Outlook: That Clinton’s team is running scared is quite evident. This is why Clinton’s rhetoric has become CIB041515-Clintonincreasingly shrill. Her “gaffes” about pro-lifers holding views more appropriate for terrorists, and about Republicans wanting to ship illegal immigrants in cattle-cars, Auschwitz style, are not mere sloppy gaffes. They are blue meat for a base whose support she needs now more than ever.

Clinton had hoped that by now she would be competing for and winning over swing-voters as early as this summer. But her scandal problems have left her vulnerable for the primary and so she’s struggling to attract hard-partisan Republican-haters.

Still, even if team Clinton feels threatened, it’s equally obvious that they don’t plan to go down without a fight. Last week’s story, planted in POLITICO, evinces a desire to “kill” off all of this talk about Joe Biden making a presidential bid. They want to strangle this baby in the crib. Clinton circulated a memo at the DNC meeting in Minneapolis designed to intimidate anyone who would challenger with the sheer size and scope of her organization. She has also made mention of her progress in winning commitments from so-called “superdelegates” to the Democratic convention next summer – her campaiginers are claiming to have 440 commitments in all, which puts her 20 percent of the way to the nomination before a single vote has been cast.

But Team Clinton cannot put its faith in superdelegates, who will abandon her if she fails to put primary wins up on the board. Her campaign’s media-filtered trash-talk reflects a level of confidence or at least braggadocio that may not be justified. Her problem is that the Obama donors really are beginning to line up behind Biden and not her. We mentioned this last week as one of the main obstacles Biden faced, and he doesn’t seem to be sweating it. The Draft Biden superPAC is already attracting Obama bundlers – out of 820 in all, only 51 have committed to Clinton.

Moreover, no one should take Biden’s stated reluctance to run due to the recent death of his 46-year-old son at face value. Biden’s pain is real – and it should be noted that he has suffered multiple tragic losses in his life – his first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, one month after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. But if this new loss were a real obstacle to his presidential ambition, he would surely not be discussing it on a call as he did. (Also, Biden’s son reportedly told him to go for it before he died.)

Even so, it must be acknowledged that early-state insiders are skeptical that he’ll challenge Clinton. But it is also difficult to divine the intentions of anonymous Iowans and New Hampshirites at this time of the election cycle when they make comments about candidates – it might be their own agenda speaking.

Biden, as a candidate, is solid, even if he isn’t top-shelf. He may be on the older side – he would be inaugurated at age 74 were he to run and win – and he may have some clownish qualities, but he is no joke. His political, rhetorical, and debating skills are as vastly superior to Clinton’s as the New York Yankees’ baseball skills are to any little league team’s.

Most importantly: At this point, Republicans would probably rather face her than him.

A full-on battle between Clinton money and (now much bigger than 2008) Obama-Biden money would be very exciting to watch. Democrats would have an opportunity to repudiate their Clinton wing for good.

As an added attraction, the Clinton reputation for ruthlessness holds forth the real possibility of a murder-suicide situation. Who knows? Maybe Bernie Sanders finds a way to squeak through.

Either way, Clinton’s vulnerability just keeps growing and growing, and there’s too much time and too many still-to-be-released emails left for her to run out the clock.

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 26

This week:

  • The unthinkable — can Bernie do it?
  • Sanders exciting for progressives, but looks like a general election dud
  • Challenges for Biden — a short timetable and invested Clinton donors

President 2016

What about Bernie? To most conservatives, Bernie Sanders doesn’t exactly seem like like presidential material. Intuitively, he shouldn’t pose that much of a threat to Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary. But circumstances have changed significantly from when Clinton was on a walk to the nomination.

Clearly, Sanders’ campaign is where all of the energy is on the Left right now. He is drawing massive crowds – bigger than any other candidate and by a long way – and for the first time he is beginning to look like a real force in the polls.

His situation and Clinton’s are not unrelated to one another. He becomes more attractive as her electability becomes more doubtful. This is especially so as long as there is no viable third alternative in the race – which at the moment there just isn’t.

Clinton’s scandals have done a real number on her in the polls, both nationally and in the swing states. A local news poll of Michigan has her trailing Marco Rubio by 9 points – yes, Michigan. Various other state polls have shown her trailing Rubio and other GOP candidates in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In one (perhaps dubious) North Carolina survey, she even trails Donald Trump, the only other candidate whose net unfavorability ratings are in the same ballpark.

And bear in mind when you see these polls that she isn’t the typical candidate, who can be expected to rise a bit when people learn more about her. Everyone knows Hillary Clinton, and their minds are pretty much made up one way or the other. Considering how far she is from 50 percent in most of these surveys, it is a mistake at this point to think of her as a general election frontrunner.

Not everyone realizes this yet. And she remains the frontrunner in the primary, even if by less than before. Panic has not yet overtaken the Democratic rank and file. Even some among the liberal elite remain confident. Chris Matthews was so bewildered by someone’s suggestion that she might drop out of the race that he actually said on air he would cancel his MSNBC show if it happened.

Even so, some Democratic elites are getting scared. If it hasn’t already reached the point where Republicans are the ones most eager to see her win the Democratic nomination, then that point is certainly nearing.

Assuming that Clinton stays in the race for now – a reasonable assumption – the alternatives are limited by the party’s bench, which is as weak as it has been in decades. It probably isn’t worth taking Al Gore or John Kerry too seriously at this point, even if their trial balloons are interesting or indicative of something. The Obama wing of the party is far more likely to embrace Joe Biden if it comes to that.

But what if Biden’s “perpetual trial balloon” is just hot air? Or what if he gets in? More on that below.

In the meantime, back to Bernie Sanders – the man who, if anyone can, could beat Clinton chiefly through grassroots enthusiasm and on a shoestring budget. The Democratic Party has moved perceptibly leftward in the Obama era. There are many left-wing Democrats out there who watched Obama’s rise and will not easily cede their party back to the Clinton family. This is where Sanders’ hopes lie.

Where does Sanders stand right now in the polls? He’s come a long way already without spending much more than it takes to send mailers and go places and talk to crowds. The latest nationwide FOX News poll has him down by only 19 points – 49 percent for Clinton to 30 for Sanders. But interestingly, Sanders leads among white Democrats (43 to 37 percent) and among male Democrats (41 to 38 percent). Sanders can build on these strengths, although he remains weak with black voters – Clinton takes 65 percent among blacks, and the potential exists for a sharply racially divided primary.

In New Hampshire, a recent Boston Herald poll actually gave Sanders a seven-point lead. Back in March, the same poll gave Clinton a 36-point lead over Sanders. (There is a chance that Sanders could be denied a place on the Granite State primary ballot, but any attempt to sink him this way would surely backfire on Clinton.)

