The State Of The Democratic Party Today

I found Dan Balz’s article on Democrats in the post-Obama era to be interesting not for any predictions of the future but for the information on the Democratic Party today. I wouldn’t take this as an exact measurement of any views, but a good general approximation.

Balz presented data that the Democratic Party has become more liberal, but with liberals representing a plurality and not a majority. The Democrats remain a big tent party of the left, middle, and center-right while the Republicans have become a predominantly conservative party:

By many measures, the party is certainly seen as more liberal than it once was. For the past 40 years, the American National Election Studies surveys have asked people for their perceptions of the two major parties. The 2012 survey found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans describe the Democratic Party as liberal, with 57 percent using that label. Four years earlier, only 48 percent described the Democrats as liberal.

(In the same survey, 59 percent said they saw the Republicans as conservative, up from 52 percent four years earlier.)

Gallup reported last month that 43 percent of surveyed Democrats identified themselves as liberal, the high water mark for the party on that measurement. In Gallup’s 2000 measures, just 29 percent of Democrats labeled themselves as liberals.

Still, liberals are a plurality of the Democratic Party, not a majority, which is strikingly different from the Republican Party, where Gallup found that 70 percent identified themselves as conservative.

Democrats hold a variety of views, but tend to be more liberal on social issues:

Democrats are most united on cultural and social issues, and it is here where the party has most obviously moved to the left, particularly on same-sex marriage and even the legalization of marijuana. But the party’s shift reflects overall changes in public attitudes that have kept the Democrats within a new political mainstream on these issues.

Women’s issues have provided even more cohesiveness within the party’s coalition.

There is less unity on national security and foreign policy, as much of the party is to the left of Clinton and even of Obama:

On issues of national security and foreign policy, divisions remain. Obama may be president because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton voted as senator to give then-president George W. Bush the authority to take the country to war. Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is ending the war in Afghanistan, but some progressives are at odds with him over other aspects of his national security policies.

There is also division on economic issues:

On economic issues, the party is torn between two key parts of its coalition.

“One of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party,” Stern said, “is that its funders come from its traditional side of the economic spectrum and its voters come from a more populist, distributive side of the economic agenda.”

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer said, “I think the party increasingly is responding to the special interests they need to get elected — the military-industrial complex, big energy, pharmaceutical companies, banks.”

Yet in both policies and tone, there are indications that Democrats have moved to the left. Democratic candidates from all regions — including two potential rising stars running for the Senate in conservative states, Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky — have embraced raising the minimum wage. This is a centerpiece of Obama’s agenda heading into this fall’s midterm campaigns…

Hostility to free-trade agreements is still deep among part of the Democratic coalition, but that tension has existed for decades. While many better-educated, upscale voters do not fear the impact of free trade, others, led by organized labor, look at stagnant wages and the difficult job market and attribute those hardships to trade.

Income inequality has received more attention from Democrats but it is based more upon pragmatic economic principles than hostility towards the rich or the egalitarianism falsely attributed to Democrats by many Republicans such as Chris Christie:

Perhaps more than any other economic issue, income inequality has animated progressive activists and voters. Party strategists say this energy is being fueled by lingering fury at Wall Street tycoons, whom they blame for the financial collapse, and deep unease about the nation’s eroding middle class.

“There’s a consciousness developing that’s related to this issue of inequality and the unfairness of our system and the wealth gap that has the potential to really grow and develop into a strong movement that will be reflected in coming elections,” former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said.

William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution said, “It’s not just a case of the very rich getting richer. If that were the only thing going on I think we’d be having a very different conversation. It’s also a case of the people in the middle at best treading water and in fact doing a little bit worse than that.”

Balz’s description of the Democratic Party is consistent with how I have described it in posts here–a big tent with the left more typically liberal on social issues and highly influenced by opposition to the war in Iraq. Democrats have tended to be more pragmatic than ideological on economic issues, with the current economic stagnation exacerbated by the right’s use of government to redistribute wealth to the ultra-wealthy and extreme opposition to government activity even when needed, leading to forces driving both pragmatism and a more populist agenda coinciding.

Looking ahead it is impossible to predict anything at this time other than a victory for Hillary Clinton, but this is based upon her historical position in the party, not whether she is currently representative of where most Democrats stand. If Clinton were to decide not to run, whoever wins the nomination is likely to be quite different from Clinton on the issues.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Chris Christie Distorts Democratic Views On Income Inequality

Pinoccio

As Chris Christie’s popularity has fallen following recent scandals, his popularity has picked up to a degree on the far right now that they see him as a “victim” of the liberal media. There’s almost nothing the far right loves better than to see themselves as victims.

