Iraq War question opens Pandora's Box for the GOP

An American soldier on patrol in Jamilla Market on July 15 2008 in Sadr City, Iraq. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/ Getty)
An American soldier on patrol in Jamilla Market on July 15 2008 in Sadr City, Iraq. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/ Getty)

“It’s Anybody’s Ballgame” in GOP Race… Karl Rove on Jeb: Mistakes were made… The GOP’s Iraq conundrum… Jill Lawrence: There are even better questions to ask about Iraq… Why watching Obama’s approval rating is so important in the 2016 race… Look at that -- trade bill clears 60-vote hurdle in Senate… GOP amendment strips provision to study options for giving legal status to undocumented immigrants enlisting in the U.S. military… And on “Meet” this Sunday: Rand Paul.


*** “It’s Anybody’s Ballgame” in GOP Race: After a week in which Jeb Bush badly stumbled -- giving four different answers on Iraq in four days -- our colleague Kasie Hunt makes an important point: There is NO Republican frontrunner in the 2016 race. It is wide open. “Jeb Bush has fallen from the man to beat to the richest member of the pack. Scott Walker seems to have gone underground. Marco Rubio is exciting but untested. And the Republican establishment is growing increasingly nervous that the party is facing a long, bloody primary fight that could drag into next summer,” Hunt writes, reporting from the RNC meeting in Arizona. “[H]allway conversations, interviews and casual discussions over two days reveal [party operatives] largely reached the same conclusion about the state of the race: ‘It’s anybody’s ballgame,’ as one longtime RNC member put it, bluntly.” And it’s just not Bush’s stumble; it’s also Scott Walker’s absence. “Now he’s running the Hillary strategy,” an RNC member supporting a different candidate told Hunt about Walker. “It’s the right strategy for him, but it’s not a good situation.”

*** Karl Rove on Jeb: Mistakes were made: On the “Today” Show this morning, Karl Rove -- who masterminded George W. Bush’s two presidential victories -- acknowledged that Jeb had made mistakes this week. "The good news for him: He's had a bad week, and he has 36 more weeks" until the first nominating contests begin. "When you get in to this kind of contest, you find out that more is required of you, and you're going to make mistakes," he said. "I went through two key presidential campaigns where mistakes were made, and yet at the end of the day, the fellow who made the mistakes won."

*** The GOP’s Iraq conundrum: Now that almost EVERY Republican 2016er has said that -- knowing what they know now -- they wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, Time magazine asks a good question: Can you be a strong foreign-policy hawk (like every GOP ‘16er except for Paul), but also so quickly disavow the Iraq war? “In a campaign dominated so far by foreign policy themes, GOP presidential hopefuls are increasingly torn between the need to project toughness and the need to acknowledge what many voters see as the defining error of the last Republican commander-in-chief.” Democrats in 2008 who ran against the Iraq war, including Obama, faced a similar conundrum: Obama desperately didn’t want to be perceived as anti-war; he wanted to be perceived as anti-IRAQ. And it was during the campaign that Obama ended up making hawkish promises about Afghanistan and al Qaeda, which at the time certainly appeared to be related to combatting the DOVE perception that was developing. How will the GOP field in 2016 react to the conundrum?

*** Even better questions to ask about Iraq: Indeed, as Jill Lawrence writes, there are much better questions about Iraq and foreign policy in general. “For instance, what if the intelligence had been solid and Iraq really did have WMD? Knowing what we know now, not about WMD but about the geopolitical consequences of our intervention, would you still have gone into Iraq? Or would you have tried to find another way to contain Saddam?... [W]hat do you think about pre-emptive warfare, on the premise that a nation or a leader is an imminent threat? Was George W. Bush justified in viewing Iraq as an imminent threat? Do you agree? What other countries would you attack or invade on that basis? Syria, which had and may still have chemical weapons? North Korea, which has nuclear weapons? What about Iran?”

*** Why watching Obama’s approval rating is so important in the 2016 race: Our good friend Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report makes an important point when thinking about 2016: So much hinges on the CURRENT occupant of the White House, President Barack Obama. “Every presidential election is a response to the current president, even when the current president isn’t seeking re-election. If people don't like the guy in the White House, it’s almost impossible for a member of his party to be elected to succeed him. Even when voters are happy with their incumbent president, it’s not always a guarantee of success for the party’s nominee” -- see Al Gore. More Walter: “The magic number for Obama – and ultimately Hillary’s chances – is somewhere around 47 percent. If Obama’s job approval rating is above that, a Democrat has a decent to a good chance of winning in 2016. Below that number, especially if Obama is in the 45 percent range or below, it will be hard for a Democrat to gain entry to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Obama’s approval rating in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll? 48%.

