Daniel Larison

Kasich’s Foolish Hawkishness

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John Kasich finally dropped out of the race yesterday. Foreign Policy describes his departure this way:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the most experienced Republican on national security remaining in the 2016 election, suspended his campaign Wednesday — leaving one of the least experienced presidential candidates to the GOP presidential nomination.

Kasich was the most experienced Republican in the race on foreign policy and national security, and that was true throughout the campaign. His candidacy was also a reminder of how inadequate experience alone can be when it comes to making good policy judgments. On virtually every major current issue, Kasich reliably adopted some of the most hawkish and irresponsible positions of the entire field. He talked about “punching the Russians in the nose,” supported creating a “no-fly zone” over Syria and would shoot down Russian planes if need be, and he seemed unable to give an answer on foreign policy without pivoting to talk about sending weapons to Ukraine. Kasich even toyed around with the idea of regime change in North Korea, but hardly anyone in the media seemed to notice the crazy things he said during the debates. If foreign policy experience is ideally supposed to make a candidate better-informed and more capable of making sound decisions, Kasich proved that it doesn’t have to work that way. We’ve seen that with many other candidates before him, but Kasich offers us a clear example of how experience and good judgment sometimes have nothing to do with each other.

Perhaps Kasich thought he needed to compensate for his perceived moderation on domestic issues with excessive hawkish rhetoric on foreign policy, or perhaps he is just this reckless. Whatever the reason for his foolish hawkishness, it guaranteed that at least some of the Republican voters that might have gravitated towards him later in the campaign wanted nothing to do with him. On paper, Kasich was arguably the candidate best-qualified to be president. By the start of March, he may have been the only Republican candidate who was qualified at all. But his consistently dangerous hawkishness showed us why we should be glad that Kasich’s campaign languished in obscurity for all these months.

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Clinton’s Aggressive Foreign Policy

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Aaron David Miller once again gives Hillary Clinton too much credit on foreign policy:

What is perhaps the greatest constraint on a putative President Clinton’s hawkishness? The bad options that exist for projecting military force, particularly in the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton’s strategy toward ISIS doesn’t differ much from President Obama’s: She has talked about creating a partial “no-fly” zone, though it’s hard to see how this would improve the situation, and it risks conflict with Russia. It’s likely that as president Mrs. Clinton would try to work with Moscow to deescalate the situation in Syria through diplomacy. She is highly unlikely to deploy thousands of additional ground troops to Iraq or Syria, though she talks about using special forces more–something President Obama is already doing. Meanwhile, as a staunch defender of the international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program [bold mine-DL], she is not looking for a fight with Tehran.

This is a remarkably generous assessment of what Clinton is likely to do, and it requires us to ignore or dismiss many of his past and current positions. For instance, Miller acknowledges that Clinton supports creating a “no-fly zone” in Syria, and he acknowledges this risks conflict with Russia (not least since establishing would involve attacking Russian air defenses in Syria), but seems to assume either that she doesn’t mean what she says. He supposes that she will somehow “work with Moscow” to “deescalate” the conflict when she has publicly committed to escalating American military involvement. To sustain the argument that Clinton won’t really be all that hawkish on Syria requires us to overlook the likely consequences of the policy that Clinton has endorsed.

On the nuclear deal, things aren’t quite so simple, either. Clinton has expressed support for the nuclear deal, but it would be an exaggeration to say that she is a “staunch defender” of it. The recent New York Times report on her involvement in Iran diplomacy as Secretary of State was revealing in that it showed how uninterested she was in pursuing negotiations:

Interviews with more than a dozen current and former administration officials paint a portrait of a highly cautious, ambivalent diplomat, less willing than Mr. Obama to take risks to open a dialogue with Iran and increasingly wary of Mr. Kerry’s freelance diplomacy. Her decision to send her own team, some officials said, was driven as much by her desire to corral Mr. Kerry as to engage the Iranians.

Now that the deal has been successfully concluded and is being implemented, Clinton wants to take some of the credit for one of the administration’s biggest successes, but at the time she was the one inside the administration with the greatest reluctance to engage with Iran. She wasn’t interested in engaging with Iran with the goal of resolving he dispute, but as a way of pinning blame on Iran in the event that engagement failed to produce results. Later on, in response to the opportunity afforded by Rouhani’s election, Clinton’s instinct was to resort to more punitive measures:

After she left the State Department, Mrs. Clinton diverged from Mr. Obama on a central tactical question: whether to impose harsh new sanctions on the Iranians after they elected Hassan Rouhani, who had run for president seeking better relations with the West to ease Iran’s economic isolation. Mrs. Clinton was swayed by many in Congress, as well as by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued Iran was so desperate for a deal that tightening the vise would have extracted better terms.

“She would have squeezed them again,” a person who has worked with her for several years said, “and the only debate is what they would have done.”

