Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Emails Were “Born Classified” According to Policy

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Some Federal officials and security analysts say that many of Hillary Clinton’s emails were classified by default, to be “un” classified only later; as the email and server scandal widens, how will it impact the Clinton campaign and its message to voters?  Read more: Emails Were Born Classified According to Report.  Or read more on our Front Page.

Will Biden Receive Obama’s Blessing?

Joe Biden with President Obama, State of the Union 2014

Joe Biden with President Obama, State of the Union 2014

Thursday Review looks at the distinct possibility that vice-President Joe Biden will run for President, and that he might receive at least a tacit nod from his current boss, Barack Obama.  With the Clinton campaign in defensive mode, is this Biden’s opportunity at last? Read more on our Politics Page by following this link.

White House Knew of Clinton’s Private Email Account

Composite image by Thursday Review

Composite image by Thursday Review

Thursday Review writers look into the growing problems faced by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton because of her use of a private email account; TR also looks at claims by the White House that it did not know that Clinton was using an email address other than what was provided by the State Department.  Read the full article at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/ClintonEmailsWhiteHouse.html

Homebrew Troubles: Clinton’s Email Issues

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Thursday Review examines the controversy swirling around presumed Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her use of a privately-managed email account and a homebrew file server; did Clinton break the law and violate Federal policy? Politics Page article: Homebrew Troubles; Clinton’s Email Issues; March 5, 2015.

Clinton Vs. Scorcese: Clash of the Titans

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Thursday Review’s Alan Clanton looks at an epic tug-of-war between the competing egos of Bill Clinton and Oscar-winning director Martin Scorcese, and the struggle for control over a major documentary project chronicling the political life of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Article here: Clinton Versus Scorcese: Clash of the Titans; Thursday Review.

Why Voter Turnout Mattered in the Midterms

Image courtesy of Reuters

Image courtesy of Reuters

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

The Republican Party’s massive sweep earlier this month of U.S. House and U.S. Senate elections cut across nearly all the geographic boundaries and traditional regional lines. Republicans not only consolidated their edge in the normally red areas of the red states, but the GOP also made inroads almost everywhere we have been told were now safe havens for Democratic candidates—Maryland and West Virginia, to name just two striking examples.

Ahead of the midterms, there was much talk about the anti-incumbency mood around the country. This anti-Washington fever has been building, made worse by what many Americans see as a pointless combination of petty squabbling, name-calling, and simple gridlock. President Obama and Congress can rarely agree on anything.

But to the surprise of many analysts and journalists, the midterm outcomes were more startling and potentially game-changing than was predicted. The GOP, presumed to be on the path to a slow death by the forces of shifting demographics and self-immolation, rebounded—exceeding even the wildest expectations of its own pollsters and strategists. Those GOP incumbents thought to be the most at risk proved easy winners. Mitch McConnell’s comfortable, early victory in Kentucky served as political weather warning for the remainder of that long Tuesday night and sleepless (for some) Wednesday morning. It was Democrats, nearly everywhere, that were in trouble that night.

Hardest hit, or so it seemed, were those Congressional and state candidates who had so openly and brazenly fled from President Obama, seeking instead to soak up some of the political strength and aura of Hillary Clinton instead—presumed front-runner for the presidency in 2016. That night would prove to be one of the worst for the Clinton brand name ever, as more than a dozen House and Senate hopefuls lost to Republicans in races that should have been close, closer, and cinches for easy wins. Only in New Hampshire did the Clinton franchise help a half dozen state candidates—mostly women—to victory. Clinton may be able to shake-off the dust and debris, but by campaigning alongside so many losing candidates, she has inadvertently handed the GOP the marketing tools they need to show she is not inevitable. Worse, she may have clumsily invited other Democrats to openly challenge her in primaries and caucuses—something unthinkable only six weeks ago.

For Democrats, there was a problem. A loss that Tuesday in some of those states was probably inevitable—the result of predictable dips in the approval rating and popularity of the President. The sixth year of two-term chief executives is often their worst, and the midterms will reliably reflect that voter angst and frustration. But in this case, Democrats clearly expected some gains, and seemed genuinely unprepared for the vast red landslide that ensued on Election Day. Republicans may not be winning the popularity contest—at least according to the exit polls conducted across the country—but Democrats aren’t winning the hearts and minds of the voters either. Even the President’s dismal popularity, coupled with a relentless, mostly nationwide strategy by GOP candidates to run a lot of campaign ads linking Democrats to Obama, does not go far enough to explain the Democrat’s catastrophe in November.

Then there were those cases of independent candidates challenging Republicans—most notably in Kansas where Greg Orman mounted a decidedly outside-of-the-box campaign to oust longtime Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican with a deep polling deficit only months before the election. So eager were Democrats to dislodge Roberts, they forced their own duly-nominated party loyalist out and began campaigning full throttle for the independent Orman—this, even as Orman steadfastly refused to make any commitments about which party he would caucus with once in Washington. But even this gambit failed. Roberts won easily, and Orman gets to go back to his business interests in the Sunflower State.

Now, the shocker for many readers: Republicans managed to win, and win big, but they didn’t outspend Democrats nationally. In fact, most of the so-called “tight” races saw spending which was more-or-less equal between the major candidates and their big-spending backers. In Florida, for example, Charlie Crist and his legion of big-money donors spent about the same amount that was spent by Rick Scott and his GOP allies.

And other than some accusations about electronic vote count shenanigans in Colorado (more about that later), there were no complaints about stolen votes, hanging chads, mishandled computers, or hacked registrars’ offices. Even the contentious narrative about voter suppression didn’t come into play this year: Democrats lost so badly in some states that poor voter turnout, in the form of disinterest and even rejection, was clearly the catalyst for the party’s disaster at the polls. The party that had clearly won a major victory—thanks largely to smart, savvy voter participation—only two years ago, was now left powerless in the face of sea of political disengagement.

