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First Thoughts: Walker's Future Relies on Answers to Tough Questions

<p>First Thoughts: No smoking guns in e-mails released in Wisconsin but there remain questions about Walker’s role in mixing official business with politics.</p>

Released emails could pose a potential problem for Scott Walker… Walker’s real test: How he answers the questions that will be coming… Disappointment all around at “Three Amigos” summit in Mexico… Remember when the GOP was praising the Clintons?... Pro-McConnell TV ad says McConnell wants to FIX the health-care law… And Greg Abbott’s unforced error.

Emails could pose a potential problem for Scott Walker

The thousands of pages of emails released Wednesday in Wisconsin didn’t contain the equivalent of “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” But they do pose a potential problem for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who’s up for re-election this year and who very well could run for president in 2016. (Many insiders consider Walker one of the co-front-runners for 2016, but that has often been a curse.) At issue: Emails from former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch, who pleaded guilty in 2012 of doing political work while serving in the county executive office Walker headed before he won the governorship. Well, according to one email, it appears Walker was asking his 2010 campaign team and county-executive team to coordinate on daily conference calls. The email from then-county executive chief of staff Thomas Nardelli: “The County Executive has asked that we conduct a conference call daily at 8:00 a.m. to review events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.” That county executive, of course, was Scott Walker. Another email from the county’s administrative director to Rindfleisch says: “Consider yourself now in the ‘inner circle.’… I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW and Nardelli. You should be sure you check it throughout the day.” And now, as the New York Times and Washington Post have noted, comes a second and separate investigation apparently looking at campaign violations in Walker’s recall battle.

Walker’s real test

How he answers the questions that will be coming at him: The real test for Walker is how he handles this new scrutiny and answers questions about these investigations. So far, his office issued this simple statement on yesterday’s email dump: “The recently released communications of a county staffer from several years ago are part of a legal process that was completed early last year,” his spokesman said. “Gov. Walker is confident that during that legal process, these communications were thoroughly reviewed by the authorities.” There is one big difference, however, between this story in Wisconsin and the Christie story in New Jersey: The allegations against Christie and his team are that they used their power to punish those who weren’t backing the governor or supporting his key projects. (Also remember, Christie’s main motivation for garnering Dem support was to enhance his 2016 standing.) The allegation here against Walker and his team is more of a local story and, frankly, a tad more run of the mill: They were mixing politics with official business. Now that allegation still poses a problem for Walker, since Wisconsin is such a stickler for these kinds of rules; it’s a state that in many ways is the birthplace of political reform (it’s why folks get in trouble for doing things in Wisconsin that in many other states wouldn’t even be investigated). But for right now, this looks more like the finger-pointing from Bill Clinton’s Arkansas days than then national scandal the Jersey story has become.

Disappointment at “Three Amigos” summit in Mexico

Maybe now we know whey President Obama wanted to spend less than 24 hours in Mexico at yesterday’s “Three Amigos” summit in Mexico. The reason: The two other amigos were only going to be disappointed. Mexico’s president wants immigration reform to be passed, but the GOP-led House of Representatives doesn’t seem willing to even vote on any reform this year. And Canada’s prime minister wants the Keystone XL pipeline, but that doesn’t seem to be coming for a while – especially now that a Nebraska judge struck down the law that would have allowed the pipeline project to proceed in the state. Meanwhile, the biggest news out of Mexico yesterday was Obama’s comments on the violence in Ukraine, which has only gotten worse: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the violence that's taking place. And we have been deeply engaged with our European partners as well as the Ukrainian government and the opposition to try to ensure that that violence ends. But we hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protestors in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression.” The most intriguing comment Obama made about Ukraine was saying that the disagreements with Russia on this issue as well as Syria and Iran, did not mean the U.S. should return to the idea of a “Cold War chessboard,” where the two countries horse-trade their disputes. There are actually some foreign-policy veterans of previous Cold War era administrations who actually disagree with that mindset; so this Obama comment appeared to be a response to that advice the White House is now receiving.

Remember when the GOP was praising the Clintons?

As we noted yesterday, the GOP and conservative media have increasingly turned their focus -- and firepower -- on Bill and Hillary Clinton. Benghazi. Monica. Even Kathleen Willey. But it’s also worth noting all the past praise Republicans showered on the Clintons as a way to knock President Obama and divide Democrats. Don’t be surprised if you Democrats resurrect some of these quotes come 2015-2016.

Obama is not your daddy's Democrat. He's not a mainstream Democrat like Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton worked with both sides of the aisle. Bill Clinton was able to get things done.

  • Here’s former Vice President Dick Cheney praising Hillary’s competency:"She might have been easier for some of us who are critics of the president to work with,” he told Fox News in 2011, adding, “I have the sense that she's one of the more competent members of the current administration.”
  • Here’s RNC Chair Reince Priebus applauding Bill Clinton’s bipartisanship: “Obama is not your daddy's Democrat,” Priebus said in Sept. 2012. “He's not a mainstream Democrat like Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton worked with both sides of the aisle. Bill Clinton was able to get things done."
  • Here’s John McCain commenting on Hillary’s foreign-policy record. “I think she did a fine job,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a 2013 New Republic interview about Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. “She’s a rock star. She has, maybe not glamour, but certainly the aura of someone widely regarded throughout the world.”
  • Here’s Scott Walker praising Bill Clinton’s business acumen: “President Clinton … he's been hanging around with a number of people in the private sector, people who actually put people to work, whether they're small business or big business or anywhere in between. That's how our nation thrives,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told CNN in 2012.
  • And here’s Paul Ryan on Bill Clinton’s deficit-reduction success: “Look, if we had a Clinton presidency, if we had Erskine Bowles chief of staff at the White House or president of the United States, I think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on “Meet the Press” in Jan. 2013. “That`s not the kind of presidency we`re dealing with right now.”

Pro-McConnell TV ad says McConnell wants to FIX the health-care law

Want more evidence that Republican leaders have pretty much abandoned the rhetoric of repealing the health-care law? Just check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s TV ad in Kentucky supporting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Mitch McConnell is leading the fight to fix this Obamacare mess -- to lower costs and reduce red tape.” the ad goes. Come again? FIX the law? The campaign for McConnell’s GOP primary opponent Matt Bevin fired back: "Mitch McConnell had the chance to help defeat ObamaCare but chose to oppose Sens.’ Lee and Cruz's effort.” But to us, this is more proof that McConnell, including the groups like the Chamber supporting his candidacy, are more worried about the general election than the primary.

Greg Abbott’s unforced error

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’ (D) unforced error -- having some key holes in her own biography. But now her presumed general-election opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), has committed an unforced error of his own -- campaigning with rocker/political provocateur Ted Nugent (who called Obama a “subhuman mongrel”), and that has now roused up Sarah Palin (who said of Abbott, “If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me”). Bottom line: Neither Abbott nor Davis seems to be running a Texas campaign right now; instead, they appear to be hijacked more by national politics.

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