In Iowa, the latest CNN poll, conducted August 7 to 11, has 50 percent for Clinton, 31 percent for Sanders. But again, look to the crosstabs: Democratic men only prefer Clinton by one point, 38 to 37 percent. (Iowa is too overwhelmingly white to get a sufficient polling sample for non-white caucus-goers.) To whatever extent Clinton’s female support (at 58 percent) is based solely on her sex and the opportunity to elect the first female president, she might find it shallow and fickle as her troubles deepen and Sanders becomes better-known.

The Iowa caucuses are worth a special mention here, as they help explain why Iowa is just the sort of state where a candidate like Sanders (like Obama before him) can outperform expectations and even win. Participation in the caucus is far less convenient and far more difficult than voting in a primary. Unlike in primaries, participants must show up at a particular point in the day. With the rules of the Democratic caucus especially, they can expect to spend their entire evening there – two hours or more, depending on how many viable candidates there are. This requires a lot of dedication that the average voter lacks, which magnifies the advantage of candidates whose voters are especially passionate.

Sanders would probably have to win both Iowa and New Hampshire in order to succeed, because he is sure to lose in South Carolina, where black Democrats could well cast a majority of the votes and Clinton is (for now) a heavy favorite.

The bottom line: Clinton will face a very tough slog in the primary, even if Biden does not enter the race. If he does, it obviously changes the equation.

And Sanders? In a general election, there’s not much to say except that he’d be doomed. He is simply too far to the left for America, especially given that he lacks the unique qualities (not just skin color, but also youth and novelty) that helped Barack Obama in 2008. There is every reason to believe that he will not outperform the high-30s-to-low-40s general election poll numbers that he posts in most places. He trails every candidate except Donald Trump in every recent swing state poll, and in many cases he trails by double digits.

A Sanders nomination remains unlikely, but Republicans would probably welcome the opportunity to compete against him.

Biden: The clearest sign that Vice President Joe Biden is serious and will actually run was the obviously Joe Biden 2planted leak of his meeting with Elizabeth Warren at his official residence on Saturday. The meeting was clearly designed to keep the trial balloon floating – and maybe it was even a legitimate meeting about his candidacy. Of course, it had the desired effect even if all they discussed was the Boston Red Sox.

Recall that Biden – per the book Double Down – was busted by Obama’s political team scheming and meeting with potential donors during the 2012 election cycle to talk about 2016, even though President Obama’s re-election was by no means a sure thing. (They were not happy about it.)

So the will is clearly there, and has been there. But is there a way at this point?

The answer would surely be no if not for Obama’s (at this point still tacit) support. But even with that in hand, it isn’t easy to scrape together a presidential campaign starting just a few months before the Iowa caucuses. It’s not common for successfully candidates to wait much later than this. Al Gore and George W. Bush both announced much earlier. John Kerry waited until Sept. 2, 2003 to announce his bid, but even so his exploratory committee had been up and running for nearly a year by then. Barack Obama announced in February 2007.

You have to go all the way back to Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 bid to find a nominee who waited until October of the year before to announce– and that occurred under very different circumstances than the ones that now prevail. (Iowa was uncontested that year, the New Hampshire primary was a few weeks later than it will be this year, and there was no 800-lb. gorilla Democratic frontrunner for him to upend or chase out of the race.)

Biden has reportedly been making some preparations in secret – just in case. But Clinton’s current precarious state is a relatively new development. Assuming (pretty safely) that the window is open for Biden to begin this process in earnest, it has not been open for very long.

One challenge for Biden is that things might have to get a lot worse for Clinton before her backers will simply drop her and change allegiances. They are heavily invested, having given her $45 million in primary money as of June 30 and probably that much again in the time since. They’d really have to be convinced to write off $90 million — although at the rate her scandal and poor response have been moving, that should not be considered impossible.

 

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Last week:
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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 25-

This week:

  • Sharks circle Hillary’s campaign
  • Fiorina is en fuego
  • Moderate Kasich’s rise arguably more important than Trump

President 2016

DemocratsNo, that isn’t Frankenstein and Dracula you saw in the news last week — it was John Kerry and Al Gore.

The ghosts of Democratic elections past are suddenly rising again. That’s how bad Hillary Clinton’s coronation is going.

The potential strengths or weaknesses of those two previous presidential losers aside, it is a very bad sign for Clinton that they are stirring again — a vote of no confidence from the rest of the Democratic elite. This development — brought on ultimately by Clinton’s own arrogant transgressions — has rank-and-file Democrats suffering newfound uncertainty. Until now, they felt understandably safe in the assumption that their primary was a done deal before it even began. Not so anymore.

Last week, Bernie Sanders showed startling signs of life, his #blacklivesmatter hecklers Bernie sanders3notwithstanding. The Vermont socialist has been attracting crowds larger than 25,000 in West Coast gatherings and has closed what was a 46-point gap against Clinton in June to just 19 points nationally. (If you study the crosstabs there, you’ll see he’s leading Clinton among Democratic men and white Democrats.) Sanders was actually leading Clinton in one New Hampshire survey (probably an outlier but still very good for him).

Joe Biden also last week reinforced his earlier hint about entering the race. He addressed the issue of his age (he’d be 74 years old by inauguration day) by promising he would serve just one term as president if elected. In short, these are not Democrats who are interested in waiting around for Hillary’s coronation.

Even more startling are the new trial balloons from both John Kerry and Al Gore. The latter says he would not run against Hillary if she stays in the race, but he made the hint for a reason — Gore is not the only one who notices the small but growing chance that he will have the opportunity to run without opposing her. The mere mention of the possibility is a sort of challenge to Clinton’s authority as the Democrats’ next leader.

This has all gone down just as we hinted it might. Clinton’s scandals have so weakened the foundation of her candidacy that other Democrats are starting to wonder whether she might be beatable in the primary. Last week’s revelation that she illegally held information classified “top secret” on her unsecured private email server for years only makes matters worse.

This is not the place to discuss the merits of the FBI investigation into her conduct and that of her staff, but rather how this affects public perception. The original decision to place herself above the rules that apply to other government employees is typically Clintonian, and it has had unusually heavy repercussions. It has resulted in a serious breach of national security protocol — for which better men (notably David Petraeus) have been prosecuted — and it now threatens even her continued presence in the race. If someone on her State Department staff is indicted for sending the classified material to her against-the-rules private email server, it will be very awkward to explain the situation to voters.

Even before this, without a single negative ad run against her, Clinton had already been polling poorly in swing states against Republicans and showing weakness against Sanders. Americans seriously doubt her honesty and character — even many Democrats who will ultimately vote for her show skepticism in opinion surveys.

Clintons have overcome scandal before, but there is an important and often overlooked distinction between Bill’s less serious trouble from the late 1990s and Hillary’s now. He had already been elected president when he had his scandal, and so Democrats had a huge stake in shoring him up by any means necessary. Hillary, on the other hand, is just a candidate who may or may not represent their party in 2016. The moment she looks like a loser, the entire Democratic electorate can just throw her over the side like she was the damaged nuclear core of a Soviet submarine. Democrats will happily tolerate scoundrels, but not losers.

