The Real Dilemma Facing the Hillary Campaign

It would be easy for a logical and moral person to assume that the email scandal with Hillary Clinton was going to be her downfall. Her explanation does not merely amount to, “I deleted a TON of stuff illegally, and you have to trust me that it was all benign” – rather, that is her EXPLICIT explanation. Whether it be what you want to be the case or believe ought to be the case, no one else on God’s green earth would survive something so audacious. It would be like having an affair with someone your daughter’s age in the Oval Office and coming out of it with 68% popularity. Okay, maybe one other person would get away with it.

It also would be easy to think the Clinton Foundation scandal would be her downfall. Americans hate cronyism when they know about it, and even the leftwing press has hit her for this little mystery. I suspect there has been damage done through this, but the fatal blow has not yet ben struck.

Her overall liability or lack thereof may very well be her political downfall, but it is too early for me to say that, and I am not objective enough to be the arbiter of how the rest of society perceives her. I know of very few people this side of Gloria Steinem that can honestly say they like her, and I do not believe unlikable people win elections in a media age unless their opponent is George McGovern. But Hillary has a certain demographic advantage (if she can hold it) that said at least in 2012 that the Deems are the team to beat.

So what is the dilemma Hillary faces that I see as THE SINGLE BIGGEST ISSUE WE SHOULD BE WATCHING? The extraordinary tension that I honestly cannot fathom how she will wrestle out of is essentially this:

On one hand, the big pitch is, “remember that 1990’s prosperity under the last Clinton where we got stuff done with Republicans, the economy was growing, profits were soaring, unemployment low, free trade booming, stock prices climbing, business rolling, and American competitiveness smoking, well vote for me to see all that come back”.

But now the pitch has to be, ”remember all that big business nonsense and income inequality of globalization evil and stock market wealth and corporate profits and corporate greed and disregard for the environment, well vote for me to see all that go away”

The argument that she would represent the second coming of the 1990’s is probably deeply flawed, but it’s a heckuva political argument to make. It would be better than Jeb Bush promising us another Iraq war or housing bubble collapse, right? I cannot imagine Hillary prosecuting an argument without making her campaign a subtle contrast between 1990’s prosperity and Barack Obama doldrums. She cannot risk losing the coalition that Obama has and so she will not be able to go negative on him, but she can go positive on Bill and the 90’s, but what was positive about Bill and the 90’s besides economic prosperity, growth, a reduction in capital gain taxes, growing wealth (including a growing wealth gap), free trade, etc. And ATTACKING THOSE VERY THINGS is the HEART of what the Democratic platform and party stands for right now. She has no choice but to appease Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Daily Kos, and Rolling Stone (the pillars of leadership in modern liberalism) by running as a card-carrying Sandinista. Is she going to go on stage with Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Goldman Sachs executives and talk about wealth redistribution? Dear Lord.

This is not going to be an easy needle to thread. I’ll be watching. So should you. The reality is that the winning message is one that promotes a gospel of economic growth and prosperity for ALL people, not to accomplish a class flattening or to make connected people richer, but rather a pro-growth agenda that creates opportunity in this, the land of opportunity. The Democratic party cannot and will not run on that because they do not believe in it. If the GOP does not tell that message against this email-destroying scandal-wrapped cronyistic centimillionaire elitist who is running as a Sandinista college student, then we seriously do not deserve to win.

The Hillary Saga Lacks Any Explanation

If you believe that Team Clinton is the cream of the crop, hyper-prepared, hyper-ruthless, “A team” of American political strategists and consultants, and I’m fine believing that, then you have to believe that this email scandal is a way for Hillary to bow out of this “inevitable” race, OR you have to believe something that escapes my limited imagination.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, and in fact loathe those who are.  I also have absolutely no doubt that there were really bad things in the emails that HRC wanted to hide (and likely did just that quite successfully).  No one on either side of the political divide can say with a straight face that this is all benign.  I don’t believe the hidden emails say, “let’s kill our own ambassador”, but I believe there is SOMETHING incriminating in there.  And so do you.  And if you hate my guts and love Hillary, you STILL do.  So for the love of all that is decent and good, can someone explain what she thinks is going to happen here?

You could argue that they are praying for a Monica-situation, where the voters reject perceived overreach from a desperate Republican minority.  But the voters sided with Bill then because 50% of them were cheating on their spouse, and because the stock market was smokin’ hot (that is my academic synopsis).  Most regular people have had something bad happen because of an electronic communication gone awry, and it isn’t going to sit well that the wicked queen thinks she is above the law.

But that is exactly what she thinks, and the reason she thinks it is because it is totally and completely true.  Scandals follow this creepy family like a hangover follows a bad night of liquid excess.  And as is the case in my dubious simile, at some point people just ought to know better.  

I don’t know what else is going to happen here, and I can’t imagine why the “A team” thought that presser yesterday would help.  The reality is that she is in a bad situation here, because if 30,000 of the emails weren’t self-determined to be unimportant, and she did turn them all over, there would be something there that would end her campaign and therefore lifetime pathological obsession.  With her having destroyed property of the United States taxpayer, the skepticism, cynicism, and distrust cannot be extinguished.

