Barbara Bush, RIP

There was the usual torrent of news on Tuesday, including a Supreme Court decision regarding immigration that had Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the liberals to overturn a burglar’s deportation, more resignation announcements by prominent congressional Republicans, intriguing developments in the North Korean problem, the usual tales of porn stars and Russian intrigue, and a right-wing talk radio host who finds himself caught up it in all. As much as we’d like to opine on  these important matters, the biggest news of the day was the death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92.
Bush was the wife of one American president and the mother of another, a distinction shared only by the great Abigail Adams, and that alone makes her passing noteworthy, but it also marks the passing of a far more dignified and admirable era of American politics.
By now both liberals and conservatives have plenty of plausible complaints with the policies of both Bush presidencies, and we’ve got a few of our own, but we still regard both men as honorable and dedicated public servants. We regard the Bush family’s most hateful critics on both the left and the right as a conspicuous part of our current problems, and think that anyone with anything bad to say about the Bush matriarch is just a hateful person.
Born as Barbara Pierce in 1925 to a well-heeled and and even better-respected Back East family, she was always a class act. Although she considered herself “shy” and “square” Pierce was an excellent student and much liked classmate in her girlhood at an elite all-girls’s prep school, and by the age of 16 she caught the eye of a 17-year-old guy who was a straight-A student and star athlete at a nearby elite all-boys prep school, and would go on to be a decorated Naval aviator in World War II, successful entrepreneur, United States Congressman, United Nations ambassador, Central Intelligence Agency director, Vice President and then President of the United States. She left the elite all-women’s Smith College at age 19 to marry George Herbert Walker Bush, and seemed to play a prominent and impeccable role in his extraordinary career. Even as her husband wound up losing reelection to an Arkansas hound dog, largely due to the intervention of a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire, the First Lady remained atop the “most admired women” polls.
She also bore her husband a son, George Walker, then daughters Robin and Dorothy, followed by sons John and Neil. The George Bush with the single “W” wound up winning two terms as Governor of Texas and two more as President of the United States, all of which will be hotly debated for years to come, and despite his travails the First Mother’s poll ratings remained high. Her son John Ellis, who preferred by the acronym “Jeb,” wound up serving two successful terms as Governor of Florida, and although she openly she shared our own concerns about political dynasties she wound up supporting his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Dorothy and Neil Bush are less well known to the public, but in this day and age we assume that speaks very well to their character.
The photographic evidence shows that the “shy” and “square” Barbara Pierce was quite the elegantly eye-catching beauty back when she first caught the eye of that handsome straight-A student and star athlete and future war hero and President of the United States, but her hair apparently started whitening not long after her beloved daughter Robin died of leukemia at the age of three. The Washington Post’s respectful and excellent obituaries note that she stayed at  her daughter’s bedside during the bone marrow transplants and other futile treatments that her war hero husband could not bear to witness, and although she would later fondly recall the emotional support offered by her grieving seven-year-old son George W. she prematurely aged. By the time her still-handsome star athlete and war hero husband was running for president she had an undeniably grandmotherly look about her, but their apparent love for one another and her undeniable class greatly enhanced the ticket.
President George H.W. Bush waged a splendid little war on Iraq but deviated on taxes and other issues from the true religion of President Ronald Reagan, and there was one of those  little recessionary blips in the business cycle at the end of his first term, and with the help of a coarse and megalomaniacal billionaire that Arkansas hound dog kept him from a fourth Reagan-Bush administration. Both George H.W. and Barbara Bush accepted the defeat with characteristic grace, adhering strictly to the time-tested rules about not criticizing the victors in an American election, and they even wound up having a cordial relationship with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton that drove bot the left and right crazy.
President Bill Clinton and his harridan of a wife wound up doing all sorts of things that both the left and right criticized, and God knows we’ve still got our own complaints, but we never minded that the elder Bushes largely stayed out of it. That’s the longstanding rule that ex-presidents and ex-First Ladies have always adhered to, and as far as we’re concerned it’s one of the good ones, and in any case President George W. Bush’s heatedly contested electoral victory soon followed. How that turned out will be debated for years to come, and it undeniably wound up with eight dreary years of President Barack Obama, but somehow Barbara Bush, unlike the rest of us, wound up classy throughout the whole ordeal.
The eight dreary Obama years almost inevitably resulted in the past 16 dreary months of President Donald Trump, who eked out an electoral college win over President Clinton’s harridan wife by criticizing the entirety of America’s political history and promising a new beginning, but we think Barbara Bush was still classy about that. Even without a son in the race  she should have been opposed to such a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire and thrice-married to a nudie model trophy wife and bankrupt casino and strip mogul as Trump, even if Trump hadn’t absurdly maligned her husband as a “globalist” and her son as a  traitor who had lied America into war, and ridiculed her younger and better-suited-to-the-presidency son as “low energy,” we’re sure she would have offered her rare criticisms of the the even more more coarse and less classy megalomaniacal billionaire dominating the current coarser and less classy  political scene.
Ever since Trump won anyway the former First Lady and First Mother mostly kept her opinions to herself, and we appreciate that far more than than the president’s impulsive “tweets” about his past infidelities or foreign entanglements and whatever else is troubling him at the moment. For all the mistakes they indisputably made, Barbara Bush and her husband and children embodied a civility and civil-mindedness we already miss, and we’re sure that all those hateful people on both the left and the will eventually miss it as well. Shy and square and grandmotherly  and civil and civic-minded and elegantly beautiful are no longer in fashion, but they’re qualities due for a comeback.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Episode of the GOP Turns

