Rubio responds to Bush’s preemptive strike

I suspect that Jeb Bush is launching his presidential bid so early in part as a preemptive strike against Marco Rubio, his fellow Floridian. If Bush gains the inside track on key donors, especially ones from Florida, it might cause Rubio to think twice about running. If Rubio stays out, the benefit to Bush is obvious.

To forestall Bush’s attempt at a preemptive strike, Rubio promptly announced that he is still prepared to seek the presidency. His spokesman declared:

Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush, and believes he would be a formidable candidate. However, Marco’s decision on whether to run for President or re-election will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream—not on who else might be running.

Rubio obviously believes he can “best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream” from the White House, not as the junior Senator from Florida.

How formidable a candidate Bush will be remains to be seen, but it’s quite likely that Bush will be a formidable obstacle to Rubio. Tim Alberta of the National Journal reports that “many Republicans believe the popular former governor would suck Florida’s donor community dry and leave Rubio without a political home base.”

I doubt that Rubio needs “a political home base” in any geographic sense (funding, of course, is another matter). But he could use an ideological home base, either as the favorite of the “establishment” or as the favorite of the conservative base.

After his amnesty frolic, Rubio, it seems to me, has no chance of being the favorite of the base. And with the seemingly inevitable entry of Jeb Bush, his chances of being the establishment favorite — always problematic because Rubio is young, lacks experience governing, and sometimes comes off as wet behind the ears — have dimmed further.

But Rubio retains paths to the nomination. The first path is as the one candidate in, essentially, a three candidate race (let’s say a Bush-Cruz-Rubio contest) who is acceptable to both the establishment and the base. This path sounds better on paper than it probably is in reality. It used to work in the 19th century when nominees often were chosen in a smoke-filled room, but the last election I can recall it applying to is the fictional one in Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man.”

The 2016 election could be a pattern-breaker, but Rubio will need tons of money to hang in the race as everyone’s second or third choice. I think he’ll find it difficult to bring that money in on those terms.

The other path opens up if Bush can’t get off the ground and no other establishment favorite — neither Romney nor Christie — enters. Bush is vulnerable because of his support for immigration reform and common core and because of his name. Rubio is even more vulnerable on immigration and the Bush name will, if anything, help Jeb with establishment-leaning voters — the ones who paved the way for the last two Republican nominees.

This leaves common core. I don’t think this issue will keep establishment-leaning voters from supporting Bush in states like New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio, but who knows? And who knows how effective Bush will be on the campaign trail and in debates? It’s been a long time since he’s run for anything.

So Rubio, though he should be discouraged by Bush’s entry, still has good reason to pursue his presidential aspirations in this cycle, just as Jeb Bush was wise to try to get the drop on Rubio.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has reason to be happy that Rubio isn’t ruling out competing with Bush for donors and center-right support. And “anyone-but-Cruz-and-Paul” donors have reason to make an early call on whether to support Bush’s preemptive strike against other potential entrants of center-right orientation.

An open letter to the Washington Post

A Power Line reader copies us on his letter to the editor of the Washington Post. His letter presumably will not see the light of day in the Post. I have lightly edited the letter and added internal links:

To the Editor:

The Washington Post suggests using a fictional rape as a jumping off point for finding solutions, likely draconian, to the “issue of rape on college campuses” (“After the Rolling Stone story, what’s next for U-Va.?,” December 13). Shouldn’t a very real case of journalistic malfeasance cause the Post to deal with the very real issue of journalistic malfeasance? I suggest you start with Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin’s hit piece on the Koch Brothers, “The biggest foreign lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers” (March 20,2014).

Philip Piasecki
Montgomery, AL

Sportsmanship’s Luck

In a college course on the literature of the Renaissance we read Montaigne’s essay “That to philosophize is to learn to die.” Talking with me about it outside of class, the professor remarked that he thought participation in sports taught the wisdom of Montaigne. He recalled watching a Dartmouth team being trounced on the field, yet continuing to perform intensely with a kind of detachment reflected in Montaigne’s teaching. He thought that the athletes had learned something important about life from their sport. Sportsmanship, he seemed to think, is to learn to die.

Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Clark poses a mystery he leaves unresolved in “Andrew Luck: The NFL’s most perplexing trash talker.” Luck was a renowned player at Stanford before he went into professional football. Now he is the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who, in his third season, has led his team into the playoffs for the third year in a row.

Clark introduces the mystery of Andrew Luck. “[A]mong NFL players,” he writes “the gossip around Luck concerns a peculiar brand of on-field chatter so confusing and brilliant that no one knows quite what to make of it.”

Clark quotes one of Luck’a defensive opponents, Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan: “In all the years I’ve played football I have never heard anything like it. Nothing even close.” Clark explains:

Luck has become famous for congratulating—sincerely and enthusiastically—any player to hit him hard. Any sack is met with a hearty congratulations, such as ”great job” or “what a hit!” He yells it after hard hits that don’t result in sacks, too. It is, players say, just about the weirdest thing any quarterback does in the NFL.

Clark explores the mystery, hypothesizing that the praise constitutes “trash talk” intended to mess with the minds of his defensive opponents. What is this guy up to? Clark shares the results of his research:

The Wall Street Journal contacted 12 NFL players who recorded a sack or knockdown of Luck, and each player said he received the same message from Luck. Some were different than others—Kerrigan’s sack resulted in a fumble, so Luck, who was scrambling to retrieve the ball, could never offer his congratulations. So he looped around later in the game to tell Kerrigan how great he was doing.

“You want to say thank you but then you say ‘wait a second–I’m not supposed to like you!’” Kerrigan said.

Luck did not respond to requests for comment.

Clark also leaves open the possibility of another explanation (Clark invokes the concept of “a really nice guy”), but readers are left to their own devices to sort out the mystery. Clark unloads the rest of his research, revealing that Luck’s mysterious practice extends back in time to Luck’s high school days:

Those who know him best say the most likely reason behind his comments is that he’s just a really nice guy. Former Stanford teammates, for instance, say there’s likely an element of gamesmanship, but that’s secondary to his sincere respect for a good play—even one that resulted in him getting knocked off his feet.

“My wife and I raised all four of our kids with appropriate values, with respect for other people and to be kind and generous and I guess that carried over to the football field,” said Luck’s father, Oliver, a former NFL quarterback who is now the athletic director at West Virginia University.

Oliver Luck said he first heard that his son was congratulating those who sacked him when Andrew was playing high-school football in Texas. Oliver said Andrew had played so many sports in middle school throughout the Houston area that he knew most of the opposing players he faced, so saying “great job’” was natural because he was among friends.

Washington Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy, Luck’s teammate at Stanford, said Luck would interrupt film sessions to praise an opponent’s hit of him. The harder the better.

“He’s yelling ‘nice hit, nice hit!’ and we’re like ‘uh, no one else does this.’”

Murphy said Luck’s “over-the-top positive” demeanor has never included genuine trash-talk. “His idea of trash talk is complimenting people,” he said.

Former Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, acknowledged Luck is probably playing head games to some extent. But Ertz said that’s not Luck’s main concern. For evidence, he submitted that if Luck himself makes a great play, he usually says nothing—no matter the situation. Ertz said Luck, who is 6-foot-4, can dunk a basketball “pretty effortlessly.” And even when dunking on teammates, he never howled in delight. “He’d just giggle and jog away chuckling because he knew he got the better of you.”

The hypothesis that Luck’s practice represents trash talk is extraordinarily thin. Moreover, it is inconsistent with evidence Clark presents including Luck’s comments on game film in private outside the presence of his opponents.

Based on the evidence Clark presents, I’m going out on a limb to solve this mystery. I’m guessing that that’s not trash talk. Like the classical concept of virtue (i.e., human excellence), the concept represented by Luck’s conduct has fallen so far out of favor that no one even offers it up. I believe it’s called sportsmanship.

