Breaking with usual campaign practice, Mitt Romney selected a fellow foreign policy neophyte as his running mate. But, as with the 1992 Clinton/Gore ticket, that might be precisely the point.
Left, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaign in Virginia. Left, Bill Clinton and Al Gore in Texas 16 years prior. (Reuters, AP)
Articles about Paul Ryan's foreign policy experience tend to be short, and to mostly talk about anything but. The Wisconsin congressman and now Republican vice presidential candidate has long focused on domestic policy, particularly social programs and the budget. Like Romney, he has little to no record on foreign policy or national security. Oft-quoted political analyst Larry Sabato called him "just a generic Republican on foreign policy" who, also like Romney, has tended to follow the party's lead. His one foreign policy issue seems to be overturning the Cuba embargo, the sort of thing that appeals to foreign policy dorks (like me) but does poorly among the GOP establishment and swing Florida voters, meaning that we will probably not hear much about it during the campaign.
Foreign policy and national security are big parts of the U.S. president's job, which is part of why candidates with thin records -- such as Barack Obama in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2000 -- tend to round out their tickets with stalwarts like Joe Biden or Dick Cheney. But the Romney campaign seems to have steered away from foreign policy -- its bare-minimum tour of three U.S. allies last month didn't go so well -- and with the Ryan pick likely confirms that they will not be emphasizing this traditionally Republic issue. The half-hearted defenses of Ryan's foreign policy record tend to either tout his lack of experience as a virtue, as Newt Gingrich did, or to argue that foreign policy isn't that important anyway.
Voters might actually agree with that latter argument. According to a new Reuters poll, only four percent of Americans identify foreign affairs as "the most important issue facing the U.S. today," about a third of what it was two years ago. It's tied with "morality" for the proportion of voters who call it their top concern. By comparison, 45 percent say they care most about the economy (about half of those specifying it down to unemployment) and 30 percent cite other "domestic issues."
As if that weren't enough reason for Romney to focus away from foreign policy (and, again, putting aside his less than graceful attempts at diplomacy so far), Reuters poll respondents also seem to consider it an area that favors Obama. A significant 51 percent say Obama is "stronger" on foreign policy (50 percent on "the war on terror" and 47 percent on national security), while only 35 percent say Romney is the stronger. Excepting health care, on which Obama scores 53 percent to Romney's 36, it's Obama's strongest issue.
It's unusual for a presidential ticket to include two foreign policy neophytes, but not without precedent: in 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton selected U.S. Senator Al Gore, who like Ryan had focused largely on domestic issues (though Gore did sit on the Homeland Security and Armed Services committees), to run against President George H.W. Bush*. The elder Bush ran on one of the most sterling foreign policy records of the 20th century: he'd overseen the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and its withdrawal from Europe and Asia, arranged the Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Madrid, and had successfully (and carefully) ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, sending his approval rating skyrocketing to an historic 89 percent.
The 1992 race between Bush and Clinton yielded democratic strategist James Carville's famous dictum, "It's the economy, stupid." The economy sagged into recession, Bush's disapproval rating climbed to an alarming 64 percent in August 1992, and three months later voters ousted the foreign policy master for the two inexperienced foreign policy amateurs who preferred to talk about health care and the economy. Sound familiar?
* - Update: Some readers have suggested that it's unfair to draw a one-to-one comparison between Al Gore and Paul Ryan in terms of foreign policy experience. And they're right! Gore famously served during the Vietnam War as a military reporter. As a senator since 1985 and member of Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, he played a role in such foreign policies as the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which he touted during his 1988 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Still, the point is that, although he might have been more experienced than then-Governor Clinton, with seven years in the Senate his foreign policy record was a bit closer to that of three-year Senator Barack Obama than to 36-year Senator Joe Biden.
If Clinton had sought to make balancing his ticket's foreign policy experience a primary mission in selecting his vice president, he might have chosen Senator and former Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey (who also ran against Clinton in the 1992 primary) or the more experienced and foreign policy-focused Senator Sam Nunn, as two hypothetical examples, over Gore. That's not to discount Gore's foreign policy record, only to point out that, if Clinton had wanted a strong foreign policy name to balance his ticket along the lines of when Obama chose Biden or George W. Bush chose Cheney, he could have found options along those lines. But Clinton, despite his own lack of foreign policy experience, didn't choose a foreign policy heavyweight like Nunn. This doesn't mean that Clinton-Gore and Romney-Ryan have entirely analogous records, but it does suggest a similarity in the degree to which they have not chosen to emphasis foreign policy while running against a sitting president with a strong foreign policy record.