In return Christie is pandering to the Tea Party  and far right, using their tactic of distorting the views of the left. I was listening to an excerpt of a speech by Chris Christie over XM earlier. While I cannot find a full transcript, this report from The Guardian provides the gist of what I objected to:

“You want income equality? That’s mediocrity,” said Christie, in an apparent attempt to bolster his conservative credentials during a discussion at the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday. “Everybody can have an equal mediocre salary. That’s what we can afford.”

He argued that by pursuing income equality, left-leaning Democrats such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio misjudged the American spirit, which he defined as: “How do I get a little more?”

“I don’t think the American people want income equality. What they want is income opportunity,” said Christie, who also used the talk to heap praise on former president George W Bush. He added: “I grew up in an America that said life isn’t fair – but opportunity is.”

He is making two major errors here. First, Democrats do not believe everyone should have equal incomes. When speaking of income inequality they are speaking of the unprecedented concentration of wealth by the top one tenth of one percent and how this is damaging to the middle class and the economy. Secondly, they object to the system being rigged for the benefit of the top one tenth of one percent and it is the Democrats who support greater opportunity.

It is also interesting that Christie thinks it would help himself to bring up George Bush.

In related items, The Hill looks at Bill de Blasio.  Alec McGillis writes that Chris Christie’s entire career reeks. You can read all the details, but he says it all with this picture:

Chris Christie Tony Soprano

The article concludes:

What Bridgegate has laid bare is the skill and audacity with which Christie constructed his public image. “It’s almost like people were in a trance,” Buono told me. Christie may have been misunderstood for so long because his transactionalism diverted from the standard New Jersey model. He wasn’t out to line his own pockets, or build a business empire. He wasn’t even seeking to advance a partisan agenda. And yet it was transactionalism all the same. Christie used a corrupt system to expand his own power and burnish his own image, and he did it so artfully that he nearly came within striking distance of the White House. When he got cozy with Democratic bosses, people only saw a man willing to work across the aisle. When he bullied his opponents, they only saw a truth-teller. It was one of the most effective optical illusions in American politics—until it wasn’t.

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The Democratic Advantage In The Electoral College

If a professional newspaper columnist who has to get a column out on a regular schedule does not want to write about Chris Christie or NSA Surveillance this weekend, there are a number of topics which one can always pull up. Dan Baltz went with a look at the Republican Party’s uphill path in the electoral college. There’s nothing new here, but this is worth considering when looking ahead towards 2016. Baltz looked at the earlier Republican advantage in presidential elections, later switching to favor the Democrats:

What happened? States whose loyalties were divided in the first era moved to become part of the Democrats’ base — a transition that began with Bill Clinton’s two campaigns and continued through 2012. That list includes California, the biggest electoral prize in the country, with 55 votes, but also others that have long been considered contested battlegrounds, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

All 16 states that went for the GOP in the past six elections remain solidly in the Republican column. The same is true of most of the states that voted GOP in four or five of the past six. But that leaves the Republicans far short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

A further look at key states shows advantages for the Democrats. Looking ahead, it is far more likely that red states which are becoming more diverse might shift Democratic than for many of the states which have been voting Democratic to change. The Republicans cannot even count on the South long term, already losing Virginia and with others at risk. It will probably take longer than 2016, but if increases in minority voters in Texas should make that state flip, or even become a battle ground, the Republicans will not have a single large state they can count on.

The Democratic edge in recent years would be even more one-sided if not for Republicans winning the electoral votes of Florida in 2000. It is clear that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote Democratic, with some confused by the butterfly ballots. Retrospective newspaper recounts showed that Gore would have won if he had obtained a state-wide recount. Without the benefits of incumbency, Republicans also probably would not have won in 2004. Even with their short-term advantages, Kerry could have won in the electoral college, while losing the popular vote, if there were more voting machines in the larger cities of Ohio.

Nothing is for certain. John Sides took the opposing viewpoint. He failed to provide a compelling argument as to why many states will flip. It is certainly possible that if economic conditions remain bad that the Democrats could suffer. As the fault is shared by Republicans who created the crash and then blocked recovery, it is questionable whether blue states will turn against Democrats any more in 2016 than in 2012, especially with a change in presidential candidates.

