Clinton’s Electability Now Being Questioned

Projected 2016 electoral map

While it is far too early to make many meaningful predictions about the 2016 election, there is one safe bet–the media will concentrate on the horse race, as opposed to the issues, even at this early state. Eric Ham argues at The Hill that Jeb Bush as the edge in the electoral college over Clinton. David Atkins disagrees at The Political Animal blog, arguing that even if the Republican candidate picks up Florida and Ohio (map above) this still leaves them two votes short of victory. Adam C. Smith, the political editor of The Tampa Bay Times, argues that Florida is not a lock for either Bush or Rubio:

Part of what makes Florida such a challenging state politically is its fast-changing and ever-growing nature. Statewide candidates must constantly introduce themselves. Bush, for instance, won his two gubernatorial races by huge margins — nearly 11 percentage points in 1998 and 13 points in 2002 — but Florida is vastly different now.

The Florida Democratic Party still has the voter files from those Bush elections and can pinpoint which voters are still around and which aren’t. Only 28 percent of currently active Florida voters participated in either of Bush’s past two elections and only 13 percent of today’s registered voters are Republicans who voted in those 2002 or 1998 gubernatorial races.

“There has been so much growth in Florida, that 13 years since his name was last on the ballot, only around 18 percent of registered voters in Florida ever could have voted for Jeb,” Joshua Karp of the Florida Democratic party extrapolated.

Nor have Bush or Rubio ever run in a presidential election year, when Democratic turnout is far higher than in off-year elections.

Barack Obama narrowly won Florida in 2008 and in 2012 after mounting the largest and best-funded campaigns ever seen in the state. That Obama barely eked out a win against Mitt Romney, who had antagonized many Hispanic voters with his clumsy talk of self-deportation, might suggest Bush or Rubio at the top of the ticket would all but ensure Florida’s 29 electoral votes for the GOP.

“Nothing in life is a lock. But Jeb Bush beats Hillary Clinton in Florida hands down. I don’t care what the polls say today,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, suggesting Rubio would be formidable, too, but has less broad appeal.

What the polls say today is that Clinton vs. Bush is a toss-up. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Clinton leading 45 percent to 42 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey released last week found Clinton leading 47 percent to 44 percent. She led Rubio by 2 percentage points in both polls.

The problem for the Democrats is that beyond inevitability Clinton has little else going for her, and like in 2008 once her inevitability becomes questioned there is the risk of her campaign self-destructing. If nothing else, this is making Republicans such as Joe Scarborough more optimistic:

 I think she has a glass jaw, and I’ll be really blunt. I don’t think she’s going to be the next president of the United States. Everybody acts like she’s inevitable. But I know a lot of people very close to Hillary Clinton that are very worried right now that she has what it takes to win a general election. They think she’s going to win a primary, the Democratic primary, but they’re very worried. And think about it, Hugh. Everybody’s been talking for four years about how the Democrats are stacked against the Republican Party, there’s no way we’re going to win nationally again. All we need is somebody to win all the states Mitt Romney won, which is a pretty low bar for the Republican Party. And then you win Florida, Virginia and Ohio, which I think any of these major candidates can beat Hillary, and then you just have to pick up four electoral votes. And there are about ten states that Republicans can win there. I’m actually feeling very bullish on 2016 right now if we nominate the right guy or woman.

Jeffry Frank discusses the key fact of the Democratic race so far at The New Yorker–Clinton is essentially running alone:

Democrats, meanwhile, seem ready to cede the whole thing to Clinton, who, for all her experience and intelligence, may be a less-than-ideal candidate. Even her e-mail problems, which polls at first suggested could be shrugged off, aren’t going away. It didn’t help when her lawyer, David Kendall, in response to a subpoena from a congressional committee looking into the 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, told the Times, “There are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized.” That her personal e-mail server has been wiped clean of any records from her years at the State Department erases the chance of anyone ever making an independent study of their contents and is bound to encourage the suspicion that there was something worth hiding. The investigation community is like a perpetual scandal-seeking machine, quick to seize on any hint of inconsistency, and both Clintons, understandably, are weary of being pursued by those who don’t wish them well. But the public may be getting weary of seeing the words “Clinton” and “lawyers” juxtaposed yet again with any sort of frequency, which could explain her slippage in the polls in three battleground states.