And so the sharks are circling Hillary’s campaign. She might still come out of it ahead, but this is not going to be the coronation she expected. It could become a real struggle — the sort of grueling race in which the winner hobbles or crawls across the finish line, bruised and bloody.

GOP debate: With our brief vacation and the first GOP debate well in the rearview mirror, we can afford to look beyond what got all the headlines two weeks ago. Let’s not dwell on who bled or where — let’s look at two underdog candidates who have begun to distinguish themselves.

First is Carly Fiorina. The kiddie-table debate in which she took part received surprisingly good CIB052815-Fiorina-1ratings for a meeting of second-tier candidates, suggesting a huge hunger among Republican voters to learn more about the candidates. And the debate went very well from her perspective — she managed to boost her name recognition in the polls by 14 points, her likeability by 20 points, and she has received modest bumps in various polls — in the latest FOX News nationwide poll, she had moved from asterisk to five percent. Many wags have suggested that Fiorina is running for Secretary of Commerce, but she can afford to set her sights higher now.

The second man to watch, for different reasons, is John Kasich. The moderate governor wants to lay CIB042015-Kasichclaim to the moderate GOP electorate that has been turned off to Chris Christie by his bridge scandal and the perception that it makes him unelectable. One could say that he nips at Jeb Bush from Bush’s left. Kasich has been running ads in New Hampshire, and his efforts have paid off so far — he hit double digits (12 percent) in the recent Boston Herald poll there. His candidacy, previously of the asterisk variety, must be taken seriously now.

His rise is could actually end up being good for conservatives who are wary of Bush. The GOP is a conservative party, and there is only so much demand for moderate candidates. His presence in the race nudges Bush to his right, and serves to split the voters on the moderate end of the GOP spectrum. Just as the unserious candidacy of Donald Trump is currently splitting conservative support (it probably won’t last), a split on the moderate side gives conservatives more breathing room as they seek to unite around an electable candidate of their own.

Trump: Okay, so we can’t avoid this forever. Trump is showing signs that he’s losing steam, but it’s Donald Trump5really hard to say how long he will last.

The best going theory is that what will undo Trump is not his bombastic insult-hurling, but rather the thin-skinned whining we saw from him after the FOX News debate. Another theory — the evidence for which is hard to determine — is that the people who say they are supporting Trump are generally political non-participants — highly unlikely to vote or caucus. If that is the case, he will suffer a Dean-like collapse in Iowa and no one will hear from him again afterward.

Perhaps. But reality has to catch up to The Donald at some point. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: Over the weekend, Trump released an immigration plan and appeared on Meet the Press, where also he discussed immigration. If you look carefully, there is little resemblance between what Trump said on television and what his position paper says.

On TV, he surprisingly asserted that he would deport all of the 10-plus million illegal immigrants in the United States — something that is physically and fiscally impossible. In his position paper, however, he makes no such promise, limiting his demands to deporting criminal aliens (something with which most reasonable people would agree). This is what a cynical, calculated effort to rile up the base with empty promises looks like.

It helps to remember that Trump once criticized Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, saying that the former Massachusetts governor’s mistake was to be too hard-line on immigration with his talk of “self-deportations.”

Has Trump seen the light, or has he figured out that he might be able to win an election if he goes around saying things that he thinks gullible voters want to hear? Republican voters will figure out the right answer to this sooner or later.

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 24-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Which party is drunk, and which is ugly?
  • Matt Bevin is hanging in there;
  • McCollum could change the race in #FLSEN.

President 2016

Outlook: Arguably the most famous story about Winston Churchill’s wit pertains to an exchange he had with an outspoken Labour MP named Bessie Braddock. She berated him for being intoxicated: “Winston, you are drunk,” she said. “And what’s more, you are disgustingly drunk.”

Churchill’s immortal reply: “My dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober, and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”

There is some controversy as to whether this exchange actually occurred as described here, but either way it is now one of Churchill’s most famous quotations. It also describes the state of the two parties in U.S. politics at this moment.

On the Republican side, the polls suggest that primary voters are seriously flirting with the idea of nominating Donald Trump — a candidate far less knowledgeable than Ben Carson, much wackier (especially for his history of outspoken birtherism) than Sarah Palin, and no more conservative than Rudy Giuliani (with an even worse personal life). This despite the fact that Republican voters have an unprecedented variety of serious candidates to choose from — they run the ideological gamut and many of them can boast of serious accomplishments.

The main reason for Trump’s appeal? His style. People find bluntness to be rare and refreshing. (His disparaging comments about Mexicans — not just about immigration — have also riled up a less savory crowd that does not normally participate in Republican politics. But the polls demonstrate that this cannot be more than a small minority of Trump’s support.)

On the Democratic side, there has been only one candidate worth mentioning so far, and she is taking on water. It’s not just that she has old baggage and lacks basic candidate skills. She has also created very serious legal and ethical problems for herself just recently, and has earned the distrust of a majority of voters early on.

The latest wrinkle in her email scandal: The unsecured private email system with which she conducted all government business as secretary of State (in violation of Obama administration directives, federal regulations, and State Department policy) contained still-classified intelligence from five different agencies….that we know of so far. Her emails contain “potentially hundreds” of such secrets. The State Department has thousands more emails to sift through still. This despite Hillary Clinton‘s statements to the contrary — that she sent no classified information.

Yet Democrats, whose non-presidential electoral performance has suffered badly in the Obama era, have produced no alternative candidates worth considering….or so it has seemed.

And then this past weekend? A Joe Biden to the rescue trial balloon, unleashed in the pages of the New York Times. The Biden Blast includes a top-front news story on Sunday and a sympathetic Maureen Dowd column. This sort of coverage doesn’t happen by accident — it’s the result of political operatives making the pitch, and persuading political reporters and columnists that they have a real scoop. Their motivation is to get the bandwagon rolling. If it gets rolling, it is a reflection of both Biden’s level of support in the Obama wing of the institutional party and broader concerns about Clinton within the Democratic rank and file.

The situation must have many Democratic primary voters feeling queasy. Joe Biden as the party’s knight in shining armor is an interesting idea, in the sense of being a profoundly depressing one.

Which returns us to Winston Churchill’s drunkenness. The Republican Party would at least like to think it is suffering a temporary malady that time and exposure to the candidates will heal — tomorrow, the voters will be sober. That process begins this week with Thursday’s GOP primary debate. Success for Donald Trump means keeping things as they are right now, with himself the focus of the conversation, serving as the blunt voice of reason versus the career politicians’ prevarication.

Success for the others in the debate means highlighting his deep ignorance of the issues he is so quick to spout off about. (If Rick Perry makes it into the tenth and final debate slot, he can be counted on as the most likely to attack Trump directly.) If the Trump sensation proves longer-lasting, then the task will eventually become one of exploiting his failure (so far at least) to build or run a campaign that adheres to known best practices. Trump is also a candidate who appeals to people that do not have a history of political participation, and the fields of Iowa are littered with the carcasses of such candidates from previous cycles.

