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Chalk up another win!
The Pentagon is considering fresh military action in Libya more than four years after conducting an air campaign that helped topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a spokesman said on Wednesday. Officials are currently “looking at military options” to stop the Islamic State militant group from gaining ground in another oil-rich Mideast nation, said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.

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trumpAs always, Josh Marshall is the only pundit you need to bother to read on Trump, and I wouldn’t disagree with any of this. But I would add that what Trump has pulled off in the last week or two has been masterful. Admittedly, turning a Cruz candidacy into an unpalatable risk viz. the natural born citizen language is more Cruz’s fault than anyone else’s brilliant strategy–knowing his ego, he almost certainly figured he was a legal expert and there wouldn’t be a problem there. But this was fatal arrogance, and one that Trump has exploited absolutely brilliantly–perfectly timed, and pushed without placing himself at much risk of it backfiring back onto him. At this point, it seems clear enough that Cruz peaked too early, and gave his enemies enough time to regroup and help to damage him. But it’s absolutely shocking that he didn’t even see this as a potential obstacle and seek out some actual expert advice. Events and strategy have come together in a big way for Trump. At this point, I would be surprised if he didn’t win Iowa decisively, along with New Hampshire next.

To be sure, if Cruz falls, Rubio will be primed to have that strong third place finish that the media (which very very very much wants Rubio to be the GOP candidate, for who knows what reason) will spin into an expectations-demolishing comeback. But I’m not so sure that’ll work. Expectations do matter, of course, and an unexpected second or even third place finish could very well boost a candidate’s stock. But a Trump win in Iowa would, in the greater sense, shatter expectations that exist even now, in spite of his strong polling. For months, we’ve been told that Trump’s lead is due to nonvoters, that his voters may not show up to caucus, that his support would wane as people began to pay attention, etc. Even now, one gets the sense that to many Republicans in the party structure, a Trump victory is unthinkable, that something must happen to prevent it. It’s the classic Gorky Park scenario, you know, you have no choice but to believe a lie if the lie is that you’ll escape. But if Cruz fades, the most likely one-on-one contest is going to be between Trump and likely New Hampshire second-placer John Kasich, which is not a contest I think Trump loses, frankly.

The big question now is whether Trump’s mastery of right-wing maneuvering has any applicability in a general election contest. Marshall is right that he’ll undoubtedly readjust his political platform after getting the nomination, perhaps radically. But it’s going to be very, very difficult for him to overcome the toxic first impressions that he made on the electorate. In any event, given how efficiently he ripped the spine out of Ted Cruz’s once formidable looking candidacy, I wouldn’t take him for granted one bit. He certainly has advantages that candidates don’t usually have, but make no mistake: he has earned this.

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Just Wrong

Hard to see how he sinks any lower from here, but who knows. At first it was kind of a curiosity that he was favoring comedies so heavily, though as much as I didn’t care for them it’s hard to deny that Meet The Parents and Analyse This were basically successful films on their own terms. Now it’s frankly bizarre that he’s taking roles that could plausibly be portrayed by Rob Schneider, though Schneider’s comedy skill set remains vastly superior to De Niro’s, which in the computer science game would be known as a null set (or, perhaps, a set with one item, if you count mugging as an item). It’s as though Michael Jordan were still playing minor-league baseball today for some reason. I can’t explain it.

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Does 13 Hours refer to how long Michael Bay’s latest film ran in theaters, or is it how long Chris Christie spent running his state during the blizzard?
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This weekend, the Des Moines Register issued its endorsements for its preferred candidates in both the Democratic and Republican races: Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, respectively. These two articles make for extremely strange reading. Clinton’s endorsement is fairly straightforward and unsurprising, and the whole thing goes along the expected, establishmentarian lines: she’s experienced and accomplished, as evidenced by her history of working with Republicans and securing sanctions against Iran (which…are now gone…and it’s unclear if she’s satisfied with this or not). The article dings her for the goddamn email fracas, which was about 15% Hillary doing something stupid and 85% “fuck it, where there’s smoke there’s fire, let’s run with it” MSM nonsense, of which even bringing it up now seems pathetic, like someone calling into a radio station now to request Steve Forbert. And this is particularly obtuse:

Her changing stance on gay marriage, immigration and other issues has invited accusations that she is guided less by personal conviction than by political calculations. She refutes that, and argues persuasively that a willingness to change one’s thinking on specific issues, while remaining true to what she calls “the same values and principles,” is a virtue, one lacking in most politicians.

