Monday, January 11, 2016

Will the GOP’s Identity Politics Doom Marco Rubio? By Brian Beutler.

Will the GOP’s Identity Politics Doom Marco Rubio? By Brian Beutler. The New Republic, January 11, 2016.


The Republican base is old, cantankerous, and white. Senator Rubio is not.

If you had judged the state of the Republican primary one month ago by surveying the elite punditry of the moment, you would’ve come away with the sense that Marco Rubio was a runaway favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination.

This assessment stood in stark contrast to both national and early state polls, none of which showed (or today show) Rubio anywhere close to the lead, and only one of which (New Hampshire) had him holding a tenuous grasp on distant second.

The logic underlying the pro-Rubio analysis, rooted in the perfectly sensible assumption that Rubio’s support will climb as the Republican field winnows, isn’t entirely unfounded. The field of candidates who could plausibly gain significant numbers of endorsements within the party is much more fractured than the field of “insurgent” candidates. If and when the former field shrinks, the thinking goes, Rubio stands to consolidate enough support to find himself in league with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Unless, of course, he doesn’t.

When other candidates have faltered, Trump and Cruz have surged, but Rubio has barely benefited at all. Nationally he enjoys less than 11 percent support, and falling. In Iowa he’s holding steady at 12.5 percent. He’s enjoying a modest climb in New Hampshire along with other candidates, and in South Carolina both he and Cruz are experiencing small surges, but Cruz at a significantly faster clip.

As Dave Weigel noted at The Washington Post, “The ‘establishment lane’ of the party has fought over a shrinking piece of turf.” In order to match or surpass Trump, Rubio must be the second choice of the vast majority of voters whose preferred candidates will soon exit the race.

Instead, the Florida senator, so prized by the commentariat, has been dragged into a nasty spat with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who’s threatening to knock Rubio into third place in New Hampshire. Generally speaking, it’s bad news when a candidate who’s been accorded frontrunner status by the press finds himself in a political brawl with the Bridgegate guy, who’s polling in sixth place nationally. The fact that Rubio will ultimately need most Christie backers to defect to him makes the situation all the more precarious.

Everyone who studies politics closely seems to agree that Rubio has formidable skills. If he were a charismatic Democrat with orthodox liberal views, he’d reflect the rising American electorate, and thus be better positioned than either Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Yet he can’t seem to convince more than a small fraction of Republican voters that he’s a worthy first choice. And one reason may be that the Republicans, so derisive of the ethnic and gender politics they see everywhere in Democratic campaigns, are driven by something similar.

Many factors contributed to President Obama’s political success, but one of the biggest is that he resembled the political coalition he represented: young, educated, cosmopolitan, and ethnically non-white.

To the extent that anyone in the Republican primary today holds a mirror up to the GOP base—old, cantankerous, nativist, and caucasian—it’s Donald Trump. Which is to say, it’s definitely not Marco Rubio.

Here again, there is an analogy to Democratic politics. As Matthew Yglesias has written for Vox, one of the most striking things about the Democratic primary campaign has been former Maryland Governor O’Malley’s difficulty gaining traction, despite a lengthier record of progressive success than either Clinton or Sanders.

Yglesias attributes O’Malley’s weaknesses to a variety of factors—dull public speaking, Sanders’s more unapologetic leftism, a waning public interest in elevating governors to the presidency. All of these factors surely contribute to O’Malley’s troubles, but the elephant in the room here is the composition of the donkey party. Most generic white male politicians in the Democratic Party aren’t well suited to speak to the experiences of the voters they must court if they want to win the Democratic presidential nomination. As a left-wing insurgent and the most successful female politician in U.S. history, respectively, Sanders and Clinton don’t have this problem. The only way O’Malley could avoid it would be to abandon liberalism and join the Republican Party.

The story there is no different. Trump’s lily-white juggernaut is defined by its whiteness in deeply unsettling ways. Despite being just as young as Rubio, and of Cuban descent as well, Cruz has escaped the Republican identity politics trap by defining himself in contrast to the wing of the party that believes reaching out to Democratic constituencies is the key to the GOP’s future. He rankles the establishment, he doesn’t speak Spanish, he doesn’t pander to immigrants, and he certainly never supported amnesty.

In part because Rubio’s appeal to voters is peppered with hopeful soundbites and gestures to the future, many of the same pundits who consider him a likely nominee have also compared him to Barack Obama. But those qualities, and that hopefulness, are out of step with the resentful identity politics that drive the Republican Party today. Rubio supporters would never use that term, and would first attribute his difficulties to other issues, like his until-recently sluggish campaign schedule. But they’re learning the hard way that identity politics isn’t just a quirk of liberalism—it is a dominant force behind all politics in the Obama era.

Palestinians Tell Us What They Want. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Palestinians Tell Us What They Want. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, January 10, 2016.


