Authors Posts by David Freddoso

David Freddoso

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 9

  • Rubio’s successful relaunch
  • 43-year-old senator overshadows Hillary, shakes up GOP field
  • Two incumbent senators — one in each party — already trail early for re-election

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Marco Rubio: Well, who ever said staged events don’t matter? Under the right circumstances, they can do quite a bit for the right candidate, as last week’s events demonstrate.

Contrary to expectations that Hillary Clinton‘s canned Sunday announcement would overshadow Rubio’s
speech, things turned out to be quite the opposite. Rubio put a merciful end to discussions about her arrow-H logo and her secret trip to Chipotle. And within days, at least one poll had him overtaking Jeb Bush in a primary poll of their shared home state of Florida.

Some have talked about Rubio as a Republican version of Obama. The description is not entirely inappropriate. Yes, he has more experience than Obama had before his 2008 run, but that’s not the important part of the comparison. Rubio has so far shown signs that he is, at the very least, not seriously deficient in any of the three most important characteristics we watch for in political candidates: discipline, intelligence, and charisma.

In politics, discipline is part humility, part prudence. It includes an ability to stay on message, manage one’s brand properly, and take direction from campaign professionals who know how it’s done — an especially important part of Reagan’s success that Robert Novak always attributed to his decades as an actor. The bottom line is that discipline means one can avoid unnecessary or stupid mistakes that distract or set a candidate back.

Intelligence fits the commonplace definition of the word — both smarts and the appearance of smarts.

Charisma is the quality that makes candidates seem relatable, likeable, charming and even uplifting when they speak. It makes you want to like them, even if you don’t already. Mrs. Clinton’s Iowa trip perhaps reminds everyone that a candidate with charisma doesn’t have to pretend to be human or understand ordinary people’s concerns (or to be meeting with “ordinary people”). They also don’t have to avoid answering direct questions from the press — including even hostile journalists. Rubio’s effortless ability to get audiences to like him and even laugh at his impromptu jokes and to hold his own in Spanish-language Univision interviews suggests that charisma won’t be a problem for him.

A candidate who has two of those three political virtues can compensate for the absence of the third. He can win a big election and perhaps even become president under the right circumstances — Bill Clinton famously lacked discipline (in more than one way), George W. Bush at least seemed less than razor-sharp, and George H.W. Bush was never known for his charisma. But a candidate who has all three is quite rare indeed — a real rock star, and perhaps an overnight sensation, much like Obama became in 2008. With his rollout, the 43-year-old Rubio has shown early potential to become one of these rare birds. Time will tell, though — discipline especially requires a lengthy testing period.

Rubio’s relative youth helps his cause in terms of charisma — especially in a race where the Democratic nominee will likely be pushing 70 years old. Rubio’s remarks identifying Clinton with the past — “yesterday is over” — will surely become a refrain of the eventual GOP nominee, assuming it isn’t the 62-year-old Jeb Bush. The fact that he is both Hispanic and (unlike Ted Cruz) a fluent Spanish-speaker cannot hurt either.

None of this is to say that Republicans will automatically accept Rubio ideologically or prefer him over the other strong candidates in the field — only that he clearly has the skills it would take to win a general election. Some Republicans (and crossover voters) will like Rubio from the start, so he is guaranteed a core of support. But it’s also likely that many non-Rubio Republicans are watching at this point and wishing he could be just a bit more them in his views, because he’d be just the right guy if he was. Within this group lies his potential for growth.

Nowadays, with the rise of ISIS, Russian aggression, and the threat of a nuclear Iran, it is possible that fewer CIB012615-Paul-Rubio-CruzRepublicans will be put off by Rubio’s hawkish foreign policy views than might have been, say, a year ago. The bigger challenge Rubio faces will be on immigration. But even here, he will be running in a GOP field where he can point to the same weakness in most or all of his competitors. Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Rand Paul and even Cruz have all been called out for comments in favor of granting some kind of legal status to millions of illegal immigrants — “amnesty,” as some would have it. The “amnesty but only after border security” position is quickly becoming a majority position even on the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Rubio’s answer on his own flip-flop on immigration has so far been that his legislative work on immigration reform taught him that border security must come first. This is not at all unlike the reasoning John McCain offered in 2008 on the way to winning the GOP nomination. And of course, it was enough for him to win.

The long and the short of it is, a lot of people were counting Rubio out until very recently. They’re not doing so any more. It goes to show what a candidate with strong skills can do when given the opportunity to reintroduce himself to the electorate.

Senate 2016

CIB010615-Senate-House-600x305A moment here to catch up on the early status of a few of next year’s potentially hot Senate races.

Colorado: In a year when Republican pickup opportunities are few and far between, this is a race they can’tafford to lose to poor recruiting. Sen. Michael Bennet, D, is extraordinarily weak, with a recent Quinnipiac poll putting him behind Rep. Mike Coffman, R, 43 to 40 percent. Coffman, who has been holding down a swingy congressional seat in the Denver suburbs, has not yet decided whether to make a go of it.

Bennet, recall, only narrowly escaped defeat in 2010 against a weak candidate, Ken Buck. His approval ratings are actually a bit stronger than usual in the poll mentioned above — he has never been popular since his appointment to the job after Sen. Ken Salazar, D, left to become Secretary of the Interior.

Florida: Rubio has made clear he will not be running for re-election, no matter what happens in his presidential race. And the Republican field has been left wide open as the two most likely and perhaps strongest candidates — Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Treasurer Jeff Atwater – have ruled out running. That leaves nearly a dozen possible candidates, including a few other statewide officials — most notably Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (a former congressman), Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera — and several Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, is shaping up to be the choice of conservative outside groups, with both the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives’ Fund encouraging him to run. That doesn’t guarantee him anything except the cash to be competitive in a primary. But one has to like the early chances of a conservative favorite if the field remains crowded.

Democrats may have their own ugly primary here. The consensus establishment candidate is Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, a prolific fundraiser and former Republican (until 2011) who has held down a Republican-leaning Treasure Coast district since 2012, but Orlando-area Rep. Alan Grayson, D, is reportedly planning a bid, emboldened somewhat by the lack of a top-tier Republican candidate. Grayson, who lost his seat in 2010 and returned to Congress thanks to redistricting, is a lightning rod with a messy personal life (which, in fairness, is not entirely his fault). He is probably too abrasive and too ideologically extreme to win a general election statewide. But can he win a Democratic primary in a state with an amazingly weak Democratic Party, against a former Republican? At least don’t count him out.

Nevada: Harry Reid’s retirement leaves Republicans with one of their two main pickup opportunities. Republicans are largely waiting to see whether Gov. Brian Sandoval, R, runs, as this will determine whether and what sort of GOP primary there will be. In the meantime, though, Reid’s hand-picked opponent, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto, does not have a glide-path to the nomination, and might in fact be an underdog in the primary. An early poll shows Las Vegas Rep. Dina Titus, D, trouncing her, 44 to 20 percent. Titus lost the race for governor in 2006 before taking over the seat previously held by 2012 Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Berkley.

Another note: Regardless of Republicans’ apparently waning presidential prospects in the Silver State, it is worth remembering that Berkley lost that 2012 race narrowly to Sen. Dean Heller, R, despite President Obama’s 6.5-point victory.

Pennsylvania: Democrats still have not found a top-tier challenger for Sen. Pat Toomey, R, despite a well-publicized desire to prevent former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, from receiving the nomination again. Sestak’s 2010 loss, after his anti-establishment run in the primary against former Sen. Arlen Specter (by then a Democrat) didn’t make him popular, but with Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane facing possible indictment on official oppression and perjury charges, they have yet to find a plan B.

Plan C appears to be the mayor of Toomey’s adopted hometown of Allentown, Ed Palowski, who got into the race last week and will begin campaigning this week. He is definitely the underdog in the primary. Toomey’s chances have to be liked in the general at this point.

Despite the widely expected loss by Gov. Tom Corbett, R, in November’s election, the Keystone State has been trending Republican (its legislature is at a historic Republican peak) and could be a serious presidential target next year for the first time since 2004, when George W. Bush made a serious effort and lost it by only 2.5 percentage points (145,000 votes). The reasoning is that with Obama off the ticket and the state’s middle and west becoming increasingly Republican, Philadelphia might fail to deliver the Democratic nominee the enormous margins necessary to guarantee a statewide win.

Wisconsin: Ron Johnson is living up to his reputation as the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senator. A new poll from Marquette University Law School (the same poll that accurately called Scott Walker’s wins) has him trailing Russ Feingold in a rematch of 2010 that seems very likely to happen, 54 to 38 percent. That number is unspeakably abysmal for an incumbent, even if one argues that this particular poll is an outlier.

It suggests that a Johnson win will require both an unexpectedly strong Republican presidential performance in his state and a great deal of his own money. Perhaps a miracle as well. Johnson is the clear early underdog in one of the races that will determine whether Republicans can hold the U.S. Senate into the new presidency.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 7 -

  • Indiana and the portrait of courage
  • Ted Cruz’s candidacy
  • Obama makes most effective push yet on Iran.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
Happy Easter, and Happy Passover. 

Outlook

IranAt many points in his presidency, Barack Obama has shown an embarrassing tin-ear — a glaring lack of political acumen in dealing with situations that just weren’t really that difficult to handle. Take, for example, his reaction to his party’s loss in the 2014 midterm; or his reaction to the Fort Hood massacre; or the handling of the Bowe Bergdahl swap; or his flogging (at various points throughout his presidency, but recently as well) the idea of a robust economic recovery at a time when the economy wasn’t really improving much at all.

When it comes to Iran, Obama has had his tin-ear moments. But last week, he had a golden one. It was a CIB033015-obama-kerrypublic relations triumph in which Obama successfully papered over many important realities — chief among which that there was no actual agreement with Iran to announce. Obama managed to take the failure to reach an agreement by the March 31 deadline and turn it into something that seemed like and was covered like a victory.

Obama’s explanation of the (presumably forthcoming) deal challenged Republicans in a way previous versions had not. He argued that the U.S. is actually desperate for this deal because Iran is just months away from having what it needs for a nuclear bomb. If no deal is made, he pointed out, Iran can simply finish the job. He strongly oversold the idea that Iran is trustworthy and has upheld its obligations to date.

