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David Freddoso

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 24

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

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

President 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor 2015

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

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

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

Senate 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 23-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

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

President 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 22-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

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

Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

President 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate 2016

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

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

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

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 21

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

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

Obama administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 20

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Trouble for Jeb;
  • Trouble for Hillary;
  • Why Christie won’t catch on.

Happy Independence Day! America’s Founding Fathers (many of them, at least) signed the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago last Saturday. They put their lives on the line for an idea that was imperfectly executed, but beautiful in its simplicity. Divided government, the divine rights of sovereign peoples, and the right to revolution — these were quite extraordinary ideas in their day. One could say they remain controversial today, but much less than they were then.

Americans should never take the freedoms they enjoy today for granted. Liberty is always just one generation away from extinction.

President 2016

Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush released an admirably detailed account of his personal finances last week. There’s nothing like three decades’ worth of tax returns to settle whatever lingering doubts there might have been regarding his being another Mitt Romney.

But those tax returns, and the net worth that Bush has accumulated since leaving office, nonetheless should cause some concern for those who wish to see him nominated. After all, many of the people who would be happy to see Jeb as president are currently hurling accusations at the Clintons that will be uncomfortable now that we know Jeb’s record contains some of the same problems.

Here’s an important parallel: The clearest rap against Bush so far has been his family name. The continuation of a dynasty is extremely unattractive to many voters. But of course, with Hillary Clinton in the race on the Democratic side, a slightly different consideration comes into play: Any Republican advantage based on voters’ desire to avoid a Clinton dynasty is simply canceled out if Jeb becomes the Republican nominee  and becomes the heir apparent to a Bush dynasty.

As of last week, the same can now be said of Jeb’s riches, a significant amount of which (roughly $10 million) comes from speaking fees and consulting gigs of the same sort as those for which Bill Clinton has rightfully taken so much flak from the right.

Sure, it isn’t fatal for Bush, and no one has turned up evidence that he was hired to speak by people with pressing interests before the Bush administration. (But who knows?) But whether they do or not, there is no question that Jeb monetized his government service in much the same way Bill and Hillary have. The fact that their arrangements might have been more obviously corrupt than his is a detail that will likely be lost on many general election voters. An equivalence will be drawn, and any GOP advantage canceled out once again.

From an ideological perspective, Jeb probably deserves better treatment than he has gotten so far from conservatives. But assuming they want to nominate a winner, his financial disclosure is a new and additional problem that cannot be dismissed lightly.

Ruling class is as ruling class does — and Republican primary voters will have to think carefully before selecting someone who belongs to it as much as any Clinton ever has.

Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton doesn’t understand how a fax machine works, and she has some weird advice CIB042715-Clintonabout wearing socks to bed. Okay, fine — but the emails the State Department released last week reveal much more than that. The more important story is that Sid Blumenthal had much more access to the top echelon of the State Department than anyone realized — most of all anyone in Obama’s White House, which had specifically forbidden him from being hired to her official staff.

Blumenthal, recall, tried to sell journalists during the 1990s on the idea that Monica Lewisnky had been a stalker-slash-blackmailer who victimized the poor, innocent President Clinton. Having been blocked from a job at State by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, he instead spent his days on the payroll of two Clinton-friendly organizations (one was the Clintons’ foundation, the other Media Matters) and supplying Clinton with information (mostly unreliable) about multiple countries — not just Libya, where he had financial interests, but also Afghanistan, Britain, Italy, and a number of others.

It’s all rather embarrassing for her, because she encouraged this sort of “intelligence” reporting, which evokes something from one of Evelyn Waugh’s comic novels about African affairs.

Meanwhile, the bigger Clinton shoe had dropped earlier: She withheld some work emails from the State Department, and actually edited others she turned in, based on the evidence now available. This would be a career-ender for anyone not named Clinton.

But her name is Clinton, and for the moment, she’s all the Democrats have to work with. That alone covers a multitude of sins.

Chris ChristieOnce among the frontrunners, Christie finds himself at the back of the pack now that he’s CIB041515-Christieannounced. One doesn’t have to look that far back to remember the days when Chris Christie videos were a staple form of entertainment that conservatives loved. But he staked out a more moderate path and won a resounding re-election victory in part by sanding down his more conservative edges. That isn’t working in his favor now.