This is the flipside of having all that experience: you leave behind a record. Some things look good in retrospect, some things not so good. At this point, other than a basically good economy, virtually all the major accomplishments of the Clinton Administration are hated by Democrats and either disowned or forgotten (or distorted) by the Clintons themselves. You won’t see Chelsea Clinton bragging about how happy her mother was when NAFTA passed, or Bill boasting about signing the prison-busting crime bill, or Hillary herself touting the various gay-bashing and banker-friendly bills her husband signed, ever. (It’s entirely possible that they may brag about the DMCA in private techno confabs, the unsung abomination of Clinton I.) “Experience” is again treated as some kind of abstract currency rather than something specific, which a personal pet peeve–in the foreign policy realm, of course, her experience seems to lead her to promoting the same disastrous policies again and again. And again. Time being a flat circle, you see. But these are mostly gripes, it’s a reasonable case overall.

It’s in the Rubio endorsement that it becomes a bizarre, reality-warping experience, starting as a ridiculous non-case that twists into a strange semi-nonendorsement. The criteria the DMR board uses to evaluate Clinton are the length and depth of her experience, her record of accomplishment, and her ability to shift to accommodate the political environment. So it’s bizarre that the same editorial board would endorse Rubio, who has little experience, essentially no record of accomplishment, and with only one recanted exception has remained a dogmatic hard-liner throughout his senatorial tenure. One might expect an editorial board making presidential endorsements to apply the same criteria to candidates of both parties, regardless of ideology. That is, simply, not the case. Rubio is frequently given credit for things that are ridiculously implausible, like standing up for worker’s rights:

Republicans have the opportunity to define their party’s future in this election. They could choose anger, pessimism and fear. Or they could take a different path.

The party could channel that frustration and pursue true reform. It could renounce its fealty to the economic elite and its fixation with tax cuts for the wealthy.

It could instead emphasize the interests of the middle class and promote policies, not just rhetoric, that champion workers, families and small businesses. It could be the party of opportunity and optimism.

This is the opening of the article, and it’s not hard-headed realism, it’s straight-up fantasy. Rubio seems unlikely to sign the Employee Free Choice Act as his party has set out to destroy unions outright. A candidate (Rubio again) who has proposed a tax cut that dwarfs G.W. Bush’s seems unlikely to break the Republicans’ addiction to tax cuts for the wealthy. The Register is setting up Rubio as the candidate of “opportunity and optimism,” even though most recently he’s bragged about buying a gun to defend his family from ISIS. Nope, no anger, pessimism, or fear there.

It is pretty clear at this point that the DMR board (how close it is to DNR, just saying) has either completely bought into Rubio’s spin, or has devolved into Norma Desmond-level delusions about Senator Rubio. It acts as though Rubio is coming up with mind-blowing new ideas, like…vocational training (a major policy priority of George W. Bush) and job retraining (a favorite of globalist Democrats for decades), along with classic privatization and deregulation cant. And there’s also this, “He’d require a cost-benefit analysis of federal regulations.” It may not surprise you that this is standard practice, though apparently the Register thought this akin to some sort of flying automobile. Either Rubio genuinely doesn’t know this happens already or doesn’t believe it, or figures he can cynically use it to make it seem as though he actually has an original idea on what to do. But as we now know, he doesn’t have a single idea, not one. He staffs that out:

Dur­ing his speech, Ru­bio—dressed in a dark suit with a red rose on his left lapel—asked House mem­bers to ex­am­ine their desks. In­side, law­makers found, wrapped in gift pa­per, a hard­cov­er book titled 100 In­nov­at­ive Ideas For Flor­ida’s Fu­ture. It was blank. Ru­bio then told his vis­ibly per­plexed col­leagues that they would fill in the pages to­geth­er dur­ing the run-up to his speak­er­ship. The ideas would come from or­din­ary Flor­idi­ans, he said, and mem­bers would col­lect them at town hall-style meet­ings called “idear­aisers.”