With the Clintons, sometimes it’s better just not to know.  

The Motives Behind Bad Policy

One thing I have learned from Thomas Sowell over the years is that it is the LEFT that obsesses over the alleged motives of a policy rather than its efficacy.  The thing my conservative friends miss with the childish obsession about Obama’s this-and-that is that fundamentally the policies are all that matter.  Sincere and deep love for country followed by idiotic policies is not to be commended any more than a goofball agenda followed by idiotic policies is (case in point: Pat Buchannan). All the talk of Obama as a Marxist Muslim colonialist Kenyan freak can be true or false, or WORSE, he could just be a Harvard Law grad (the scariest thing in this country).  But it all doesn’t mean squat beyond “what is he proposing for this country and will it work?”.  His policy prescriptions are across the board demonstrably wrong.  So just focus on that, and the results will be meaningful. 

The Huge Wildcard of the 2016 Election

I subscribe to the ecclesiastical wisdom that “there is nothing new under the sun”, which is a different way of saying that whenever someone says that all of a sudden something is totally different than it has ever been before, it probably isn’t. It would have been hard to sit back over the last ten years and deny that the American electorate, largely for understandable reasons, was “war-fatigued”. And so it should be – war is a fatiguing thing, particularly with all the baggage and controversy associated with the two that were being prosecuted over the last ten years. Political calculus understandably has leaned towards the notion that “he (or she) who runs most in the lane of foreign policy dovishness has the best chance to win”. On its face, reasonable and logical.

Something strange has happened going into the 2016 Presidential season, and that is the time-tested wisdom of not believing that “this time it’s different”. Indeed, Americans have ALWAYS been repelled by war right after fighting one, and they have ALWAYS dialed up their hawkishness when forced to. In a perfect world, would this sort of cyclicality to mood and sentiment level out and not fluctuate as it does? I have no answer to that question, because in a perfect world there wouldn’t even be the need for vigilant national defense. But alas, there is, and I would argue that we are going to see the real American DNA on these very challenging issues resurface in a big way entering 2016.

There has not been a time since 9/11 that I have doubted America’s commitment towards a strong national defense IF another attack were to take place on America’s homeland. Thankfully, and the Patriot Act is probably the single biggest reason for this, no such attack has happened in the 13.5 years since 9/11. I pray for a continuation of such protection, but I am not optimistic. The enemy is committed, and the opportunities simply vast. However, I am both detecting and forecasting a changing of the guard in the political winds right now – a trend that will agitate the Blame America First crowd, the radical isolationist crowd, and the “if we just leave them alone I have to think they will leave us alone” crowd. Those three different crowds have a lot of overlap at points, and there is certainly a spectrum of both moral clarity and intellectual capability amongst the respective groups, but at the end of the day, I think the “peak” for this group’s popular appeal has come and gone. A more enlightened (but not new) perspective is resurfacing just in time for the 2016 election.

Part of this post is mere political handicapping, but part of it is also intense prescription. A poorly prosecuted Iraq war is not the foreign policy zenith, and neither is thoughtless intervention. On that, nearly all Americans agree. But the worldview that denies we are under attack by a radical group of Islamofascist madmen (not a small group, but a massive one) is the worldview that has no traction whatsoever in the lexicon of reasonable grown-ups. The present administration’s efforts to parse words have repulsed the American people who have eyes, have ears, and frankly, don’t buy what they have been sold. From the recent shootings in France to the frequent flow of ISIS beheadings, the idea that Al Qaida has been neutralized, or that the enemy is on equal moral ground to the Americans, has been debunked (and more so, serves as a source of ire to most reasonable people). The political legs to Bush administration inadequacies and exhaustion with foreign “interventions” has run its course. What we face now is rather vanilla.

And it is now that I put aside the politics and polling and mood discussion, and just focus on the vanilla reality we face. American people ought not have any tolerance for refusing to name and claim the enemy we face. They ought not live in denial about the vigilance necessary to exterminate this threat. And they ought not deny the sustainability and longevity of the ISIS threat (and other bacterial spawns of ISIS) if it is not exterminated. The capability necessary to launch a significant attack on American soil is not a hard one to come by., We have been protected by a handful of factors so far which are by no means surefire or foolproof. The great and legitimate task of federal government is to protect citizens from psychopathic movements like ISIS etc. There should be no fluctuation in this objective.