Christie may well be a victim of his George Washington Bridge scandal (even if it had little to do with him), as the conventional wisdom goes. But what’s hurting him more is that there are so many well-qualified Republicans in the running, and nearly all of them are to his right.

Christie is miles and miles ahead of the moderate alternatives of years past when it comes to conservative credentials. He isn’t even the most liberal candidate in this race — it seems that distinction is more likely to go to John Kasich, Ohio’s Republican governor, who has harangued conservatives with arguments that Jesus’ teachings would require Medicaid expansion. (Christie also expanded Medicaid in his state, but his argument was a lot less moralistic — he saw it as free money from other states’ taxpayers.)

But there simply isn’t demand for a more moderate candidate at this point — most GOP voters are satisfied with a choice between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. A few other names (say, Ben Carson or — shudder — Donald Trump) may bump up into the top tier, but they will all be conservative (or in Trump’s case, self-styled conservative) names.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 19-

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

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

President 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate 2016

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

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

 

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 18-

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

This week:

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

President 2016

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

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

So should people take him seriously? No and yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congress

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

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

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

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

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 17-

This week:

  • Obama can’t deliver Democrats’ votes on trade
  • Hillary’s relaunch.
  • Rubio benefits from NYT negative attention

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

Obama Administration

It is usually a wise and noble instinct to be suspicious of anything that creates a bipartisan consensus. But the conventional wisdom is not always wrong.

This is the case with the current debate over free trade, which went into overtime in Congress last week. There is a good reason President Obama — still searching for a positive legacy — has found common cause with Republicans in Congress on the issue of establishing  fast-track procedure (known as trade promotion authority or TPA) for upcoming trade agreements. Free trade is an overwhelmingly good thing for any nation, and new agreements — especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership — will not come about if foreign negotiators think Congress will upend them by demanding new terms after negotiations are finished.

The need for political pandering on trade, as we have previously noted, remains strong on the Democratic side of the aisle. But the arguments for free trade have been proven true and withstand the test of time. Societies become vastly more economically efficient and innovate in ever-more areas of human activity as the economic pool of labor and capital widens to include more outsiders. Broader trade — first with neighbors, then with other towns, then with other nations — allows for ever-greater specialization, from which the benefits of modern economies arise. The division of labor helps people everywhere find better ways of producing more wealth with less effort and at a lower cost. This why even Paul Krugman, whose political writings slavishly pander and kowtow to most left-wing causes — cites Frederic Bastiat’s defense of free trade, and acknowledges that the French icon of the Tea Party movement is basically correct.

So much for the cause of consensus — but what about the politics of free trade? It has become a battle between President Obama and his own party, which has clearly moved on from his presidency, as we predicted in this space that it would after the 2014 Midterms.

On Friday, House Democrats defied Obama with a somewhat gimmicky legislative thrust. They voted down a left-wing priority on trade — Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a government subsidy for American workers who lose out from international trade agreements. This was a scheme blessed by the labor unions. If TAA was rejected, their reasoning went, Democrats wold not support TPA in the House. With a small cluster of 50 or so Republicans likely to oppose the underlying TPA bill, the bill Obama has been pushing for would fail.

But they were wrong. TPA passed the House anyway, with support from only 12 House Democrats out of 185 Democratic members voting. As House Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., put it, “They took a hostage they might realize now they can’t afford to shoot.”

That leaves a potentially messy fight ahead, but a clear path to getting an identical TPA bill through both the House and Senate if the will is there. Republican leaders, who defied expectations by winning the second TPA vote, just have to coax liberal legislators into supporting a liberal priority in a separate vote. In the worst case, they could do it through a House-Senate conference committee.

That battle and its associated maneuvering begins Tuesday. But in the meantime, how incredible that Obama’s blessing is worth only 12 Democratic votes in the U.S. House on TPA and only 40 on TAA.

Obama’s failure to cultivate constructive relationships with his own party in Congress is even more glaring than that of his predecessor. Obama’s loss of influence from the 2014 midterm wildly exacerbates this problem. With the election, Obama immediately forfeited his ability to set the agenda in Washington except through executive overreach. But it has taken a few months for the party to move on and stop acting for his benefit. From here out, the Obama presidency is a formality that will consist of nominations (which the Senate may just let linger), appropriations bills to keep the government running, and lawsuits against executive overreach.

