The midterm primaries have barely begun, the presidential primaries won’t begin for almost two years and yet already we see conventional wisdom going up in smoke. Here are six big surprises:
First, in a year of great dissatisfaction with Washington, no incumbent yet has lost either in a House or Senate contest. Not one. Maybe GOP content with its elected officials is higher than we might imagine. Or perhaps the challengers are simply incompetent.
Second, Hillary Clinton mania in the real world looks a lot like snoresville. In a humorous report on her banal speech at a Jewish organization’s gathering, the conservative Free Beacon quotes entirely underwhelmed attendees, including one Jewish official who wisecracks, “In 35 years of working in the community I have never witnessed a politician able to quiet the quarrelsome Jews. But today, that’s exactly what I saw. Because even Jews have to stop talking when they’re asleep.” The sleepy audience members, including Democrats, nevertheless make a serious point: The combination of a stodgy delivery, excessive caution and nothing to say makes for boring speeches. Simply being Hillary Clinton may not be enough to send her to the Oval Office. (One is reminded how a telegenic, capable wordsmith like Barack Obama beat her in 2008.)
Third, the candidate once praised for being quirky, idiosyncratic and authentic is getting bashed for resembling Mitt Romney. The conservative blogger at Hot Air bitterly complains in a series of three posts about the inconsistency of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on voter ID. (“To be honest, I think he’d be happy to jettison voter ID altogether in the interest of making that gesture more broadly if not for the fact that it’s a sort of litmus test in the GOP primaries. He needs some conservative votes to win. If he ‘evolves’ on voter ID now to impress Democrats, righties will conclude that he can’t be trusted not to pander to them if elected and that’ll ruin him. So he’s leaving the issue on the stove. Just on very low heat.”)
An ultra-conservative Iowa talk radio host likewise complains, “Now it appears Rand has decided to assimilate into the very Borg Collective known as Washington, D.C. his father fought for decades to dismantle . … He abandoned his base, he allowed his opponents to define him, he accepted the premise of his opponent’s argument, he got put on the defensive, etc.” He then accuses Rand Paul of trying to have it every which way on abortion, immigration, Russia and religious liberty. It’s not like the far right is slamming Jeb Bush; these voices are supposed to be the core of Rand Paul’s base.
Fourth, the battle between hawks and isolationists has become a rout. We’ve noted that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has repeatedly stepped up to the plate to enunciate a foreign policy that sounds a whole lot more like former United States ambassador John Bolton than the anti-interventionist right-wing radio talk show hosts who helped lift him into office. Meanwhile, James Kirchick writes that Rand Paul is busy importing more mainstream foreign policy advisers, albeit with very mixed results (“Paul’s recruiting of establishment GOP foreign policy hands to his campaign may also be a design to cover what is, in reality, a confused and indeterminate worldview, if not one that is much closer to the conspiratorial outlook enunciated by his father”). Moreover, hawkish Republicans are favored to win their primary races in Alaska (Dan Sullivan), Arkansas (Rep. Tom Cotton), New Hampshire (Scott Brown) and Virginia (Ed Gillespie), joining Ben Sasse, who is now a slam dunk to win the Nebraska Senate seat. The voice of unabashed isolationism has gone mute.
Fifth, who would have expected that Jeb Bush would be doing more to lift his presidential profile than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker? Walker is certainly more popular with the conservative base, but after an initial flurry of activity, he has faded from view. Bush and two other Midwest GOP governors, Indiana’s Mike Pence and Ohio’s John Kasich, seem far more determined to keep their names in play. (Pence will be in D.C. on Monday to roll out an ambitious Medicaid reform plan.)
Sixth, for all the talk of ad clutter and difficulty in breaking through the media noise, ads from three female newcomers — Joni Ernst in Iowa (of “castrating hogs” fame), Michigan’s Terri Lynn Land (of jujitsu on the bogus “war on women” with “Really?” and now “War on Michigan“) and Oregon’s Monica Wehby (savior of a baby girl other doctors gave up on) — have made waves and lifted the women’s visibility. Maybe, it’s only bad ads that have trouble reaching voters.