1. Inside the brewing Democratic convention battle over Israel
Could the man aspiring to become America’s first Jewish president spark a war at the Democratic convention … over Israel?
Last month, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced that she had allowed Bernie Sanders to pick five members of the party’s 15-person platform drafting committee — only one fewer than likely nominee Hillary Clinton. Usually, the DNC chair chooses the committee herself (in consultation with the White House or the winning candidate); for the party’s upcoming convention, however, Wasserman Schultz struck a deal with both campaigns to “make this the most representative and inclusive process in history” by awarding Sanders more power over the platform than any previous runner-up.
At the time, we noted how this unprecedented arrangement could cause some friction in Philadelphia, with Sanders openly planning to push for planks and positions that Clinton & Co. disagree with: a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, a European-style tax on carbon emissions to curb climate change, a hard asset cap on the big banks (which would force them to shrink themselves), a single-payer health care system and tuition-free public colleges and universities. On each of these issues, Sanders should have enough delegates behind him to start a public spat on the convention floor, if he so chooses.
But since then, one issue in particular has emerged as the most likely to disrupt the proceedings — and divide the party — in the City of Brotherly Love: the Democratic establishment’s staunch and long-standing support for the government of Israel.
The first sign of coming conflict was Sanders’ platform appointees: Cornel West, the public intellectual, and James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, both told the New York Times last week that they oppose Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and believe rank-and-file Democrats feel the same way. A third Sanders pick, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is a Muslim who has long spoken out in favor of Palestinian rights.
“Justice for Palestinians cannot be attained without the lifting of the occupation,” West declared, accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “war crimes” and vowing to battle for a platform that would elevate “the plight of an occupied people.”
West’s views represent a sharp break with previous Israel-centric platforms, which called in 2008 and 2012 for “final status” negotiations designed to produce a “just and lasting” peace that would “contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Initially, however, it seemed as if Clinton’s platform drafters might play along. In an interview last week with the Chicago Sun-Times, Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois — who was then on his way to the West Bank and Jerusalem, where he would meet with Palestinian Authority officials, Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and Palestinian students and businessmen — revealed he was open to a platform that “elaborates more clearly the wishes, the desires, the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their hope for justice and for peace and equality.”
“Absolutely,” added the Clinton appointee. “I think we can do more.”
But other Clintonites were quick to push back.
“I am sure the Democratic Party platform will reflect long-standing, strong support for Israel,” said Clinton appointee Wendy Sherman, a former top State Department official. “Secretary Clinton’s views in support of Israel’s security and an unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel are well-known.”
Clinton’s senior foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, seconded Sherman, arguing that “Hillary Clinton’s views on Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship are well-documented” and that “her delegates will work to ensure that the party platform reflects them.”
Meanwhile, in Thursday’s major foreign-policy address in San Diego, the candidate herself insisted that “Israel’s security is nonnegotiable” and rebuked Donald Trump for saying that he would “stay neutral” on the issue.
In some ways, the whole Democratic debate over Israel boils down to semantics. Platforms are aspirational documents; they don’t bind a president’s behavior. Both Clinton and Sanders support Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and both favor the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. Unlike West, neither candidate backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and Sanders is reportedly “disinclined” to lobby for the inclusion of contentious terms such as “Israeli occupation,” “direct negotiations” or “continued settlement activity.”
Yet it’s clear that Sanders, who has repeatedly called for a “more balanced” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, picked West, Zogby and Ellison for a reason. His goal is likely to send a message — and to get some concessions from Clinton in return.
At the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., party leaders afraid of offending Jewish donors and swing voters — and rewarding Republicans with a ready-made attack ad — called for a floor vote to reinstate language, previously removed by the platform committee, that described Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After three voice votes, the “ayes” and “no’s” seemed evenly matched — but convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa called it for the “ayes” anyway. He was roundly booed as a result. The New York Times called it “a minor spectacle” that provided “an unruly start to an evening meant to showcase attacks on Mitt Romney by former President Bill Clinton and others.”