If Iran is trustworthy, then Obama may be right to frame the situation as a choice between the deal and another Middle Eastern war. Here’s the problem: If Iran is untrustworthy, then this is a false choice, because the U.S. could well get a nuclear deal with Iran this summer and then get a Middle Eastern war between Sunnis and Shiites to go along with it. In fact, the warring parties have already got a head start in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

President 2016

Indiana RFRA: The religious freedom bill that is currently causing so much controversy in Indiana is worth taking a moment to look at in this time of year, when Christians and Jews celebrate two unpopular ideas — the resurrection of Christ, in the one case, and in the other the deliverance of the Jews from captivity in Egypt through plagues sent by God on the Egyptians.

Both of those religions claim a divine origin — as do most others, including Islam. In this day and age (as in others) such claims are viewed with suspicion and frequently responded to with hatred. But these are by no means the strangest or least popular religious claims out there. Believers, to paraphrase Saint Paul, hold to many tenets of faith that the world considers foolishness, and that applies to nearly all religions.

In ages past, secular governments tried to enforce religious orthodoxy and uniformity as a matter of preserving civil order. The United States made a clean break from this practice — something for which people of all faiths can be grateful. Within reasonable limits that prevent the total undermining of the civil order, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is specifically designed to protect the least popular religious beliefs in any given era.

We know what that is today. Because of its intersection with the resurgent, popular cause of sexual liberation and gay equivalence, religious freedom will be a very important political issue going forward — a threshold issue for many on both sides.

This is not really the place to opine on the issue, but the premises of this debate among GOP primary voters must be clearly understood. The collective freak-out over Indiana’s new religious freedom law is part of a calculated effort to ostracize believers who will never privately, within the six inches between the walls of their skulls, accept gay marriage as an equivalent institution to traditional marriage. These believers were trying to negotiate the terms of their surrender in the culture war — the acceptance of legalized same-sex marriage, etc. — only to discover that the Left will accept nothing short of unconditional surrender. Society will remain incomplete so long as there is one professional photographer who expresses a moral objection to participating in a same-sex wedding, so those who resist in this way must be singled out, driven out of business, and sued into oblivion.

By going so far over the top in their response to this Indiana law, the Left’s culture warriors are trying to mount a head on a pike (perhaps that of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, but it could be that of others as well) and make an example of him so that this form of crimethink is permanently banished and forgotten within a generation or two.

This is how the Republican base views this law. Looking at it that way, how do Republicans address this issue and manage to avoid having their heads placed on pikes, yet also avoid violating their principles or at least upsetting their base?

Some of them had ideas of how to go about this. It is interesting to see how they did with their varied approaches. If nothing else, it tells us something about them.

Jeb:

CIB020415-Bush-150x150 (1)No one was surprised to see Ted Cruz (more on him below) give the law his full-throated backing at the earliest moment. But how about Jeb Bush? Despite his reputation as the moderate in the mix, Jeb was first out of the gate with a statement supporting Pence and the Indiana law, long before therewas any talk of “clarifying” it. Even as he gave that statement, Jeb (correctly) pointed out that the law does not foster or promote discrimination, and said he was opposed to discrimination against homosexuals.

Bush showed a lot of political savvy in handling the issue this way, and it does not seem to have hurt him to be bold on it. This is a necessity for Jeb, whose main goal between now and the Iowa caucuses, is to remind conservatives that before he was tagged with the moderate label, he governed like and was widely perceived to be a conservative.

Marco Rubio:

Another early adopter, Rubio was concise with his explanation: “[N]o one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or a hotel because of their sexual orientation. I think that’s a consensus view in America. The flip side of it is, though, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?”

Rand Paul:

As of Sunday morning, Rand Paul had avoided making any comment on the law. Whether he is actually hiding or not, this doesn’t help him out at all. This is an obvious issue where social conservatives and libertarians can easily find common cause — it would have served him well to get in with a comment early on.

Walker:

Gov. Scott Walker hedged his bets here. His first reaction was to point out that Wisconsin law bars discrimination and its constitution protects religious freedom already. As Jeb Bush gave his backing to Pence, Walker was saying, “That’s an issue they’ll have to debate in Indiana, it’s really not somethingthat we’re doing to be involved in here,” in Wisconsin.

A few day later, Walker gave a less equivocal statement of support and blamed the media for creating the controversy. He ended up in the right place, but once again excessive caution and timidity seem to plague his decision-making process. This is not the Walker who wrote (or approved) his book, Unintimidated. Walker will have to find that version of himself, and soon, if he wants to make himself and not Ted Cruz the conservative alternative to Bush.

Ted Cruz: 

As noted above, Cruz took an early stand on Indiana, and that put pressure on others to follow. Expect to see more of this dynamic. 

There is a certain danger in underestimating Cruz now that he has announced his presidential campaign. Say whatever else you like about him, Cruz is a principled man when it comes to his political convictions. He will have the fundraising firepower of grassroots donor email-lists built up over the last few years — especially during the “defund Obamacare” push and the government shutdown. His fundraising has been phenomenal in its opening stage for an insurgent candidate. Cruz’s presence in the race will influence many devoted GOP primary voters.

At the same time, do not overestimate Cruz. He is hyper-ambitious, and his ambitions are at this point way too big for his experience or his political savvy. Many conservatives admire him, but many others who agree with him on issues are suspicious, based on his short political career and his scorched earth Senate tactics. To whatever extent GOP primary voters base their preference on ability to win a general election, Cruz will suffer.

The two roles Cruz seems most likely to play in the coming race are (1) that of the conservative who keeps the other conservatives in the race honest, and (2) that of the spoiler, who helps divide the conservative vote, pushing a less conservative candidate over the top.  As in many other state-level races where a vote-splitting dynamic may or may not emerge, it’s very hard to see how the fault-lines form in advance.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 6 -

  • Harry Reid retires — his Senate legacy
  • Grand pickup opportunity for Republicans
  • Republican targets in the House for 2016

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

Overview: Hillary Clinton’s situation becomes uglier with the revelation that she wiped her server clean of all her emails at some point after being asked to produce the ones related to State Department business last fall. 

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy’s now-famous explication of “spoliation of evidence” comes to mind immediately — when people destroy evidence in court cases, juries are allowed to presume that they did so because they had something to hide. In this case, voters are entitled to the same privilege.

Clinton set up a system that put her above the law and federal regulations and Obama administration policy, and she has tried to use her illicit, opaque behavior in office to confer a benefit upon herself. This probably won’t kill her hopes for the Democratic nomination — as we’ve previously noted, there is no other credible Democrat waiting in the wings to replace her — but don’t be surprised if voters decide not to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Senate 2016

Harry Reid: Harry Reid’s not wholly unexpected retirement announcement is a serious blow for Democrats in a number of ways. For one thing, they are losing the most capable parliamentary tactician and manipulator in their party.

Harry Reid Quits: How his exit can let the Senate start healing Read the full Weekly Briefing: http://j.mp/CIB-BriefingVol3-Iss6

Posted by Conservative Intelligence Briefing on Monday, March 30, 2015

To understand Reid’s effectiveness, consider that after more than a decade of fierce resistance, he almost single-handedly prevented nuclear waste from being transported away from major population centers all over America to be stored at a scientifically approved safe location at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Reid pulled this off at a cost of as much as $65 billion to American taxpayers. Thanks to Reid, taxpayers will be paying a minimum of $23 billion in damages (or possibly twice that amount) to the various utility companies around America who had paid fees on the promise that their nuclear waste would be removed to Yucca Mountain by 2020.

This may all sound reprehensible — and objectively speaking, it is — but a senator who can pull that off on behalf of his state through years of bare-knucked political machinations is precisely the guy you want leading your Senate caucus. Reid’s skill covers a multitude of sins within his party, including his shady land deals and the embarrassing, blow-hard, offensive, and even slanderous comments he has made at various times about President Bush, the Koch Brothers, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and others.

Reid’s parliamentary acumen, combined with a lack of excessive reverence for the institution of the Senate, permitted him to dominate the upper chamber in a way that previous majority leaders never did. The following chart, compiled from congressional data sources, illustrates how he did it and shows how his reign was unlike those of his predecessors in either party:CIB032315-GraphYou will notice that after Reid became Senate Majority Leader in 2007 — in the 110th Congress — the number of amendments proposed by the Democratic leader suddenly skyrockets. There is a simple reason for this: In an effort to prevent floor amendments and floor votes on issues that might prove embarrassing to his members, Reid was doing something known as “filling the tree.” The basic idea is to propose bogus amendments to every important bill (at least two amendments for every distinct part of the bill) in order to block anyone else from offering an amendment of their own. The majority leader can do this and no one can prevent him because he has the privilege of first recognition from the chair.

As the chart suggests, Reid’s use of this tactic reached unprecedented levels. The slide in amendments by his Republican counterpart is also a sign of how, over time, Republicans were increasingly excluded from the legislative process. This, in essence, is how Reid “destroyed the Senate,” at least as a body where members’ votes and voices counted and everyone participated in the legislative process. This also explains the other side of the “Republican obstruction” story. Unable to amend (or even to try to amend) key bills, Republicans had even more motive than usual to try to block everything. If you turn on C-Span 2, you will notice that the Senate is functioning very differently now that Reid is out as majority leader — earlier this year, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed more amendments in one day than Reid had in the entire previous Congress. 


Another important point: People might wonder why Reid was so reluctant to propose budgets each 
year, and why the Senate went so long without passing one. Because budget amendments cannot be blocked in this way, the typical vote-a-rama that occurs with a budget resolution (this just happened last week) can be awkward for members, forcing them to take sides on everything from minimum wage to taxpayer funding of abortion. Reid’s goal was to protect his fellow Democrats from such votes, and so presenting a budget would have been counterproductive. 

And a final note on Reid’s importance to Democrats: In Nevada, they will really miss him. About 550,000 people voted in Nevada’s governor’s race last year. In the 2010 midterm, when Reid was on the ballot and driving the Democratic vote with his machine, nearly 700,000 people voted. It is a clear sign that Nevada Democrats face a possibly grim future without him. His hand-picked successor, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, D, will have her work cut out for her — and that goes double if the popular Gov. Brian Sandoval, R, decides to enter the race.

