Ask Aaron: This week in politics

Jul 09, 2013

Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly Post Politics chat series.

Lots of topics to discuss today.

Rick Perry for President 2016? It's looking more likely after his retirement announcement.

Eliot Spitzer's nascent comeback bid. (My recap of other potential comebacks here:

Immigration hits a roadblock in the House.

James Comey passes his first confirmation test as FBI director (

So what's on your mind?

Are national Democrats at all worried that, if elected, hey will become public faces for their party? They certainly are catnip for journalists. But on the other hand, the actual public faces for the national Democratic Party are 1. Obama, 2. Hillary Clinton 3. Bill Clinton 4. Biden ... and everyone else. When a party controls the White House, the actual public face for a party is pretty obvious.

I think it's a momentary distraction, but it's not like Americans see the mayor or comptroller (!) of New York as a spokesman for the national Democratic Party.

Mike Bloomberg has been pretty controversial on a lot of stuff, but people kind of dismiss it as him being from a liberal bastion. (In fairness: He's not a Democrat, but he's certainly viewed that way by most of America, I would guess.)

If I were the national Democratic Party, I would much rather have Spitzer win than Weiner win. It's a higher office, and I see Weiner as being the kind of guy who could make national news a little more often than his party would prefer. Spitzer was well-respected as a politician in a way Weiner is not.

How badly is his support for comprehensive immigration reform hurting him among conservatives?

I don't think it helps him among conservatives, but I don't think it's crippling either. And I think he's playing the long game and making sure he could be electable in the general election.

As Mitt Romney showed, it's possible to be impure when it comes to something conservatives care about (health care for Romney; perhaps immigration for Rubio) and still win the nomination. But Romney also showed how having the wrong immigration position can hurt in the general election.

I think Rubio is making a very calculated risk here. I'm not sure it will work out, but that's got to be his mindset.

Booker is starting to get heat for being known as a show horse with no substance. I assume there is no indication this will matter.

Not at this point, but that will be the argument used against him in the Aug. 13 primary.

A special election was the best thing that could happen for Booker, because it condensed the primary into a two-month sprint. It's quite simply very difficult to overcome a 40-point deficit in 60 days.

Whose waltz will be easier: Ed Markey or Cory Booker?

I think Booker. There was a strong sense for a while there that Markey might have trouble. The Cook Political Report even called the race a toss-up, and a 10-point win isn't a landslide.

Booker, assuming he wins the nomination, won't likely face a close general election. The GOP just doesn't have a strong candidate who fits the state.

Does the field clear for Greg Abbott, or could Dewhurst or another candidate jump in the race?

I'm not sure it's Dewhurst, given he's still licking his wounds from the 2012 Senate race. He's also facing some pretty high-profile primary challengers in his reelection race.

But in a state where the GOP primary is likely the ballgame, I wouldn't expect Abbott to get a totally free ride.

I'm surprised he decided to retire. I would think being Governor for 18 years would would put him in legendary territory. Did he think A) he was going to lose B) it's better to leave while he and the party are on top, and make some money C) 2016 D) Other

At this point, I'd lean toward C. After the 2012 campaign, he lamented that he really didn't have enough time to prepare, and I think he really believes his back problems hurt him. Retiring allows him to focus intently on running for president and do all the things he couldn't do by starting in mid-2011.

Who has the tougher path to victory? In terms of competition and personal history.

In my piece on political comebacks today, I rated Weiner's odds at 20% and Spitzer's at 50% (

I just think Weiner has tougher competition in a higher-profile race, and it's much easier for voters to give Spitzer a lower-level job. Plus Weiner handled his scandal much more poorly than Spitzer did, and it's more recent.

How do you think Boehner will handle the Senate immigration bill?

I don't even think he knows at this point.

But I think the operating theory is that he lets committees craft their own piecemeal bills, waits on the Group of Seven to introduce its comprehensive bill, and sees what happens.

The problem for Boehner is that by leaning in one direction, he's almost inviting certain Republicans to oppose him. By staying out of it altogther, maybe this stuff has a better chance at passing.

And then he can hope for the best from a conference committee between the House and Senate.

I don't think it will pass, mainly because I don't think most House Republicns think the party will get any credit.

A totally fair point. Why would Latinos reward Republicans when Democrats were much more on-board with a path to citizenship, et al.?

I think the thinking is that this is a threshold issue -- something the GOP needs to even be able to compete -- rather than something that will immediately woo Latino votes to the Republican side.

