Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
With the gaggle of GOP 2016 presidential contenders growing, the Republican wannabes have largely refrained from assailing one another and have instead focused their wrath on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has launched one of the first R-on-R attacks, and he has done so regarding an issue of primal importance to the Republican voting base: guns.
A few days ago, Cruz's presidential campaign zapped out an email hitting up conservatives for donations. The solicitation showed Cruz, the tea party favorite, wearing a bright orange hunting vest, with a shotgun on his shoulder, and its message was stark: Send me money so I can support your Second Amendment rights, which "serve as the ultimate check against government tyranny." Cruz warned that he was "under attack from the left-wing media and even Republicans who want to label me as an extremist—all for supporting a fundamental right." And then he took a shot at the other GOP 2016 contestants: "I'm the only candidate running for President who not only believes in the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms—but has the record of fighting for it, tooth and nail."
The only Republican 2016er who's a proven crusader for gun rights? That was quite the claim—and a dig at everyone else in the crowded field, particularly the other GOPers who are competing for tea party and conservative voters. After all, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has declared himself a champion of gun rights. He has long supported the National Association for Gun Rights—a group that hypes itself as the conservativealternative to the NRA. Rand Paul often signs email solicitations for this outfit, such as one that asserted that President Barack Obama and the United Nations were plotting to "CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL 'unauthorized' civilian firearms.'" (Paul was not invited to the NRA's recent convention—because, NGAR president Dudley Brown claimed, "Paul is more pro-gun that the NRA.") Paul has repeatedly moved to eviscerate the gun laws of Washington, DC. And prior to becoming a senator, he campaigned at a gun rights rally with armed militia members who noted that guns could be used to prevent "progressive socialists" from thwarting Second Amendment and other rights. That is, Paul has established a rather die-hard stance on guns.
Yet that did not stop Cruz from depicting himself as the only true and tested advocate for gun rights in the Republican's 2016 gang. So what does the Paul campaign think of this Cruz attack? Paul campaign officials would not comment on the record. "We'll pass for now," spokesman Sergio Gor said—a suggestion that the Paul did not want to mix it up with Cruz at this point.
The same sentiment was not evident when I asked the Cruz campaign how Cruz could justify this implied assault on Rand Paul. Rick Tyler, a well-known conservative consultant working for Cruz, responded with a detailed email that essentially accused Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another GOP 2016 candidate, of wimping out at a key moment for the gun rights crowd:
[F]rom April 11-18, 2013 in the shadow of Newtown, CT, when the Democrats were lined up to hammer Republicans, Paul and Rubio never came to the floor to stand up for the Second Amendment when the Toomey-Manchin gun bill [which would have required background checks on all commercial gun sales] was being considered. On April 17, Cruz came to the floor promoting a bill (Grassley-Cruz) he co-authored which was the conservative alternative to Toomey-Manchin [and which did not expand background checks and made it easier to purchase and transport guns against state lines]. It got 52 votes including 9 from Democrats but failed the cloture vote. During that time Cruz and Lee were very aggressive in defending the Second Amendment including gathering stories for the Congressional Record of Americans who used a firearm in self-defense.
With this note, the Cruz campaign, rather than retreat from a political fight over who's best on gun rights, made its assault on Paul and Rubio explicit, asserting that both Paul and Rubio failed the gun rights movement in its hour of need.
And once again, Paul's campaign did not engage, declining to answer questions about Tyler's amplification of the original criticism. Rubio's campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.
Paul has insisted in the past that after the Newtown gun massacre, he quickly took steps to prevent any gun safety bills from advancing in the wake of that tragedy. On April 10, 2013, he wrote on CNN's website, "Along with Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, I circulated a letter promising to 'oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.'"
Following the Newtown tragedy, Paul considered Cruz an ally in the battle to beat back gun safety legislation. These days, Cruz is not returning the favor and looking to turn Paul and Rubio into targets in order to best them among a critical GOP constituency. The question is, how long will this remain a one-way fight?
Martin O'Malley endorses Hillary Clinton for president, May 2007.