The worst turnout levels were in Indiana, Texas, Utah and New York. This is a paradox, since Democrats like to generally make a direct correlation between educational achievement and high voter participation. Why did New York end the day with the fourth lowest turnout? Indiana is a swing state, crucial to both Republicans and Democrats. Yet it came in dead last, with a miserly 28 percent turnout. Utah and Texas are decidedly red states.

Colorado had the fourth best turnout in the country, in part—some analysts believe—because it converted to an entirely mail-in ballot process, one of only two states in which the majority of ballots are mailed-in (Oregon is the other). Only Maine, Wisconsin and Alaska had better turnouts than Colorado and Oregon.

Back some months ago, in April to be specific, Thursday Review received a few strongly-worded emails from several of our liberal readers and followers regarding our article entitled “Turnout Trumps Spending.”

Here at TR we had expressed the unmitigated, immoderate view that voter turnout still carries a wallop, and that concerns about spending often unfairly receive the lion’s share of attention. One need look no further than the presidential elections of 2012 to see how this can play out: strategists for both the Obama and the Romney campaigns had each concluded—correctly—that the election would hinge upon turnout, especially in several key counties and metro areas in Ohio and Florida. Both parties spent record millions in those TV markets, but both parties exerted even more firepower on making sure people went to the polls. A mountain range-sized pile of cash is not enough if your people don’t show up to vote.

Turnout is traditionally higher in a year in which there are presidential candidates on the ballot. By contrast, turnout can dip to lower levels during those off-years in between the presidential cycles. Turnout in 2014 was very low, the lowest in fact in more than 70 years. For both the 20th and 21st centuries, this year’s 36.3 percent was the lowest since the record-breaker low-water-mark of 1942.

The New York Times, in an editorial a week after the 2014 midterms, saw it as a two-pronged problem. “Republicans ran a single-theme campaign of pure opposition to President Obama,” said the Times, “and Democrats were too afraid of the backlash to put forward plans to revive the economy or to point out significant achievements of the last six years.”

The Times view is a reasonable interpretation, perhaps, but it does not go far enough to explain the political vortex that occurred that Tuesday.

If voters were genuinely disgusted with both parties, as so much of the media seemed to suggest (based on pre-election polling and exit polling) why didn’t the GOP suffer a more serious setback itself? Libertarian, independent, and other third party candidates should have seen a significant spike in interest from voters shopping for alternatives to the two mainstream options. Voters in Florida could choose between several well-funded third party options, including Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, yet widespread disgust at the negative campaigns of Scott and Crist drove few voters toward these non-traditional options. Likewise, significant third party movements in North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia failed to become the decisive disruptors widely predicted in advance. And in the aforementioned Kansas, Orman’s independent candidacy not only failed to trigger the ouster of Roberts, but may have expedited the collapse of a rare opportunity for Democrats to deny the GOP its traditional lock on Kansas’s representation in Washington. Further, despite some pre-election talk that Libertarian Gaylon Kent would make a numerical difference in Colorado’s closely-watched U.S. Senate election, in the end Kent grabbed only about 2.6% of the vote—not enough to have altered the outcome.

Only in Vermont did a Libertarian candidate muster enough voter support to temporarily rock the system, where Dan Feliciano, running for governor under the Libertarian banner, denied both Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Scott Milne a clear majority (under Vermont law, the General Assembly must choose the next governor in January; since the Assembly is made up of a majority of Democrats, and because Shumlin’s final tally places him slightly ahead of Milne, Shumlin is expected to be declared the victor by the Assembly unless Milne concedes).

But what about the aforementioned Colorado, where—contrary to recent voter behavior—there was a unusual disconnect between the results for governor and the results for Colorado’s widely-watched U.S. Senate race? One of the GOP’s most famous victories came at the expense of incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall. Udall, who had run one of the most unabashedly liberal campaigns, lost to Republican challenger Cory Gardner. Udall had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and his positions on issues ranging from the Hobby Lobby case to his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline put him at odds with many voters in Colorado—a state often called a “battleground” by CNN and Fox News for its sometimes pivotal importance in the Electoral College. In recent years Colorado was widely thought to be moving leftward, but Udall’s defeat at the hands of Gardner may indicate that the Centennial State is not as liberal as some had thought.

Gardner won by 48.3 percent to Udall’s 46.2 percent—close, but not necessarily the cliffhanger some thought the race might have become. Tuesday’s early, wide vote count leads by Gardner made it appear that he might win in a blowout, but late-arriving returns from Denver and Adams counties—Democratic strongholds—denied Gardner his landslide, but did not deprive him of a safe win. Besides, late-arriving vote tallies from urban areas often produce final results that seem to skew or alter the trajectory of early returns. Still, Gardner’s victory was in keeping with national patterns that night: often, as the Senate went (and that was generally red), so went key U.S. House, state legislature, and gubernatorial races. The GOP benefited from this “group coattails” effect.

But, conversely, Coloradans re-elected Governor John Hickenlooper. As in most states, the GOP had waged a robust challenge to Hickenlooper, linking him to Obamacare, questioning his position on gun control, and berating him for his decision to grant a reprieve to an infamous death row inmate, Nathan Duncan, who was convicted of killing four people in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Despite this, Hickenlooper survived and defeated his Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, albeit only after a particularly long night of vote counting.