President 2016

Hillary part deux:  Hillary Clinton launched her campaign months ago with a web video that was greeted mostly with derision (as was her H-arrow logo). Her speech on Saturday engendered no such broad consensus, 042715-Clinton-house-email-2but it demonstrated once again that she is not her husband.

Bill Clinton could be light on specifics, but he was a rhetorical master. He had and still has an ability to connect with people, developed over years of running for office. The only thing Hillary has in common with him is that she is also light on specifics.

You have to watch the speech — or really any speech from her 2008 campaign — to appreciate how poor her delivery is compared to that of the average candidate for state legislature. Even stock phrases — “the same old song” is a nice example — are delivered in a mechanical cadence that just doesn’t work. Her hand gestures while speaking are so artificial that they make an anecdote about her own mother seem like something she’s reading from someone else’s book for the first time. Her sing-song voice is as grating as it was in 2008 — at its best evocative of Sarah Palin.

The high point probably came when she recycled a joke about dyeing her hair, which was amusing the first time she used it several weeks ago.

Nothing else about the 46-minute speech was surprising. It reflected Clinton’s well-founded belief that she must maneuver toward her Left in order to fend off any serious challenge to her coronation at next summer’s Democratic convention.  She embraced Obamacare — a no-brainer in her position — and largely avoided talking about her time as secretary of State. That may become another unspoken staple of her campaign, given the accumulating number of things associated with it that she would now like to de-emphasize (Clinton Cash, email-gate, free trade and Libya).

Clinton is trying to relaunch at a time when her name and reputation are in ebb-tide, and when she might be on the cusp of falling behind her top Republican rivals in the early national polls. The relaunch reemphasizes that she is not an attractive candidate around whom a positive campaign can be run. But that doesn’t mean she can’t win. Her best path to the presidency is one that glides on demographic headwinds (which may or may not be as important as some have framed them), involves as few public appearances as possible, and relies chiefly on scorched-earth negative campaigning.

Marco Rubio: When life deals a good candidate lemons, he makes lemonade. The New York Times piece on his CIB041315-Rubio-Marco-Speakingfinances resulted with mockery toward the newspaper from no less than Jon Stewart, and Rubio raising sympathy money over the Internet.

The piece covered a subject that deserves to be covered, but the “how” of it matters a lot. What emerged was a thinly veiled attack on him as someone who doesn’t come from a wealthy enough family to be worthy of buying his own power boat, let alone winning the presidency. Needless to say, this is not the sort of thing the Times tends to publish about Democrats who seek the office — including Barack Obama in 2008.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 16:

This week:

  • 23 years of polling on Hillary Clinton;
  • Republicans have already closed most of the gap;
  • Coffman not running for Senate in Colorado.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. This one is at least worth a few hundred:

Capture

That bit at the end should get your attention. Hillary is suddenly in the red — a place where it isn’t very common for her to be.

CNN has taken 110 polls on Hillary Clinton’s popularity since 1992, using different polling firms over the years. The data from all of those polls is reflected in the chart above.

Clinton has had effective universal name recognition since September 1993, by which time she had been first lady for eight months.  In the time since, Hillary has rarely suffered ratings as bad as what she got in the latest CNN poll. To be specific:

  • In terms of her unfavorability, the May poll is tied for her third-worst ever.
  • In terms of her favorable rating, it is her fifth-worst ever.
  • In terms of her net unfavorable rating — that is, favorable minus unfavorable — this month’s result is her fourth-worst ever.

This is not an ideal place to begin a campaign for president. But as the various scandals take their toll — emails, Clinton Cash, and yes, Benghazi — this is where Hillary now stands.

It is interesting and perhaps instructive to look back at the old Hillary polls. There are a few incidents that clearly contributed to making her popular or unpopular. She has historically gained a great deal of sympathy after revelations of her husband’s sexual indiscretions, (Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinski) whereas other controversies involving money and power (HillaryCare, Marc Rich, the taking of $190,000 worth of gifts from the White House in 2001 that the Clintons later reimbursed at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar) have damaged her.