It was fairly obvious at the time, and it is even more clear in retrospect, that imposing additional sanctions would have derailed nuclear diplomacy with Iran and frittered away the chance to secure a deal. Fortunately, Clinton was no longer Secretary of State at the time when she took this position. The fact that she came down on the side of more sanctions at that critical juncture shows us that she tends to opt for punitive and coercive measures first and only then does she think about negotiating. This fits into the larger pattern of Clinton’s tenure at State, where she was often endorsing militarized options and neglecting diplomatic ones. If she did that as our chief diplomat, we should assume that she would do more of the same as president.

As discouraging as all this is, that is not the extent of the problems with Clinton on foreign policy. New conflicts and crises will emerge over the next four years, and once she is president we have every reason to believe that Clinton’s response will be to involve the U.S. in them more aggressively than her predecessor. The danger of a Clinton presidency is not just that she will probably escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria, but that when she is faced with a choice between taking sides in a new conflict and staying out of it we can practically guarantee that she will choose the former. That is what Clinton has done in every other major debate over U.S. intervention abroad, and we should assume that is what she would do as president.

Miller concludes by saying that Clinton “may be as reluctant to use force as Barack Obama has been,” which is to say that she may only start two wars, escalate a third, lend support to a fourth, and carry out drone strikes in at least half a dozen countries. When we look at it this way, it is hardly reassuring to be told that Clinton may not be that much more aggressive than Obama, but we have every reason to expect that she will be much more aggressive than he has been. Indeed, one of the main reasons why so many foreign policy establishment figures are looking forward to a Clinton presidency is that they take for granted that she will be.

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The Strange Idea of a Romney Protest Candidacy

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Reihan Salam has a bad idea about who should run an anti-Trump protest campaign:

I am increasingly convinced that Mitt Romney, Trump’s most scathing Republican critic, is the man for that particular job. Romney is known for his risk aversion, and it is admittedly difficult to imagine the GOP’s 2012 standard-bearer launching an independent campaign. Running as a third-party candidate would be expensive, and to say that Romney would be an underdog would be an understatement. Romney has already exposed himself and his family to intense scrutiny and the exhausting grind of a presidential campaign on two occasions, so his loved ones would surely question his sanity. By standing against Trump, he would invite a level of vitriol that would make his last bid for the presidency look like a breeze. Nevertheless, Romney should run. And if he were to run as himself—a pragmatic problem solver with a long record of success in business and in government—there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that he might actually succeed.

I won’t deny that it would be entertaining to have Romney to kick around for another election campaign, but this is bizarre. The exercise would be futile, since it would only make Clinton’s victory that much more likely, and it would be a humiliating experience for the former Republican nominee. Romney lost in 2012, but there is not that much shame in losing to an incumbent president in a year when the challenger was supposed to lose. Choosing to run as a protest candidate in an election that the GOP is already likely to lose would make Romney a laughingstock and an enabler of Clinton when it is completely unnecessary. It’s no secret that I don’t like Romney, but even he doesn’t deserve to be drafted into such a fruitless effort.

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The Futility of an Anti-Trump Protest Campaign

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Eliot Cohen has an idea:

It is time for a third candidate, and probably for a third party.

Some people will dismiss this notion as absurd. However, only those prescient enough to have forecast Trump’s success have the standing to certify impossibilities. If the Trump candidacy has blown up every other aspect of political conventional wisdom, why not this one?

If anti-Trump Republicans want to split off and run their own candidate, they are free to do so. However, they should do this with the understanding that their protest will amount to very little, and they will allow Trump and his supporters to blame them for his defeat. It is more than a little amusing that the anti-Trump protest idea is being supported by otherwise reliable Republican partisans who would normally mock and deride third-party voters for wasting their votes. I won’t say that about an anti-Trump protest candidacy, but I will say that they are helping to let to Trump off the hook for what most assume will be a failed general election campaign. Trump’s die-hard Republican opponents don’t need to go to the trouble of running a third-party candidate or taking over an existing third party nomination to keep Trump from being president. They can do that simply by not voting for him. Just by withholding their support, committed anti-Trump Republicans can get what they want while letting Trump take the fall for losing in November. If they go through with a protest candidacy, they will more than likely just embarrass themselves and destroy the political career of whichever hapless person they convince to accept the role of sacrificial lamb.

Cohen falls back on an increasingly common lazy argument to make his case: if Trump has proven conventional wisdom wrong in some things, then we can apparently discount everything we think we know about presidential elections. No one actually thinks a third-party candidate has a chance of winning or even competing in a general election. The structure of our system all but guarantees that minor party candidates have no chance. Nothing about Trump’s success in the primaries changes any of that. The fact that no one thought Trump could compete for the GOP nomination doesn’t mean that an anti-Trump protest candidate has a chance to do well in the fall. One has nothing to do with the other.

He anticipates the danger that Clinton will claim a “mandate” from her election win, and argues that this is why a protest candidacy is worthwhile:

Even if a third candidacy still yielded a Clinton victory, it would be worthwhile. It would, first, deny the Clinton campaign the illusion of a mandate from American voters who would have, en masse, turned out to reject Trump. If nothing else, a strong third-candidate vote would send her a message to govern from the center, rather than in deference to her party’s increasingly powerful left wing.