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
Epic yet intimate, the director's new war film is boldly experimental and visually stunning.
What is Dunkirk?
The answer is more complicated than one might imagine. Director Christopher Nolan’s latest is a war film, of course, yet one in which the enemy scarcely makes an appearance. It is a $150 million epic, yet also as lean and spare as a haiku, three brief, almost wordless strands of narrative woven together in a mere 106 minutes of running time. It is classic in its themes—honor, duty, the horror of war—yet simultaneously Nolan’s most radical experiment since Memento. And for all these reasons, it is a masterpiece.
The historical moment captured by the film ascended long ago to the level of martial lore: In May 1940, in the early days of World War II, some 400,000 British and Allied troops were flanked and entrapped by Germany on the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France. Although the Channel was narrow enough that the men could almost see across to England, the waters were too shallow for warships to approach the beaches. So a flotilla of some 700 civilian craft—the “Little Ships of Dunkirk”—made their way from Ramsgate in England to assist in the rescue.
The White House is threatening the special counsel and trying to dig up dirt on him, and the prospect that the president will try to fire him now seems very real.
The idea that Donald Trump might fire—or try to fire—Special Counsel Robert Mueller has bubbled up enough times to seem possible, but still improbable. For one thing (as Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, among others, can attest) press reports that this president might fire someone are frequently wrong. For another, it seemed that even Trump was prudent enough to avoid making the mistake that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Yet Trump has a knack for making the wildly implausible suddenly imminent. In the last 36 hours, the idea of Mueller being fired—and the political crisis it would likely set off—has become distinctly real. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump all but said he would fire Mueller if his investigation went into places Trump didn’t like. Since then, several reports have suggested that Trump’s defense strategy, as investigations probe deeper into his life and administration, is to attack Mueller and attempt to discredit him. Increasingly, the operative question seems not to be whether Trump will try to fire Mueller, but when he will do so and what will push him over the edge.
On Flower Boy the rapper suggests he’s not straight—and struggles with a stigma he helped propagate.
Tyler, the Creator became famous, in part, for being hateful. When his rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (“Odd Future” is fine) caught buzz around 2010, it was because of their delirious energy and Eminem-like love of mayhem. But it was their threats against women and “faggots,” delivered in song and on social media, that elevated them from subculture phenomenon to become essay prompt and political flashpoint. The likes of GLAAD and the band Tegan and Sara declared Tyler poisonous and asked the music industry to stop supporting him. Theresa May, back when she was home secretary of the U.K., took the extraordinary step of banning him from her country because his lyrics “encourage violence and intolerance of homosexuality.”
A new report from The Washington Post claims the attorney general had two “substantive” discussions with Sergey Kislyak about Trump’s stance on issues important to Russia.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed matters related to the Trump campaign with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, while the 2016 U.S. presidential race was ongoing, current and former U.S. officials toldThe Washington Post on Friday.
The revelations, based on intelligence intercepts of Kislyak’s communications, contradict Sessions’s sworn testimony before the Senate; first that he had no contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, and later his amended testimony that the contacts he had were not campaign-related.
John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. Johns University and a former associate counsel in the office of the special prosecutor during the Iran-Contra affair, said the nature of the evidence made a perjury prosecution against Sessions unlikely because Kislyak would probably not agree to be a U.S. government witness, and because of the difficulty of using intelligence intercepts as evidence in court.
Where the insurgency is concerned, Trump and Obama have plenty in common.
This week, the Trump administration reportedly cancelled a long-running covert program to support vetted Syrian rebels in the war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. While this move has provoked a small outcry among Assad’s opponents, the development itself is far from surprising. Furthermore, it is incorrect, as some have insisted, to viewthe cancellation as a gratuitous concession to Russia—a decision like this, which aligns with years of deliberate U.S. strategy and Trump’s own stated goals, cannot be considered a concession. It is almost certainly true that Trump hopes this decision will make Russia more cooperative on ceasefires between the regime and the insurgency. But if that does not happen or if it fails to pacify Syria—a likely outcome—this would not alter an already-dismal strategic situation for the Syrian opposition, one that may well be acceptable to the United States.
