The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden’s Poorly Orchestrated Shift on the Hyde Amendment

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, October 30, 2018 (KC McGinnis/Reuters )

Oof, what a week! We’ve dealt with grifter PACs and how to fight them, the anniversary of Tiananmen Square and how our engagement with China hasn’t delivered upon its promises, the David French War, the suicide of a traumatized 17-year-old girl in the Netherlands and Western society’s mixed messages on suicide, what separated Chernobyl from Three Mile Island and Fukushima, and whether the changing societal rules for marriage and the family from two generations ago spurred the epidemic of loneliness of today. Whew!

Next week will bring publication day — if you think I’ve been insufferable about touting the book now, just wait — so let’s end this week with a selection of news tapas — short items and takes.

Stunning: Since 2006, 73 Percent of U.S. Service Casualties Are ‘Unrelated to War’

With Memorial Day not long ago and the 75th anniversary of D-Day this week, hopefully much of the country has been thinking about those who wore our country’s uniform. Thursday brought sad news that reminded us that everyone who puts on the uniform in the armed services ends up accepting some level of risk, even if they never see combat.

A vehicle loaded with West Point cadets on summer training overturned on a dirt road Thursday, killing one cadet and injuring 22 other passengers, according to the U.S. Military Academy.

Twenty cadets and two soldiers were injured when their light medium tactical vehicle overturned around 6:45 a.m. off Route 293, said Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt. The vehicle, a military truck that can carry personnel, had two people in the front cab and the rest in the back.

I find this fact absolutely stunning: “More American service members are dying during training exercises than in combat operations.”

“Since 2006 … a total of 16,652 active-duty personnel and mobilized reservists have died while serving in the US armed forces. Seventy-three percent of these casualties occurred under circumstances unrelated to war,” the report states.

It is a trend that has only seemed to pick up momentum of late, as noncombat deaths have exceeded the number of military members killed in action every year since 2015.

Perhaps some of these deaths are unavoidable. But are we certain that the military has all the funding it needs for sufficient training, sufficient equipment, and a manageable pace of operations?

Jim Scuitto’s Quiet Indictment of Obama’s Foreign Policy

CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto wrote The Shadow War, an interesting and well-researched book looking at U.S. policy towards Russia and China over the past decades — and how successive administrations have underestimated the threats from these two countries. This is a little more interesting than usual because Sciutto spent two years as chief of staff and senior policy adviser to U.S. ambassador China Gary Locke, and he does not skimp on criticism of the Obama administration’s policies, quoting other quietly frustrated and disappointed Obama administration officials as well. (Of course, now that I’ve pointed out Sciutto’s criticism of the Obama policies, the usual nutty lefties on Twitter are now attacking him as a pro-Trump shill, which is ridiculous.)

You can’t begrudge Sciutto for keeping his book focused on Russia and China, but to me the plethora of examples illustrated a systemic problem. If the Obama administration was so persistently naïve and so willfully blind to risks and threats emerging from Russia and China, why would we think the same foreign-policy minds, guided by the same philosophies and worldviews, would have a more correct assessment of Iran and its nuclear ambitions? Or the Syrian civil war? Or North Korea?

Joe Biden: Hey, Forget All Those Years I Supported the Hyde Amendment

Elsewhere at CNN, Rebecca Buck notices that Joe Biden and his campaign completely reversed position on the Hyde amendment so suddenly that the surrogates were left defending a position that the candidate himself wouldn’t defend. “Just how abrupt/poorly orchestrated was Joe Biden’s shift on [the] Hyde [amendment]? Wednesday night, Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond went on [Chris Cuomo’s program to] defend Biden’s support for the Hyde amendment. Less than 24 hours later, Biden reversed his position.”

The Hyde amendment bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. For a guy who’s supposed to be enjoying a huge lead, flip-flopping on taxpayer-financed abortions is a panicked move. And Biden’s explanation doesn’t sound all that plausible — particularly considering how he’s spent years insisting he was “middle of the road” on abortion.

“I have supported the Hyde Amendment like many, many others have,” Biden said Thursday, “because there were sufficient monies and circumstances where women were able to exercise that right — women of color, poor women, women who were not able to have access — and it was not under attack as it is now. But circumstances have changed . . . I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now represents.”