The latest episode of the long-running reality show that is the Republican presidential nomination race aired last night, and we found it most entertaining. There were the usual reality show spats, although more serious policy discussion than usual, and we think it even advanced the plot a bit.
The thus-far star of the series, real estate mogul and reality-show veteran Donald Trump, had a rough night. During the serious policy discussion part of the proceedings he was asked which leg of the nation’s nuclear triad he thinks needs the most attention, and he answered “the nuclear part,” allowing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to patiently explain “to those listening who might not be familiar with the terminology” that all the parts of the land-sea-and-air triad are nuclear. Eager to demonstrate that whatever he might lack in familiarity with defense terminology he makes up for in toughness, Trump also promised to not only kill any terrorists who attack the United States but to go after their families as well, thus ushering in the Cosa Nostra Doctrine of American foreign policy. He also sounded rather sanguine about the continued existence of the Assad regime in Syria, as well the benefits that delivers to an even peskier Iranian regime, and his “one thing at a time” explanation suggests he might not be up the multi-tasking that foreign policy sometimes requires.
Trump didn’t even fare well during the usual reality show spats, and judging by the live audience’s reaction his shock jock shtick seems to be starting to wear thin. During an entirely unnecessary confrontation with the increasingly irrelevant former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bush got a far bigger round of applause that his dwindling number of supporters could have possibly provided by saying “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” The never-back-down Trump even backed down from his recent criticisms of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ confrontational legislative tactics, which were widely criticized by the crucial conservative talk radio hosts who egged Cruz on, and we expect it disappointed the loyal Trump fans who are already concocting “birther” theories about Cruz while doing little to win over those put off by Trump’s own confrontational style.
Worst of all for Trump, the intriguing subplot involving Rubio and Cruz drew much attention. Both of the first-term Senators are quite good at this debate stuff, Rubio has lately displaced Bush as the “establishment” candidate while Cruz has become the most formidable “anti-establishment” alternative to Trump, so their frequent clashes made for good television. Cruz scored with jabs against Rubio’s past heresies on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, Rubio came off tougher on national security because of Cruz’ past opposition to some data-gathering programs that used to be an important issue, and our guess is that Cruz got the better of it.
Some of the supporting cast were also good, but we can already see them being written out of future scripts. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also good at this debate stuff, and his background as a federal prosecutor on terrorism cases served him well in a debate focused on national security, and his tough-guy is far more charming than the others’, but he’s way too northeast for a party that’s dominated by flyover country voters to have a chance. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina turned in her usual strong performance, and she does tough guy as well as any of the guys, but at this point she seems to be running for vice-president. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who has been dropping in the polls ever since the terrorist attacks on Paris and San Bernardino pushed security issues to the forefront of the campaign, probably helped himself with some credible answers in the serious policy discussion part and a reassuring promise that his nice-guy persona won’t stop him from inflicting some collateral damage if he’s forced to.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were also involved, some reason for another, but we expect this will be their last appearance.
The best news was Trump’s seemingly sincere promise that he won’t launch an independent run if he’s denied the Republican nomination, which would have guaranteed that next season’s general election reality show would end badly for the Republicans. There’s still hope for a happy ending, and that’s what keeps viewers tuned in.

