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National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar On Jim Webb’s Unlikely Impact On Hillary’s 2016 Primary Campaign

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The political director of National Journal’s Hotline covered a lot of the current political ground – from the President’s immigration executive order to Hillary and her possible Democratic primary opponents.

The Audio:


The Transcript:

HH: I begin today with the editor, the politics editor of the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar, is available on Twitter @HotlineJosh. Josh, welcome back, good to talk to you.

JK: Good to be on the show, Hugh.

HH: Josh, it is a big day in D.C. as everyone collects their reactions. The President tried to rally Democrats. I saw on your Twitter feed that he didn’t round them all up.

JK: Yeah, I mean, well the big story is, the political story at least for me is how united will the Democratic Party be on the President’s executive action on immigration. And the red state Democrats, the Democrats from some of the more Republican or swing parts of the country have already come out. I mean, five of them, rather, have already come out in opposition to the executive order, even though they’re broadly supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, folks like Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, Claire McCaskill from Missouri, Angus King, the independent who caucuses with Democrats also has been opposed from Maine, a much more Democratic state. But there’s, you know, about 15-20% of the caucus right now, folks like Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, who aren’t going to be coming, you know, Landrieu, if she’s under, she has to win a run off coming up, and she doesn’t look in good shape. But a lot of those Democrats who lost from red states in 2014 are also opposed to the executive order, but haven’t been saying too much, because they won’t be back. So you do have about, maybe 15-20% of the current Democratic caucus that isn’t enthused about the executive order.

HH: Josh, when you say Mary Landrieu doesn’t look to be in good shape, that’s like the Black Knight saying it’s a flesh wound, right?

JK: Yeah, I mean, you know, you never say never. The run off is in a couple of weeks, but she’s, both Republicans and Democrats, the most remarkable statistic about that run off is over 90% of the ads are for the Republican, Bill Cassidy, are against Mary Landrieu. Only about 8-10% of the ads in that Louisiana run off are for Landrieu. So it’s just, you can’t win with that kind of financial disparity.

HH: Here is the most significant tweet of the night following President Obama’s speech. Less than 10 minutes after it concluded, Hillary Clinton tweeted out thanks to POTUS for taking action on immigration in the face of inaction. Now let’s turn to permanent bipartisan reform #immigrationaction. Were you surprised, Josh Kraushaar, that she moved that quickly to endorse the President’s sweeping and unprecedented action?

JK: Not entirely surprised. I was actually more surprised that it took this long for her to take a position, but you know, the President’s speech sort of forced her hand, to some extent. And to me, her positioning vis-à-vis the President in the next year is going to be one of the most fascinating political stories, because she sees the polling as closely as we all do, and she sees the disparity between most Americans, you know, if you ask them broadly do they support comprehensive immigration reform, you do see it. It depends on how you ask the question, but you see majorities of the public expressing sympathy towards that position. But then you see the two polls that came out in the last week when it comes to the executive order, and you have large pluralities, 48% opposing, and 38% approving in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that came out this week. She is trying to thread that needle. She wants to make it seem like she’s for that legislative process to take place, but she’s not against the actions that President Obama undertook. She needs that Obama base. She needs the Hispanic vote when she runs for president in 2016, and she needs to have the base enthused. But she also needs to broaden the coalition beyond just the base. So this is one of many, you know, tactical decisions she’ll be making to sort of try to stay with Obama, but also keep a little bit of space. She’s tied in more with Obama, though, than keeping the space on this one.

HH: Have you been able to track any reaction from James Webb, the former Virginia Senator who has formed an exploratory committee, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren, who are the other likely challengers, if any, to Hillary Clinton’s nomination?

JK: No one publicly as of it. Jim Webb, I heard from a good source, that you know, one of the reasons why he decided to jump in now, perhaps, is because he wanted to actually have a platform on immigration to the right of Hillary Clinton, which is unusual within the Democratic Party. But Jim Webb has always been pretty outspoken, at least, you know, even before he was in the Senate on issues relating to immigration – affirmative action, where he’s one of the few like true populist Democrats who’s skeptical of affirmative action policies, skeptical of increased immigration. So I’ve heard, we’ve yet to hear from Jim Webb too much since he officially announced his presidential campaign. But some folks have speculated, some folks I have talked to, have speculated he might be actually trying to have a platform on immigration, and use it to run to Hillary’s right on the issue.

HH: Now let’s pause on Hillary for a moment, because I think you’re right. She had, her hand was forced by the President. She has no opportunity to do anything other than what she did here. But what is she going to run on, Josh? What is her campaign theme? What’s her platform?