Though there was only scant reporting of the problem in the Colorado press, and even less discussion nationally, there were concerns throughout that long Tuesday over what appeared to be repeated attempts by someone—or some group—to hack into the state’s voting system. Election Day volunteers, student volunteers, poll watchers, employees and elections supervisors were aware of the cyber-attacks, but were also informed that the state’s computer security people were on top of the situation. Despite an effort to outflank the hackers, a decision was reached in the early afternoon to briefly shut-down the entire statewide system, then perform a basic reboot—with all vote numbers up to that point locked-in. At around 2:00 p.m., the shutdown/reboot took place. When technicians brought the system back online about 20 minutes later, a strange thing had happened: John Hickenlooper had suddenly and mysteriously gained approximately 25,000 votes. Though it would have been theoretically impossible for anyone to have cast or counted votes during that 20 minutes, somehow thousands of votes appeared in Hickenlooper’s column. There were questions about vote shenanigans, though no one really knew where to look for answers, or how to sort out what had just happened.  Colorado’s mail-in ballots were being counted by machines, and there was easy way to resolve the sudden anomaly.

The governor’s race remained a squeaker through the long night, but by the next morning—with Hickenlooper’s lead growing—those mysterious 25,000 votes mattered less and less to reporters. In the end, the governor would claim his re-election by about 52,000 votes statewide. It remains to be seen whether anyone in the Colorado GOP—or any independent watchdog group—intends to demand a closer look at what happened that afternoon and evening in Colorado.

The general view is that Coloradans split their allegiances in ways that did not reflect the national voting patterns—anomalous, perhaps, but not unheard of. The Greeley Tribune pointed out that a switch of only 30,000 votes statewide would have shifted the outcome of either of Colorado’s big races—Hickenlooper versus Beauprez, or Udall versus Gardner. Another theory, assuming that there was no meddling with the vote totals in the governor’s race, is that Hickenlooper—unlike many of his Democratic brethren in House and Senate races nationwide—used his perceived centrism to effectively distance himself from President Obama. For most Democrats the strategy did not work; in Hickenlopper’s case it appears to have succeeded.

Finally, there is the case of Alaska, where Democratic Senator Mark Begich conceded only as recently as Monday night, calling to congratulate Republican Dan Sullivan nearly two weeks after the polls had closed. Despite most media and election groups calling it a victory for Sullivan as early as last week, Begich stubbornly held onto the notion that recounts might turn the final count in his favor. The Alaska Board of Elections show that Sullivan defeated Begich by roughly 7700 votes—a razor close number in many states, but by the low population standards found in Alaska, a comfortable 2.8 percent victory.

Why did Begich wait so long to concede what most observers considered a done deal? Begich himself first won his U.S. Senate seat only after patient and painstaking recounts in 2008—an election in which he apparently trailed incumbent Ted Stevens until every stray vote was finally counted…nearly two weeks after the polls had closed. Back then, Begich won by mere 4000 votes.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/VoterTurnout2014.html#sthash.Qj1OTNdK.dpuf

Only 733 Days Remaining

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By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

With a scant 733 days remaining before the presidential elections of 2016, time is running short for the candidates. No, I am not trying to be funny or ironic—just stating a cold, hard fact.

2016 is what is known as an open year: no incumbents or past incumbents will be running, and unless Joe Biden makes good on his halfhearted attempt to generate talk of a candidacy, there will be no vice-presidents rising to the top of the party ticket. Dick Cheney’s too old, Al Gore’s out of the game, Dan Quayle won’t return our calls.

There are, of course, two household names in the room. Each name represents a long franchise, and each of those franchises can claim great success, but each also has baggage—lots of baggage.

Hillary Clinton is the presumed—and at the moment—the only front-runner for Democrats. She has been running for President more-or-less continually even longer than Mitt Romney, and her de facto candidacy includes deep roots—DNA which can be traced back more than a decade.

When asked outright at events and lectures and interviews, her obfuscations and evasions about her candidacy are, in fact, her way on confirming what we already know. She is running, flat out. Lessons learned from her bruising, bloody campaign in 2008, she may in fact use a similar playbook. Only this time there will be no mistakes. She intends to clear the room of all pretenders and challengers early—very early if possible. And this is why the talk has been so unnaturally limited when the subject of other Democrats comes up in polite company, or impolite company, for that matter.

The scuttlebutt is that there are still unhealed wounds and bad blood from 2008, when a bitter primary and caucus campaign pitted her against the upstart Barack Obama. That year, knives were traded for chainsaws; incendiary bombs exchanged for nukes. That the Democrats survived without a replay of 1968 Chicago remains a testament to how much the party truly wanted victory after eight years of George W. Bush.

So far this year, Clinton’s coy approach has worked well. A year of continuous scrutiny and round-the-clock talk of her as-yet unofficial candidacy has not fazed her. She has remained cool under a variety of pressures (try doing a talk show and a live auditorium appearance every day; then try three times a day, every day) and not a single Democrat—other than Biden—has stepped forward to express even a hint of interest in challenging her presumed candidacy. And there has been no reason for Clinton to rush—in fact, the longer she waits, the greater the interest in Hillary. To quote Willie Wonka, the suspense is terrible…I hope it will last.

One could say that things have gone swimmingly for Hillary Clinton. That is, until last Tuesday.

Though not torpedoed directly by Republican firepower, Clinton will nevertheless have to immediately initiate repairs and modifications. The GOP’s sweep of the map on Tuesday was not only swifter and wider than anyone expected, it came with breathtaking totality—most especially to the more than two dozen Senate and Gubernatorial candidates, sprinkled across the landscape, who sought refuge from the deep unpopularity of President Barack Obama by campaigning instead alongside Hillary Clinton. What seemed like a stroke of genius has now, on several levels, complicated life for Hillary and for Democratic strategists everywhere.