Sides is correct in pointing out how hard it has been for a party to win the White House three elections in a row in modern times, but in looking at modern American presidents we are dealing with a very small sample. We now have a unique situation where the Republicans are under the control of extremists while the Democrats have taken firm control of the center along with moderate left. Republican views have become too extreme for their candidates to have a serious chance of winning in many northern states. There are just not enough low-information white males, the primary source of votes for Republicans, for them to flip these states.  While I would hope for a more knowledgeable electorate, changes in information-sources will also be important. Over time, voters who get their fake news from Fox will increasingly be replaced by those who get their fake news from Jon Stewart.

Looking at potential candidates also makes it unlikely that the Republicans will change current trends in the electoral college. Many Republicans had hoped Chris Christie might be able to alter the current red/blue electoral map. It was already hard for him to win the nomination in the Republican Party even before he became damaged by scandal. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is likely to do better than Obama in some of the larger industrial states which the Republicans need to flip. The same low-information white males who might vote against Clinton due to her gender already have been voting against Obama because of his race.

Things are not entirely hopeless for the Republicans, at least not yet. While the Democrats have a strong advantage in presidential elections, the structure of Congressional elections gives Republicans an advantage relative to their overall support in the country. With small states having the same two Senators as large states, Republican representation in the Senate is far greater than if the Senate was representative of the country. Republican advantage in the House has been even greater, due to both gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in urban areas. As a consequence, Democrats win a smaller number of districts by larger margins and Democrats must beat Republicans by seven percent or more to retake control. Unless there is a huge shift in the generic ballot, as happened only briefly last fall, Republicans are likely to retain control of the House even if more people continue to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

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The Surprising Lack Of Scandals In The Obama Administration

The recent scandals released about Chris Christie remind us of how often we expect to find scandals in government. Power does corrupt. We have become so accustomed to scandals at the top levels of government that it almost comes as a surprise that the Obama administration has been so free of scandal. Some observers almost take it for granted that a scandal must happen sooner or later. For example, back in 2011 Brendan Nyhan described this as an aberration, waiting for an inevitable scandal to occur:

Obama has been extremely fortunate: My research (PDF) on presidential scandals shows that few presidents avoid scandal for as long as he has. In the 1977-2008 period, the longest that a president has gone without having a scandal featured in a front-page Washington Post article is 34 months – the period between when President Bush took office in January 2001 and the Valerie Plame scandal in October 2003. Obama has already made it almost as long despite the lack of a comparable event to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course when speaking of the Obama administration as being free of scandal, I am speaking of real world facts, not the fantasy world of Fox and the right wing noise machine. They have invented plenty of scandals, but in every case their claims were contradicted by the facts. Just this week we had the Senate Intelligence Committee report which debunked the Republican conspiracy theories regarding Benghazi.

When Paul Waldman wrote about how the Republican claims about Solyndra didn’t hold up, he entitled his post Obama Administration Oddly Scandal-Free, again suggesting how the presence of scandals has become what is expected. Paul Waldman recently reviewed this topic again in a post entitled The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who also provides many of the earlier links in this post). He set up these reasonable conditions for what constitutes a scandal:

So let’s take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be. Just to be clear, when I use the word “scandalous” in this list, I don’t mean “bad.” When you say, for instance, that there has been little evidence of anything scandalous occurring in Benghazi, conservatives often reply, “Four people died!” Indeed they did, and that was terribly tragic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a scandal. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call that a “Reagan administration scandal,” because while there were some bad decisions made with awful results, there wasn’t any criminality or corruption or cover-up, the things we usually associate with scandals.

To make a truly meaningful administration scandal, you need two things. First, there has to be some kind of criminal or morally atrocious behavior somewhere, which we can put under the general heading of “malfeasance.” People doing their jobs poorly isn’t enough to make it a scandal. Second, you need the involvement of highly-placed administration officials. Only an affair with both features is a scandal. If a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska is found to be running a moose-based prostitution ring, that’s only an administration scandal if people high up in the administration knew about it.