This is fantastical. If Clinton defeats her major party opponent by a wide margin, which a protest anti-Trump candidacy makes more likely, she will claim a “mandate” and the protest candidacy will have made it easier for her to do so. There isn’t going to be a “strong” protest candidate from the right, who can probably count on at most 8-10% in a general election. An anti-Trump protest candidate will increase Clinton’s margin of victory. If Trump’s opponents don’t care about that or are willing to take that chance, they should proceed with their protest campaign. But they shouldn’t start out with the faulty assumption that they are helping to rein in Clinton or keep her in check. They are doing just the opposite, because they are making it easier for her to win without moving to the center at all.

Cohen continues:

A third candidate could lay the groundwork for a new political party.

I suppose he could, but what would be the purpose of that new party? To represent the bankrupt, Bush-era GOP agenda that even most Republicans are tired of supporting? To split the center-right vote for years or decades to come, and thereby virtually guarantee Democratic victories in future elections? How many people would stick with this party once Trump has been defeated? Why would they bother? It doesn’t make any sense.

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Cruz Joins the Surrender Caucus

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Ted Cruz has dropped out of the presidential race:

Crushed in the Indiana primary he had declared would decide the fate of the Republican presidential campaign, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday night ended his presidential campaign, essentially ceding the nomination to front-runner Donald Trump.

There would have been no point in continuing to campaign after getting blown out tonight, but it is still a little surprising that Cruz would throw in the towel before the last few primaries are over. Cruz has liked to present himself as a stalwart of movement conservatism, and he has routinely mocked his colleagues for belonging to what he called the “surrender caucus” when they didn’t want to do as he wished. In the end, Cruz was just as ready to surrender when presented with a hopeless situation. He will end the 2016 race as the runner-up to Trump, but he has burned so many bridges along the way that it is doubtful that he has much of a chance in four years.

Several months ago, I said that Cruz wouldn’t be the Republican nominee this year. I had underestimated how competitive he would be in the primaries, but I was confident that his habit of making enemies out of potential allies and alienating most of the people he worked with would come back to haunt him. As it turned out, his scorched-earth approach to dealing with people in his own party meant that there were very few willing to endorse him or stick their necks out for him when he needed help. He went much farther in this race than anyone thought he would, but he couldn’t have done much better than he did because he was ultimately nothing more than the factional candidate of a bloc of very conservative and evangelical voters.

There simply weren’t enough of those voters to propel him to victory in most places, and he ended up being no more successful than Rick Santorum was when he challenged Romney. In many ways, he and Santorum are two of a kind: fanatical, earnest, and personally off-putting. Even when you want to agree with them on an issue, something about them makes you look for reasons not to. The traits that make them appealing to a faction of Republicans is what makes everyone else distrust and dislike them. But Cruz somehow managed to make himself even less likable. Cruz was perceived to be a much more calculating and opportunistic politician than Santorum, and that reputation for cynicism and self-serving maneuvering further hurt his cause. Gallup found that Cruz’s favorability with Republicans had turned negative over the last few weeks:

Trend: Ted Cruz's Image Among Republicans/Leaners

The strange thing here isn’t that Cruz became so unpopular even with Republicans, but that there were ever so many that viewed him favorably. His knack for turning his political allies against him finally caught up with him. The only wonder is that it took this long for most Republicans to realize how awful he was.

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Indiana Results

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Like the primaries last week, the Indiana Republican primary was a walkover for Trump. Trump has won the state as expected, and he appears to have won it decisively. With just 12% reporting, he leads Cruz by 20 points, 53-33%. The CNN exit poll suggests that he will end up with more than half the vote. He is very likely to come away with all of the state’s 57 delegates, and if surveys from California are to be believed he is on track to win going away there a month from now. Tonight’s result confirmed that die-hard anti-Trump Republicans are a minority of the GOP.

As usual, Trump did best with non-college degree holders and older voters. He trounced Cruz among those with $100K+ incomes by 26 points, and led Cruz by 11 with those earning between $30K and $50K. Cruz came close among voters that earned between $50K and $100K, but still lose them by 5. Trump’s support from different ideological groups followed a familiar pattern: he received a fair amount of support from very conservative voters (41%), and then dominated among the somewhat conservative (54%) and moderate ones (61%). Cruz won the first group, but it made up just a third of the electorate, while just the somewhat conservative voters made up almost half (44%).

If Cruz was counting on the state’s evangelicals to rescue him, he was disappointed: Trump beat him with evangelicals by five points, and then won with non-evangelicals by 26. Cruz’s support continues to be as narrow and concentrated in one section of the party as Trump’s is broad and spread out. Trump won in every region, but unsurprisingly received the most support from the old industrial areas in the northwestern part of the state. As he often has, Trump lost late-deciders, but had built up such a large lead with the majority that decided their vote earlier that it didn’t matter.

