News from the Votemaster
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) got a huge boost in Iowa yesterday when Rep. Steve King (R-IA) endorsed him for President, saying he is "a candidate God will use to restore the soul of America." King is an extreme conservative and an immigration hardliner with great influence among evangelicals in Iowa. This is Cruz' second major endorsement in the state, the other being from right-wing talk radio host Steve Deace. Together, these two endorsements could set the stage for Iowa evangelicals to begin deserting Ben Carson for the more electable Cruz. There is one more endorsement in Iowa that matters here: Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the Family Leader, an evangelical organization. If Cruz can line him up as well, he will get another tremendous boost.
Cruz is making a big effort to win Iowa, in part by lining up conservative pastors in all 99 of Iowa's counties to work for his election. The senator plans to do a "Full Grassley," that is, visit all 99 counties before the Feb. 1 caucuses, just as the state's senior senator does every election. Most Republican officials dislike Cruz and do not think he would be a strong general election candidate because his strategy is to turn out large numbers of conservative evangelicals and ignore everyone else. It is possible that will work in the primaries in the Bible Belt, but less likely in the more moderate states in the North and Far West and not at all in the general election.
Nonetheless, Cruz' rivals are starting to get nervous about him. Unlike the other candidates, who have focused on getting on television as much as possible, Cruz has focused on raising money (his campaign now has more than any other Republican campaign) and building a solid ground operation in the first four states plus the Super Tuesday states in the South. One Republican from another campaign, who for good reasons wishes to remain anonymous, said that Cruz could win the nomination but he couldn't win the general election.
The Iowa caucuses are closer in time than they appear. Starting in about a week, many people will start thinking about turkey—and not because of the Kurds or the Syrian refugees that are fleeing to the country of that name. Then comes Christmas shopping and the New Year. As a consequence, the race in Iowa could get frozen until January, not leaving much time for other candidates to make their moves. (V)
Some people have suggested that the terrorist attacks in Paris last week could be a game changer for the 2016 presidential election. Certainly the Republicans hope so, because with unemployment now at 5% and dropping, the economy is not likely to be a winning issue for them. However, a piece in the New York Times suggests otherwise. For example, the betting markets didn't change at all as a result of the attack. Also, "game changers" in the past, including Mitt Romney's "47%" remark, the Ebola outbreak, and even the killing of Osama bin Laden didn't last very long.
We have often quoted Harold Wilson's remark that a week is a long time in politics. The election is a year away. That's a very, very long time. Consider: Only two months ago many Democrats were wringing their hands in despair fearing that their chances were essentially destroyed by Hillary Clinton's email practices. Now that news story has completely vanished from the front pages. It is quite possible that a year from now, the Paris attacks will seem as distant in time as the 9/11 attacks or the Oklahoma City bombing. (V)
Nearly all of the GOP's candidates are trying to capitalize on the Paris attacks, as each attempts to assert himself (or herself) as the one true leader who can overcome ISIS if just given the keys to the White House. The latest salvo comes from Jeb Bush, who on Sunday opined that the U.S. "should declare war" against ISIS.
This seems fairly unambiguous, and so perhaps we should take Jeb Bush at his word: He really wants a formal declaration of war against ISIS. If so, he has a shockingly poor understanding of exactly what he is saying. Among the issues:
- Only Congress has the power to formally declare war, and inasmuch as senators and representatives do
not wish to be on the hook for a war that goes badly, they are exceedingly
unwilling to grant such a declaration. Hillary Clinton's vote for the Iraq AUMF has dogged her for 14 years,
and that wasn't even a declaration of war.
In fact, Congress has declared war only five times in U.S. history (War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War,
World War I, World War II). Even Vietnam was not formally a war. As such, Bush's proposal is a political non-starter.
If he were to press the issue as President, he would be putting himself in
opposition to a Congress probably controlled by his own party.
- ISIS has not actually attacked the United States, as yet, and in the absence
of such an attack, the declaration of war would thus be preemptive. None of the
five previous declarations was such—each was in response to a specific act
of aggression (albeit a tenuous one, in some cases). The American public is not
likely to be happy about another Bush War in the Middle East absent an actual attack on the U.S., so again, politically unwise.