The problem is that poll after poll shows Latinos are with Democrats on some very important non-immigration issues -- most notably, the size and scope of government (

It's certainly a multi-step process for the GOP. This is just the first step.

So far, the reaction to Spitzer running seems to be a lot angrier than that to Weiner running. People mostly laughed at Weiner, but they seem really put off by Spitzer re-entering politics. Why? Different personalities? Different natures of their scandals?

I think part of it is because Spitzer was governor; everyone knew him and thought he was somebody he turned out not to be.

Weiner was a congressman representing 1/29th of the state. People didn't have that personal connection to him.

A very interesting point.

Why does Rick Perry think the Republican field for president will be even weaker in 2016 than it was in 2012? Is the Texas heat getting to him? The more people got to know him in 2012, the more they disliked him. He was just a flavor of the day.

I truly think he believes that the guy running in 2012 wasn't the Real Rick Perry and that he can do much better.

But you're right: It was a weak field and he still ran one of the most disastrous presidential campaigns in history -- spending more than $1,000 per vote. It would certainly rank among the most unbelievable comebacks in American political history.

Why Spitzer will win, and why Weiner (probably) won't = We have pictures of Weiner doing what he shouldn't have. No pictures of Spitzer (that have surfaced, at least). More abstract.

I think photos of the Emperors Club VIP website are pretty compelling and are likely to be used against him.

Easier to see him "come back" by chairing some blue-ribbon commission, or running a think tank. Something like that. Gary Hart's had that sort of career in recent years.

I agree 100 percent. That's the path he takes, in all likelihood.

Did you expect James Comey to face tougher questioning on "enhanced interrogation tactics?" Or have the senators forgotten that he was in favor of that? Or, worse yet, do the senators think this is not a big deal?

I was expecting a little tougher questioning today. I think senators recognize that he was one of the few vocal skeptics of those techniques, and they give him credit for doing what he did to stop it or at least slow it down.

The fact that he eventually signed off on them, though, is likely to lose him some votes. Not many, but some.

FWIW, there's a long history of congressmen running for Mayor of New York. Ed Koch, John Lindsay, and Fiorello LaGuardia all served in the House before going to City Hall. Bella Abzug, Mario Biaggi, and Herman Badillo all tried but failed.

Lots of congressman/women in the city = lots of potential candidates.

On paper, he still has a lot of compelling qualities as a Republican presidential candidate: governor of a huge state, strong conservative credential, on-his-sleeve evangelical faith. It's even possible that many voters will forget his serial melt-downs in late 2011. But I think the key question is whether other Republican officeholders (and other party poobahs) embrace him as a legitimate contender. If they buy into Perry, he has a chance. If not, then not.

I take your point, but Perry's financial strength was never really tied to the national party. He comes from a huge state with lots of money, and he can use that as his base for another campaign.

Many of the party bigwigs were pretty much on-board with Romney (at least privately) in 2012, so it's not like Perry was their first choice even then.

Haven't heard much about this race lately. Is it fair to say that things are looking pretty good for McAuliffe? McDonnell's troubles can't be good for Cuccinelli -- even he's not close to the governor.

McDonnell's problems certainly don't help Cuccinelli, but I'm not sure that they hurt him a lot either.

And you're right: This race should really be a lot more exciting than it has been so far.

There have been many stories of improper gifts, kids raiding kitchens, etc. At this moment is he in danger of any criminal charges?

Anytime the FBI is investigating someone (as it is McDonnell), there's always that possibility. Whether it will actually happen is impossible to know at this point, but it's looking worse and worse for the governor.

Increasingly, the IRS scandal seems like a great big nothing. Yet the damage has been done: Obama's approval ratings have depressed, fewer Americans think he is trustworthy, etc. Where are the front-page or magazine-cover stories saying, "Sorry, Mr. President?" Where does Barack Obama go to get his reputation back? (to paraphase Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan).

Just because Republicans might have over-played their hands and the scandals didn't lead directly to Obama's desk doesn't mean reporters have to apologize to Obama. The fact is that these things (Benghazi, IRS) happened in his administration, and that will lead some people to view the president less favorably. It's the natural cycle of things, and these were and are totally legitimate issues for journalists to report on -- no matter where they lead (or don't).

But if the IRS scandal is truly over, and these other controversies die down, I'd expect his approval rating and trust numbers to recover somewhat in time.

Didn't a a lot of Republicans *like* "enhanced interrogation?"

Yes. By the same token, a lot of Democrats used to be highly critical of the NSA's surveillance programs. It all depends on which side is in charge.

