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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, right, are both favorites of the tea party wing of the Republican Party. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Rand Paul vs. Ted Cruz: Who's winning tea party voters? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 02.18.14

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are both favorites of the tea party wing of the Republican Party. If both run for president in 2016, as seems likely at the moment, they’d vie for the same conservative voters as a base upon which to build a winning GOP primary coalition.

Given that potential White House candidates are jockeying right now for support from key donors and party figures, it’s not too early to ask this question: Which of these two men is currently winning the most tea party support?

Despite their similar electoral roots, they are very different politicians, of course. And they’re taking two different roads to building name recognition and support in advance of the official White House race.

The libertarian-oriented Senator Paul is emphasizing his vision of a changed, more inclusive Republican Party. And he’s doing so in a pretty blunt way. In an interview with Glenn Beck that aired last week, Paul said the GOP will not win the White House again in his lifetime absent radical change.

“And it has to be a transformation. Not a little tweaking at the edges,” Paul told Mr. Beck in a segment aired on TheBlazeTV.

That means some kind of immigration reform, though Paul hasn’t outlined specifics on this issue beyond opposition to the indefinite jailing of detainees.

“If you want to work and you want a job and you want to be part of America, we’ll find a place for you,” Paul said in an interview with Politico published Tuesday.

Deemphasizing the war on drugs could win support in minority communities, which have a disproportionate share of their population jailed on drug charges, according to Paul. When the Kentucky senator speaks before audiences of young voters, he talks about civil liberties, not taxes.

Senator Cruz is taking a more confrontational approach. Where Paul has endorsed majority leader Mitch McConnell against a tea party primary opponent, angering some conservatives, Cruz won’t support Texas colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R), who also faces a tea party primary challenge.

Cruz clashed openly with establishment GOP leaders last week when he forced them to break his filibuster to allow a final vote on a bill to raise the national debt ceiling. Senator McConnell had hoped the legislation would pass without Republican fingerprints, avoiding a messy fight that might spook financial markets.

Afterwards, the Lone Star lawmaker was unrepentant. Lots of GOP senators misrepresented their intentions to constituents, he said, vowing they’d fight the debt ceiling when they had no intention of doing any such thing.

“It’s like they think the American people are just a bunch of rubes, that we don’t remember what they say,” Cruz told conservative radio talk host Mark Levin late last week.

Such defiance thrills insurgent-minded conservatives. Slate’s Dave Weigel notes today that Cruz is so popular in Texas that a number of Republican candidates now prominently feature photos of themselves with Cruz on their web sites – even though Cruz hasn’t actually endorsed them.

As for Paul, his endorsement of establishment leader McConnell shows he’s bailed on bringing big change to Washington, charges Leon Wolf in the conservative RedState website.

“When it comes to actual accomplishments that have changed the way things are done in Washington or even within the Senate GOP caucus, Paul’s cabinet is pretty empty,” writes Mr. Wolf.

But here’s the kicker: Right now Paul leads Cruz in polls of GOP voters. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys has Paul as the presidential nominee choice of 11.2 percent of Republicans, as opposed to 8.2 percent for Cruz.

Paul appears to have an edge among conservative and tea party voters as well, though the data here is a bit thin. In a January McClatchy/Marist survey, 10 percent of self-described tea party supporters picked Paul as their presidential choice. Nine percent picked Cruz. Paul won eight percent of “strong Republicans” in the McClatchy data; Cruz won six percent, which is within the poll margin of error. 

A poll from Democratic-leaning firm PPP released Jan. 29 has similar results. Among self-described “very conservative” voters, Paul bests Cruz as a nominee choice by 15 to 11 percent. (Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee beats both men in this category with 20 percent of the “very conservative” respondents.)

PPP finds Paul’s favorability ratings higher than Cruz’s among conservative voters, as well.

It’s early yet, though, and these results might just reflect the fact that Rand Paul’s father Ron Paul ran for president last time around and the family brand remains well-known in GOP circles. It’ll be interesting to see how the Paul/Cruz matchup develops in months ahead.

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky speaks in Washington, Nov. 6, 2013. Paul said Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014 on NBC’s 'Meet the Press' that Democrats should remember President Clinton’s sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky before turning their criticism to Republicans’ attitudes toward women. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Monica Lewinsky: Why GOP can't stop talking about Clinton scandal (+video)

By Staff Writer / 02.17.14

The Monica Lewinsky scandal has returned to US politics, after a fashion

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky raised it late last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying President Bill Clinton engaged in “predatory behavior” in his affair with the young intern in 1995 and 1996. Since then the Clinton/Lewinsky subject has arisen on many political chat shows as hosts ask guests to discuss its possible significance to a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy.

