Peter Franklin: Don’t write off the possibility of Hillary Clinton re-running for President

17 Jan

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

With so much going on at home, Brits may be forgiven for not noticing the political crisis brewing in America. Nevertheless, last week was almost as bad for Joe Biden as it was for Boris Johnson.

The leader of the free world is coming to resemble that most pathetic of creatures: the first-term lame duck President. Of course, there was always a risk of that. At 79, Biden is by far the oldest person to have occupied the Oval Office. Running for re-election and completing a second term would mean carrying on until he’s 86.

However, it’s not infirmity that looks like dooming the Biden administration, but unpopularity. Last week a Quinnipiac poll recorded a new low — an approval rating of just 33 per cent. That’s lower than at the same stage of Donald Trump’s Presidency. It should be said that Biden does a bit better with other pollsters, but not by much.

There are multiple reasons for what has gone so wrong so fast: the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan; the ongoing Covid crisis; and inflation like Americans haven’t seen in decades. Biden is also having trouble getting his agenda through Congress. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were elected as Democrats, but on key measures they’ve sided with the Republicans.

Things could go from bad to worse. The mid-term elections coming up later this year could produce Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. That could mean complete legislative gridlock and the confirmation of Biden’s lame duck status.

Still, never mind. At least the old stager’s had his last hurrah. Instead of running again in 2024, he could retire gracefully and everyone would understand. He could simply pass the baton to his much younger Vice President. Kamala Harris is ready-and-waiting to become America’s first female President.

Sounds like a plan. Except there’s one tiny problem with it: Harris is unpopular too. She’s not a calamitous Veep like, say, Dan Quayle; it’s just that voters don’t like her. I think it was Bob Monkhouse who quipped “people like sincerity — and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.” Whether for good or ill, Harris can’t fake sincerity. In fact, she’s hampered by an inability to communicate any sort of emotion without it sounding forced.

She’s a poor campaigner too. Her attempt to win the 2020 Democratic nomination went badly. She was monstered in one of the early debates by Tulsi Gabbard — and withdrew not long after. Luckily for her, the eventual nominee Biden was determined to pick a woman as a running mate and she got the nod. And thus she found herself one heartbeat away from the Presidency.

But for how much longer? Even if Biden runs again in 2024 there’s talk of dropping Harris from the ticket. The idea would be to nominate her to the Supreme Court, while he finds a more popular running mate. If, on the other hand, Biden doesn’t run again, then the Democratic nomination is likely to be contested — and Harris can’t count on a coronation.

Let’s not forget that the current favourite for the Republican nomination is Donald J Trump. Should that remain the case, then the Democrats will be desperate to stop his comeback. If that means dropping a persistently unpopular President and Vice President, then they’d be stupid not to.

And yet that would place the Dems in a difficult position. Holding on to the White House without either the incumbent President or Vice President isn’t easy. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 1928 when Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge — and those, of course, were Republicans.

In 2024, the Dems would have to stand before the American people and say “sorry about the previous President and VP, folks — they were hopeless, but please vote for us again.”

There’s also the risk that, in an open race for the nomination, a candidate from the so-called “progressive” wing of the party might win. The nightmare nominee is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who’ll be old enough to run next time). The Congresswoman may be an ultra-woke firebrand, but she’s popular with the party’s rising generation of millennial activists.

So, in the absence of Biden and Harris, the Democratic establishment would need to pull a really big name out of the hat. Big enough, in fact, to distract voter attention from the party’s disarray and to bulldoze any challenge from the Left.

But who? Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week, Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein make the case for Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton — the one who lost against Trump in 2016. They can’t be serious, can they?

Well, there is a case. First, instead of scrabbling around for some obscure Governor or junior member of the Biden administration, the party could put forward a household name. Second, she’s a woman — which would erase the embarrassment of sidelining the first female Vice President. And third, there’s the delicious prospect (for Democrats) of righting the “wrong” of 2016.

But isn’t she just too old and controversial? Not really — at least not anymore. Biden has extended the acceptable limit of age (Clinton is five years younger), while Trump has done the same for disagreeability.

So could we see a Trump-Clinton rematch in 2024? Not if there’s any chance of Trump winning again — she surely wouldn’t run the risk of a second humiliation. However, if the Republican nominee (whether Trump or someone else) looks beatable, then why not?

Indeed, there’s a scenario in which Clinton becomes the best hope of victory. If the Republicans winning a crushing victory in the mid-terms, it may dawn upon the Democrats that the party’s wokeness, which Biden has pandered to, is electoral poison. A particular worry is the Hispanic vote, which is showing signs of a historic shift to the Republicans.

In such a bind, the only way out for the Democrats would be to triangulate between the extremes of Right and Left just as they did in the 1990s under Bill Clinton. So could Hillary emerge as the triangulator of the 2020s?