Not long ago, Ryan Lizza wrote about Clinton’s aura of inevitability and the historic failure of most challenges to strong front-runners. At this point, though, any insurgencies are more notional than real. Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, has been gently critical of her as he shyly contemplates getting into the race. The former Virginia Senator James Webb, who began exploring a run last November, is still hinting that he intends to run. But when you look for signs of the Webb campaign, which promised a fresh view of income inequality, military commitments abroad, and the terrible waste of lives—mainly black lives—caused by mass incarceration, what you’re likely to find is the status of the James Webb space telescope, which will replace the Hubble. (That Webb ran NASA in the years of the Apollo program.) Clinton, meanwhile, has not exactly announced her intentions, but her campaign, without coyness, has reportedly leased two floors of office space in Brooklyn Heights, and that, as Politico notes, may be regarded by the Federal Election Commission as the beginning of a campaign.

Four years ago, Democrats were amused by the Republicans battling through the primaries, and by debates that even Republicans considered a “clown show.” This year, Republicans may be cheered by the absence of battle on the other side, by the sight of a major political party diminished by timidity and the uncertain candidacy of a single contender.

We are still months away from the first primary. Clinton has not even announced her candidacy yet but, now that she has signed the lease on election offices in Brooklyn, campaign finance laws require  her to announce, or at least open an exploratory committee, in the next two weeks. Democrats should be concerned about the major errors she has committed during her book tour and in response to the revelations about her email, and her fall in the polls,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush scrapes past Clinton with a three-point lead, still within the margin of error, in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. Clinton had a one-point edge in the Florida dead heat Quinnipiac reported in early February.

The last two months have also erased Clinton’s previously double-digit lead over every other potential GOP contender for the presidency in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, is now the man to beat in Ohio after he narrowed his margin against Clinton to just a five-point deficit, according to Tuesday’s poll. Paul, who is expected to announce his bid for the presidency next week, trailed Clinton by 12 points in Quinnipiac’s early February poll.

Every potential 2016 Republican contender included in the February survey has since gained on Clinton in Ohio — even if by just two points, like in Bush’s case.

Paul is also winning over Pennsylvanians, trimming his 9-point deficit to a virtual tie, landing 45% of support to Clinton’s 44% in the state.

Clinton remains a strong favorite — especially so early on — against virtually every other potential Republican contender for president in the three battleground states.

But it’s clear Clinton’s email scandal — first that she exclusively used private email housed on a private server as secretary of state, and then that she deleted all the emails on that server — has leveled a hit to Clinton’s public image and trustworthiness, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

About half of voters in all three states say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy — by a 5-to-4 margin in Florida and Pennsylvania, with a closer split in Pennsylvania.

And Clinton’s favorability rating has also slipped in Florida — to 49% from 53% — and Pennsylvania — now at 48% from 55% — though she still gets more favorable reviews than all of her would-be Republican opponents, except for Bush and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio in that state.

Despite denials over the significance of the email scandal by Clinton supporters , the poll found that, “Clinton has provided satisfactory answers on the e-mail issue, 38 percent of voters say, while 55 percent say serious questions remain.” This is also the sort of matter which most people are not currently paying attention to at this stage,  and could be much more harmful in 2016. Despite the attempts of Clinton supporters to claim this is a trivial matter, this is actually an important matter which gets to the heart of Obama’s efforts to improve transparency in government in response to the abuses during the Bush years. With so much communication now being by email rather than written memos, it is also important to the historical record that these records be maintained. Hillary Clinton’s integrity is tarnished by her failure to follow the rules placed in effect in 2009, her false claims at her press conference of following the rules, and her debunked claims of having failed to use government servers in order to avoid needing to carry two email devices, even though she actually did use two different devices. Clinton’s attacks on Republicans for shredding the Constitution when they used a server from the Republican National Committee, and the citing of use of personal email as one reason for the firing of an ambassador under her, strengthen the view that the Clintons believe that the rules do not apply to them. How many voters are really going to believe that Clinton was not hiding something after she not only violated the rules but wiped the servers?