As we mentioned in our article the day after the elections, Obama’s low job approval ratings are not uncommon in the sixth year of a two-term presidency. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all faced this same scenario. Those low poll numbers can easily—and predictably—weigh down upon the midterm elections, often with serious effect.

But President Obama’s poll numbers also reflected a general feeling by many voters that the White House was particularly sluggish on handling the major issues faced by Americans this year: the Ukraine crisis, ISIS, a war between Israel and Hamas, the still-sluggish economy, a border crisis involving children and teenagers, the Veterans Administration, and even the Ebola Virus.

Enter the Clinton franchise. Bill and Hillary, always game for public appearances, speeches, and the talk show circuit, rode to the rescue of legions of Democrats facing tough battles with Republicans, most of whom had rebranded the election as a referendum on the President and his performance. The Clintons were everywhere, almost literally, standing next to candidates in places as diverse as Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine. There was Hillary hugging Michelle Nunn in Georgia, or embracing Bruce Braley in Iowa. Bill did his part too, including appearing in numerous slickly produced television ads—like the ones produced on behalf of Charlie Crist in Florida.

With Hillary Clinton attempting to burnish the brand name as much as possible—building loyalties, currying favor, tallying the brownie points, energizing the base, and rallying the party faithful—it seemed like a logical and useful way to keep her non-candidacy alive and on track. But, like those pesky credit-default-swap things that once helped wreck an economy, no one expected the market to go down. In this case, Team Clinton could not have expected this much carnage across so much of the battlefield. Republicans won in a rout, grabbing governorships, stealing the U.S. Senate, and upping their advantage in the U.S. House to a level not seen since Harry Truman was President.

That Red Tide swept through every region and every state, and left few island outposts standing. There was a similar GOP landslide back in 1980, but that was when Republican candidates—at almost every level—had grabbed a hold of the substantial coattails of Ronald Reagan.

So this raises the obvious question: lacking an Obama coattails, did Democrats ally themselves smartly when they bought into the great Clinton Franchise in 2014?

Or, as some might fairly suggest, should the question be reversed? Was it smart of the Clintons to have spread their valuable name into so many doomed quarters?

On the night of the elections, Kentucky’s Rand Paul—himself a presumed GOP candidate for 2016—suggested that the referendum voters faced was not about Barack Obama (that, he said, was already established), but about the future of the Democratic Party, and by extension the near future of its presumed standard-bearer. Hillary had chosen to very publicly and lavishly attach her name and reputation to two dozen major campaigns, only to watch as most of those elections ended the night swimming in that tsunami-like Red Tide.

One of Thursday Review’s political strategy contacts, who asked not to be identified for the purposes of this article (and also the article we posted on Wednesday) suggested that it is not so much a case of the Clinton’s spreading their goodwill too freely as it is a case of devaluing the endorsements and the co-option. Worse, this source said, it will make Hillary Clinton look like a loser even before her campaign has begun.

“It not only devalues the power of her name,” he said, “it shows her to be a poor judge of political conditions in the field, and that might be something Republicans can translate to mean she would turn out to be an inconsistent, erratic, or poor manager.” Others have suggested that Clinton’s share-the-stage debacle might be more problematic within her own party, inviting—horrors—other Democrats to consider stepping into the fray. If blowback from the 2014 fiasco continues to haunt the Clinton brand name for a few months, you can bet that non-top-tier (translation, non-Clinton) Democrats—Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, Brian Schweitzer—will begin to weight their options for 2016.

For potential Republican candidates, many of whom are already hankering for 2016, the midterms—coupled with the Clinton brand name fiasco—makes the road ahead that much more appealing. The top contenders within the GOP were also spending a lot of time on the campaign trail in support of the brethren, and experts suggest that one can easily gauge which ones are serious by measuring the amount of time spent campaigning in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Though no Republican has officially declared their candidacy, it is widely assumed that the top tier consists of Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee. Also being discussed: Rick Santorum, Mike Pence, Sam Brownback, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Perry.

But what about Jeb Bush? For many Republicans, the last name Bush still carries both weight and resonance. The possibility of a Clinton versus Bush rematch in 2016 has been discussed widely, including in these very website pages. Bush had been keeping his profile at a modest altitude for the last nine months or so, sticking to his business activities, promoting his book on immigration, and talking education. But a flurry of activity—mostly but others within the Bush clan—in recent weeks has again raised the possibility that he is seriously weighing a run for President. More importantly, if he was previously considering sitting on the sidelines out of a certainty that Hillary Clinton was inevitable in 2016, he may now be reconsidering the environment. In the view of some GOP strategists, all bets are off: not only are Democrats vulnerable over the next few years, but the leading Democrat—indeed the party’s presumed standard-bearer—just lost a major battlefield skirmish before war was even declared.

In the meantime, the press was busy today reporting that Washington was back to business as usual, with Republicans making high-profile pronouncements about finally breaking through the gridlock (by sending a record number of bills to the White House to be vetoed), and Democrats continuing to hold to the line that the elections were not a referendum on President Obama, nor Democrats, nor anything else for that matter.

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Have the Midterms Damaged the Clinton Franchise?

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By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Originally posted November 5, 2014: Yes, it’s true: there are only 734 days remaining before the next presidential election, which happens to be November 8, 2016—for those of you already dreading the next big cycle of negative campaign ads. For now, most Americans (citizens in Louisiana are sadly exempt) can once again enjoy local television ads from car dealers and accident attorneys.