— Bud Norman

Jeb Bush Goes on the Dole

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was briefly back in the news Wednesday with his endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy, and we were reminded of a long ago era of Republican politics. The Bush campaign is apparently hoping that the party is nostalgic for those old times, which largely explains why it hasn’t a chance.
At age 92 Dole is about as a senior a statesman as the Republican Party still has around, and his long and noteworthy career entitles him to some standing. He was a bona fide hero of World War II, overcame the lifelong wounds he suffered to start a distinguished career in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, was his party’s vice presidential nominee in the ’76 election, and after serving as Senate Majority headed the ticket headed in the ticket in the ’96 race. Except for the war record, though, none of it is likely to impress the average Republican primary voter of today. The party’s mood at the moment is angrily anti-establishment, and Dole is by now the epitome of the establishment.
Dole talked a tough conservatism when he first started rising through the ranks of Kansas politics, and in a gravelly prairie voice that made it all the more convincing, then he earned reputation for die-hard partisanship when was one of the last congressional Republicans to abandon the sinking ship of the Nixon presidency. In the wake of that disaster he was chosen as President Gerald Ford’s running mate to placate the right-wing crazies and employ his famously acerbic wit in the role of “hatchet man,” and he was so widely reviled by the left that for many years his conservative credentials weren’t questioned. In retrospect his early conservatism was just common sense opposition to all the Great Society nonsense of the Johnson administration, his devotion to the Keynesian wage-and-price-controll and Environmental Protection-agency-founding Nixon administration was ill-advised, and Ford’s nomination win over an insurgent Ronald Reagan still rankles the average Republican primary voter.
Dole was still a left-wing bogeyman and right-wing icon in the summer of ’78, when we served as interns in his Senate office, but his presidential ambitions had already started him on a more mainstream path. He was also careful to keep the Kansas constituents happy, and was a reliable friend of the farmer, especially the big agribusiness ones who were generous donors to his perfunctory re-election campaigns, and his hawkish stands on defense spending played well at the local air force base and the airplane factories that always had a friend when seeking a government contract, and his press releases would alternate between the latest pork being brought home to Kansas and the Senator’s tough stands on big government and reckless spending, but he also cultivated a national reputation as a pragmatic deal-maker and not one of the scary and unelectable conservative ideologues. When Ronald Reagan at long last won the presidency in ’80, proving that those scary conservative ideologues aren’t so unelectable after all, at least not after four years of Jimmy Carter, Dole was never able to get a good seat on the bandwagon and his positioned himself as a reasonable middleman.
Which was enough to get him easily re-elected in Kansas back in the day, when the Democrats had long since given up any hope of a very rare Senate win and started nominating their looniest liberals as sacrificial lambs so that base would have some reason to feel self-righteous as they went to the polls. As reporters at the local newspaper we got to cover the campaign of one hippy-dippy young woman whose name was drawn out of some threadbare hat to run as Dole’s Democratic opponent, who we found endearingly loopy and hilariously similar to every popular stereotype of left-winger, and who gave us the greatest drunken interview after her landslide defeat, and even the most anti-establishment Republican had to admit that Dole wasn’t one of those. We also covered Dole’s office in the early ’90s, which was quite a chore given his press office’s far greater interest in returning phone calls to The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as the Senator’s prickliness about even the most polite and even supportive questions, but there were never any stories that hurt his popularity within his party.
Deal-making and bi-partisanship and big money agribusiness donors and all the rest were accepted as business as usual in a party placated by the Reagan economic boom, as even it stretched into the otherwise-hated Clinton years, and it was sufficient for a candidate to claim that at least he wasn’t one of those loony Democrats. It worked well enough to give George H.W. Bush what was hoped to be third Reagan term, but neither Bush nor Dole could stave off eight years of Clinton. Another Bush managed to stave off Al Gore and John Kerry, which even the most anti-establishment Republican must admit is a public service, but he wound up ushering eight years of Barack Obama, with the possibility of another eight years of a Clinton, with all sorts of deals made and trillions of dollars of debt racked up, and by now even the mushiest sorts of Republicans are in an angrily anti-establishment mood.
Yet another Bush is trying to buck this anti-establishmentarianism, which isn’t going to happen, and the support of an even older establishment figure such as Dole won’t help.

