rabbit hole

The Looming Question

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 31: U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Arkansas looks on during a tailgate party before the start of a Fayetteville High School football game on October 31, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  With less than a week to go before election day U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is holding a narrow lead over incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR). (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“This was a foreign policy maneuver, in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, with all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting. In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to govern.”

Michael Gerson

Perhaps the critique has a bit more force coming from one of more conservative pedigree, such as Mr. Gerson. Still, though, one should also note that the Washington Post columnist still steps up to the bat for his side:

It is true that President Obama set this little drama in motion. Major arms-control treaties have traditionally involved advice and consent by the Senate. Obama is proposing to expand the practice of executive agreements to cover his prospective Iranian deal — effectively cutting senators out of the process. By renewing a long-standing balance-of-powers debate — in a way that highlights his propensity for power-grabbiness — Obama invited resistance.

The P5+1 negotiation has been at it since 2006. Fred Kaplan has already reminded:

“Reading [the letter], one can only wonder if these Republicans ever consult their staffs. As the Iranian leaders know, and as the Obama administration and the other P5+1 governments have made clear all along, the deal being negotiated is not a treaty, nor is it an agreement. Rather, it is a nonbinding international arrangement, to be signed (if it is signed) by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, and Iran.Slate-logo-v

Similar agreements have been struck on a host of arms control measures over the years, including President George W. Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative, President Gerald Ford’s Helsinki Final Act, and several hundred bilateral and multilateral measures, guidelines, and memoranda of understanding struck over the decades.

Just sayin’.

Nonetheless, Gerson’s analysis does point to familiar elements, and is certainly worth consideration.

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A Bushwhacking

Detail: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The Detroit event is the first in a series of stops that Bush's team is calling his "Right to Rise" tour. That's also the name of the political action committee he formed in December 2014 to allow him to explore a presidential run. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Jeb. All he did was participate in a time-honored tradition among political elites – giving each other awards as a celebration of shared power and influence. It probably didn’t even occur to him that by putting a medal around Hillary Clinton’s neck he was implicating himself in the most significant and far-reaching political scandal of our age.”

Simon Maloy

One might be tempted to wonder what chance Jeb Bush has if the hard right not only isn’t behind him but, actually, stands in specific opposition. And, certes, we have the example of Mitt Romney to consider. But then arises the question of just how far a hardline conservative candidate can make it in the general election; while a Clinton-Bush showdown is often spoken of as a tiresome prospect, who here really thinks enough people in enough states will be able to rationalize, even to themselves, the idea of being an “independent” or “centrist”, and give their vote to a Rubio or Paul? True, most people who call themselves “independent” are actually Republicans afraid to admit their real party identification, but the way in which they push back against that argument is to reject the hardliners.

As Simon Maloy explains:

The explanation ForAmerica offers for why this video disqualifies Jeb is that Hillary will use it to defang any attacks he might direct at her record as secretary of state. “Jeb has absolutely no credibility to criticize her because he has already anointed her as a great public servant.” Eh, perhaps? If you go and watch Hillary’s full remarks, she celebrates Jeb and the whole Bush family for sharing her love of America and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. Treating praise for the enemy as an unforgiveable political sin is problematic since part of being a politician is showing magnanimity by mechanically lauding your opponents’ patriotism and shared love of public service.

But this is Benghazi we’re talking about, and there’s nothing more important in the minds of conservative activists when it comes to Hillary Clinton and 2016. Jeb hasn’t really said a whole lot about Benghazi (at least not compared to some of his 2016 rivals) but when he has remarked on it, he’s said what conservatives want to hear – that it showed weakness, emboldened enemies, etc. If there’s danger for Jeb, it’s that he’ll come off as a squish compared to other would-be candidates like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who declares every few months or so that Benghazi disqualifies Hillary from ever holding public office again.

The reality television market sector has nothing to compare to the 2012 GOP presidential primary, and the upcoming electoral season―the Ames Straw Poll is all of six months away―would appear to be promisimg an even bigger spectacle. GOP 2016 is going to be a show of shows, and Americans who plan to travel abroad between then and the presidential election should probably spend some time rehearsing their sheepish shrugs and noncommittal answers for when our international neighbors ask them just what the hell is going on in the U.S.

Such as it is, one fun exercise in smacking our heads against desks will come in trying to comprehend how the Republican clown car steers its way back toward the political center; leading prognostications suggest the press will help by moving the center in relation to wherever the GOP troupe crashes.

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