- Turning to the other side of the equation, a declaration of war is a
specific legal instrument, and its issuance immediately triggers certain legal
responsibilities, most obviously compliance with the Geneva Conventions. That
would tie the United States' hands in many ways—for example, captured
jihadists would have to be treated as enemy soldiers, and would have to be given
food and shelter (and not tortured). To many Americans, these limitations would
be perfectly acceptable and humane, but they have not—in recent
years—been in line with Republican thinking on the matter. And in any
event, it is rather unlikely that ISIS would abide by the Geneva Conventions,
so why would the U.S. want to do something that tied its hands?
- More importantly, both established precedent and the terms of the Hague
Conventions make clear that war can only be declared by one nation against
another nation. As such, declaring war against ISIS would implicitly acknowledge
that they are an independent state. Abraham Lincoln, lawyer that he was,
understood this concept very well. He specifically avoided even the faintest
whiff of a declaration of war against the Confederacy during the Civil War
because such a declaration would imply independence from the United States (and
from his authority as president), which in turn would mean he had no right to
tell Europe not to trade with the Southerners. In any case, surely America and
its allies do not want to give any sort of credence to the idea that ISIS is a
nation—or, to put it in ISIS' terms, to affirm that a new caliphate has
already been established.
- Finally, the cessation of a state of war requires a peace treaty. But who
would sign the declaration of surrender after we won?
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? We hardly even know what he looks like, given that he has appeared
on camera a total of one time, and has met with the leaders of other nations
zero times. Further, as someone who believes he is helping to bring the coming
apocalypse, surrender hardly seem his style.
In short, a declaration of war would be a political and geopolitical disaster with no obvious benefits.
Of course, the other possibility is that Jeb Bush doesn't actually want a formal declaration of war, and that he is just saying whatever he can think of in an effort to win the war of words with the other candidates. That is certainly the conclusion of Christi Parsons and David Lauter, writing for the Los Angeles Times. They observe that, outside of the fiery rhetoric, the Republicans' plans for dealing with ISIS are curiously similar to President Obama's plan for dealing with ISIS. It is true, they note, that some GOP candidates (and Hillary Clinton) want a no-fly zone over part of Syria while Obama does not. However, the no-fly zone has nothing to do with ISIS, since they have no planes. Meanwhile, there are calls—from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), among others—for more bombing, but the U.S. is already bombing nearly all of the ISIS sites that the military has been able to confirm. "The main constraint on the number of strikes," as the Times' authors observe, "has been a lack of intelligence on where to aim."
The point is: words matter. And both possible parsings of Jeb Bush's chosen words reveal something unflattering about the candidate (and, perhaps, about many of his fellow candidates). Tomorrow, in Part II, we shall look more carefully at the word 'terrorist.' (Z)
After the horrific attacks in Paris, and the Republican candidates' comments on the need to go to war with ISIS, one might get the impression that the world was an extremely dangerous place and death at the hands of a terrorist was a substantial risk. It's not. In fact, one can make a good case that the world is a great deal safer than it was 40 years ago. At that time, if Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev was in a bad mood due to a fight with his wife at breakfast, and he pushed the wrong button at work, he could launch 30,000 nuclear missiles and end all life on Earth within a month. That can't happen now because (1) Vladimir Putin is divorced and (2) Russia's missile collection has been reduced to 7,700. ISIS does not have any missiles, nuclear or otherwise. To get a better idea of the risk of dying from terrorism, here is a list of the odds of dying from various causes and how much more likely they are than dying from a terrorist incident.
