In this April 28, 2015 file photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Photo by Ricardo Arduengo/AP

Why Jeb Bush’s ‘hypothetical’ answer is unacceptable

Why the growing GOP opposition to the Iraq war shouldn’t be surprising… Why Jeb’s “hypothetical” answer on Iraq is unacceptable… And why you can’t skip Iowa… That was fast! Senate today reconsiders “fast track” measure after Dem-GOP deal was struck… And was the tragic train derailment about infrastructure? Or human error?

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Why the growing GOP opposition to the Iraq war shouldn’t be surprising: After three days of re-litigating the Iraq war, here is where the 2016 Republican field now stands: Jeb Bush is one place (first saying he would have authorized the war, then saying he doesn’t know what his decision would be, and finally saying he’s not going to engage in hypotheticals). And the rest are in another place, saying they wouldn’t have been in favor of the war from what they know today (with no weapons of mass destruction). So where is this sentiment coming from? Is it a way for a still-hawkish GOP field – minus Rand Paul, of course – to stick a knife in Bush? Or is it a real sentiment? Well, here’s an answer from the Oct. 2014 NBC/WSJ poll: The Republican Party was ALREADY moving away from the Iraq war before this week. In that poll, 66% of American voters, including 49% of Republicans, said they believed the Iraq war wasn’t worth it. Yes, there’s probably a little ’16 maneuvering going on (especially among those who had defended the war in the past). Yes, some might be parsing the “knowing what you know now” part of the question. But this growing sentiment against the Iraq war shouldn’t be surprising when HALF of Republican voters already agree the war wasn’t worth it.

*** Why Jeb’s “hypothetical” answer is unacceptable: In three days, Jeb gives three different answers on Iraq:

  • Monday (when the full Megyn Kelly interview aired): “I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
  • Tuesday: After saying he misheard the Kelly’s question, Bush replied, “I don’t know what that decision would have been [with 20/20 hindsight], that’s a hypothetical. But the simple fact is that mistakes were made,” he told Sean Hannity on his radio program.
  • Wednesday: “If we’re going to get back into hypotheticals, I think it does a disservice to a lot of people who sacrificed a lot,” he said.

Wait a second: The ENTIRE premise behind a presidential candidacy is a hypothetical exercise – it’s imagining the candidate making policy decisions about past, present, and future matters. It’s an unacceptable answer for a candidate to say he/she won’t engage in hypotheticals, because the whole game is a hypothetical. Any candidate that uses the word “hypothetical” to duck answering a question should be reminded of this. The collective political class has somehow accepted the hypothetical excuse from candidates as standard practice. It should stop if we want to have any hope of finding out how these men and women would conduct themselves as president. 

RELATED: Jeb Bush sheds his ‘aura of competence’

*** And why you can’t skip Iowa: Finally on the Jeb Bush front, Buzzfeed reported yesterday that Jeb COULD decide to skip the Iowa caucuses altogether, after already bailing on the Iowa straw poll. The Bush camp pushed back hard. “Tim Miller, a spokesman for Bush, strongly denied that the candidate planned to write off Iowa, and suggested those who say otherwise are merely speculating. ‘There is nobody with any shred of authority or proximity to Gov. Bush suggesting that, should he decide to run for president, he skip or ignore Iowa,’ he said.” There’s a reason why Miller is saying that: You can’t be a national candidate and skip competing in a general-election swing state. John McCain got buried in Iowa in the 2008 general because he skipped Iowa. As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein observed, “You can lose Iowa. You can downplay Iowa. You can lower expectations in Iowa. You can’t skip Iowa.”

*** That was fast! Senate today reconsiders “fast track” measure: Yesterday, we emphasized that the successful Senate Democratic filibuster on Tuesday against giving President Obama trade-promotion authority (TPA) was less about progressives fighting Obama and more about pro-trade Senate Democrats wanting more leverage. Well, guess what happened: Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal, and a new vote will take place TODAY. Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the deal plays out like this:

  • A vote on the Customs Bill (including the currency manipulation favored by Democrats but opposed by many Republicans, as well as the White House);
  • A vote on the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a non-controversial trade preference program focusing on sub-Saharan African nations.
  • Then start consideration of TPA/TAA with open amendments

Senate Democrats filibustered TPA to give themselves more leverage – to get votes on these other measures. But in doing so, they risked prolonging the nasty Democrat-vs.-Democrat storyline on trade. Well, it looks like they did strengthen their hand. And they limited the damage to one 24-hour news cycle. Today’s votes start around noon ET, per Thorp. And final consideration of TPA is expected early next week.