JK: That’s a great question. I mean, she has a real challenge on trying to recapture the enthusiasm that a lot of Democratic voters had for the President while also keeping, I mean, if President Obama’s approval ratings don’t get closer to 50% by the time he leaves office, she’s, it’s going to be a real challenge for her to keep that distance while exciting the base. I mean, I think, you saw in 2008 she tried to run as sort of the historic candidate, the first woman as president, and I think you’ll see some of that as a theme in her campaign. And I think she’s going to try to make the case, and this is why this immigration executive order is so fascinating, and her statement to it is so fascinating. I mean, I think she’s going to try to distance herself by trying to make the case that she’s actually going to work more closely with Congress as part of her attempt. She’s just a liberal, she’s just as, you know, in tune with the base. But the one difference she has with the President is that she’s actually going to go to greater lengths to work with Congress. This executive order actually complicates that message if she chose to go in that direction, so that’s why I find this political situation she’s in quite interesting.

HH: What is going to be her claim to success at the Department of State? What’s her record at State that she can tout as an achievement?

JK: Well, I mean, she and her advisors have talked about how she’s visited a whole lot of countries, and actually being the first woman, or I guess the second female secretary of State…

HH: Third.

JK: …and trying to promote issues that are of importance to women. I mean, that’s something that she’s talked about, that she’s traveled quite a bit to make that case. But you know, look, Benghazi’s going to become an issue. The Republicans are already bringing up in the run up to 2016, and you know, she doesn’t, in terms of, I think a lot of what happens in the second term for President Obama, whether there’s an Iranian deal reached, and that was something that sort of began under her watch as secretary of State, diplomacy with Iran. So I think she is going to have a lot to answer for. Foreign policy is, I think, going to be a significant issue in 2016, and isn’t always in a presidential election. But I think if she runs on her record as Secretary of State, and runs on foreign policy, she’s really going to have to answer to a lot of the President’s foreign policy decisions.

HH: And is there, by third secretary of State, I meant Madeleine Albright, obviously, Condoleezza Rice.

JK: Oh, right, right.

HH: Yeah, but when you, if you’re the writer’s room, if you’re a fly on the wall in the writer’s room for Hillaryworld, what do they put on the white board as having been an actual honest to goodness achievement? Forget Benghazi, about which she has to answer the questions, but Libya’s a mess, Egypt she got wrong, the reset button with Russia was a disaster, Ukraine’s been carved up. How in the world does she run on competence?

JK: I mean, it’s a challenge when it comes to foreign policy. I mean, it’s hard for any, someone in anyone’s administration to create that space when a president is facing vulnerabilities on that specific front. So the President, when you look at the specific issues and job approval, and President Obama and all the various areas, foreign policy is one of his lowest points at this moment. It was higher when she was secretary of State, but I think she’s going to have to answer, and perhaps bear some responsibility for some of the decisions that the President has made. So it’s going to be a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. You know, I think they’re going to talk about the fact that she traveled, that diplomacy was emphasized, that she tried to work with a lot of other world leaders. She’s going to point to a lot of her travel. But I think she’s going to have a challenge to really defend the President’s foreign policy at a time when a large majority of Americans are very skeptical about it.

HH: With Webb in, O’Malley moving around, Joe Biden still there, Jerry Brown may be running as Yoda for president, does she have a glass jaw, Josh?

JK: You know, the thing that she has going for her is that she does have a brand. I mean, generic Democrat running as a third term of the president might have a bigger challenge than someone like Hillary Clinton, who is well-identified, for better or for worse, with the American public. But you know, and I think that she’s been able, we’ve seen through polling throughout the last few years, her numbers have gone down somewhat, but she still has higher approval ratings than President Obama. She still has higher favorability numbers than, say, Joe Biden. So I mean, she, and she definitely has an experienced political team who’s been through the trenches, who went through a very tough 2008 presidential campaign. So I mean, I don’t think she has a glass jaw. I think she’s, you know, she’s prepared for 2016, and she’s very well-attuned to all of the vulnerabilities that she faces. But she also sees her campaign as a real opportunity to be the first female president, and to forge a new coalition for the Democrats.

HH: But with her tweet, you know, she’s sort of mini-me on immigration. And I’m just, I’m curious, because I’m not referring to the fact that she’ll be 69. I’m wondering if her brand is so old. She’s been around D.C. for a quarter century. Young people don’t get excited by Hillary Clinton. It’s like getting excited about your grandma running. And she’s the grandmother of Obamacare. How in the world does she refresh the brand? We’ve got about a minute.

