We've just finished tabulating the results an online poll conducted during the last week of WEEKLY STANDARD readers. They were given a chance to let us know who would be, as of now, their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices for the GOP presidential nomination. We want to thank the 3,700 readers who participated.
The big news is that Scott Walker was the convincing winner among TWS readers. He captured 47 percent of the first choices, and featured as a first, second, or third choice on no less than 78 percent of the ballots. No one else made into double digits as a first choice, or made it onto as many as a third of the ballots in any position.
Here are the results—the first number is the percentage of 1st place choices, the second is the percentage of the ballots the candidate makes it onto as a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place choice:
All the other candidates had one percent of first place choices or less, and were mentioned on nine percent or fewer of the ballots in any of the first three places.
Obviously, this was not a scientific survey but rather a poll of those who chose to participate. Equally obvious, the race is early and seems very fluid. But it's well known that WEEKLY STANDARD readers are an unusually perceptive, predictive, and prescient bunch! So make of these numbers what you will...but ignore WEEKLY STANDARD readers' judgments—even if they are early and tentative ones—at your own peril.
Lost in much of the reporting about CPAC is that almost all of the likely presidential candidates—really, all of them, with the exception of Rand Paul—seemed to place themselves at the Reaganite hawkish-internationalist end of the foreign policy spectrum. The much-heralded return of Republican isolationism or anti-interventionism wasn’t much in evidence, except during Rand Paul's half hour on the stage. The other candidates all criticized President Obama for his foreign policy weakness and timidity, and made the case for greater American strength and resolve.
Of course, most of the speakers didn't go into great detail, especially on the question of the defense budget and rebuilding the military. One could even get the mistaken impression from them that a simple change of attitude in the White House would solve almost all our problems. It's true that such a change in attitude would help a lot, but the fact is that additional resources for defense are needed to undergird any policy of peace through strength. Some of the candidates tended to gloss over that fact.
One speaker who addressed this in a more head-on way than most is, ironically, a governor who (so far, at least) isn't running for president. It was Indiana governor Mike Pence who forthrightly said, "I believe the time has come for dramatically increased defense spending to confront the knowable and unknowable threats facing the United States and our allies in this still new century." Pence had a strong involvement in national security matters in his twelve years in Congress, and perhaps he simply believed it important to say what he thought about foreign and defense policy in his speech. But what he said wouldn't be a bad starting point for all the presidential candidates. Here's the section of his speech (the whole thing is very much worth reading) on foreign and defense policy:
First, let’s recognize that 2016 could be the first foreign policy national election since 1980. The world seems to become more dangerous by the day.
Sadly, the administration has reduced our Army to its smallest size since 1940. The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916, and our Air Force has its smallest tactical fighter force in history.
History teaches that you cannot reduce our military strength without provoking our enemies.
Weakness arouses evil.
As we speak, ISIS is setting up franchises across the Middle East and is on the offensive across the Arab world.
The president says jobs are the answer to violent jihad.
Mr. President, “Jihadi John” doesn’t want a job.
He wants to see paradise and I think we should help him get there as quickly as possible.
With the growing threat of homegrown terror, it’s important to remember that our first line of defense is the right to self-defense. Now more than ever, the right to keep and bear arms must not be infringed!
The Democratic National Committee is already asking its supporters to "Stop Scott Walker." That's the subject of an email sent along this afternoon to supporters.
And here's the body of the email message
The call to action is in reference to remarks Walker made at the Conversative Political Action Conference days ago outside Washington, D.C.
"I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil," Walker told the crowd. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world."
These words alone apparently reason enough for the Democrats to try to "Stop Him" from becoming president of the United States.
Over the past few days at CPAC, Sean Hannity has asked various prospective Republican presidential candidates to list their “top five agenda items.” Former governor Jeb Bush’s list did not include repealing Obamacare.
Bush’s list included (1) undoing President Obama’s lawless executive actions, (2) regulatory reform, (3) tax reform, (4) encouraging economic growth, and (5) sending “a signal to the rest of the world that we’re going to be their partner for peace and security.” But it did not include repealing Obamacare or signing a conservative alternative to Obamacare into law.
Neither Governor Scott Walker nor Senator Marco Rubio listed repealing Obamacare as a stand-alone agenda item, but both did list it as a subcomponent of their first agenda item. Walker’s first agenda item was “growth,” which he said could be brought about through (in the order he listed them) tax reform, repealing Obamacare, and a pro-energy policy. Similarly, Rubio’s first agenda item was a “healthy economy,” which he said could be brought about through (again, in the order he listed them) tax reform, regulatory reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, a pro-energy policy, and a balanced budget. (Walker listed only two other agenda items: devolving power to the states, and showing clarity and determination in our foreign policy. Rubio also listed only two others: giving “people the skills they need for the 21st century,” and ensuring a strong military.)