Anyone But Jeb Bush? Pretty Much

Jeb Bush more or less announced his presidential candidacy today, and the reaction from conservatives was predictably negative. On Twitter, someone pointed out: Bush, Bush, Dole, Bush, Bush, McCain, Romney…Bush? I agree with Glenn Reynolds’ assessment:

Jeb’s a nice guy, and would certainly be a better President than Obama — but, then, my cat would be a better President than Obama, and I don’t own a cat.

I don’t want any more Bushes or Clintons. It’s embarrassing to see this kind of dynasticism in Amerca.

I was ahead of the curve on this one. In October, I wrote:

I admire Jeb Bush: he was an excellent governor, and he is a good man who has thought seriously about many of the issues, especially the “softer” issues, that confront us. But the last thing the Republican Party needs in 2016 is another Bush heading the ticket. Jeb’s mother Barbara was right about that.

Frankly, the thought of a Clinton-Bush matchup in 2016 is appalling. The conservative base will be fired up after eight years of the Obama disaster, but the one thing that might cause large numbers of conservatives to lay down their arms is Clinton vs. Bush. Hillary Clinton is, not to put too fine a point on it, a grating, unlikable, elderly lady. She can be had by someone younger: a fresh face, a new voice, someone who changes the dynamic. Pretty much anyone but a Bush, in other words.

Conservatives sometimes complain that the “establishment” foists moderate candidates on them, but I think this is wrong. In the first place, the establishment is almost monolithically Democratic, not Republican. There are some Republicans with money, but in political terms they are insurgents, not establishmentarians. Second, where was the foisting? In 2008, John McCain carried 31 states via primaries and caucuses; the runner-up, Mitt Romney, won 11. In 2012, Romney carried 37 states and more than doubled the vote total of the second-place contender, Rick Santorum. To the extent that Republicans have nominated moderates in recent years, it is because the rank and file voted for them.

In my opinion, what we have lacked in the last two election cycles is a strong conservative champion. In 2008, the next finishers after McCain and Romney were Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. Huckabee is a very talented politician, but his social conservatism was not matched in any other area. On economic issues, he was barely a conservative at all.

In 2012, Santorum had his strengths–he did a better job of explaining the relationship between the social issues and economic and budgetary problems than anyone–but his appeal was pretty much limited to a social conservative niche. He had time on his hands to campaign, having lost his bid for re-election to the Senate, so there was no reason to see him as an electoral powerhouse. After Santorum were Newt Gingrich, a creative guy who was 15 years past his political peak and whose ex-wife was going around campaigning against him, and–once again–Ron Paul.

Polling data suggest that there are more conservatives in the U.S. than there are Republicans. There certainly are plenty of conservatives to put a Republican presidential candidate over the top. But they need a strong candidate to rally behind. This cycle, I think there are a number of Republicans who could fit that description–Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio (my current favorite), maybe Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal or John Kasich, maybe Chris Christie if he can define himself as a conservative. There are others who could jump into the race, both plausible candidates (John Thune) and less plausible (Ben Carson).

In fact, the best thing Jeb Bush could have going for him is that there are so many good conservative candidates of various stripes. If they split the conservative vote five or six ways, he could emerge as the early front-runner, dominate fund-raising and cement the nomination in a process that has been shortened for 2016. Most conservatives probably will want to reserve judgment, observe the candidates in action and see how they perform before picking a favorite. That is certainly my preference. But in 2016, time may be a luxury we can’t afford, and conservatives may have to coalesce early behind an alternative to Bush and perhaps, if he enters the race and runs as a moderate, Chris Christie.

Could the GOP primary picture get even more scrambled? Yes: the rumors about Mitt Romney taking another run at the nomination could be true.

Americans still see Bush-era interrogation techniques as justified and effective

One of the nobler, if not the only noble purpose of publicly releasing the Feinsten report was to fuel public debate about the very harsh interrogation techniques used in some instances by the CIA after 9/11. Predictably, though, the rekindled debate has been as stale as the original version had become.

In any event, the returns from the debate are in. A Pew Research survey shows that, by a wide margin, Americans believe that the use of the very harsh techniques was warranted. 51 percent say they think the CIA methods were justified, compared with just 29 percent who say they were not. 20 percent didn’t say.

