TIME justice

Can Congress Pass Criminal Justice Reform?

US Capitol Building Washington DC
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images The US Capitol seen on Feb. 11, 2015 in Washington.

Bipartisan negotiators are working on bills to fix sentencing guidelines and reform the prison system

There’s a growing bipartisan consensus around criminal justice reform, but it’s not yet clear if that will be enough to get a bill through Congress.

Supporters of reform got several hopeful signs last week. Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, then made the first-ever Presidential visit to a federal prison. Former President Bill Clinton chimed in to apologize for signing a crime bill that further clotted the U.S. prison system. And House Speaker John Boehner signaled his support for a vote in the House. “We’ve got a lot of people in prison, frankly, who really in my view don’t need to be there,” the Ohio Republican said.

The rare burst of harmony reflects months of work by lawmakers and the wide-ranging coalition of advocacy groups that have joined forces in a bid to fix the flaws of the U.S. justice system, which critics from both parties call bloated, costly and rigid.

“This was unthinkable six months ago,” says Van Jones, a former Obama administration official and co-founder of #cut50, a bipartisan initiative to slash the U.S. prison population in half. Predicts Jones: “A series of bills will be on this President’s desk and signed into law by Christmas.”

But change never comes easy in Washington. And the powerful array of interests aligned behind reform have so far struggled to translate broad support into legislative success.

That could soon change. The Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to unveil a bipartisan package of reforms that negotiators have been haggling over since March. The proposal is expected to include sentencing reforms as well as so-called “back-end” efforts to rehabilitate prisoners and more effectively reintegrate them into society.

“There are still a handful of issues left to work through,” says Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican who chairs the committee. “The members are still working and committed to trying to reach an agreement that can gain wide bipartisan support.”

One of the challenges is getting powerful personalities with competing priorities onto the same page.

Grassley is a case in point. His participation in the process reflects the dramatic evolution of the politics of criminal justice. The 81-year-old Iowan is a tough-on-crime Republican who has long opposed reforms like easing mandatory minimum sentences. He’s signaled openness to reform, but as the chair of a crucial Congressional committee, he has the ability to block any bill that comes through.

The situation is similar in the House, where the Judiciary Chairman, Bob Goodlatte, is another conservative steeped in the tough-on-crime mantras that reigned in the 1980s and ’90s. Criminal-justice reform “is something that Congress needs to undertake,” Goodlatte said Wednesday, addressing a bipartisan audience at a justice-reform conference on a rooftop with views of the Capitol. The Virginia Republican indicated he wants to tackle issues like over-criminalization and prisoner re-entry. But he did not sugarcoat the complications of producing legislation.

It’s also not clear which chamber will move first. A raft of narrow bipartisan bills have been introduced in the Senate, including a measure to address mandatory minimums introduced by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Utah Republican Mike Lee, and a bill crafted by Texas Republican John Cornyn and Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse that addresses prisoner re-entry. The House may coalesce around a single ambitious bill, authored by Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott.

As a result, the unanimity on display now could ultimately be derailed by the clutch of bills, competing goals and bureaucratic hurdles that often combine to stifle progress in a divided Congress. “Different members all want to assert their priorities,” says a source familiar with the negotiations.

Negotiators suggested a Senate package could be unveiled as soon as this week, but it now looks likely to wait until after the summer legislative recess. “Everyone is working in good faith, and it will be ready when it’s ready,” says a Democratic Senate aide familiar with the negotiations. “The more comprehensive our negotiations are now, the easier it will be to move the bill swiftly in committee and on the floor.”

But even members committed to advancing justice reform are clear-eyed about the looming obstacles. “It’s an uphill battle,” Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate who is part of the push for justice reform, said Wednesday. “Nothing happens easy in this town.”

Paul cited civil-asset forfeiture reforms and potentially legislation around the use of body cameras by police as two areas where the Senate could make progress. But he predicted the efforts in the House were more likely to bear fruit. “I think they’re more open to reform than the Senate is,” Paul said. “That’s just my opinion.”

Legislators say they’re encouraged by the breadth of agreement. And they know that justice reform is one of the last subjects they’re capable of tackling before the capital is consumed by the presidential race.

“Everybody is aligned,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said at a hearing last week. “The House, the Senate, the President. Let’s make it happen.”