House 2016

Republicans now have their largest House majority since Herbert Hoover was president. But why stop there when you could go for the heady heights of the Coolidge era?

Last week, we looked at likely Democratic House targets. Here’s a quick and early look at some of the House seats Republicans will probably target in 2016.

Florida-2:

It won’t be easy to win this North Florida seat back from Rep. Gwen Graham, D, one of just two Democrats to defeat an incumbent Republican in 2014. But the district is quite winnable, and Republicans would be foolish not to try. The Republican field remains unclear — former Rep. Steve Southerland, who lost it in November, has ruled out a rematch. The seat probably becomes an easy pickup if Graham leaves it to run for Senate.

Florida-18:

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., is abandoning this Republican-leaning Treasure Coast seat to run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. It should be one of the easiest pickups for Republicans in 2016, if not the easiest. The seat was lost by Rep. Allen West, R in 2012, and Republicans failed to field a credible candidate in 2014 to take it back.

Minnesota-7:

When Rep. Collin Peterson, D, retires, this seat will probably flip to the GOP. But he is a strong incumbent, and one of the very few House Democrats who voted against Obamacare. Republicans’ run at him in 2014 got some attention when a late poll showed a close race, but they came up nine points short. Peterson, who will be 72 on election day, has said he is running for re-election — but then, so did Harry Reid, right?

Nebraska-2:

This Omaha-area district was the site of the other Republican incumbent’s defeat. Rep. Lee Terry faced a much stronger-than-expected primary from his right, and nearly drew an independent Tea Party challenge as well. That threat was averted, but his campaign became desperate in the final stretch against now-Rep. Brad Ashford, and a racially tinged NRCC ad connecting Ashford to a black mass-murderer backfired on Terry. He lost by about 4,000 votes.

Republicans have a slight edge in the district and will surely try to win it back. The first Republican to announce is a retired Air Force General, Don Bacon, who describes himself as a conservative. He probably won’t have the primary field to himself.

One thing working against the GOP here is Nebraska’s unusual law parceling out its electoral votes based on the winner by congressional district. Obama competed for and won the district in 2008. It is more Republican now, but the Democratic nominee could well consider trying to repeat that feat, which is sure to drive up Democratic turnout. A recent bid by Republicans to make Nebraska a winner-take-all state was stymied in the unicameral legislature earlier this month.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 5 -

  • Does Scott Walker suddenly lack self-confidence?
  • Here’s how he could blow a race that’s his to win.
  • Eye on vulnerable GOP House districts.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Scott Walker: Liz Mair, a social media consultant for Scottt Walker’s campaign, made some tweets before she was hired disparaging Iowa’s role as the first state to conduct the presidential caucuses. She also mentioned the fact that Iowa is a state heavily dependent on agricultural subsidies.This is really all just common sense, but the ensuing kerfuffle led to Iowa Republicans attacking Mair and one conservative writer even questioning her dual British citizenship. She was ultimately forced to resign.

This wouldn’t have been noticed at all except that Mair is a friend or acquaintance to many conservative journalists and pundits (including yours truly) and thus her case garnered her a lot of sympathy. But let’s be frank about this: From a candidate’s perspective, consultants are 100 percent expendable. They are hired to help win elections, and the moment they start doing the opposite — even if it is for reasons beyond their control — they understand as well as anyone else that they are about to see the underside of a large multi-passenger vehicle.

Even so, Mair’s offense was mild — at best a borderline case. This episode’s outcome, though not broadly meaningful on its own, adds a few brushstrokes to an unflattering portrait of Team Walker’s strategy and goals. They appear just a bit too eager to please everyone, and it’s hard to understand why because this isn’t what his political career has been about so far. 

In this case, they have rewarded the loudest whiners among a few easily offended Iowa Republicans, and also perhaps a few others who found Mair’s personal social liberalism objectionable (although social conservatives were also some of her staunchest defenders).

None of this would be remarkable, except that by the time it happened it was already part of a pattern. Walker, whose team had to have seen Mair’s Twitter feed before she was hired, had already softened his position on ethanol at a forum in Iowa and hardened his stance on immigration — in each case attempting to pander to one constituency or another. This is really not a road Walker wants to or needs to go down. In fact, it could prove his undoing if he stays on it.

After governing his state in a way that demonstrates political confidence, Walker has shown signs lately that he completely lacks it in his presidential campaign. He appears to feel like he has to prove something when all the proof is there already. 

This is supposed to be the beauty of Walker’s candidacy: He doesn’t have to call himself a “severe conservative” or talk about “self-deporting” (or even just deporting) immigrants in order to win conservative support. He’s not like Mitt Romney, a former liberal Republican governor of Massachusetts who needs to convince people he’s something he isn’t in order to win a primary. He isn’t even like Jeb Bush, a governor who had a decent conservative record in office but currently suffers from some conservatives’ distrust.

Walker’s situation is much better. He has no baggage that Republican primary voters care about, and he has proven he’s trustworthy as a conservative. This should give him an advantage in that it means he doesn’t have to pander. What people admire most in him, as one local party boss in South Carolina put it recently, is that he has “guts.” Why ruin that image now with desperate-looking pandering and gimmicks?

Walker has the easiest case to make of any of the current challengers — including the newly entered Ted Cruz. He solved his state’s short-term and long-term fiscal problems with a full frontal assault on public-sector unions, the Left’s most important institution in Wisconsin. He held his ground in very difficult times — against massive protests, rioting in his state capitol building, and death threats. Because the reforms actually worked and the proof was irrefutable, he persuaded voters that he had been right all along and survived a recall attempt. Beyond his better-known Act 10 budget bill, he and the state legislature have caught Wisconsin up with the rest of the nation on other pet conservative causes, such as concealed carry, Right to Work, and probably soon restrictions on late-term abortion.

What this means is that even if Walker isn’t the best candidate, at least no one on the Right needs to think twice about whether this guy is “one of us.” And one cannot say that of most candidates for president. At the very least, it puts Walker past the threshold of acceptability for nearly every kind of conservative voter, and the initial first choice of enough GOP primary voters to make him competitive for the nomination.

It might seem somewhat counterintuitive, but beyond the conservative core, this should make Walker more palatable to the establishment as well. Candidates look weak and stupid when they pander during primaries. They stake out unsustainable positions and they make dubious flip-flops that leave voters skeptical later on. A candidate who can win conservatives without pandering is, therefore, the best of all worlds.

And so when he panders — whether to conservatives, Iowans, Liz Mair haters or corn farmers — Walker gives the impression that he lacks confidence in his ability to win by simply being himself.

This is a recipe for losing the voters’ respect. It’s one way he could really blow it in a race where he is arguably already the favorite — a previously unknown candidate with a high level of early support and plenty of room to grow, given his low name-recognition.

House 2016

In 2012, Democrats made modest gains in the U.S. House thanks to Barack Obama’s coattails. It stands to reason, then, that they will regain some of what they lost in 2014 in the coming presidential year. But how much?

Here is a very early look at some of the Republican-held seats that are in greatest danger of flipping next year — all places where Democrats will surely work hard to find strong recruits.

Arizona-2:Martha McSally, R, won this fair-fight East Tucson seat (formerly held by Reps. Jim Kolbe, R, and Gabby Giffords, D) by less than 200 votes last year in her rematch with former Rep. Ron Barber, D. The race was nearly as close when she lost in 2012. This seat just isn’t going to be easy for anyone to hold this decade, period.

Maine-2: Republicans just won this seat for the first time since the 1990s, and it might seem difficult for Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R, to defend. But his victory in November was by a wide margin (even though he did not reach 50 percent) and came amid extremely high midterm turnout, thanks to (of all things) a bear-baiting referendum.

This suggests that the 2016 bump for Democrats will not be nearly as great here as it might be elsewhere, as does the overwhelming whiteness of the district. Provided he can establish an appropriate rapport with his constituents, Poliquin has to be the favorite on paper, especially if Democratic primary voters allow a rematch against Emily Cain, a social-liberal state legislator.

Illinois-10: In Chicago’s northern suburbs, there’s yet another district that teeters every year. It always came close to going Blue (but never did) every two years when Sen. Mark Kirk, R, held it, but Democrats made it more favorable to themselves in redistricting. This time the seat is back in the GOP column.Rep. Robert Dold, R, could well face the man he lost to in 2012 then defeated in 2014, Brad Schneider, D. It will be a close contest no matter what, but the Obama-home-state effect will not be a factor this time as it was in 2012.

Iowa-1: Heres another newly Republican seat that could flip back. Jim Nussle, R, once held this seat before Rep. Bruce Braley did. The map hasn’t changed enough that there’s any reason to think a Republican cannot hold it. But it will never be easy. Rep. Rod Blum, R, has his work cut out for him in holding it down.

Nevada-4: Democrats could conceivably win a lot of House seats next yera, but this is probably the only one that they will find to be a slam-dunk takeback. Extremely low Democratic turnout allowed Rep. Cresent Hardy, R, to sneak in and seize a very Democratic district, but that is unlikely to happen again in a presidential year. That goes double if Sen. Harry Reid, D, actually does run for re-election and pulls out all the stops to save himself as he did in 2010.

New Hampshire-1: This district has changed hands four times in ten years. Rep. Frank Guinta, R, is now serving his second non-consecutive term. It is still possible that he could face his fourth matchup against former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, whom he defeated in 2010 and 2014 but lost to in 2012.

New York-24: This Syracuse-area seat is not an easy one for a Republican to hold under any circumstances. John Katko’s resounding 20-point victory over former Rep. Dan Maffei, D, last November holds forth at least some hope, but the fundamentals of the district will be working against him. One open Question is whether Hillary Clinton has any strong residual popularity in upstate New York that can help others downticket.

Texas-23: Rep. Will Hurd, R, won this district last year, which has previously been the subject of a Supreme Court case regarding its ethnic composition. It has a bloody history, changing shapes three times since 2000 and changing hands in 2006, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Hurd, a former CIA officer who worked undercover in Pakistan, unexpectedly knocked off a rising star in Texas Democratic politics last year — Pete Gallego — who already started making noises last month about a possible rematch.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 4 -

  • Team Clinton: A classic winner that may not be ready for today
  • The old Clinton playbook is dusty
  • Jeb suddenly starts lowering expectations

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

It was a tough week for two establishment frontrunners, but a much, much tougher week for Hillary Clinton than it was for Jeb Bush.

