The dichotomy of America is apparent at the two national political conventions.
Hope vs. fear.
Love vs. anger.
Experience vs. political newcomers.
Diversity vs. shades of white.
Meryl Streep vs. Scott Baio.
Cagney + Lacey vs. The Apprentice.
Hiring vs. Firing.
Gracious loser (Bernie Sanders) vs. unrepentant enemy (Ted Cruz).
It Takes a Village vs. Burn the Village Down.
Even without saying a single word, the Democratic convention has won the battle of images. People look happier, even the Bernie boo-birds. People act happier, especially the elected officials. People seem happier to be speaking there.
And then there is the messaging.
The Republican convention did a very good job sowing doubts about Hillary Clinton, particularly on the subject of emails. It exposed her vulnerabilities as an imperfect messenger. But it missed an important opportunity to demonstrate to America that Donald Trump has any policy vision for America. Voters left that convention without any idea what Donald Trump would do on health care, taxes, budget priorities, trade, relations with China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, NATO, Mexico … the list goes on and on. The only clear policy prescription is that he will build a wall. And Mexico will pay for it.
Clinton’s convention has artfully followed a three-pronged strategy:
- Rebuild the battered reputation of the candidate, whose positive ratings fell below 30 percent in one post GOP-convention poll.
- Lay out a specific set of policies on family leave, equal pay, minimum wage, anti-terrorism, college tuition and loans, infrastructure, national defense strategy, small business development, job retraining, veterans’ care … the list goes on and on.
- Shatter Trump’s reputation one speech at a time. His lawsuits. His persistent sexism. His dissembling. His university. His nativism. His steaks. His admiration for dictators. His treatment of contractors. His crude insults. His outsourced neckties. His ego. “He has no clue about what makes America great,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “Actually he has no clue, period.” Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed Trump as a fraud: “I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.” John Hutson, a retired admiral, said it most harshly: “I used to serve in the Navy with John McCain. I used to vote in the same party as John McCain. Donald, you’re not fit to polish John McCain’s boots!”
Wednesday night’s show was carefully calibrated and artfully executed. I identified 10 themes that were repeated over and over by speakers ranging from assassination survivor Gabby Giffords to President Obama. The themes almost always reflected an implicit (or expressed) contrast with Trump:
- Clinton is qualified — some, like Obama, called her the most qualified presidential candidate in history.
- Clinton is persistent. On health care, 9/11 first responders, foster children.
- Clinton is loyal.
- Clinton is tough. Just ask Obama about the 2008 primaries.
- Clinton has the temperament needed to be president.
- Clinton possesses humility. It’s not about her. It’s about solving problems.
- Clinton cares. Speaker after speaker gave personal examples, something almost completely lacking at the Republican convention.
- Trump is a bad person. That theme might have been overdone, but, hey, there are lots of examples.
- Trump bad businessman. Same as above.
- Trump is crazy. Well, that may not have been in the official convention script, but Mike Bloomberg went there when he ad libbed “let’s elect a sane, competent person.”
Clinton is a flawed candidate, with a four-decade track record of political controversies accompanying her long record of accomplishments. But, for a week at least, Democrats are Photoshopping out the blemishes. Former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, who has publicly criticized President Obama’s security policies, rhapsodized over Clinton.
“She is smart. She is tough. She is principled. And she is ready,” he said.
Both Obama and Biden got personal in their endorsement speeches. “No matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits,” Obama said. The outgoing president’s optimistic rhetoric about America included shoutouts to Republican icons such as Teddy Roosevelt and evoked the “Morning in America” imagery of Ronald Reagan. In November, Obama said, “the choice isn’t even close.” While praising Clinton he warned about a “self-declared savior” and “home-grown demagogues.”
— Chuck Raasch (@craasch) July 28, 2016
The agony of many Republicans, from Bush loyalists to hard-core conservatives, speaks to the success of the Democratic speeches on Wednesday and the failure of Trump to inspire any positive vision for his supporters.
I disagree with the President on so much policy and his agenda, but appreciate the hope and optimism in this speech.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 28, 2016
I liked it better when Republicans were optimistic about America, believed in Free Trade, and were not enamored of Russia. Just me?
— Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) July 28, 2016
I liked the old days (pre 2016) when speeches @ GOP convention were inspiring & funny while those at Democrat version were fearful & boring
— John Ziegler (@Zigmanfreud) July 28, 2016
Michelle & Barack Obama speeches remind that Rs and Ds want(ed) same basic things, different prescriptions. Trump the outlier #DemsInPhilly
— Mindy Finn (@mindyfinn) July 28, 2016
Republicans have to abandon Trump. It’s not merely that he’s plumbed the depths of depravity; it’s also that he’s still plumbing every day.
— Tony Fratto (@TonyFratto) July 27, 2016
As Obama finished his oration, the convention hall’s audio system blared the song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Democrats can only hope that is the case. There’s still a long time between now and November 8.
Flashback: My 2013 profile of Ted Cruz, when he was first being compared to Ronald Reagan and Joe McCarthyPosted: January 12, 2016
Thanks to the wonders of social media, Ted Cruz supporters and detractors are still circulating a profile I wrote of him that appeared on Texas on the Potomac on Feb. 21, 2013, six wild weeks into his Senate tenure. I’m glad to say it still holds up today. The most interesting quote in it may come from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, when he discusses the futures of Cruz and freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Here’s the story:
Ted Cruz’s blazing start in the U.S. Senate has proven to be the political equivalent of a Rorschach test.
Cruz is a political Rorschach Test. Everybody sees the same thing — and everybody sees something different.
Cruz’s fans, and there are many, compare him to Ronald Reagan, who happens to be the 42-year-old senator’s boyhood hero. Cruz’s detractors, and there are many, compare him to Joe McCarthy, the controversial Wisconsin senator known for smearing his foes by innuendo and questioning their patriotism. And there are not many in between.
“It’s going to be in the eye of the beholder,” said Timothy M. Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa.
To Cruz, the first Latino senator in Texas history, the swirling controversies of the past two months stem from his credo to “speak the truth,” whatever the consequences.
The Houston Republican’s first legislative proposal, as promised during his campaign, was a complete repeal of the 2010 health-care law widely known as Obamacare. He was the only senator on the losing side of every key vote in his first month in office. He was one of only three senators to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of State John Kerry, and was one of just 22 to vote against the Violence Against Women Act.
But it’s Cruz’s hard-charging style — and not just his hard-line conservatism — that has attracted national attention.
Texas’ junior senator made a name for himself on Capitol Hill with his hostile grilling of Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. Showing no deference to his elders, the newcomer also had a tense encounter with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer on a usually sedate Sunday talk show.
Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Bruni dismissed him as “an ornery, swaggering piece of work” full of “too much quackery, belligerence and misplaced moralism.” NBC Latino commentator Raul Reyes declared that “Cruz knows no shame” and “it’s time the GOP presses the Cruz-control button.”
At the same time, Cruz has been welcomed as a conquering hero by the grassroots conservatives who fueled his upset victory over establishment Republican favorite David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican runoff contest. The new senator was picked to deliver the closing address at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the nation’s largest annual gathering of right-thinking activists.
“Ted Cruz has not sacrificed his values and beliefs on the altar of political correctness or to become part of the Washington, D.C., circuit,” said Harris County Republican Party chair Jared Woodfill. “Like Ronald Reagan, he can take our conservative values and beliefs and articulate them for the world. He has made a huge mark at the national level in just a few months.”
Republican strategists are particularly pleased that Cruz brings a fresh face — as well as much-needed diversity — to the GOP message machine.
“He’s not a grumpy old white guy like so many of our spokesmen have been,” said Fergus Cullen, a communications consultant and former New Hampshire Republican Party chair. “He comes from the policy/ideas/intellectual wing of the conservative movement, like (2012 vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan, and we need more of them.”
While assessments of Cruz’s job performance vary widely, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: The former Texas solicitor general is willfully ignoring the age-old adage that in the Senate, freshman are seen but not heard.
“Sen. Ted Cruz came to Washington to advance conservative policies, not play by the same old rules that have relegated conservatives — and their ideas — to the backbench,” said Michael A. Needham, CEO of Heritage Action, the political committee of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It should come as absolutely no surprise the Washington establishment — be it the liberal media, entrenched special interests or even wayward Republicans — is now attacking him in the press for following through on his promises.”
Some Republicans say that Cruz — as well as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — are being targeted for tough criticism from the left because of his Hispanic heritage.
“Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are an existential threat to the liberal status quo,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Cruz’s boss for more than five years. “For a long time, liberals assumed that if you were Hispanic and went to Harvard, you’d be a Democrat, not a conservative Republican. Not only that, he embodies the conservative principles that exist in a majority of the Hispanic community.”
Cruz, a champion debater in college and a former law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is undaunted by the criticism.
“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz said Tuesday as he toured the LaRue Tactical gun-manufacturing plant near Austin. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”
Democrats, however, are decidedly not amused by his introduction to the national stage.
“He’s part of this right-wing, extreme group in the Republican Party,” said Gilbert Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Party chairman. “He was elected to do the business of all the people of Texas, not just the business of a small group of Tea Party right-wingers. He makes (conservative former Sen.) Phil Gramm look like a progressive.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal from California, went so far as to summon the ghost of Joe McCarthy during a discussion of Cruz on the Senate floor. MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews added former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long and Charles E. Coughlin, anti-Semitic radio broadcaster and fiery New Deal critic.
“He’s a potent combination of intellect and demagoguery that really has the potential to light a fire under the freshman Republicans to burn the place down,” said Jim Manley, a long-time Senate staffer who worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “But if you go down that path, you end up as nothing but roadkill in the Senate. If he continues down this path, his base may feel good about it, but he may just become isolated and irrelevant.”
A few Republicans have privately counseled Cruz to tone down his approach. One GOP colleague, Sen. John McCain, went so far as to rebuke him publicly after the Texas senator asked Hagel whether the former Nebraska senator had received payments from Saudi Arabia or North Korea.
“Sen. Hagel is an honorable man who served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character of his integrity,” McCain said as Cruz sat quietly by.
The two men shared another uncomfortable moment at the State of the Union speech, when McCain responded to Obama’s praise for bipartisan immigration reform with a quick jig while Cruz, two seats away, sat frowning.
Conservative activists are thrilled that Cruz has roiled both Democrats and old-line Republicans.
“We are encouraged that he is standing up to the establishment as a U.S. senator,” said David N. Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United. “Fighting the tough fights for conservative principles is why Ted Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate.”
L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica, blamed fellow Republicans for undercutting Cruz.
“The GOP establishment is at it again,” he said. ‘After capitulating to President Obama in negotiations over the fiscal cliff and promising to kneecap conservatives in the 2014 primaries, these moderates are attacking Sen. Ted Cruz for sticking to his conservative principles.”
Cruz’s brand of uncompromising conservatism gives Texas two of the most conservative members of the Senate. New ratings released Wednesday by National Journal indicated that the Lone Star State’s senior senator, John Cornyn of San Antonio, was the Senate’s second most conservative member in 2012.
Cornyn says he looks forward to “working closely” with Cruz “as we fight for a conservative agenda.”
“Ted has quickly proven himself to be among the next generation of leaders of Texas and the Republican Party,” Cornyn said.
It may be a bit early to declare Cruz a leader, but there’s little doubt Cruz is having an impact disproportionate to his seven-week Senate tenure. An editor of the conservative website The Daily Caller recently likened Cruz’s ability to shape the debate over Hagel to the liberal grassroots group MoveOn.org’s impact at the height of the Iraq War.
He’s certainly the most visible freshman senator, appearing on more national TV programs than any of his first-year colleagues, including the much-hyped liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and conservative Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, the first African American senator from the Deep South since Reconstruction.
With the hype, of course, come the jibes.
“Washington is a rough-and-tumble place, and I certainly don’t mind if some will take shots at me,” Cruz said. “What I do think is unfortunate is if the coverage of the political game overshadows the substance.”
“Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are an existential threat to the liberal status quo.”
— Greg Abbott
Flashback: My 2013 article on Birtherism 2.0 and Canadian-born Ted Cruz’s eligibility to serve as presidentPosted: January 5, 2016
I woke up this morning in Beijing to a tweetstorm fomented by Donald Trump’s new birther conspiracy: raising questions about Ted Cruz’s eligibility to be president. Here is a story I posted on Texas on the Potomac in 2013, when it was growing increasingly likely that the Canadian native would seek the U.S. presidency. In case you’re interested, here is what I wrote:
It seems like an obscure court case from a dusty old law book, but if Canadian-born Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ever decides to run for president, you’re likely to hear a lot about the United States v. Wong Kim Ark.