On the question of whether they feel betrayed by Republican politicians, 52% said yes and 44% said no, but Trump won both groups by double digits. Among those that named electability as the most important candidate quality, Trump also won more than half. He did far better among the fifth of voters that care most about a candidate who “tells it like it is” (87%) and the third that care most about a candidate who can “bring change” (63%). The committed anti-Trump contingent in the primary just 25% of the electorate. Asked what they would do if Trump is the nominee, more than half said they would definitely vote for him and a fifth said they would probably do. There were more respondents that said they wouldn’t vote for Cruz or Kasich than said this of Trump. That has been one of the key weaknesses of the anti-Trump Republicans’ efforts: the alternative candidates are even less well-liked by the voters than Trump is.

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The GOP Begins to Make Peace with a Trump Nomination

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Byron York reports on the magical thinking behind the grudging acceptance of Trump by some leading Republicans:

“Trump does bring a little magic to this in that he could shuffle the traditional battleground map,” one former presidential campaign manager told me. “I haven’t seen any data on that, but I’m just getting a feeling that he’s going to put a couple of Midwestern states in play [bold mine-DL].”

This is the sort of thing that someone says when he’s trying to convince himself of something he knows to be false. There’s not really any evidence to support this view, and this person doesn’t even pretend that there’s any evidence for it, but he has a “feeling” that Trump can bring a “little magic” to the election. It is much more likely that if the “traditional battleground map” is altered this year, it will be because states that are normally Republican-leaning will become toss-ups and former swing states will become Democratic-leaning ones. When his supporters say that Trump will shake up the electoral map, they are correct, but their expectation of how the map will look in November is wrong.

Take Florida, example. One new survey finds that Clinton leads in the state by double digits over both Trump and Cruz, and Trump trails by slightly more (49-36%). Florida should be one of the most closely contested states in a general election (Romney lost it by 1 point in 2012), but at the moment Clinton is easily running away with it. Let’s suppose that the Republican nominee makes up some of that gap over the next few months. It still isn’t going to be enough to make him competitive in the fall. Among Cuban Floridians, Trump’s favorability is -60. No Republican is going to win the state with numbers like that, and it seems extremely unlikely that Trump is going to repair his image with these voters in the next six months. If any leading Republicans think that Trump has a realistic shot at winning the election with ratings like that, they are kidding themselves.

One reason why some leading Republicans are reconciling themselves to Trump’s nomination is that they can’t stand Cruz. Another reason is that they have probably decided that the election is lost anyway, and they would rather lose it with Trump, because they can more easily disavow him when it is over. Cruz is a factional candidate, which is why he hasn’t been able to do better in the nomination contest, but that also means that he will have a more organized bloc of supporters in the years to come when the election is over. Faced with the one-off fluke of a Trump nomination or the ongoing headache of a Cruz-inspired faction, more and more leading Republicans are prepared to accept the former.

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Will’s Plan for Saving the GOP By Destroying It

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George Will has a rather odd plan for dealing with a Trump nomination:

Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states [bold mine-DL] — condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation’s civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible [bold mine-DL].

Conservatives can certainly do one or the other, but they cannot do both of these. If some conservatives are determined to inflict the most crushing defeat possible on Trump, that effectively means doing the same to the rest of the party. If they want to do their best to salvage what they can in Congressional and state elections, they’ll have to do what they can to shore up the top of the ticket. It is unlikely that one can call for intra-party fratricide on one part of the ballot without depressing overall turnout for that party. Put another way, one cannot strengthen “the anti-Trump undertow” without putting more Republican officeholders at risk of being pulled under by it. Punishing Trump will inevitably mean punishing the party’s other candidates. Anti-Trump Republicans don’t want to own up that this is what they are calling for, but it is.

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The Real Danger in 2016

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Noah Millman points us to Andrew Sullivan’s essay on Trump and democracy. Sullivan says this of Trump:

In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event.

Whatever else Trump may be, he doesn’t threaten our political system with extinction. For one thing, this gives Trump far too much credit, and underestimates how much resistance he would encounter. Sullivan says that “the defenses against him would be weak” if he became president, but that seems obviously wrong. In the unlikely event that he is somehow elected in the fall, he would be stuck with a splintered GOP (a large portion of which openly hates him), probably at least one chamber controlled by the other party, and an intensely hostile media. He wouldn’t be able to do much, and what he did do would come under close scrutiny. One of the ongoing and worsening problems in our politics is that the president is rarely checked by any of our other institutions, but if we had a president that inspired no loyalty or deference from most Americans that might start to change. Most presidents can count on reliable support from their own partisans, but a President Trump would have poisoned relations with much of the Congressional GOP from day one. I assume Trump would govern badly, or at least ineffectively, and would be voted out after one term. In that sense, Trump’s election might even have a salutary effect on our politics in that it would remind more Americans that we shouldn’t cede so much power to any one person or branch of the government. But we’re not going to find out, because a Trump victory in the fall is extremely unlikely.