Hillary Clinton:

Think of your favorite classic football team. Maybe it’s Joe Montana and the 49ers teams he took to the Super Bowl in the 1980s. Or maybe the ’85 Bears. I’ll think of the almost-did-it Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s.

Whichever team you’re thinking of, you probably wouldn’t want to see them take the field again today. Yes, of course, they’re football heroes. But no matter how superior they were in their day, they are just too old and rusty to put on pads and start trying to match skills with today’s players.

Age isn’t the only problem. The entire league has also grown in size and weight. Players have gotten faster over the years. New tactics and playbooks have emerged. The no-huddle offense, once a novelty, is now something defenses are trained to defend against. New offenses have become more popular — the wildcat, the pistol — and old players might find themselves at a loss defending against them, never having been trained in the best practices.

This is a natural effect of the passage of time. And in politics today, Team Clinton faces a similar dynamic. In the 1990s, they developed the playbook for handling brutal, damaging scandals. They put the same old faces on television to argue that the Clintons were the victims of an unjust persecution. They trotted out the same sort of vaguely plausible explanation for every documented misdeed.

But can the responses they used then — to shout, to confuse, to demonize accusers, to rely upon opponents to overplay their hand — work in the very different world that exists today?

It’s an open question, but it’s the one that dogs Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. Last week, she held a press conference conference to address the incredible, embarrassing fact that she exclusively used private email to conduct official business during her time as President Obama’s secretary of state. It did not go well — and conservatives were not the only ones to point this out. As the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza put it on Twitter, “Not trolling but I personally thought email story was mostly bogus until watching this press conference and learning how she handled this.” If even sympathetic lliberal media figures are now questioning Clinton’s honesty and competence, what hope will she have of persuading most others?

At the heart of this scandal is the fact that Clinton arrogantly placed herself above the law. She chose to make an end-run around the laws that are supposed to guarantee maximum transparency in government records — perhaps to protect herself from scrutiny at some future date. When she is questioned about it, she invokes her right to privacy regarding her personal matters, which she personally chose to commingle with public business when she chose to work from her private email server.

As a result of Clinton’s end run around laws that only apply to little people, she also left sensitive information — namely, the immediate decisions and thinking of the senior diplomat of the United States — open and accessible to foreign intelligence services on a server that was not properly secured.

When she finally got around to submitting the records of her official business to the State Department — long after this was required under Obama administration policy and federal regulations — she had already managed to thwart proper congressional inquiries into her official business as well as Freedom of Information requests. It is hard to believe this was not by design. And one can only look agape at her declaration that she destroyed correspondence that she and her campaign team — not necessarily legal experts — had deemed unrelated to her official role at State.

Amid the emails Mrs. Clinton has actually submitted to the State Department and the House Benghazi Select Committee are several gaps, according to chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. There are, in fact, no 
emails from the time she traveled to Libya — the time when the iconic photograph of her staring at her Blackberry was taken.

Clinton’s explanation became even less plausible when she parsed her language in her press conference to leave the almost certainly misleading impression that no classified information had been transmitted through her insecure home email server. Her assertion will be proven false if the State Department, whenever it releases the emails she deigned to submit, redacts even a single line on national security grounds.

Her assertion that she wished to protect private correspondence with her husband was proven false at the same moment she uttered it, as Bill Clinton’s aides revealed to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the former president has sent only two emails in his entire life, both during his presidency. The same could be said of her stated assumption that any email she sent to subordinates who used government email addresses would be preserved. It turns out the state department did not routinely save such correspondence until well after Clinton left office. Did she know nothing about her own department’s policy? 

In the time since, the old Clinton attack dogs have hit the airwaves. But will the public accept explanations that come from a Clinton lackey like David Brock of Media Matters? Will it ignore the unintentional suggestion by James Carville that Hillary Clinton conducted business on a private server in order to avoid having Congress see too much of what she is doing?

Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that Clinton might not be the sure thing she once seemed. Her inept and transparently dishonest answers about the handling of her poor judgment on her emails do not hint at good things coming if she becomes their nominee. And they face a lonely, dark world without her — one in which the task of rallying a sluggish Democratic base falls to a lackluster Democratic rival for the nomination — probably former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

As the Obama era ends, Democrats may ultimately conclude that there is no new Obama waiting in the wings. That could be serious grounds for despair.

Jeb Bush:

After weeks of building up expectations about his fundraising game among establishment donors, POLITICO reports that Bush now has to tamp them down.

It could signify one of two things: Either he expects to fall far short of the announced goal of raising $100 million in SuperPAC funds by this month’s end, or that he doesn’t want to look like the establishment candidate with the big moneybags, just waiting to be taken down by a true conservative. That makes this story a lose-lose for him, and perhaps a lesson for the future about setting expectations too high.

Senate 2016

Florida:

It was always hard to imagine that former Republican governor-slash-Indepenent Senate candidate-slash-loser for governor in 2014 Charlie Crist would even think once about another run for Senate. Crist seemed to confirm the improbability on Monday when he declared that he would not be running for anything next year.

But with Sen. Marco Rubio, R, considering a presidential run, Democrats might have a better shot at his seat than usual. Rubio would begin in a strong position for reelection, according to a recent poll, cracking 50 percent.

CIB031715- Scott_Crist-300x206 If he doesn’t run, state CFO Jeff Atwater, R, and Attorney General Pam Bondi are both considered top prospects. There’s also Agriculture Commissioner and former U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam.

Democrats,whose bench in Florida is amazingly thin for such a competitive state, are far more likely to go with Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, who represents a Republican district on the Treasure Coast, as their nominee than with DNC Chairmwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose negatives are sky-high and who has had a tumultuous relationship with the Obama White House.

Maryland:

Republicans have little chance of competing for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D, but the Democratic primary will be interesting. As Tim Carney points out, Democratic party insiders are mostly interested in nominating proven fundraiser and former DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen, and not so much in picking a hard-left liberal like Rep. Donna Edwards, even if that creates some awkward moments for the party’s mostly-black voter base. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D, is reportedly considering a run, and he would probably present Van Hollen with a difficult challenge in a primary.    

Pennsylvania:

Democrats would like someone else credible to enter this race, but for now it appears that they might be stuck with former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, as the candidate whom Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is most likely to face in what would be a rematch of his 2010 race. Sestak’s announcement was unusual because he went so far out of his way to suggest that he does not have the blessing of his party’s leadership. That blessing usually comes with good reason, though — it signifies the faith that knowledgeable party insiders place in a candidate. They seem to have little faith in him.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 3 -

  • What if Hillary just isn’t all that?
  • Menendez faces corruption indictment
  • With a weak bench but a target-rich Senate map, Dems turn to retreads

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: “The Hillary Juggernaut,” the Salon headline blares. “Why Clinton may already be unstoppable.” The piece, by Walter Shapiro, goes on to make the case that Clinton’s ability to raise money 
effortlessly, the potency of her husband as a surrogate (as well as nostalgia for his presidency), and “emotional support from a significant percentage of women voters” makes her nomination inevitable.

It sounds like a pretty strong argument. But the article appeared almost exactly nine years ago, in March 2006. Democrats entered the 2008 presidential cycle with the full expectation that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. So did Republicans — entire books were written and a now-famous Citizens United movie was produced in order to thwart her. Yet after a drawn-out primary process, the Democrats decided they could do better. And they did.

The Hillary die-hards hung on as long as they could in 2008. But Clinton’s married name was ultimately insufficient to compensate for her sub-par personal and campaigning skills, her lack of “likeability,” and her perfectly adequate but not commanding grasp of issues. The contrast between Clinton and Barack Obama could not have been more pronounced.

Obama was the rarest of candidates, possessing not only the psychological advantage of the underdog but also an obviously superior intellect, discipline, and charisma. In the beginning, he could not yet raise Clintonesque sums of money from big donors, but he more than made up for that by simply not having the Clinton sense of entitlement. This made his race against Hillary an even more pronounced version of Skywalker versus Evil Empire than it might have otherwise been.

Democrats looked at Clinton, and then they looked at Obama. They were ready to be seduced.

Primary struggles have a lot less impact on general election processes than political journalists like to pretend — after all, they have to justify all that time they spend in Iowa. But a candidate’s weaknesses that show up in the first phase tend to last into the second. For example, Mitt Romney’s lack of charisma and message discipline was on display throughout his last-man-standing GOP primary in 2012 — and then reared its head once again in the general election.

Which is a roundabout way of saying there is no reason to expect Clinton will be a completely different person from the “likeable enough” candidate of 2008 who delivered canned applause lines in a grating sing-song voice and blew her status as the prohibitive frontrunner against an unlikely insurgent.

That is not to say that Republicans can necessarily beat Clinton. They surely will not field a nominee who can campaign as well as Obama or have his appeal. But the point is that Hillary Clinton puts on her pant-suit one leg at a time. 

Email scandal: And Clinton’s vulnerability has never been as clear as it was last week. The massive scandal over her exclusive use of unsecured private email for State Department business dominated last week’s news cycle. Even her most dogged defenders cannot spin it away — it is, as Ron Fournier put it, “a scandal for anyone with a brain.” It has gained traction far beyond the small world of conservative media, breaking in the pages of The New York Times and dominating coverage in every other mainstream publication. 

Without going through the scandal’s details (you can read them here or here), it is enough to say here that the incident at least suggests a level of incompetence and personal entitlement that either matches or supersedes previous foibles on her part. It’s not just the disdain for government transparency — in fact, Clinton’s conscious choice to place herself above federal records and transparency regulations may well have helped foreign intelligence services access secret diplomatic information or even classified documents, as her personal email server has been described highly insecure. It is also impossible to know that she has not deleted emails pertaining to government business that the State Department will never obtain for its records, as the system she used was apparently designed to make it easy to dispose of records.

The incident might even have legal implications for her — a contempt motion has already been filed in two federal Freedom of Information cases. If that angle pans out, she will probably be working through the mess at the very time she needs to be raising money for and staging a campaign.