Senator Ted Cruz, meanwhile, listed repeal as a stand-alone agenda item, putting it first: “Number one, repeal every blasted word of Obamacare.”
If early indications are that Cruz is prioritizing repeal more than other leading candidates, it remains to be seen who will actually advance a winning conservative alternative (along these lines) that can make repeal a reality.
The latest ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel asks whether Hillary Clinton stands with the supporters of Israel, or whether she stands with the boycotters. Watch here:
The TV ad "will air on Sunday political shows, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and on Good Morning America and the Today show in the run-up to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress," according to the Emergency Committee for Israel. (The chairman of ECI is Bill Kristol, editor of this magazine.)
"The Obama Administration has launched an all-out assault against the Israeli Prime Minister," ECI executive director Noah Pollak says in a statement to the press. "Friends of the Jewish state, ranging from Joe Lieberman to Elie Wiesel to Shelley Berkley, have rallied to his defense. Hillary Clinton has remained silent. It's time for the former Secretary of State and prospective presidential candidate to come out of hiding and tell us where she stands. Does Hillary Clinton stand with the boycotters or the supporters of Israel?"
There will come a time when the survivor of the circular firing squad that is commonly known as the Republican primary debates will square off against Hillary Clinton. That survivor will have to grin and bear seeing multiple videos of his Republican opponents attacking him for one thing or another. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton will struggle to establish her new grandmotherly image as a caring person who, having arrived from her last stay at the White House in desperate financial condition, empathizes both with the struggling middle class and the Wall Street bankers who feed her campaign kitty, as well as with the oil oligarchs who, seeking nothing in return, pour tens of millions into the Clintons’ charity. The Republican candidate would do well to take a page from the Clinton playbook -- never let anything embarrass you.
The campaign will put both parties in an awkward position -- they agree that the recovery has benefitted the (in)famous 1%, and more or less left the middle class behind. But they are not certain what to do about it. Clinton has the easier task. She can rail against the glass ceilings that have kept the incomes of women lower than they would otherwise be, a complaint left over from her unsuccessful 2008 campaign before women emerged as CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies and she emerged as a candidate for the nation’s highest office. And she can soothe the disaffected left-wing core of the Democratic party by calling for more direct income redistribution.
Or can she? That would involve raising taxes on her major backers to fund new or expanded entitlement programs, attacking the special tax breaks of hedge funds and similar investors, and reviving the age of big government that one of her predecessors confidently assured voters had come to an end. Clinton is seeking advice from many economists, some of whom have much to offer, but many of whom are in the tax-and-spend school that is less attractive to voters, now more suspicious than ever of the ability of Washington’s political class to spend taxpayers’ money better than can the taxpayers themselves. Many of these economists and advisers were involved in the creation of Obama’s “middle class economics”. Len Burman, an official in what Mrs. Clinton hopes will become known as the first Clinton administration and now director of the Brookings-Urban Tax Policy Center, reckons that fully implemented that program would reduce taxes on families in the middle of the income distribution by $12 per year, since they would be paying some of the increase in the capital gains tax Obama has penciled in. The Treasury puts the figure at $150 dollars, still not enough to propel middle-earners very far up the income ladder, and low enough to make one wonder whether it is worth taking the risk that this complicated set of proposals might just have consequences not captured in Treasury models.
By most accounts, former Florida governor Jeb Bush performed well (to some observers, “very, very” well) in his Friday appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. The likely presidential candidate succeeded in defying expectations by receiving a warm reception at the right-wing confab, even as his unorthodoxies on a few important issues for conservatives were highlighted in the appearance.
Bush spent several minutes fielding questions from Fox News host Sean Hannity about a host of issues, including those like Common Core and immigration on which Bush differs from grassroots conservatives. Animated and funny (he preempted a lightning round question by blurting out “boxers!”), Bush looked comfortable onstage as he faced plenty of boos as well as ample applause from the large contingent of supporters filling the ballroom.
Surrounding Bush’s potential bid for the Republican nomination are questions not just about his conservative bona fides but the prospect of a third member of his family in as many decades occupying the White House. At CPAC, he confidently asserted he’d have the ability to make the case for himself in a presidential campaign. Bush encouraged conservatives to find new converts and suggested his candidacy might be one to do that. “If we share our enthusiasm and love for our country and belief in our philosophy, we will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people that we need to get to get 50 [percent],” he said.