I’ve been pointing out recently that the #NeverTrump faction doesn’t have that much support inside the GOP, which is why Trump will likely secure the nomination outright before the convention, but it’s also why he can’t win the general election. Assuming that they are serious about refusing to support him (and I think most are), that means that at least a quarter of the normal Republican coalition won’t cast a vote for their party’s nominee in November. Given that the Republican coalition cobbled together just 47% in the last election, it can’t afford to lose any Romney voters, much less a quarter of them. Many anti-Trump Republicans may still show up to vote in other elections, but many will probably just stay home. Some may bring themselves to vote for Clinton, but I suspect that is a bridge too far for many anti-Trump Republicans that are rejecting Trump ideological and/or ethical reasons. A few may end up being driven back to supporting Trump when they remember how much they loathe Clinton, but not enough to matter.

The danger in all this is not what Trump represents, but that Clinton will misinterpret her likely landslide victory for a “mandate” to do whatever she wants. Politicians are often inclined to believe wrongly that a large win gives them a “mandate” to push through their agenda, and the larger the win the more likely they are to overreach. The problem this year is that the “Respectables” Sullivan refers to aren’t really going to get their comeuppance they deserve, but will end up getting the president they want, and that will make them think that nothing important has to change.

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Indiana: The Anti-Trump Republicans’ Last Stand

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Trump is winning in Indiana, and the half-hearted Cruz-Kasich pact to oppose him has gone over very poorly in the Hoosier State:

But 58 percent of likely Republican primary voters in Indiana say they disapprove of Cruz and Kasich teaming up to beat Trump in the Hoosier State, while 34 percent say they approve of the move.

It doesn’t bode well for anti-Trump Republicans when barely a third of the electorate in the next primary state supports an attempt to thwart Trump’s nomination. The attempted coordination with Kasich seemed likely to backfire, and to the extent that it had any effect it seems to have done the anti-Trump cause more harm than good. The goal of anti-Trump Republicans is to thwart the preferences of most Republican voters and install a different nominee from the one that received the most votes. Like most Republicans across the country, Indiana Republicans aren’t interested in that: 64% of likely Republican voters say that the candidate with the most votes in the primaries should be the nominee even if he doesn’t have the majority of delegates. Just 29% want the delegates to pick the candidate they believe to be the best nominee.

Even if the Cruz-Kasich pact had worked as planned, the poll suggests that Trump would have won a two-way race with Cruz anyway. The evidence from the NBC News/WSJ poll tells us that Kasich, not Cruz, was the most popular second choice for voters in Indiana, so the assumption that Cruz could win Indiana without Kasich in the race was based on a misunderstanding of the state’s electorate, which is part of the larger failure to understand the Republican primary electorate as a whole. When all is said and done, Trump owes his nomination in no small part to the unfailingly incompetent and belated opposition he faced throughout the process. Anti-Trump Republicans have assumed all along that Trump prevailed mostly because of a divided field, and they believed that he would lose against one or two opponents, but each time the field has narrowed Trump’s support has increased enough to stave off any challenger.

The Cruz campaign is starting to pay attention to the writing on the wall:

Within the campaign, some are turning to the question of what’s next. One senior aide said there had been no discussion about dropping out before the final primary contests are held on June 7 but noted that Cruz wouldn’t be eager to prolong a campaign he was convinced he couldn’t win.

If Trump wins Indiana by more than 10 points, he is set to take the state’s entire haul of 57 delegates (30 go to the statewide winner, and the remainder are determined by winner of each district). That not only brings him that much closer to securing the nomination outright, but it deprives Cruz of his last, best chance at a significant victory. Cruz has staked whatever remains of his campaign on a win in Indiana, and all indications are that he won’t be able to deliver.

Die-hard anti-Trump Republicans are proving once again to be a distinct minority in their own party. They have been consoling themselves for months with the conceit that Trump’s support is limited to no more than a third of the GOP, but the truth is that they can rely on barely a third of Republicans for their cause. They have not only been wrong about how much support Trump can expect to receive (49% say they will vote for him in Indiana in the latest poll), but they have also greatly overestimated the intensity of opposition from Republican voters that prefer another candidate. If Trump received 35-40% of the vote in a given state, his opponents assumed that this meant that two-thirds of Republicans were implacably against him, but that hasn’t been true in months if it ever was. If a third of the party is firmly behind Trump and a third is determined to oppose him, the remaining third is content to go with whichever candidate is winning. Anti-Trump Republicans are losing so badly because they simply don’t have the numbers to win in most places, and they seem to be the last ones to understand this.

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Christ is Risen!

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CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD,
TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH,
AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS
BESTOWING LIFE!

CHRISTOS VOSKRESE IZ MERTVIKH,
SMERTIYU SMERT POPRAV
I SUSCHIM VO GROBEKH
ZHIVOT DAROVAV!

CHRISTOS ANESTI EK NEKRON
THANATO THANATON PATISAS,
KAI TOIS EN TOIS MNEMASI
ZOEN KARISAMENOS!

Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered: and let those that hate him flee before his face.

