A few 2016 campaign news items from the past week.
First, Peter Baker’s New York Times story from last week about the evolution of the GOP on Israel:
Where past Republican leaders had their disagreements with Israel, today’s Republicans have made support for the Jewish state an inviolable litmus test for anyone aspiring to national office.
“If you’re a Republican and you hedge on your support on Israel, it’s viewed as having a flawed foreign policy,” said Ron Bonjean, a party strategist who has worked for Republican leaders in Congress. “It’s a requirement for Republicans these days to be very strong on Israel if they’re going to be taken seriously by primary voters.” Any deviation on that, he said, leads to inevitable questions: “If you’re not supporting Israel, then who are you supporting? Are you supporting Iran?”…
“It is remarkable,” said William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine and one of the leading voices promoting Israel’s cause in the United States. Mr. Netanyahu, who goes by the nickname Bibi, has become a rallying point for Republicans, he said. “Bibi would probably win the Republican nomination if it were legal,” he said (emphasis added).
Then, Maggie Haberman’s New York Times story on Hillary Clinton’s putting some distance between herself and the Obama administration on Israel:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a representative of a group of prominent Jewish leaders on Sunday that she wanted to put the relationship between the United States and Israel back on “constructive footing,” the representative said….
“Secretary Clinton thinks we need to all work together to return the special U.S.-Israel relationship to constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests, including a two-state solution pursued through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” Mr. Hoenlein said in a statement issued by his organization on Sunday evening. “We must ensure that Israel never becomes a partisan issue,” he quoted her as saying. Mrs. Clinton knows Mr. Hoenlein from her time in the Senate.
There are two possible conclusions one can draw from these two stories. The first is that U.S. foreign policy toward Israel holds an iron grip over presidential candidates. And I’m sure that this will be the go-to conclusion for believers in the “Israel Lobby” thesis.
What I think is the more interesting conclusion, however, is that the nascent Clinton campaign is going to borrow from the 1990s campaign playbook and try triangulation as a campaign strategy. Foreign policy is definitely an arena where Clinton can easily sound more hawkish than the Obama administration but less hawkish than the entire GOP field.
Furthermore, as the Obama administration tacks leftward on various issues — Israel, net neutrality, inequality — it makes it easier for Clinton to do this. All she has to do is stand still on her policy positions and act like a moderate. The more centrist she seems compared to Obama, the better for her campaign. And because for one reason or another there’s no serious primary challenger in the Democratic camp, Clinton does not need to engage in the conservative policy outbidding that’s currently taking place on the GOP side of the ledger.
Will it work? It worked for Bill Clinton, but it’s a different political time, and Hillary Clinton — along with every other mortal — is a less-skilled political candidate. That said, I found Hadas Gold’s Politico write-up of Jeb Bush’s appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s show very intriguing for two reasons. The first:
Jeb Bush said on Monday that if he is the Republican nominee, he won’t have a problem arguing that Hillary Clinton helped create the current turmoil roiling Europe and the Middle East.
“I think she can’t do the Heisman on the first four years of the Obama foreign policy,” Bush told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “She’ll try. I mean, she’s going to — look, this is very Clintonian, I think, to figure out a way to get out of a mess. But she was secretary of state of the first administration.”
So this is interesting because Bush is already trying to highlight what Clinton is doing. And as the GOP candidate that seems most intent on running a general election campaign during the primary portion of the campaign, Bush would be the most attuned to this strategy [It should be noted that Rand Paul, the other GOP candidate who’s tried to run a more heterodox campaign, has also focused his fire on Hillary Clinton.]
That said, in the very same interview, Bush also had this to say:
Bush also weighed in on Indiana’s controversial new religious freedom law, saying Gov. Mike Pence “has done the right thing.” in signing it. Several major companies and figures have threatened to leave or are boycotting the state, charging that the law legalizes discrimination.
“I think if you, if they actually got briefed on the law that they wouldn’t be blasting this law. I think Governor Pence has done the right thing…”
Well, based on what I’ve read, I don’t think that’s actually true. But that’s not really the point. The point is that even Bush feels he must placate the base at key moments during the primary campaign, and that will alienate voters he will need in the general election.