Scandals aside, Hillary’s ratings have also suffered whenever she has taken on explicitly political roles. Her role in HillaryCare made her considerably less popular in 1994, after strong numbers during her honeymoon period as First Lady. Her 2000 run for Senate brought on unusually high unfavorables, which she was able to overcome at least with New York’s voters. As a back-bench senator, her ratings were positive, but not strongly so. When she ran for president in 2008, her unfavorables crested above 45 percent.

On the other hand, the non-political role of secretary of State suited her public image quite well, driving her favorable rating up to nearly 70 percent. Her re-entry into politics has obviously been very rough on her image.

Of course, favorable/unfavorable is just one way of measuring a candidate. There are others in this poll. Asked whether Clinton “inspires confidence,” only 49 percent said she does — down from 58 percent in March 2014. Asked whether she “cares about people like you,” 47 percent said she does and 52 percent said she doesn’t — a reversal from the previous July, when 53 percent said she did. And as in other polls, she is now flunking the “honest and trustworthy” test, with a stunning 57 percent saying that label does not apply to her.

What’s more, a large majority (58 percent) is now “dissatisfied” with her performance on Benghazi, and a smaller majority (51 percent) approves of Republican congressional efforts to investigate.

Another way to measure a candidate is to look at how she stacks up against the others:

Capture

Clinton’s biggest problem in this poll might be the enormous leads she appears to have given up against the various Republican hopefuls. She previously held steady leads against all comers in the range of 15 to 25 points. Now the same CNN poll is showing her leads eroding in a single month by double digits — by 15 points against Ted Cruz, 19 points against Scott Walker, 18 points against Rand Paul, 11 points against Marco Rubio, and 9 points against Jeb Bush. This is a massive correction. From a Republican perspective, Clinton has just gone from unstoppable juggernaut to “Hey, she puts her pantsuit on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.”

Although Hillary still leads in each case, this result and others like it place her inevitability very much in doubt — especially given that all of her opponents (even Jeb Bush) have lower name recognition and thus more room to grow. It is also worth noting that these are all polls of U.S. adults — they might look even worse for her if they were limited to registered or likely voters, as these conditions tend to improve Republicans’ polling performance as a rule.

Now, some people will point out that the numbers here don’t mean much about the election result 17 months from now. And this is true. But they matter anyway, because Clinton’s free ride to the Democratic nomination is partly a function of her perceived invulnerability. The best argument for Hillary, by far, is that she can win — that she will win — in November 2016.

With that assumption of inevitability in hand, Democratic primary voters have so far viewed efforts to find an alternative to Hillary as not just superfluous but also counterproductive. But what if perhaps she can’t win? If the erosion in her poll numbers continues, and this summer’s polls show her trailing one or more of the relatively less-well-known Republicans, those nagging doubts are sure to start making Democrats anxious. And given that the rest of their field is so weak, that’s a very bad situation for them.

Rick Perry: The longest-serving governor in Texas history gave a strong opening to his CIB121114-Perry2campaign with a speech last week. Don’t count him out, but understand what he’s up against. He was viewed as a potential savior in a weak 2012 field. He lost then, and surely he learned a lot from the experience. But the 2016 field is so much stronger that he might have a hard time making himself relevant.

Something similar could be said of other also-rans from previous races — Rick Santorum and perhaps Mike Huckabee — as well as Bobby Jindal and other candidates who have credentials but no national profile. The 2016 field has become a murderer’s row of GOP superstars, with experienced and credible candidates from every ideological background and every sort of governing experience jumping at the chance to end the Obama era. It just isn’t like 2008 — when Republicans had just had their bench cleared by the 2006 massacre — or 2012, when no one credible emerged to take on Mitt Romney.

Senate 2016

Arizona: With uncertainty still in the air over Arizona’s congressional districts (the Supreme Court could rock the boat as soon as this morning), Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D, announced late last month that she would be running for Senate. Her bid probably only becomes interesting if Sen. John McCain, R, gets a credible primary challenge. Rep. Matt Salmon, R, is considering giving him one, but McCain proved in 2010 that he is no slouch by easily putting away former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Colorado: Rep. Mike Coffman, R, will not run for Senate. This probably has the NRCC giving a sigh of relief, as Coffman’s very swingy House seat would not be easy to defend, were he to leave it open. Even so, he was probably the best-positioned candidate to knock off the always-vulnerable Sen. Michael Bennet, D. One early Quinnipiac poll showed Bennet trailing him already.