And just in case the silliness of this isn’t apparent, there’s this:

The gam­bit quickly won rave re­views from na­tion­al fig­ures, in­clud­ing Newt Gin­grich, who called the concept “a work of geni­us.”

QED. This is all standard nonsense. But the bizarre thing is that the article eventually just stops bothering to make the case for Rubio and just asks a bunch of questions about his policy plans, character, work ethic, and initiative, that range from fair to naive. (“Will his ideas truly help that struggling single mom or debt-laden student? Or will his loyalty to wealthy donors win out?”) Clinton is the most known of commodities, to be sure, and there aren’t too many questions about what she’d do as president, and not every politician is quite so well-known, but in Rubio’s case it’s frankly amazing that even in an endorsement of a candidate the board basically just left half the test blank. It’s as though they were no longer able to even entertain the fantasy version of Rubio that they sort of believed in. This is the triumphant close:

We hope Marco Rubio and his party take a different path, one that can lead to the opportunity and optimism he so eloquently articulates.

That’s the endorsement? Why even endorse the guy at all? The answer appears to be, basically, because they personally liked the guy and his message and because they’ve taken to playing pundit:

That hope rests partly in the electoral calculus of the country. Republicans should have learned from 2012 that they cannot win with Republicans alone. Recent polling shows Rubio has higher favorability ratings among independents than all candidates but Ben Carson, as well as positive ratings among Latinos. […]

The editorial board also values the executive experience, pragmatism and thoughtful policies of John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Yet most Republicans aren’t interested in rewarding a long resume this year. They want new and different.

There’s none of this shit in the Clinton endorsement. Their case for Clinton is made on real things she’s done. It’s sort of a shocking indictment of the superficiality of this particular corner of the mainstream media: sure, we could endorse John Kasich, that would make the most sense based on our criteria for endorsing Clinton, he’s the most experienced, relatively moderate candidate, and heck, he’s also from the Midwest! But he’s very unlikely to do well here, and we’re certainly not picking Trump or Ted Cruz, so we have to come up with a case for Rubio. They managed half a case, and an unconvincing one at that, one that they seemed to just tack stuff onto at the end, such that the last few sentences are unintentionally highlighted. Seriously, read the thing: you’ll have more questions after you’re done than before. One senses that endorsing someone with no chance of winning (Kasich, Christie, Bush) because they’re putting it all into New Hampshire is the sort of thing that demeans the power that is a Des Moines Register endorsement, and that’s fundamentally why third-placer Rubio got the nod. Demeaning avoided.

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Bernie Sanders is honing in on the right argument:

“I think on the crucial foreign policy issue of our time, it turns out that Secretary Clinton, with all of her experience, was wrong and I was right,” Sanders said. “Experience is important. [Former vice president] Dick Cheney had a lot of experience. A whole lot of people have experience but do not necessarily have the right judgment. I think I have the right judgment to conduct sensible foreign policy.”

The Iraq focus actually weakens the argument, as it was 14 years ago and has been put to bed as an active issue in Democratic party politics. Better to integrate it into a pattern of behavior that includes Libya–which was a smaller-scale version of the same mistake as Iraq, in that it assumed destroying a government would do anything other than create a vacuum, leading to a civil war, violent extremism and all the rest. And she (along with most of Washington) wants to do much the same in Syria. It’s about people who think that getting the bad guys = peacefreedomcapitalismdemocracy. It doesn’t. That’s what you say.

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Bernstein breaks it down, and finds little there. But the best part about it is sad Bill Kristol, who now resembles Dr. Frankenstein near the end of the book more than anything.
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