In that 1898 case, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-2 to repudiate the exclusive language of the infamous Dred Scott case and create an expansive definition of the Constitution’s “natural-born citizen” clause.
That’s important because the Constitution requires that the U.S. president be a natural-born citizen –and Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970. Cruz, who is being urged to run for president in 2016 by some conservative activists, argues that he is a natural-born citizen because his mother was an American citizen. His father, now a naturalized American, was born in Cuba.
As the Cruz-for-president talk heats up on the right, some bloggers on the left have argued that the strict interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ words that Cruz claims to worship would disqualify a Canadian-born American from serving as president.
Five years after celebrity billionaire Donald Trump and a motley assortment of conservatives raised questions about a liberal Democratic candidate’s American birthplace, the shoe is on the other foot.
Call it Birtherism 2.0.
“It is ironic that a Tea Party favorite might be blocked from serving as president by one of the Tea Party’s favorite constitutional provisions,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala.
The question of presidential qualifications has never directly reached the Supreme Court. But there is a wide range of jurisprudence on the issue — which overwhelmingly favors the notion that Cruz is eligible to serve as president.
Ironically, the same legal logic that confirms Cruz’s eligibility would have permitted Barack Obama to serve as president even if he had been born in Kenya, because his mother was a U.S. citizen.
The most comprehensive study of the issue was a 2009 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which cited English Common Law principles and American legal scholarship dating back to 1833.
“The weight of scholarly and historical opinion appears to support the notion that ‘natural born citizen’ means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth,’ including …those born abroad of one citizen parent who has met U.S. residency requirements,” wrote Jack Maskell, a CRS legislative attorney.
So why the controversy?
Because, as in so many cases, the Constitution’s authors were silent on the meaning of the phrase “natural-born citizen,” leaving it to generations of constitutional scholars to divine their thoughts.
T. Gerald Treece, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said that despite the Founders’ silence on the subject, their intentions are easy to understand.
“The Founding Fathers merely did not want any British or other foreign subjects to become naturalized and, therefore, eligible to become president,” said Treece.
He said legal precedents focus on an individual’s status “at time of birth.”
“Most authorities agree that, if at time of birth, you are born to U.S. citizens — where they reside — then you are a U.S. citizen at time of birth,” Treece added.
But because the Supreme Court has never directly addressed the issue, it has been a subject of argument for centuries.
in 1881, some Democrats contended that Republican Vice President Chester A. Arthur was born in Canada and ineligible to succeed assassinated President James A. Garfield. But Arthur insisted he was born in Vermont, had a birth certificate and was sworn in as president.
in 1964, some critics of Republican nominee Barry Goldwater said he was barred from the presidency because he was born in Arizona before the territory gained statehood. The challenges got nowhere.
Four years later, Michigan Gov. George Romney sought the presidency although he was born in Mexico, where his American parents were living in a Mormon colony. The Mexican constitution in effect at the time of Romney’s birth in 1907 restricted citizenship to the children of Mexican nationals. So there was no issue off dual citizenship to cloud Romney’s campaign.
In 2008, both presidential nominees faced lawsuits to disqualify them based on their place of birth.
GOP nominee John McCain, the son of a Naval officer, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, then a U.S. territory, in 1937, months before Congress approved a law guaranteeing birthright citizenship to children of military personnel serving abroad. To erase any doubt, the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan resolution confirming McCain’s citizenship, and a legal challenge to his eligibility was rejected.
There was far more fuss over false claims that McCain’s Democratic rival, Barack Obama, was born in Africa. A series of lawsuits were tossed out of court.
None of the anti-Obama “birthers” has stepped forward to challenge Cruz.
“I doubt that birthers will go after Cruz because he is ideologically compatible with them,” said Carleton College political scientist Steven E. Schier.
After the “birther” circus of 2008, friends and foes of Cruz say they’re ready to focus on his political positions, not his birthplace.
“The ‘birther’ issue — whether it’s Barack Obama, John McCain or Ted Cruz — has always been nothing more than a pointless hyperpartisan distraction and remains one,” says Democratic consultant Harold Cook.
Here’s the 2009 CRS document:
The midterms are over. As Maurice Sendak wrote so eloquently, “Let the wild rumpus begin.”