TIME john kasich

John Kasich Enters Presidential Race As Compassionate Republican

The Ohio Governor is likely the last major Republican presidential contender to jump into the race

Ohio Governor John Kasich launched his campaign for the presidency on Tuesday, casting himself as a compassionate conservative with a proven record of success in one of the nation’s top battlegrounds.

“I have decided to run for President of the United States,” Kasich said in his announcement speech at his alma mater, the Ohio State University. “I’m here to humbly tell you that I believe I do have the skills, and I have the experience.”

Kasich is the sixteenth and likely the last major candidate to enter the GOP primary field. He faces an uphill climb to capture the nomination. The Ohioan’s late entry into the race kicks off a two-week scramble to boost his national poll numbers quickly enough to qualify for the first Republican debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Kasich is expected to stake his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire, whose flinty voters often favor iconoclastic conservatives of his ilk.

On paper, Kasich has the credentials of a top-tier contender. He’s a popular two-term governor who cut taxes in a critical swing state. He spent nearly 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, winning a reputation as a national security and fiscal hawk who pushed for a balanced-budget amendment. The union-busting legislation he signed in Ohio was even more aggressive than the Wisconsin bill that forms the cornerstone of Scott Walker’s campaign. (So much so that it was ultimately repealed by referendum.)

Kasich balances conservative policies with a folksy style and compassionate streak—expanding Medicaid, strengthening the safety net for the poor—that has helped him win over independent voters. In an announcement speech that was by turns poignant and rambling, Kasich made empathy for struggling Americans a centerpiece of his pitch. “If we’re not born to serve others,” he said, “what are we born to do?”

But the same policies that make Kasich intriguing in a general election will be perilous in a primary. The decision to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare is just one of his sins against conservative dogma. Kasich supports Common Core education standards. He favors earned legal status for undocumented immigrants, and has not ruled out a path to citizenship. His cranky demeanor has ruffled feathers among the GOP donor class.

Kasich’s taste for tweaking the hardliners in his own party evokes comparisons former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose base-bucking campaign for the Republican nomination flamed out spectacularly in 2012. Several of the architects of Huntsman’s bid, including senior strategists John Weaver and Matt David and adman Fred Davis, have formed the core of Kasich’s effort. Kasich is more conservative than Huntsman, but it’s an open question whether he can cobble together enough support to compete in early primary states dominated by the party’s grassroots activists.

Kasich ran for president once before, launching a short-lived campaign in 1999 before dropping out when it became clear that the Republican Party had coalesced behind George W. Bush. Another Bush stands in Kasich’s way this time, and he and Jeb Bush have some attributes in common: both are two-term governors of major states who went on to work with Lehman Brothers, and who have anchored their campaigns in themes of fiscal discipline and boosting struggling Americans. In his announcement speech, Kasich even borrowed the “right to rise” mantra that Bush uses. As in his brother’s 2000 campaign, Bush has also consolidated much of the party’s institutional and financial support.

Kasich’s path to the nomination is narrow, but he has the credibility to contend if he can find traction in a crowded field.

TIME ted cruz

Ted Cruz Picks a Winning Book Fight With New York Times

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 18, 2015.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Better than making the bestseller list

One of the hoariest cliches in conservative politics is to claim you don’t read the New York Times. Ted Cruz has picked a fight with the Times after the paper claimed that people aren’t reading him.

The spat between Cruz and the Gray Lady began last week, when the newspaper said it would omit the Texas Republican’s new memoir, A Time for Truth, from its bestsellers’ list. The book has sold 12,000 copies since its release on June 30, according to Nielsen Bookscan data provided to TIME. That’s enough to rank the volume among the top few nonfiction hardcovers.

But the paper determined the book’s stats were goosed by “strategic bulk purchases” in a bid to game the system and make the list. The Times has stood by its decision as Amazon, an impartial retailer, and publisher HarperCollins have said they found no evidence of attempts to manipulate sales statistics.

Cruz’s team wanted to make the bestsellers list, which would have conferred a stamp of credibility on his literary debut. But a public battle with the paper of record was an even better result. For a conservative presidential candidate, the New York Times—an emblem of liberal elitism, right up there alongside arugula, the Toyota Prius and San Francisco—is a perfect foil.