David Gregory asked Mitt Romney the Lewinsky question on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, for instance. The 2012 GOP nominee started off by saying that Hillary Clinton has her own record on which to run and that the Monica Lewinsky affair is not hers to explain. Then he added that Bill Clinton had “embarrassed the country” with his actions.

Then on Monday, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski laced into Republicans who bring up Lewinsky in the context of 2016.

They are “misogynist, sexist hypocrites,” said the co-host of “Morning Joe.”

“Rand Paul, please keep going after it, I am telling you right now it will backfire so badly,” added Ms. Brzezinski.

Well, there’s an obvious reason Rand Paul and other 2016 GOP hopefuls may keep raising the Lewinsky issue, even if he is concerned that Brzezinski may be right, and the general electorate does not want to revisit the mid-90s.

The reason is this: you have to win a nomination before you can face off against the other major party’s candidate. And Republican primary voters may be fed up after two White House losses and eager for a standard-bearer who will take the fight to Democrats. In that context bashing Bill Clinton as a “predator” may make electoral sense.

For a sense of the frustration on the right look at last week’s National Review editorial on this subject. The conservative magazine held that Senator Paul is right to raise Hillary Clinton’s role in the scandals of the Bill Clinton presidency as a means to counter Democratic charges that the GOP has a “war on women.”

“The Clintons are our national grotesques,” wrote National Review editors.

Hillary Clinton’s national polls are high in part because she is very, very popular with Democrats. That masks how low she rates with Republicans. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey, 88 percent of Democratic respondents rated the former secretary of State favorably, for example. But only 31 percent of Republicans gave her a favorable ranking. Sixty-six percent of GOP voters said they had an unfavorable view of Mrs. Clinton.

Again, it’s quite possible that waving the flag of past scandals could hurt a Republican nominee in a general election. GOP consultant Karl Rove noted as much on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that back in 2000 George W. Bush put a positive spin on the same subject.

“Instead of being against something, he said I will restore dignity and honor to the White House, describing what he was for,” Mr. Rove said.

Yes, Rand Paul and others might say, that’s all well and good – but sometimes you have to take risks just to make it to the playoffs.

President Barack Obama smiles as he stands in front of a portrait of President George Washington, during a photo opportunity with Haitian President Michel Martelly in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Why does myth of US Presidents Day persist? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.17.14

When is Presidents Day 2014? The correct answer to that question is “never.” When it comes to federal holidays, there is no such thing as Presidents Day. We’ve been saying this for years, but shockingly, the charade continues.

The official name for the holiday celebrated Feb. 17, 2014, is Washington’s Birthday. If you don’t believe us, look at the Office of Personnel Management’s list of 2014 holidays for federal workers.

There it is, Washington’s Birthday, right between Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and Memorial Day. There are an asterisk and a helpful note at the bottom of the page, which says that the holiday in question is specified as Washington’s Birthday under Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code.

“Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law,” OPM states.

Long story short: Washington’s Birthday has been a US holiday since 1886. In the late 1960s, Congress scrambled around a bunch of federal holidays to make three-day weekends, and Washington’s Birthday got thrown into that mix. The Illinois congressional delegation thought it would be a great idea to honor Abe Lincoln by expanding the name to Presidents Day. But Virginia lawmakers blocked the move to protect the prerogatives of The Father of Our Country. That’s where things still stand today.

As we noted, we’ve written more fully about all this in the past, so we’re not going to dwell on that at this time. Instead, we’ll float theories as to why the myth of Presidents Day continues.

States’ rights. As OPM notes, states can do what they wish, and some do call it Presidents Day. (Many also follow the federal lead and don’t.) Perhaps they want to stretch the day to get a little recognition for their own native sons. New York’s Martin Van Buren, come on down!

Corporate conspiracy. Maybe advertisers believe that consumers are more likely to get out and spend on a holiday called Presidents Day, so that’s what they call it on all their fliers. For all his virtues, George Washington seems formal and chilly: Would he approve of you buying that mattress? Even if it’s on sale?