Waldman looked at all those scandals which truly dishonest politicians such as Darrel Issa are wasting tax-payers money with faux investigations on. (I am linking to this in case anyone doubts that this attitude really comes from the Republican Party, and not just the clowns in the right wing media who are making these bogus claims.) Waldman looked at Solyndra, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, and aggressive leak investigations. In each case, the conservative claims have not held up. He concluded:

So what can we conclude from all this? There are three possible explanations for the lack of a major scandal in the Obama administration. The first is that something truly horrific has gone on, but as of yet it hasn’t been discovered. The second is that the scandals we know about haven’t been fully investigated, and will eventually yield more wrongdoing than we currently understand. And the third is that the administration has not, in fact, committed any horrible crimes. Which seems most likely?

That isn’t to say that they haven’t made plenty of mistakes, because they have. And there are three years left in Obama’s term, so you never know—maybe someone will discover that he’s having an affair with Jennifer Lawrence, or that Valerie Jarrett is a mole for the Yakuza, or that those FEMA concentration camps are real. But there’s also the chance that he’ll end his term without any major scandal, which would be quite something.

A final note: The question of whether we should think of NSA spying as a scandal in these terms is a complicated one that I’m going to have to leave for another day.

And he didn’t even mention the widely held conservative belief of a conspiracy to pass off a foreign-born Muslim Socialist as an American citizen.  Claims of an affair with Jennifer Lawrence from the right are not that far-fetched in light of this. As for NSA spying, I think this falls in the category of policies we disagree with, but not a political scandal.

Regarding the lack of scandal in the Obama administration, the simple explanation might be what Andrew Sullivan previously suggested–that he is not corrupt. I suspect that the explanation might also come down to a difference in how different people see government and where they have come from. Scandals may have become more prevalent in Republican administrations because many on the right oppose the American system of government and do not see it as a force which can be used for good. To them, government is evil and they see nothing wrong for using it for their own ends when in power. In contrast Obama sees the actual functions of government as something worthy of pursuing as an end in itself. Many top government leaders come from positions of wealth and power and seek to increase this as much as possible. Even top positions in government are not necessarily enough for their lust for power. For a former community organizer and someone who not long ago was no more powerful than a member of the Illinois State Senate, the presidency is enough.

This is all quite frustrating for those on the right who seek to attack Obama as corrupt, forcing them to make up a long list of fallacious attacks.

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More Accusations Against Chris Christie Re Sandy Relief Funds And Cronyism In College Government

The revelations that members of Chris Christie’s staff intentionally closed the George Washington Bridge as political retaliation is leading to further stories coming out regarding alleged abuses of power. Some are centering around Sandy relief funds:

Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.

The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, hasn’t approved the project, but she did request $127 million in hurricane relief for her city of Hoboken – 80% of which was underwater after Sandy hit in October 2012. What she got was $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.

In an exclusive interview, Zimmer broke her silence and named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of a governor she had long supported.

“The bottom line is, it’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City of Hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer,” she said Saturday on UP w/ Steve Kornacki. “… I know it’s very complicated for the public to really understand all of this, but I have a legal obligation to follow the law, to bring balanced development to Hoboken.”

Constable and Christie – through spokespersons – deny Zimmer’s claims.

We are likely to see a continuing series of such stories. The big question remains whether Christie will be tied directly to these accusations, or whether he will be harmed by suspicions of creating such a culture of corruption. It even appears that, like Mitt Romney, suggestions as to his character could be seen when in school.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is no stranger to accusations of political bullying and backroom dealing like those at the heart of the bridge scandal.

TPM has found one of the first times the brash political brawler faced such claims was in the mid-1980s when he was an undergrad at the University of Delaware.

There, student newspaper archives show, Christie was accused of establishing a college political machine that rewarded his friends and drove his classmates out of student government. One fellow student even wrote to the paper to decry Christie’s “cronyism” and question the legitimacy of the future governor’s reign.

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Dreams Of Stopping Clinton In 2016

We have a long time go to until the 2016 presidential election, but political reporting in this country is obsessed with presidential elections and we are going to continue to see a lot of stories centered around the media’s pick as front runners. As I discussed yesterday, Hillary Clinton is a stronger front runner for her party’s nomination than Chris Christie, especially following the recent scandal.It is notable that early front runners rarely win the Democratic nomination, excluding sitting presidents and sometimes the last vice president. While Hillary Clinton is currently in a strong position to overcome the obstacles faced by front runners, she faces problems including the desire of the media to run “man bites dog” stories and highlight any potential political liability. The media will concentrate on a variety of ABC stories (Anyone But Christie and Anyone But Clinton.