Almost—but not quite—lost in the hubbub and hue & cry over Tuesday’s election results: the Clintons, and what the GOP’s dramatic take-over of the U.S. Senate may portend for an almost certain presidential run by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Fleeing from what many analysts saw as contagiously bad job approval ratings and low popularity, Democrats avoided campaigning alongside President Barack Obama. Obama’s numbers were, to some at least, downright toxic—a not unheard of state-of-affairs for the sixth year of a two-term presidency. But to make matters worse for Democrats, GOP candidates were uniform in their strategy of defining this election as a referendum on Obama.

So instead, many Democrats in high profile races chose to co-opt the Clinton brand name. Hillary and Bill Clinton each campaigned alongside numerous Democratic candidates, and in some cases even participated in expensive, slick television ads. Such was the case in Florida, where gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (once a Republican, now a Democrat) saw his political campaign supported by carefully crafted endorsements by former President Bill Clinton. So too was the strategy in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn was all-too-happy to have Hillary Clinton at her side at various campaign stops across the Peach State. Political coupling with the Clintons seemed a smart move: piggyback on the powerful coattails of the person certain to be the front-runner for 2016, and someone for whom—so far—there are no true rivals.

But in the end, as a few exit polls and independent polls have revealed, the Clinton franchise—however formidable, well-funded and well-oiled—had little impact on those races. And according to some eager GOP strategists and potential candidates, Hillary’s high-profile presence on the campaign trail may have caused self-inflicted damage to her presumed candidacy.

Tuesday’s election results brought dozens of defeats to the Democrats. In the GOP sweep, Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate, and raised their numerical advantage in the House to levels not seen since the end of World War II. Republicans won big in Kentucky (where the race was expected to be close), Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, Georgia, Arkansas, West Virginia, and a dozen other states. The GOP gained in nearly all arenas—from governorships to state legislatures, from top state posts to Congressional seats. The central narrative instantly evoked one basic question: how will President Obama adjust his tactics to accommodate what will no doubt be a difficult two years ahead?

Republicans have all along said that this midterm election would be a referendum on the President; Democrats have sought to scrupulously avoid any direct linkage, suggesting that this election was instead a referendum on Washington gridlock and partisanship.

But Kentucky’s Rand Paul has taken the turn of events to be a referendum on the future, more than the past. Paul suggests that voters are already expressing disapproval of Hillary Clinton as much as Obama.

Like many top Republicans—and some crestfallen Democrats—there is a sense that Hillary Clinton may have damaged her reputation by so publicly lending her name and support to so many losers on Election Night. One political strategist I spoke to suggested hubris elicited a sense that she could spread the power of the franchise too far and too thinly.

“Even a presumed candidate with as much clout and name-power as Hillary Clinton has to be careful,” this person told us (they asked not to be identified for the purposes of this article), “to not lend the name out to too many people, too freely, too loosely. It can be dangerous, and it can sully the name. Jeb [Bush] was careful with his support of Rick Scott, and with his support for Joni Ernst in Iowa. Hillary just handed it out like she was giving away Halloween candy. And you can bet the Republicans are going to hang that albatross around her neck for sure—Clinton backed a dozen losers.”

In fact, a few of Hillary’s candidates did win, notably Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. But the list of those who won with the partial use of Clinton’s coattails is short indeed. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky posted an amusing set of images online called HillarysLosers, in which more than a dozen of her handpicked protégés are on display as they campaign alongside Clinton.

Potential GOP presidential candidates too spent lots of time campaigning for other 2014 candidates, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa was especially attractive for the leaders of both parties as it gave those politicians with eyes on 2016 the chance to do two things at once: build good karma and loyalty among fellow Republicans; and make oneself visible in a very important early caucus state. But what worked for Republicans like Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Mike Pence did not seem to work for Hillary Clinton. While the President spent 72 minutes gloomily explaining to the White House press corps why he will go on with business as usual, you can bet the top brains and strategists for Clinton were busy rewriting their playbook for 2016.

The problems for Hillary Clinton are suddenly more complex than they were only days ago. For one, Clinton must immediately and quickly uncouple her campaign’s narrative from the long list of Democrats who were defeated on Tuesday. Her longstanding projection of de facto winner is at stake, and unless she acts quickly, other Democrats may sense an opportunity (the Clinton strategy all along has been to position her non-candidacy in such a way as to frighten off the competition). Secondly, if rank and file Democratic voters sense that Hillary Clinton is NOT inevitable, it may further enable and empower intraparty opposition.

Lastly, Clinton has invited Republican candidates to link her directly to what they will define as the failed policies of Obama. It goes something like this: the 2014 elections were a referendum on Obama; Hillary Clinton offered public and unconditional support to dozens of Democrats who lost in that election; therefore Hillary Clinton must be synonymous with Barack Obama, which means that it was a referendum on Clinton as well. Republicans will also surely make the case that Clinton’s two biggest 2014 investments—supporting Alison Lundergan Grimes in her efforts to oust Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and backing Mark Pryor in Arkansas (Pryor lost to Republican Tom Cotton—were enormous and costly defeats for the Democratic Party. In McConnell’s case, the race was predicted to be close, but in fact became a lopsided affair even after millions of dollars had been spent on negative ads.

For his part, a notably downbeat President Obama explained to reporters on Wednesday that he will continue to conduct the business of his administration with no significant change in management style. The President, sounding mostly defiant, suggested the Americans were not unhappy with his performance as much as they were angry at a Washington mired in gridlock and petty bickering. Despite the persistent attempts of numerous reporters to gauge the President’s personal take on the election outcomes and the GOP wave of success, the chief executive evaded making a definitive political analysis, and refused to accept any responsibility for the debacle.

The President also said he did not have any immediate plans to make personnel changes at the White House.

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Is Hillary Clinton Inevitable?

hillaryclinton2016

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

(Originally published February 12, 2014) Democratic strategists want to keep the road to 2016 free of obstructions, diversions and, if possible traffic cones. So far they have had good luck in managing just such a feat.

