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Back to the Future: Why the 2016 Race Seems Stuck in the Past

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Composite shot of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton
Composite shot of Jeb Bush and Hillary ClintonAP

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The problem you get when a Bush, a Clinton, a Huckabee, a Santorum, and even a Paul are all preparing White House bids is an early presidential contest that seems stuck in the past. For Jeb Bush, the current question is: If you’re your own man, why are you surrounding yourself with many of the same foreign-policy advisers your brother and father had, including the architects of the 2003 Iraq war? For Hillary Clinton, the current question is: Why is Clinton Inc. continuing to engage in shady fundraising practices, with the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from foreign governments? (Conflict of interest, anyone?) And for Rand Paul, who appears set to announce his presidential bid on April 7, the question is going to be: Do you agree or disagree with what your father said about (fill in the blank)? To be sure, all elections litigate the past -- a record in public service, old statements, problematic associations, even what happened during your childhood. But ultimately, most presidential elections are about the future. See Bill Clinton’s “Bridge to the 21st Century,” Barack Obama’s hope and change, and even George W. Bush’s “America is ready for a new beginning.”

And why the race to get back to the future is wide open

So as a result, the race to claim the future in 2016 is wide open. Is that person Scott Walker? Marco Rubio? Someone else? A recent CNN poll found that 50% of Americans say that Hillary Clinton represents the future -- followed by Chris Christie at 43%, Paul at 41%, Walker at 39%, Joe Biden at 33%, and Jeb Bush at 33% (and at just 47% among Republicans). What’s more, conservatives are increasingly worried that a Bush-vs.-Clinton general would put Republicans at a disadvantage. Here’s the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein: “In a general election, nominating Bush would neutralize one of Hillary Clinton's biggest liabilities (the idea that she, too, is a figure from the past trying to ride her last name to power). Instead of having the clear contrast that would be possible if Republicans were to name a fresh candidate, the 2016 election would devolve into a proxy battle over whether Americans want to restore the Bush or Clinton presidencies. Whether the GOP likes it or not, that isn't a matchup that favors Republicans.” And by the way, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports that the conservative group ForAmerica, headed by Brent Bozell, is declaring Jeb Bush "unelectable" and highlighting video of him praising Hillary Clinton in 2013.

Foreign policy will both an asset and a weakness for Bush

As for Jeb Bush’s foreign-policy speech yesterday, it was clear where he was more comfortable (on Latin American and, to a lesser extent, Asia) and where he wasn’t as comfortable. But here’s the thing about Bush: Given his last name, crop of advisers, and interests in Latin America, he’s going to be better-versed in foreign policy that his GOP rivals -- with the exceptions of Rick Santorum, Rubio, and Lindsey Graham. And so that will be an asset for Jeb in an election where foreign policy looks to be more important than it was in 2012. The problem for Bush is that pretty much any Republican could have given that speech yesterday -- Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster, ISIS is bad, freedom and economic prosperity are good. And that’s the downside here for Bush: Other Republicans saying the same thing might sound a bit fresher, but it’s harder for Bush to sound fresh. Indeed, it was striking to hear Bush talk about “liberty diplomacy” after his brother’s “freedom” agenda.

Clinton Inc.’s conflict of interest

Speaking of not looking/sounding fresh, there’s another story involving the Clintons’ shady fundraising practices. The Wall Street Journal: “The Clinton Foundation on Wednesday defended its practice of accepting donations from overseas governments, amid concerns from some ethics experts that such contributions are inappropriate at a time when Hillary Clinton is preparing to run for president. A Wall Street Journal review of donations to the Clinton Foundation in 2014 showed the charity received money from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman, among others. The donors included Canada’s foreign affairs department, which is promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.” The Journal adds that the Clinton Foundation STOPPED receiving contributions from foreign governments when Clinton became secretary of state, but renewed the practice after she left that post. But here’s the problem: If this looked like a conflict of interest when she was secretary of state, why doesn’t it look like a conflict of interest as she prepares for another presidential bid?

The Great (and Silly) Naming Debate of 2015

What the “radical Islam” debate is ignoring: Over the past several days, the political world has been engaged in a silly naming debate -- why doesn’t President Obama say “radical Islam”? And yesterday, Obama looked equally silly trying to avoid saying it. But as folks are so caught up in this Great Naming Debate, we’re not focused on the bigger problems, such as a Saudi Arabia’s role in funding these types of groups (something we didn’t hear from leaders after the recent death of Saudi Arabia’s king) and Western Europe’s practice of ghettoizing their Muslim communities. The United States has a great story to tell: Our Muslim communities are much less likely to have to have members join groups like ISIS than what we see in Europe.

Mike Murphy to work on Jeb’s Super PAC -- and not the campaign?

Finally, don’t miss this scoop from the New York Times: “Mike Murphy, the Republican strategist who has played a critical role in getting out Jeb Bush’s message and rolling out his all-but-certain presidential run, may not end up working for the campaign itself. Mr. Murphy has had discussions about joining Mr. Bush’s “super PAC,” Right to Rise, a high-dollar outfit that will work to promote his candidacy independent of an official campaign, according to people with knowledge of the conversations who spoke under the condition of anonymity to be able to speak freely about discussions within Mr. Bush’s closely held circle.”

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