One Democratic source tells me that Hillary Clinton's camp has sent a clear message to former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.): Challenge her for the Democratic presidential nomination and you're dead to us. Another source says that the Clinton crew has sent a different clear message to O'Malley: Feel free to take her on in the primaries; she could use the competition. I don't know which source is correct. Perhaps both are, for Hillaryland may well be populated by advisers and strategists with different takes on this question. But it does seem clear that Clinton, who finally jumped into the 2016 race with a tweet and video splash on Sunday, could benefit if she is challenged in her party's primaries by O'Malley or someone else.
There's about nine months to come before the first voting occurs in the Iowa caucuses—and 19 months until the general election. That's a long time. Clinton, who is hardly a fresh face, will find it tough not to appear stale to some voters during that stretch. She is already at a super-saturation level of media coverage. There are endless tweets, blog posts, and articles about every aspect of her campaign. All her moves—her logo!—receive inordinate press attention. Though she and her aides insist this race is not about her—it's about everyday Americans and how to improve their lot—the campaign is likely to be much ado about Clinton: how she campaigns, what she says, what's her vision, where she goes, how she's performing, what's her strategy, what's up with her husband, her connection with voters, her trustworthiness, her likability, and so on. Her every utterance and move will be dissected everywhere—again and again. (And the various dissections will be dissected.) On the Republican side, all the 2016 wannabes will be directing attention at her, as they each angle to be seen as the candidate best able to obliterate Clinton. Sure, the GOPers will eventually form a circular firing squad—they won't be able to resist the urge to attack one another—but they will direct many shots at Clinton. The around-the-clock Hillary Bashathon will never end.
It would be tough for any candidate to withstand this degree of hyperscrutiny for such an extended period. Might voters become bored with Clinton, through no fault of her own, before any voting starts? Might her message, whatever its merits, seem tired and worn out by then? If the Democratic half of the 2016 primary story is only about Clinton going through elections and caucuses with preordained results and being compared solely to herself, that will likely not engage undecided voters. What's exciting or interesting about a cakewalk and no substantial debates over political qualifications and important policy matters?
Clinton needs a foil in the Democratic primaries—someone she can joust with, someone who will expand the narrative, and someone she can beat. Waltzing through one election after another will not boost her commander-in-chief credentials. A fight or, at least, a tussle—even a lopsided one—will give her campaign more of a story to tell, and, presuming she wins the primaries, will position her as, well, a winner, not a candidate who is skating toward the general election on the easy ice of entitlement and inevitability. Barack Obama's ability to dispatch Clinton in 2008 demonstrated his moxie and his mettle. His glow intensified with each victory. Everyone likes a winner, right? And these battles were great training for the match-up to come against Republican John McCain. Clinton will not face as formidable a primary foe as Obama did. But a face-off against any opponent of consequence is better than a breezy promenade toward the main event.
O'Malley, who's considering a presidential bid, would make a good sparring partner. He's a smart guy with sass, but he's not a slasher who could inflict long-lasting political damage. In fact, the clichéd conventional wisdom about tough primary contests pulling candidates too far toward an ideological extreme and hurting nominees in the general election may not hold true. In 2012, Mitt Romney did veer far to the right to capture the Republican nomination, and McCain also sucked up to conservatives in 2008—and both men were harshly assailed by their party rivals during the nomination phase—but each still had a fighting chance in the general election that came next. Both were undone by errors made in the postprimary period rather than decisions and dustups of the primaries. General election voters have short memories—or don't bother to pay a lot of attention to the nomination battles. If O'Malley manages to score some points against Clinton, they would probably matter little after the convention.
Clinton's rival need not be O'Malley. But the choices for this spot are limited. James Webb? Lincoln Chaffee? Bernie Sanders (who's not a Democrat)? It may be tougher for any of them to engage her in a serious fight. O'Malley, too, is not likely to threaten her path toward that glass ceiling. But at the moment he seems the possible contender with the most oomph.
