Saturday, January 09, 2016

Race for the White House Volume 54

The first week of 2016 got off to a colorful start politically with heavy focus on birtherism, guns, and rape allegations. A particular scandal continues to fester leading some partisans to once again wonder if an indictment is inevitable and the post-Holiday polls begin rolling out. The next week will feature the lame duck President delivering his final State of the Union Address, with a prominent GOP Governor, whom many believe is a front-runner for a Vice Presidential nomination, giving her party's response, and then the first GOP debate of 2016 will also occur.

On the issue of guns, Barack Obama issued some executive orders that angered Republicans, but substantively did not include anything that might truly put the rights of gunowners at risk. Indeed, some of the measures probably could have been accomplished with Congressional cooperation, but supporters of Obama seemed more intent on having him act unilaterally and have it be a campaign issue. Some on the left were probably disappointed the measures did not go further, but the Obama Administration seemed to realize the limits of executive power on such an issue. In the meantime, all GOP candidates criticized the move.

The birther stuff is both funny and sort of sad. As most political junkies know, Ted Cruz was born in Canada to an American citizen mother. Constitutional experts seem to believe he is eligible to be President (which would have been the case for Obama if he had been born elsewhere), but it is also true that this matter has not been litigated in court and some believe that Democrats would challenge the constitutionality of a hypothetical Cruz election to the Presidency. In the past, Donald Trump stated that he felt Cruz had no issues on this matter, but now that Cruz is ahead of Trump in Iowa, the prominent anti-Obama birther seems to be singing a different tune. He insists that "people are talking" about the matter, reminding conservatives that Cruz was born in Canada and talking about how he hopes it wouldn't be a complication for him. He suggested, unrealistically, that Cruz try to get a court order issues proactively. Cruz has made so many enemies in politics, that everyone from fellow candidate Rand Paul to Republican Senator John McCain to the Obama White House spokesman seemed to jump in the fray, whether totally seriously or not, adding fire to the speculation that Cruz would be ineligable.

For months, Cruz has been basically sucking up to Trump, but his Twitter reaction to Trump's going birther on him was to link to a video of Fonzie "Jumping the Shark" back on Happy Days, which has long been a pop culture euphemism. Soon enough though, Cruz took a more sober approach to trying to assuage people that this was not an issue and has found some allies in conservative talk radio. However, prominent columnist Ann Coulter, who is all in for Trump, has been very vocal this past week in declaring that Cruz is not eligible to be President. In an even funnier episode, a former Cruz operative, who once defended him specifically on this issue, but has since gone to work as Trump's spokeswoman is now among those questioning Cruz's eligibility.

How this turns out is fascinating. I happen to completely believe that Cruz is eligible and I despise the Birther concept, but in a big sense, Cruz sort of asked for all this by his alliance with Trump. Certainly, Trump fears Cruz as a rival at this point, but I happen to believe that Trump, who has gotten away with just about everything, among those who like his overall message, might very well hurt Cruz on this matter, leading up to Iowa. If there is evidence of that in polling in the next couple of weeks, the way Cruz responds to what Trump has done might be popcorn worthy.

Trump continued to make even more news this week, and as much as I completely despise him, I have to admit he seems to have managed to get under the skin of Bill and Hillary Clinton and perhaps preempted a campaign by the Democrats to paint him as sexist. He of course used to be good friends with the Clintons, and might have even been encouraged to run for President by Bill Clinton, but once Hillary turned her targets on Trump, he started saying he would bring up the history of Bill Clinton "abusing" women. Both Trump and Bill Clinton have long been in the news for matters related to their personal lives, but bringing this up, and even comparing Clinton to the now disgraced and recently criminally charged Bill Cosby, has seemed to shut the Clintons up on the matter to a great extent. Now, Juanita Broaddrick, a woman whom while Clinton was President, accused him of having raped her in the 1970s,  has begin to speak out on Twitter about her feelings, including what she feels was an attempt by Hillary to silence her.