— Bud Norman

About That Debate

Thanks to the miracle of the internet we were able to see or at least hear almost the entirety of the big Republican presidential debate, either on the Cable News Networks’ spotty web site or a local talk radio station’s somewhat more reliable feed, and we found it most entertaining. Although we’ll leave it to the pollsters to declare who won, our many years in the theater criticism business leave us unable to resist the temptation of writing a review.
Unaccustomed as we are to saying anything nice about CNN, we thought it wasn’t altogether horrible. Moderator Jake Tapper had an annoying habit of interrupting the good stuff about the Obama administration’s failures and indulging all the internecine criticism, and the first-rate conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt, who has been called “third-rate” by Donald Trump after he flunked the host’s simple quiz about the Middle East’s leadership, only got a couple of questions in, and the time allowed to the overcrowded stage of candidates did seem wildly unequal, but at least there were no out-of-left-field questions about contraception or some other non-issues that were calculated to create a controversy intended to further some Democratic campaign theme. Most of the questions seemed fair enough, and exposed a wider range of opinions than you’ll likely find in the Democratic debates, if they ever get around to having one, and allowed the candidates to demonstrate this is a very deep and talented field that just might include a very good president.
There’s some grousing on the right that the first part of the debate was all about Donald Trump, but at this point there’s no using denying that he’s what the race thus far has been all about, so we see no reason why they shouldn’t get it over with at the beginning. Happily, we can say that Trump didn’t seem to fare well by the attention. He was asked about his habit of making unfavorable and utterly irrelevant comments about peoples’ appearances, and after hearing a disapproving comment by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whom Trump had already stated shouldn’t be on the same stage with him due to his lower poll numbers, Trump snidely responded that “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.” This followed Paul’s golden opportunity to worry about entrusting America’s nuclear weaponry to someone whose “visceral response is to attack people’s appearance. Short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high.” More formidable candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former computer industry executive Carly Fiorina also responded to Trump’s junior high name-calling with an even more effective dignity, and we saw Trump coming off as a small, petty, obnoxious man. His fans no doubt loved it, and apparently rushed to the Drudge Report to record their cheers, but we don’t expect the upcoming polls will reflect that the rest of the post-junior high country was impressed.
Trump did well with his signature issue of illegal immigration, and of course wasn’t shy to take some well-earned credit for broadening the parameters of that debate, but we thought several of his rivals showed equal passion about the issue even as they proposed more moderate solutions. Unless the the Republicans somehow wind up with Bush or Rubio, which seems unlikely, and the self-described socialist yet tough-on-immigration Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders winds up with the Democratic nomination, which no longer seems so unlikely, the Republican will be on the popular side of the illegal immigration debate.
Not to say that she was the “winner,” a title that only more scientific polls than the one at Drudge can confer, but we must note that Fiorina is very, very good at this sort of thing. Throughout the proceedings she exhibited an impressive command of the facts and a logical response to them on a wide range of issues, offered a compelling life story of her rise from secretary in a small business to Chief Executive Officer of a leading high-tech company, a convincing account of her firing from that company and the lay-offs it made during a tech-sector downturn, and made a persuasive case that she’s a person whose intellect and character should be taken seriously. Our study of the classical art of rhetoric introduced us to the concepts of logosethos, and pathos, and Fiorina has achieved the trifecta.
She was especially good on her foreign policy, in regards to both Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine and the rest of the old Soviet Union and the even more rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East and the increasingly convoluted relationship between the two, and was impressively blunt and specific and  hawkish about the military spending that will be required to achieve it. We were reminded of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and we can think of no greater compliment than that. Another high-point of the night was when CNN generously allowed her the opportunity to respond to Trump’s statement about her in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, of all people, in which he said of her, “Look at that face. Why would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that face, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posteda say bad things, but really folks, come on. Are we serious?” The question to Fiorina about it conveniently followed one that had Trump doubling-down on his criticism of a obvious misstatement Bush had made about funding women’s health care during an interview about the narrower issue of Planned Parenthood, and after Bush’s apologies and clarifications Trump sneered “I heard what you said,” so Fiorina siezedthe opportunity to note that everyone in America also heard and fully understood what Trump had said about her. After nearly a full moment of deafening applause, Trump was reduced to his previous explanation that by “face” he meant “persona,” and the apologetic addendum that he he thought she had a “lovely face.” Already Fiorina had come out with a compelling campaign advertisement about her face, boasting that it’s 61-years-old and and that she’s “proud of every year and every wrinkle,” and featuring the faces of other women that Donald Trump wouldn’t treat to shrimp cocktails but otherwise deserve the full respect of anyone aspires to the presidency of the United States, and we don’t expect the insult will reap further rewards for Fiorina. Ordinarily we wouldn’t comment on such matters, but given the latest events in the news we’ll admit that to our 56-year-old eyes the 61-year-old Fiorina and her wizened and dignified persona strike us as quite fetching, even if her happily married status and our old-fashioned standards render that entirely moot, and at the risk of sounding junior high we think that the libidinous Trump and his absurd hairdo should thank his lucky stars that he’s so famously rich.