*** Was the tragic train derailment about infrastructure? Or human error? In the wake of the tragic and deadly rail derailment in Philadelphia, we’ve heard a common cry from many: “See, there needs to more infrastructure investment in the country!” And while that’s a legitimate debate worth having, was what happened in Philadelphia about infrastructure? Or was it about human error, with the news that the train was traveling 106 miles per hour? We know it is standard practice to hurry up and politicize a crisis, or use it to push an agenda. But people are dead and perhaps everyone should wait for the facts and then push leaders to respond. 

*** On the trail: Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum address the RNC Spring Meeting in Arizona… And Christie attends a fundraiser in McLean, VA.

OBAMA AGENDA: Another Secret Service headline

From The Washington Post: “A top member of President Obama’s Secret Service detail under investigation for his conduct during a White House bomb threat probe notified the agency this week that he plans to retire, according to officials familiar with his decision.”

Saudi Arabia is vowing to match the same amount of nuclear enrichment capability that Iran can have.

The AP reports that trade deepens a rift between Obama and Elizabeth Warren, but it’s not an entirely new rivalry.

CONGRESS: Let’s make a deal – on trade

Frank Thorp writes that the Senate has reached a deal to vote early next week to give the president “fast-track” trade authority.

“The House on Wednesday easily approved a measure that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records and replace it with a system that would search phone date on a case-by-case basis,” write Andrew Rafferty and Alex Moe.

A scoop from The Washington Post yesterday: “The state-owned oil company of Azerbaijan secretly funded an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference in Baku, on the Caspian Sea, in 2013 for 10 members of Congress and 32 staff members, according to a confidential ethics report obtained by The Washington Post. Three former top aides to President Obama appeared as speakers at the event.”

OFF TO THE RACES: Jeb stumbles

BUSH: The big picture on the Iraq question, from The Washington Post: “The stumbles mark the toughest period yet for Bush’s still-undeclared campaign and have lit a fire under his likely GOP opponents, many of whom have happily proclaimed that they would not have authorized the Iraq invasion under those conditions. Many conservative leaders and pundits are also lacerating Bush as appearing unprepared to address an obvious topic and are casting him as a tone-deaf relic of the GOP elite.”

RELATED: 2016 rivals pile on Jeb Bush’s Iraq remarks

And from The New York Times: “The uneasiness stems in part from the two men’s awkward relationship, which was never close and was often competitive. But it also reflects Mr. Bush’s challenge in trying to deal with a fractured electorate in which some conservatives cling to the former president, but he remains a focus of anger across much of the rest of the political spectrum.”

Will he skip Iowa? Buzzfeed: “According to three sources with knowledge of Bush’s campaign strategy, the likely Republican presidential candidate does not plan to seriously contest the first-in-the-nation caucuses — and may ultimately skip the state altogether.”

CLINTON: She’s heading to Iowa again next week.

O’MALLEY: The Washington Post reports that the former Maryland governor will make an announcement about his political future on May 30.

RUBIO: He says he wouldn’t have backed the Iraq invasion knowing what we know now, but he’s also said in the past that the war’s ultimate outcome made the world safer.

NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reports on Rubio’s foreign policy speech on Wednesday.

WALKER: POLITICO reports on some distrust of Walker among evangelicals. “Next week, the Wisconsin governor will travel to Capitol Hill to hold a private meeting with influential evangelical leaders, some of whom are expressing deep reservations about his track record on issues near and dear to them. Pointing to his past statements, and even his hire of a top campaign aide, they are openly questioning whether his views on abortion and gay marriage align with theirs and whether he’s willing to fight for their cause.”

And around the country…

MISSOURI: “Text messages obtained by The Star reveal a sexually charged relationship between House Speaker John Diehl and a college freshman in a Missouri Capitol internship program that shut down abruptly last month.”

Additional reporting by Carrie Dann

Iraq and Jeb Bush

Why Jeb Bush’s 'hypothetical' answer is unacceptable