Richard Nixon. There’s an urban legend that Richard Nixon started Presidents Day in the early 1970s. He issued a holiday proclamation turning Washington’s Birthday into a more inclusive event honoring all US chief executives, including him, according to this rumor.

That’s not true: His proclamation clearly referred to Washington’s Birthday. The debunking site Snopes.com has the full story. But what if Nixon started that rumor himself? He might have planted it knowing full well it would get repeated in the years ahead and he might get some Presidents Day recognition after all.

Yes, that’s kind of a back flip, but Nixon was a shrewd guy. And look at his own presidential library: This year it’s having a celebration of Presidents Day, not Washington’s Birthday, complete with actors playing Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Not that we’re complaining. We’d go if we could: First 100 guests get a free slice of cherry pie.

President Barack Obama greets Jordan's King Abdullah II at the Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage CA, Friday. The two leaders held talks over the weekend on a range of subjects including the Middle East. (Richard Lui/The Desert Sun/AP)

A peek into Obama’s weekend at Sunnylands (+video)

By / 02.15.14

This much we know about President Obama’s three-day weekend at Sunnylands, the luxurious 200-acre estate near Palm Springs, Calif., that has become something of a West Coast Camp David: He has played golf with three buddies, and planned to binge on TV.  

Mr. Obama may well feel he’s earned his three days of R&R. On Friday, he addressed a House Democratic retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, then took Air Force One to Fresno, Calif., for events focused on the state’s severe drought, then headed south to Sunnylands for a working dinner with King Abdullah II of Jordan. By our count, it was a 15-hour day.

King Abdullah didn’t stick around for golf and TV. But Obama has been joined by three high school friends and regular golf companions – Bobby Titcomb, Greg Orme, and Michael Ramos. Sounds like a boys weekend, kind of like the extra time first lady Michelle Obama spent in Hawaii with girlfriends after the holidays. This weekend, Mrs. Obama and their daughters had other plans.

And who can argue with the locale? Back in Washington, it’s in the 30s and it just snowed. Again. Here in Rancho Mirage, it’s partly cloudy and 82 degrees.

The president, of course, never really stops working. On Saturday afternoon, Obama signed the debt ceiling bill and another bill that restores full cost of living benefits for military retirees. National Security Adviser Susan Rice is also at Sunnylands for the weekend, having come for the Abdullah meeting.

Regardless of why one’s here, it is an elegant place to be, set in the desert against a mountain backdrop, and featuring acres of desert gardens, a nine-hole golf course, and world-class art.

The estate was built in the 1960s by philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg, who set up a trust that governs its use, now that they're no longer alive, as a “sanctuary for generations of high-level national and world leaders seeking the privacy, the peace, and ‘the pause’ needed for solving the most pressing national and international issues,” according to the Sunnylands website.

On Friday, Obama said meeting with the king here allowed them to have an extensive consultation “in a less formal setting.” Indeed, the two leaders went without neckties. The king had just spent the previous week having meetings in Washington, but for his meeting with Obama, he got the royal treatment here on the West Coast, complete with red carpet.

Obama’s first Sunnylands summit was last June, when he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping here for two days of official working meetings.  Obama presented Mr. Xi a California redwood bench as a gift to the people of China, a replica of which sits in the garden at Sunnylands.

Tourists, too, can come here (though not this weekend). Still, when tickets become available, they sell out fast. As this reporter walked around the Sunnylands Center Saturday morning – as part of the traveling press pool, far away from POTUS’s golf game – staff were fielding phone calls from people frustrated that newly available tickets had sold out already.  

The allure isn’t hard to understand. Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Princess Grace all visited. Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to come, followed by President Nixon and all presidents since. Walter Annenberg was a friend of Ronald Reagan long before he became president, and was part of the “kitchen cabinet” that urged him into politics. Leonore Annenberg served as President Reagan’s chief of protocol for two years.

As high-minded as the Annenbergs’ aspirations for their estate were, they also knew the value of kicking back. The residence, where Obama is staying, features a game room where “presidents, actors, and friends enjoyed private film screenings there while indulging in Annenberg signature snacks – jelly beans, potato chips, and pretzels,” the Sunnylands brochure says.

We’re thinking Obama will use that game room for some screenings of his own. Last Thursday, @BarackObama (which is run by the political support group Organizing for Action) tweeted: “Tomorrow @HouseOfCards. No spoilers, please.” We must note that since the tweet was not followed by “-bo”, it was not Obama himself who wrote it.