She starts off with the right ideological bona fides. She’s a moderate, but a liberal moderate. If anyone can talk her fellow liberals back from the edge of lunacy it’s her. Furthermore, she’s tough, outspoken and, most importantly, she’s got nothing much to lose at this stage. Assuming she’s not succumbed to the woke mind virus herself, no one is better placed to save the Dems from their own worst instincts.

Right now, the mainstream reaction to the idea of a Clinton comeback is “you’ve got to be joking!” But by the end of the year it could shift to “isn’t there a better candidate?” If that becomes the question, then she’s in with a shot.

Sarah Ingham: Under Johnson, the Marie Antoinette of our times, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable

10 Dec

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

For someone who aspired to being world king, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has turned out to be more like France’s Louis XV, who predicted ‘Après moi, le deluge’.

“After me, the flood” has nothing to do with the Government’s obsession with carbon net zero. Let’s hope this fixation reached its zenith at last month’s preening eco-fest, COP26, also known as Davos on the Clyde. Instead, the failures of the reign of King Louis (1710-1774) paved the way for the French Revolution of 1789. Whether the monarch was anticipating or was indifferent to the chaos which would follow him is usually only of academic concern.

Close to the second anniversary of the 2019 election victory which delivered a landslide majority of 80, the Prime Minister’s own seeming indifference to the plight of the people of this country is only rivalled by that of Louis’ granddaughter-in-law, Marie Antoinette, to her subjects. Let them eat cake? Let their children, like 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, die alone. Let their frail elderly be unvisited in care homes. Let their weddings be postponed. Let their churches, temples, synagogues and mosques be closed.

Patterson, Peppa Pig, parties at No 10 and Plan B. During the past few weeks, Johnson has not so much crashed the car into a ditch as sent it over a cliff where it somersaults to the ground before exploding into a fireball. Never mind unforced, his errors appear so wilful, it has to be asked whether he is up to the job of being PM – or indeed even wants it.

“There is no Plan B” – you wish. On Wednesday, more Covid-related restrictions on daily life were unveiled. The timing was reminiscent of the United States’ 1998 bombing of a factory in Sudan, assumed to be Bill Clinton’s very own diversionary tactic to distract from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of business, enterprise and wise stewardship of the economy. The Institute of Economic Affairs suggests the latest Covid measures will cost Britain £4 billion a month. And the Government clearly views the hospitality sector as below the salt, despite contributing almost £60 billion in gross value added to the British economy in 2019. Hammering it in the run-up to Christmas for the second successive year could be the final straw for many weakened businesses. Let them go bust.

There should be no Plan B. Omicron might well be a live vaccine, bestowing natural immunity following a mild cold-like infection. Instead of viewing the variant as a possible blessing, we’re back to more masks, tests, vaccines passports and Working From Home. As ConservativeHome revealed earlier this week, WFH has turned out to be less than optimal for the Foreign Office or for desperate Afghans.

The Government’s response to Covid has been flawed from the get-go: disproportionate, panicked and heedless of collateral damage. It would have been better off consulting Mystic Meg than Professor Neil Ferguson and his ilk. SAGE should have been sacked long ago. Its advice has not only crashed the British economy but failed to prevent 146,000 Covid-related deaths.

The massive structural flaws within the state apparatus which the pandemic has revealed would have been a toxic inheritance for any leader. Post-Brexit Britain can no longer use Brussels as an excuse for mismanagement and burdensome red tape. The country needs a leader with the vision and drive to implement wholesale reform, not least of the Civil Service. We need another Thatcher to solve problems like the NHS: instead we get Johnson who ineffectively throws money at them, raising the tax burden to its highest and most unConservative level since the Second World War. Let them be poorer.

Anyone who has been out on the campaign trail with Johnson will testify to his charisma and the feel-good he conjures up among voters on the rainiest of days. However, his 2019 victory was not down to his celebrity or distinctive cartoon-like silhouette which fascinates small children or to his jokes.

Getting Brexit done was about more than Britain leaving the EU. By opting for Leave in 2016, voters signalled their demand for wholesale change within this country, only to be ignored and insulted by the Remainer political establishment – that includes you, Keir Starmer – who wanted to cling to the status quo. The Red Wall turned blue two years ago because Boris seemed to be on its voters’ side: instead of despising them, he got them.

Those voters are now asking where is Plan A. And whether it includes indulging the eco-loons of Insulate Britain, putting out the welcome mat for illegal migrants, ripping out gas boilers and imposing £1.4 trillion in costs to get the country to net zero. Where are Conservative principles in all this? Governing by focus group is not governing at all.