The 2016 presidential race could well be a wild thing. More than a dozen White House wannabes have been campaigning across the country this year, ostensibly for local candidates for state and federal offices. Hillary Clinton is tanned, rested and ready, and Jeb Bush is being pressured to undertake a second restoration of the Bush Dynasty. There are future dark horses, wild cards and future comedians’ punchlines who tonight are dreaming big dreams.
So many candidates. So many questions. Here are 66 questions for 16 of the potential contenders.
We won’t know all the answers until November 2016.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz:
- Is Ted Cruz the Phil Gramm of this election cycle?
- Is Ted Cruz the Barry Goldwater of this election cycle?
- Is Ted Cruz the B-1 Bob Dornan of this election cycle?
- Is Ted Cruz the Pat Buchanan of this election cycle?
- Is Ted Cruz the Ronald Reagan (1980 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Ted Cruz the Barack Obama (2008 vintage) of this election cycle?
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
- Is Hillary Clinton the Bill Clinton of this election cycle?
- Is Hillary Clinton the Hillary Clinton of this election cycle?
- Is Hillary Clinton the George H.W. Bush of this election cycle?
- Is Hillary Clinton the Al Gore of this election cycle?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
- Is Chris Christie the Rudy Giuliani of this election cycle?
- Is Chris Christie the Rick Perry of this election cycle?
- Is Chris Christie the Pete Wilson of this election cycle?
- Is Chris Christie the Ronald Reagan of this election cycle?
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul:
- Is Rand Paul the Ron Paul of this election cycle?
- Is Rand Paul the Barry Goldwater of this election cycle?
- Is Rand Paul the Bob Taft (1952 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Rand Paul the Warren Harding (1920 vintage) of this election cycle?
Texas Gov. Rick Perry:
- Is Rick Perry the Rick Perry of this election cycle?
- Is Rick Perry the John McCain (2008 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Rick Perry the Mitt Romney (2012 vintage)of this election cycle?
- Is Rick Perry the Richard Nixon (1968 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Rick Perry the Pat Paulsen of this election cycle?
>Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:
- Is Mitt Romney the Mitt Romney of this election cycle?
- Is Mitt Romney the Adlai Stevenson (1960 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Mitt Romney the William Jennings Bryan (1908 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Mitt Romney the Dwight Eisenhower of this election cycle?
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:
- Is Jeb Bush the George W. Bush (2000 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Jeb Bush the Bill Clinton of this election cycle?
- Is Jeb Bush the Bill Bradley of this election cycle?
- Is Jeb Bush the Bill Scranton (1964 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Jeb Bush the Nelson Rockefeller of this election cycle?
- Is Jeb Bush the Mario Cuomo of this election cycle?
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum:
- Is Rick Santorum the Gary Bauer of this election cycle?
- Is Rick Santorum the Alan Keyes of this election cycle?
- Is Rick Santorum the Harold Stassen of this election cycle?
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren:
- Is Elizabeth Warren the Barack Obama of this election cycle?
- Is Elizabeth Warren the George McGovern of this election cycle?
- Is Elizabeth Warren the Gene McCarthy of this election cycle?
- Is Elizabeth Warren the Dennis Kucinich of this election cycle?
>Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley:
- Is Martin O’Malley the Tom Vilsack of this election cycle?
- Is Martin O’Malley the Bruce Babbitt of this election cycle?
- Is Martin O’Malley the Adlai Stevenson of this election cycle?
- Is Martin O’Malley the Rutherford B. Hayes of this election cycle?
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio:
- Is Marco Rubio the John F. Kennedy of this election cycle?
- Is Marco Rubio the Ted Kennedy of this election cycle?
- Is Marco Rubio the Colin Powell of this election cycle?
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee:
- Is Mike Huckabee the Mitt Romney (2012 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Mike Huckabee the Pat Robertson of this election cycle?
- Is Mike Huckabee the Bill Clinton (the man from Hope) of this election cycle?
- Is Mike Huckabee the Huey Long of this election cycle?
>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:
- Is Scott Walker the Mike Dukakis of this election cycle?
- Is Scott Walker the Phil Crane (1980 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Scott Walker the Phil Gramm of this election cycle?
- Is Scott Walker the Calvin Coolidge (1924 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Dr. Ben Carson the Dr. Spock of this election cycle?
- Is Dr. Ben Carson the Mr. Spock of this election cycle?
- Is Dr. Ben Carson the Herman Cain of this election cycle?