Republicans are back to square one in terms of finding a candidate. Coffman’s wife, Cynthia Coffman, the Centennial State’s attorney general, is one of the potential hopefuls, as is Owen Hill, a conservative state lawmaker who made a bid for Senate in 2014 only to back out after Cory Gardner got into the race.

Indiana: Former Rep. Baron Hill, D, formally entered the race for Indiana Senate last week. He isn’t the least electable Democrat in Indiana, but the state has a distinctive Republican lean, and it’s hard (though not impossible) to imagine Hoosiers sending two Democrats to represent them in the Senate.

In 2012, it took a presidential year and a pretty massive screw-up by Republicans for a Democrat to win statewide. Democrats will have the presidential-year wind at their backs once again, but they remain the weaker state party. Republicans have two declared candidates already — including the conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the Fort Wayne area — and two other members of the congressional delegation are considering bids. Coats staffer and former state party chairman Eric Holcomb is the apparent establishment choice.

House 2015

Mississippi-1: As expected, Republican district attorney Trent Kelly easily retained the seat of the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R.

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The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 15:

  • Democratic candidates’ brains on free trade;
  • A quick comparison of the black vote and the union vote in recent elections;
  • Republican smackdown over foreign policy;

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Clinton and trade: “You can not endorse for president. That’s conceivable if both candidates weren’t interested in raising wages.”

This threat, coming from AFL-CIO bigwig Richard Trumka, clearly refers to ageneral election, not a primary. He is threatening to withhold his mega-union organization’s endorsement if Hillary Clinton comes out in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that she quite openly endorsed while serving as secretary of State. The union’s contention is that foreign competition drives down wages, and that somehow this can be avoided by setting up obstacles to free trade.

The threat puts Clinton in a bit of a difficult position. Not an impossible one, but a difficult one.

One might be inclined, based on events so far, to think that election 2016 is only about juicy Clinton scandals. Not so! In fact, there are real issues to be discussed as well, and this is one that loom large for at least the rest of 2015, if not well into next year.

At this point, though, no one believes Hillary can be blocked from the Democratic nomination. The only leverage that Democratic-leaning constituencies have against her is the fact she needs them to become president, and she is definitely not a shoo-in for the general election. So Trumka’s threat is no small matter. No presidential campaign can afford to write off an important base constituency — especially when it’s a constituency that provides most of the party’s get-out-the-vote shock troops.

This is an under-discussed issue within the Democratic base. Discussions of Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses as a presidential candidate usually involve the likelihood that black voter turnout will recede in 2016 from its Obama-era levels. This seems almost inevitable, given the unique nature of Obama as the first black national-level politician with realistic presidential ambitions (in 2008), and then as the first black president seeking to retain his office (in 2012).

A look at vote margins in the last four presidential elections illustrates not just how critical the black vote is for the party, but also what it means for Democrats if it returns to pre-Obama turnout levels and voting patterns:

Capture

The bottom row shows the overall victory margin in the popular vote. The top row shows black voters’ contribution to that margin — in each case, larger than the margin itself. But the main point here is the difference between the black margins in 2000/2004 and those in 2008/2012. A reversion to pre-Obama voting patterns among blacks would shave 3 or 4 points off the Democrats’ overall advantage before a single shot is fired. The chart also shows that Democrats can thank the Obama-era boost in black voting for nearly all of their 2012 popular vote victory margin.

Now, Trumka’s threat to Hillary brings up the question of labor unions. They are also a big part of the Democratic demographic story, but a less triumphalist and therefore less-discussed part. Union households make up a declining segment of the electorate, comprising 26, 24, 21, and 18 percent of the vote in the last four presidential elections, chronologically. Here are the overall margins within the national electorate that union households have been giving to Democrats:

Capture

Again, the bottom row is the overall Democratic margin in the last four presidential races, and the top row shows unions’ contributions to that margin. These numbers provide further evidence (in addition to the statistics released annually by the Department of Labor) that unions are dying on the vine. But they also illustrate where Democrats stand at the margins. In a trend that predates Obama (and really has nothing to do with him), Democrats have lost about 2.5 margin-points since 2000, even amid declining Republican performances, because of declining numbers and declining Democratic partisanship among union households.