As I’ve emphasized, Joe Biden isn’t really a centrist. He’s a guy who moves to wherever the center of the Democratic party is. As it moves further left, so will he.

Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and the Draft for Vietnam War

An interesting theory from a Democratic strategist talking to Michael Graham: When lesser-known Democratic presidential candidates start focusing on Trump as a draft-dodger, they’re trying to introduce the issue to the discussion, in order to take a shot at Joe Biden.

Military veterans running on their record of service is nothing new. And criticism of an opponent’s military background — or lack thereof — isn’t unusual either, as the Bill Clinton and John Kerry campaigns can attest. But by highlighting Trump’s record, they’re also turning a spotlight on other candidates who were eligible for service during the Vietnam War, including Biden.

In fact, some Democratic strategists believe that’s their true goal.

“They’re not talking about Donald Trump. They’re talking about Joe Biden,” one long-time Democratic activist told InsideSources.

Some might groan and wonder when our politics will not revolve around the controversies of the Baby Boomers’ youth. But the younger candidates in the Democratic field are putting a tough question to primary voters: Are we sure we want to run a 76-year-old against a 72-year-old incumbent?

‘He’s Just Not as Strong a Contender as He Looked Like the First Time He Ran.’

Speaking of septuagenarians running for president, Noah Berlatsky, a former Bernie Sanders supporter, offers a clear-eyed, grim assessment of how the 2020 cycle is going for the Vermont senator:

Sanders is still in second place, and he retains a strong base of support among progressives. He’s certainly not out of the race. But he’s nowhere near where he hoped he’d be. The Democratic base is obviously more swayed by Biden than last cycle’s insurgent; Sanders hasn’t managed to position himself as the logical successor. And he’s having trouble establishing himself as the main challenger. Despite enormous name recognition, he hasn’t run away from Warren, Harris, or even the previously unknown South Bend Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders had a head start, but Biden lapped him, and nobody else has fallen back. That’s not a good sign.

Sanders hasn’t made any single mistake. He’s just not as strong a contender as he looked like the first time he ran. After 2016, his fans could reasonably hope that some 40 percent of the Democratic base who voted for him were committed to him personally. As it turns out, though, much of his support last cycle was from people who wanted an alternative to Clinton.

I’d just add that Sanders has a prickly crankiness to his personality that he can’t hide and that comes out in any interview that gets contentious. This part of Sanders’s personality is probably perfect for an insurgent campaign against an entitled frontrunner and funny when we see it in a Larry David character, but not all that appealing when the electorate is given a full buffet table of candidates. Bernie Sanders is your elderly neighbor who shows up at the town-council meeting and says he has a four-part question in the form of long meandering monologue that begins with complaints that the city is supposed to be collecting recyclables on Monday but the truck came on Tuesday, and ends with complaining about too many different choices at the store for brands of deodorant and sneakers.

ADDENDA: Earlier this week, Jonathan Last argued that the David French Wars were just a rehash of the fights over Trump from the 2016 primary, and included the line, “The only pro-Trump writer I found taking French’s side unequivocally was Jim Geraghty, who is French’s colleague at National Review.”

I don’t think of myself as a particularly “pro-Trump writer,” and I suspect the Trump fans who gripe about my articles and columns and this newsletter would argue my assessment is more accurate than Last’s. My attitude on Trump for a while has been that he’s an unprincipled buffoon with God-awful instincts, zero impulse control, a short attention span, and no real interest in the job of president as traditionally understood. But we on the Right can get him to sign good laws, enact good policies, and appoint good judges, so we might as well try to do that while he’s in office. We shouldn’t waste a Republican presidency, and there’s no point in putting much energy or effort on super-long-shot fight like a scenario where Trump loses the 2020 GOP nomination — particularly to the likes of a William Weld or John Kasich, who might be even worse on policy. Am I pro-Trump? Like the old joke, “Compared to what?” I’ll take the Trump status quo over the Democrats’ proposed socialist revolution, and traditional Reaganite conservatism over the Trump status quo.

As for the idea that the current debate about Frenchism is really just a proxy fight/rehash of the 2016 primary fight, I really liked and have been noodling over this obvious-but-underdiscussed point from Benjy Sarlin that because there is little to no coherent “Trumpism,” and because there’s no truly Trumpist heir apparent, once the current president departs the stage, control of the GOP (and/or conservative movement) is a jump ball.

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