While many Democrats have been willing to back Clinton, despite being out of step with liberals on the issues, because of the feeling she had the best chance to win. Now that she is looking like a weaker candidate there has been increased discussion of the possibility of other candidates taking on Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but so far there has been little action by other Democrats. Martin O’Malley is currently the only one making serious moves towards a candidacy. While the Clintonistas have begun their inevitable campaign against  him, he is starting to get favorable coverage. Some Clinton supporters deny how Clinton is to the right of O’Malley and most other Democrats, using flawed rating systems which do not mean very much when most Senate votes are along party lines. (Republicans used such bogus arguments to claim in 2004 and 2008 that John Kerry and Barack Obama were the most liberal Democrats.) Clintonistas have an even more difficult task when pitting O’Malley against Clinton based upon competence. A. H. Goodman argues at The Huffington Post that O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren, along with other possible Democratic candidates, can beat the Republicans. In Iowa, which has not been a strong state for the Clintons, some are seeing O’Malley as the nation’s new JFK.

Joe Biden has the advantage over other potential challengers in terms of name recognition against other potential candidate, but  has made only very preliminary moves. While he has not taken any actions towards organizing a campaign, a Draft Joe Biden site has started. If Biden plans to run I think he bypassed an opportunity this week. Biden was often the voice of reason, in contrast to Clinton’s hawkishness, in the first four years of the Obama administration. If he was interested in taking on Clinton, I would think he should have reminded voters of Clinton’s opposition to Obama’s desire to engage in diplomacy with Iran. This issue might still come up, being yet another example of how long it often takes for Clinton to learn from her mistakes.

With many months to go before the first primary, there remains hope that other candidates will emerge once it no longer looks like resistance to Clinton is futile. Sources from Salon to The Christian Science Monitor have offered suggestions as to alternate candidates for the Democratic nomination.

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Clinton Out-Nixons Nixon And Erases The Email

Rose_Mary_Woods

The conventional wisdom is that Richard Nixon would have survived Watergate if he had erased the tapes. Democrats were outraged by the eighteen and a half minutes which were “accidentally” erased by Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods. In a late Friday news dump we learned that Hillary Milhouse Clinton, who once accused the Bush administration of shredding the Constitution with their use of private email, out-Nixoned Nixon. The New York Times and Politico reported that Clinton has deleted all of what she claims to be private email after October 28 when the State Department first requested that Clinton turn over the email kept on her private server, violating rules in effect as of 2009. The server has been wiped clean.

Clinton had given contradictory answers regarding the email at her news conference, in which media fact checkers found multiple untrue statements. From The New York Times:

At a news conference this month, Mrs. Clinton appeared to provide two answers about whether she still had copies of her emails. First, she said that she “chose not to keep” her private personal emails after her lawyers had examined the account and determined on their own which ones were personal and which were State Department records. But later, she said that the server, which contained personal communication by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “will remain private.” The server was kept at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., which is protected around the clock by the Secret Service.

Multiple investigations so far have failed to show any evidence for the Republican conspiracy theories on Benghazi, but the disclosure from Clinton on Friday that she has deleted email requested by Congress will only serve to keep the witch hunt alive. While Republicans deserve to be faulted for the witch hunts they are pursuing, this does not excuse Clinton’s actions of using her private server to prevent disclosure of requested evidence to a Congressional committee. Clinton also used her private server to avoid complying with Freedom of Information Act requests for information from the news media.

One of Clinton’s many bogus excuses for failing to follow government protocol in maintaining her email on a government server was that her email would be preserved because of being sent to State Department email addresses. It has since been found that the entire State Department was sloppy in maintaining email. Current Secretary of State John Kerry, who has admirably followed the law in using government email since assuming the post, has asked the Inspector General’s office to conduct “a review of our efforts to date on improving records management, including the archiving of emails as well as responding to FOIA and Congressional inquiries.” There have also been requests from the Republican National Committee and from House Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy for the Inspector General to get involved. With the revelations that Clinton has erased the email, it might also be time for a special prosecutor to be appointed to handle the investigation of her actions.