Democrats’ problems, at least in this cycle, may be deeper. Their candidates are — as Churchill might put it — disgustingly ugly. Clinton, who is universally known to the electorate, is posting miserable numbers in the swing states, and her campaign has felt a need to start buying ads now instead of waiting until November as originally planned. Biden is a less baggage-laden alternative, but certainly not the ideal candidate to defend the presidency after eight years of Obama. Democrats’ fortunes with their candidates are thus less likely to change than Trump’s strange attraction is to vanish.

Governor 2015

Kentucky: Businessman Matt Bevin, R, still trails in this race in the latest poll, but it’s interesting to see he’s beating expectations. The latest Bluegrass poll has him down against Attorney General Jack Conway, D, by just 45 to 42 percent — an earlier version of this same poll, conducted in May by Survey USA, had Conway nearing 50 percent and Bevin down by 11 points.

Bevin won the primary by perfectly handling a very nasty, personal fight between his two rivals for the GOP nomination earlier this year. He’s neither the ideal nor the expected Republican candidate. Kentucky is still a Democratic state on the local level. And Bevin faces a tough environment, given the popularity of retiring Gov. Steve Beshear, D.

For all that, it’s still a pretty close race, perhaps even winnable for Bevin.  It will be a chance to test just how Red Kentucky has become.

Senate 2016

Florida: Conservative Rep. Jeff Miller, R, whose interest in this race was always a bit of a head-scratcher, opted out last week and announced he will not run. That portends less splitting of the conservative vote with others — especially Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, who has the backing of the Club for Growth. But the bigger news is the possibility that former Attorney General Bill McCollum, R, might throw his hat in the ring as soon as September. (Florida has a very late primary, so candidates can afford to dither.)

McCollum, as some have pointed out, has a history of losing elections in Florida. He lost the primary for governor to Rick Scott in 2010. He lost the 2004 Senate primary to Mel Martinez, R, and he lost the state’s other Senate seat to Democrat Bill Nelson in 2000, even as George W. Bush carried the state by the skin of his teeth.

Still, McCollum is a former statewide official and a member of Congress for two decades. He won a statewide election in the difficult 2006 midterm year. He would not be the most conservative candidate in the race, but he’s no slouch (his 91 percent ACU rating dates back to another era, but it reflects a lengthy time in Congress). It is not unthinkable that conservatives could rally around him to block out someone more liberal — probably Rep. David Jolly, R, should his campaign take off.

Were he to run, McCollum would be entering a fragmented field in which all the candidates so far are relatively unknown outside their own regions of the state. He would become the frontrunner instantly just based on name recognition.

McCollum has not made his intentions clear just yet, but he gave this cryptic quote to a Florida newspaper: “Those who have looked at it professionally definitely think there is a path forward.” This suggests he’s already had more than a few discussions with consultants, and they’re egging him on. Don’t be surprised when he enters the race.

Indiana: It comes as a surprise to no one that Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R, received the Club for Growth endorsement in the open-seat race to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R. So far, his strongest opposition seems likely to come from the cash-rich campaign of Rep. Todd Young, R.

 

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 23-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Criminal investigation into Hillary’s emails?
  • Also, Hillary is a weak and unpopular candidate in swing states;
  • Dems find a candidate in Pennsylvania.

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: A bombshell has seriously disrupted the Clinton campaign, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the economic speech she gave on Friday.

On Thursday night, Clinton was probably getting a good night’s sleep in preparation for her speech. She was to call for a doubling of the top capital gains tax rate — effectively promising to undo the one major policy that did the most to make her husband’s presidency a success in the popular mind — he signed a 1997 capital gains tax cut that unleashed the late-1990s bull stock market.

But as Hillary slept, The New York Times ran a story stating that the inspectors general for the intelligence community and the State Department have asked for a criminal probe into how she chose to handle classified information on her private email server. The campaign was so concerned about the matter that it demanded a “correction,” which resulted in the Times’ editors slightly changing the wording but not the ominous meaning.

The following day, part of the reason was laid bare: The inspectors general found that she had indeed sent classified information derived from he intelligence community over her private, unsecured email server. Four out of just 40 emails they examined contained such classified information. Quite a few more such breaches of intelligence could crop up within the other 30,000 or so work emails Clinton handed over belatedly to the State Department, to say nothing of the 32,000 emails from her private server that she deleted.

The information that Clinton handled negligently is still classified, and so to paraphrase Clinton’s famous quotation, it does, at this point, make a difference. This was all discovered thanks to the investigation by the Benghazi Select Committee.

A criminal investigation may or may not turn up anything illegal or demonstrate that there was lasting harm to American interests abroad. But it is the last thing a political campaign needs, either way.

Clinton’s biggest problem is that voters view her as a dishonest and untrustworthy person. This can only reinforce that perception. Revelations over the course of this year, including the discovery of the private email, have sent her approval numbers plummeting. The Gallup polling trend is quite illustrative, and confirms the CNN historical polling trend we looked at earlier this summer:

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Clinton’s new numbers in Gallup’s tracking poll tie her numbers from December 2007 (also three points net-negative) and are the worst since June 2007 (when she stood at a negative four-point net favorability, by Gallup’s measure). It’s important to note that candidates’ favorability often sags amid contested primaries, like the one that existed on the Democratic side in June 2007. It is open for debate whether this year’s Democratic primary is or will be truly contested.

But current events suggest that maybe it should be contested, if Democrats know what’s good for them, because the news gets worse. Earlier last week, before there was any talk of a criminal investigation, Quinnipiac released three new state polls that should have Democrats quite worried. In Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia — three swing states that were critical to both of President Obama’s victories and especially his re-election — Clinton polled in the high 30s and trailed Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker. What’s worse, her net favorability was minus-21 in Colorado, minus-23 in Iowa, and minus-9 in Virginia.

On the question of whether she is honest and trustworthy, the numbers in all three states are even worse:

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And here’s a piece of important context: Pluralities of voters told Quinnipiac that Walker, Rubio, Bush, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders are all “honest and trustworthy.”

This is all somewhat ominous for Clinton because she enjoys universal name-recognition. Based on these polls, at least, people in these states have formed an opinion and it isn’t good. Many who say she is dishonest will surely vote for her anyway, but don’t expect the same kind of enthusiasm that put Barack Obama over the top in these three states.

This is especially in Colorado and Virginia, which prior to Obama had been relatively dependable parts of Republicans’ electoral math. Each elected a Republican senator in 2014, and Clinton simply cannot count on carrying either the way Obama did. Iowa, meanwhile, is probably a must-win state for her.

Senate 2016

Florida: Rep. David Jolly, R, is jumping into the open-seat Senate race as a result of a redistricting ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that will surely make his fair-fight seat more Democratic. He joins a crowded field that includes his fellow Reps. Ron DeSantis, R, and Jeff Miller, R, both of whom are significantly to his right. The Club for Growth greeted his announcement with a nastygram that provides some hints as to how the primary will look — it compares Jolly to the hated Charlie Crist.