As to the efficacy of the interrogation methods, 56 percent believe they provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks. Only half as many say they did not provide this type of intelligence.

Few, I think, will be surprised by these results. Fewer will be surprised that Democrats and Republicans differ significantly in their assessments. It is interesting, however, that Democrats are fairly closely divided. 46 percent of Democrats say the methods were unjustified. 37 percent say they justified. Thus, Feinstein and President Obama can’t even command a majority on this question from their own party.

The new Pew survey results are nearly identical to those Pew obtained in its 2009 poll on the subject. Then, 49 percent of the public said that “the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information” can “often” or “sometimes” be justified. 36 percent of Democrats concurred.

In my view, Sen. Feinstein and company produced and issued this report mainly to settle a score with the CIA, to absolve themselves for supporting the CIA’s program in the past, and more generally to influence historians. Generating a public debate and swaying public opinion were probably secondary concerns.

But public opinion on terrorist interrogation is consequential. If terrorists attack the U.S. again on a large scale, future presidents may well confront the same interrogation options that the Bush administration faced in the aftermath of 9/11. This time, an administration will be acutely conscious of the risks that using “enhanced” techniques carries — condemnation by broad segments of the political community, the press, and world opinion, not to mention persecution via the legal system.

But a future administration will, of course, also be aware of the risk of not doing nearly everything possible to obtain information that will save lives. And polling now confirms that, even after all the yelping of Dianne Feinstein and others, the public still favors harsh interrogation in these circumstances. The fact that less than a third of the country finds these techniques objectionable, even when considering the issue in the relative domestic tranquility of 2014, will tell future presidents that in a crisis, they will have very little cover if harsh techniques are eschewed and another major attack follows.

And, as in 2002, plenty of Democrats will likely be among those imploring the president to do whatever it takes to head off the next attack.

Meanwhile, the next time you hear someone intone that “torturing” terrorists to obtain information “is not who were are as a people,” you should feel free, citing the Pew results, to say “oh, but it is.”

Why the Freedom of Information Act Is Virtually Worthless

Conservatives often express frustration that so little, seemingly, can be done about the corruption of the Obama administration. Part of the problem is that when a party is determined to stonewall, our legal system is generally too slow to provide an effective remedy within the time frame of a presidential administration.

The case of Austan Goolsbee is instructive. In August 2010, Goolsbee, who directed Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and later chaired his Council of Economic Advisers, gave a press briefing in which he discussed corporate income taxes. In that briefing, he suggested that he had access to confidential IRS data, and accused the administration’s beta noire, Koch Industries, of not paying corporate income taxes:

So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion dollar businesses.

It was difficult to see how Goolsbee could have such information–assuming he didn’t just make it up, like Harry Reid–unless he had improper access to Koch Industries’ tax returns. This is a serious matter; for someone at the IRS to convey information about a taxpayer’s returns to a White House employee is a crime. So Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee requested an investigation, which was carried out by TIGTA, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

TIGTA completed its investigation, and on August 10, 2011, a TIGTA Special Agent so advised Koch Industries via email, adding that the final report on the investigation “would now be available through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.” Here is the email:

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 7.22.39 PM

Koch and a group called Cause of Action submitted FOIA requests. Both requests were denied by TIGTA; Koch didn’t sue to compel production of the requested documents, but Cause of Action did. Cause of Action asked not only for documents relating to the Goolsbee investigation, but for documents relating to any transfers of taxpayer return data from the IRS to the White House. TIGTA interposed various objections, arguing that it was exempt from disclosing whether any such documents exist, let alone producing them.

TIGTA’s position was rejected by federal judge Amy Berman Jackson in an order dated September 29, 2014. She directed TIGTA to respond to Cause of Action’s request–which meant that TIGTA had to disclose whether it has documents relating to investigations of illegal transfers of taxpayer information from the IRS to the White House, not necessarily that it has to produce them (although the court held that TIGTA had waived its most meritorious objection).