The claim that her email is public due to being sent to State Department or other government addresses is also bogus as not all of Clinton’s email regarding State Department matters was even sent to government addresses. The first reports of Clinton’s private email came when Gawker found the email address on hacked email from Sidney Blumenthal in 2013. Gawker has recently discussed her email further, reporting that “longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal supplied intelligence to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered by a secret network that included a former CIA clandestine service officer.” The post has further information regarding information sent to Clinton by Blumenthal regarding the situation in Benghazi. At this point it is not known if Clinton responded to Blumenthal while in office or if email from Blumenthal is included in the email she did release.

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Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016

Clinton Email

The reports I discussed yesterday regarding Hillary Clinton using private email as Secretary of State are leading some, such as Frank Rich, to wonder if Democrats need a backup plan for 2016. A follow up story in The New York Times reports how Clinton used her private email to thwart requests for information, including requests from Congress and Freedom of Information requests from journalists. These ethical breaches by Hillary Clinton are of particular concern taking place so soon after scandals in the Bush administration regarding private use of email, making many liberals besides myself question why Clinton could have done something so foolish.

As The Guardian summarized the significance of the news:

It leaves Clinton vulnerable to at least three lines of criticism: that she potentially broke fundamental rules governing the handling and security of state secrets; that she skirted around guidelines put in place to ensure historical accountability and transparency within high public office; and the political attack that she must have had something to hide.

Perhaps the most serious accusation facing Clinton is that she may have breached one of the fundamental tenets of classified information. J William Leonard, former director of the body that keeps watch over executive branch secrets, the Information Security Oversight Office, told the Guardian that if Clinton had dealt with confidential government matters through her personal email, that would have been problematic. “There is no such thing as personal copies of classified information. All classified information belongs to the US government and it should never leave the control of the government.”

The Associated Press is considering legal action in response to her failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for email:

The unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official running her own email server would have given Clinton — who is expected to run for president in the 2016 campaign — significant control over limiting access to her message archives.

It also would complicate the State Department’s legal responsibilities in finding and turning over official emails in response to any investigations, lawsuits or public records requests. The department would be the position of accepting Clinton’s assurances she was surrendering everything required that was in her control…

The AP said Wednesday it was considering taking legal action against the State Department for failing to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat after waiting more than one year. The department has failed to meet several self-imposed deadlines but has never suggested that it doesn’t possess all Clinton’s emails.

Having checked more coverage in the media and blogosphere since my initial post, I was pleased to see that most liberal bloggers I read did question Clinton’s conduct. For example, rather than a partisan defense Steve Benen‘s post raised the same objective points:

There’s no shortage of problematic angles to this. Obviously, there’s the question of transparency and compliance with the Federal Records Act. Clinton wasn’t the first Secretary of State to make use of a personal email account – Colin Powell did the same thing during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration – but preservation rules have changed and Clinton apparently faced more stringent requirements.
There’s also the matter of security: as Secretary of State, Clinton sent and received highly sensitive information on a daily basis, including classified materials, from officials around the world. By relying on private email, instead of an encrypted State Department account, Clinton may have created a security risk.

Other liberal bloggers have been far harder on Clinton.  Clinton is also receiving criticism on MSNBC, as opposed to the partisan defense we would expect in the reverse situation from Fox. Needless to say, conservatives tended to be quite critical, and  hypocritical, usually ignoring the comparable use of private email by many Republicans, including officials in the Bush administration, Chris Christie, and Sarah Palin.

It was disappointing but not surprising to see that the Clintonistas did quickly get some writers out to defend Clinton. Typically their defenses were no more honest than a report from Fox. Defenses of Clinton tended to concentrate on the arguing that Clinton did not actually break the law. This is definitely a case of moving the goal posts and possibly also incorrect. The initial articles raising these concerns did note that Clinton may have broken the law and with the complexity of the regulations involved avoided a definite conclusion, but it was her conduct and judgment, not whether she was in violation of the law, which is the heart of the issue.  The defenses of Clinton point out that Colin Powell used private email, but ignore the changes in regulations made in 2009 which “required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system.” Her defenders have also ignored the more stringent requirements put into place in 2011. As a consequence of these rules changes, John Kerry has used government email for his communications, as has Barack Obama since taking office in 2009.