A sacred Pascha has been revealed to us today, a new and holy Pascha, a mystic Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer, an unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.

Come from that sight, you women, bearers of good tidings, and say to Zion, ‘Receive from us the good tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection. Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.

So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.

The myrrh-bearing women at deep dawn came to the grave of the giver of life. They found an Angel sitting on the stone, and he addressed them and said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible as though he were in corruption? Go, proclaim it to his Disciples.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

A Pascha of delight, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us, Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy. O Pascha, ransom from sorrow! Today Christ shone forth from a tomb as from a bridal chamber, and filled the women with joy, saying, ‘Proclaim it to the Apostles’.

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Holy Saturday

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When Thou didst descend to death 0 Life Immortal, Thou didst slay hell with the splendor of Thy Godhead! And when from the depths Thou didst raise the dead, all the powers of heaven cried out: O Giver of Life! Christ our God! Glory to Thee!

The angel standing by the grave cried out to the women: Myrrh is proper for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

Inside Saudi Arabia’s push to silence criticism of its brutal war on Yemen. Colum Lynch reports on how the Saudis and their allies have wielded influence at the U.N. to block investigations of their war crimes.

Trump’s bumper sticker foreign policy speech. Paul Pillar comments on Trump’s foreign policy remarks.

Genocide and democracy in Burma. Christian Caryl reviews The Rohingyas and Blood, Dreams, and Gold for The National Interest.

Rwanda’s false idols. Michela Wrong reports on Paul Kagame’s manipulation of the memory of the genocide to consolidate power.

More troops, no stability. Matt Purple describes Iraq’s ongoing political turmoil.

The real redcoats. Alan Pell Crawford reviews With Zeal and With Bayonets Only and The Men Who Lost America for the current issue of TAC.

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He Who Hung the Earth Upon the Waters Is Hung Upon the Cross

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Brethren, while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. ~Romans 5:6-10

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Holy Thursday

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When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!

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Trump and Republican Alarmism

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Fred Kaplan picked up on another line from Trump’s foreign policy speech that I noticed when I was listening to it yesterday:

And there were the bombastic pronouncements with no basis whatsoever. “The world is more dangerous than it has ever been.” (Think about that claim for one minute, and you’ll see how absurd it is.)

This was my response yesterday:

This is the sort of excessive alarmist rhetoric that Republican hawks routinely use. They claim that the world is supposedly more dangerous and filled with more threats than ever before, which they cite as the reasons why the U.S. has to keep increasing its military spending and meddling all around the globe. In addition to being irresponsible, this claim shows how poor their grasp of history is and how faulty their understanding of the contemporary world is. This is an instance in which Trump is echoing conventional Republican foreign policy thinking, and getting things horribly wrong as a result.

The world has rarely been more peaceful and secure overall than it is today, and it has clearly been much more perilous at several points in just the last century. When a politician tells you that the world is more dangerous now than ever, he is either horribly misinformed, trying to sell you a bad policy, or both. The funny thing is that Trump’s line is exactly what someone like Lindsey Graham says all the time, but neither Graham nor Trump’s supporters would like to admit any similarity between the two of them. When it comes to exaggerating foreign threats, they have more in common than either of them admits.

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Romney Paved the Way for Trump

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Ross Douthat tries to figure out why Trump is winning:

Until Donald Trump blew this model up. Yes, Trump has adopted conservative positions on various issues, but he’s done so in a transparently cynical fashion, constantly signaling that he doesn’t really believe in or understand the stance that he’s taking, constantly suggesting a willingness to bargain any principle away [bold mine-DL]. Except for immigration hawks, practically every ideological faction in the party regards Trump with mistrust, disgust, suspicion, fear. Pro-lifers, foreign-policy hawks, the Club for Growth, libertarians — nobody thinks Trump is really on their side. And yet he’s winning anyway.

That’s all true enough, but the same could be said and was said about Romney four years ago. Quite a few pundits were certain in 2011-2012 that Romney was so compromised by his record, especially on health care, that he couldn’t be the nominee despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Romney took more conventionally conservative positions than Trump has, but was even more cynical and pandering to every faction to get to that point. A large bloc of Republican voters didn’t really believe anything he told them, and like die-hard anti-Trump Republicans this year desperately rallied behind anyone they thought could stop him. Romney won in part because there simply weren’t enough Republican that held his record or his shape-shifting against him. We’re seeing much the same thing this year with the failure of the #NeverTrump forces.

Romney and Trump are very different in their temperaments and backgrounds, but in some important respects they fill similar roles in their respective election cycles. Like Trump, Romney won enough of the very conservative voters and a larger share of the “somewhat” conservative and moderate voters that make up the bulk of the primary electorates in most places. Like Trump, he was blessed with incompetent, divided opposition. Like Trump, he was the relative moderate in the field who normally wins the party nomination. Remember that Romney went from being a moderate-to-liberal Northeastern Republican to a party-line movement conservative in the space of a few years. The idea that Romney was a sincere or credible conservative was always laughable, but large numbers of Republicans went along with it. Most of the people now pledging undying hatred for Trump never even thought twice about whether they would support Romney, and the party rallied behind him as enthusiastically as it has behind any nominee.