This is one of the factors offsetting and preventing whatever racial/demographic miracle Democrats have been expecting since the 1990s to make them a permanent majority. (The decline of union political influence is probably also contributing to white voters’ increasing Republican lean. Two other potential factors: The old-age deaths of white Democrats who lived through the FDR era and of the last die-hard Southern Democratic voters for whom voting Democrat was a statement of Southern nationalism.)

One could argue that this chart makes the case that Trumka cannot afford to snub Clinton, so is he really in a position to make this threat at all? Organized Labor’s net value to Democrats is small and shrinking, at least in terms of votes. If he sidelines the AFL-CIO in 2016, Trumka might be left with no meaningful endorsement to confer in 2020. With the federal courts cracking down on union chiseling from welfare programs, and Midwestern states suddenly adopting right-to-work laws, union membership and union influence are sure to continue declining.

Then again, one cannot overestimate the value of the union contribution to Democrats in terms of muscle and manpower — those phone banks and canvassing drives don’t man themselves. Moreover, every little bit is going to matter for Hillary, especially if black turnout sags as expected.

The trade issue is a particularly complicated one for Democrats to negotiate — a microcosm, if you will, for the Democrats’ typical problem of a base fragmented between so many constituencies with little in common. Believe it or not, most Democratic voters are actually soft supporters of free trade — a recent Pew poll found them to be even more supportive of trade agreements than Republican voters (perhaps in part because of Obama’s current influence). Hispanic voters — representatives of that critical growing demographic — are, by far, the most supportive of free trade agreements.

But an important hard core of the Democratic Party detests free trade, and because its preference is so much stronger, it must be pandered to.

During the 2008 election, then-Senator Obama played a bit of a two-faced game CIB020615-Obamaon trade. He spoke in public (especially in places like Ohio) about how he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. Simultaneously, he sent advisors to tell NAFTA trading partners (that is, the Canadian government) that he was being insincere and they had nothing to worry about. The advisors were, of course, telling the truth, as Obama is not only a defender of NAFTA but also angling to create new trade agreements.

Clinton probably can do no better on the issue now than Obama did then. She has to fine a minimally plausible way to prevaricate and leave it at that until trade becomes a moot point.

It hurts Clinton even more that she vocally supported the TPP as secretary of State, calling it a “gold standard” in terms of the various excuses unions use to subvert free trade agreements — human rights for foreign workers, for example. And frankly, she would look ridiculous at this point if she reversed herself on the deal now.

So she will have to find a new reason to oppose it — to assert that it is now somehow different than when she voiced such gushing praise for it in her official capacity as a cabinet secretary. Either that, or expect an extremely uncomfortable silence on the issue for quite some time to come.

Foreign policy: If trade is awkward for Democrats, how about foreign policy for Republicans? Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., used a television interview on Morning Joe to blame Republican neocons for the rise of the Islamic State, on the grounds that their military interventions had left so many weapons for ISIS to seize.

This was not necessarily the strongest statement of the libertarian worldview, but CIB010615-Jindalit was scathing. And other Republicans’ responses were scathing as well. For example, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called Paul “unsuited” to be president, and compared him not only to liberals, Democrats, and attendees of Georgetown cocktail parties, but also to commentators on al-Jazeera.

Perhaps it seems ugly, but this is actually a healthy debate for Republicans to have right now. With some Republicans struggling to offer either a coherent defense or an apology for an Iraq war that is pretty much universally regarded as a mistake today, Paul serves a purpose by rocking the boat, even if his accusation is a bit too broad and his level of collegiality less than ideal. Republicans must address Iraq in some way, as it represents the undoing of George W. Bush’s administration and is largely responsible for the rise of Obama.

In the future, Republicans will need to unite (more or less) around a more judicious foreign policy. Even those who support the use of American military might to advance various goals have to acknowledge that there are limits to where it should be used, and that those limits properly established would probably preclude a repeat of the Iraq War, were it presented as a possibility again today.


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