There are two stories along these lines today. Michael Crowley has written about Clinton’s hawkish views, which many Democratic voters are likely to disagree with:

As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Former administration officials also tell TIME that Clinton was an advocate for maintaining a residual troop force after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq—an issue of renewed interest given al Qaeda’s resurgence there. They also describe her as skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a “containment” policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail.

Recent comparisons of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic globe-trotting to Clinton’s arguably modest diplomatic achievements have tended to overlook this less visible aspect of her tenure. But no assessment of her time in Obama’s administration would be complete without noting the way Clinton hewed to the liberal hawk philosophy she adopted during her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, and which contributed, less happily, to her 2002 vote to authorize force against Iraq. “The Democratic party has two wings—a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing,” says former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, now director of the Wilson Center. (Jackson, a Cold War-era Democratic Senator from Washington state, mixed progressive domestic politics with staunch anti-communism, support for a strong military, and backing for the Vietnam War.)

Crowley gave further details on Clinton’s hawkish record and then concluded:
But at a time when fewer Americans support an active U.S. role in foreign affairs, Clinton’s comfort with the harder side of American power could be a vulnerability. A liberal primary challenger might well reprise Barack Obama’s 2007 line that Hillary’s record amounts to “Bush-Cheney lite.” One potential contender, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, has already been zinging her over her 2002 Iraq vote. “When George Bush got a bunch of [Democrats] to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said recently. Whether such attacks will hold even a fraction of the valence they did at the Iraq war’s peak remains to be seen.
I fear that changes are not good for a liberal primary challenger to accomplish what Obama did in 2008 in terms of winning the nomination, but Clinton just might be defeated in the Iowa caucuses. CNN looked at the problems Clinton faces in Iowa, despite lack of a credible challenger at this time:

Yet despite having the Democratic establishment at her back, there remains a palpable sense of unease with Clinton in grass-roots corners of the party, even as those very same activists promise to support her if no one else runs.

Part of that restraint is ideological. Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers remain as dovish as they were in 2008, when Clinton’s support for the Iraq war badly damaged her standing on the left. Clinton helped wind down that same war as Obama’s secretary of state, but she is now linked to his national security apparatus, which has expanded drone attacks overseas and broadened intelligence gathering with controversial surveillance and data collection techniques.

And at a time when progressives feel emboldened to confront issues like income inequality and wage stagnation, Clinton, who delivered paid speeches last year to two prominent private equity firms as well as a group that actively lobbied against the Affordable Care Act, is perceived by some as too close to the deficit-obsessed worlds of Wall Street and official Washington…

Clinton is also susceptible to some of the same whimsical Democratic impulses that propelled Obama to his stunning Iowa victory in 2008. “Democrats love an underdog and we love a story,” is how Meyer put it. With a gleaming resume and the potential to make history as the country’s first female president, Clinton has a powerful story to tell. But she is hardly an underdog.

Some party leaders warned Clinton against reprising the same kind of heavy-handed front-running behavior that rankled so many Iowa activists — not to mention the media — during her 2008 effort.

“I don’t know if she has learned that lesson,” said Jean Pardee, the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2nd District vice chair. “The problem with so much of her staff was that they were all sort of higher class than the mere peasants that they had to campaign with. Everyone was kept at arm’s length by the staff, although a couple of key ones were pretty good. That’s a lesson that should be hopefully learned. But when it comes to human nature, maybe that’s not possible.”

Clinton must also confront the who’s-on-deck inclinations of the Democratic caucus-goer. Unlike Republicans, who have a habit of nominating loyal soldiers who have waited for their turn, Iowa Democrats have a tendency to search for someone new. The last time the party nominated an obvious heir-apparent was 2000, but Al Gore first had to beat back an unexpectedly fierce primary challenge from Bill Bradley on the left.

George Appleby, an attorney and lobbyist in Des Moines who supported Bradley and copped to a “pristine record of picking the wrong guy” in every caucus since 1976 until he backed Obama in 2008, described Clinton as “strong” and “brilliant.”

But he said liberals are suffering from an acute case of “Clinton fatigue.” He named O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Iowa caucus winner, as Democrats he’s keeping an eye on.

“Hillary would make a great president,” Appleby said. “She is the odds-on-favorite. But I don’t think she is necessarily going to be the nominee, or going to win Iowa. Sometimes people have been around forever, and there is time for some new blood.”