Another Fiorina triumph came toward the end of the evening, when the moderator asked an admittedly frivolous question about which woman should take the place of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. A couple of the candidates persuasively argued that the former-slave-holding and Indian-oppressing Democratic hero President Andrew Jackson should be nudged aside from the $20 bill to make room for a woman, but all were willing to name some woman another who deserved the honor. Some suggested their wives or mother, others preferred Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony or various other politically correct heroines of recent decades, but the only woman on the stage felt free to say that both the $10 and $20 bills should stay the same. She dismissed the issue as mere symbolism and pandering to women as a special interest, when now constitute a majority of the electorate and have the same interest in men in sensible policies and sound leadership, and we note that the supposedly sexist audience at a Republican presidential debate gave her another prolonged applause.
The rest of the cast was pretty good, too, although only to an extent that’s not likely to change those upcoming polls. We though Bush as pretty combative, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seemed to enjoy an outsized role in the production, at which point you can insert your own fat joke, but we’ve never figured either will play any role in the race. Bush has committed to positions on illegal immigration and the Common Core curriculum that the middle-of-the-country Republican electorate will never support, no matter how sincere or well-stated his arguments might be, and being from New Jersey Christie has similar heresies to overcome. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was strong, but has the same illegal immigration problem as Bush and wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome it. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was good, as the veteran television presence always is, and we loved his defiance of the same-sex marriage ruling and the rest of his evangelical furor as much as the next Republican, but he doesn’t seem the right guy to deal with that $18 trillion deficit and the steady growth in government, and we don’t expect his performance will move him up in the polls. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who convincingly claimed that he could deliver his bellwether state to the Republicans, also drifted too far afield from Republican orthodoxy to hope for any improvement in his standing. The other non-politician that has been polling well in this anti-politics year is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose low-key and soft-spoken and humble persona contrasts nicely with the garish and bombastic and braggadocios Trump, was a little too low-key and soft-spoken and humble to stand out in the debate, and had a few awkward moments explain his past opposition to fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
We’re still tentatively rooting for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, due to the three impressive electoral wins he pulled off while fighting tooth-and-nail against the combined national might of the public sector unions in a most righteous attempt to reform his long misguided state, somehow pulling off the God-given right-to-work in the process, and on the whole we thought he did all right. He didn’t command the stage nearly so much as we might have hoped, and we fear he might have even gone largely unnoticed, but at least there were no memorable gaffes. The somehow anti-establishmrny Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is another candidate we’re liking, and he also did well, but his performance likely did nothing to change his standing.
We also like the performances of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has already dropped out of the race, and whiz-kid Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who lingers so far back in the polls he was relegated to the not-ready-for-primetime debate, which we admit we did not watch, so that’s how reliable a barometer our opinions are. Still, the evening’s entertainment left us with a hopeful feeling. At some point in the debate the charming Huckabee noted that no one seeking the Republican nomination is a self-described socialist or being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for using a private e-mail server for official business, and that he would have no hesitancy to to vote any of them against the possible Democratic nominees. This is one of those rare occasions when we agree with Huckabee, although we have to admit there would be some nose-holding involved in at least one case, and again we say that we enjoyed the show.
The Democratic episodes should be entertaining, too, if they ever get around to one. At the moment that Sanders guy seems the craziest of the competitors, and therefore the most likely to win, but Clinton still has all that money, and Vice President Joe Biden could conceivably inherit President Barack Obama’s die-hard fans and simultaneously capitalize on the anti-status quo sentiment that Sanders is currently riding, but we have no idea how that might turn out. If it turns out to be Fiorina and Clinton standing next to another on a debate stage, though, we think Fiorina would romp like that Ronda Rousey in the “mixed martial arts” game taking on Beth Correia.
No votes have yet been cast, and won’t be until next year, which we like to think is still a ways off, so we won’t reach any conclusion except that it was a good show.