Many of the other defenses of Clinton are rather trivial attacks on the journalist who wrote the story. The statements that these revelations came out as part of the Benghazi hearings is contradicted with finding a journalist who had reported on this previously. This is analogous to the debates as to who discovered America. Finding that someone had previously reported on Clinton’s private email does not change the substance of this story any more than discovering that Vikings beat Columbus to America substantially other facts regarding American  history post-Columbus.

The rapid release of such dishonest defenses of Clinton by her allies is yet another reason why I would hate to see Hillary Clinton as president. I have always been disturbed by the degree of secrecy when she was working on health care reform, her push for war against Iraq based upon fictitious claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, along with many questionable statements I’ve heard from her over the years. Electing Clinton would be a great blow to honesty and transparency in government. Democrats should be able to do better.

There is no question that Clinton was at least skirting the rules in effect when she became Secretary of State, if not outright breaking them. Her honesty has already been a serious question. Someone with a reputation for dishonesty and lack of transparency should have realized that this would only make matters worse. Her credibility, already in question, will be even lower when there is always the question of secret emails looming. Republicans will be able to drag out their hearings on Benghazi even longer because of this. If she runs against Jeb Bush she would be on the defensive over transparency after the release of his emails. Clinton has never been a very good campaigner, and her lack of judgment in this matter only raise.

Update: Hillary Clinton On Private Email 2007 And 2015

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

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Republican Extremism Gives Democrats The Edge

Jonathan Chait looked at demographic and political trends to consider whether the trend towards the Democratic Party is likely to continue. Much of what he wrote is a recap of the conventional wisdom these days, with some disagreeing. He considered multiple factors including the tendency of the young and minorities to vote Democratic. To some degree this could be offset by an increased trend for white voters to vote Republican out of a backlash against the increase in minorities. While Democrats are expected to dominate in presidential elections, there certainly can be exceptions if there is a major occurrence favoring Republicans as the party out of power. Plus Republicans should continue to maintain a sizable portion of Congress due to the higher turnout among Republicans in off year elections as well as structural advantages in each House. Republicans have an advantage in the House of Representatives due to gerrymandering and the greater concentration of Democrats in urban areas, giving Democrats victories by larger margins in a smaller number of states. Republicans have an advantage in the Senate due to smaller Republican states having the same number of Senators as the larger Democratic states. Republicans therefore have a reasonable chance of controlling each House, or come close as is now the case in the Senate, despite a larger number of people voting for Democrats to represent them.

The key point which gives us our status quo, and gives the Democrats the edge, is that the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of a radical fringe which will always have difficulty winning a national election, but which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future:

My belief, of which I obviously can’t be certain, is that conservatism as we know it is doomed. I believe this because the virulent opposition to the welfare state we see here is almost completely unique among major conservative parties across the world. In no other advanced country do leading figures of governing parties propose the denial of medical care to their citizens or take their ideological inspiration from crackpots like Ayn Rand. America’s unique brand of ideological anti-statism is historically inseparable (as I recently argued) from the legacy of slavery. Whatever form America’s polyglot majority ultimately takes, it is hard to see the basis for its attraction to an ideology sociologically rooted in white supremacy.

Jonathan Bernstein sees the United States as remaining more of a 50:50 nation as in 2000, also citing George Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004. However the Democratic advantage in the electoral college has increased tremendously since 2000 when George W. Bush was able to come in a close enough second to take the presidency due to irregularities in Florida and a friendly Supreme Court. This victory in 2000, along with the 9/11 attack, gave Bush, as an incumbent during time of war, an edge which future Republican candidates are unlikely to enjoy.

The current political divisions won’t last in their current form forever. At sometime there is likely to be a major event which shakes up the current divisions. Chait noted that this might have been the 9/11 attack if the Republicans hadn’t squandered their political advantages by their disastrous invasion of Iraq. I would add to that being on the wrong side of far too many other issues prevented the Republicans from becoming a long-term majority party.

Most likely at some point in the future the far right will lose their grasp on the Republican Party as those who actually want to be able to win an election eventually regain control. Perhaps this will come as a newer generation rejects the most extreme ideas of the current conservative movement. If the Republicans don’t change, eventually a third party might challenge them, as difficult as it is for third parties to compete in our current political system. We might also see the Republicans persisting in their current form as a southern regional party as others battle for political control in the rest of the country.

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John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

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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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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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