- Is Dr. Ben Carson the Wendell Willkie of this election cycle?
- Is Jim Webb the Gary Hart of this election cycle?
- Is Jim Webb the Pat Buchanan of this election cycle?
- Is Jim Webb the John McCain (2000 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Joe Biden the Alben Barkley (1952 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Joe Biden the John Nance Garner (1940 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Joe Biden the Hubert Humphrey (1968 vintage) of this election cycle?
- Is Joe Biden the George H.W. Bush (1988 vintage) of this election cycle?
</ul>Dr. Ben Carson:
</ul>Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb:
</ul>Vice President Joe Biden:
After covering the White House and the U.S. Congress for 29 years — and being inside the 24/7 news bubble — it’s fascinating to be, for the first time, on the outside looking in.
Here’s a new outsider’s perspective on which American politicians figure most prominently around the world, and which DC figures vanish from the media scene when you cross the Pacific.
America’s Face around the World
1. President Barack Obama
The president is the president. He gets global press on some stories that earn barely a ripple in America-centered domestic media.
2. Secretary of State John Kerry
He didn’t get elected president, but his stentorian voice is everywhere on international issues. He comes across as knowledgeable, poised and, well, diplomatic.
3. House Speaker John Boehner
The Ohio Republican is the scowling face of the opposition. His soundbites are almost all partisan and negative. Not much of an image to project.
4. Sen. Ted Cruz
The first-year lawmaker from Texas has exploded onto the international stage as the leader of America’s ultraconservatives, which the global media love to highlight. Even people who don’t understand the concept of a filibuster understand that Cruz is the man who shut down the federal government. And he’s not even president.
5. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
The American media almost never cover the charismatically challenged Treasury Secretary. Most Americans know him as the man with the illegible signature. But he’s often on TV and Internet news reports around the world. He comes across as measured and authoritative.
6. Hillary Clinton
The former U.S. Secretary of State is treated as America’s president-in-waiting. She’s also covered like the leader of the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party, as opposed to the dove-ish Obama.
The Dead-to-the-World Dozen
1. Vice President Joe Biden
Never mentioned. Well, almost never.
2. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
Who is less important than the minority leader of a body that has been eclipsed by the hard-right Republicans in the other chamber?
3. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Maybe the only person less important than the Senate Minority Leader is the House Minority Leader.
4. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
He only appears on international TV when he comes up with his sound-bite zingers tearing into the Republicans.
5. Sen. John McCain
A media darling in the U.S., his mavericky style doesn’t translate to an international audience.
6. Sarah Palin
The only thing people in Asia remember about 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is the report in Game Change that she didn’t know the Korean peninsula was divided into two countries.
7. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the Fox News crowd
They may get good ratings in the USofA, but they don’t exist outside of its borders. And that’s probably fine with them.
8. Sen. Marco Rubio
The Florida freshman’s mystique hasn’t stretched to Asia and Europe, only Latin America and South America.
9. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
There’s only room for one face of the opposition on international TV, and that’s John Boehner, not his (occasionally) loyal deputy from Virginia.
10. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
Barack Obama and John Kerry speak for the U.S. on global issues. The Pentagon chief is a bit player on the international stage.
11. White House press secretary Jay Carney
President Obama’s spokesman, a ubiquituous presence on domestic media, makes only cameo appearances on media outlets outside the U.S.
12. The U.S. Trade Representative
Who is the U.S. trade rep anyway? There are lots of trade stories, but the U.S. Commerce Secretary and U.S. Trade Representative are never quoted. Only Obama or Kerry.
I’m still getting used to be the interviewee and not the interviewer. Here’s a recent Q&A with me conducted by Katie Perkowski, a super-talented former Texas on the Potomac intern who now works and lives in Bratislava.
Katie’s piece first appeared in WBP Online.
Behind Capitol Hill: Q&A with long-time Washington watchdog
Rick Dunham has had eyes and ears on Capitol Hill and in the White House for three decades, giving him a unique view into US politics. In an interview with WBP Online, the former Washington bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle explains how dramatic political party transformations have led to the dysfunction in Congress we are seeing today.
By Katie Perkowski
Few people understand the inner workings of US politics quite as well as Rick Dunham, who covered the White House and Capitol Hill for three decades, during which time he served as Washington bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, White House correspondent for BusinessWeek and board president of the National Press Club.
