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What good can be salvaged from the election?

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Trump imperils the “Cheesehead Revolution” of Scott Walker

A trio of Wisconsin Republicans — House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Gov. Scott Walker — were ushering in an aggressive brand of pro-corporate conservatism dubbed the “Cheesehead Revolution.” Their aim was to position the GOP and its billionaire donors for success in the 2016 presidential election.

Then came Donald Trump.

With the anti-Trump movement in full swing even as Trump solidifies his front-runner status in the presidential race, the focus turns to the April 5 primary in the home state of those three Republican heavyweights. They are trying to chart a course in the face of a revolt over Trump’s rise and what it means for the future of the Republican Party — and for each of them individually.

“The great plans came off the tracks with the presence of Donald Trump, both in terms of where the party would be and presidential ambitions,” said Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran against Walker twice and lost both times. “Donald Trump changed everything.”

The “Cheesehead Revolution” began in 2011. With Ryan rising in the House, Walker a new governor, and Priebus taking over the party apparatus, the trio represented what looked to be a unified party in a swing state that could become a GOP stronghold in presidential races to come.

But in 2012, Mitt Romney lost to incumbent Barack Obama, with Ryan as his running mate. Priebus tried to steer the party in a more inclusive direction.

In 2013, he issued the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” aimed toward an immigration overhaul and outreach to minorities, and driven by the recognition that Hispanics in particular were rising as a proportion of the population.

Now that tract is known as an autopsy report.

The recommendations put Priebus at odds with more conservative Republicans. And now, two of the three remaining presidential candidates, Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have built their campaigns not on trying to broaden the party by reaching out to Hispanics and minorities, but by appealing to evangelicals and more conservative white voters.

Priebus’ report, which was rejected by far-right Republican nationalists, “has been haunting the Republican Party” ever since its release, said Steve King, an Iowa Republican congressman who backs Cruz.

“It’s awfully hard to recover from something like that,” King said.

Trump launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. He’s made a border wall a cornerstone of his platform. Those positions have torn at the party’s core, contributing to efforts to stop him.

Priebus puts the best face on the chaotic campaign. He says his party is large enough to handle a variety of opinions about the best course. He cites record fundraising and voter turnout. He calls it a “miracle turnaround.”

Ryan became House speaker in October, replacing John Boehner, and his stock has risen to a point that some Republicans see him as an alternative to Trump if the nomination isn’t settled going into the summer convention. “Paul Ryan has brought about climate change there,” said King, meaning the climate in Congress, “and I mean that in a very complimentary way.” King is one of the most conservative members of Congress and revolted against Boehner for talking to the Obama administration.

Just as he refused initial calls to run for speaker, Ryan has tried to tamp down talk of being drafted as an alternative to Trump at the convention.

Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of Wisconsin’s state Assembly, said Trump’s rise has helped to put the Republican Party at a crossroads. But Vos said he still believes Walker, Ryan and Priebus are in positions to “change the face of government.”

Vos pointed to Walker’s record as governor as proof that with a “good, articulate leader,” Republicans can advance their conservative agenda, even in a politically divided state like Wisconsin. Vos endorsed Cruz on Friday.

But Walker has been struggling with public support since his failed presidential run. His approval rating in the state has been below 40 percent since last fall. His call in September for other Republican candidates to join him and drop out of the race to make it easier for others to take on Trump went ignored for months.

Walker still hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race, with Wisconsin’s primary just over a week away. He told AP he sees Trump’s popularity as an “an anomaly” that is overshadowed in significance by Republican success in governor’s races and state legislative contests for years.

“You look over the last five, six years, the story that’s had the longer impact is not who the nominee is for one presidential election but this shift that’s happened nationally,” Walker said.

Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor who lost to Walker in 2010 and 2012, said the political landscape has changed for Walker and Republicans since the governor won a recall election four years ago over his battle with public-service unions in the states. “A lot of the glitter’s gone,” he said.

This story is based on reporting by AP writer Scott Bauer.

 

Walker on interest in vice presidency: ‘Future remains to be seen’

Gov. Scott Walker says he’s going to focus on helping his party establish its grassroots support in preparation for the presidential election.

Speaking at a breakfast on Nov. 10 organized by the Wall Street Journal, Walker declined to endorse a GOP candidate, saying only that any of the contenders in Milwaukee for that night’s debate would be better than Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Walker, who suspended his presidential campaign weeks ago, was asked whether he was interested in being vice president, prompting him to say such considerations were premature, but “the future remains to be seen.”