|Cause of death||Odds of dying: 1 in||Times more likely than terrorism|
|Bee sting or snake bite||100,000||93|
|Choking on food||370,035||25|
|Being struck by lightning||576,000||16|
|Drowning in bathtub||685,000||14|
|Falling off a ladder||2,300,000||4|
For example, the odds of dying from a dog bite are 1 in 700,000, which is 13x more likely than dying in a terrorist incident, based on actual data. Dying in a car accident is 500x more likely than dying in a terrorist incident. Since the beginning of 2001, 406,496 people have died in America due to gun violence vs. 3,380 in terrorist attacks (including 9/11), a ratio of 120:1. For a list of terrorist incidents in the U.S. since 1800, here is a link. There have been many of them, but the chance of dying in one is very small indeed. (V)
In an ominous sign, Martin O'Malley is reducing the size of the staff at his Baltimore headquarters and moving some people to Iowa. The total headcount working on the campaign will be lower after the move. O'Malley is presenting the shift as an emphasis on the Iowa caucuses, which is not really true because that has always been his main focus. This could be the beginning of the end for O'Malley. The reason that most candidates drop out is not that they wake up one morning and suddenly think: "You know, I really don't want to be President after all." It is almost always because they run out of money and it is no secret that O'Malley doesn't have much left. When he made a decision, long ago, to make the run, he was not counting on Bernie Sanders running and soaking up all the donations from the left. O'Malley will probably keep running until after the Iowa caucuses, but if he can't do well there, he'll probably give up. (V)
A new Marist poll shows that a huge majority of Americans wouldn't mind a President over 65, with 71% seeing age as a benefit because the voters value experience and wisdom. Only 24% think that an old person might not be up to the rigors of the job. This finding is obviously good news for Hillary Clinton (68), Bernie Sanders (74), Donald Trump (69), and Jeb Bush (62), but less so for Marco Rubio (44) and Ted Cruz (44). The poll also found that 92% would be willing to vote for a woman, 89% said a Latino was acceptable, but 50% said they would never vote for a socialist. (V)
While the general election debates are still 10 months away, A.B. Stoddard of The Hill moderates a completely sane and very interesting weekly debate between two very savvy and pull-no-punches political operatives, John Feehery (R) and Peter Fenn (D). This week they discuss whether Donald Trump and Ben Carson are for real. Even more interesting is that Feehery believes that there is only one Republican who has a chance of beating Hillary Clinton. To find out who it is, watch here. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
Nov16 Republicans Urge Aggressive Action after Attacks on Paris
Nov16 Can Donald Trump Survive?
Nov16 Can Ben Carson Survive?
Nov16 Democrats Wish Trump and Carson Would Survive
Nov16 Trump's Wall Would Not Be the Only One
Nov16 The General Election Campaigns Are Pointless
Nov16 Marco Likes Susana
Nov15 Democratic Debate a Draw
Nov15 Clinton Has 359 Delegates Months Before the Voting Starts
Nov15 Paris Attacks Already Reshaping Presidential Race
Nov15 Colorado Voters May Repeal and Replace Obamacare
Nov14 Paris Under Attack
Nov14 And Then There Were Three
Nov14 Jeb May Have a Much Bigger Bush Problem Than He Thought
Nov14 Cruz and Rubio Spar on Immigration
Nov14 Many Republican Candidates May Skip the Florida Primary
Nov14 Judge Rules Clinton Emails Do Not Have To Be Released Right Now
Nov14 Is Sanders Eligible to Run in New Hampshire?
Nov13 Is the GOP in Trouble?
Nov13 Case Study: GOP Foreign Policy
Nov13 Bush Not Going to Get Elected Saying Things Like This
Nov13 Is Hillary Getting a Pass?
Nov13 Hillary All-In on Coal
Nov13 Vitter Getting Desperate
Nov12 GOP Debate Postmortem
Nov12 The GOP Race is Really a Series of Smaller Races
Nov12 Congress is Busy Posturing
Nov11 Conservatives and Moderates Fight over Immigration in Debate
Nov11 Court of Appeals Hands Obama a Defeat on Immigration
Nov11 Americans Fear Guns More than They Fear Terrorists
Nov11 Polling Is in Trouble Worldwide
Nov10 Trump and Carson Tied in South Carolina
Nov10 One For the Money, Two for the Show, Three to Get Ready...
Nov10 Bernie Sanders Is Trying to Win Latinos
Nov10 Media Attacks Have Helped Carson Raise $3.5 Million
Nov10 Tea Party Not Going After Senate Incumbents in 2016
Nov10 TPP Will Play a Big Role in Determining Control of the Senate
Nov10 Will Software Ruin the Campaigns?
Nov09 Trump and Carson Still Lead in Iowa
Nov09 Does Carson Speak in Parables?
Nov09 Rubio Was Often Late Paying His Credit Card Bill
Nov09 Lessons from Kentucky
Nov09 League of Conservation Voters Endorses Clinton
Nov09 Trumpism Explained
Nov09 GOP Moderates Working on New Hampshire
Nov09 statehood for Puerto Rico? Not Likely
Nov09 Statehood for Puerto Rico? Not Likely
Nov08 Rubio Credit Card Issue Fading
Nov08 Another Day, Another Question About Ben Carson's Past