Speak of the devil, Crist appears set to jump in and run for Jolly’s House seat.

Illinois: Not good news for the GOP — Sen. Mark Kirk, R, who seems to be in the race of his life in every single election, was modestly outraised last quarter by his putative general election opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D. The race against Kirk is a must-win for Democrats if they are to regain the Senate majority.

Indiana: Rep. Todd Young, R, is the late entrant into the race for Senate — and a very formidable one at that, with $2 million on hand already before his announcement. Young represents Indiana’s southwest quadrant, including its Cincinnati exburbs. His presence disrupts what was shaping up to be a clean establishment-versus-conservative fight in the GOP primary, between a former state party chairman and conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R, who represents the Fort Wayne area.

Young sports an 88 percent ACU rating, which is pretty decent, but he rates lower than any other Republican in the delegation with Heritage Action. Stutzman (who has nearly $900,000 on hand) will try to frame Young as the new establishment standard-bearer.

Pennsylvania: Democrats have finally got someone to run against Sen. Pat Toomey, R. It’s Katie McGinty, chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and former state secretary of Environmental Protection.

McGinty will face a primary against former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, the loser from 2010. Sestak’s fundraising haul in the second quarter was $728,000, leaving him with $2.2 million on hand. That’s not great (Toomey, after all, has $8.3 million in cash) but it’s enough to wage a serious primary against a state Democratic establishment that seems to wish Sestak could be deported to another dimension.

Wisconsin: Another glimmer of Democratic hope here — former Sen. Russ Feingold, D, outraised Sen. Ron Johnson, R, in the second quarter. Johnson has a personal fortune and is ready to use it liberally to defend his seat, but he’s probably the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in America. He trails in the early polls, and his opponent has enough traction with donors that he isn’t going away any time soon.

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 22-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Sanders feels the burn;
  • Walker’s big week;
  • Trump implodes.

Outlook

Iran deal: President Obama’s deal with Iran to limit its nuclear capabilities will be the talk of CIB050815-ObamaWashington for the next few weeks. As a political issue, it probably won’t end there. In going to the United Nations before bringing it back to Congress, he has sent a message that he owns it — and that means he has staked quite a bit on its success. For some, there are eerie echoes of President Bill Clinton’s 1994 nuclear deal with North Korea, which the North Koreans broke.

Iranian non-compliance — which the deal’s harshest critics are claiming is now guaranteed — could become a political disaster for Democrats. In the shorter term, though (assuming Iran doesn’t actually get the bomb in the shorter term, which is probably a safe assumption) Obama’s biggest problem will be tepid support among Democrats in Congress.

Thanks to earlier arrangements (whose constitutional validity can be debated), Congress would have to override Obama’s veto in order to stop the deal. That’s the only point at which there’s a legal question, and it’s quite unlikely to happen. But if it’s close, it’s a sign that Democrats are very scared of the consequences.

In the coming 60 days, the Obama administration will be working with outside groups on a multimillion dollar campaign to persuade lawmakers and the Democratic grassroots on this deal. It isn’t the sort of issue that lends itself to a populist campaign, and in fact the whole idea of running one seems more than a little bit ridiculous. But large scale defections would be very embarrassing. The optics of winning with just 34 or so Senate votes (the bare minimum to sustain a veto) would be catastrophic — an effective vote of no-confidence in Obama’s foreign policy.

The administration’s campaign got off to a rocky start over the weekend as Secretary of State John Kerry and everyone else on Team Obama denied that the administration had ever promised such a thing, even though senior administration officials did promise this as recently as April. Under the final deal, Iran can actually delay any inspection by up to 24 days. But still, the lowest-hanging in terms of criticism of this deal is the fact that the administration appears to have never asked for the freedom of four Americans imprisoned in Iran — an unmistakable and inexplicable diplomatic failure that is sure to be mentioned again and again, no matter what the final disposition of the deal.

President 2016

Bernie Sanders: If Republicans are looking for a left-wing version of the ultramontanism that Bernie sanders2often breaks out like a rash on the Right (most recently in the Trump phenomenon, but previously in the “defund” movement), they can look across the aisle to what happened at the Netroots Nation gathering over the weekend.

Bernie Sanders, of all people — the proud socialist senator who has been involved in left-wing civil rights work since the actual Civil Rights Era — was heckled and shouted off the stage by a group of “black lives matter” protestors. It’s not that Sanders hasn’t discussed the problems of criminal justice reform or police brutality — in fact, he’s been rather consistently discussing them for years, unlike most white Democrats. The protestors’ problem was that he wanted to discuss other things as well — including his misguided left-wing economic vision.

Of course, economics affects all black lives, and Sanders’ version of it is at least intended to benefit them, but no — he’s become the object of ridicule on the far Left because…well, for no good reason. But it’s hilarious to watch — and instructive for conservatives to recognize the signs of pointless holier-than-thou internecine battles, so that they figure out how not to engage in them as often.

Scott Walker: Walker announced his bid last week. Three days later, his state’s Supreme Court Scott_Walker_primary_victory_2010finally brought to an end the political witch-hunt — the so-called John Doe investigation — that his political enemies in the state had unleashed years earlier in retaliation for his work there weakening the taxpayer-funded infrastructure of the state’s public employee unions.

We have written here several times previously about Walker and his good initial positioning for a presidential bid. His unofficial campaign has been a bit rocky, but he still has all of his built-in advantages. As many have noted, it helps him that he’s an electorally successful governor of a swing state. But he’s really something far more unconventional than that. Unlike the average presidential candidate, his true power is based on his record, not his organization or his rhetoric (which has at times actually worked against him in the last few months).

There is a reason Walker has consistently led in polls in Iowa. Walker can say he walked the walk in Wisconsin — and took all of the political risks involved — in a way most governors never have. Indeed, it is hard to find a truly on-point contemporary example of a Republican governor who has cultivated a national profile in this way. The more conventional approach is to build one’s appeal by governing from the center, then campaign to the Right when primary season arrives. Walker has the luxury — if he recognizes it — of campaigning without fire and brimstone, having already shown what he’s made of.

The benefits of Walker’s record shine through when one looks under the surface of some of the polls that are out there now. Walker’s standing is still unclear, given his low name recognition — a good sign for him, since he still competes at top level. But Walker tends to do well or even lead convincingly (among serious, lasting candidates, anyway) among primary voters who call themselves “somewhat conservative” or “very conservative.” This, from PPP’s national survey in June, tells that side of the story:

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Setting aside Ben Carson (who will not likely last long in this strong field) Walker’s support among “very conservative” voters approached twice that of his next opponent, Ted Cruz. He narrowly edged Marco Rubio in the “conservative” category.

But the later polls that include Donald Trump — including the  latest CNN poll and the most recent USA Today poll — hint that Trump has taken the most away from Walker. That’s one more reason last week was such a big deal for Walker, because it also happened to be the week that Trump imploded.

