Thursday, May 26, 2016

Clinton's "Mistake"

As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nears her goal of securing the Democratic presidential nomination she once again is testing the loyalty of even her most ardent supporters.  A State Department inspector general report, released Wednesday, found that she had not sought permission to use a private email server while she was in office, contradicting her explanation that she has repeated throughout her campaign.   

The report is damning, noting that she had "a personal obligation to discuss using her email account to conduct official business," but there was no evidence she sought or received approval from the State Department.  The State investigation also was critical of Clinton's handling of emails under the Federal Records Act after she stepped down.  While she later turned over thousands of emails, she had thousands more she considered personal destroyed.  The government has now determined that more than 100 emails Clinton sent contain classified information.  

Meanwhile, an FBI investigation into her email use continues, as well as other legal challenges, which all casts a dark cloud over her ongoing campaign.   Clinton has repeatedly said that other Secretaries of State used a private email address.  The State report found that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served in President George W. Bush's first term, said he used a private address for unclassified emails.  But at least two emails sent to him have now been marked classified.  

The report also points out that the email rules were clarified before Clinton became Secretary of State to not allow the use of a private server because of "significant security risks."   In November 2010, her deputy chief of operations recommended "putting you on State email" to shield her email from spam.  She responded that she would consider using a separate address, but "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."  The report says Clinton was sent a memo in 2011 warning of hackers trying to access private email accounts, and that she was given a personal briefing on the issue.  

Why would the Secretary of State, who should know the rules of her department, seek to use a private server?  In March 2015, Clinton told CNN, "I opted for convenience to use my personal account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two."  She continued, "Looking back, it would have been better if I'd simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue."   This effort to minimize the issue flies in the face of State Department rules.  While the State report found that neither Clinton nor Powell was directly told to end their personal email, there were plenty of warnings.

The FBI is looking into whether Clinton mishandled government information, which could result in criminal charges.  The investigation reportedly centers on the failure to preserve government records and exposing government information to security risks.   Clinton and her top aides are expected to be interviewed by the FBI in the near future.   Clinton has described the FBI investigation as a "security inquiry."  But FBI Director James Comey said he wasn't familiar with that term, instead calling it an investigation and adding that there is no external deadline.  "I remain close to that investigation to make sure that it's done well and has the resources that are needed," he continued, "My goal in any investigation it to do it well and to do it promptly."   

Meanwhile, Republicans immediately capitalized on the State Department findings.  "This report underscores what we already know about Hillary Clinton: she simply cannot be trusted," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.   Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, responded in a statement.  "While Secretary Clinton preserved and returned tens of thousands of pages of her emails to the Department for public release, Secretary Powell has returned none."  The statement concluded, "Republicans need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars singling out Secretary Clinton just because she is running for President."

The ultimate impact of Clinton's email controversy on her campaign will not be known until the FBI announces its findings.  There is no question that the controversy plays right into the widely held perception that Clinton is not trustworthy.   The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is making the most of Clinton's troubles.  He has branded her "Crooked Hillary," and he told a rally Wednesday night, "She's as crooked as they come, she had a little bad news today."  However, recent polls show that Trump is even more unpopular than Clinton.   And Trump's bullying, erratic behavior and outrageous statements have caused many Republicans to cautiously embrace his candidacy, and others to hold off on their endorsements. 

While it may be nearly impossible for Clinton's Democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to overtake her in the delegate count, he has pledged to take his fight to the Democratic Convention. A new poll, taken before the State Department report was released,  shows Sanders has closed the gap among likely voters in the upcoming California primary.   

Last September, in an effort to quiet the controversy, Clinton told ABC News that her use of private email was a "mistake," adding, "I am sorry about that.  I take responsibility."   Now, nearly one year later, the email controversy continues to gain momentum and roil her campaign.   And the FBI has not yet spoken.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Republican Crisis Management

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, many party stalwarts are so upset with the billionaire businessman that they are considering backing an independent party candidate.   Others believe that the party will take a such a severe shellacking at the polls in November with Trump that the party could lose control of Congress.   

Trump himself put Republicans on notice Sunday in an interview on ABC when he said,  "This is called the Republican Party, it's not called the Conservative Party."  Trump later added, "I think it would be better if it were unified...there would be something good about it, but I don't think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense."  The question for many Republicans is how can they embrace a candidate who is not a true conservative, and whose extensive use of personal attacks has dragged the campaign into the gutter?

Conservative commentator William Kristol says the answer is don't support Trump.  Kristol called Trump unqualified for the presidency, on CNBC Monday, because of his lack "character and temperament."   While ruling out voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton, Kristol said, "We don't need a binary choice.  The system is set up to allow independent candidates to get on the ballot." Actually, he is misinformed on the last point.  For instance, the Texas deadline for independent candidates to file an application to be included on the November ballot is Monday, May 9.  And the application, "must contain 79,939 signatures of registered voters who did not vote in the presidential primary of either party." 

Kristol met in Washington last week with former GOP standard-barer Mitt Romney to discuss the prospects for a third party candidate.  Romney has been critical of Trump's candidacy, but he has said he is not interested in a third party run.  The Washington Examiner reported Romney said he currently could not support either party's candidate.  Nonetheless, he lamented, "I am dismayed at where we are now, I wish we had better choices, and I keep hoping that somehow things will get better, and I just don't see an easy answer from where we are."