Still, it has been widely reported that he enjoys edgy series like “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire.” According to The New York Times, Obama approached the head of HBO, Richard Plepler, at the state dinner for the French president last week, and asked for DVDs of the series “True Detective” and “Game of Thrones.” Obama isn’t due back in Washington until Monday night, so he should have time for a few episodes, and more golf. 

Former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in New Orleans, Jan. 27, 2014. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Hillary Clinton tells women to 'grow skin like a rhinoceros.' Good advice? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.14.14

Hillary Clinton said Thursday that women who want to get ahead in politics or other high-profile jobs should “grow skin like a rhinoceros.”

This is a bit of wisdom the former secretary of State may have learned the hard way. We’ll get to that in a moment.

But first, the background: Mrs. Clinton was speaking at an event for the No Ceilings project, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to empower women in the 21st century.

No Ceilings is launching a review of global data to see how far women have progressed in education, income, political participation, and other measures since the mid-1990s, Clinton said. It picked that parameter because Clinton had addressed a big UN World Conference on Women in 1995, when she was first lady.

Flanked by her daughter, Chelsea, and Melinda Gates onstage at New York University, Clinton gave no hint of her future political plans. But she did give interesting counsel to other women who might want to follow in her footsteps.

“One of the best pieces of advice that I have ever heard from anyone is from Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s, who said that women in politics or in public roles should grow skin like a rhinoceros,” Clinton said. “I think there is some truth to that.”

That’s true, of course. But it’s not just true for women. Men in politics have to be able to withstand the slings and arrows of rhetorical abuse, as well. Remember how Texas Gov. Ann Richards mocked George H.W. Bush in 1988? “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth,” she told the Democratic National Convention that year, to riotous applause.

Ouch.

But women may face particular kinds of insults. For instance, political qualities that in men might be seen as admirably slick, in women are deemed “ruthless.” That’s what Bill Clinton’s pollsters said of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s public image back in 1992, according to the trove of documents from friend Diane Blair published this week by the Washington Free Beacon.

“Ruthless,” of course, is pretty close to a word that rhymes with “witch,” which is a slash men don’t usually suffer. Women complain that they have to be tougher than men to get ahead, but then they get slapped with the “witch” word, so in the public eye they can’t win.

The need to gird against such attacks is something to which Hillary Clinton did not come naturally. That’s also apparent in the “The Hillary Papers” of Ms. Blair. Blair, a political scientist who had planned to write a book about the Clintons, took copious notes of private talks with the then-first lady. One of the emotions that comes through from this record is the bubbling anger Mrs. Clinton had toward critics. She thought D.C. “superficial,” for one thing. In 1994 she said that “bonding with creeps” was the story of her year.

She particularly disliked the baying beagles of the press. She thought them “hypocrites” with “big egos and no brains.”

At one point, Blair noted, Clinton was “trying to work through her anger so she can talk calmly to the press.”

Does that sound like someone who has a thick skin? No, it doesn’t, as Clinton critics are pointing out.

“What a relief to know that the woman who felt persecuted by the world in her husband’s administration has learned an important life lesson,” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on her conservative “Right Turn” blog.

Clinton went through quite a bit in those years, though. There was the administration’s failed health-care reform, led by her. There was her husband’s dalliance with an intern and his impeachment. And so on.

Then she became a US senator, and then secretary of State. That latter job in particular is one you’ve got to have a thick hide to endure. So she’s obviously toughened up in this regard along the way.

But inuring yourself to the chattering class does not mean making yourself into something different, Clinton added at Thursday’s appearance.

Women should be true to themselves in public life “without it making you less authentic or undermining your confidence, and that is not an easy task,” she said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, as senators go to the chamber for a vote to extend the Treasury's borrowing authority. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Ted Cruz filibuster angers GOP leaders. Where does fight end? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.13.14

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas is unpopular with many establishment Republicans in D.C. They see him as the driving force behind last year’s partial government shutdown, which sent their party’s approval ratings to new lows. Perhaps as a result, Senator Cruz was pretty quiet through the first part of 2014. But now he’s forced GOP Senate leaders into a vote they badly wanted to avoid.

Cruz is doubling down on his outsider status. He’s burning his remaining bridges with a blowtorch, to throw more metaphors into the mix.

Not that he’d see it that way. Cruz describes his actions as consistent with GOP small-government principles. It is party leaders who have moved away from those, according to the Texan.