Consequences for Democrats: Democrats had grown comfortable with the Obama political machine, and its ability to turn out majorities that seemed to threaten the GOP’s very existence through the sheer force of demographic change. But what if (as we have previously suggested here) that was really all about Obama, and not about the Democratic party at all? If so, Democrats must replace the Obama juggernaut that inspired so many with a new, different coalition like Obama’s. Clinton presents such an opportunity — to bring single women especially together behind potentially the first female president.

But as Clinton struggles, the party finds itself looking into the abyss. Only now do Democrats finally understand how thin their Clinton lifeline really is. At the moment, there is no plan B, and it’s nearly April. Were Scott Walker or Jeb Bush to suffer a major campaign-ending scandal, Republicans would have (at least arguably) qualified replacements waiting in the wings. Not so the Democrats, whose stable of qualified contenders has been largely wiped out by voters in the last five years.

So far, there are no serious contenders who could take Clinton’s place and start off as anything but a huge underdog. Certainly, no one can look to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as the man who will inspire the next successful Democratic coalition. Joe Biden? Please! New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo? Fuhgeddaboutit. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders? He’ll be fun in debates, but a president he is not. And forget about the candidates who want to challenge Clinton from her right — former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts? A much more interesting choice than any of these, and a proven fundraiser who might be capable of toppling Hillary even though she just won her first elected office two years ago. But what about the general election? And for that matter, is she even slightly interested in running?

The situation is bad enough that Al Gore is suddenly planning a trip to Iowa. If that isn’t panic-inducing, it’s hard to imagine what would be. 

Meanwhile, the stakes are pretty high. If Democrats lose the White House and at the same time fail to gain five seats in the Senate in 2016, Obama’s entire legacy could quickly go up in smoke. Such an outcome would nearly guarantee the GOP a Senate majority through 2020 (just because of the 2018 map). Obamacare, environmental regulations, and other executive actions (including on immigration and health insurance) and a whole host of other progressive gains could be quickly wiped out. Even entitlement reforms would be on the table.

The Supreme Court could also take on a more strongly conservative bent, with young justices replacing Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and perhaps even Ruth Bader Ginsberg (assuming she doesn’t announce her retirement under Obama).

This is the bottom line on the email scandal. Clinton might still win, and it’s also possible she could have lost even without a scandal like this one. But as matters stand, the hopes of a party and an entire political movement have been placed in jeopardy by one woman’s poor judgment and belief she is above the law. Put not your faith in just one prince.

Senate 2015

New Jersey: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, D, faces a federal corruption indictment. It has not gone unobserved that Menendez is the Obama administration’s more ferocious Democratic critic on Iran, and that the leak of his charges comes just as an Iran deal is imminent. There is no evidence that the two matters are causally related, but the one has already had an effect on the other. An indictment obviously and dramatically weakens the position of the Senate Foreign Relations ranking member, and discredits an important critic at a key moment. It at least slightly complicates prospects of passing any tough-on-Iran legislation over an Obama veto — a possibility that has always been on the cards.

For now, Menendez insists he will not resign. If he does, Gov. Chris Christie, R, will have an opportunity to appoint another short-term Republican senator (as he did in 2013), bringing the GOP tally in Congress’ upper chamber to 55 out of 100.

Republicans’ prospects for taking over the seat for the long haul in a general special election are not terribly good, given their weak bench in the state and the apparent lack of party-building that went into Christie’s re-election in 2013. Republicans failed, recall, to make gains in the state legislature.

Then again, there probably hasn’t been a better opportunity in decades — a Democratic corruption scandal, no obvious star Democrat to take over the seat, and potentially a Republican incumbent.

Senate 2016

Even the losers get lucky sometimes, as the song goes. Democrats are looking at a very favorable 2016 Senate map, and have a lot to look forward to if things go their way. Just like the Republicans did in 2014, they are trying to recruit plausible candidates for even the more difficult Senate races, on the chance that the environment will go their way and they will have their chips on the table at the right time.

But they also have to contend with the fact that their benches have been mostly wiped out in two consecutive midterms. And so they have been working hard to recruit retreads to take on marginal Republican incumbents — in three cases, candidates who not long ago were ousted as incumbents by the voters in statewide elections. In some cases, it actually seems like a promising strategy. In others, maybe not so much. 

In Wisconsin, former Sen. Russ Feingold, D, who lost in 2010 to Sen. Ron Johnson, R, is widely expected to run again for his old seat. Johnson will have the resources he needs, but he is probably the most vulnerable sitting Republican senator in America right now. Feingold, a hero among progressives, will probably be the Democrats’ strongest challenger in America, and is surely the best candidate they could possibly find in Wisconsin right now. The race will be a challenge to see whether there’s anything left of the Left in the state.

In Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland, D, has already announced he will take on Sen. Rob Portman, R. Strickland, who were he to win would be 75 years old by the time he took office, is heavily favored in the primary against token progressive opposition, but he is a big underdog in the general election. Strickland lost the governorship in 2010 to John Kasich, R. Portman is one of the most inoffensive, disciplined Republicans in Congress.

Democrats have spoken of coaxing Kay Hagan, who just lost her North Carolina Senate seat, into running against the low-profile Sen. Richard Burr, R. She would be a formidable challenger — and she probably ran the best losing campaign of 2014. But the negative ads against her seem to have stuck for now. Burr leads all comers by a similar high single-digit margin in a recent PPP poll, but only against Hagan does he actually reach 50 percent.

The strategy of running candidates who have been dethroned recently by the voters often works in House races — a handful of House Republicans returned to office this way in 2010. But it isn’t that common in the Senate. No defeated senator has accomplished what Feingold and Hagan are setting out to do — winning a Senate seat after being ousted from the Senate in an election — since 1956. As for Strickland, it is harder to check. At the very least, no current U.S. Senator is a former governor who lost re-election.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 2 -

  • And… We’re Back!
  • How the presidential candidates handled CPAC
  • Walker is the man to beat, at least for now
  • Two special House elections

To: Our Readers
From: David Freddoso

This is the Scott Walker moment — how long it will last is anyone’s guess.

Before his reelection, the Wisconsin governor was usually an asterisk in the way-too-early presidential polls. He posted a gentleman’s sixth-place in the straw poll at CPAC last year. Now, he’s the frontrunner in Iowa, the mainstream Jeb Bush alternative, and the media’s number one target.

We’ve described Walker’s advantages here previously: He’s demonstrated his conservative bona fides to the point that he probably doesn’t have to pander much (although he might anyway). He’s demonstrated his ability to win independent voters in a purple state. He has survived a veritable inquisition, and it seems unlikely that any damaging stone has remained unturned. He is a governor, a close friend of the RNC chairman, and he has the potential to unite the conservative and establishment segments of the Republican Party.

Up to now, Walker had been many conservatives’ second choice. His biggest problem was his need to win reelection. Without winning a second term, he could hardly lay a claim on the big prize. With that test behind him, Republican primary voters are giving him a more serious look, and liking what they’re seeing. He is scoring well in poll after poll, despite having lower name recognition than most of his rivals. That leaves plenty of room for growth in support. And Walker will get even more attention this week when he signs legislation making Wisconsin the 25th right to work state.

Then again, it wasn’t long ago that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was being talked about the same way. Nothing is permanent — but can it last for a full year before Iowans caucus?.

President 2016

Nearly all of the viable Republican hopefuls for president showed up to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend. A few thoughts on the prospects of top contenders based on what happened there.

Rand Paul:

At a conference where hawkish speeches were the norm, Paul stood out. And his speech on Friday, though delayed by a vote in the Senate, was very well-received.

Paul also won the straw poll, but by a margin much smaller than he has in the past. Close finishes tend to be rare — last year, for example, Paul nearly tripled his nearest rival’s tally at 31 percent. He owned that CPAC. This time he got just 25.7 percent to Scott Walker’s 21.4 percent. The audience gasped audibly when it was announced from the stage that the top two finishers were so close. 

030214-Paul-600x266In terms of the nomination, the CPAC straw poll is not really indicative of much. But it tests the pulse ofthe community of the most active conservatives. Paul has three-peated in the CPAC straw poll by getting out the vote out at CPAC (which includes helping bring in supporters), and also by being the favorite of the younger conservatives who typically attend. (Half of this year’s CPAC-goers were under age 25 — both a cause and an effect of Paul’s grip on the conference.)

As always, Paul’s supporters were evident throughout the venue the entire time. The Paulotroopers especial made themselves seen and heard around the time of his speech on Friday afternoon. 

The narrow win isn’t bad news for Paul. (A loss would have been rather embarrassing.) But the outcome illustrates that Paul is not the hands-down default choice among hard-core conservatives to stop Jeb Bush.

The straw poll did, however, contain what might be considered a pleasant surprise for Paul. He was the second choice of 16 percent — far more than one might have expected. This suggests that his potential base of support — among the active Right, anyway — is not at all limited to the die-hards who showed up for the main purpose of voting for him. (It could be, however, that the polling software allowed people to choose the same candidate twice, in which case this is much less impressive.) When second choices were added in, Paul’s lead over Scott Walker narrowed by only two points — 42 to 40 percent. If mainstream GOP primary voters are anywhere near as open to Paul’s ideas as the non-Paul trooper CPAC-goers were, then his chances are significantly better than the conventional wisdom suggests.

Even so, Paul has the more difficult task of selling Republicans on ideas they might consider unorthodox. Others only need to sell themselves as the true conservative in the race.

Scott Walker:

House030215_1-600x331He’s the loser of the straw poll but the big winner of CPAC. Walker finished four points behindPaul after attendees enthusiastically received his speech (even though it was only so-so), and buzzed about the brutal, unfair treatment he had lately received from liberal media outlets. During CPAC, Walker was tendentiously hammered for making a point about his personal fortitude (it was construed as a comparison of his critics in Wisconsin to ISIS) and falsely accused of going easy on rapists on college campuses. The first story stuck to some degree in the media universe, the second was hurriedly retracted when proven false.

A quiet formal effort to turn out Walker supporters apparently did exist at CPAC 2015, but you wouldn’t have known it. It was so stealthy that it is very hard to think it was solely responsible for the result. Not a single Walker 2016 sticker could be seen (even Cruz and Carson had stickers everywhere); not a single Walker t-shirt was on display; no throngs of identifiable Walker foot soldiers roamed the halls or showed up just in time to pack the hall for his speech (as they did for both Paul and Jeb).