And the Cruz campaign has done its best to fan the flames, blasting out a series of statements decrying partisan bias. The kerfuffle is “a chance to get yet more attention and drive readers to Senator Cruz’s book,” Keith Urbahn, the book’s literary agent, told Politico. “This controversy is already helping sales.”

MORE: Here’s Which 2016 Candidate’s Book Sold the Most Copies

As it happens, A Time for Truth is a good read—especially by the dismal standards of the genre. A candidate memoir has two overriding goals: first, to make money for the author; and then, to do no harm to the writer’s future prospects. When boring is the best-case scenario, the result is almost always a pudding of platitudes. (A typical line from Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, selected by opening the book at random: “Hard men present hard choices—none more so than Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.”) Even worse, such books reveal little about the author, other than he or she is ambitious or long-winded enough to write an entire book without saying anything controversial.

Cruz’s book is different. First, he is both a fluid writer and a talented storyteller. He knows how to bait the hook to lure in readers. A section about clerking at the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, opens with an anecdote about watching hard-core pornography with Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor.

But the book has merits beyond the prose. One of them is the revealing glimpse it offers into Cruz’s family background. The senator has gotten a lot of mileage out of the remarkable life of his father, a Cuban revolutionary who came to Texas with $100 sewn into his underwear, learned English from the movies, launched an oil company and now travels the country as a Tea Party icon. But Rafael Cruz isn’t the only member of the family with an fascinating story.

Cruz recounts how his mother, Eleanor Darragh, defied her own father to become the first in her family to attend college, emerged from Rice with a math degree, then dodged clerical duties and became a computer programmer at Shell after refusing to learn to type. He talks about his half-sister’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, and his aunt’s battles with Castro.

But beyond biography, the book has enough dishy material to sustain the attention of non-political obsessives. It’s filled with interesting nuggets on everything from Justice David Souter’s dietary habits to the Bush campaign’s legal machinations during the 2000 recount to a shouting match inside a Republican Senate luncheon. You don’t need to have a strong opinion of Cruz one way or the other to appreciate the glimpse it offers into campaigns, the Capitol or the country’s top courtrooms.

Like all political documents, this one is self-aggrandizing, meant to explain the origins of Cruz’s brand of conservatism as well as underscore his commitment to principle in the face of adversity. But it’s also sprinkled with enough self-deprecating stories and personal insights to humanize a politician who is often reduced to caricature by both fans and opponents.

If the fight with the Times makes it likelier that ordinary readers will pick up the book, then the paper has done Cruz a favor. And those who end up buying the book because of the spat won’t be any worse off, either.

TIME ted cruz

Cruz Tries to Prove a Conservative Can Win

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, right, greets an attendee after speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 18, 2015.
Bloomberg via Getty Images Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, right, greets an attendee after speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2015

The Texan pitches himself as a true believer with the money to win

Friday night in rural northwest Iowa is as picturesque as American politics gets. Half the town of Pierson is sprawled across the outfield grass of a Little League ballpark, eating pork sandwiches and cupcakes as a country band plays atop a flatbed crowded with hay bales. As the sun begins to dip into the surrounding cornfields, Ted Cruz climbs onto the stage to make his pitch for the presidency.

The centerpiece of Cruz’s stump speech these days is a denunciation of what the Texas Republican calls the “Washington cartel.” This is the Senator’s term for the alliance of powerful interests and pliable politicians who, he says, conspire to control the country at the expense of the people. K Street lobbyists are a big part of Cruz’s cartel. So are big corporations, career politicians, the liberal media and the leaders of both parties. The newest members are the apostates on the Supreme Court, whose back-to-back rulings on Obamacare and same-sex marriage Cruz condemned at each stop on his most recent two-day swing through Iowa.

Cruz is known as a bomb thrower, and his most trip to Iowa illustrated why. He ripped rivals for the 2016 nomination for feigning outrage while privately “popping champagne” at the court’s ruling. “They stand for nothing!” he spat. He whacked party leaders for supporting illegal “amnesty.” He called for a constitutional amendment that would force Supreme Court Justices to stand in elections. He even slammed Chief Justice John Roberts, a longtime friend from conservative legal circles.

“You’re not calling balls and strikes,” Cruz tells TIME, invoking the umpire metaphor that Roberts deployed at his confirmation hearings to describe the role of a Justice. “You’ve joined a team.”