Poll: Veterans reject Koch brother’s push to privatize VA health care

A poll released just before Veterans Day shows veterans don’t support the push by Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch brothers front group, to private the VA health care.

CVA is pressing the Republican candidates for president to take up its call to replace the VA health care system with a voucher system.

The poll released on Nov. 10 and published in the Military Times shows two-thirds of veterans surveyed oppose a voucher system.

The poll also showed that 57 percent of veterans surveyed would be less likely to support a candidate who backed “privatizing the VA health care system.”

The poll was conducted for Vet Voice Foundation by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, with a goal of having bipartisan results.

The survey found a majority of veterans opposed to privatization, regardless of party, age, or branch of military.

Rick Perry exits the 2016 presidential race

Rick Perry’s political career ended with a whimper, a remarkable if predictable fall for the longest-serving governor in Texas history and a leader many considered the Republican Party’s savior just four years ago.

History may judge it an end sealed back in 2011, when Perry froze on a debate stage and tried to recover with an embarrassed “oops.” Others may remember the former governor with the movie-star looks and resume to match as Donald Trump’s first political victim.

Perry all but declared war on the billionaire businessman in July, calling Trump “a cancer on conservatism” who could destroy the Republican Party. On Friday night, Trump’s campaign was soaring while Perry was pulling out of the race for the White House.

More than a dozen major Republican candidates remain in the 2016 field, yet Trump’s dominance is suffocating his rivals. In still-early polls, the real-estate mogul and realty TV star has more support that the once-top-tier trio of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio combined.

In second, by the way, is another political rookie: retired surgeon Ben Carson.

“There is no play in the playbook for where we are right now,” said John Jordan, a California winery owner and major Republican fundraiser. “Donors don’t know what to think. Nobody saw the Trump phenomenon coming. Probably a lot of Jeb donors wish they had their money back.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put it a different way on Twitter after Perry’s exit: “What does it say about GOP when a 3 & half term Gov w/ a successful record of creating jobs bows out as a reality star leads in the polls?”

Perry was more gracious as he surprised a gathering of social conservatives in St. Louis by announcing his departure.

“We have a tremendous field of candidates – probably the greatest group of men and women,” Perry said. “I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, as long as we listen to the grassroots, listen to that cause of conservatism. If we do that, then our party will be in good hands.”

Perry also made several sly references to Trump, offering a last warning of sorts to a GOP experiencing its most serious identity crisis in a generation. Trump may favor tax increases on the rich, once supported abortion rights, given money to Hillary Rodham Clinton and said kind things about government-run health care in other countries, but he’s become the GOP’s unquestioned presidential front-runner.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who took the stage in St. Louis after Perry, said Trump’s ability to command media attention puts other candidates at a distinct disadvantage.

“I think in many ways it doesn’t change the big picture,” Huckabee said of Perry’s exit, “but it does show that with this many candidates on the stage, it’s very, very difficult to get noticed.”

Added Huckabee, “The rules right now are not really favoring the challenger candidates.”

That included Perry, who had stopped paying most of his campaign staff in recent weeks because he couldn’t raise the money. While his allies at three super PACs are sitting on a small fortune devoted to his White House bid, they couldn’t share that money with his campaign – or coordinate their activities with it.

Austin Barbour, a leader of the pro-Perry super PACs, said the groups have as much as $13 million in the bank. He planned to talk Saturday morning with lawyers to “see what the law says we can do with this money.”

After that, and following consultation with the donors, he said, “we will see if we want the super PAC to move in another direction, or if we give it back.”

Perry was quickly praised by his Republican competitors, who publicly and privately began courting his political network. In a statement, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign called Perry “a proud veteran who bravely served our nation” and “an extraordinary governor of Texas.”

A person close to the Cruz campaign, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, says the fellow Texan’s camp will be “immediately” reaching out to Perry donors and supporters. “If we don’t jump in, other campaigns are going to try to,” the person said.

Cruz feels that Perry’s exit will make it easier to attract top Texas donors who hadn’t otherwise contributed to the senator, because they didn’t want to be seen as publicly choosing sides against Perry, the person said. It also may make the March 1 Texas primary “a lot cleaner,” since Cruz will be the clear home-state choice.

Meanwhile, Trump spent his Friday basking on “The Tonight Show.” As his appearance drew to a close, host Jimmy Fallon proposed a new campaign song for Trump to consider, an anthem by DJ Khaled called “All I Do Is Win.”