Blowing up voters’ goodwill, no Jeremy Corbyn to bash, Brexit done … MPs are surely weighing up whether Johnson is an asset or a liability. Next week’s result in North Shropshire should tell them.

The parties at No10 are the ultimate in toxic do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy. This is a different order of magnitude from Barnard Castle and the handsy Hancock trysts. Voters are not going to forget or forgive. For many, it’s too close to dancing on graves.

Johnson’s always shaky moral authority is ebbing away. There is already a suspicion that the PM and his wife stretched the rules (or was it the guidance?) last Christmas Day. Should they have stuck two fingers up at voters by going along to the knees-ups at the No10 frat house, it’s game over.

A three-week lockdown has turned into 21 months of state inference in our daily lives, with our hard-fought freedoms trashed by sub-prime officials and ministers. Liberty is the core Conservative value. It would be poetic justice if the Prime Minister were brought down by the statist rules he introduced.

The hubris, self-indulgence and lack of seriousness in Downing Street is typified by a melodrama over a makeover, involving the Electoral Commission in choices about wallpaper.

Thanks to the current chaotic regime, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable. Does Johnson care, or is he actually wanting to spend more time with his new family and with making Netflix documentaries? Après moi, le deluge.

Ben Roback: Does controlling migration really matter to Biden and Harris? If not, what follows?

5 May

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

There are intractable problems that seem to always dominate governments – no matter the party, Prime Minister or President in office. The age-old problem of what to do about older people and social care has evaded a hat-trick of British Prime Ministers since Andrew Dilnot’s commission published its recommendations in 2011. The United States has its fair share of such difficulties – from guns and gangs all the way to climate change and carbon emissions.

Joe Biden is seeking to take on the vast challenge of immigration and the crisis on the southern border. Sensing how problematic the predicament is, Biden has delegated the task to his Vice President, Kamala Harris.

It is set to be her most important litmus test ahead of an almost inevitable future run at the White House. Succeed, and she can claim to have fixed one of America’s most dogged political, social and humanitarian problems. Fail, and her record will be tarnished forever. The scale of the challenge means that the President has handed Harris a poisoned chalice. What better way to dampen expectations of Biden retiring in 2024 in order to gift her the presidential nomination?

If the barometer for success is reducing illegal crossings, Harris might find that the only solution is being veritably Trumpian – increased deportations, harsher rhetoric, expanded powers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE).

In political terms, that is unconscionable for a Democratic Vice President, in the shadow of Donald Trump. Harris must deter illegal border crossings without being too harsh on the genuine immigrants and helpless children lumped together with economic opportunists.

The White House and Harris must aim high in order to succeed where their predecessors have failed

Most presidents try deportation. According to analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, more than 12 million people were deported during the Clinton administration. More than 10 million were then removed or returned during the Bush administration.

Barack Obama struck a softer tone on immigration, but nevertheless removed or returned more than five million people, including an estimated 1.7 million people who had no criminal record. With hindsight, Biden the presidential candidate called it a “big mistake” to have deported hundreds of thousands of them.

Trump tried a wall – campaigning on the premise that a physical barrier would stem the tide through Central America. The wall’s construction was mired in funding and contractual complications, but the 45th president left office having reduced the number of refugees admitted to the United States to its lowest level in 40 years.

How much responsibility the “big, beautiful wall” bears for that is mixed. The wall unquestionably embodied the United States’ new attitude to immigration, acting as a physical deterrent to attempted entry, alongside a raft of executive orders such as the Muslim ban and a reduction in the quote of people admitted to the US as refugees each year.

Progressives have cheered Biden…so far

The numbers of people arriving on the US border have grown since Biden took office, seemingly in part owing to a softer immigration policy compared to the Trump era. The President and his team are long enough in the tooth to recognise a political crisis unfolding before their eyes, and so doing nothing on immigration is not an option. So the White House has made a series of interventions so far.

Since January, the Biden administration has reversed a policy of turning away unaccompanied children, instead choosing to process them and place them with sponsoring families in the US. More recently, the White House announced it will raise the cap on refugees to 62,500 this fiscal year.

It followed outrage amongst immigration reform advocates and progressive Democrats after the President’s initial decision to keep the Trump-era ceiling of 15,000 admissions in place. So the move allows the White House to create clear daylight between Biden and Trump. But as the President himself says, “the sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year”.

Most importantly, in March, he handed his vice president a political grenade by putting her in charge of the southern border. It’s a bit like asking Priti Patel to launch her Conservative Party leadership bid after being tasked with reducing illegal boat crossings at Dover and Newhaven.

Is immigration really a priority for the White House?

The problem for Biden, and perhaps more significantly for Harris, is that while immigration is approaching crisis levels, it does not seem to be a major concern in Washington.