Simply put, there are many conservatives who do not want to nominate another Bush and are at least somewhat wary of Paul’s foreign policy views. For them, Walker seems like the most obvious choice.

Walker’s weaknesses were on display at CPAC as well. He still needs polishing. He is light on details about foreign policy. He tends to force his delivery and take on airs while speaking. He should probably be doing the opposite — just being himself, playing up the everyman persona that makes him so unlike Mitt Romney.

There is time for working on all that. In the meantime, as the polls in Iowa suggest, Walker is clearly the man to beat.

Ted Cruz:

Ted-Cruz-wins_BT-300x168Cruz, who finished a distant but respectable third place with 11.5 percent, was clearly admired by people at CPAC. He was warmly received, and during the final recap video, his repeated appearances on screen drew cheers. But evidently, people there don’t think of him as a presidential candidate.

Cruz did have an organized campaign on scene — “Cruz Crew” paraphernalia was present, if not as ubiquitous as Paul’s or even Jeb’s supporters.

Jeb Bush:

CIB1121914-Jeb-Bush-600x407He wasn’t completely wiped out — and that’s better than a sharp stick in the eye. Yes, he bussed in supporters from downtown D.C., but who doesn’t? Bush at least beat expectations with his fifth-place finish (8.3 percent), even if it wasn’t a very impressive tally in the abstract. In 2014, Jeb delivered one of the keynote speeches at CPAC, and they left him off the straw poll — which was exactly what he wanted. He was going for a non-embarrassing result. This time, he got it. And he handled his Q&A with Sean Hannity quite well.

That didn’t mean he was spared rough treatment. The general tone and attitude toward Jeb at CPAC was actually quite hostile. Laura Ingraham’s one-liner about his wife’s spending habits probably went beyond the comfort zone of most attendees, but in general they and several speakers had little nice to say about Bush. A small walk-out was also staged when he took the dais.

It is strange to see so much revulsion on the Right toward a governor who had such a conservative record in office. But the straw poll revealed that Common Core and immigration reform were, respectively, the second and third most common dealbreakers for those in attendance. It’s a problem that will surely haunt him right up until the Iowa caucuses.

House 2015

CIB010615-Senate-House-600x305

Voters in New York and Mississippi will head to the polls in May to fill vacant seats in Congress. 

New York-11:

Michael Grimm, R, left a vacancy when he resigned from the House after winning re-election, due to his guilty plea on tax charges. The May 5 ballot already appears to be set in stone, with nominees chosen by party bosses — Daniel Donovan, the district attorney on Staten Island, will be the Republican, and Vinnie Gentile, a former state Senator from southwest Brooklyn and a current city councilman, will be the Democrat.

Donovan’s failure to obtain an indictment against the policeman who choked Eric Garner was very unpopular nationwide — not so in Staten Island, a.k.a. Cop City.

Gentile was not the Democrats’ first choice. He not only comes from the wrong part of the district (the Brooklyn side) and has a bit of baggage (a sexual harassment claim by a male staffer he now calls a “disgruntled employee”) but he faces an extremely formidable opponent in Donovan. The DCCC, recognizing this, released a poll several weeks ago showing Donovan to be almost bulletproof — a nice excuse for the committee to save some money by staying out.

Mississippi-1:

The jungle primary election to replace the recently deceased Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R, will take place May 12. The field is sure to be crowded,, with Republicans overwhelmingly favored to hold the seat. The filing deadline is March 27, at which point the state of the race will become clearer. But as Roll Call reports, the potential certainly exists for another brutal Tea Party versus establishment smackdown, complete with involvement from state Sen. Chris McDaniel himself. 

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 1 –

  • Romney’s exit works just fine for Bush, Walker
  • Not so great for Rand Paul
  • Expect a strong GOP field in 2016

Feb. 10, 2015
To: Our readers

From: David Freddoso

A note to our readers: This is our first update of the year, looking at the emerging presidential picture after our post-election hiatus. The Briefing will be back full-time, publishing weekly, starting March 2.

President 2016

It’s 2015. That means we’re back in the presidential cycle again at last. This could be an exhilarating or depressing reality, depending on your temperament.

But Republicans and conservatives can at least expect a presidential primary cycle that will make them cringe a lot less than they did last time. This time, the candidates are real. The quality is a lot higher. In fact, this promises to be the best crop of serious candidates in an open GOP primary since at least 1988.

The 2000 election cycle was relatively empty, with nearly all hopes pinned on George W. Bush. But there’s a different reason for the weakness of more recent cycles. Big Republican losses in 2006 badly depleted the GOP field of 2008. Both the 2006 and 2008 results further depleted the GOP field for 2012, when the freshly elevated winners from 2010 were just still too fresh to compete. But big Republican wins in 2010 and 2014 have finally replenished the Republican field. They have also wiped out most fresh-faced Democratic hopefuls for 2016 (and perhaps 2020), but that’s for another day.

So even if Republicans enter 2016 with an uphill climb in Electoral College terms — Democrats basically start with about 240 electoral votes almost guaranteed — the GOP has much better chances in terms of candidate quality than in recent elections. 

Perhaps it is fitting, then, that Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, has dropped out. Recall that Romney’s success in 2012 was based largely upon a weak candidate field in which he was by far the best and perhaps the only palatable choice. For reasons described above, that simply wouldn’t have been the case in 2016. Let’s look at who gains and who loses among the Republican candidates based on Romney’s exit and other factors.  

TOP TIER

Jeb Bush: Mitt Romney’s exit definitely helps Bush, but not as much as one might expect. It’s a lesson in the difference between institutional and grassroots advantages.

Bush’s fortunes depend on his ability to use the party’s moderate money to convince its conservative voters that he really is a conservative, based on his record as governor of Florida. He has a decent case to make here.The most important consequence of Romney’s exit for Bush is that there is now one less 800-lb. gorilla competing for the same big GOP money and top-notch campaign staff. But Romney’s exit doesn’t unlock a large voter base that would otherwise be unavailable to Bush. In fact, Romney dropped what at least seemed like subtle hints that he might be more likely to back someone else anyway.

Bush is a very strong candidate. His recent speech in Detroit was quite strong. His political skills are superior to Romney, John McCain, and his brother George — stronger than anyone the Republicans have run for president since at least his father. He talks with confidence. He is clearly knowledgeable and intelligent.  

Scott Walker: Even if it helps Bush more directly, Romney’s exit is part of a series of events that has landed Walker in the top tier without much warning. Some recent polls don’t even include him, yet the Bloomberg/DMR poll of Iowa has him in the lead, as does a local media poll in New Hampshire. It would CIB010815-Walkernot be unreasonable to view him as an unlikely frontrunner rather than a dark horse.

How does Romney’s exit help Walker? There are a couple of ways. As bizarre as it sounds, there was always a danger that a certain kind of conservative — the immigration hawk — might embrace Romney (whose record as a governor was quite liberal) as a more conservative and more plausibly winning alternative to Bush (whose record as a governor was quite conservative). Romney might be more appealing here than Walker, whose immigration rhetoric is somewhat weaker than “self-deport” — note that it already has him taking heat from Mark Levin

Perhaps more importantly, Walker has the opportunity to compete for the same resources as Bush. He is already working on it. He could well benefit from Romney’s exit the exact same way Bush will.

The case that Romney’s absence from the field makes a Walker victory less likely because he isn’t the moderate or establishment choice depends upon something we consider a misconception — the notion that Romney has grassroots support somewhere that Bush will simply inherit. Again, this just isn’t so. Those who pick Romney as a soft favorite now will be split between multiple candidates in the weeks to come. 

Importantly, Walker is not just an Iowa candidate — say, a Mike Huckabee. He will not necessarily scare away the establishment money just because he is a conservative. In fact, Walker is strikingly similar to Jeb Bush in many ways. Both are effective, winning conservative politicians. Neither one overwhelms with charisma, but each one makes up for this problem with political discipline and intelligence that exceeds that of the 2012 field. Walker has one advantage Bush lacks — a massive base of more than 300,000 grassroots donors who have given him money in the three elections he has run between 2010 and 2014. 

Walker was a hit at the recent Iowa event, and as noted above he already leads in an early Des Moines Register poll. In fact, he was the first choice of 15 percent of Iowa Republicans and the second choice of another 10 percent, with Romney included. The New Hampshire poll has him ahead at 21 percent. That means little this early, but it’s more than enough to create what Walker has been missing up to now — buzz around his candidacy and a belief that he might just have it in him. It comes at just the right moment, with Romney bowing out. Walker was an asterisk quite recently — now people are even asking whether he’s peaking too soon (a strange idea, given that he’s still hiring staff).

Rand Paul: Senator Paul has spent the last five years selling a more mainstream version of the libertarian philosophy that his father was never able to parlay into a Republican presidential primary victory. He has enjoyed a lot of success here. And for 2016, provided he figures out a good way to run, he starts with CIB020615-Paula leg up because he has much of his father’s solid base — a higher floor than most other candidates have. 

But as the representative of an esoteric strand of conservatism, he is also less likely to find converts within the party. He thus has a lower ceiling in primaries than most other candidates will.

Assuming he finds a way to solve his problems with the Kentucky ballot laws, Paul’s path to the nomination is easier than his father’s was, but still very much uphill. He will be competing with other conservatives for the conservative mantle, yet much of the conservative vote he could pick off will be off-limits to him if other credible and impeccably conservative alternatives are competing for it without clashing as much with conservative orthodoxy on national security.

This remains the case even if he would be more appealing in some ways to certain swing voters in a general election. Paul benefits from a certain amount of chaos and the most crowded field possible. Thus, Romney’s exit hurts him, if only slightly, for the same reason anyone else’s exit would. He is the least likely to gain support in the polls based solely on this event. He has less chance than most others of getting his hands on any of the resources that would have otherwise gone to Romney — and in terms of courting big donors, he seems to have recently blown a good opportunity with the Koch Brothers set. His recent comments on vaccinations don’t help his cause either — not because he opposed compulsion, but because he, a medical doctor, took the opportunity to pander to anti-vaccination activists by suggesting there is validity to their cause.