JK: Well, the big question, I mean, I think that’s the big question. A lot of Republicans, I mean, there’s a lot of debate within Republican circles over whether they want to nominate someone like a, say, Marco Rubio, who’s a younger, less, you know, a lot less experienced compared to Hillary Clinton, but someone who’s a fresh face who can almost, you know, argue the Bill Clinton 1992 campaign theme about talking about the future, and really being a contrast. But other folks think that Jeb Bush or someone with more experience is a necessary type of challenger Republicans should nominate against Hillary Clinton, because that will, you know, people are worried about the state of the world – foreign policy, you know, it seems like the Middle East is falling apart, you know, we have the instance of Ebola just a month ago. So there’s another alternative Republican point of view that thinks that Hillary Clinton probably, her experience can be an asset in this type of volatile environment, and Republicans might actually need to match her experience with someone like a Jeb Bush.

HH: Stick around for one more segment. I’ll be right back with Josh Kraushaar from National Journal.

— – – – –

HH: I didn’t want to let you go, Josh, because I wanted to get, you live in the middle of sort of Grand Central Station of politics, and this goes to branding. Is Hillary stale?

JK: I don’t think that she’s stale. I think that part of branding is coming up with strategic ways to, I mean, there are a lot of brands that have been around for a long time. And smart marketers have been able to refresh those brands and make them more relevant going forward. I think that’s the big challenge, though, for her campaign team. Do they have, I mean, you brought it up first, Hugh, like what is their message? What is going to be the argument for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign? I think it could be fresh. I think it could be, she could be coming up with something that talks about her experience, but also talking about how she differs from previous presidents, and how she, say, a third way, a different approach from President Obama and President Bush. But we haven’t heard that from, she hasn’t announced her campaign, we haven’t really heard that from any of her advisors at this point. So I mean, I think it remains an open question.

HH: Do you think we’re really going to end up being asked to put Bill Clinton back into the Oval Office de facto third term for Bill, not really a first term for Hillary?

JK: I think it’ll be fascinating to see how active a role Bill Clinton plays on the campaign trail. I mean, that was an issue in the 2008 primaries. And he was as smart and savvy of a politician as he is. He would get the Clinton folks, the Hillary Clinton folks, in trouble quite a bit for making off-message comments. And I think that will be the biggest question for her campaign going around. I thought it was also notable that you know, a lot of people have made the connection between Hillary’s campaign and Bill’s late in the 90s. But you know, if you look at the Senate races where both of them campaigned in, I think there was a lot of hope that the Clintons could sort of make some inroads in blue collar parts of the country, states that they won, or states that Bill Clinton, rather, won in ’92, ’96 – Arkansas, Kentucky, in those two big Senate races in 2014. And they didn’t make inroads. And the working-class voters that supported Democrats back in the 90s ended up voting Republican in this past election. So I think that’s a big warning sign for both Bill and Hillary in terms of their ability to kind of recreate that magic from the early 1990s. It’s going to be a lot harder this time around.

HH: So when you get into these meetings with other political junkies and writers, whether they’re from the Post or the New York Times or the National Journal or any of the, Politico, is anyone excited about Hillary? I mean, does anyone jump up and down and say yah, I can’t wait? I know we see Ready For Hillary signs everywhere. They’re mass produced at some custom sign place outside the Beltway. But does anyone really get excited about her?

JK: Well, as reporters, I mean, and editors, we like competition. It would be nice to see an actual primary take place just for, just for pure news value. It is sort of remarkable that you aren’t, other than Martin O’Malley and the names you mentioned, Webb, Sanders, folks that don’t have much of a chance other than to excite some very small elements of the base, I mean, Elizabeth Warren would be someone who would make it a real exciting campaign. But you know, just the lack, I mean, one of the big stories of 2016 is the lack of interest of – Claire McCaskill, Tim Kaine, I mean, I could name a whole bunch of senators, a handful of governors, who would normally be interesting candidates for president looking ahead. But none of them are interested. All of them have ceded towards Hillary Clinton. And even Elizabeth Warren would have a real case for the progressive side of the Democratic Party, and have some real enthusiasm with the base, has expressed little interest in challenging her. So I mean, yeah, it would be a great story to see a real, and I think Hillary Clinton is not quite as, you know, invincible in a primary as the unfavorable numbers suggest, or her early poll numbers suggest. I mean, I think if you had, with the Democratic base, I think they could give her a fun for her money. I don’t see Martin O’Malley or anyone who’s been out there so far fitting that bill.

HH: You know, there was a very famous exchange in British politics in the 19th Century where Disraeli charged his great rival, Gladstone, with being an exhausted volcano. Do you think that’s what Hillary might be, exhausted?

JK: I mean, she’s had time off from serving in the White House, so I don’t think she’s exhausted. I think she’s actually been preparing and thinking about how she’s going to run a campaign, and she hasn’t told us much. And her staff hasn’t been very open, either, even when she’s going to announce, if she does announce a 2016 campaign. But I do, I don’t think she’s exhausted. I actually think that she’s been very strategic, and has been resting and relaxed and ready to launch this.