Can we take the lack of statements from Capitol Hill on the Egypt situation as a sign that no one really knows what to do?

Yes. A few senators have called for restricting or cutting off aid to Egypt (McCain and Levin, for example), but not much besides that. It's just too fast-moving and uncertain, and I'm not sure anybody in Congress knows what they can do to have any effect.

Are we likely to see him campaign for his buddy Terry McAuliffe? If McAuliffe gets elected governor, it becomes much more likely that Hillary picks Kaine or Warner as her running mate, since the Senate seat won't be endangered.

I agree with the first part, but I think his motivation lies more in his close relationship with McAuliffe than with any 2016 calculations. The Clintons and McAuliffe are VERY close.

1. Syndicated columnist or 2. Throwing out first pitch to Joe Mauer at a Twins home game?

I'd prefer both, but I'll take the former. Nobody remembers who threw out the first pitch.

Assess his chances both at the GOP presidential nomination and at the presidency in the general election. Two interesting facts from recent polls: he's not nearly as well-known as you might assume, and he doesn't perform much better among Hispanics than do other Republicans. He's also assembling a very conservative voting record that could be a liability in the general election. On the other hand, he seems fully committed to running (unlike Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan), and he seems acceptable to most folks in the GOP (unlike Rand Paul or Chris Christie). So personally, I feel comfortable ranking him #1 among GOP contenders, but seeing him as no better than "OK" as a general-election candidate.

I think right now he's positioning himself as the uniter in the GOP primary -- appeals to both the conservative base and the establishment, kind of like what Rick Perry was supposed to do. And I do rank him No. 1 as the likeliest GOP nominee in 2016.

In the general, if you're assuming Hillary is the nominee (a big assumption), he's got a pretty uphill battle. If it's anybody else, I think his odds are around 50-50.

Read in The Fix that Perry leaving means no serious D's would step up now. I don't see the downside for her. An open seat I think would be easier than taking on a guy that never lost a Texas race.

I just don't understand how a pro-abortion rights crusader wins a governor's race in Texas in 2014.

Perry's numbers were not great and he didn't win decisively besides in his primary against Hutchison in 2010. A new GOP candidate might be better for Republicans, even if Perry never lost.

At least Spitzer had the smarts to resign in 48 hours after he was exposed as a john. Weiner lied and denied, denied and lied (including the ridiculous claim that his Twitter account was hacked) for a long time before finally admitting what he did. In a contest of sleaziness, Spitzer is slightly less sleazy. Although it's Weiner who has the faithful wife by his side.

Another key difference, though, is that Weiner's sex scandal (as far as we know) didn't include any actual -- ahem -- sex. I think perhaps people are more OK with his wrongdoing because it was online and not in-person (or illegal), as Spitzer's was.

Rubio-Christie; or Christie-Rubio?

Rubio-Christie, but only because Christie has liabilities with the base and would have a tougher time in the primary.

Having lived in the Alabama part of Pennsylvania during my 20's, and following its politics after, I am stunned how unpopular he is. Only Santorum in 06', in a horrible Republican year can compare. Is this all due to the Penn State scandal?

I'm not really sure, but it's getting B-A-D, bad. A GOP poll this week showed just 24% of Pennsylvanians said he deserves reelection, compared to 56% who said he didn't. I think he's quickly joining Linc Chafee and Rick Scott as our most vulnerable governors of 2014.

At some point, Republicans need to ask themselves whether they can get another nominee.

Christie doesn't seem the VP type. Rubio-Walker seems a more likely ticket.

A totally fair point. But I think he really likes the idea of being president, and being VP is a good way to stay in the game.

If not now, when? The gun bill was defeated with the memory of Newtown still pretty fresh. The immigration bill may be defeated with unprecedented levels of support. Does failure to pass meaningful legislation on these two important topics underscore the ineffectiveness of the House, or were the stars simply aligned (twice)?

Passage of time has hurt both efforts immensely. Even conservative talk show hosts were calling for comprehensive immigration reform after their 2012 loss. That's died down significantly.

And now that the House is taking it's sweet time, I don't see a promising future for this effort.

Political fallout in Florida when Zimmerman is found not-guilty?

I just see this more as a cable news story than a Congress story. There might be outrage, but it's not really a political party issue and it's a Florida law, not a national one.

Another great chat today. I'm continually heartened by all the great questions and dialogue that we have on a weekly basis.

We'll see you next Tuesday!

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, and dog, Mauer, live in Northern Virginia.
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