Trump Critics and Russia Hawks Have Change of Heart

Two of Donald Trump’s fiercest Republican critics have suddenly taking a liking to the president — and with it, come around to his views on Russia.

  • Lindsey Graham once warned the Republican Party would be “destroyed” if it nominated Trump, cautioned the president against removing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, and dismissed his incendiary rhetoric about a deep-state conspiracy against him. Now Graham believes Trump should fire Sessions. He dismisses allegations that Trump colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election in his favor and agrees with the president that there is “corruption” in the Justice Department and FBI.
  • Rand Paul once said “a speck of dirt” was more qualified to become president than Trump and called on his predecessor, Barack Obama, to “isolate Russia as a rogue nation” after it annexed the Crimea from Ukraine. Now he carries Trump’s water and argues for lifting sanctions. For details, read The American Interest and The New York Times.

Is this simply a case of two more Republicans catching the Trump virus?

Iowa Narrows Presidential Primary Field

“Iowa doesn’t pick nominees,” Jonathan Bernstein wrote at Bloomberg View yesterday. “It eliminates candidates.”

Despite everything that makes this year’s contest to succeed Barack Obama so unusual — a septuagenarian self-described socialist challenging a former secretary of state in the Democratic Party, the absence of an establishment consensus in the Republican Party, “super PACs” spending unlimited amounts of money on nominally independent campaigns, Donald Trump — the first voting state still did what it was supposed to do: winnow out unelectable candidates.

Kentucky senator Rand Paul was the last to drop out of the Republican contest on Wednesday. Rick Santorum, a former senator, canceled events in South Carolina, the third voting state, the same day, suggesting that he too might end his campaign soon.

Neither Paul nor Santorum did well on Monday and both were always too far outside the mainstream of their party to win the nomination, let alone the presidency.

Mike Huckabee, another Republican candidate, and Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, both suspended their campaigns on Tuesday already after placing in the single digits in Iowa. Read more “Iowa Narrows Presidential Primary Field”

Rubio’s Hawkishness Could Become a Problem

Florida’s Marco Rubio, one of the Republicans who hopes to succeed Barack Obama as president in 2016, clashed with fellow senator Rand Paul in a debate televised by the Fox Business Network on Tuesday.

When he was challenged by Paul on his plan to expand child credits and raise defense spending, without having a plan to pay for either, Rubio dismissed the libertarian lawmaker as a “committed isolationist” and argued, “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe.”

There are radical jihadists in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. The Chinese are taking over the South China Sea. Yes, I believe the world is a safer — no, I don’t believe, I know — the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest military power in the world.

Rubio didn’t take the opportunity to reveal how he would finance his spending commitments, though. Nor would he explain how radical Islamism in the Middle East or Chinese posturing in the South China Sea has put the American economy at risk. (It hasn’t really.)

Rubio’s characterization of Paul’s policy as “isolationist” and his support for higher defense spending when the United States already has a larger military budget than all potential rivals combined was nevertheless telling.

It showed that Rubio, for all the hype, really isn’t serious about foreign policy. Read more “Rubio’s Hawkishness Could Become a Problem”

Foreign Policy Divides Republican Candidates

Foreign policy divided Republican presidential contenders on Wednesday night: between those who pretended that a tough, no-nonsense posture would cow American adversaries into submission and those who cautioned that going it alone would make the country less, not more, secure.

The more hawkish noises during the presidential primary debate broadcast from California by CNN came from candidates who are now high in the polls for the party’s nomination.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, again said President Barack Obama should cancel a state visit from his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, this month because the country manipulates its currency and spies on American companies and government agencies.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive and only woman in the race, said the United States shouldn’t talk with Russian president Vladimir Putin either and rather build up forces in Europe and carry out “aggressive” military exercises in the Baltic Sea region to deter America’s former Cold War adversary. Putin will only stop, she said, if he senses “strength and resolve on the other side.”

The notion that America’s foes are exploiting a perceived lack of strength on Obama’s part was reiterated by others. Read more “Foreign Policy Divides Republican Candidates”

Paul May Be Down But His Movement Is Not Out

Rand Paul’s slump in the polls is disheartening for libertarians and advocates of a less hyperactive foreign policy but the Republican Party should still be cautious about dismissing him. The Kentucky senator’s presidential candidacy represents an opportunity to woo Americans who normally vote Democrat or don’t vote at all.

Although early polls are typically a poor indicator of how well a candidate will do in the presidential primaries, it is hard not to draw conclusions from the fact that Paul’s support is at its lowest in over two years.

FiveThirtyEight contrasts the younger Paul’s poll figures with those of his father, Ron, when he ran for the Republican nomination four years ago and finds the son has reason to worry.

Whereas Ron’s support was rising at this point in the nominating contest, Rand’s is dropping. Ron Paul won more than 20 percent of the votes in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. His son now polls around 8 percent in both states. Read more “Paul May Be Down But His Movement Is Not Out”

Rand Paul Unlikely to Win But a Relevant Contender

Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who announced on Tuesday he would seek his Republican Party’s presidential nomination, walks a fine line between staying true to his libertarian principles and appeasing the more reactionary elements in his party. If he doesn’t end up alienating both constituencies, he could prove a surprisingly viable contender for the 2016 nomination.