HH: Oh, I don’t mean personally. I just sort of mean, oh, God, not the Clintons again, that kind of, you know, the sort of sigh that comes from Democrats at the precinct level across the United States that oh, we’ve got to get back on that horse, that old Clinton horse. It’s been, we’re ridden it since 1992, ’88 if you go back to the convention speech that never ended when he was the keynote speaker, Bill. And I’m wondering, really wondering, if Jim Webb doesn’t show up out there, you know, riding to the sound of the guns, blue collar Democrat, Born Fighting, the Appalachian Democrat, the pro-Defense former Reagan secretary of the Navy, does he really present a threat to Hillary?

JK: You know, I really don’t think, I mean, I think the energy of the party is to Hillary’s left, not to her right. So I really don’t think he, his campaign is going to… I mean, the Democratic Party has changed so much in the last 20 years that the Jim Webb faction of the party, we saw this with Pryor, with Kay Hagan, all the southern Democrats that lost a couple of weeks ago, I just see that there is energy on the left, and Elizabeth Warren, you know, could fill that void. I mean, someone like a Deval Patrick, outgoing governor of Massachusetts, could certainly, if he wanted to run, I think could put a pretty solid campaign together. But there’s just no interest. I mean, if there was dissatisfaction with Hillary, you would think someone more credible would step up to the plate and really get some excitement for their challenge. But no one’s been willing to do that so far.

HH: So she’s the default setting. Does that mean she has to run to the left just to make sure that there is no one that perks up there?

JK: I think on paper, it means she has some more freedom to run in the middle, but that’s why her positioning vis-à-vis Obama is going to be so fascinating in the next year, because she needs, for a general election, she’s going to be holding, she’s essentially going to be running for a third term of President Obama, and she’s going to try to, you know, she’s going to have to distance herself if the President doesn’t improve his job numbers. But at the same time, she also needs to get that excitement, because Obama’s bet with his executive order on immigration is to excite the base for 2016, and for his own brand as well. But that’s not the only way you win in 2016. She still needs to do better with other parts of the electorate. And I don’t think she’s figured, I mean, I think there’s a long way to go, but she needs to figure that out before the next election.

HH: Last question, then. She’s inextricably bound up with his foreign policy failures, probably with the Iranian deal. And I just want to know if you think she can unglue herself from this immigration executive order if it becomes in operation, as I think it will, as bad a rollout as Obamacare website. I think it’s going to be phenomenally difficult to administer this. It’s going to be a practical nightmare as well as a Constitutional fiasco. But can she get away from it now? Or did she flypaper herself to the President’s lawlessness, in my view? I know that’s not your view, but my view, lawlessness, is that stuck to her in such a way that it cannot be unstuck?

JK: And I would never say, I mean, there’s a lot of time to go before she even announces her presidential campaign. The point, I think one of the other reasons why the President did what he did is he thinks he can bait Republicans to saying out of the mainstream type comments, things that make them do things, threat of impeachment or the threat of a government shutdown.

HH: No one’s going to do that, though, right?

JK: It’ll make it easier for someone like Hillary to run against. So I think there’s a lot left to be determined. I feel like it’s too early to really make a judgment on how the immigration play turns out. But I think if Republicans don’t self-destruct, if they don’t do things that hurt their own brand, I think the burden is on Hillary. The burden is on the Democrats to really show how they’re in the, how they get the majority back with supporting this executive order, with supporting the process of this executive order.

HH: And then just for the record, I have not heard one Republican bring up the I-word. I have not heard any leader say shut down the government. Now I know some, a couple of people maybe on the back bench will say that. But really, nobody in leadership, and not even the back bench has mentioned impeachment, right? That’s just, that hasn’t happened. No one’s talking about that.

JK: Yeah, you know, Hugh, you and I, I mean, I agree with you. I wrote a column, actually, a couple of weeks ago on how I think the White House really misunderestimated the increased pragmatism of the House Republican Caucus and the Senate Republican Caucus. And you know, you look at the election results, and it was in a lot of blue districts that the President won in 2012 where these new House Republicans are coming in and got elected. And you look at the governor’s races, and these are blue states like Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, where Republicans took advantage of dissatisfaction with the White House, and dissatisfaction with Democratic incumbents to win. So I mean, I think that this is a different Republican conference. The Republicans have the majority in both the House and the Senate. I think you’d have a much more amenable partner than maybe he’s had in the past. But clearly, I think part of the White House strategy was also sort of to bait Republicans, and hoping they’ll do things that will sort of self-destruct their brand and hurt them in the long term.

HH: And that’s already failed, I think. Josh, thank you, Josh Kraushaar from the National Journal. Follow him on Twitter, @HotlineJosh.

End of interview.


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