When an Islamist terrorist with Israeli citizenship shot up a Tel Aviv cafĂ© on New Year’s Day killing three people, there was no outpouring of support or sympathy from around the world for the victim or the people of Israel. Indeed, the only aspect of the story that drew much international coverage was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech afterward in which he cautioned Israeli Arabs that they needed to stand up and condemn rather than condone such crimes. This effort to condemn terrorism was damned as incitement against the country’s Arab minority. But a week later, the world got a taste of what real incitement to hatred and terror looked like when the shooter was finally cornered and killed by Israeli police in his hometown in northern Israel.

The murderer Nashat Milhem seems to have been a lone wolf attacker. However, he may well have been influenced to kill by ISIS propaganda in much the same way the San Bernardino killers in December and the Philadelphia man who tried to assassinate a police officer this past week. Yet part of the problem was that, whether or not they knew of his intentions before he struck, many in the Israeli Arab town of Arara knew the object of the nationwide manhunt was hiding there and that members of his family were actively aiding his effort to escape justice. That speaks to exactly the problem Netanyahu sought to highlight in a population that, notwithstanding the challenges of a being a national minority in a Jewish state, enjoys more liberty and equality before the law than Arabs in any of the neighboring countries.

But just as troubling as that is the reaction to Milhem’s crime among Palestinians.

Given the easy comparison between Milhem’s wanton rampage and what has recently happened in Paris and San Bernardino, it might have been advisable for Palestinian groups to disavow him, especially since he was not part of any organized terror group. He might have been dismissed as a person with mental problems although it’s not clear whether or not the initial supposition that he was mentally ill was true. But as far as most Palestinians are concerned, Milhem is a hero, and that unfortunate fact tells us more about the obstacles to peace than any criticism of Israel or Netanyahu’s shortcomings can ever do.

The Palestinian Authority, the entity that we are told is still Israel’s partner for peace, didn’t merely fail to condemn that attack in Tel Aviv the way all of Israel has condemned the few instance of Jewish terror. The PA’s Health Ministry has added Milhem to their list of Palestinians killed attempting to murder Israelis that are honored by the West Bank government. The PA noted Milhem’s action as, “a martyr who spilled his pure blood to free our land.”

Meanwhile, Hamas’ Al Quds television network devoted considerable time to honoring Milhem too and praised him as a “brave hero” and “martyr.”

And lest one think it is just the Fatah and Hamas movements that are praising the Tel Aviv murders, Arabs in East Jerusalem acting on their own set up mourning tents for Milhem and erected banners in their neighborhoods praising him as a “heroic martyr” that “defeated the occupation.”

While these statements of support for Milhem’s crime have largely gone unreported in the international press, they are, in a way, more significant than his crime or any other single terrorist outrage. That’s because they demonstrate again the truth of Daniel Polisar’s thesis in his November Mosaic Magazine essay “What Do Palestinians Want?”

Polisar studied decades of Palestinian public opinion surveys. His research brought him to the inescapable conclusion that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians oppose peace with Israel, think the Jewish state has no legitimacy no matter where its borders might be drawn and actively support terror against Jews under any circumstances. Some apologists for the Palestinians have claimed his conclusions are incorrect but the reaction to Milhem, just like their cheers for other acts of terror, provides incontrovertible proof that Polisar is right.

The reaction to the Tel Aviv shooting is more evidence that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements, let alone anything Israel’s prime minister might say. Rather, it remains what it always has been: an existential struggle between two national movements over one piece of land. If the Palestinians ever undergo a sea change in their political culture that might allow their leaders to make peace and end the century-old war to eradicate Zionism, they would find that a majority of Israelis still willing to make tremendous sacrifices in terms of territorial concessions. But the support for Milhem’s slaughter and the many other individual acts of terror carried out over the last three months during the so-called stabbing intifada demonstrates that Palestinians and even many Arab citizens of Israel consider any murder of a Jew to be a blow against the “occupation.” Moreover, by applauding Milhem, they are also making clear they think cosmopolitan Tel Aviv is just as much of an “illegitimate and illegal Jewish “settlement” as the most remote hilltop community in the West Bank inhabited by right-wing extremists.

Those who urge Israel and Netanyahu to disregard the failure of past attempts to make peace and the disastrous and bloody consequences of Oslo and the Gaza withdrawal need to think long and hard about the Palestinian reaction to Milhem. So long as so-called “liberal Zionists” as well as the Obama administration ignore the truth about Palestinian intentions, their critique of Israel is worthless. What’s more, those who are supporting the “Palestinian resistance” should not kid themselves that they are backing a movement about freedom. The cheers for Milhem as Palestinians continue to hold rallies in favor of the murder of random Jews should remind everyone that those who back such “resistance” are supporting terror, not justice.