Donald Trump:  Well, that was fun while it lasted. Given his characteristic diarrhea of the Donald_Trumpmouth, one had to expect Trump to implode sooner or later. Just maybe not so soon.

He did so over the weekend with remarks at an Iowa candidates’ forum about Sen. John McCain — essentially impugning McCain’s military service because he allowed himself to be taken alive by the North Vietnamese. His completely unapologetic follow-up on Facebook didn’t help matters, nor do his many draft deferrals from the Vietnam era. Trump’s remarks were so beyond the pale that even a media eager to give Trump maximum attention (so as to make Republicans look foolish) must now take him less seriously.

It got less attention in the mainstream press, but Iowa’s Evangelical primary voters are also sure to look askance at his declaration that he has never asked God for forgiveness for anything, despite professing a belief in God.

The episode also gives other Republicans in the field the opportunity to repudiate him without necessarily offending his support base. Trump’s relatively strong showing in national primary polls meant little for the election long-term, but it did imply a decent number of primary voters who could be picked off by someone else eventually when he imploded. No one wanted to be the guy who took the first shot at him and lost a chance to inherit those voters. That constraint is now gone, and the other candidates are already taking full advantage.

On the other hand, they are all still free to address the more important issues he discussed — including the problem of sanctuary cities — without engaging in the same clownery.

Whether or not he is allowed to participate in debates, Trump could serve the GOP no better than he can by becoming its Sister Souljah of this cycle.

Senate 2016

Pennsylvania: Democrats’ Plan C for taking on Republican Sen. Pat Toomey took a hit when the FBI raided Allentown’s city hall just before the Fourth of July. Democratic Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who had thrown his hat into the ring, may be the target of a federal investigation, with one consequence being that Hillary Clinton had to return his campaign donation last week. Pawlowski suspended his campaign earlier in the month.

Former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, who lost to Toomey in 2010 and has been largely frozen out by his state party this time, didn’t release numbers before the FEC, which is usually a sign that a candidate did poorly. Sestak raised only $312,000 in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Toomey reported $8.3 million in cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. His seat will never be truly safe, but he’s about as close to locking it up as he can get.

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 21

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Obama’s crisis of competence;
  • Hillary’s big interview;
  • Senate big picture

Obama administration

Crisis of competence:Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.

This line from President Obama’s first inaugural address has always stood out for conservatives because CIB112514-Obama-2 it clearly refers to them. Obama followed it up with reassurances that these doubting Thomases were wrong, and that events past and future would prove this. He called them cynics and said that with his election, “the ground has shifted beneath them.” At the time, it certainly seemed that way.

But not any longer. And it is Obama’s administration that has changed all of that. That’s not so much an ideological statement as one of practicality. Government is bad at doing most things, but we only get a chance to see it fail when it starts trying to do too much. Witness HealthCare.gov, the stimulus package, and now personal data breaches so enormous that no one can ignore them any more.

Government is not as powerful as Obama would like it to be — and that is a statement of how things simply are, not of how they should be. Events have proven that the scale of Obama’s ambitions was far too large for government’s competence.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the area of information technology, whose importance is already enormous and will only grow as the 21st Century progresses. Last week’s announcement of yet another data breach at the Office of Personnel Management is just one more example — and the worst one yet — of just how badly government does the basics, setting aside any thought of grand plans.

The magnitude of this breach is really mind-blowing. It affects 22 million people — more people than live in the entire state of New York, and about one in every ten U.S. adults. And they didn’t just have their Social Security numbers compromised, but much, much more — medical, criminal, residential, and educational histories, fingerprints in many cases, and more. Everyone who had applied for a security clearance was affected, and in some cases their spouses and friends as well.

People who live in Washington are familiar with the sort of information that goes into these background investigations, and it’s quite extensive. It’s actually quite common in D.C. to have the FBI show up at your door to ask questions about a friend who is being considered for any kind of sensitive government position. The information in these files would be incredibly valuable for purposes of foreign espionage against the United States.

This OPM disaster was quite preventable, as the Inspector General had warned last year that the OPM system was an accident waiting to happen. But in government, people don’t act from the same kinds of motivations that private property owners do. That data wasn’t theirs, and they didn’t care about its security enough to make it a priority.

In fact, this is the second such breach at that agency discovered this year — 4.2 million current and former federal employees were affected by am earlier-announced breach. And this new revelation was almost immediately followed by the revelation that the U.S. National Guard suffered a breach as well. Meanwhile, HealthCare.gov, whose early disaster was obvious, continues to lack proper data security, and it was confirmed earlier in the week that IRS officials illegally shared more than 100,000 tax returns with the Justice Department.

None of this speaks to President Obama’s personal failings as a leader — think what you will of him and the low quality of his appointment to head OPM, but this kind of thing will keep happening. Still, the overriding Obama project has been to convince Americans that government can do things. His administration keeps providing evidence to the contrary. After the huge wave of progressive feeling that swept him into office, he has proven that government can do very little well, and he’s done it more convincingly than any conservative or libertarian politician could. This is his crisis of competence and confidence. After Obama leaves office, this era will likely be cited in many arguments that government just isn’t that good at implementing or overseeing grand plans involving data, software development, or industrial planning via subsidy.

Depending on what happens this week with the Iran deal, that could be Obama’s most enduring political legacy.

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: Clinton’s big CNN interview — her first as a candidate — demonstrates why her campaign House071015- Clinton-CNN (House Only)has gone to such great lengths to keep her away from interviewers. A defensive Clinton blamed Republicans for most of the problems she created for herself.

She made many untrue statements in the process — for example, that she was not required to turn over her work emails, that there were no rules or regulations against her keeping them private and withholding them for so long, and (although one might quibble that it’s a question of opinion) that voters trust her.

This isn’t the place to dissect these, or her claim that she was not under subpoena (it depends on what the definition of “was” is), but it’s important to note the continuity of Clinton style. The maze of Clinton investigations and allegations became so complex in the late 1990s that it became all too easy for Team Clinton to muddy the waters with factually false statements.

In a similar way, Hillary and her team seem to think that all she has to do under media pressure is state that everything she did to separate her work product from as secretary of State was both legal and ethical (even if it wasn’t), and keep stating it. One potential problem with this is that the Clintons do not control the White House anymore and lack the institutional levers that contributed so much to Bill Clinton’s popularity. After all, he was president and Republicans were trying to remove him from the office. This time, in contrast, Hillary is a private citizen with a large bank account from monetizing government service. Voters (as the polls suggest) already smell a rat, and it’s still only July 2015.

It is unclear whether Clinton’s scandals as known to date can truly sink her in a general election.  A lot will depend on the quality of the Republican nominee and whether the mainstream media is willing to continue pursuing these issues in depth as the campaign progresses.

But every time you see or hear about a huge Bernie Sanders event, bear in mind that fear of the potential for Clinton implosion is motivating some of his support. Among those who do not believe Clinton is an honest person, a small but significant share are liberals who will vote for her in November 2016 no matter what. It is not a hopeful sign, but it might not be fatal either.