— Bud Norman

The Political Pre-Season Begins

Alright then, we’ll admit it, we didn’t watch the entirety of the first debate of the Republican presidential nomination race. We’re as addicted to this story as any other reality show watcher, and we already have our rooting interests in the plot line, but our older brother is in town and there’s this great Mexican restaurant over in the nearby barrio and we cut off our television cable years ago, and besides, it all has such a sense of those meaningless pre-season games that the National Football Leagues starts all too early, so we we figured we’d rely on the more diligent internet sources for our opinions of it all.
Pretty much everyone on our right-wing reading list seemed to agree that former Hewlitt-Packard honcho and failed California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina won the “jayvee team” debate among those who didn’t poll in the top ten, with accomplished two-term Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal coming in second, and the arguably even more accomplished two-term Texas Gov. Rick Perry exceeding expectations well enough to come in a credible third. The other three really aren’t worth mentioning, as any experienced reality show viewer can rightly assume they’ll soon be written out of the plot. We’d like to see Fiorina, Jindal, and Perry all get into the prime time debate, and can easily name three candidates we’d be happy to see them replace, so we’re heartened by the reviews.
There doesn’t seem to be much consensus about the main event. which suggests that nobody won. So far as we can tell from the snippets at the Fox News Channel’s website, real estate magnate and literal reality show star Donald Trump apparently was his usual bombastic and buffoonish self, but there’s no telling whether that will add to or detract from his poll-leading numbers. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave a reassuringly ambiguous statement about his past support for the “Common Core” curriculum, the unabashedly libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a spat about national intelligence-gathering that most of the judges scored a win for Christie, neurosurgeon and political neophyte Dr. Ben Carson seems to have had no gaffes but no impression, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s just-regular-hillbilly-folk schtick seems have done its usual black magic, and the rest of it seems equally pointless.
Of course there’s much chatter about how tough the Fox moderators were in their questioning, but we figure all the candidates should be prepared for far worse then they meet the rest of the press. Our early favorite, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, used the opportunity of a question about his past support for “comprehensive immigration reform” to explain that he was previously wrong but has since been looking at the issue from a more national perspective and is now right, and when we try to imagine Trump speaking the words “I was wrong” we impressed by his candor.
If Trump didn’t commit his inevitable self-immolation and our guy Walker didn’t boost his numbers, and the more worthy contenders didn’t move into contention, we’ll not be worried. This is Grapefruit League and Cactus League stuff, and the numbers won’t count until some very cold days that won’t arrive until winter, and the lady at the bar we were at our brother earlier tonight who was shouting the pre-season football was about to arrive even as a Kansas City Royals victory was underway on the television care mores about that game that we care about this political game. The political game will wind up making a difference, but what happened in that debate we mostly skipped probably won’t.

–Bud Norman

The Presidential Races and the Growing Realizations

The big newspapers are already full of stories about the ’16 presidential race, and even at this all-too-early point it often makes for interesting reading. There are the inevitable second thoughts about the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination, some comic relief from Vice President Joe Biden, and even a budding realization that the Republican contest isn’t shaping up according to the conventional inside-the-Beltway wisdom.
Clinton has been deafeningly silent lately, so there’s not been much to report about her except for the polls showing her trailing undeclared candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in both Iowa and New Hampshire, which does not serve the favored press narrative about inevitability. Warren is a darling of the left wing activists who play an outsized role in the Democratic nominating process, just as Iowa and New Hampshire do, but is little-known outside those circles, so the results are not encouraging for the better-known and far better-funded and better-organized Clinton. The conventional inside-the-Beltway wisdom that name recognition and money and organization will ultimately prevail often proves true, but when such formidable advantages can’t gain an early lead in the early elimination round states against such a fake Indian and even faker left-wing populist of a first-term Senator such as Warren it seems a harbinger of an exception to the rule. The scrutiny that would follow the announcement of a Warren candidacy might well do her in, since even the friendliest media will be obliged to explain the whole fake-Indian scam and her more extreme soak-the-rich rhetoric and her general left-wing kookiness, and the media more friendly to Clinton will be most eager to pile on, but those left-wing activists are clearly unenthused about Clinton and likely to find some other darling to rally around.
He almost certainly won’t be Vice President Joe Biden, as even the loyal scribes of the Associated Press can now see. Biden seems to have no money, no organization, and even after six years of being Vice President of the United States he has little name recognition. If not for being so unfamiliar to the public Biden would be an even more unlikely nominee, as his prolific gaffes would be the popular catchphrases of the day if he were Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin or any other Republican. Biden’s latest gift to the late night comedians was giving a shout-out during a speech to his “butt buddy,” a vulgarism usually understood as describing a homosexual partner, but he can be grateful that won’t be so widely discussed as a misspelling of “potato” or an entirely fictional remark about seeing Russia from his house. No one ever became president by having the press politely ignore him, though, and Biden is unlikely to prove an exception to that rule.
The big newspapers retain an inordinate interest in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his inside-the-Beltway rivals, especially former protege and potential rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, but they’re slowly wising up to the probability that the Republican race winner will come from far outside the Beltway. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is the darling of the right-wing activists who play an inordinate role in selection the Republican nominee, he’s leading the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, which play that same crucial role in the GOP’s nominating process, and he’s also the favorites of the Republicans who showed up at the party’s annual Kansas Day gathering, who are about are about as Republican as Republicans get, and he’s even got some money and a growing organization, and after three elections and six years of relentless attacks by the labor movement and the Democratic establishment and its media allies he’s even got some name recognition. His prominence in the race is such that The Washington Post felt obliged to run one of its quadrennial back-to-schooldays hit pieces.
The Post’s effort will have little effect on Walker’s chances, we suspect. There are none of the hazing stories that were attributed by the paper last time around to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and even some quotes from loyal friends who recall that they wouldn’t even let the well-behaved Walker in on their more harmless college pranks, as well as tales of his countless kindnesses to a particularly accident-prone friend, but there is the shocking revelation that the remarkably successful two-term governor was frequently late and largely uninterested in his French classes and remains 36 credit hour short of a college degree. The paper portrays this as a great mystery, and chose to run the story at a time when Walker was overseas on a trade mission and conveniently unavailable to provide the solution, but still leaves open the possibility that he simply chose to begin what has turned out to be an exemplary career in public service rather than pay for another 36 hours of over-priced college education. This will seem a disqualifying failure to the sorts of people who are impressed by Elizabeth Warren’s former post on the Harvard University faculty, but we expect the rest of the country will not find it a matter of concern.
Ivy League credentials are not always sufficient for the presidency, as the last four administrations and numerous previous ones demonstrate, and autodidacts such as Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman have occasionally distinguished themselves in the office. The story might even further endear Walker to a country largely populated by people who do to have Ivy League diplomas, and inoculate him against the usual charges of elitism and privilege that are invariably made against the Republicans who hod tony degrees. The Post story also reveals that Walker is the son of a Baptist minister who chose to attend a Catholic university, inadvertently burnishing his ecumenical reputation with the Republican party’s religious wing, and will not convince anyone that Walker does not possess a serious intellect. We note elsewhere that Walker has proposed legislation that would permit people in the state’s higher education system to gain credits for life experience, and most people who have experienced both college and real life will agree that the benefits that Walker has brought the state after many years in public office should surely be equivalent to 36 hours of university lecturing.
This is far too early to make any predictions, of course, as the press should have figured out by now, but will venture to say that conventional inside-the-Beltway wisdom should not be trusted.