In a Q&A with WBP Online, Dunham explained the dramatic transformations of the two main political parties, Republicans and Democrats, that he saw during his time in Washington, and why those shifts have led to an ever-dived Congress seemingly incapable of getting anything done. The latest evidence of that now all-too-familiar phenomenon? The federal government’s shutdown, now on day four with no sign of stopping.
Here’s what Dunham had to say:
Q: Can you describe the shift in dynamic you noticed in both the Republican and Democrat parties during your time in Washington? What do you think brought about this change in the way things get done (or don’t)?
There has been a tremendous shift, both culturally and politically, over my three decades in Washington.
One is ideological. Both parties’ representatives were far more diverse in the past. Democrats ranged from far left to far right. Republicans ranged from liberal to very conservative. Now there are no liberals and very few moderates left among Republican lawmakers. And there are very few Democrats remaining who are right of the political center. The party is pretty well split between far left, left and center. Republicans are pretty well divided between right and far right, with a tiny group of centrists. The key Republican division is establishment and insurgent. The establishment Republicans still are in the majority but the radical right Republicans control the agenda through mastery of tactics and willingness to “do the unthinkable.”
Culturally, there has been an even bigger shift. When I arrived in Washington in 1984, Congress was controlled by “doers” and not “talkers.” The goal of lawmakers was to make laws. Legislators used to legislate. Now, the vast majority on both sides of the aisle want to posture and play to their ideological core rather than to get things done.
The great lawmakers I have covered were often very liberal or conservative – Ted Kennedy was hard left and Bob Dole was very conservative – but they believed in moving things forward for their country in the end. There are almost none of those left now, and certainly not enough to get things done.
Q: Covering Texas, you followed Ted Cruz in his rise from solicitor general to senator. What kind of change within the Republican party does Cruz represent? There have been numerous reports out about how senior members of his party, like McCain and Graham are not happy with the way he’s doing things. Do you think there could be a party split among Republicans in the near future? What is the Tea Party’s role in all of this?
The key figures representing the three strands of the Republican future are Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. All are ultraconservative but only Rubio among them is pragmatic and willing to cut deals. The other two are ideological purists who would rather lose than compromise. Rand Paul is the leader of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. He is anti-government. Period. Ted Cruz is an ultraconservative in the mold of the 1964 version of Barry Goldwater, who believed that extremism in the defense of liberty (as he saw it) is no vice. Cruz is against government unless government will help him accomplish his ideological ends. He also is against (almost) anything Barack Obama is for. I call him the leader of the nihilist strain of the modern Republican Party.
That’s why old-fashioned conservatives like John McCain and Lindsey Graham don’t like him. They are very conservative – I don’t buy into the revisionist view of McCain and Graham as moderate because they are willing to cut deals and occasionally act like mavericks.
McCain took an instant dislike to Cruz because Cruz has such an authentic dislike for the institution. McCain respects the institution. Cruz despises it. They are both strong personalities, so it is natural that they will clash. Neither of them is phony. They genuinely dislike each other.
McCain and other Republican leaders believe that Cruz is leading the party on a political suicide mission. They believe he is hoping to burn down the village and then claim to be king of the ashes.
Cruz represents the socially conservative strand of Tea Party Republicanism. Rand Paul represents the pure libertarian strand of Tea Party Republicanism. Both are ideologically pure and strongly “pro-liberty” but both philosophies are distinct and different. They have a slightly different definition of what liberty means.
Q: What kind of precedent do you think it would set if Republicans hold to their current stance and hold the debt ceiling “hostage” as some are calling it in an effort to repeal or delay a law that’s already been passed? Could that lead to similar actions by Congress in the future, or even “revenge” acts of a similar manner by Democrats?
I don’t think it will lead to a “tit for tat” reaction from Democrats in the future. Democrats never held the government or the country hostage during George W. Bush’s administration. I’ve always said that the Democrats’ big problem is that they are too “responsible.” I’m not talking about being ideologically moderate. I mean that they won’t take extreme measures in order to prevail.
Filibusters are another matter. Both sides are irresponsible and hypocritical when it comes to filibusters. That’s another big change in the Washington culture. But that’s another story.