“What do you think?” asked Fallon.

“Honestly,” Trump beamed, “it happens to be 100 percent true.”

11 Republicans to share stage in next GOP debate

Eleven Republican presidential candidates have qualified for next week’s primetime debate. This is the largest group to share a presidential debate stage in modern political history.

The candidates scheduled to meet for the primetime affair, announced by debate host CNN, will include former technology executive Carly Fiorina, whose weak polling numbers kept her off the main stage of the first debate. But a bump in the polls and an aggressive lobbying effort persuaded CNN to broaden its participation criteria, a coup for Fiorina and GOP officials eager to feature the party’s only 2016 female candidate in the nationally televised clash.

But don’t expect Fiorina to get as much airtime as Donald Trump, who will be positioned front and center when the candidates meet at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The undisputed leader in national polls, Trump is generally considered the biggest reason why Fox News Channel reached 24 million people for the first GOP presidential debate last month — the most watched program in Fox News history.

Sharing the stage with Trump and Fiorina at next week’s 8 p.m. EDT debate will be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Five candidates lagging in national polls did not qualify for the main event and will instead be featured in a 6 p.m. debate in the same venue: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who participated in the second-string GOP debate in August, did not meet the criteria for inclusion in next week’s event. Candidates were required to average 1 percent support in any three polls released during a two-month window.

The final lineup offers few surprises, yet plenty of challenges for candidates and organizers ahead of the crowded affair.

Anticipating Fiorina’s attendance, Trump last week cited the obvious challenges associated with sharing the stage with so many people.

“I don’t like the fact there are 11 people there now as I understand it,” the billionaire businessman said in a press conference. “There are too many people. Because when you’ve got 11, you’re not going to hear me and you’re not going to hear other people talking, and I think that’s too bad.”

Next week’s debate is among five scheduled before the 2016 primary season’s first voting contest in Iowa next February.

2016 Spin Meter: What not to believe…

It’s considered bad form for politicians to say things that are not true.

When they talk about their own ambitions, though, deception pretty much comes with the territory and no one seems to mind.

People who are patently feeling out their presidential prospects claim not to be even thinking about that, when you know they’ve got to be humming “Hail to the Chief” in the shower.

They say they don’t pay attention to polls – ha!

They suggest their families will drive their decision whether to run, setting up a dramatic tension that is more fiction than fact.

As the 2016 presidential campaign field begins to take shape, here are five things to know not to believe when you hear them:

THE SIT-DOWN

Over Christmas 2010, Mitt Romney’s big family gathered `round and cast ballots on whether he should run again for the Republican nomination. The vote was 10-2 against, with Romney himself voting no.

The voters had spoken. But Romney ran.

The lesson: On this question, family matters, not so much.

In the lead-up to 2016, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has made much of his wife, Kelley, being a hard sell.

“There’s two votes in my family,” he said when asked in December about running. “My wife has both of them, and both of them are `no’ votes right now. … I’ll tell you in a year whether I’m able to persuade my wife.”

Reserved but politically savvy, Kelley Paul has stood in for him at campaign events and worked for a Republican consulting firm.

Among other Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says he’ll have the big talk with his wife, Janna, in 2015. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his wife, Supriya, are praying and talking about it now, the governor says.

Jeb Bush already heard his mother, Barbara, tell everyone “we’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House. But the former Florida governor said he’s in his 60s and doesn’t have to do everything his mom says. “I’m trying to avoid the family conversation,” he said.

Running for president is a heavyweight (and intoxicating) decision that gives some families pause. But pinning the matter on the spouse and kids is generally part of a broader effort to put off answers and decisions until it’s time to commit one way or the other.

THE DODGE

“My focus is entirely on working for Texans in the U.S. Senate.” When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made this declaration, his feet were planted in South Carolina, a big presidential primary state.

To be sure, South Carolina was a bit off his path. He’s more apt to be found in Iowa, an even bigger state in presidential politics. Cruz has been seen more often in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina than in the volatile border region of his own state since he won election as a senator in 2012. (Cruz cheekily tweeted Google Map directions to the border to help President Barack Obama find it, but the senator hasn’t been closer than 150 miles to the border himself since the child-migrant crisis began.)

Almost to a man and a woman, the people most being talked about as presidential candidates are building campaign-type travel schedules, meeting strategists and donors and doing most things they need to do to get ready, like writing memoirs.