— Bud Norman

Romney Rides Again

The Washington press is abuzz that Mitt Romney seems poised for another run at the presidency, but we wonder how many of the people who will be voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses share the excitement.
There’s no wondering why the press is excited. The investment mogul and former Massachusetts governor and past Republican nominee adds a familiar name to to their too-early-to-read campaign reports full of little-known governors and congressional long shots, sets up an intriguing storyline about the inevitable fight for big-money donors and the party establishment’s support against a former Florida governor with the familiar last name of Bush, and otherwise serves a favorite press narrative about top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling plutocratic Republicans and their internecine battle with the tin foil hat-wearing conservative crazies. Romney will also be a legitimate contender for the nomination, given all that big-donor money and establishment support and the fact he was once palatable enough to the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses to become the past nominee, so there are even valid journalistic reasons for the attention being paid.
Presidential re-runs are not unprecedented, of course. In the early 1800’s Charles Pinckney was twice the candidate of the Federalist Party, losing both times, which helps explain why there is no longer a Federalist Party. Grover Cleveland won, lost, then won again for the Democrats in the late 1880s. William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic nomination three times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with his brand of prairie populism, and lost the general election in each case. Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican nominee in the ’40s and twice the loser to Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson was twice the Democratic nominee in the ’50s and twice the loser to Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon was the Republican nominee in ’60 and lost but came back “tanned, rested, and ready” to win in ’68, so unless you remember how that turned out the record isn’t entirely gloomy.
There were those polls a while back showing that Romney would have won a re-match with President Barack Obama, too, and the next batch of surveys will no doubt show that he has a lead on all the candidates whose names are being thrown in the mix. Whoever survives the early blows between Romney and Bush will have the “establishment” support to himself while a wide field of contenders are still battling for “conservative” bloc, and that does provide a plausible plot for the Romney scenario. Money and organization and professional expertise matter, as well, and Romney will have plenty of them. There’s also an argument to be made that he would be a good president, and we proudly made the argument that he would have been better than Barack Obama, and that also matters even if it won’t be a part of the press narrative.
All of that will earn Romney a look from Republicans, but we expect it will be quite skeptical. A more robustly conservative candidate running an effective national campaign could have beaten Obama at any point in the last two years, which Romney failed to do when he had the chance, and that lead you see in the next batch of polls is over a group of more conservative Republicans that have not yet announced their candidacy much less launched a campaign. Among those little-known governors and congressional long shots are some impressive candidates, and they comprise a field far more formidable than Romney faced last time around.
Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry imploded with poor campaigning after a surgery and the weight of the deals he had made on immigration to win a crucial share of the Latino vote in his home state, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was tarred by personal scandals and lobbying ties and the years of vituperation by the left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum couldn’t resist being lured into divisive social issues, former pizza magnate and future talk show host Herman Cain had a sex scandal, “tea party” favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann dropped out early on, promising former Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty dropped out for no apparent reason even earlier, and the likable and competent Romney suddenly seemed the best shot. This time he’ll face the likes of Gov. Scott Walker, who has won three elections to serve two astoundingly successful terms despite the most furious efforts of the Democratic left, Governors Rick Snyder and John Kasich of Michigan and Ohio, respectively, who have won re-election in their crucial states with the same sort of conservative policies, as well as a fully-recovered Perry who managed to demonstrate his anti-illegal immigration bona fides before leaving office, and the likes of Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz, who have shown the sort of boldness conservatives desire on economic issues and represent the polar ends of a crucial intra-party debate on foreign policy.
Any candidate that emerges from that field should be able to win the nomination. Our guess is that the Romney will win the fight with Gov. Jeb Bush for the “establishment” mantle, given that Bush has irrevocable positions on illegal immigration and that horrible “Common Core” curriculum that the federal wants to impose on local education systems that are anathema to all but the wealthiest Republicans, but the Washington press doesn’t seem to understand that “establishment” is now a most foul epithet among the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. The intense scrutiny that the other contenders have already endured suggests there won’t be scandals to knock any of them out of the race, and they’ll have strong arguments to make about Obamacare and regulations and taxes and getting the government out of the way that the technocratic Romney will have trouble countering. He’s a legitimate contender, but by no means a front-runner.
We might be proved wrong, of course, in which case our only consolation is in knowing that Romney would be a better candidate than anyone the Democrats might put up.