Such is not the case for the GOP, where lane closures and other interruptions to the traffic flow have disrupted what Republican leaders had hoped would be a more orderly procession. Once, less than 60 days ago, some polls showed New Jersey governor Chris Christie in a dead heat—or holding his own—against presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. No other Republican had enjoyed that clout.

And though Christie continues to fight back against the latest round of charges (those non-specific allegations from former Port Authority administrator David Wildstein that the governor knows a lot more than he has told reporters), the New Jersey governor has seen his standing in national polls take a mild hit lately, and the conventional wisdom seems to be that his presidential chances for 2016 are in serious jeopardy.

Despite Christie’s defenders rightfully pointing out that there is no smoking gun, the combined weight of the allegations grows week, and may ultimately make the issue of what the governor approved (the time-honored question “what did he know and when did he know it?”) irrelevant. If Christie’s presumed presidential bid falters, the GOP must begin its search for the next savior.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is coy about the next few years, and when pressed on the subject she has continued to day that it is too early to think about another run for the presidency. And as anyone who knows anything about national politics will tell you, that means yes, in fact, she is running—flat out, full steam ahead. Otherwise the answer would come back “no.”

Clinton enjoys a pre-cycle level of approval that is the envy of many presidential hopefuls, past and present. Recent polls by CNN show her leading Democrats as the party’s first choice by 70% or better. Polls conducted by the Washington Post/ABC News in late January showed her pulling 73% of Democrats, with Vice-President Joe Biden trailing with only 12%. Clinton has few, if any, serious rivals.

After rumors swirled around for several days last week and over the weekend, current Secretary of State John Kerry sought to put the chatter of his own potential presidential bid to rest.

“I’m out of politics,” Kerry, now 70s, told CNN, “I have no plans whatsoever.” Kerry ran for president in 2004, but was defeated by President George W. Bush. He had served in the United States Senate for 28 years before being tapped to replace the retiring Clinton for the top post at State.

Vice-president Joe Biden has also had his name, unofficially, in circulation as a potential candidate in 2016. Many analysts say that he is unlikely to challenge Clinton once she makes her candidacy official, which could come as early as next year. But Biden is understandably reluctant to close the door completely, and for some Democratic strategists, that hedge may be useful—especially if problems swirling around the tragic Ben Ghazi episode continue to plague Clinton. Or, in the unlikely event that Clinton simply decides not to run.

For Democrats, Biden is a good fallback option: lots of name recognition, no major baggage from his years serving as Obama’s number two guy, and a better-than-average track record of choosing sides craftily and smartly when it comes to the sweeping social changes which have occurred over the last four to five years (same-sex marriage, immigration). Biden’s occasional misfires and gaffes, which have always been a part of who he is as a politician, present no problem that cannot be overcome with humor and grace (though who can say what misfires might ensue over the next year or so). And Biden is a formidable, cool debater.

Biden also earns the automatic inheritance of a small piece of Obama’s veneer and graces, much in the same way that George H.W. Bush got his own get-out-of-jail-free card when he ascended in the winter of the Ronald Reagan years. Bush absorbed a bit of Reagan’s Teflon; Biden gets a bit of Obama’s popularity.

In short: Joe Biden becomes the Democratic Party’s default position if Hillary Clinton chooses retirement.

But the downside is that Biden is not Obama. Nor is he Hillary Clinton, or even Al Gore, for that matter. Biden may inherit some good will for being Obama’s VP, but he still lacks charisma and style. How soon we forget 2008: those debates in which Biden found himself stuck in the third tier, alongside Christopher Dodd and Dennis Kucinich, and behind even Bill Richardson and John Edwards. When viewed in that context, Biden shrinks.

Furthermore, Biden may seem like a good second choice to many Democrats, but he inflates instantly into an object of target practice for the GOP. On issues like gun control, you can bet on Republicans will pounce. And GOP tacticians may find the gaffe-prone, malapropistic Biden easy fodder for negative sound bites.

But who is out there beyond Clinton and Biden? Al Gore is not likely to emerge from his semi-retirement—nor would he necessarily be welcomed by all Democrats. John Edwards’ once-promising track as an energetic, Bobby Kennedy-style progressive has been derailed. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid is viewed as presidential material, nor have they allowed any talk of a candidacy to gain traction.

Some progressives within the party, still stinging from what they view as a lukewarm embrace of a larger, wider liberal agenda by the Obama administration (see “Obama’s Progressive Deficit”; Thursday Review), seek new fertile ground in Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, by far the most progressive of the high-profile Democrats currently under discussion. Warren, who defeated the popular Republican Scott Brown in 2012, is unapologetic about her populist and progressive bona fides. For Democrats whose heart and souls are decidedly left-of-center, Warren fills the bill nicely—even better, a few might argue, than a calculating pragmatist like Hillary Clinton.

Warren, a former Harvard professor and a skilled debater, would easily rally the party’s progressive base and generate excitement.

But there are downsides: she has little experience (a similar complaint was made against the young Senator Barack Obama in 2007-2008), and her populist agenda and sometimes shrill talk might become an easy target for Republicans. Warren’s words can be eerily similar to the speeches of Frank Church, George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy—a compliment perhaps to Warren and her staff, but a gentle warning that GOP candidates will make easy sport of a “1970’s style socialist radical from Harvard.”