*** Look at that -- trade bill clears 60-vote hurdle in Senate: Remember when we told you not to over-read the Elizabeth Warren vs. Obama drama in the Senate battle over trade? As it turned out, the key players in the trade debate weren’t Warren and progressives, but rather the free-trade Dems who were looking for leverage. Roll Call: “President Barack Obama’s fast-track trade bill is officially back on track in the Senate, after easily topping the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster and open debate… Democrats who backed advancing the bill included Michael Bennet of Colorado, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Chris Coons of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon. Carper is the only one who backed the president on Tuesday.” Getting the same trade legislation out of the House, however, could be a bigger lift.

*** GOP amendment strips provision to study options for giving legal status to undocumented immigrants enlisting in the U.S. military: Don’t be surprised if this vote yesterday makes its way into the 2016 presidential bloodstream. “A bipartisan coalition came close Thursday to protecting immigration-related language in the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act — but not close enough,” Roll Call writes. “A 221-202 vote on an amendment, offered by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., stripped a provision in the underlying bill encouraging the Pentagon to study options for enlisting undocumented immigrants into the military in exchange for a pathway to legal status. All 182 Democrats voted ‘no,’ joined by 20 Republicans.”

*** On “Meet” this Sunday: In an exclusive interview, NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview Rand Paul.

*** On the trail today: Chris Christie is in Georgia… Ted Cruz is also in the Peach State, speaking at a GOP Victory Dinner in Athens… Mike Huckabee addresses the RNC meeting in Arizona… And Rand Paul is in Iowa. 

OBAMA AGENDA: The fight over NSA data collection

The New York Times looks at the lengthy fight over NSA bulk data collection -- and what it means for democracy.

The Washington Post writes that an inspector general report shows that Secret Service supervisors didn't report agents' misconduct.

CONGRESS: Back on track

The fast-track trade bill has cleared its big Senate hurdle, but its fate in the House is still unclear.

"Key Democrats on Thursday said they opposed Republican efforts to circumvent broad, congressionally mandated cuts in military spending as lawmakers considered the annual Pentagon budget," writes the New York Times.

And an immigration measure scrambled debate over the bill as well, notes the Wall Street Journal.

National Journal talked to dozens of female staffers about what it's like to deal with sexism on Capitol Hill.

From POLITICO: "With only days left to act and Rand Paul threatening a filibuster, Senate Republicans remain deeply divided over the future of the PATRIOT Act and have no clear path to keep key government spying authorities from expiring at the end of the month."

OFF TO THE RACES: Desperately seeking a frontrunner

Kasie Hunt reports on anxiety among top Republicans that they're in for a long and bruising nomination fight.

The New York Times notes that the Iraq War is haunting Bush just as it did Hillary Clinton in 2008.

BOLTON: John Bolton's not running. Here's what his exit says about the 2016 field.

BUSH: Fourth time's the charm. Our wrap of Jeb Bush's fourth (and final?) answer on the Iraq question.

The Washington Post's big picture: "Over the course of a long and bruising campaign, Jeb Bush is also certain to face more questions about how he would be a different president from George W. Bush, the last Republican to serve in the White House — not only on foreign policy but also on domestic issues such as the privatization of Social Security and the Wall Street bank bailout."

Karl Rove said on TODAY that Jeb Bush won't make the same mistake on Iraq again.

CHRISTIE: He's brought on a new national field director and a national director of data and analytics, POLITICO writes.

O'MALLEY: He'll make an announcement about his presidential run on May 30 -- and there's not a lot of suspense about what he'll say.

PAUL: He picked up another 25 endorsements in New Hampshire.

And around the country..,

CALIFORNIA: Loretta Sanchez is officially running for Senate, facing Kamala Harris in a Democratic primary.

INDIANA: Ex-rep Baron Hill says he'll run for Senate in 2016.

WISCONSIN: And Russ Feingold is in for a rematch against Ron Johnson. 

Additional reporting by Carrie Dann