I spent the weekend re-reading David Frum’s Dead Right. Published in 1995, Frum’s slim book is a gripping and devastating account of the failure of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to limit government. Frum’s thesis, which I do not believe he has ever recanted, is that the conservative movement became enamored with the trappings of power during the Reagan presidency, and stopped making the argument that America’s problems stem from our sprawling and dilapidated welfare state. Instead conservatives, like Reagan, told Americans they could indeed have it all: tax cuts and entitlements, big government at half the price. Frum’s solution was for conservatives to step back from the Republican Party, care somewhat less about elections, and spend more time convincing Americans that a radical reduction in the size and scope of government is necessary and just.
Oh, to have been at John Kerry’s meeting Tuesday with a dozen Hollywood executives at Universal Studios. To have sat in one of the cushy leather chairs beneath a vintage poster for The Phantom of the Opera, sipping bottled water, relaxing in the Mediterranean climate of southern California, and be solicited by the U.S. secretary of State for advice on how to defeat radical Islam. What a confirmation of one’s status in the film industry, of one’s place in the global economy, of one’s importance to the Democratic Party. “Great convo w studio execs in LA,” Kerry tweeted after the discussion, “Good to hear their perspectives & ideas of how to counter #Daesh narrative.”
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders overturned American politics with their stunning wins in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. As I write, with two-thirds of the vote in, Trump leads John Kasich by almost 20 points on the Republican side and Sanders leads Hillary Clinton by 21 points on the Democratic side. Those numbers are incredible. Trump outperformed his ideological precursor Pat Buchanan, who won the New Hampshire primary in 1996. And Sanders—well, what can one say about Sanders?
Chris Christie dealt Marco Rubio a blow on Saturday. When Christie said Rubio isn’t ready to be president because he relies too heavily on memorized stump speeches, Rubio responded by delivering a stump speech, verbatim, several times. The exchange went viral. Rubio’s enemies in the GOP, among the Democrats, and in the media piled on. His future is uncertain.
I went back and looked at President Obama’s answer to the readiness question. Hillary Clinton attacked Obama’s youth and thin résumé throughout their primary fight, mostly famously in the “3 a.m. phone call” ad. But Obama not only defeated Clinton, he also beat John McCain, who made similar arguments against him. How?
Marco Rubio entered the ABC New Hampshire debate on the upswing, only to have Chris Christie bat him down. Rubio effectively turned a third-place finish in Iowa into a springboard for a top-two finish in New Hampshire. But Christie wasn’t about to let him sail to victory without a fight. Christie launched into a brutal and bruising attack on Rubio’s inexperience, belittling his record in the Senate, calling him over-scripted and underprepared, contrasting senatorial debate with executive action.
You listen to Bernie Sanders and hear something familiar. The party establishment has been corrupted by big money. It hasn’t achieved the promises it has made to voters. International trade has been a corrupt bargain for American workers. America has been too assertive and quick to take military action overseas and should work within international coalitions above all else. The mainstream of the party is much closer to the center than it is to the beliefs of its base.
Ted Cruz won a major victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Polls showed him running behind Donald Trump, who attacked Cruz furiously, calling him a nasty person, a stooge of Goldman Sachs, and, heaven forbid, a Canadian. But Cruz persevered and beat Trump 28 to 24 percent, with Marco Rubio a close third at 23 percent. Cruz’s path to the Republican nomination depended on him winning the Iowa caucuses. Well, he won them.
Thursday’s Republican presidential debate on Fox News Channel was serious, substantive, and filled with thoughtful policy statements from major candidates. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz delivered solid performances. Yet there was something missing: The Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who skipped the debate because of a dispute with the cable news powerhouse. I watched the program attentively, yet was left puzzled by what I saw. It’s hard to determine who wins when the candidate who leads the polls and has determined the grounds of political discussion is nowhere to be seen.
Paul Ryan enters his first full year as speaker of the House with a unified caucus, an ambitious agenda, and an audacious goal: Go on offense against President Obama and the Democratic Party, while laying the predicate for unified Republican control of government in 2017. “We have no clue who our nominee is going to be,” Ryan tells me over the phone, “and the last thing we should do is sit around and wait.”