And this brings me to 2016. A hawkish and childish foreign policy looking to get in a gun fight with anyone who looks at us funny is not going to resonate with the American people, but the utter incompetence of a Secretary of State who proclaimed Putin in a reset mode, Assad of Syria a good guy, and fumbled so badly in Libya, Iraq, and Iran is not the 3am phone call TV commercial stuff you dream about. The Ron Paul wing of the right will have to keep their foreign policy wingnutness hidden, as it is now a liability, not an asset. The need is for a sensible, mature, proficient candidate to speak to the threat we face with moral clarity, and understand the 21st century realities of how the threat is growing (which is to say, understands the homegrown domestic threat of radicalization taking place with select American-born sociopaths). There will always be a Michael Moore extreme on the left and a Ron Paul extreme on the right (if that is where you want to locate it), but the vast majority of Americans will enter 2016 fully aware that the Obama administration is delusional or deceptive if they claim the war is over. We are in a war that we did not start. The winning candidate in 2016 needs to be someone prepared to take the necessary steps to end it.

An Evening with Rick Perry

One of my life mentors and good friends, Larry Kudlow, invited my wife and I to join him and a small group of folks here in New York City last evening for a small roundtable with Gov. Rick Perry. Larry along with pro-growth champions Steve Forbes and Stephen Moore are launching a Committee on Growth and Prosperity in the same vein as the dearly missed Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Committee on the Present Danger which proved so valuable in assessing the cold war for what it was decades ago. The idea behind this dinner last night was to put a few pro-growth proponents at the dinner table with Gov. Perry and have an open discussion about his economic message.

I have been commenting and noting for at least a couple years now that Governor Perry is an entirely different person from the one the country got briefly introduced to in the 2012 campaign. There are a lot of reasons for this, but at the end of the day Perry is a tremendous communicator and has a deeper command on issues than most politicians you will get to meet in your life. He has embarked upon a tour of sorts between CNBC, Fox News, the Sunday morning talk shows, etc. where his ideological bona fides and his intellectual gravitas are clearly on display. Americans love a comeback story. As far as I am concerned, he is as viable as anyone.

Speaking of which, I do believe it is safe to frame the Republican 2016 field as follows: (1) The group of three solid men who will unfairly be branded moderates, and would prove unable to build the necessary coalition to win (Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie); (2) The group of two men who have plenty of good to say (one more than the other), but would never build coalitions outside of their own base (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul); and then (3) The group of four or five solid conservatives who both possess the needed leadership traits to govern the country and the capability to build coalitions within their own base and outside of it (in this group I include Rick Perry, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and potentially Mike Pence). Anyone of those names from group #3 I see as viable. Anyone in groups 1 or 2 I do not. Moving on.

Gov. Perry can let much of his track record speak for itself. From 2009-2012 Texas created more net new jobs than 49 other states combined. The only problem with that stat is I don’t know how many people will even believe it; it is just overwhelming (but true) on its face. Because the Governor and I share a deep appreciation for the shale revolution, it is deeply satisfying to hear the real life accolades of what their natural gas accomplishments have meant to the state as well (23% reduction in ozone levels, 62% reduction in nitrogen oxide levels, dramatic % drop in their carbon footprint, etc.). Readers are free to have their own opinions on what environmental feats are and are not important to them, but the facts should still be presented as they are. At the end of the day, Governor Perry served 14 years in the Governor’s mansion and did not merely oversee a renaissance in the energy industry of Texas (though he certainly did that too). Texas is now the largest exporter of high tech product in the country. The economy of Texas as seen massive diversification over the last 10-12 years, so much so that despite the explosion of the oil and gas business behind the shale revolution, the energy sector is a lower percentage of Texas GDP than when the Governor took office. Companies from Toyota to Apple to Oracle to Facebook to Ebay to a plethora of pharmaceutical companies and even food businesses have planted a flag in Texas in recent years, taking advantage of the state’s extraordinary friendliness around tax and regulation for businesses. A friendly business climate is a friendly jobs climate, and the result has been the magical word guys like Kudlow and Moore care so much about: Growth. The beauty of growth is that it transcends class warfare, and lifts all boats. The 1% is not a phrase used in Texas, because the 100% have enjoyed the fruits of economic growth in Texas. So much of this can be a model to the entire country.

A lot of our dialogue last night is not for mass distribution, but I will say that he is going to need to better polish his delivery on the crucial issue of immigration. I am firmly in the Governor’s camp on the policy side of the issue, but I am not convinced that a mere focus on securing the border will be enough to pacify the far right fringe on this issue (where someone like Laura Ingraham can get away with saying that we should be going door to door finding illegals to deport). Perry has the right policy prescription (secure borders and a guest worker program) and it surely will be the right message in a a general election (Perry always won a minimum of 40%+ Hispanics in his three gubernatorial races), but I am not sure the primary message where candidates will be vying to carve out the silliest message possible on this pivotal human and economic message has been fully developed yet.

What I am sure of is this: Picking a primary horse this early has not been a good strategy for quite some time as those with a Hillary 2008 sticker can attest. Perry will need early good luck to get in the top five of candidates once this thing gets underway. He is a solid fundraiser and a compelling candidate. If he can break into that top five, I am convinced he can become a serious contender in the primary. And I will close with this: Should he survive what I expect will be a grueling primary, and end up in a one-on-one race with Hillary Clinton, there is no doubt in my mind that the great feats of the Texas Governor’s mansion over the last 14 years will be coming to The White House.
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