— Bud Norman

The Silly Season of Politics

There are still a couple of weeks left in 2014, according to that damnable calendar icon that taunts us with the relentless passage of time whenever we log on to our computer, but the presidential campaign of 2016 already seems well underway. An otherwise slow news day was full of speculation about the Republican contest on Tuesday, but none of it was quite so compelling as the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball squad home court win over an unranked but upset-minded University of Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 53-52. Our beloved ‘Shockers went on a 13-1 run over the final five minutes to seal the narrow victory, and we don’t expect the Republican race to be quite so exciting as the pre-season hype would indicate.
All the talk on Tuesday was about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who announced that he was thinking about pursuing the nomination. Bush is also the son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush and the brother of President of George W. Bush, and the grandson of Sen. Prescott Bush, and an heir to God only knows how many previous generations of big deal Bushes, so running the country is pretty much his family business and his announcement that he was all but announcing his candidacy for president was not a surprise. More surprising was that so much of the press took serious the notion that Bush might actually win, and regarded his admittedly impeccable “establishment” credentials as a likely reason. These scribes are apparently too far removed from the Republicans’ fly-over country base to know that “establishment” is now as much a pejorative to its primary electorate than it ever was the hippies, and that the Bush name is now synonymous with a big-government style of conservatism that is widely considered unsuited to the nation’s needs or the party’s desires. Bush has already staked on stands on illegal immigration and the federalization of education that are anathema to Republican stalwarts, both of which remind the party’s activist base of everything they hated about his brother and father and grandfather and all those previous generations of big deal Bushes, and no amount of fund-raising is likely to negate those disadvantages.
The press gleefully noted that Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul was already issuing advertisements against Bush, a clear signal of his unsurprising intention to seek the nomination, but neither do we regard Paul as pre-season favorite for the nomination. He’s certainly not at all “establishment,” being heir only to the quixotic campaigns of his father, former quadrennial presidential candidate and Texas’ Rep. Ron Paul, but he’s staked out accommodating positions on foreign policy issues that will not play well at a time when Russia and China and Islamism are all ascendant. There was even some attention paid to to disparaging remarks made about Bush by Donald Trump, a real estate mogul and reality star ever eager for paid attention, although we expect that “The Donald’s” ambitions are primary to produce publicity for whatever eponymous project he is planning in the private sector.
This is the “silly season” in presidential politics, to borrow yet another sports metaphor from golf, and the day’s headlines will be long forgotten by the metaphorical playoff time. The real contest begins with an impressive slate of governors get done with their necessary state business, and a smaller and less impressive slate of Representatives and Senators show what they’re willing to do with their party’s majorities, and a robust debate about who’s the most solid conservative is underway. The contestant from the prestigious confederation won’t necessarily prevail, as the Shockers’ hard-fought win over the Southeastern Conference demonstrated, and anyone who can plausibly deny responsibility for what’s been going in the big leagues of Washington will have an underdog’s leg up.
We expect an exciting race for the Republican nomination, and maybe even one of those improbable come-from-behind victories that cause you to shake hands with the bartender when you’re watching at Merle’s Tavern, but it never goes according to what the press is saying.

— Bud Norman