SECOND TIER

Mike Huckabee: He won Iowa last time he ran, and his poll numbers there reflect at least enough CIB020615-Huckabeeresidual support to keep him off the bottom of the barrel. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can get the band back together and do it again eight years later, and it probably doesn’t mean he has a chance in any of the later primary states.

Walker should be especially concerned about Huckabee, whose appeal to religious conservatives aims at the broadest base in Iowa. But Huckabee’s appeal is limited. He is the unusual social conservative politician in that he has gone so far out of his way to antagonize the party’s economic and limited-government conservatives. This usually just doesn’t happen, and there’s a good reason for that — the Right consists of a coalition that works better together. 

Marco Rubio: He lost his attraction for the immigration-hawk crowd some time ago, but he is the first CIB020615-Rubiochoice of many conservatives for whom national security and foreign policy are paramount. There are only so many of these, but they matter. Rubio probably can’t beat Bush to the big money, but he is known, liked, and could still catch fire. He also looms as anyone else’s potential choice as a running mate.

Republican primary voters might well warm up to him and move him to the top tier by the end of this summer. Even so, he is young and probably not ready for the presidency in 2016. He will have more opportunities later.

THIRD TIER

Rick Perry: Another candidate who deserves to be taken seriously — but only if he runs, and there are big hints that he won’t. Texas’ longest-serving governor has been working to reinvent himself, right down toCIB100214-Perry his hipster glasses. He was viewed as a potential savior at one point as a late entrant among a weak 2012 field. This time, he would be a dark horse.

Perry seems to have learned from his failures last time around, but he has little room for error this time. His biggest problem is obvious: If he couldn’t succeed in 2012, when there were few other good options, it’s hard to see how he comes out on top of a much stronger crop of rivals. Then again, having done this before is an advantage unto itself. As John McCain’s unlikely and late rise in 2008 demonstrates, nothing is impossible.

Chris Christie: If you bought stock here, probably best to sell now. He won a cake-walk re-election in a Blue State, and he ran a great cycle as RGA chairman. But he has also been damaged by a couple of CIB011315-Christie-1024x535scandals. One recent one makes him look rather venal — fitting the stereotype, actually, of the middle class guy who grew up in a Duff household but has acquired McAllan tastes. The other involves a new federal investigation into whether he blocked criminal investigations of his supporters. Not good for his prospects.

But what’s most telling is that none of the scandals are the real reason Christie now looks like such a longshot. His real problem is that he’s the answer to a question no one is asking — whom else can we support, because Jeb Bush is too conservative? That no one is asking this question so far is a demonstration of how the party’s center has drifted rightward since the beginning of last decade.

Bobby Jindal: He certainly doesn’t lack the ambition to be president. He even has a decent record in
Louisiana, but he’s now very unpopular at home. The stridency of his rhetoric increases in inverse proportion to his chances — which is to say, the wilder his public comments, the worse off he thinks he is. Jindal has most of the things you’d want on paper, but he’ll have a hard time convincing people that he has something that those higher on this list do not. Also, he has never quite lived down his widely panned State of the Union response in 2009. 

Ted Cruz: Yes, he obviously has ambitions to be president. And yes, no one considers him ready in 2016.
Republicans are unlikely to take a chance on Cruz after he’s only been in the Senate for two years, the way Democrats did with Obama in 2008. The Democratic nomination process has a propensity to choose outsiders like Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The GOP process is much more geared toward picking someone who can legitimately say it’s his turn. This is true independent of ideology — whether that person happens to be a Ronald Reagan or a Gerald Ford.

FOURTH TIER

Then there’s the bottom of the barrel tier. Bob Ehrlich, George Pataki. Lindsey Graham. Peter King. No, no, no, no. Carly Fiorina is probably more interesting than these, and generated some interest in Iowa, but she’s more likely running for Secretary of Commerce.

Sarah Palin is not running and will find almost no support if she does. Ben Carson is a non-starter — his relatively strong performance in early polls is purely illusory. 

 THE BRIEFING: VOLUME II, ISSUE 45

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This Week: Jeb Jumps In — A Look At 2016

  • Next issue in February
  • Jeb jumps in
  • Early look at the GOP presidential field

A note to our readers: Merry Christmas to all of you.

With the presidential election 23 months away, The Briefing will take a brief hiatus for the month of January. We’ll see you again after Groundhog Day to discuss the state of the union and the state of the races, including the big presidential contest, the fight by Republicans to keep Congress, and the November 2015 state contests.

President 2016

GOP field: With a huge victory under their belt, Republican campaigners are now looking toward 2016 with a lot less dread than before. Sure, presidential electorates are slightly different, and in some ways they tend to favor Democrats a bit more, at least under certain circumstances. But that’s not the point — the point is that the Democrats put their pants on one leg at a time. And sometimes, as in 2014, they put both legs into the same pant-leg.

Republicans are finally catching up in the race on fundamentals. They have developed a better turnout operation and a better messaging plan, and after two successful midterms in a row they have a strong bench full of qualified candidates for president. All of these things are different from 2012, and any sign that things are different from 2012 is a good sign for the GOP.

Jeb Bush: If you were wondering about his ambitions, you have your answer. He gave 2016 an early start last week by announcing his exploratory committee. His move sets off a race to lock down the best staffers and the big money in places like Texas, Florida and New York — a race that will primarily be between Bush and two other East Coast establishment candidates — Mitt Romney and Chris Christie.

For all of the grousing by conservatives, Bush is actually pretty conservative and governed that way — certainly more conservative than Romney or Christie. He was also always more of a conservative than his brother George, and he comes off as more intelligent and thoughtful as well. Had he only won the 1994 election against Gov. Lawton Chiles, D, he might have been president instead. Were he to win this time, he would be the nation’s second Catholic president, and his wife would be the first Hispanic first lady.

Jeb’s big assets include his residual popularity in the crucial state of Florida and his ability to make inroads with Hispanic voters. He comes across as knowledgeable — he would probably mop the floor with Hillary Clinton in a debate, although he would have more of a challenge with some of the other supposedly less electable Democrats who might run.  

Conservatives’ biggest beefs with Bush seem to be his support of the Common Core program and immigration reform. These differences are what they are, and they guarantee that Jeb will occupy a space within the “establishment” contingent of the 2016 hopefuls, albeit at its rightmost edge. Still, it is important to note that neither immigration nor national education policy derailed his brother when they came up in 2000. And immigration was no more than a speed bump for John McCain in 2008 — he got around it with a bit of lip service about border security and won the GOP nomination.

One could argue that immigration hurt Rick Perry, R, in 2012, but he really had bigger problems than that — it would be more accurate to say that his comments cost him a lot of conservative support. Even so, the Perry incident, in which Mitt Romney hit him hard over immigration in a primary debate, only demonstrated that the chief effect of immigration as a campaign issue is to allow the more liberal candidate to pose as more conservative than he is.

Marco Rubio: Before looking at the other two establishment favorites, what does this mean for Marco Rubio? He has specifically said that Bush’s decision on 2016 won’t affect his own, but it probably will.

Bush and Rubio have long been allies, a fact that came to the fore during the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Florida. Although Jeb’s formal endorsement of Rubio came only after Charlie Crist bailed out of the GOP, his tacit, wink-wink support had already provided the young conservative access to money and stature he could not have easily come by otherwise.

The biggest problem Bush poses for Rubio is that he will eat into his home base in terms of fundraising and support. This doesn’t make it impossible for Rubio to run, but it could discourage him. If he decides to seek re-election in 2016 instead, it would surely cause a sigh of relief for Republicans in the Senate, so you can count on them making the case and putting subtle pressure on him to stay out. After all, they’ll say, Rubio is young and has a long career ahead of him — many Florida political insiders believe he might run for governor in 2018 before putting his eyes on the big prize.

Mitt Romney: Oh, no, you say? Oh yes. This is a real possibility, and in fact it seems as likely as it ever was. Even so, Jeb’s early entry puts pressure on Mitt to start begging for money, and it might be calculated in part to knock him out specifically, as described above. Bush will be fishing from the same big-donor pond as Mitt, and neither can afford to let the other lock down the important donors, bundlers and fundraisers.

It is unusual for a presidential loser to get the nod immediately in the next go-round — you’d have to go back to Adlai Stevenson in 1956 for an example of that happening, and Stevenson lost his second time around too. But Richard Nixon came back eight years after his loss and got the nomination in 1968, so it isn’t that far-fetched.

Romney does have some good qualities and would have certain advantages as the nominee. He surely learned a lot from his last run and would do better next time. His most important lessons probably had to do with candidate discipline, an area where he didn’t get his act together until very late in the game. And it cost ‘Mr. 47 percent” dearly.

But Romney has some built-in defects as a candidate that go deeper than his propensity for avoidable gaffes, and these will surely be brought to voters’ attention during the nomination process. 

First, remember that white turnout sunk in 2012 faster than mere demographic change can account for. The best working theory for this is that working-class white voters — the ones who helped power Republicans to victory in 2014 — may have felt alienated by a candidate who looks too much like the guy who laid them off from their last job. Democrats often flail with arguments about “outsourcing,” but they can succeed when running against candidates with business backgrounds who were somehow personally involved in outsourcing.

Another note: Romney’s unusually abysmal showing with Hispanics — worse than anyone since Bob Dole in 1996 — may be partly grounded in this same consideration. And this is also a strong argument against his nomination among establishment Republicans and conservatives who hope to see the GOP improve among Hispanics. It’s worth noting that a substantial number of Hispanic voters pulled the lever for Republicans down-ballot after voting against Romney in 2012.

In the primary, Romney would face an uphill climb against the much more credible field that will be arrayed against him this time. Conservatives had no one strong to back against Romney in 2012, but if it came to that they might even find themselves backing Bush to avoid a Romney repeat.

Chris Christie: He had a great year at the RGA, and he was exonerated over his biggest mini-scandal, but Jeb’s early announcement puts Gov. Christie in a tough spot. For one thing, he now has a very strong and serious competitor for the money that built the Bush dynasty. For another, there is now a “moderate” candidate in the field who is more appealing to conservatives than Christie.