Yesterday, President Obama’s Treasury Department finally served its response to Cause of Action’s FOIA request, more than two years after the request was made on October 9, 2012. The response disclosed that there are “2,509 pages of TIGTA records potentially responsive to your request.” So the Inspector General has done a considerable amount of investigation into criminal transfers of taxpayer data to the Obama White House.

However, of those 2,509 pages, the Treasury Department produced…27 pages. The rest were withheld, based on a statutory exemption (taxpayer confidentiality) and a purported privilege. In what can only be construed as a middle finger directed to Cause of Action, and perhaps the federal court, the documents produced by Treasury consisted almost entirely of form letters that it wrote to several Republican Senators who expressed concerns about the Goolsbee incident.

Here is TIGTA’s response:

Final Response to Cause of Action FOIA Request

So now litigation will continue over Treasury’s objections. A briefing schedule is being set for the next round of motions. But you get the picture: when an administration is determined to stonewall, which has been President Obama’s response to every inquiry, it can drag the process out nearly indefinitely. We haven’t yet gotten to the point where the administration appeals the district court’s order to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been packed with Democrats due to Harry Reid’s revocation of the filibuster as to judicial nominees, but that may eventually be coming.

In all likelihood, the Obama administration will be long gone before we find out whether its IRS fed taxpayer information to the White House for political purposes. But that’s the point: as with Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the targeting of conservative 501(c)(4)s and other Obama scandals, a cynical determination to run out the clock, combined with the federal government’s infinite litigation budget, can prevent damaging information from coming to light for years. There might be effective remedies for Executive Branch corruption, but the Freedom of Information Act is not among them.

Jeb Bush: McCain/Romney or Giuliani/Huntsman?

Jeb Bush says he will “actively explore” a run for the presidency. I think this means he’s going to run unless he can’t get off the ground.

Bush wants to be the GOP’s establishment candidate, as John McCain was (more or less) in 2008 and Mitt Romney was in 2012. But some say he’s more in the mold of Rudy Giulani and/or Jon Huntsman, both of whom proved insufficiently conservative to gain traction.

So which is it? Nate Silver takes up the question.

Silver concludes, as I do, that Bush is more akin to McCain/Romney than to Giuliani/Huntsmann. Silver relies on a construct he developed last year to rate the level of conservatism of various Republican candidates. The construct employs three factors: (1) the candidate’s voting record in Congress, if applicable, (2) the nature of the candidate’s donors as assessed in a Stanford University analysis, and (3) the candidates scores, based on their public statements.

On Silver’s index, Jeb Bush (with a rating of 37) comes out very slightly to the left of Romney and McCain (at 39) and well to the right of Huntsman (at 17). Giuliani is not evaluated.

Unlike Huntsman, Bush’s deviation from conservative orthodoxy so far seems confined to the issues of immigration and education. But according to Silver, Bush’s positions on these matters “are not far removed from those Republican voters declare in polls.” To that extent, Bush should be considered a GOP establishment candidate in the Romney/McCain mold, not an outlier.

Bush, moreover, takes mostly socially conservative positions, as McCain and Romney (in his post governor incarnation) did. This distinguishes him from Giuliani in a very important respect.

Silver acknowledges on important similarity between Huntsman and Bush, however. Both are openly critical of the GOP’s direction and seem willing, if not eager, to “call out” the party’s conservative base. I imagine that Bush will moderate his strident moderation once he’s finished “exploring” a run. If not, he will encounter problems that Romney and even the “straight-talking” McCain wisely avoided.

No Nate Silver analysis would be complete without a discussion of the odds. He notes that betting markets put the probability of Bush being nominated at 20 to 25 percent, and finds this about right. We can, he says, derive this range of probability if we say that Bush has about a 50 percent chance of emerging in decent shape from the “invisible primary” (mainly the race for money) and that, if he does so emerge, a 40-50 percent chance of going on to win the nomination.

Looking at it in similar terms, we can say that there’s about a 50 percent chance that the establishment (overlooking the immense unpopularity of the last Bush presidency) will make Jeb Bush its preferred candidate and that there’s a 40-50 percent that the establishment’s preferred candidate will be nominated.