“Today’s vote is yet another example that establishment politicians from both parties are simply not listening to the American people,” said Cruz in a statement Wednesday after the Senate approved an increase in the national debt ceiling.

Here’s the background: Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R) gave up and agreed to bring a clean debt-ceiling bill to his chamber floor. He could not get his own caucus to agree on an add-on provision, such as elimination of insurance firm “risk corridors” in Obamacare, to the must-pass debt legislation.

The bill cleared the House with mostly Democratic backing. Then it went to the Senate, where Democrats, with 55 votes, control the majority. Republicans could allow the bill to pass without having their fingerprints upon it. Easy sailing, time to fly home to beat the storm, right?

Wrong. In a caucus meeting prior to the vote, Cruz made it clear he would filibuster the bill. That meant it would need to get 60 votes to proceed to final passage. Five Republican senators would have to join the Democrats in saying “yea.” Otherwise, the US would be right back on the fiscal brink, with Wall Street worried about the government defaulting on its debts and financial markets spinning.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell was particularly displeased. At the GOP meeting there was a “spirited exchange” between Senator McConnell and Cruz, according to a source quoted by right-leaning National Review’s Betsy Woodruff.

McConnell is running for reelection, and he faces a spirited tea party challenger, Matt Bevin, in the primary. So Cruz’s move put him personally in a tough spot.

Long story short, that’s what happened. Late Wednesday McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, the minority whip, tried to round up some usual suspects. But even GOP moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine apparently declined to jump, unless the leadership went first.

“No Republican wanted to be vote No. 60 to advance a bill to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts,” according to NBC News’ “First Thoughts” political blog.

So McConnell and Senator Cornyn, described by spectators as “grim-faced,” voted to let the bill proceed. Eventually, a total of 12 Republican senators voted to let the bill proceed. All voted “no” on final passage.

Perhaps Cruz is now at the top of McConnell’s personal list of lawmakers he does not like. Back in Kentucky, Mr. Bevin is already tweeting out anti-McConnell ads that feature the Senate minority leader and a blank check made out to President Obama.

We’ve got a couple of thoughts on that, however.

McConnell may have himself to blame. Cruz did not pioneer debt-limit politics. For years, Republicans have tried to use this legislation as a lever to enact policies otherwise unpopular with Democrats. As Brian Beutler argues in Salon, this has created an impression among many in the GOP rank and file that Republicans should not agree to a raise of the debt ceiling without an attempt at quid pro quo.

“McConnell and Cornyn invited all this upon themselves,” writes Mr. Beutler.

Cruz's Senate future may be uncomfortable. That said, Cruz is still going to be a backbencher in a caucus whose leaders may feel he has attacked them personally. That could mean few favors, chilly meetings, and less desirable committee assignments, among other things.

State primary polling is not particularly accurate, and Kentucky’s GOP primary is still months away, but all indications are that McConnell’s lead over his tea party challenger is in the double digits. If anything, McConnell appears more concerned about the Democratic candidate, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who leads by a narrow margin in recent polls.

Yet right now, Republicans also have a better-than-even chance of capturing Senate control. That means McConnell could return as majority leader. Hmmm, are there any offices in Senate basements to which Cruz could be exiled?

Cruz will be more popular than ever on the right. If Cruz wants to run for president as leader of the tea party right, he’s done a good job solidifying his credentials. After all, Wednesday's debt-limit vote is a symbol of the split in the Republican Party, not a cause of it. The Senate Conservatives Fund on Wednesday unveiled a tough new ad comparing McConnell’s actions with IRS scrutiny of conservative nonprofit groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Bullying. Threats. Intimidation. The IRS? No, try Mitch McConnell,” the ad begins.

In that context, Cruz’s filibuster push was a direct challenge, not just to the Senate GOP leadership, but to the party as a whole.

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky speaks to reporters in front of federal court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. Claiming the Obama administration is violating Americans’ constitutional rights, Sen. Rand Paul and a conservative political group are filing a lawsuit over the National Security Agency's surveillance program. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Sen. Rand Paul files NSA lawsuit. Can he win? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 02.12.14

Rand Paul is suing the National Security Agency over its phone metadata program. Specifically, he’s joining with the conservative group FreedomWorks to file a class action lawsuit against the Obama administration claiming the NSA’s collection of time, number, and other information about telephone calls violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

“The Bill of Rights protects all citizens from general warrants. I expect this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court and I predict the American people will win,” the libertarian-leaning Senator Paul (R) of Kentucky said in a press release announcing the move.