I’ve previously expressed my preference for current Secretary of State John Kerry over his predecessor and found it interesting to actually see his name come up as a possibility. Unfortunately I find it unlikely he can repeat what Richard Nixon did in the Republican Party, and  in a different era, and win the Democratic nomination after once losing the presidency. He loses out on the “tendency to search for someone new.”

In addition, it is difficulty to run while being Secretary of State. He cannot campaign for other members of his party as Nixon did to obtain support. Nor can he participate in the current “invisible primary” to raise money and develop the framework of a campaign. I can only see two possible ways that Kerry can win the Democratic nomination. One would be if he does something major of historical proportions, such as succeeding in his attempts to broker a peace agreement in the middle east. This would also have to occur early enough for Kerry to then step down and actually run. The other would be if Clinton either decides not to run, or her campaign is seriously derailed, and nobody is able to win enough support to make a credible front runner. The chances of stopping Clinton would be better if another liberal candidate could obtain sufficient support to make a serious run, and at this point I don’t see anyone doing this. Any chance Al Gore is still interested? There is a long way to go and perhaps we will see some new blood.

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Bad News Today For Both Chris Christie And Hillary Clinton

Last week the political news led to the inevitable, even if premature, discussion of the 2016 presidential race. A scandal involving Chris Christie was reported based upon its potential repercussions for the Republican nomination, even though it is far from  certain that the media declaring Christie the front-runner means anything. There are far too many pictures of him with Obama to haunt him in the GOP primaries. Still, he could not be ruled out as 2012 showed how hard it is to find a true conservative Republican who doesn’t become a laughing stock once they actually have to discuss their views on a national stage.

Hillary Clinton is a far stronger front-runner for the Democratic nomination. The 2008 race showed both that there are Democrats who do not want her and that she could be beaten, but it is hard to see someone duplicating what Obama accomplished. Clinton is certainly not going to ignore the caucus states, assuming she runs for the 2016 nomination. Therefore last week was seen as very good for Hillary Clinton. Assuming she runs, Christie polls the best against her of potential Republican candidates (again, assuming he could win the nomination). Looking like the least bat-shit crazy Republican did help Christie in national polls.

So far there is little public interest in Christie’s scandal, but I think it is still too early to tell. While the similarities to Watergate are too slim to justify calling this Bridgegate, it did take a while before Watergate became commonly known and harmful to Richard Nixon. The reports of Christie’s staff closing down the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retaliation have led to many other stories of similar bullying by Christie. Making matters worse, there is now an investigation as to whether Christie misused Sandy relief funds:

Just days after dismissing two top advisers for their roles in the George Washington Bridge scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced questions over the use of Superstorm Sandy relief funds.

CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used some of that money to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family.

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the embattled Republican, who is facing two probes in New Jersey of whether his staff orchestrated traffic gridlock near the country’s busiest bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his re-election.

If the Sandy inquiry by a watchdog finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie’s national ambitions. He’s considered a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

One would think that this should be another good week for Hillary Clinton, but maybe not. Politico (which is not above fabricating drama) cites a book claiming Hillary Clinton maintained a hit list of those who crossed her in 2008:

There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school. On one early draft of the hit list, each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from 1 to 7, with the most helpful to Hillary earning 1s and the most treacherous drawing 7s. The set of 7s included Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Rob Andrews (D-N.J.).

I don’t know how true this is, but The Hill quotes Senator Claire McCaskill as not wanting to wind up in the same elevator as Hillary Clinton. If we are to select the Democratic nominee by looking at recent Secretaries of State, I believe that one of those on Clinton’s hit list, John Kerry, would make a far better president (despite being very unlikely to be given a second chance to run).The scandals surrounding Chris Christie might wind up harming Clinton as well as Christie. All the stories of political retaliation by Christie might make voters think more about the character of who they vote for, and perhaps shy away from a candidate who sounds like they are maintaining a Nixonian Enemy’s List. Perhaps we need another pair of front runners.

Update: Dreams of Stopping Clinton in 2016

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Chris Christie Playing In Traffic

Playing in Traffic

With the emails and text messages which came to light this week implicating Christie’s top aides, but not directly providing evidence against Chris Christie, the outcome of this scandal might come down to public opinion. Documents clearly show evidence of corruption and an attempt at a cover-up. While it is far too soon to know if Christie will recover, I suspect that most people will either not be aware that the evidence does not prove direct involvement by Christie or will still believe Christie was involved. At very least, people will likely see him as creating the type of culture where such corruption exists, regardless of whether he ordered specific misdeeds.  There remains the danger that a smoking gun will be found, or someone will talk, making criminal prosecution a possibility.

