By Mark Green
The 2016 race probably saw a inflection point this week when Hillary imitated Ginger Rogers dancing backwards in heels better than Astaire. Frum-Alter debate if there's any way she can be stopped, will Biden run, and who's on her short-list as VP (yeah, too soon). Can GOP recover from her star turn and its House-Divided?
Dem Debate I: HRC. David Frum agrees with the consensus that Hillary excelled at the first Democratic Debate because she was "intelligent, informed, disciplined and, barring Biden's entry, has this locked up except for one final question - is she too ethically tainted?"
David and Jonathan agree that, courtesy of Bernie Sanders, the emails "scandal" is probably declining but the former continues to prosecute his argument that Clinton Foundation money buying access is a remaining hidden story of '16. Alter agrees it's troubling but not disqualifying because, everyone has to understand, "this was not money going into Bill Clinton's pocket" but donations for good works around the world.
So is she "trustable?", at least as compared to presidents like FDR and Obama, both of whom Alter has written books about. "Yes," he concludes, "she's in the normal range on ethics but the Clintons' problem is an over-defensiveness that leads to cover-ups without crimes and that can make her into a Velcro candidate."
Was it smart of her in the Debate to frequently defend Obama, remind all she's a pioneering woman, defend a reformed capitalism that built America's middle class? Yes to all...except Frum cautions that linking herself to Obama does "make her a hostage to fortune."
She also seemed to score complaining that while Republicans always attack "big government, they don't mind big government when it comes to a woman's right to choose. I'm sick of that!" Will she in a General Election start to defend this 'four-letter' word government by framing it as our democracy saving the lives of our infants and children in cribs and cars...because otherwise she might win the WH and again be stymied by demagoguery against good programs?
Frum argues that no one really worries about the sheer size of government but rather "the question is - on behalf of what interests?" Alter says that advisors would steer her away from defending government in the abstract because "that's not popular since many people simply equate government help with minorities." But he agrees that defending good programs not in the abstract but with specifics - e.g., we want our democratic government to help our parents with social security, our families breath clean air etc. - could work.
Dem Debate II: O'Malley, Sanders, Biden. What does the panel think about O'Malley's performance, especially his closing that contrasted inclusive Dems with what he called Republican attacks on immigrants and racial groups? Frum agrees (we think facetiously) that O'Malley helped himself "become HUD Secretary if Clinton wins but he lacks the killer instinct to become president. His ending should have been, 'I admire Hillary but as your president I'd pledge never to embarrass you, something a new Clinton administration can't say."
This brings Alter back to HRC, suggesting that "reporters are easy lays so she should sit with them on a bus answering questions for hours, like McCain did. She has to understand that her impulse to control the message can no longer work in this era of social media."
Ok, if this is now hers-to-lose, are these four people likely on a short VP List: Julian Castro, Martin O'Malley, Tom Kaine, Sherrod Brown?" David thinks that "it will be a man from Florida or Ohio or another key swing state with more of a traditional background to help bring together the old Roosevelt tradition." Jonathan agrees in general, adding that "it depends on events. So if there are further problems abroad, she could turn to a General Wesley Clark who she admires...Or if a Latino is on a GOP ticket, then Castro."
Did James Webb successfully apply for SecDef by reminding everyone that he killed a communist attacker in Vietnam? No answer.
As for Biden: Frum thinks he won't run "because he'll have the savvy to know that only a tough, negative campaign could defeat Hillary but that runs contrary to his recent grief and his sunny nature. So no." Alter says that the tea leaves indicate he's leaning yes "because he's always wanted to be president and there's now little to lose except some pride."
Host: On Sunday, Bill Kristol predicted that Biden would run this week and would beat Clinton. Given his perfect Kristol Ball - his predictions are 100% wrong - here's the tally for BSN: 3 'no' (Frum, Corn, Green) - 2 'yes' (Matalin, Alter).
GOP Crack-up? Presumably Lincoln was not referring to the Boehner/McCarthy fracas when he said that "a House divided against itself cannot stand." But still...
Is the war among Republicans over House Speaker just another one month story or a sign that their divisions and views disqualify the GOP as a governing party? Frum thinks his party is coming apart for several reasons. One is that it's hard to hold together two big elements of FDR's old coalition - big money and rural south-- and that, starting with Eric Cantor's shocking loss, "the GOP is frozen on immigration."
Alter says that "Republicans won't disappear because they're doing very well at the state and local levels. But they're failing nationally because they're a radical political party that's not conservative in any real sense. I partly blame Boehner - history is knocking on his door and he's not answering, He should now throw out the Hastert rule and move immigration reform and more through the House."
David strongly disagrees. "That not only wouldn't work but would trigger a mutiney and he'd be impeached. Immigration reform is opposed by two-thirds of all Republicans. If he tried that, then Trump would be the nominee and it'd blow the Republican party apart!"
How many more presidential elections must he GOP lose before the Frum Wing gains control over the Erickson wing? Frum is too modest to answer. IMHO, they'll have to lose in 2016 and 2020 before the "crazies", in McCain's word, are told to cut it out and allow a re-constituted party to again try to nationally govern.
Quick Takes: Afghanistan, Planned Parenthood, Guns.
^Afghanistan -- Alter thinks that Obama had no choice but leave behind 5500 troops in 2017 because of the gains of the Taliban but "this will be a big disappointment for him because he envisioned an alcove in his presidential library with the heading "Ended two wars." Frum wonders why do this in Afghanistan when he wouldn't in Iraq. (Discussion followed about Maliki's unwillingness to allow that residual force.)
^Planned Parenthood was probably smart, argues Alter, to cut their losses by announcing that they'd no longer accept the payment of costs for transportation of fetal tissue for research. Frum wonders why the U.S. can't focus on how to reduce the incentive for abortions, suggesting the German policy of modest mothers' stipends since most abortions occur when women already with babies can't afford another. Says Alter, "wouldn't the Republicans just oppose that as subsidizing poor women?"
^What about the gun shop in Wisconsin held liable when it negligently sold guns to someone who used them to shoot two police officers? Frum thinks that case won't have a big ripple effect but that only 'a cultural revolution, like the one that reduced cigarette smoking, can change our approach to guns. Can Hillary Clinton start that given her strong opposition to he NRA? Both panelists think not since no politician can do this, only "families with victims have the moral authority to do that," concludes Jonathan.