The libertarian-leaning Sen. Paul (R) of Kentucky has been a tough critic of the NSA since leaker Edward Snowden began making the world aware of the scope of the agency’s actions. His 13-hour filibuster on the subject last March electrified privacy and civil liberties proponents on both sides of the political aisle.

The lawsuit may be an attempt to build on this reputation in advance of a possible 2016 presidential run. Paul also wants to win the case of course. Does it have a chance?

He and FreedomWorks are far from the first to sue the agency. The most successful legal challenge so far was filed by conservative activist and legal gadfly Larry Klayman. Mr. Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch, won a preliminary injunction against the NSA’s phone program in a federal district court. In his ruling, US District Court Judge Richard Leon called the NSA’s vacuum of phone metadata “almost Orwellian.”

Judge Leon stayed his ruling pending an appeal by the government.

It’s possible that Rand Paul’s lawsuit will now be heard in court alongside Klayman’s, according to US News & World Report’s Steven Nelson.

Klayman had earlier told US News that was a possibility if Paul sued, since the new lawsuit would likely be assigned to Judge Leon as well.

“If the lawsuit from Klayman isn’t accepted quickly by the Supreme Court, the in tandem scenario might mean joint hearings and court rulings alongside Paul’s team,” writes Mr. Nelson.

But the fate of another NSA lawsuit, this one filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, may point out the legal hurdles Paul will have to overcome to prevail. Federal Judge William Pauley in New York ruled that the ACLU had “no traction” in its argument that the NSA’s metadata program violated the Fourth Amendment.

The legal problem facing the ACLU and other NSA litigants may be establishing that particular people or organizations have been harmed, points out Adi Robertson on the tech site The Verge.

For members of class action suits “there’s no definitive way to tell whether the NSA actually collected metadata from them, and the claim is too hypothetical for many judges. If Paul wants to go forward with [his] suit, he’ll need to calculate and prove similar damages for every single member of his class,” Robertson writes.

Thus the Paul effort may be doomed, according to The Verge.

Meanwhile, Paul’s Political Action Committee is urging supporters of the lawsuit to sign a petition and stand with Rand. This effort will collect names and e-mail addresses of possible political supporters in advance of any presidential run.

Obviously the nature of this effort is worlds apart from NSA data collection. It is voluntary and limited, not to mention common among politicians and political organizations.

But the juxtaposition has caused some pundits to comment as to whether Paul has multiple goals with today’s NSA filing.

“A list of 10 million people with working e-mail addresses, a demonstrated commitment to an issue on which Paul is strong, and information about where exactly they live? That’s got a lot of value to Paul 2016, even if not to his legal team,” writes The Wire’s Philip Bump.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in New York. Clinton hasn't announced whether she will run for president in 2016, but the GOP already plans to use of the 'The Hillary Papers' against her. (Jason DeCrow/AP/File)

'The Hillary Papers': How will GOP use them against Clinton? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.11.14

How will the Republican Party make use of "The Hillary Papers”? That’s an open question after the conservative Washington Free Beacon published a trove of memos and archive material from Diane Blair, a longtime friend of ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who died in 2000.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, on Monday issued notice that his organization will make use of that material – beginning now.

“I think we’re going to have a truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and some things may be old and some things might be new. But I think everything is at stake when you’re talking about the leader of the free world and who we’re going to give the keys to run the United States of America,” Mr. Priebus told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.

Much of the initial coverage of this material has focused on Mrs. Clinton’s judgment of Monica Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony tune” and on a 1992 memo from Clinton pollsters, which asserted that the qualities voters deemed slick in Bill Clinton they judged “ruthless” in his wife.

But the RNC has mined the papers for a health-care nugget, which they’ve already featured in an attack on the unofficial front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

In her notes, Ms. Blair at one point writes that Mrs. Clinton thought a “managed competition” approach to health-care reform was a “crock” and that a “single payer,” government-run system might be superior.

The RNC pairs this with a quote from a 2008 New York Times interview in which Clinton said she had never seriously considered a single-payer system.

“During Her 2008 Presidential Run, Clinton’s Records Were On Lockdown ... Now We Know Why,” blares the RNC’s headline.