In some ways, Democrats are to blame for all of this. It started with the defeat of Robert Bork, who was very qualified for the Supreme Court (in terms of legal qualifications) but was defeated for ideological reasons, because he was out of the judicial mainstream. That has led to the political equivalent of an arms race where each side is willing to become more and more virulent in order to make political points. It’s gotten to the point that Republicans will block Democratic nominations just because the nominees exist, not even for reasons of ideology or the nominee’s personal issues. That is utterly irresponsible and, I am sorry to say, bipartisan.
Q: Do you think the current party structure in Washington can survive, or should it be changed to prevent the type of mess we’re seeing now?
I see the party structure surviving because that is the history of American representative democracy. We have always had two main parties. The two parties have not always been Republican and Democrat. Since we entered the R/D era, the two parties have changed radically. Now, just about anyone who would have been a Republican at the time of slavery and the Civil War is a Democrat, and anybody who would have been a Democrat at that time is a Republican. The two parties have reversed regional bases. One of the only common threads is that immigrants still tend to be Democrats.
I see the Democratic Party becoming more “moderate” in coming years as more disgruntled former Republicans and moderate young people join the party. I see the Republican Party finally having a showdown between the establishment right and the hard right. It probably will take the nomination of a far-right Republican for president and an overwhelming defeat for the party to move back toward the center. The last two nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, were not purists. Indeed, Ronald Reagan is the last hard-core conservative to be a presidential nominee. And Reagan would be considered a pragmatic moderate by today’s standards.
One last thought: If the Republicans are to have a future at the presidential level, they cannot afford to continue to lose immigrants, minorities and young voters. Those three blocs are the future. Republicans not only need to maintain their current levels of support, they need to increase them. A similar fate befell Democrats during the 1980s as Ronald Reagan cut into the blue-collar Democratic base, young voters went Republican and old New Deal Democrats died off rapidly. Democrats won just once in 24 years before Bill Clinton started to redefine the Democratic Party with his “New Democrat” movement. We’re at a similar point in reverse now. But I suspect we’ll need a disaster like the Democrats faced in 1980-1984-1988 to convince Republicans to rethink Cruz-ism.
Dunham is now based in Beijing, where he is a professor of multimedia journalism and co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University. You can follow him at https://rickdunhamblog.com/.
To contact the author of this story, e-mail email@example.com.
I’ve been reading the invaluable journalism handbook “The Bloomberg Way” as I prepare to start my new life as a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. One of the many must-remember pieces of advice for journalists (whether seasoned or student) is author Matt Winkler’s suggestion to draw up a “top ten” list of influential people on your beat.
In his chapter on preparation, Winkler instructs the reader to get to know those influential figures on her or his beat.
Since I have covered the U.S. Congress for the past 29 years, I have put together my own list of ten most influential members of the U.S. Senate — as an example for my students and as a discussion topic for my friends in Washington:
1. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
The Kentucky senator has proven time after time that a minority senator able to command 41 votes can have more influence over the Senate’s agenda than the leader of its majority.
2. Arizona Sen. John McCain
President Obama’s favorite frenemy in the Senate is a key player in almost all legislation to emerge from the Senate — even if his maverick ways rankle colleagues.
3. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
The feisty Nevada senator controls the Senate’s calendar but not necessarily the outcome.
4. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer
He’s a liberal Democrat able to build partnerships with conservative Republicans. Effective and relentless.
5. Texas Sen. John Cornyn
The second-ranking Senate Republican, an articulate and telegenic lawmaker, is more likely than McConnell to be the public face of the not-so-loyal opposition.
6. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
it’s rare for a freshman senator to be one of the chamber’s most influential, but the first-term firebrand (and potential 2016 presidential candidate) is a key figure in both the Tea Party and Libertarian wings of the Republican Party.
7. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin
Like Cornyn, the number two Senate Democrat is a smoother spokesman for his party than the top guy. He’s also a key player on immigration issues.
8. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker
The former Chattanooga mayor has emerged as a pragmatic conservative and a get-it-done legislator in the mold of legendary Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker.
9. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham
He might denounce Barack Obama and meet with the president on different issues on the same day. John McCain’s sidekick is a power in his own right.
10. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
It is exceptionally rare that a first-year senator ranks in the upper echelon in the upper chamber (Hillary Clinton and Phil Gramm are the exceptions that prove the rule). The hard-line Houston conservative has made his mark with an unceasing assault on the Obama administration and a skillful alliance with conservative opinion leaders.