If Trump were right to blame all of his problems on messaging, perhaps the smooth-talking businessman could solve them. But he’s not.
Watching Anthony Scaramucci’s formal introduction as White House communications director on Friday, it was clear why President Trump wanted him for the gig.
Even though he’s never worked as a spokesman for anyone other than himself (and a great spokesman he was, bringing wide renown to an underachieving hedge fund), Scaramucci looked at home behind the lectern in the White House Briefing Room. Moreover, he was everything that Sean Spicer—the long-suffering press secretary who announced his resignation today—was not.
Where Spicer was nervous, tentative, and likely to stumble over his words, Scaramucci was smooth, relaxed, and confident. Where Spicer’s suits were often ill-fitting, Scaramucci was sharply tailored. Where Spicer was a career cog in the Republican machine, Scaramucci is a swaggering New Yorker who speaks in the same clunky business pidgin as the president and can drop names nearly as prodigiously too. (Goldman Sachs, Yankees president Randy Levine, and Harvard Law School were a few of Scaramucci’s mentions during his brief spell at the mic.) Where Spicer’s professions of praise for the president always seemed mousy, pleading, perhaps a little browbeaten, Scaramucci brought the sincere sycophancy that comes from truly adoring Donald Trump. When did Spicer ever say he “loves” the president?
The choice of the former hedge funder and ardent Trump loyalist reflected longstanding dissatisfaction with Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The Scaramucci revolution was televised.
After months of chatter that his job was on the chopping block, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer finally exited stage right on Friday after financier, donor and TV talking head Anthony Scaramucci was given the job of White House communications director, which had been vacant since the departure of Mike Dubke in May. Spicer resigned in opposition to the move.
The incident brought simmering conflicts inside the White House to a boil and pitted top advisers against each other in a last-minute effort on the part of some of them to stymie the appointment of Scaramucci, known as “The Mooch,” who had refashioned himself as an ardent Trump supporter during the campaign and had been left in limbo during the early days of the administration after not getting a promised job.
Like many current presidential advisers, the new White House communications director and former Wall Street financier made a quick pivot from Trump basher to Trump loyalist.
Like many of Donald Trump’s closest non-family advisers, Anthony Scaramucci traveled a circuitous route into the inner orbit of the mercurial president.
The Wall Street financier and former Obama donor once called then-candidate Trump “a hack politician,” a big-mouthed “bully,” and “an inherited money dude from Queens County” and backed two other Republican presidential contenders, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, before embracing Trump as the party’s nominee.
Nearly two years later, Scaramucci, 52, is one of Trump’s most aggressive television surrogates and, as of Friday morning, the White House communications director.
In truth, the smooth-talking Long Island native—nicknamed “the Mooch”—made the transition from Trump basher to Trump loyalist quicker than many Republicans. After a 90-minute meeting with the candidate at Trump Tower in June 2016, Scaramucci was fully onboard and soon praised Trump as “a results-oriented entrepreneur capable of delivering bipartisan solutions to common-sense problems.” The soon-to-be GOP nominee, Scaramucci added, was “the only candidate giving an honest assessment of our country’s ideological decay.”
The transcript of the president’s conversation with The New York Times throws his shortcomings into greater relief than ever before.
“Now Donald Trump has finally done it” is a sentence many people have said or written, but which has never yet proven true. As Trump gained momentum during the campaign season, errors that on their own would have stopped or badly damaged previous candidates bounced right off.
These ranged from mocking John McCain as a loser (because “I like people who weren’t captured”), to being stumped by the term “nuclear triad” (the weapons of mass destruction that he as U.S. president now controls), to “when you’re a star ... you can grab ‘em by the pussy” (my onetime employer Jimmy Carter had to spend days in the 1976 campaign explaining away his admission to Playboy that he had sometimes felt “lust in the heart”), to being labelled by an in-party opponent a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” and “a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen” (the words of his now-supporter Ted Cruz). I kept my list of 152 such moments in the Time Capsule series as the campaign went on.