A primary battle—even a limited one—introduces risk into the equation. It's not hard to imagine Clinton and her strategists yearning for less uncertainty than more. (What if O'Malleymentum takes off?) And the Clintonites may not have a say in whether O'Malley enters the ring. Yet a primary fight that makes Clinton earn—not inherit—the nomination would cast her in a different role. She'd be a fighter, not a dynastic queen. The press and the public would have something to ponder beyond just Clinton herself. And all politics are relative; candidates usually look better when compared to another candidate rather than to a nonexistent ideal or even themselves. So perhaps Team Hillary should welcome the upstart Marylander into the contest. A slam dunk is more impressive when waged against a competitor, and even the Harlem Globetrotters needed the Washington Generals.
I haven't been surprised by Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign launch, with the GOP senator from Kentucky winning more attention for his testy interactions with reporters than for his libertarian theology. These past few days, Paul had a tough time when journalists posed him the most predictable of questions: Can you explain your position on abortions? Why did you flip from opposing all US foreign aid to Israel and other nations to supporting such assistance? Do white Republican voters support criminal justice reform? He talked over one interviewer—and then accused her of talking over him—and he walked out of another interview.
This all reminded me of the time I tried to engage Paul about an important matter: what his father Ron Paul knew about a newsletter published under his name that included racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic commentary. It was 2012, and Ron Paul was campaigning for president in the GOP primary in New Hampshire. Rand Paul, already a senator, was helping his old man and spinning for him after the debates. But Rand Paul had no spin for my questions about this newsletter. Nor did he have any answers. When I asked about the publication, he turned his back to me and refused to answer. It was a curious response. I've had politicians walk away without replying to a query. But I've never seen one pivot away and pretend I was invisible. It seemed a bit immature: I can't seeeee you.
In his bio on his presidential campaign website, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) boasts of what he did as Texas solicitor general to defend the Second Amendment, the Pledge of Allegiance, and US sovereignty—all conservative causes. But Cruz does not detail another important chapter in his legal career: his work as a well-paid private attorney who helped corporations found guilty of wrongdoing.
After serving over five years as the state of Texas' top lawyer, Cruz in 2008 joined the Houston office of the high-powered international law firm Morgan Lewis to lead its Supreme Court and national appellate practice. He stepped down as a partner in the firm after being elected a US senator in 2012. During his stint at Morgan Lewis, Cruz, who casts himself as a politician who stands on principle, handled several cases that cut against his political stances. He twice worked on cases in New Mexico to secure $50-million-plus jury awards (though, as a politician, he has called for tort reform that would prevent these sorts of awards). He assisted a lawsuit filed by a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and nearly executed (though, as a politician, he has insisted the criminal-justice system functions just fine when it comes to capital punishment). And in one case, he filed a brief supporting President Barack Obama's stimulus (though, as a politician, Cruz has slammed this Obama initiative).
US Secretary of State John Kerry and world representatives discuss the nuclear agreements.
Shortly after the participants in the Iranian nuclear talks announced that a double-overtime framework had been crafted, I was on television with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is something of a celebrity rabbi, a failed congressional candidate, and an arch-neoconservative hawk who has been howling about a potential deal with Iran for months. Not surprisingly, he was not pleased by the news of the day. He declared that under these parameters, Iran would give up nothing and would "maintain their entire nuclear apparatus." Elsewhere, a more serious critic, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who last month had organized the letter to Iran's leaders signed by 47 GOP senators opposed to a deal, groused that the framework was "only a list of dangerous US concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons."
These criticisms were rhetorical bombs, not statements of fact. Under the framework, Iran would give up two-thirds of its centrifuges used to enrich uranium and would reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (which is the raw material used to develop bomb-quality highly-enriched uranium) from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms. These two developments alone—and the framework has many other provisions—would diminish Tehran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Its nuclear apparatus would be smaller, and under these guidelines, Iran's pathway to nuclear weapons, while certainly not impossible, would be much more difficult. Yet because politics dominates the debate over this deal—as it does so often with important policy matters—foes of the framework could hurl fact-free charges with impunity.