Paul was one of many “Tea Party” candidates who won election in 2010 when Democrats struggled to get their controversial health reforms through Congress. Unlike many other Republicans, who only rediscovered their support for limited government when Barack Obama overreached, he came from a libertarian tradition. His father, Ron, had represented Texas in the House of Representatives for sixteen years before retiring in 2013. He hopelessly sought the presidency thrice, most recently in 2012.

Rand is not his father. He does not deride “American empire” nor advocate a total retreat from the world — although that is certainly how his opponents will characterize his noninterventionism. Read more “Rand Paul Unlikely to Win But a Relevant Contender”

Republicans Yet to Decide on Future Strategy

The contrasting visions offered by Republicans at a political conference this week suggest that their party has yet to come to terms with its recent election losses and decide on a strategy to win back the presidency in 2016.

Whereas New Jersey governor Chris Christie and outgoing Texas governor Rick Perry held up the popularity and success of their administrations as a possible blueprint for a national Republican renewal, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky implored attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington DC not to lose sight of their principles.

But Christie, who governs in a state Barack Obama won in 2012 by almost 18 percentage points, advocated a more pragmatic approach than Perry, who has governed in one of the country’s most reliably Republican state for twelve years, while Cruz’ and Paul’s ideological appeals had very different priorities.

“We don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” Christie reminded the conference to which he had not been invited last year after appearing with President Obama when his state was recovering from a hurricane. Read more “Republicans Yet to Decide on Future Strategy”

Health, Security Disputes Reveal Republican Divide

Less than a year after Mitt Romney failed to win the American presidency for the Republican Party, the divide between the party’s centrist establishment and conservative purists has widened. But disputes over health-care and national-security policies do not necessarily break down along ideological lines. The one thing they have in common is that they pit Republicans who can win national elections against those who can’t.

Late last month, the combative Republican governor of New Jersey Chris Christie chastised Kentucky’s senator Rand Paul who had been highly critical of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of American citizens’ communications. Speaking at the Aspen Institute in Colorado, he characterized Rand’s libertarianism as a “very dangerous thought” and urged the legislator to “come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and orphans” of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that inspired counterterrorism policies that libertarians believe infringe on privacy rights.

Rand responded by accusing the New Jersey leader of demanding pork-barrel spending from Washington when his state is actually a net contributor to the federal budget. Christie has also been successful in reducing his state’s deficit, cutting both spending and taxes and introducing school reforms that are popular on the right. Surveys suggest, however, that in spite of his nationwide appeal to both Democrats and Republicans, the party’s activist base mistrusts him, in part because Christie, whose state was devastated by “superstorm” Sandy last year, heralded President Barack Obama’s hurricane reconstruction efforts just before the presidential election.

A fiscal conservative, Christie nevertheless seems more in tune with his party’s hawkish national security wing and is agnostic about gay marriage. Rand, though a libertarian, opposes gay marriage as well as military adventurism abroad.

Like the Christie-Rand feud, an internal split over how best to derail President Obama’s signature health reform law can be seen as a battle between the party’s establishment and newcomers but the ideological division is actually less clear. Read more “Health, Security Disputes Reveal Republican Divide”

Neoconservatives Belittle Foreign Policy Critique

Neoconservative Republican lawmakers and news media this week sharply criticized Kentucky senator Rand Paul who filibustered President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. The exchange reveals a deep divide within the Republican Party about the future of its foreign policy.

Paul, who was elected with more than 55 percent of the votes in Kentucky in 2010, held up Brennan’s nomination out of concern that his CIA could use unmanned aerial vehicles to strike citizens on American soil. Attorney General Eric Holder assured the senator that the administration had “no intention” of using such drone aircraft to target Americans at home. But hypothetically, Holder acknowledged that the president can use lethal force within United States territory to eliminate “enemy combatants,” even if they’re citizens.

The significance that libertarians like Paul attach to that nuance was evidently lost on several of his Republican colleagues who berated him for filibustering Brennan’s nomination. Read more “Neoconservatives Belittle Foreign Policy Critique”

Republicans Look for New Leader After Election Defeat

Republican Mitt Romney’s defeat in last week’s presidential election in the United States has opened the discussion to who might run in the party’s primary for the election of 2016. Several of the men who contested this year’s nomination may have another go at it four years from now as could a number of prominent Republicans who were urged to run or rumored to be considering to but ultimately decided against it.

After losing two presidential elections in a row with men whom many conservatives considered right of center at best, their instinct will be to push for a more reactionary candidate in the next primary election. To the extent that the party needs to nominate someone who can clearly and convincingly article Republican governing philosophy, that instinct is correct. Neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney was able to reach beyond the party’s shrinking base constituency and make the case for free enterprise and limited government.

Whether the party shouldn’t moderate its positions on cultural issues is more doubtful. Denying climate change, arguing that abortion should be criminalized even for rape victims and gay partnerships not legally recognized in any way isn’t going to endear the party to middle-class and young voters who might lean right — or will, once they own a home and have a family — but are appalled by some conservatives’ uncompromising social views. The party’s hardline immigration policy, which seems more focused on keeping illegal immigrants out than getting ambitious and hard-working people in, worries especially Hispanic voters of whom 44 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2004 but just 27 percent threw their support behind Mitt Romney this year. Read more “Republicans Look for New Leader After Election Defeat”