The important thing to understand about Cruz is that nothing he says is by accident. For all his florid rhetoric, he is as disciplined a speaker as any in the presidential field. His stump speech — delivered without notes or teleprompters — is carefully honed, with the same canned jokes at each stop, the same pauses for emphasis, the same cadences and delivery. The conservative crowds in this heavily evangelical swath of Iowa eagerly gobbled the red meat Cruz tossed, including jabs at “liberal intolerance” and warnings of the coming “vicious assault on religious liberty.”

But in some ways the crucial part of the routine is a more subtle argument, one aimed at voters around the country who remain skeptical that a candidate like Cruz has a real shot at winning the presidency. This, he explains, is a lie perpetrated by the cartel.

“The game of the Washington cartel,” Cruz tells crowds, “is to convince conservatives you can’t win.”

To prove otherwise, Cruz points to money. “We launched the campaign on March 23,” Cruz tells about 60 people in a drab community center in Sheldon, Iowa, on Friday. “We set a goal of raising $1 million in a week. Frankly, I thought that was a pretty audacious goal.” He paused for emphasis. “We raised $1m in one day.”

By the end of the week, Cruz adds, his campaign had raked in more than $4 million — “more money than any Republican [campaign] has raised in the opening week in modern history.” Including Establishment types like Mitt Romney and John McCain.

Candidates rarely get into granular fundraising details on the stump. But these stats are not just a point of pride (or a product of insecurity). They are central to Cruz’s case that a true conservative can harness grassroots energy to beat the cartel. The cartel is supposed to control the party’s purse strings, Cruz says — and yet here he is, a Tea Partyer despised by the GOP establishment, raking in serious dollars.

Cruz has collected more than $40 million since announcing his campaign, with most of that coming from a constellation of super PACs backing his bid. That’s far less than a “cartel” candidate like Jeb Bush, who is soon expected to report raising in the neighborhood of $100 million so far. But it’s enough to put him snugly in the next tier, along with candidates like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, on upcoming fundraising reports.

More importantly, the tally underlines Cruz’s ability to compete financially, which most movement conservatives cannot. “We’ve not seen a grassroots conservative with serious fundraising ability since 1980,” Cruz told a small group of voters in the Dutch Bakery in Orange City, whose specialty almond patties retail for $1.50. Cruz’s stump speech builds to this argument: that he is the rare true believer with the fundraising firepower to withstand a long and grueling primary. The campaign’s actions bear out this strategy. Cruz has trekked to places like Massachusetts and staffed up in states like Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina. He is trying to build a national infrastructure that can capitalize on early momentum.

An early consequence of this long view is that Cruz has spent less time in Iowa so far than expected. He has just a skeleton staff here, led by conservative activist and former pastor Bryan English. Cruz is actually polling lower by some measures in the first-in-the-nation Hawkeye State, an evangelical stronghold well suited to his style, than he is nationwide.

Cruz promises crowds that he’ll be spending “a lot of time in the great state of Iowa.” In Orange City on Friday, he gamely submitted to the retail ritual the caucuses require. He toured a store filled with Dutch-style wooden shoes, glad-handed retirees and knelt to take photos with children. “He stands up and fights,” says retiree Patricia Boonstra, after taking a picture with Cruz on her iPad. On Saturday, the candidate delivered a sermon-style speech, titled “Believe Again,” on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines.

Steve King, the conservative congressman who represents northwest Iowa, tells TIME that Cruz has the chops to win the caucuses. “He’s a natural-born, full-spectrum conservative,” King says. “The voters are starting to follow him.”

Cruz has an uphill climb to win the nomination. He’s polling around 6% nationally over the past month, behind not only Bush, Walker and Rubio but also former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and fellow freshman Senator Rand Paul, who is hoping to build on his father’s robust network in Iowa and elsewhere. It’s not only the Washington cartel that dislikes Cruz. Many of the party’s moderate voters are put off by his slashing style.

But the Texan draws optimism from the success of two candidates who were also written off in the early going. One is Barack Obama, who toppled Hillary Clinton in 2008 with a guerrilla campaign Cruz speaks of with awe. (Cruz admired Obama’s battle plan so much he bought staffers a copy of the now President’s campaign manager David Plouffe’s memoir.) The other is Ronald Reagan. “I think 2016,” he says, “is going to be an election like 1980.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Straight Talk Express Gets a Few More Passengers

The Straight Talk express bus during Senator John McCain's(R-AZ) visit to a polling booth during the "Straight Talk Express" campaign for the Republican nomination in Nashua, New Hampshire on January 8, 2007.
NBC NewsWire via Getty Images The Straight Talk express bus during Senator John McCain's(R-AZ) visit to a polling booth during the "Straight Talk Express" campaign for the Republican nomination in Nashua, New Hampshire on January 8, 2007.