In the end, it’s not that much of a mystery why Trump is winning. Romney showed him the way, and in the process showed that he probably didn’t have to do as much of the embarrassing pandering as he did. Republican voters wanted to win the 2012 presidential election more than anything, and mistakenly believed that Romney could do it. Because of that, they were prepared to put up with a thoroughly cynical, dishonest nominee who would say anything to get elected. Now most Republican voters have mistakenly convinced themselves that Trump can win, and many of them are making the same bargain that they made last time. As Douthat says, “they’re just in the grip of a strong delusion about Trump’s actual chances against Hillary Clinton.” The delusion may be stronger this time than it was four years ago, but it is the same refusal to acknowledge that the GOP is going to lose the election that we saw right up until Election Night in 2012. A party that believed that Romney was “supposed” to win but “blew it” will believe all sorts of strange things.

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Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech

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Trump’s foreign policy speech yesterday veered between a few sensible comments and a large number of contradictory and worrisome assertions. Like previous Trump statements on foreign policy, this speech was all over the map. While he insisted on the importance of a coherent foreign policy, he demonstrated that he does not have one. The speech offered his supporters and detractors material to justify their earlier opinions of him, but offered too few specific commitments to give us a clear idea of how Trump would handle a wide range of international issues. There were some good elements in it, but on the whole it didn’t make a lot of sense.

Trump emphasized some of the right things in his speech. He stressed that American interests should take priority, and made a straightforward appeal for a foreign policy that puts the interests of the American people first. He also said that America shouldn’t go abroad in search of enemies. That was presumably a nod to John Quincy Adams without directly quoting him. Trump noted correctly that post-Cold War foreign policy went off the rails and led to multiple costly failures, and expressed justifiable skepticism of the ill-conceived democracy promotion efforts of the 2000s. He repeated his point that U.S. allies need to do more to contribute to their own defense. At one point in his speech, he rightly said, “A superpower understands that caution and restraint are signs of strength.”

If those were the bright spots in the speech, there were also many problems. It may be inevitable in an election year, but many of Trump’s claims about the administration were false or misleading. He recycled the tired charge that Obama “dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies,” and like everyone else making that charge had no evidence to support it. The examples that he thinks support this claim show nothing of the kind. Trump denounced the nuclear deal with Iran again and falsely claimed that “we watched them ignore its terms, even before the ink was dry.” In fact, Iran has been complying with the terms of the deal, and has already shipped out its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in a major win for U.S.-led nonproliferation efforts. It is typical of Trump’s view of the world that he cannot even acknowledge a significant U.S. foreign policy success despite his fixation on the need to win.

Trump attacks the Iran deal as an example of “not being willing to leave the table,” when it was the persistence and determination of the administration to see the deal through that allowed the U.S. to score one of its most significant recent diplomatic achievements. Trump complains about “the humiliation of the United States with Iran’s treatment of our ten captured sailors,” but neglects to mention that the incident in question was resolved speedily and peacefully thanks in part to the diplomatic channels created by the very nuclear negotiations he ridicules as a failure. On this issue, Trump is like so many of the other Republican candidates in that he claims to value diplomacy but doesn’t want to accept the compromises that make successful diplomacy possible.

He went on to say that “President Obama gutted our missile defense program, then abandoned our missile defense plans with Poland and the Czech Republic.” The first part isn’t true, and the second part is misleading. The U.S. is still pursuing missile defense plans in Europe, for good or ill, and is now doing so by cooperating with all of NATO instead of the ad hoc bilateral deals that the Bush administration made with those two countries. For what it’s worth, most Poles and Czechs still didn’t support their governments’ decision to participate in the missile defense scheme and don’t care that it was cancelled. More to the point, Obama made that decision to reduce tensions with Moscow, and that thaw in relations with Russia worked for a few years. Pursuing better relations with Russia is something that Trump endorses elsewhere in the speech, but it doesn’t occur to Trump or his speechwriters that improving relations with Moscow may require making gestures that will displease some domestic hawks and European allies. Trump claims not to be interested in antagonizing Russia, but objects when an irritant in the relationship was removed. He says he doesn’t think the U.S. and Russia have to be adversaries, but doesn’t seem to want to accept that the U.S. will have to make any accommodations for that to happen.

So some of Trump’s specific complaints about current policy are wrong on the facts or are at odds with other positions that he has taken. Other statements are maddeningly vague. For example, Trump said, “We are getting out of the nation-building business, and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.” Many Americans will cheer the first part of this statement after the costly debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the second part potentially commits the U.S. to a very ambitious and activist role in the world. It’s not at all clear what Trump thinks “creating stability in the world” entails, what it would cost, or whether the U.S. would even know how to do this. Later in the speech, Trump suggests that he wants a huge military build-up: “We will spend what we need to rebuild our military.” This promises a further increase of military spending, which is already at historically high levels, and amounts to just throwing money at the Pentagon without any attempt at reforming the way it uses it. In his concluding remarks, he makes a statement that sounds like an endorsement of a dangerously messianic role for the U.S. in the world: “We will always help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself.” Maybe that’s just a meaningless rhetorical flourish. Maybe it is something much worse. The trouble with Trump is that we can never be sure.