The incident demonstrated two things. First, that establishment Democrats — like Clinton — are terrified of tinkering with the platform’s Israel plank, lest they, say, lose votes in Florida. And second, that rank-and-file liberals — more of whom sympathize with Palestine than Israel, according to an April Pew Research Center poll — are now increasingly willing to push back.
Any amendment that fails on a majority vote during the full platform committee meeting can still be brought to the convention floor as a “minority report” if 25 percent of the committee supports it — which should be an easy bar for the Vermont senator to clear. If Sanders’ team were to force an Israel vote on national TV, what may follow wouldn’t be “a minor spectacle,” and the papers would probably use stronger words than “unruly” to describe it.
Already, Clinton’s people are jittery about Sanders going the minority-report route. As one “Democrat close to the platform committee” told the Jerusalem Post, the platform “has to be a practical document that doesn’t hurt the chances of the nominee come November. It has to do no harm, and the most well-written words and best intentions mean nothing if they get Donald Trump elected.”
In the end, this may be what Sanders is counting on: Clinton getting so skittish about Bernie “harming” her on Israel that she agrees to make other platform concessions to prevent it. On the minimum wage. On carbon. On something, anything else.
2. #NeverTrump? Never gonna happen (Vol. 3)… or, What the search for a Trump alternative is really about
An occasional Unconventional series exploring the latest news about the ongoing shadow “convention” to nominate a conservative #NeverTrump candidate — and why the effort is doomed to fail.
What are Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol & Co. really trying to accomplish by drafting conservative lawyer David French to run to the right of Donald Trump as an independent presidential candidate in the fall?
Not win the White House, says Yahoo News National Political Columnist Matt Bai.
In his latest column, Bai points out a few problems with French’s potential bid. The logistical hurdles to an independent campaign, no matter who lends his name to it, are probably insurmountable at this point. A right-leaning alternative with access to ballot lines virtually everywhere already exists, and that’s Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee. And then there’s the book French wrote with his wife, Nancy, in which they describe the rules they devised together while he was stationed in Iraq: namely, that she wasn’t allowed to have phone conversations with other men, or to have email exchanges with men about politics or any other subject, or to use the kind of social media where a man might contact her.
“So, yeah, you can really see how French is well positioned to peel off that large segment of women voters who don’t like Hillary Clinton but who can’t stomach Trump’s blatant sexism,” Bai writes.
But the most interesting part of Bai’s piece is when he delves into what he believes to be Kristol’s real motives — and explains what they say about the larger culture of conservatism in Washington, D.C.:
Here’s what a campaign by French or some other socially conservative, strong-military Republican might actually achieve: It might siphon just enough votes in just enough states to ensure Clinton a victory. And, truth be told, that’s probably what Kristol and a lot of other Republican insiders are hoping for at this point.
That’s not because they think Clinton will be a good president, or because they think Trump would raze the monuments and suspend habeas corpus, necessarily. It’s because if Trump wins, the Republican establishment in Washington will lose its entire reason for existing.
For more or less 25 years now, governing Republicans like Kristol (who was once chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle) have positioned themselves essentially as professional enablers.
For all that time, increasingly furious conservative voters, whipped up by antigovernment rhetoric, have been sending ever more extreme leaders to Washington, where inevitably they meet up against the immovable reality of budgets and bureaucracies.
And the main job of the advisers and lobbyists we loosely refer to as the Republican establishment has been to navigate the divide between these two worlds — to somehow tutor and moderate the elected leaders who arrive in Washington raging against the machine while figuring out how to exploit the grassroots intensity they need for the next election.
The establishment’s main role has been to make governance look like resistance, and vice versa.
Except that Trump really doesn’t seem interested in being tutored or moderated — or not in any way that lasts for longer than the next news cycle. He may not even govern as a conservative.