Senate 2016

Big picture: It is still very early, and many races are still taking shape. But there have been a few important developments that make continued GOP control of the Senate more likely.

For one thing, former Sen. Kay Hagan, D, declined to take on Sen. Richard Burr, R. There appears to be no obvious plan B, and that nearly takes North Carolina’s Senate seat off the table.

Democrats have also failed to find any credible alternative to former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, to challenge Sen. Pat Toomey, R, in Pennsylvania. Having defeated Sestak in 2010 and framed himself as a sensible conservative with a moderate streak, Toomey appears to be in a far more comfortable position than anyone would have expected a few years ago.

For another, Republicans got a good matchup in Nevada, where Harry Reid’s handpicked successor, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto, D, will face Rep. Joe Heck, R, a medical doctor and Army Reserve officer who has held down the state’s swingiest district now since 2011. In offsetting their expected losses elsewhere, this race is a must-win for Republicans, so this recruiting success is a big deal.

Finally, the official entry by Rep. Alan Grayson, D, into Florida’s Democratic primary takes one of the Democrats’ top pickup opportunities and turns it into a much murkier affair. It is nearly impossible to imagine Grayson winning a statewide race, but it is not impossible to imagine him winning his primary — and polls suggest that he is either well ahead of the far more electable Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, or else roughly even with him.

Not everything has gone well for Republicans. For one thing, they have gotten nowhere in finding a strong candidate to run in Colorado against a vulnerable Sen. Michael Bennet, D, and this is bad news in a cycle where pickup opportunities to offset losses are few and far between.

Meanwhile, Republicans still have enough other shaky seats to worry about — in Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio — that a wave year could return the Senate to the Democrats.

The next big shoe to drop is in the Granite State, where Gov. Maggie Hassan, D, has not yet decided whether to challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R, or to run for re-election. If Hassan stays out of the race, Ayotte is a strong bet for re-election, and it becomes much harder for Democrats to plot a path back to the majority.

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 20

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • 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.

President 2016

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 ClintonHillary Clinton doesn’t understand how a fax machine works, and she has some weird advice CIB042715-Clintonabout 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 ChristieOnce among the frontrunners, Christie finds himself at the back of the pack now that he’s CIB041515-Christieannounced. 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.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 19-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Gay marriage decision
  • Trouble for GOP candidates
  • Confusion over possible Jeff Miller Senate bid

President 2016

Republicans: Last week’s same-sex marriage decision was entirely expected, but it was historic nonetheless. It represents yet another foray by the Supreme Court into the realm of attempting to create social change.

This is the sort of thing that makes conservatives tear their hair out. The court operates under a glaring double-standard. When the Left gets its way at the ballot box, the result stands without question. When the Right does the same, or at least has a chance of victory, the court has a history of setting the democratic process aside altogether, and purportedly settling issues that are indeed political, and what’s more very controversial and hotly debated.

The Roe decision of 1973 and subsequent related cases turned abortion into a sacred cow that the legislative process could no longer touch. This case is similar in that sense, bringing about, as Justice Scalia put it, “social transformation without representation.”

The small consolation here for conservatives is that this case had coherent, well-articulated dissents in which four justices participated. There were four dissents in fact, the concise legal logic of which stood in stark contrast to the court’s mushy majority opinion.

But whatever there is to say about the merits of this case, its political ramifications are more to the point here. There is a 2016 presidential race in full swing, and this decision will affect it dramatically.

Some conservatives and Republicans and others have suggested that this ruling lets the Republican candidates off the hook on the issue. With the decision made and done, they argue, GOP candidates have a huge burden lifted from them. They no longer have to worry about whether a traditional position that has become increasingly unpopular with certain key voting demographics will hurt them.

Ramesh Ponnuru argued persuasively this month that that was not so, and his pessimism is probably well-grounded. This decision is likely to dog Republicans in a way the status quo ante did not.

Think about this in the clear light of day: For many conservative voters, the issue is not settled at all. Many oppose gay marriage, and even more oppose the sort of judicial interventionism that was just used to impose it. They aren’t just going to go away, and of all people, the Republican candidates most certainly cannot ignore them.

Conservative candidates will now be faced with demands to undo what has been done — and that’s harder to promise or do than the mere act of preventing something. For the general electorate, a promise to take something away from someone is more difficult politically. It may not be the enormous downside that social liberals expect, but this will have some kind of downside for any of these candidates, depending on how far they decide to go.

What this ruling does is to throw the primary into mild chaos by introducing a new element. Democratic candidates can simply cheer the Supreme Court’s decision, but Republican candidates who have professed opposition to state-recognized same-sex marriage will have to take a position showing just how much they oppose it. Will they call for a Constitutional change that puts states back in charge of marriage policy — as Scott Walker already has — or will they settle for religious freedom protections, as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio appear to have done?

Of course, all talk of a constitutional change is futile, at least for now. Even the most hardened opponents of same-sex marriage recognize that the 67 votes aren’t there in the Senate to undo gay marriage (which is how it would be framed). Perhaps support for such an amendment is akin to support for a balanced budget amendment — too unlikely for voters to give much credit to those who advocate it. On the other hand, it is becoming a more courageous stance as public opinion turns more sharply against the traditional understanding of marriage.

In short, the decision offers no relief for Republican politicians who want to be president. To the extent that it matters at all, it’s because it makes their lives harder, not easier.

Democrats: We’ve been hinting for some time that there are many reasons already for Democrats to be jittery about Hillary Clinton. It seems they might be getting there. A new UNH poll shows her with a rather modest 8-point lead over Bernie Sanders in the Granite State, which traditionally holds the first presidential primary. The poll could be a bit of a fluke, or a few points off, but it highlights how quickly Clinton’s supposedly inevitability could collapse during primary season. This is is not the sort of number an inevitable candidate posts.

Bobby Jindal: Well, someone obviously picked the wrong week to announce for CIB010615-Jindalpresident. But frankly, the fact that he got lost in events is the least of Jindal’s problems. He’s in a strange position. Most conservatives would be perfectly satisfied with Jindal as the nominee, but they also wouldn’t walk across the street to vote for him in a primary. He checks the right boxes and he is an incredibly smart man, but he’s also immensely unpopular right now in his home state. The governorship is highly likely to go to his nemesis, Sen. David Vitter, R, in this fall’s election, and for more than a year already he has made his desire to be president so plain that it’s a bit jarring.

At the moment, it does not seem like there’s a path to the White House for Jindal — not even one that involves a meteor strike. But things change, and Jindal could still become a contender if one or more of the current frontrunners falters or drops out.

Senate 2016

FloridaRoll Call reported last week that Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., is entering the open-seat Senate race and would make an announcement this week. But then Miller denied that this is the case. The conservative north Florida congressman is still considering a bid, though, and with his Veterans Affairs chairmanship term-limited, his incentive to stay in the House is diminished to some extent. Meanwhile, amid the VA scandal, Miller has succeeded in raising his own profile by handling the investigation well — and mercilessly, from the perspective of culpable bureaucrats.