They’re also being coy about what they’re up to, although a little less so as time goes on.

Hillary Rodham Clinton went from “no plans” to run to “stay tuned” to “I’m running – around the park” to statements making clear she’s considering it and will decide by the end of the year.

THE DOWNPLAY

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., says the bridge scandal that’s been dogging him will be “a footnote” by 2016. He’s feeling done with it.

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., says an investigation by prosecutors into whether he and aides conducted illegal political activities in 2011 and 2012 is “old news” and “case closed.”

Public figures can’t wish these things away. They can write their memoirs and their epitaphs, but not history. When scandal happens, they hold the reins of a runaway horse that will stop only when it’s good and tired.

Others (voters, for example) ultimately will decide whether the bridge kerfuffle becomes a footnote to Christie’s story or the headline, and whether Walker’s distraction is rehash or revelation.

When lawmakers pressed Clinton on motivations of the killers who attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, she shot back: “What difference at this point does it make?” That, too, is a question neither she nor her GOP critics can answer.

WHAT POLLS?

Cliches abound here.

You may have heard this one – the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. It’s too soon for that, but not for this: I don’t listen to polls.

“Polls are everywhere all the time,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in May. “I don’t really pay a lot of attention to them.” That’s what people say when they’re lagging in polls.

To be sure, horserace polls this far from the contest in November 2016 are mostly worth ignoring.

As Rubio pointed out, there’s a whole campaign to be waged first. But polls, like money, are the mother’s milk of politics. They drive fundraising, messaging and all-important perceptions of momentum.

Rubio doesn’t blow off polling. His leadership PAC Reclaim America, organized to elect more conservatives, paid the polling firm North Star Opinion Research $136,546 in the 2014 election cycle as of mid-May.

VEEP CREEP

Democrat Al Gore called the vice presidency a “political dead end” in one campaign, then signed on for it the next campaign. Republican Nelson Rockefeller said he refused offers to be such “standby equipment,” then became that for President Gerald Ford.

George H.W. Bush said “I’m not leaving the door open” to becoming the running mate to his GOP rival, Ronald Reagan, then did.

This disdain for being No. 2 is bound to arise when the primaries are underway and people start losing for real. For a struggling candidate, acknowledging any interest in being someone’s running mate can be the kiss of death until it’s obvious the campaign is dying anyway. Then the vice presidency doesn’t sound so bad.

Clinton says she urged end to Cuba embargo

In her new book, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she pushed President Barack Obama to lift or ease the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba because it was no longer useful to American interests or promoting change on the communist island.

In excerpts of the book “Hard Choices” obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release today, Clinton writes that the embargo has given communist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro an excuse not to enact democratic reforms. And she says opposition from some in Congress to normalizing relations — “to keep Cuba in a deep freeze” — has hurt both the United States and the Cuban people. She says the 2009 arrest by Cuba of USAID contractor Alan Gross and Havana’s refusal to release him on humanitarian grounds is a “tragedy” for improving ties.

“Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes,” she writes. She says her husband, former President Bill Clinton, tried to improve relations with Cuba in the 1990s, but the Castro government did not respond to the easing in some sanctions. Nonetheless, Obama was determined to continue the effort, she writes.

She says that late in her term in office she urged Obama to reconsider the U.S. embargo. “It wasn’t achieving its goals,” she writes, “and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. … I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive.”

Clinton writes that in the face of “a stone wall” from the Castro regime, she and Obama decided to engage directly with the Cuban people.

“We believed that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world,” she says.

The steps that Obama took, including allowing more travel to the island and increasing the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send back to the island, have had a positive effect, she writes.

However, Clinton notes with disappointment that Cuba arrested and imprisoned Gross, a contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who the U.S. says was trying to help Cuba’s small Jewish community communicate with the rest of the world. Gross was convicted of trying to subvert the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Despite repeated appeals from the U.S., Gross remains in prison in Cuba.

In the book, Clinton says she spoke out frequently about Gross’ imprisonment and was disappointed that “the Castros created new problems by arresting” him.

She said Cuba has refused to consider Gross’ release until the U.S. frees all of the “Cuban Five” spies who have been imprisoned in the United States. The U.S. has rejected Cuba’s demands to link the cases.

Clinton said she suspected that some in Cuba are using the Gross case “as an opportunity to put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with the United States and the domestic reforms that would require.”

“If so,” she writes, “it is a double tragedy, consigning millions of Cubans to a kind of continued imprisonment as well.”