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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Donald Trump shells Hillary beach prior to invasion

It’s a classic military maneuver – train your heavy artillery onto your target to “soften it up” prior to sending in the infantry to overrun the enemy.

In politics, it has more to do with planting seeds in voters’ minds concerning your potential opponent’s character weaknesses. People without the stomach to withstand the nasty business that is politics might label Battleshipsuch rhetorical warfare as “mean spirited.”

The rest of us call it fair game.

John McCain famously refused to dive into the political mosh pit by bringing in the specter of Jeremiah Wright to call into question Barack Obama’s fitness for office in 2008. McCain subsequently lost badly and the country was stuck with a dedicated leftist steering the controls of the executive branch for eight years.

Donald Trump doesn’t appear to have the same ethical frailties as McCain.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner reports, “Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, increasingly focusing on Hillary Clinton rather than his GOP rivals, says he's not concerned by reports Bill Clinton will soon hit the trail for the Clinton campaign.

“’I think that Bill Clinton turned out to be a liability against Obama when [Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama] ran against each other in 2008,’ Trump said Sunday morning on ‘Fox and Friends.’ ‘If you look at that whole campaign, it was a mess. [Bill Clinton] said things that were very problematic and troublesome ... certainly Bill Clinton is not going to be the end-all in the campaign."

It’s funny The Donald should bring up the 2008 campaign in referring to Bill Clinton’s potential effectiveness in stumping for Hillary in 2016. Bubba certainly said some controversial things that got Hillary in trouble with the Democrat base during the primary season, but the public has a short memory and for whatever reason, people don’t hold Bill’s many indiscretions against him in terms of his legacy.

What’s more interesting is Trump’s invoking Bill this early in the cycle to begin yet another conversation in the presidential race (just as he’s done with immigration and Muslim refugees in the Republican primary campaign, for example). The combination of Hillary and Bill together doesn’t bring up many fuzzy memories for people.

People like Bill. People never liked Hillary. Throwing Bill into the mix isn’t going to change that fact.

Trump’s strategy is clearly to begin a near year-long campaign against Hillary. It can be argued he’s doing it either for his own sake or possibly to help Ted Cruz, because in his mind, the Republican race has been narrowed to those two.

It’s clear Trump likes Cruz and would find him an acceptable alternative…to himself.

And while the “softening up” tactic didn’t quite work for General Lee at Gettysburg (before Pickett’s Charge), Trump’s will likely do considerable damage to Hillary’s reputation well before anyone casts a ballot in next November’s general election.

If Americans need any more reasons to dislike Hillary, Trump will certainly provide them. And Bill Clinton won’t have much of a say in the matter.

Republican establishment consultants must have failed math

Speaking of political mosh pits, Donald Trump may have now turned his verbal guns towards Hillary Clinton, but that isn’t stopping the Republican elites from continuing to aim theirs at himself and Ted Cruz.

The latest establishment tirade is revealed through Republican consultant Curt Anderson’s piece in Politico, where he basically argues Cruz is a phony soulless political chameleon who peddles principle-free red meat to the masses in order to advance his own selfish prospects.

Anderson writes, “But there is a far bigger problem with Cruz: Donald Trump is not the most self-absorbed Republican running for president—Cruz is. Whether you like Trump or not (and I don’t), at least Trump makes no effort to hide his narcissism. In that sense, Trump is oddly genuine.

“Cruz, on the other hand, takes great pains to be whatever he thinks you want him to be. And the troubling thing is he’s really good at it.”

A little later in the article, Anderson adds, “But Cruz will never tell you he made a mistake or changed his mind. We never see an authentic Cruz because we never see a vulnerable Cruz. He’s perfect—just ask him. He’s pure—just ask him.”

Ouch. Oh no, another “Washington Republicans hate Ted Cruz” rumor. Let’s not forget Anderson is a Republican. So is Ted Cruz. Technically speaking, Anderson is supposed to be on Cruz’s side – and likely will be if Ted prevails in the primaries.

Conservatives have been called specious before. Ronald Reagan endured a political lifetime’s worth of criticism that he was merely an actor reciting scripted lines the people wanted to hear in order to get elected. The difference being most of those attacks came from the left in Reagan’s day, not from within his own party.