Many establishment Republicans have decided to focus their attention on the down-ballot races that may be jeopardized with Trump at the top of the ticket.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, in a statement Friday posted on Facebook, said, "In November, I will not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but I will support principled conservatives at the state and federal levels, as I have done my entire life."  Neither his brother or father, both former Republican presidents, will endorse Trump.  Trump called Jeb Bush "dishonorable" for reneging on his pledge to support the GOP candidate.  

The Trump candidacy has left many incumbent Republican Senators and Representatives squirming.  Arizona Senator John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential candidate, in in a tough reelection bid this year in a state with a large Latino population.  McCain, perhaps walking a fine line on Trump, told CNN, "You have to listen to people that have chosen the nominee of our Republican Party."  He concluded, "I think it would be foolish to ignore them."  McCain has stressed he is running his own campaign, but recent polls show he is tied with Democratic opponent Ann Kirkpatrick.

Meanwhile, rhetoric involving Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has reached the boiling point.  Ryan said last week he is not yet ready to endorse Trump.  Trump supporter and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told CNN she would work to defeat Ryan by supporting his primary opponent in his Wisconsin district.  Trump is scheduled to meet with Ryan and other party leaders in Washington Thursday, and he has said he would not rule out removing Ryan as the chair of the Republican Convention.  

The ongoing political battles involving Trump and other Republicans are taking attention away from the still unresolved Democratic primary.  They are also unsettling for GOP efforts to raise campaign funds.  Do donors put their money behind Trump, or instead only target down-ballot races?  And while Trump has "expanded" the party base during the primaries, he has also alienated many traditional Republicans. 

Following Thursday's meetings in Washington, no doubt the participants will all say they had a good meeting, and 
that they have agreed to work to unite the party.  But, given the tenor of the Republican campaign, how can they really unite?   Of course, these are politicians.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Biff Trump

Businessman Donald Trump is the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for president,  but can he unite the party?  Now that Texas Senator Ted Cruz has suspended his campaign, can he endorse the man he called a "pathological liar" and "utterly amoral"?  Now that Governor Kasich is suspending his campaign, will the party come together and enthusiastically support its standard-barer?  

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Trump had nothing but praise for the man he only hours earlier called "lying" Ted Cruz.  "He is one tough competitor," Trump said.  "He is a smart tough guy."  But Cruz did not mention Trump's name in his concession speech.  Instead, he positioned himself as the leader of the conservative movement.  "I am not suspending our fight to defend the Constitution, to defend the Judea-Christian values that built America," he said.  "Our efforts will continue and I give you my word that I will continue this fight with all of my strength and all of my ability."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus is going to have an enormous challenge bringing his party together.  Right after Trump was declared the winner in Indiana Tuesday evening, Preibus tweeted, "@realDonaldTrump will be presumptive @GOP nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton."  However, the burden of uniting the GOP will fall heaviest on Trump, who told NBC's Today, "I am confident that I can unite much of it."  But he added, "Honestly, there are some people I really don't want.  I don't think it's necessary.  People would be voting for me, they're not voting for the party."

Fortunately for Trump, this is politics, so even his harshest critics within the party will unashamedly put principle aside and endorse him if they believe it helps them in some way.  Who better than the author of The Art of the Deal  to win people over.  But Trump's no holds barred campaign has burned a lot of bridges with large segments of the general population.

For instance, Trump will have to negotiate with Latinos, many of whom he has alienated with his constant attacks on Mexico.  "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said in his presidential campaign announcement last June.  "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us.  They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people," he added.  

Latino groups project at least 13.1 million Hispanics will vote this election compared to about 10 million in 2008.  A record 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, up from 19.5 million eight years ago.  In a recent national poll of Hispanics conducted by Latino Decisions, 79% of the respondents had a very unfavorable opinion of Trump.   This result is ominous because Republican Mitt Romney received only 27% of the Latino vote in his huge loss to President Barack Obama in 2012.  It is hard to believe that Trump could do as well this November as Romney did four years ago.  And Trump will never reach the 37% mark that President George W. Bush received in his contested victory in 2000.   

Women do not like Trump.  According to a Gallup poll released last month Trump had a 70% unfavorable rating with women as compared to a 23% favorable rating.  Trump has made numerous comments that have outraged women.  Of then opponent Carly Fiorina, Trump said, "Look at that face.  Would anyone vote for that?"  Trump also called for women to be punished for getting abortions in an interview with MSNBC in March, but reversed his position after the firestorm he created.  Overall, Trump is going to have to deal with this problem because considerably more women vote in national elections than do men.   And winning only the white male blue-collar vote is not enough to win the presidency.  

In his Trump tirade Tuesday, Senator Cruz pointed out that the Back to the Future character, Biff Tannen, was based on Trump, a "caricature of a braggadocious, arrogant buffoon."   He concluded, "We are looking, potentially, at the Biff Tannen presidency."

You can never count anyone out, least of all Donald Trump.  And November is a long way off, so anything can happen.  However, if the campaign is limited to debates over woman's issues, foreign policy and actual experience with Congress and the executive branch, likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton will have the advantage.  

But Trump is unpredictable and unconventional.  And the battlefield is littered with candidates who thought they could beat him.  Guess Donald Trump is no buffoon.