Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Senator Paul on the Attack

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the overwhelming front-runner to be her party's standard-bearer in the 2016 Presidential Election, and the Republicans know it.  Even though she has not announced her intentions, Republicans are already taking political shots at her.  But their personal attacks are shrill and feeble, and reveal a party without a vision for the country.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead among likely Democratic presidential candidates.  The former First Lady has been in the national spotlight for more than two decades.  In that time she has been a formidable political presence on the national stage, and has displayed tremendous energy and resilience.  Secretary Clinton enjoys great affection and respect from her loyalists, and endures immense disdain from her detractors.   While she is a polarizing figure, her overall personal favorability ratings are very high.  And her great political skills will make her a strong presidential candidate, should she decide to run.

Republicans fear a Clinton candidacy, in part because they do not have a clear front-runner for their party's nomination.  And nearly half the Americans polled in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party.  Nonetheless, potential GOP candidates are already jockeying for position in the nomination race.

None has been more outspoken than Tea Party favorite Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).  And Senator Rand Paul has focused his most recent attacks on Secretary Clinton.  Paul pushed back on the charges that Republicans are engaged in a "war on women." "The Democrats can't say, 'We're the great defenders of women's rights in the workplace'...when the leader of their party, the leading fundraiser in the country, is Bill Clinton, who was a perpetrator of that kind of sexual harassment," Paul told C-Span, referring to the Monica Lewinsky affair.  He continued, "Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office?  I mean, really.  And then have the gall to stand up and say, 'Republicans are having a war on women?'"  He concluded, "Now, that's not Hillary's fault...but it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton is history."

Senator Paul's comments got a lot of attention, no doubt as he had hoped.  It was clearly an effort to dredge up old headlines about the Clinton-era dramas in the White House.   His attack received support from GOP party boss Reince Priebus, who told MSNBC that "everything is on the table."  Priebus explained, "I think we're going to have a truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and some things may be old, and some things may be new.  But I think everything is at stake when you're talking about the leader of the free world."

Priebus is the man who commissioned an autopsy of the Republican failure to win the White House in 2012.  In announcing the results last year, he said, "The way we communicate our principles isn't resonating widely enough...focus groups described our party as 'narrow-minded,' 'out of touch,' and 'stuffy old men.'"  Well, Mr. Priebus?

But not all Republicans think that Senator Paul's approach is the way to win the White House.  Republican strategist Karl Rove told Fox News, "This can't be 'I want to run for president'-It's got to be about something bigger than that, and frankly Rand Paul spending a lot of time talking about the mistakes of Bill Clinton does not look like a big agenda for the country."  He added, "I'm not certain again that beating up on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky is a particularly good thing to strengthen your skills for the 2016 contest."

Former Republican congressman and current MSNBC television host Joe Scarborough told his audience he'd “never bring that stuff up in a gazillion years.”  But he did pivot, saying that if Secretary Clinton attacks Republicans as anti-women it's fair game.  “Does this not compromise Hillary Clinton’s ability to bash Republicans as being terrible towards women," he said.

Perhaps that is the ultimate Republican strategy.  But it risks energizing Clinton supporters, alienating independent and women voters, and reinforcing the negative perceptions of the party as "out of touch." 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

GOP Traffic Jam

Governor Chris Christie has finally gone on the offensive to defuse "bombshell" revelations that he knew about the Ft. Lee lane closures at the time they were happening.  "The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact," the 700-word email from the governor's office said Saturday.  

The email attacked the press for publishing the story, and attacked the story's source, former New York & New Jersey Port Authority official David Wildstein, who is seeking immunity in the investigation. "Bottom line -- David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein," the email said.  But the attack on Wildstein got unusually personal, "He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior."  Really?  This schoolyard retort reveals a frustrated and desperate man.    

Even if Governor Christie's story stands up through the rigorous legislative and federal investigations the incident has triggered, in the end his 2016 presidential aspirations will be snuffed out.  Questions about the way he ran his office, about the people he surrounds himself with, and his management style will dog him for years.  Conservative Republicans already did not support him for higher office.

So, with Governor Christie out of the mix, the race to be the Republican presidential nominee is wide open.   Whomever they choose will likely face a difficult challenge in the 2016 election. A recent Washington Post poll shows Hillary Clinton has a 6 to 1 lead among Democrats over all other potential candidates for the party's nomination.  Further complicating the Republican's task are the divisions within the party between the Tea Party faction and those who hew closer to the center.

The Hill reported that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is now getting a lot of attention, especially since Representative Paul Ryan said he would not run for the White House in 2016.  "A group of Republican fundraising heavyweights and wise men in Washington's business community are solidly behind Rubio, and see him not only as someone who could win the White House, but someone they can work with," The Hill said.  Senator Rubio, who counts himself a Tea Party member, has had his eye on this prize for some time.  He has recently amplified his positions against President Barack Obama, Obamacare, immigration and education.  Ultimately, his role in the immigration debate will have an important impact on whether he can secure his party's support.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has been outspoken on everything from Obamacare to NSA surveillance.  He is a proud libertarian, and aligns himself with the Tea Party on most issues.  But he has recently made controversial statements, and has been accused of plagiarism for lifting parts of his speeches from Wikipedia.  He may prove to be too independent minded for the ever buttoned down Republican Party.

The Republican Party has several governors who could rise to the challenge; Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are among the strongest.   But neither has a national profile, and both have taken controversial positions on state issues.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush would probably be the favored candidate if he decides to throw his hat into the ring.  Last week Bush said, "I'm deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year."  A recent Washington Post poll shows him only behind Ryan among Republicans as the favored candidate.  Former First Lady Barbara Bush has said she doesn't believe her son should run.  Despite the fact that he is getting a lot of calls from top Republicans urging him to announce, he seems reluctant.  Should he decide to stay on the sidelines, Marco Rubio will benefit most.

Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been appearing everywhere.  Even though some of his supporters have called for him to run again in 2016, he has said he won't.   His running mate in 2014, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, would be a long shot for obvious reasons, as would former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has thrust himself into the national limelight on issues like Obamacare, immigration and raising the federal debt ceiling.  The Harvard educated and overly ambitious Cruz is distrusted by many of his colleagues, especially Republicans.  His failed tactics led to last year's government shutdown.  His "never in doubt" attitude makes him a polarizing figure in Washington.  While the Canadian born senator is a darling of the Tea Party, it is unlikely that he could win his party's nomination.

At this point, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination is wide open.  Governor Chris Christie's plight may not have altered the outcome of the Republican presidential nominating process, but it sure has led to another major traffic jam.