If Trump somehow wins (and, as I’ve written, I don’t find this so implausible), the whole professional apparatus of the Republican Party will as likely as not become irrelevant, replaced by the geniuses who ran Trump University and the Taj Mahal. Game over.
I don’t doubt for a second that Kristol sees Trump as a genuine threat to the country, self-interest notwithstanding. But I also think he’d rather endure four or even eight years of another Clinton than a nominally Republican White House that has only contempt for the governing class, and he’s not alone.
Make sure to read the rest of Bai’s column here.
3. The Trump Veepwatch, Vol. 5: Rick Scott
In which Unconventional examines the presumptive Republican nominee’s possible — and not-so-possible — vice presidential picks. Previous Trump installments: Newt Gingrich, Jan Brewer, Bob Corker and Mark Cuban.
Name: Richard Lynn “Rick” Scott
Résumé: Two-term governor of Florida; former hospital CEO and venture capitalist
Source of speculation: Another Monday, another ambitious Republican politician tromping to Trump Tower in Manhattan to “meet with” the Donald in his 25th floor office.
First it was Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker; now it’s Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The Washington Post got the scoop. In a statement to the paper on Thursday, Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Scott’s political operation, confirmed the get-together and said, as the Post put it, that “Scott and Trump plan to look ahead to the general election in the Sunshine State, which is expected to be a crucial battleground.”
“Gov. Scott looks forward to meeting with Mr. Trump to discuss his campaigns in Florida and how he thinks Mr. Trump will have a big win in the state in November,” said Sellers.
Still, when a presumptive nominee summons a swing-state governor to his private lair, there’s no way to stop the political press — Unconventional included — from buzzing about the veepstakes.
Even the timing is conspicuous. On “Fox News Sunday,” Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — who is leading the vice presidential search process — revealed that Trump’s vetting team has “started to shrink down that pool,” settling on a “very small” list.
A conversation about Florida’s electoral topography, in other words, can wait. A conversation about the VP gig cannot.
Backstory: Scott refused to formally endorse any of his fellow Republicans before Florida’s March 15 primary. But in January, he penned an op-ed for USA Today — headline: “Donald Trump has America’s pulse” — that left little doubt where his allegiance lay.
“Political pundits are shocked that Donald Trump is leading in the polls,” Scott wrote. “The same thing happened in 2010 when I entered the Florida gubernatorial race against the already anointed and establishment-endorsed sitting Republican attorney general. One establishment member even said to me, ‘How can you be governor? I don’t know you.’”
“I don’t think [Trump’s] ability to give the most interesting interviews or speeches is the only thing that has him leading in the polls,” Scott continued. “I think he is capturing the frustration of many Americans after seven years of President Obama’s very intentional government takeover of the U.S. economy.”
But it didn’t take Scott long to sign on with Trump after the Manhattan mogul clobbered his rivals in Florida (and Sunshine State Sen. Marco Rubio suspended his campaign).
“I’m asking all Republicans today to come together and begin preparing to win the general election in November,” Scott wrote in a Facebook post the following day. “I believe it is now time for Republicans to accept and respect the will of the voters and coalesce behind Donald Trump.”
The veep rumors started right away. In a late April interview with the New York Times, Trump declined to discuss potential picks in any detail but briefly praised three governors as possible contenders — and Scott was one of them. A few days later, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza ranked Scott as Trump’s second likeliest pick (after Chris Christie).
“Scott has been consistently supportive of Trump for months,” Cillizza argued. “Scott’s profile is also probably appealing to Trump — a wealthy businessman who ran against and beat the Republican establishment to get elected governor. Plus, he’s from a big swing state.”
Odds: Low — but Trump has been known to defy them before.
For his part, Scott insists he’s not interested.
“I like my job,” Scott told CNN’s Erin Burnett in May. “I worked hard to get this job. I’m going to stay in this job.
Of course, that’s what they all say.
