The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 22-
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
- Sanders feels the burn;
- Walker’s big week;
- Trump implodes.
Iran deal: President Obama’s deal with Iran to limit its nuclear capabilities will be the talk of Washington 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.
Bernie Sanders: If Republicans are looking for a left-wing version of the ultramontanism that often 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 finally 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:
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 mouth, 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.
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.