Trump has said that he prizes unpredictability and wants to keep people guessing as to what he might or might not do, and after this speech we still have only the vaguest idea of what we could expect from a Trump foreign policy.

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The Weird Cruz-Fiorina Gambit

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The effort to stop Trump just became a lot more comical:

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will announce on Wednesday afternoon that former presidential rival Carly Fiorina has agreed to be his running mate should he win the GOP presidential nomination, sources confirmed to WMUR.

Naming a running mate at this point in the race is a desperate move for Cruz, but I suppose he has decided that he may as well take a chance in the hopes that this will keep his campaign from being ignored. Fiorina a strange choice, but then Cruz is in the strange position of pretending that he will end up as the nominee despite being a distant runner-up to Trump. I suppose it’s possible that adding Fiorina as his running mate will help Cruz a little in the California primary, but unless he wins Indiana next month it probably won’t matter.

As a matter of politics, it is difficult to see what Fiorina adds except for her being from California. Cruz reportedly sees her as a talented “attack dog,” and I suppose she can do that well enough, but she also brings with her the baggage of her business record. Selecting a former CEO who was known for the large number of employees she fired is an odd choice under any circumstances, and it is likely going to create more headaches for Cruz than it solves. She has had no success in politics, so it’s not clear why anyone would think that adding her to the campaign would lead to success. On top of all that, Fiorina isn’t prepared to be president if necessary. For that reason alone, it is a mistake to select her as a would-be Vice President, and it reflects poorly on Cruz’s judgment.

The main problem for Cruz is that naming a running mate this far in advance of the convention so reeks of desperation that it probably cancels out whatever small advantage having Fiorina as a running mate might give his campaign.

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Why #NeverTrump Failed

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Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on Cruz’s abject failure in yesterday’s elections:

Why did anyone ever think that Cruz could carry the weight of the #NeverTrump cause?

It’s worth noting that most anti-Trump Republicans really didn’t want to get behind Cruz, and did so only because their other options had been eliminated over the previous months (Perry, Walker, Bush, etc.) or proved almost completely incapable of beating Trump (Rubio). They clung to the hope that some other candidate would be in a position to lead the opposition, and they did that because they had little or no confidence in Cruz. Despite the fact that Cruz was always the only one that could score more than a handful of wins against Trump, Trump’s most committed opponents also convinced themselves that Cruz was not much better. They were forced to accept Cruz as the more tolerable alternative only because every other remotely viable candidate had been driven out of the race.

In fairness to Cruz, the core problem for the #NeverTrump cause is that there simply aren’t that many die-hard anti-Trump Republicans available. Poll after poll has found that a broad majority of Republicans nationally wants the party to accept the top vote- and delegate-winner as the nominee regardless of the final delegate count, and the #NeverTrump faction amounts to maybe a quarter or a third of the party. That’s a substantial minority, but it was divided between different candidates for months and remains so today. Even if it were all united behind one candidate, it wouldn’t be enough to beat Trump in most states. Only in places where Trump’s support has been exceptionally weak (e.g., Wisconsin, Utah) have anti-Trump forces been able to prevail. Dougherty is right that Cruz was a poor fit for the anti-Trump cause, and Cruz’s earlier indulgence of Trump made him a terrible one to lead the attack, but even a more credible and competitive opponent would have struggled and lost. There are simply far more Republican voters that either like or can tolerate Trump than there are Republicans dead-set against him, and there was nothing that Cruz or any other candidate could do about that.

Another reason that anti-Trump Republicans failed at each turn is that they kept refusing to take the threat from Trump seriously long after it became obvious that it was real. As late as January and even February, Trump’s die-hard opponents kept laughing off his chances and telling themselves that most of the party would reject him. They kept repeating the claim that Trump’s support was limited to little more than a third of the party and wouldn’t expand, but there was every reason to believe that his support would keep increasing as the primaries continued. Trump’s opponents kept imagining that they had the luxury of time, but that was as wrong as could be. Trump was only going to get stronger as the primary schedule moved to the Northeast, and so the time to stop him was in March or February before he could confirm his status as the front-runner. They believed their own propaganda, or perhaps they simply had no clue what most people in the party thought, or perhaps it was some of both. The result is that they made no effort to coordinate against Trump early when it might have been possible to stop him, then refused to adjust after Trump’s first set of victories, and all the while most kept clinging to a fantasy that Rubio would save them. As Damon Linker notes in his column today, the anti-Trump Republicans have been in denial about the extent of Trump’s support and the likelihood of his winning the nomination for months, and that denial has ensured that their opposition to him would be as disorganized and incompetent as possible.

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