For decades the name Cuomo has loomed out there at the edges of serious political talk. From the mid-80s through the mid-90s, it was Mario Cuomo, a New York governor who frequently flirted with his presidential ambitions. These days the talk is instead centered around Andrew Cuomo, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and currently the popular governor of the Empire State, and seen—like Biden—as a good fallback position in a race without Clinton. Cuomo’s strengths are substantial: high name recognition; a good track record as governor of a large and diverse state; and, indeed, the state of New York, which carries a hefty reward in the Electoral College. In the electoral arithmetic, Cuomo can be expected to easily carry a cluster of other northeastern states, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

But Cuomo, the old school pragmatist and careful conciliator, does not draw much enthusiasm from the progressive wing of the party. Save for his support of same-sex marriage rights in New York, many of the same Democrats who are excited about the name Elizabeth Warren are lukewarm when the talk turns to Cuomo. Also, polls do not show Cuomo scoring well against theoretical match-ups against names like Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan or Rand Paul.

The list often stops there, with those names: Clinton, Biden, Warren and Cuomo. But after a few more cocktails the loosened lips around the dinner table or the bar might produce the names of three other governors: Patrick Deval of Massachusetts; Brian Schweitzer of Montana; and John Hickenlooper of Colorado. All three were given prominent speech slots at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012. Of the three, Deval is obviously the best, most energetic speaker, but Schweitzer seems the most intriguing for his robust, western cut and his rugged political narrative (though Montana carries only slight electoral weight).

None of the three have much impact in national polls, and they score poorly in name-recognition—though one can reasonable argue that Barack Obama had little traction in national polling when he first entered the fray in mid-2007.

So for Democrats, Hillary Clinton remains the only person in the top tier, in a class by herself and without any serious challengers. It’s very difficult to imagine any scenario in which a candidate from the aforementioned list could make the same sort of come-from-behind run that Barack Obama accomplished in 2008.

And with the widest pre-primary polling lead seen in decades, that makes Clinton just about inevitable. Which is almost the same thing that was said about her candidacy back throughout 2006 and 2007.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Bridge to Nowhere; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 1, 2014.

No Business Like Show Business (Except Politics); R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 18, 2013.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/HillaryClinton2-12-14.html#sthash.xYNsfrWr.dpuf

There’s No Business Like Show Business (Except Politics)

R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review Editor

Sunday, August 18, 2013: Almost exactly four months ago I wrote in these very pages that “Americans love their sequels.”  I was making a comparison between the motion picture sequel—now an entrenched part of the Hollywood business model—and the political rematch, now seemingly also standard fare.

I referred to what is known in politics as the “BCD” phenomenon: Americans born after 1957, those who reached voting age by 1976, had never known a presidential election that did not include the name of a Bush, a Clinton or a Dole…not until 2008.  That hiatus from BCD was short-lived.

The irony of my admittedly strained analogy between movie retreads and political reruns is that along the increasingly blurry boundary between show business, Hollywood and electronic news (some might argue that that boundary has been nonexistent for years now) the strange and the surreal become commonplace.  Entertainment and music types weigh-in on any issue large or small, Hollywood stars can—and frequently do—run for public office, and octogenarian actors appear at political conventions without an approved script.  But that’s the nature of show business.  Or politics.  Well, maybe both.

Let’s be clear: Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for President.  Her campaign began 15 minutes after Barack Obama took his second Oath of Office this past January.  Some might argue that her campaign never ended from 2007-2008.  Though she has been cagey and non-committal in public and in recent interviews, she has a formidable campaign team already in place and actively making calls to the right people.

And though there are other Democrats and Republicans in the early stages of testing the presidential waters, Hillary Clinton—alone among them—stands as the presumed front-runner: a predictable rerun, perhaps.  Besides, even after her long, bruising primary and caucus battle with Obama, which ended a little over five years ago, it was widely assumed she would remain in the arena.  And in the wide wake created following the 2012 elections, there are few Democrats willing to challenge the presumption of a Clinton candidacy in 2016.  Even vice-president Joe Biden, who is unwilling to close the door completely on his own prospects, seems pre-shrunk when compared to Clinton.

That means the script for the sequel is back on the table, polished and ready for production, with at least one GOP heavyweight willing to step into the role of contender—former Florida governor Jeb Bush.  Talk about a Hollywood reboot.  That’s the nature of show business.

Still, we just can’t seem to leave the graves of Paddy Chayefsky and Marshall McLuhan alone.  And right now, a nasty, stagey, scenery-chewing brawl has ensued over the entertainment value of Clinton’s legacy and her de facto candidacy.

On Friday, August 16, after weeks of heated discussion and public debate, the Republican National Committee agreed to ban both NBC and CNN from participation in debates or forums between GOP candidates in the run-up to the 2016 elections.  The vote was unanimous.  Why the ouster of thr two revered news networks?  Because both CNN and NBC are in production on their own major documentaries (NBC’s film is a docudrama to be aired as a mini-series) regarding the life of Hillary Clinton, and both film projects are believed to be—at least to many conservatives—little more than big-budget marketing devices crafted to establish Clinton’s candidacy as inevitable and the next big thing.

In its statement, the RNC said that the projects were a “thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.”  Other Republican strategists and media watchers say, at the least, both networks should agree to offer equal time for similar documentary programs which explore the lives of potential GOP candidates.

CNN was quick to respond, stating for the record that its documentary was still in production and that the GOP’s criticisms were unfounded, and surely premature.   “The project is in the very early stages of development,” said the CNN statement, “months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done. Therefore speculation about the final program is just that. We encourage all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it.  Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that.”

CNN’s response itself is a thinly-disguised attempt, perhaps, to convey what some suspect: that the CNN project might in fact be more unflinching and critical than some in the GOP expect—after all, how can a news organization seriously tell the story of Hillary Clinton while completely sanitizing the dark chapters and removing all the warts.