I do not know if Ms. Broaddrick is telling the truth about Clinton, and in a way I really hope she is not (though I tended to believe her when I watched her interviewed when I was a teenager), but she may get a lot of attention in this campaign, now that Bill Clinton, in a somewhat past his prime way, has begun making campaign appearances on behalf of his wife. Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones are sure to get some mentions as well. For years, the Baby Boomer dominated press corps seemed to walk on egg shells regarding the issues surrounding Bill Clinton's past infidelities and the role that Hillary Clinton played in controlling "bimbo eruptions" in political defense of her husband. The Lewinsky Scandal was clearly embarrassing for them both, but the consensus was the Clinton opponents overplayed their hand with the impeachment and Hillary rode a wave of sympathy all the way to the Senate. Now, in 2016, a new generation of reporters, especially with all the revelations about Cosby and others, may not be as willing to give them a free ride as it relates to the issue of potential sexual abuse of women.

In the meantime, Hillary Clinton might have some problems of her own, beyond Bernie Sanders moving closer to her in some new polls, and well ahead in New Hampshire, at least according to one poll. A late night document dump from the State Department provided an example of Clinton using her personal email account to instruct a subordinate to send her a document in an non-secure way even if it meant  removing a header. If that document contained classified information, there would be no doubt that Secretary Clinton committed a felony. I have said before that if she were not a Presidential candidate, it is very likely that based on everything we know, she would be facing criminal charges. However, I find it very hard to believe that the Obama Justice Department is going to indict the Democrat frontrunner during an election year. Voters have serious questions about Clinton's overall honesty, but there is no real evidence to show that the public is really following this email scandal closely. To say the least, things could get very interesting if in the weeks or months ahead, the FBI recommends charges against Clinton and the Attorney General declines. There would probably be law enforcement professionals who would resign in protest and this would then become a huge media story.

Debate season begins again for Republicans this upcoming week, after Obama's State of the Union Address and the response by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a very possible Vice Presidential candidate for Republicans. There will be much on the line for many candidates. Trump and Cruz have continued to lead the pack, while Marco Rubio has perhaps stalled. Rubio and Christie have gotten increasingly into a war of words, as they both target the same groups of voters. In the meantime, polls out of New Hampshire show that John Kasich and Jeb Bush remain in the game there. Dare I say it, but there seems to be at least some slight movement towards Bush in New Hampshire, which would be key to him beginning a huge "comeback" as a candidate. Bush, Christie, and Kasich will all try to finish in front of Rubio in New Hampshire, even if they are incapable of coming in first in the state a month from today.

So much in the GOP contest remains fluid and unpredictable, but the main factor will be what will happen immediately after Iowa, especially if Donald Trump and his ego suffer a loss of not finishing first. Things for my party could get very ugly before sanity ultimately prevails.

Beyond the cynical and divisive politics of Trump and Cruz though, there are serious candidates and serious issues. This morning, I watched portions of an important forum held in the early primary state of South Carolina, in which that state's Senator Tim Scott, along with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan held a discussion with several of the Republican candidates. This was done as an event of the Jack Kemp Foundation, named after the late Republican figure who was a mentor to Speaker Ryan early in his career, and a political hero of mine as I began following issues as a teenager. Jeb Bush and other candidates discussed ways to help lead people out of poverty and how to achieve the American Dream, passionate matters of interest to Jack Kemp, and such important ones for the moral purpose of the Republican Party and the country.

There were some left-wing demonstrators at the forum who were escorted out, but all the candidates, in the various sessions, seemed to discuss these issues seriously and civilly. Such a difference from what has gone on this past week at Trump events, which included a Muslim woman thrown out of a rally, seemingly just for taking part in a silent protest in which she made clear she was Muslim. In Burlington Vermont, Bernie Sanders territory, several organized and loud demonstrators were kicked out of a large Trump rally, with the candidate gleefully imploring police to not let the ejectees retrieve their coats as they were thrown out into the frigid night.


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