Scott’s selling points are easy enough to see: both business and governing experience; antiestablishment attitude; fundraising prowess; Sunshine State address. Plus, Trump has known Scott for years — they run in the same fat-cat Florida circles — and he likes to surround himself with familiar faces.
But Scott’s negatives are even more apparent. He consistently ranks as one of the least popular governors in America, with approval ratings that rarely crack the 50 percent mark; it’s unclear if he would help Trump overcome Clinton’s current lead in the Florida polls. He’s largely unknown outside of Florida. He’s a robotic campaigner. He has zero Washington, D.C., experience (which Trump has said he wants.) And he carries a ton of baggage, as the Sun Sentinel’s Dan Sweeney recently put it, “from the massive Medicare fraud case that ended his reign as CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain to the recent settlement of seven public records lawsuits that saw Scott agree to pay $700,000.”
“There may be worse choices for Trump’s vice presidential nominee, but I struggle to think of many,” writes top Florida political reporter Adam C. Smith. “Okay, Bill Cosby.”
Still, Trump may not care. He doesn’t need another showboat. Approval ratings are irrelevant. And scandals don’t seem to hurt him. Having a running mate he’s comfortable with might matter more.
4. Video: Barbara Boxer tells Bernie Sanders ‘how’ to ‘step aside’
On Thursday, Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric sat down with retiring California Sen. (and top Hillary Clinton supporter) Barbara Boxer to discuss her new memoir, “The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life.” But eventually the conversation turned, as all conversations do these days, to this year’s wild presidential contest. The most intriguing part of the exchange — at least to obsessive convention-watchers like us — was when Boxer, who said she “feared for her safety” when Bernie Sanders supporters got rowdy at the Nevada convention last month, started offering Sanders advice about how to run the final leg of his campaign.
Asked if the Vermont senator should bow out after California primary on June 7, Boxer demurred.
“I’m not saying when he steps aside,” she said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is how he steps aside. What is his message? … Whether he decides after California to look at the numbers or he waits for awhile — whatever he does is fine with me. But it’s the way he conducts himself. It’s what he says. And the way he leads the people who will follow [him].”
Boxer added that she was OK with Sanders campaigning all the way to Philadelphia — provided he campaigns as a uniter, not a divider.
“If he’s taking it to the convention in order to bring about unity between the two sides, that’s fine,” she explained. “If he’s taking it to the convention to exacerbate the split, that’s a bad thing.”
The Californian even hinted that a job in a possible Clinton administration could be waiting for Sanders after the election.
“Hillary and Barack Obama had a closer race,” Boxer said. “But for the good of the country, to unite the party, she was so strongly for Barack Obama. She brought her people along. She joined the administration. … She really spared him a lot of very difficult work. … He needed a superstar to take on that job. And she stepped up and did it. So to me, she’s the role model for bringing us together, and I hope Bernie will reflect upon that.”
What do you think? Is Boxer��s advice sound? Or is she just delivering Clinton campaign talking points? Drop us a line on Twitter (@andrewromano) and let us know.
5. The best of the rest
— Paul Ryan (@PRyan) June 2, 2016
New USC/LATimes poll finds a battered Hillary Clinton and ascendant Bernie Sanders in a tight race in California https://t.co/ZtmgPAiCYE
— Cathleen Decker (@cathleendecker) June 2, 2016
Bernie’s hand-picked NY delegates envision chanting, mass walk-outs at convention if they don’t feel heard: https://t.co/ckCFXmtFVF
— Annie Karni (@anniekarni) June 3, 2016
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) June 1, 2016
Bernie’s superdelegate moon shot https://t.co/yIzRqpjYwZ
— Daniel Strauss (@DanielStrauss4) June 2, 2016
RNC chairman Priebus: David French on ‘suicide mission’ https://t.co/pqBTfzxZIk
— Will Rabbe (@WillRabbe) June 3, 2016
For the latest data, make sure to check the Yahoo News delegate scorecard and primary calendar.