But NBC’s relationship to the political situation is more complex.  Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, is among several top NBC chiefs who openly supported Clinton in 2008, both with cash and through their powerful connections within the entertainment business.  Greenblatt also supported Obama in 2012.  Though the entertainment division of NBC is wholly separate from NBC News, at least in principle, both fall under the large umbrella of parent company Comcast, which also owns Universal.  This means that NBC’s mini-series may experience an even deeper penetration into TV markets and individual homes than the CNN documentary, and may therefore have a bigger impact on voters.

So, for some within the GOP who believe that both programs may be relatively fair in terms of their portrayal of Clinton—meaning  the projects will surely include the unflattering episodes from the life of Hillary Clinton—the NBC mini-series, especially, raises enormous concerns over equal time and fairness.  But to those who voted at the RNC meeting last week, the implications of Greenblatt’s close political ties to Clinton and to Obama mean that the docudrama will be anything but fair.

A few political watchers and media analysts have pointed out that the GOP brass has wanted to get to this point anyway.  The long, arduous debate season of 2011 and 2012—though seen as initially advantageous to Republicans seeking to test and sharpen their messages of attack as they approached their showdown with Obama—soon proved to be a largely damaging process for the GOP, and especially front-runner Romney.  Those dozens of debates were watched by millions, and each was then endlessly analyzed on cable news forums and blogs for weeks.  What had been viewed as a positive proving-ground for the top tier-candidates quickly turned sour, and since last November, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus has said repeatedly that the negativity and self-immolation inflicted deep, perhaps irreparable damage to the party’s image going into the fall.

Priebus and others within the GOP now think that fewer debates will result in fewer damaging confrontations.   Hoping to limit the total number of televised debates to between seven and nine, the recent dustups with CNN and NBC give the RNC the tactical opening they needed all along.

Last week the Republican Party organized a massive email campaign titled “The Liberal Media Loves Hillary,” designed to get partisans to take the two networks to task.  The cover letter from Priebus asked followers to sign an electronic petition demanding that CNN and NBC drop plans to air the documentaries.  “The executives at CNN and NBC would rather promote Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be presidential campaign than remain true to their purposted mission of offering unbiased news coverage.”

That many Republicans suspect the two projects will be tilted in Clinton’s favor comes as no shock.  Days earlier, GOP co-chair Sharon Day suggested in an email that the networks will gloss over many of the darkest chapters of the Clinton story, including newly expanded revelations regarding fundraiser and money-bundler Norman Hsu, accused by authorities of multiple counts of fraud, money-laundering and theft.  Others have asked (and not just conservatives) if these massive documentaries will make room for the Clinton’s current problems arising from their foundation, which ended the year 2012 with a huge $8 million deficit and a series of new questions about how campaign cash and foundation money’s may have been mishandled, and about the relationship between the Clintons and some of those corporate donors, and the complex web of money pipelines between the various entities.

The Clinton Foundation recently moved into a large suite of offices in (are you ready?) the Time-Life Building near Rockefeller Center, and across the street from (are you ready?) NBC Television Studios.  This is an obviously unrelated real estate move, but its irony was already too mouth-watering for some conservatives who see conspiracies and collusion between the Clintons and nearly all media tycoons, up to, and including, the Loch Ness Monster.

It is unclear that either CNN or NBC will be greatly moved by the GOP’s action, though a predictable outcome may be pressure—from stockholders, internal, and external—to at least offer a more carefully vetted and screened editorial process to the two film projects.  CNN says it intends to screen its documentary first in select theaters next year before it airs during prime time (and the safe bet is that it will be recycled numerous times throughout the following weeks) sometime in the spring.

On the other hand, NBC’s mini-series will no doubt be heavily promoted, and the current brouhaha serves to enhance media buzz about the program, which raises the specter of the age old paradox: ban an art show and hundreds more will appear just to see that the fuss is all about.  In this sense the GOP may lose a few short-term points as millions tune in to watch the mini-series, a measurable percentage if which may have been disinclined toward the “story” before the current controversy reached its boiling point.  Comcast and NBC get free publicity.

But the downside for the networks is of course lost viewership when those early debates finally begin, possibly in the late summer of 2015.  If the GOP makes good on its plan to reduce the total number of pre-Iowa debate to as few as six or seven, the competitors of NBC and CNN become the winners by default.  The CNN debate production formula has become an iconic and reliable fixture for those addicted to the political process (though of little interest to those generally allergic to politics in the first place).

But here’s a hypothetical: what happens if one or more of the Clinton documentaries turns out to be so unflinching that it tells the unvarnished truth?  Let the chips fall as they will.  Grab the dirty laundry and, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, go the hangout route.  NBC’s cozy relationship with the Clinton’s reduces the odds that the network of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw will be the one to present the harsher telling of that story.  So that leaves CNN, in my book the more likely news team to deliver something close to truly balanced and unfiltered.  Does that mean that at some later point the GOP and CNN shake hands and agree to be friends?

That depends on a lot of factors, and one is that CNN may agree to take a close look at its own editing processes to ensure something akin to fairness.  And there is also the legitimate and still non-assessed matter of equal time.  Would it be possible to broker an arrangement by which CNN offers up similar airtime for GOP candidates?  And if so, how would the two entities manage that template?  And which Republican candidates would receive the nod from either their own party or from CNN.

The complexity of those questions makes it unlikely in the current atmosphere that the GOP and the networks will find common ground.  In the meantime the GOP may get its strategic wish: fewer live televised debates in the run-up to 2016.  Clinton’s team continues to work systematically and diligently to establish the resources and tools needed to proceed with her de facto candidacy.

A huge political sequel is on the horizon for Americans, only this time there will be more commercials and previews while we wait in the theater for the feature presentation to begin.