Based on the Heritage Action scorecard, Miller is the most conservative chairman of any committee in the House, and by quite a long way. In theory, the most likely effect he would have in the race is to split the conservative and northern Florida vote with Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, against the establishment choice, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R, whose base of support is in Miami. Lopez-Cantera will be making his announcement July 15.

 

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 18-

Happy Father’s Day, to all the fathers out there.

This week:

  • How Donald Trump is like Barack Obama
  • Jeb the non-frontrunner launches
  • Pelosi outwitted on TPA

President 2016

Donald Trump: “They are not our friend, believe me … When Mexico sends its people, it is not sending its best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Behold, this is Donald Trump’s Hispanic outreach program. It’s a pretty ugly sight.

So should people take him seriously? No and yes.

Trump is a blow-hard, and has been a perennial tease about running for president since the turn of the century.  Even so, he’s actually pulled the trigger this time. That has to count for something.

Putting aside Trump’s personal celebrity for a moment, as well as his more clownish moments, it’s easy to tag his campaign as that of a billionaire international businessman campaigning as a know-nothing populist. Trump introduced himself to a crowd of cheering, paid actors, a fact that got quite a bit of attention — especially because his first line was, “Wow. Whoa. That is some group of people. Thousands…it’s an honor to have everybody here. This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this.” He went on, in true Trump fashion, to suggest that other candidates’ inability to select rooms they could fill at their speeches is a sign they cannot defeat the Islamic State.

But it was his speech that really underscored what can be expected from his campaign — a lot of ignorant and unvetted comments (“When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo?”), surrounded by statements with a kernel of truth (“Iran is taking over Iraq, and they’re taking it over big league”) and bluster. (“I beat China all the time!….I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created!”)

Even so, Trump talks the right talk for a lot of conservatives. His criticisms of Obamacare will resonate, as will his criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy. That doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. “Simplistic” is the word that comes to mind — not always wrong, but extremely simplistic.

And despite his oversimplifications (he implied that as president he would have the power both to undo NAFTA unilaterally and to dissuade Ford’s president, by sheer force of personality, from building cars in Mexico), he proposes to rule as a technocrat. In his speech, he talked as though merely finding the best negotiators was all it would take to improve America’s balance of trade.

This is why the best parallel for Trump is Ross Perot — by far. But another parallel is Barack Obama, who came into office preaching the strange notion that he could change international relations by dint of his own agreeable personality. He has obviously failed by his own measuring stick, but the real problem is that such a measuring stick — the same one Trump is using now — is stupid and arrogant. There is a good reason, for example, that no past American president has solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — it isn’t just because no one as brilliant as Barack Obama was president before. Likewise, America’s exports haven’t fallen behind because no one as brilliant as Donald Trump has ever been president before.

If Republicans have any reason to take Trump seriously, it’s that he’s a potential threat to their brand. The ugly rhetoric about Mexicans is bad enough on its own. But for all his talk of the populist talk, there is no one else who can outdo Mitt Romney in seeming out of touch with the average American than the guy who actually fires people on television.

CIB-022815-BushJeb Bush: Bush was supposed to be the frontrunner. The last few months have proven that he is anything but. He does not enjoy the confidence of conservatives, and he isn’t anywhere near to dominating the polls. He has a lot of work to claw his way into contention. And then, of course, there’s the whole problem of his last name. If it were Berkowitz, he might have a better chance.

Still, he should not be counted out. Bush started off on the right foot with last week’s speech. A few simple observations:

First, he is a far better speaker than his brother, and probably every bit as good a politician.

Second, he comes off as a more serious person. Democrats constantly attacked George W. Bush as someone who lacked seriousness — they will have a much harder time doing this with Jeb.

Third, he knows how to appeal to the same optimism that has so far propelled his fellow Floridian, Marco Rubio, into the top tier. He knows how to contrast his own candidacy with that of Hillary Clinton — “The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election. To hold onto power. To slog on with the same agenda under another name: That’s our opponents’ call to action this time around. That’s all they’ve got left.”

Fourth, even if he has merited the suspicion of conservatives, Bush understands how to appeal to them. One method he used was an appeal to religious freedom, citing the Obama administration’s oppression of the Little Sisters of the Poor (“It comes down to a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother, and I’m going with the Sisters”) and Hillary Clinton’s comment that religious beliefs inimical to the progressive agenda “have to be changed.”

Another was his citation of his record as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. Yes, his case is helped by the state’s then-ludicrous housing bubble, but he makes the best of it. For example:

“We made Florida number one in job creation and number one in small business creation. 1.3 million new jobs, 4.4 percent growth, higher family income, eight balanced budgets, and tax cuts eight years in a row that saved our people and businesses $19 billion. All this plus a bond upgrade to Triple-A compared to the sorry downgrade of America’s credit in these years. That was the commitment, and that is the record that turned this state around.”

Another example of this is his inveighing against crony capitalism in the tax code and elsewhere (“challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in the nation’s capital”), and in favor of limited government, which he mentioned by name.

Fifth, he successfully turned an old Obama message around and used it against him: “We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it.”

It was a strong speech and a good launch. The question is whether Jeb can get it right in the primaries, choosing the right mix of attacks on his rivals and promotion of his own record. The reports about an early shake-up within his campaign are actually good for him. This suggests that someone understands that the original plan (seize frontrunner status and coast to victory?) isn’t working. A willingness to admit problems is a great first step toward winning the nomination.

Congress

CIB021215-PelosiHouse Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was either outsmarted on trade or took up what she knew to be a lost cause in the first place as a favor to labor unions. Both possibilities are plausible.

Their union-backed plan two weeks ago was to vote down assistance for workers who lost their jobs due to trade, in hopes that this would prevent Senate Democrats from voting for trade promotion authority — also known as TPA, the vehicle by which free trade agreements will be possible. (They knew that many conservatives would vote against the assistance (known as TAA) as well, even if they supported the trade deal.)

Clever, but probably too clever. It might have worked, had the GOP leadership been unable to deliver its own votes in favor of TPA. But because they managed to do this, Democrats are now angrily denouncing President Obama — who wants TPA — as “a dictator” for potentially signing bills that Democrats voted against. It’s pretty funny, when you think about all the ink spilt trying to brand Republicans as racists for saying similar things about Obama for far more dubious actions he’s taken.

Having passed a clean TPA bill through the House last week, Senate Republicans will simply bring it up along with an African trade bill that many House Democrats (especially members of the black caucus) support fervently. The latter will likely have the worker assistance language included within it. When both pass, House Democrats will be faced with the possibility of free trade agreements going through without assistance for workers harmed by trade solely because of their own stubbornness. It will be up to them to make their choice — back the unions, the dying segment of their party that opposes free trade, or back the growing, vibrant segment of youth and Hispanic voters that support free trade.