There are other dangers for Christie. Being thought of as an incompetent leader who was unaware of what his top staff members were doing could be as damaging politically as being proven to have been involved. He might become a laughing stock even as details of the incident fade from the public’s mind. Late night comedians will continue jokes such as those I posted yesterday. Images such as the one on the upcoming cover of The New Yorker of Christie playing in traffic will haunt him, and probably be even more damaging than pictures of Mitt Romney driving with his dog on top of the car or shaking an Etch A Sketch.

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Quote of the Day: Stephen Colbert on Chris Christie

“New emails link top aides in the Christie administration to a shutdown on the George Washington bridge back in September. It was traffic on a biblical scale, with New Jersey highways backed up  for days, which is slightly longer than normal.” –Stephen Colbert

Bonus Quote

“Turns out that the lane closures were meant to make life hell as payback to the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing Christie for re-election. No word yet on what the rest of New Jersey is payback for.” –Stephen Colbert

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Christie May Not Survive Impact Of Email Saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”

As The Rachel Maddow Show, and Maddow Blog writer Steve Benen have been vigorously covering the Chris Christie Bridge scandal for a month, I have been uncertain as to whether this would amount to enough to seriously impact Christie’s until-now rising political career. The new revelations released today, based upon email and text messages directly linking Christie’s top aides to the scandal, now suggest that this will be important:

Private messages between Governor’s Christie’s deputy chief of staff and two of his top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create “traffic problems in Fort Lee” by shutting lanes to the George Washington Bridge and apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock.

The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee’s mayor — who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election — and they chronicle how he tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000, which sits in the shadow of the world’s busiest bridge.

The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”

I’m not sure we have had such clear documentation implicating a major politician in a scandal since the Watergate tapes ended the career of Richard Nixon. Of course in this day and age it is email and text messages (raising the question as to why they would think that such a clear trail would not be revealed.) The documents both display an abuse of power and contradict previous denials that Christie was involved. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” is likely to become a phrase which will haunt Chris Christie for the rest of his career, and might very likely end his presidential ambitions. As Chris Cillizza points out, “Molehills can grow into mountains in politics. This is now a serious problem for Christie.”

Jonathan Chait pointed out why this scandal can be particularly harmful for Christie, both being easy for voters to understand and reinforcing previous questions about Christie:

Several things come together to make this scandal especially devastating to Christie. One is that it’s very easy for voters to understand: He punished a town because its mayor endorsed his rival. There are no complex financial transfers or legal maneuverings to parse. Second, it fits into a broader pattern of behavior, documented by the New York Times, of taking retribution against politicians who cross him in any way. There is, in all likelihood, much more. Mark Halperin and my colleague John Heilemann reported in their book about the 2012 campaign that Mitt Romney wanted to put Christie on his ticket, but his staff was “stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record”:

“There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official — and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.”

The investigations also “raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.”

Josh Marshall says essentially the same thing, but a little more bluntly with his comparison of Chris Christie to Tony Soprano:

As I’ve written several times, this Christie Bridge Scandal is far more potentially damaging for Christie that it might seem on its face because its fits so perfectly with the negative view (as opposed to the positive view) of Chris Christie. That is, that he and his crew are thugs and bullies. We have basically demonstrable evidence that one of Christie’s top aides instructed Christie’s crony at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, to create the series of massive traffic jams in the city whose Mayor wouldn’t endorse the Governor.

Put into a mix that a good part of the country has the Sopranos as their primary prism for viewing New Jersey. (And, hey, I’m a former New Jersey resident!) And these emails sound very Sopranos-esque. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly told David Wildstein, according to emails obtained by TPM. “Got it,” Wildstein replied.

This isn’t some low level aide. This is part of his inner circle. And unless there’s some wildly unexpected explanation, it’s pretty clear that we’ve got the worst case scenario for the Governor in terms of the political damage. I doubted very much that we’d see any email smoking gun. And it’s still not from Christie himself. But it came from the Governor’s office and I think the weight of logic (though as yet no direct evidence) at least says that Christie himself knew about the order and may have ordered it himself.

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