And whereas the establishment saw John McCain as offering sober “straight-talk” and stiff-as-a-board Mitt Romney as “distinguished,” Ted Cruz is branded as insincere and ambitious.

Anderson has a deep establishment pedigree that no doubt fuels his animosity. According to Erick Erickson of Erickontheradio.com, Anderson “worked for Haley Barbour at the RNC. He’s worked for Mitch McConnell, Elizabeth Dole, and John Thune. He worked for Mitt Romney in 2008 (and then Herman Cain in 2011, the only non-establishment pol).”

In other words, the same people Cruz has been fighting against his whole life are Anderson’s past handlers. No wonder he’s ticked off. He’ll be out of a job if Cruz wins. Curt probably figures he needs to make people think Ted’s a “televangelist” in order to make sure a real conservative doesn’t end up holding the key to his own livelihood.

Erickson puts it succinctly. “An attack in the Politico by a Washington Republican consultant who worked for Haley Barbour at the Republican National Committee at a time when the most fired up of the most fired up Republicans still are pissed off about Haley Barbour in Mississippi’s Senate race is just another Ted Cruz ad campaign waiting to write itself.”

That’s 100% correct. It’s hard to imagine the establishment could be so completely out of touch that they’re blind to the fact they’re actually helping Cruz with such smear tactics.

What it all boils down to a basic math calculation. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, the “outsider” candidates consistently poll at about two-thirds support this cycle. The establishment group comes in at about 30%. So in effect, Anderson is throwing establishment “red meat” to that 30% while ticking off two-thirds of Republican voters.

Is that hurting Cruz? Absolutely not. For a guy who gets paid to offer advice, Anderson seems pretty bad at math. That can’t be good for his business.

Ben Carson says he’s “absolutely” in it through Iowa

A neat thought experiment would be to put Ben Carson in Donald Trump’s first place position and see what the establishment would be saying about the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon.

Not too long ago Carson was seriously threatening Trump’s lead in the polls, yet no one seemed to take it seriously. Carson is now in the midst of a serious poll slide, having fallen to fourth place in the Real Clear Politics national average and also fourth place in Iowa.

He’s had a hard time explaining the decline, but it also doesn’t look like he’s ready to give up.

Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa of the Washington Post report on Carson’s state-of-mind, garnered through an extensive interview: “There was a backbeat of bitterness to much of what Carson said — especially about perceptions in the Republican Party and in the media of Trump as strong and he as weak, and that someone of his stature could somehow be unqualified for the nation’s highest office.

“Throughout, he spoke in the same soft, deliberate manner to which voters have become accustomed. In person, he also makes direct eye contact and is entirely comfortable with long, awkward pauses. At times, his silence and stare seemed like a challenge.”

The entire interview is well worth the read if you have time. In it, you’ll no doubt rediscover the reasons why Ben has enjoyed such lopsided positive favorability numbers throughout his presidential run. He’s a great and accomplished man who loves his country and would like to make a difference in saving it.

The question is how Carson might use his talents in some capacity other than in the Oval Office. Ben’s one of the more attractive candidates in the Republican race, but voters have moved on to others who might be a better fit this time around.

Hopefully the eventual nomination winner will ask Carson to contribute in some way. He’s still learning the game of politics – but he’s got a lot to teach all of us about life.

Jeb wants The Donald one-on-one

Finally today, no other candidate has had a larger negative effect on Jeb Bush’s campaign than Donald Trump. As a result, Jeb threw down the gauntlet.

As reported at Real Clear Politics, “Speaking at a forum in Palm Beach on Monday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush challenged GOP frontrunner Donald Trump to debate him one-on-one, ‘any time, any place.’

“Asked by the event moderator what he would say if Trump walked into the room right at that moment, Jeb responded: ‘Donald, I’ll take you on one-on-one in a debate, any time, any place. You name it and I’ll do it.’”

One could only imagine what Trump would reply to the invitation, likely some form of “no” in more colorful language on Twitter.

Truth is, Trump would have nothing to gain from appearing one-on-one with Jeb. Candidates with big leads have no incentive to give weak opponents a forum to improve their standing.

To put it another way, if Apollo Creed hadn’t given Rocky Balboa an unearned “free” shot at the heavyweight title, Rocky would still be collecting for the mafia down at the docks, right?

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