Suddenly, truth-telling is in vogue

It takes a savvy politician to run for president by telling people what they don’t want to hear—or perhaps a crazy one. Yet here was Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s senior senator, shuffling into the state capitol June 22 to advocate the removal of the Confederate flag. Graham’s nascent presidential campaign depends on winning the Palmetto State — where six in 10 voters oppose the relocation of the rebel emblem.

But it wasn’t the first time Graham, who supports comprehensive immigration reform and climate science, has put conscience ahead of his constituents. And he’s hardly the only candidate risking the repercussions of defying the party base as the race for the White House ramps up.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has stuck by his moderate positions on education and immigration. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will make controversial entitlement reforms a cornerstone of his comeback bid. Ohio Gov. John Kasich infuriated conservative activists by expanding Medicaid in Ohio. And long-shot candidate former New York Gov. George Pataki has made disagreeing with his party’s mainstream a point of pride.

The maverick style has gone mainstream. Fifteen years after John McCain tried to ride the Straight Talk Express to the GOP nomination, the truth-telling persona has become as much a fixture of presidential campaigning as the flag pin. And in the 2016 Republican primary, more candidates than ever before are betting that a base-bucking approach will pay off with voters sick of the quadrennial presidential pander.

“You have to understand,” Kasich explained to TIME in a recent interview, “the Republican Party is my vehicle, and not my master.”

All this is a stark change from the 2012 campaign, when the GOP field was desperate to indulge the activist base that seemed to hold the keys to the White House. The rush to the right often manifested in ways that were embarrassing or ugly. There was the debate where nearly the entire field pledged to veto a 10-to-1 deal of spending cuts for new tax revenue—a pact most sensible conservatives would snap up in a second. There was the collective unwillingness to call out conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s ad hominem attack against women’s rights’ activist Sandra Fluke. There was the forum in Florida where the candidates stood idly by as a gay soldier was booed on live television.

Yet four years later, the number of candidates eager to establish their independence exceeds the number who are purely focused on pleasing the base. “Voters are looking for leaders who treat them like adults and tell them the truth,” says Mike DuHaime, Christie’s chief strategist. “They are rejecting politicians who tell everyone what they want to hear and speak only in cautious focus-grouped terms.”

In some ways, the tell-it-like-it-is caucus is responding to Americans’ well-documented dissatisfaction with the nation’s institutions—and especially its elected officials.

“Most of these candidates understand that of the forces shaping the electorate, there is nothing more dominating than the utter collapse of trust between the American people and just about every institution you can think of,” explains Steve Schmidt, McCain’s former top strategist. “What they get is the macro-political climate in the country. They get the sour mood of the American people, the collapse of trust between most American institutions and the American people, and that they want a real leader.”

“Folks hate Washington, D.C.; its policies, its politics, its attitude,” adds New Hampshire-based GOP strategist Dave Carney. “We thirst for someone to treat us as adults, and be straight with us about the problems and challenges we face as a nation.”

But that’s not the only reason why Ted Cruz, whose Oval Office aspirations may hinge on winning the Iowa caucuses, called for an end to the ethanol subsidies that have long fattened local interests. Or why Bush told the Wall Street Journal last December that the next GOP nominee must be willing to “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.”

“Folks will tell you in politics, ‘don’t talk about that subject,’” Christie said in New Hampshire this month, in a reference to raising the retirement age. “They call it the third rail of American politics. They say, ‘don’t touch it.’ So we’re not going to touch it. We’re going to hug it.”

The maverick shtick is popular because it can be good politics. Each of these campaigns has mapped their paths to the White House through New Hampshire, where style has always been as prized as substance. They know that truth-telling can be a recipe for media attention, and that presenting one’s self as an agent of change can help establish a niche in a crowded field.