How would Bush combat perceptions of a family dynasty?
“If I run for president, I have to show what’s in my heart,” he said. “I have to show that I care about people, about their future. It can’t be about the past.”
Nevertheless, Hannity pressed Bush on some of the former governor’s past statements and positions, particularly on immigration. Bush said that he didn’t regret his unsuccessful efforts as governor to allow drivers licenses for illegal immigrants or to provide in-state tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants. He also reiterated his support for a path to legalization, arguing it’s the only way to deal with the current problem.
“There is no plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants,” he said.
Bush was inarticulate, however, in his response to the question about what Congress should do in the current debate over funding the Department of Homeland Security. Conservatives in the House and Senate have sought to pass a bill that funds the department while prohibiting any federal dollars to implement President Obama’s executive order on immigration. Senate Democrats stymied efforts to pass such a bill via the filibuster, and Obama has said he would veto any funding block to his order. Other Republicans have pushed for passing a “clean” DHS funding bill, with nothing about blocking the funding. What, Hannity asked Bush, should Congress do?
The tenuous (and likely temporary) truce in Ukraine may have put another feather in German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cap: It seemingly vindicates her Diplomatie statt Waffen (“diplomacy instead of weapons”) stand against Obama. And it’ll be a while before everyone wakes up to how Russia uses the freeze to consolidate territorial control. In the meantime, Merkel is once again the woman of the hour in Europe.
But there’s still one thing she wants from the Americans: TTIP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, the huge U.S.-EU free-trade agreement that harmonizes regulations. Merkel made a little-remarked-upon pitch for it while in Washington earlier this month.
Merkel enjoys being the CFO of the EU. The rest of the world does, too: They look much more to her for financial stability than to Mario Draghi (president of the European Central Bank) or Jean-Claude Juncker (president of the European Commission). German economic might is not the only reason. For the past 70 years Germany has eschewed “national interest” and instead focused on becoming (one of the few) both fiscally responsible and non-belligerent European powers. Many of the country’s most basic laws are a reductio ad absurdum of the European subsidiarity principle: nearly all regulation is pushed down to the level of the German states. The federal government is an exercise in minimalism.
While this comports well with German Schuld (guilt, shame or debt) over World War II, many of its partners would welcome a more assertive national government, especially when it comes to doing something to stop material support for terrorism. The United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have all found Germany subpar in its financial regulations against terrorism. Embarrassed, Germany is scrambling to pass legislation to fix this, but the draft legislation is deficient.
Germany’s new draft counter threat finance legislation, which is on course to be signed into law in May, is an effort to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 2178. Adopted last September, the resolution calls on member states to pass legislation to stem the flow both of foreign terrorist fighters and the financing that enables them. Germany’s draft law focuses nearly exclusively on stemming the flow of fighters in support of the Islamic State (nothing to sneeze at, as more than 600 of its citizens have joined ISIS), while doing almost nothing about the lucrative grey economy in which its own (and other Western) businesses participate. This, at a time when ISIS, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah are increasingly profiting from illicit trade (smuggling or counterfeiting) of otherwise legal consumer goods: oil, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, etc.
Resolution 2178, which the German law is supposed to implement, makes specific mention of Interpol as a relevant authority seeking information for enforcement actions against support of terrorism, and Interpol has been pretty clear on what they want from the German government: They want companies to implement know-your-customer regulations to ensure they are not entering into transactions with criminal organizations engaged in illicit trade that funds terrorism.
Kentucky senator Rand Paul strolled onto the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington Friday as a committed crowd of supporters cheered. Wearing a light blue Brooks Brothers shirt (sleeves rolled up), a red tie, and blue jeans, Paul made a case for his liberty-focused agenda.
“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and forgetfulness causes a nation to hesitate, to waver, and perhaps even to succumb,” Paul said, sounding as if he were reading from a founding document. “When the time comes, those who love liberty must rise to the occasion.”
Paul’s speech ran the gamut of issues, from Obamacare to privacy, but the most resounding applause came during his discourse on foreign policy and national security. The Republican set the tone of his remarks when he paraphrased the line from the U.S. oath of allegiance. “We must defend the Constitution against all enemies,” Paul said. “Foreign and domestic.”