The Covid relief plan was an urgent necessity – an essential, albeit expensive, piece of big government legislation designed to stop the country falling to its knees

Next, the American Jobs Plan and the American Family Plan are hugely ambitious legislative packages that are a throwback to the days of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society. In legislative terms on Capitol Hill and as the vaccine rollout continues, the full power of the US government is being felt.

John Kerry wants to lead the world on climate change. Anthony Blinken wants to reinvigorate old allegiances in order to combat the rise of China. Janet Yellen wants a global approach to corporate taxation to lower the playing field. Pete Buttigieg wants to make it easier to travel from Washington DC to Washington State.

The White House is firing on all cylinders. Is there any political or legislative oxygen left for anything else? That long and by no mean exhaustive list of political and policy priorities leaves little room for the kind of investment, attention and political capital required to deliver seismic immigration reform.

Washington will descend closer into a Congressional mid-term election overdrive soon. Democrats fear losing their razor-thin Senate majority in 2022, meaning serious policy upheaval needs to be completed sooner rather than later. With Covid relief done and infrastructure next, immigration does not appear to be anywhere near the top of the list for this administration. Time is running out.

Iain Dale: 400,000 police records have gone. In the Blair years, home secretaries were forced to resign over less.

22 Jan

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Wednesday really did seem a Ground Zero or reset day in the United States. Donald Trump departed much more quietly than I thought he might, and apparently even left Joe Biden a nice letter on the desk in the Oval Office. As well he might, given he didn’t attend the inauguration.

Even his farewell address at Andrews Air Force Base was quite muted, in front of only a couple of hundred people. These didn’t include Mike Pence, now former vice president, who pointedly chose to attend Biden’s inauguration instead.

The beginning of a new presidency is always a time for glass half-full optimism, but the tasks facing the new president are daunting to say the least.

I wrote last week that I doubted if Biden had the imagination or the energy to unite a very divided nation. His speech on the steps of Capitol Hill on Wednesday struck all the right notes, even if the delivery wasn’t what it might have been.

My suspicion is that this will be much more of a co-presidency than usual, with Kamala Harris playing much more of a central role in government than is usual for a vice president.

She needs to carve out a proper role if she is to be given a chance to prove herself in advance of what is surely an inevitable run for the Democratic nomination in 2024.

That is assuming an 82 year old Biden doesn’t fancy a second term. Friends in Washington tell me he’d have to be dragged out of the Oval Office kicking and screaming.

Becoming president at 78 shows, I suppose, that you should never give up on your dreams, and that you’re never too old.

I’ll be 61 at the 2024 election. Perhaps I should revive my political ambitions…

On the other hand, tending my roses in my Norfolk garden holds more allure nowadays. #oldbeforemytime

– – – – – – – – –

I learned an interesting lesson Twitter this week.

My friend Daniel Forrester alerted me to this post from the CBS show 60 minutes, in which Bill Clinton reads the letter George H W Bush left for him on the Oval Office desk.

The lesson I learned was that people are quite happy to reply to a Tweet they haven’t read properly.

Most of the responses I got were along the lines of how could I possibly maintain that Clinton knew how to behave when he’d got a blow job in the Oval Office etc etc.

They ignored the fact the Tweet was about Bush, 41, a man who embodied the very essence of public service.

I was assailed with insults. However much I protested, it seemed to make it worse.

God I hate Twitter.

– – – – – – – – –

Allegra Stratton, the very capable new Downing Street Official Spokeswoman, was supposed to commence live press conferences ten days ago.

It didn’t happen and we’re told the whole idea has been put on hold indefinitely because it was felt inappropriate to commence them during a lockdown.

Hmm. That has all the ring of a desperate excuse about it. I’d have thought now was exactly the time that the Government should be utilising all communications methods at its disposal.

– – – – – – – – –

When a government department makes a monumental cock-up it’s usually the Secretary of State that has to face the music. It doesn’t get much more serious than deleting 400,000 records of criminals.

Yet it wasn’t the Home Secretary with whom the buck has stopped. It is her junior, Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, who has had to explain it in the media and make a statement to the House of Commons.

In the Blair years, home secretaries were forced to resign over less.

– – – – – – – – –

Hilary Benn is a politician I admire, but this week he has been whinging that his Brexit Select Committee has been abolished and not had the chance to vet the trade deal with the EU.

He should be grateful it wasn’t abolished at the same time as the department it was scrutinising. The fact is, a trade deal should be scrutinised by the International Trade Department Select Committee.

We are now out of the EU and there is no need for Benn’s select committee to continue. As well he knows. Otherwise there would be a precedent for there to be a select committee on virtually everything.

If he’s so desperate to continue it, he could turn it into an All Party Parliamentary Group. I’m sure there would be some financially-munificent arch Remainers who’d love to fund it.

Give me strength.