Their numbers are also growing as a side effect of new rules put in place after the 2012 race to shorten the primary calendar and limit the number of televised debates. The guidelines, imposed by the Republican National Committee to limit the damage inflicted on the eventual nominee, have had the unexpected effect of nationalizing the race. With more states voting early on, contests in places like Iowa and South Carolina become less vital to a candidate’s chances. That saps the power of hardcore activists and hands more influence to moderate voters in bigger, more diverse states. And with national polling being the standard to get on stage at the all-important televised debates, candidates have to define themselves more. “Loud doesn’t mean a lot,” Graham says.

The would-be mavericks are also responding to a well-documented hunger for a virtuous statesman, as embodied by the cinematic archetypes of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith or Aaron Sorkin’s Jed Barlet. Or even the real-life McCain, whose bull-shooting sessions with the press on the back of his bus are the stuff of political legend.

Still, it’s a safe bet that political calculations will ultimately trump conscience. Graham’s good friend McCain pandered on the Confederate flag in his 2000 campaign and tapped Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 when he needed to galvanize the base. And candidates of all stripes can cast the same old red-meat as telling uncomfortable truths that somehow only discomfort the other party.

“It remains to be seen,” Schmidt says, “whether we’re going to have truth-telling candidates rather than candidates using ‘truth-telling’ as a prop.”

TIME Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal Campaign Launches With Uphill Battle

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks during the "Road to Majority" conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks during the "Road to Majority" conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Once a rising star in the GOP, the Louisiana governor has slipped to an afterthought as he launches his presidential campaign

It’s been a long fall from grace for Bobby Jindal.

The Louisiana governor, who will launch his campaign for president on Wednesday in New Orleans, is polling in 15th place among major declared or likely candidates for the Republican nomination. That’s dead last. He’s all but certain to be excluded from the Fox News debate that will kick off the race for the White House on Aug. 6, a painful omission that won’t help his cause.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Ever since taking the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge in 2008, Jindal, now 44, has been hailed as one of the GOP’s rising stars. A brainy young Indian-American, he was tapped to deliver the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress in 2009. In 2012, many conservatives floated him as a potential vice-presidential pick for Mitt Romney. The two-term governor, who had cruised to reelection and stockpiled goodwill among grassroots activists and Establishment donors alike, looked poised to be a player in the 2016 race.

So why does Jindal’s White House bid now seem such a long shot?

It’s easy to trace the start of the slide to speeches he began making at the end of 2012. In the aftermath of Romney’s loss, Jindal brutally excoriated the GOP as a hidebound party, captive to corporate interests and plagued by a pattern of incendiary remarks. Republicans, he declared, must “stop being the stupid party.”

Jindal looked like an apt candidate to lead the transition. A Rhodes Scholar, health-care policy expert and former McKinsey consultant, he launched a national policy group, released white papers and op-eds on everything from foreign policy to energy. He was at the forefront of the GOP in supporting over-the-counter contraception, a bid to counteract the Democrats’ potent “war on women” trope.

Read More: Bobby Jindal: America’s Next Top Columnist

“We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters,” he told Politico after Obama’s re-election.

But the truth-telling shtick didn’t last long. Soon the Ivy-league biology major was punting questions about evolution and climate change to shore up his standing with social conservatives. A governor with a glittering resume became better known to Americans as the defender of Duck Dynasty. Once a supporter of Common Core education standards, he watched conservatives turn against the program and launched a campaign to kill it in his state, home to one of the worst public education systems in the country. (Jindal has dramatically expanded school choice during his tenure.)

It wasn’t only that the turnabout struck some as inauthentic. It also forced Jindal to compete in a crowded space for donors and voter support. His pitch to voters centers on core fiscal and social conservative principles, a field occupied by more dynamic candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and better-known ones like retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who Jindal endorsed for President in 2011.

Read More: Why a Bobby Jindal Portrait Sparked a Racial Controversy

Back home, Jindal’s support has cratered at the worst possible time. The Louisiana governor has watched his approval rating slip into the 30s; a recent poll showed him trailing Hillary Clinton in the GOP stronghold. The budget is a mess, and he’s alienated allies by spending long stretches away from the state to tend to his national ambitions. “Bobby spotted at the capitol,” Republican state senator Dan Claitor tweeted on April 1. “(April Fool).”

Jindal still has the policy chops and conservative credentials to snap his slide. He’s cut the budget, pushed school choice and privatized state hospitals. In recent months he’s refined a stump speech that earns rave reviews from the GOP faithful. There’s no question he has the potential to catch a wave like a succession of lesser candidates enjoyed in 2012.