That’s standard-issue opposition research. Comb through your opponent’s record looking for things that can be portrayed as inconsistencies. Then present them with the implication that more is hidden behind that discrepancy.

What’s maybe more interesting here is how early the GOP is ramping up the attacks. Perhaps its goal is partly to show Clinton how tough a general election would be, just in case she harbors some doubts about whether she really wants to go through all that again.

“Does she want to relive the nastiness?” Jay Newton-Small, Time magazine Washington correspondent, wondered aloud on MSNBC’s “Hardball” Monday.

And nastiness there was. If a theme comes out in the 40 pages of documents released by the Free Beacon, it’s the overall frustration and anger that Clinton felt in the early 1990s as her husband ascended to the presidency and she had to accustom herself to Washington political culture.

According to Blair, she called the press “hypocrites” and said they had “big egos and no brains.” She was exasperated by the slowness of the decisionmaking process in Bill’s West Wing and powerless to get him to do anything about it.

At one point Blair says Clinton told her she had had a long conversation with Sharon Rockefeller, wife of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia, about the “superficiality of the D.C. scene.”

“Bonding with creeps” had been the story of her year, Clinton told Blair in 1994.

Decades of public life have surely hardened Clinton against the media and Washington’s self-importance. Her public service as senator and secretary of State has given her independent political stature. Republicans may regret dredging up memories of the 1990s, given that older voters may remember that the Clintons' approval ratings were strong throughout that period, and younger voters won’t remember them at all.

But it is not impossible that Clinton won’t run. "The Hillary Papers” may jog her memory and raise the question, why should she return to the White House?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in New Orleans, Jan. 27, 2014. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

'The Hillary Papers': Is Clinton's past a political danger? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.10.14

Do "The Hillary Papers” contain damaging revelations or just the same old stuff? That’s a question dividing D.C. partisans in the wake of the publication of a trove of memos and archive material from Diane Blair, a longtime friend of ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's who died in 2000.

Ms. Blair, a political scientist and author, had planned to write a book from the papers. That never happened. Instead, they were deposited at the University of Arkansas. Contents of the papers were first made public late Sunday by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site.

The Free Beacon describes the documents as portraying a politically unflattering portrait of Mrs. Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. For instance, it leads with a 1992 memo from Bill Clinton’s pollsters that mused about ways to improve the image of his wife.

Voters admired her intelligence, drive, and fortitude, the memo said. But she was off-putting to some, particularly older, male voters.

“What voters find slick in Bill Clinton, they find ruthless in Hillary,” the memo said.

Papers published by the Free Beacon also contained notes written by Blair from conversations with Clinton in which the latter said that her husband’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was a terrible personal failure on his part, but that it had been a mutual affair and that Bill had tried to cut it off, seeing how dangerous it was.

Blair noted that Mrs. Clinton described Ms. Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony tune.”

The political scientist also wrote that Clinton felt “managed competition” health-care reform would not work, while government-run “single payer” health care, and perhaps an expanded Medicare, was the best way to go.

Will these bits damage Clinton’s image on the eve of a 2016 run? On the right-leaning "Hot Air" site, Ed Morrissey writes, “For those looking for nuggets of embarrassment gold from the Clinton Era, this is pay dirt.”

But, he adds, the past is past, and the GOP is better off focusing on Benghazi and more current Clinton material to lower her poll numbers.

“The problem with Hillary isn’t her cut-throated approach to politics. It’s that she’s incompetent,” Mr. Morrissey writes.

Many voters don’t think Clinton incompetent, given her sky-high poll numbers, other pundits point out. And in some ways, her past is her present. If she runs, her extensive résumé would make her unlike any previous presidential contender. She can’t wave it away.

In a general election against Clinton, a Republican nominee would almost certainly argue that he or she represents the future, and Clinton the past, writes Washington Post political expert Chris Cillizza in "The Fix." The publication of "The Hillary Papers” only highlights how the GOP could use this to depict her in a negative way.

“The biggest hurdle for Hillary Clinton as she contemplates another White House bid in 2016 can be effectively summed up by Timon, the meerkat from ‘The Lion King’: ‘You’ve got to put the past behind you,’ ” Mr. Cillizza writes.

That said, there is actually little evidence that voters get tired of presidential candidates who have been public figures for decades. “Clinton fatigue” may strike mostly those voters who were against them from Bill’s first day in the White House.

Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, which was 30 years after he began making political speeches, writes University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket at the "Mischiefs of Faction" political science blog.

Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory in 1964, which was 28 years after he entered the public eye as a member of Congress, later becoming a senator and vice president.

Bob Dole and Walter Mondale both won major-party presidential nominations after decades of political service.

 “[A]ssuming [Clinton] wants and gets the Democratic nomination for 2016, she will be subject to the same forces that have determined the successes and failures of previous party nominees: prosperity, peace, moderation, and, to a lesser extent, her skills as a campaigner relative to her opponent’s. Those, and not her freshness, will determine that election’s outcome,” Mr. Masket writes.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Keansburg, N.J., of residents whose homes in Keansburg, were heavily damaged by superstorm Sandy. (Mel Evans/AP)

Latest GOP 2016 rankings: The leader will surprise you (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.07.14

Who’s up and who’s down in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination? Don’t blame us for asking – that contest is well under way whether voters like it or not. As we and many others have written, right now US politics is in the midst of the “invisible primary,” in which big donors, campaign consultants, and top party figures line up behind their candidates of choice. They’re setting the table before the entertaining feast of the actual primaries begins.

That said, some new ratings are out that we find pretty interesting. They’re from the “Crystal Ball” newsletter of the always quotable Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He chops the Republican field into layers, and in his top tier Dr. Sabato puts New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (No. 3, and falling); Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (No. 2, and rising); and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin (No. 1, and “huh”?).

That’s right, Gov. Scott Walker. Remember him? He’s a hero to the right for winning a big victory in Wisconsin by limiting the bargaining powers of some public-sector labor unions. “Crystal Ball” likes his combination of executive experience, tea party bona fides, and political resilience. But it’s possible he’d be unpalatable to national voters, write Sabato and co-political scientists Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley.

“We like Walker’s potential as a candidate, but just because he tops our list doesn’t make him the frontrunner: This is a very big and fluid field,” the trio write.

Sabato’s second tier consists of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (widely seen as hurt by his attempt to garner GOP support for immigration reform); Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (not beloved by the Republican establishment); and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio (supported "Obamacare" Medicaid expansion, ouch).

Perhaps more interesting is the “wild card” tier: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (two serious Badger State candidates?), and Jeb Bush, who needs no further description.

OK, to review all this, we’d agree Governor Christie is falling. Bridge-gate is developing a life of its own and may turn out to be rare “gate” that actually affects a politician’s fortunes. Senator Rand rising? Don’t see it. He’s got a devoted following and draws some liberal support for his anti-National Security Agency surveillance stand, but his noninterventionist foreign policy limits him in the GOP primaries.

Governor Walker? Wisconsin Democrats dislike him intensely. Come to think of it, that probably helps him – for now.

As for former VP candidate Ryan, he might be underestimated here. He’s the flavor of the week in some GOP circles. “Is Paul Ryan the man to beat in 2016?” writes Allahpundit Friday at the right-leaning "Hot Air" site. “He’s as personally likeable as any of his rivals, and he is, technically, now ‘next in line’ in a party that tends to go that route when making hard choices in the primaries.” 

And Jeb Bush may be limited only by his own ambition (and by the fact that his mom keeps implying he shouldn’t run). He’s an establishment guy the conservatives mostly respect who is keeping himself out of current policy disagreements.

“Bush is an obvious prospect. Despite the baggage his name carries in some circles, the reservoir of goodwill among Republicans for Bush is deep, and his popularity with the suit-and-tie crowd is high,” writes Beth Reinhard of National Journal.

Yeah, yeah, but what do the polls say?

At this point, polls aren’t that indicative, given that they generally reflect name recognition and that it’s such a long time until voting actually starts.

But if you look at the RealClearPolitics rolling average of 2016 GOP candidates, No. 1 is ... Mike Huckabee. He’s the choice of 15 percent of self-identified Republican voters.

OK, he has been included in only a few polls, so maybe there are not enough data. Go down the list, and the alternate No. 1 is who you’d probably expect, Christie, at 12.8 percent. Ryan, Bush, and Paul are bunched closely behind him.

Walker is way down the list, at 5.3 percent. Well, at least he’s ahead of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Thursday, most of the ranking now going on is just punditry, meaning guesswork. He’d lump everybody who has conventional credentials for the job, and is within the GOP mainstream on policy, into one top tier and leave it at that.

Currently there is “no one who seems to have any objective case to be in the lead,” Mr. Bernstein writes on Bloomberg Opinion.

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