Of course, Christie is clearly still running, but this makes him more of a longshot. The big-money wing of the Republican Party likes to choose its nominees in advance, whether they happen to be moderates or conservatives, and Christie already has a rival trying to nibble at his coalition. 

Scott Walker: On paper, he’s got it all. Establishment ties, conservative street cred, a proven record of winning elections in a swing state and, in 2014, of winning them the right way — by expanding his state party’s electorate rather than simply relying on low turnout by Democrats.

Walker is clearly positioning himself for a run. D.C. insiders complain that he’s not moving quickly enough on reaching out to the right groups and the right donors. Unlike some of the other conservative hopefuls, who will have to rely on grassroots money almost exclusively, Walker has a real chance of locking up some of the big establishment money. Time, therefore, is of the essence for him in a way it may not be for, say, Rand Paul. If Walker wants it, he will have to make his move soon.

Rand Paul: His project since reaching the Senate has been to mainstream libertarian thought, rolling out something considerably less scary to many Republicans than his father’s brand of libertarianism. He has also been active in getting his face in front of as many non-white, non-demographically Republican looking audiences as possible to make his case, taking full advantage of libertarian ideas on drug and sentencing policy and police powers to make his case. He would surely expand the GOP electorate as the nominee, but the current Cuba question serves as a reminder that his ideas on foreign policy might well cost him too much of the GOP base.

Paul is clearly planning a presidential run, but the situation is complicated for him. He has promised to seek re-election to his Senate seat, to the relief of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R. Paul is popular back home and will win re-election, whereas the seat would probably be competitive in an open-seat situation.

But Paul still has two problems within his state. First, were he to win the presidency, a governor would appoint his replacement. There is no way to know at this point who that governor will be, as the election takes place in November 2015. It would be more difficult for him to run for president even in the primary if his hypothetical victory might cost Republicans control of the U.S. Senate.

He can surmount that hurdle if a Republican wins next year, but then there’s the other problem: Kentucky law forbids him from appearing twice on either the general or the primary ballot. If he managed to convince his state party to adopt a caucus system for president, he might be able to avoid the problem in the primary by appearing on the ballot only for Senate and winning delegates in the caucus. But if he became the GOP nominee, the fear is that he might have to win the election without Kentucky’s eight electoral votes, because he wouldn’t be able to appear on the ballot — and that consideration would again weigh on him during the entire nominating process. Can Republicans afford to pick a candidate who is forbidden from running in Kentucky?

There could be a way through even this. Remember — the president is elected not by the voters, but by the electors they choose on election day. There are no laws in Kentucky against faithless electors. Were Paul to win the nomination next year, there might be a way for the GOP to nominate someone else in Kentucky as the Republican candidate — someone whose electors would cast their votes for Paul in December 2014.

Ted Cruz: This seems a bit whimsical perhaps, but think about it a minute. How would Cruz’s behavior in the Senate change if he were running? The answer: Not at all. He may or may not be running for 2016, but he is running — or perhaps more accurate to say he is keeping his options open for a run either now or later.

Cruz has been reaching out to donors in recent gatherings and trying to allay their concerns. He would be able to rally considerable support among conservatives, without question. And the establishment GOP would be rather hostile toward him at this point, it is safe to say. But it is unclear whether its arguments against him would carry any weight with the average GOP primary voter. Legislative process — the area where Cruz has made the biggest splash — matters a lot, but it doesn’t matter even a small bit to voters.

But those who would try to keep Cruz down would do well to remember that arguments based on such considerations will be ineffective. Anything that reminds people of how anti-establishmemt Cruz is can only help him with his current fan base. His problem: how to come out on top in a field that will likely have a lot of well-qualified and well-known conservatives in it.

Rick Perry: Perry’s 2012 campaign was a slapdash mess, and so was he. That doesn’t have to happen again. Perry has an enviable record as governor of Texas, and he’s a lot sharper than he came of in the 2012 primaries. But he needs to get conservatives’ attention in what is sure to be a crowded field. Why Perry and not Cruz? Why Perry and not Walker? There are good answers to these questions, but he has to make the case well, and he has less margin for error than he did in 2012 because a second flop is a second offense and would lead people to write him off. 

Bobby Jindal: Jindal wants it, and in terms of raw IQ, he will probably be the smartest guy in either party’s field if he runs. Despite his relative youth, he will probably also be one of the most politically experinced candidates as well. He’s also governed Louisiana reasonably well, and can demonstrate it by citing economic data and good government reforms.

But his numbers in his home state are terrible anyway and his profile is low to nonexistent elsewhere. Something big has to happen to make Jindal a serious competitor, and it’s not clear what would do it.

Paul Ryan: He now has what he really wanted — the chairmanship of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. That makes a presidential bid a lot less likely.

THE BRIEFING: VOLUME II, ISSUE 44
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This Week: Republicans Give Up Control of Most 2015 Spending

  • Liberal threats to shut down the government prove empty
  • Conservative antics eclipse them
  • Democrats still face trouble as they enter the minority

Outlook

GOP own goal: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had roundly denounced the government shutdown in 2013. And so when she nearly threatened to repeat it in order to kill a pro-bank provision in the CROmnibus, it was indeed amusing — and naturally, it earned her lots of praise in many of the same liberal media outlets that had been so critical of the Republican shutdown.

The idea of liberal Democrats shutting the government down seemed rather amusing for some Republican senators, too. They delivered speeches warning Democrats of the damage it would cause their party if they shut down the government. 

But Warren’s threat was an empty one, designed CIB121614-Warrenchiefly to bring Warren a bit of extra attention. Take it as you will, but it might be an early trial balloon for a 2016 campaign.   

More importantly, it was quickly eclipsed by other events. Senate conservatives stole the show with their own attempted stunt — attempted, because their own lack of procedural knowledge was the apparent cause of their failure.

It’s complicated to explain all of the details, but here’s the bottom line: Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, obtained a symbolic and badly losing vote (only 22 senators voted for it) on President Obama’s executive amnesty Saturday. In exchange, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be able to ram through a few Obama nominations that Republicans thought they might be able to block otherwise. The worst part of it all is that Cruz and Lee could have forced the same vote to happen later without all the drama or the concession to Reid. Then again, perhaps the drama was the whole point.

What Cruz and Lee did Friday night, without warning colleagues (many of whom were on planes or already back in their home states for the weekend) was to break up a deal reached by party leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell that would have suspended floor action on the Continuing Resolution/Omnibus (or CROmnibus) until Monday. The GOP leadership had hoped to use the weekend break to extend the time it controlled. The strategy was to prevent Reid from running down the clock on the debate time for a bevy of nominees Republicans had been holding up, including Vivek Murthy, Obama’s choice for Surgeon General, who is strongly opposed by the NRA but has also been called unqualified by a former surgeon general.

In the post-nuclear Senate, Republicans lacked the votes to block any of these nominations outright. But because the clock wouldn’t start until Monday, Reid would have had to keep the Senate in session right up until Christmas if he wanted to confirm all of them.

Cruz and Lee effectively let Reid start running the clock two days earlier than the agreement would have otherwise, making the task that much easier, because Democratic senators can now be counted on to stay in town long enough for the confirmations.

Reid, a master of parliamentary tactics, knew exactly what to do. He kept the Senate in session Saturday for a long series of nomination votes. They ended CIB121614-Cruzwith the passage of CROmnibus, which kicked the clock into action on the cloture motions for the nominations. The Republicans’ leverage in the lame duck — what little there had been — is now gone, in exchange for a feeble and futile gesture. The vote that Cruz and Lee forced drew only 22 votes. Had it succeeded, it would not have stopped Obama’s executive amnesty, but it would have shut down the government by killing the CROmnibus. Thus, only Republican senators truly afraid of facing primaries voted in favor.

The incident does not change the fact that Republicans were short-sighted in allowing a lame-duck vote on appropriations — something they did in the heat of election season, in hopes of avoiding a shutdown fight in September. Cruz has pointed this much out, and he is correct. Nor does it change the fact that CROmnibus does nothing about Obama’s executive action on immigration. But of course, until they take over the Senate next month, Republicans are in a much weaker position to do anything about that, and the random issuance of futile gestures against it at this point does nothing about it either way. This is one reason strategy is usually left to the generals.

The weekend’s events highlight ongoing problems for the Senate GOP leadership. Clearly, not everyone is on the same team in terms of tactics, which is far more damaging than any ideological split. The consequences in this case were bad, but relatively mild. Even so, a caucus functions best when its members are all pulling in the same direction. Reid’s caucus managed to help President Obama avoid accountability and also uncomfortable vetoes during his first six years precisely because it stuck together. Such unity can also be used in the service of good, but its value is underestimated at times.

There is a challenge in the Senate Republican caucus to see just who is the alpha male. McConnell is probably going to have to settle the CIB121614-Reidquestion, either through an agreement or through some form of legislative warfare. On the other hand, as someone who has very recently expressed great respect for the Senate as an institution — and who is expected to undo the nuclear option and other breaches of the rules by Reid — McConnell has committed himself to some degree to respect senators’ individual rights and independence. 

The crisis of caucus leadership may become easier to handle once Republicans take the Senate majority in January and Reid is in a weaker position to exploit such unforced errors. Or in the alternative, life in the majority could embolden more Republicans to challenge the leadership. Such challenges, after all, will be less harmful once Democrats are less powerful in Congress.

But for the moment, Republican disunity has strengthened Reid’s hand in the lame duck session, and the consequences will be evident as multiple nominations are confirmed in the coming week.

In the long run, this could just be a symptom of life in the minority — a caucus full of restless members who want to make something happen at any cost. This could be a problem Democrats will now have to face, since they will soon be in the minority in both the House and the Senate.

To offer an example: Many House Democrats, already in the minority, were ready to push for a government shutdown last week, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had called for them to defeat the CROmnibus. But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer apparently gave Democratic caucus members the decisive encouragement to vote for the bill, and 57 of them did so in the end.

Now that they will be the minority in both chambers next year, Democrats will be faced with many uncomfortable situations, perhaps not unlike the one Republicans face now. Their glee now at the Republicans’ Cruz problem could well give way to problems with their own new and less desirable situation. At some point, they could face genuine progressive revolts, not just the toothless sort that Warren threatened last week.


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