Responding to the charge that Paul’s views on foreign policy aren’t “strong enough,” the senator argued that while he prioritizes national defense spending above all else, “when we get to foreign policy, we’re not all the same. Not all Republicans are the same on foreign policy.”
Paul said the country's foreign policy should “promote stability instead of chaos” and “unencumbered by nation-building.” Defeating jihadists must be done, he said, “without losing who we are in the process.”
“At home, conservatives understand that government is the problem, not the solution,” Paul said. “But as conservatives we should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow become successful abroad, that a government that can’t even deliver the mail will be able to build nations abroad.” He described the terrorist group ISIS as a “dangerous and barbaric cult” but blamed its rise on the “safe haven created by arming Islamic rebels in the Syrian civil war.”
Paul criticized former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s “war in Libya” and her response to the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. “Her dereliction of duty should forever preclude her from higher office,” he said.
This week, prosecutors in New York introduced eight documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan as evidence in the trial of a terrorism suspect. The U.S. government accuses Abid Naseer of taking part in al Qaeda’s scheme to attack targets in Europe and New York City. And prosecutors say the documents are essential for understanding the scope of al Qaeda’s plotting.
More than 1 million documents and files were captured by the Navy Seals who raided bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. One year later, in May 2012, the Obama administration released just 17 of them.
While there is some overlap between the files introduced as evidence in Brooklyn and those that were previously made public in 2012, much of what is in the trial exhibits had never been made public before.
The files do not support the view, promoted by some in the Obama administration, that bin Laden was in “comfortable retirement,” “sidelined,” or “a lion in winter” in the months leading up to his death. On the contrary, bin Laden is asked to give his order on a host of issues, ranging from the handling of money to the movement of terrorist operatives.
Some of the key revelations in the newly-released bin Laden files relate to al Qaeda’s dealings with Iran and presence in Afghanistan.
A top al Qaeda operative asked bin Laden for permission to relocate to Iran in June 2010 as he plotted attacks around the world. That operative, Yunis al Mauritani, was a senior member of al Qaeda’s so-called “external operations” team, and plotted to launch Mumbai-style attacks in Europe.
As THE WEEKLY STANDARD first reported, the al Qaeda cell selected to take part in al Mauritani’s plot transited through Iran and some of its members received safe haven there after the planned attacks were thwarted.
In the memo to bin Laden, a top al Qaeda manager wrote, “Sheikh Yunis is ready to move and travel.” The file continues: “The destination, in principle, is Iran, and he has with him 6 to 8 brothers that he chose. I told him we are waiting for final complete confirmation from you to move, and agree on this destination (Iran). His plan is: stay around three months in Iran to train the brothers there then start moving them and distributing them in the world for their missions and specialties. He explained those to you in his report and plan.”
Bin Laden’s reply is apparently not included in the documents.
Other intelligence recovered in the raid on the al Qaeda master’s home show that al Qaeda and Iran were at odds in some ways. Iran detained a number of senior al Qaeda leaders and members of Osama bin Laden’s family. Al Qaeda forced Iran to release some of them by kidnapping an Iranian diplomat in Pakistan. Some of the newly-released files provide hints of these disagreements as well, including a suggestion that one of bin Laden’s sons may complain about the jihadists’ treatment in Iran once he was freed.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker received a warm reception from the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday evening, but faced a lot of criticism for his response to a question about what he would do to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil," Walker said. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world."
Walker immediately faced criticism from the mainstream press, and even some conservatives, for allegedly likening union protesters to terrorists--a contention Walker strongly disputed in an interview with Bloomberg immediately after the speech.
"One thing I've said many times before is that one of the most significant foreign policy actions taken during my lifetime was when Ronald Reagan, who was a governor before he was president, fired the air traffic controllers. Even though it had nothing to do with foreign policy, I think it had a tremendous impact because it sent a powerful message around the world that this guy was serious," Walker said. "To our allies, you knew you could take him seriously and you could trust him. To our adversaries, you knew not to mess with him."
"My point was just that if I can handle that kind of pressure and kind of intensity, I think I'm up for the challenge of whatever might come if I choose to run for president," Walker added.
Walker has made this argument about Reagan and the air traffic controllers for a long time. So has Reagan's secretary of state George Shultz. As Peggy Noonan wrote in her book When Character Was King, Shultz "said that the [Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization] decision was the most important foreign policy decision Ronald Reagan ever made." No one thought that Shultz was suggesting American air traffic controllers were morally comparable to the men who ran the Evil Empire. So why would anyone believe Walker was likening union protesters to Islamist terrorists?