“Why has he not caught fire? He is not a candidate yet,” says a Jindal adviser. “When he gets into this race he will be the least-known candidate. He has only room to grow.”

“He’s been underestimated before,” the adviser adds, “and every time he’s won and he’s crushed the opposition.”

At the very least, he has nowhere to go but up.

TIME Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.

But specifics are a casualty of the search for consensus

A bipartisan coalition leading a landmark push for criminal-justice reform has set its agenda, but many of the details remain to be filled in.

The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes some of the most influential policy groups on the right and left, announced a new campaign Monday to reform sentencing laws and reintegrate offenders back into society.

“We see these ideas as the baseline for how we can reduce the existing prison population,” said Christine Leonard, the group’s executive director, “as well as support individuals coming home.”

The announcement was a sign of how far the movement has come, but also a sign of how much work remains to be done to begin enacting its goals.

The group includes liberal outfits like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime. The multi-million dollar initiative is underwritten by donors as disparate as Koch Industries and the Ford Foundation. For these fractious factions, the ability to coalesce around a set of policy objectives is no small task. But a casualty of the search for consensus has been specifics.

Read More: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

In a conference call Monday with reporters, the group said it would launch a national education campaign to mobilize public support for some of its priorities with the broadest support, including reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, curtailing sentences of life without parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration and removing obstacles that impede transitions back to the workforce for the one-in-three Americans with a criminal record.

But after months of meetings, the recommendations were modest in scope and light on detail. “These reforms are only the beginning of what lawmakers can do,” said Jason Pye, director of messaging and justice reform at the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks.

Nor is it clear that the recommendations will do much to sway them. Despite growing consensus around the need to reform a system that critics call bloated and broken, there has been little little legislative movement. A raft of bipartisan proposals have languished in a divided Congress.

“Some of the other issues are blocked by partisan stalemate. This is one where we actually could move things forward,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. “We’re just going to have to defeat the forces of the status quo.”

Organizers acknowledged that threading bills through Congress remains a challenge. The Coalition hopes to make progress by the August congressional recess, when the presidential race will kick into a higher gear and lawmaking will slow even further.

“We’re in a long term marathon here, in terms of where we need to shift the country after two decades of polices that took us in the wrong direction,” Leonard told TIME in an interview. “There is a strong sense of urgency among these partnering organizations to see that we’re making an impact, both in the daily conversations that are happening around dinner tables but also among policy makers.”

But in Washington the forces of inertia increase in accordance with the number of actors. There are are seven organizations involved with the coalition, and it took months of meetings to lay out a general blueprint. There are 535 lawmakers in Congress. Even the most powerful interest groups know that translating public support into tangible reform remains an uphill battle.

“This is not necessarily a road map for a legislative proposal, but it does demonstrate the pathbreaking level of agreement and consensus around a set of issues,” Leonard says. “What we’re anxious about is, why isn’t there more happening?”

TIME Donald Trump

Trump Launches Presidential Campaign With Empty Flair

A seasoned showman knows how to prime his audience, and Donald Trump is one of the best. Standing in the gleaming lobby of a skyscraper bearing his name, the biggest name in business held court for nearly an hour, the cameras and the crowd hanging on his every word, before finally arriving at the big reveal.

“Eight billion, seven hundred thirty-seven million, five hundred and forty thousand,” Trump declared, pausing for emphasis, letting the awesomeness of his alleged net worth wash over his fans.

With Trump, it is always about the money. His announcement Tuesday that he would run for President of the United States, after nearly three decades of feints and false promises, was mere prelude to the business that really mattered.

For the crowd gathered at Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, the symbols of his status were ubiquitous. Employees sold Trump power ties, Trump polo shirts, Trump ice cream. There were Trump chocolates shaped like bricks of gold and silver, wrapped in glittering foil. Beautiful women hawked a Trump-brand cologne called “Success.” The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack echoed off gold-tinted mirrors and red marble. The emotional core of Trump’s speech was a recitation of his real-estate assets: the Gucci Store, the Bank of America building, the $15 million apartments, the lush golf courses and eponymous hotels.

Trump has always known that the pageantry of a presidential campaign is a near-perfect marketing opportunity. He has been running this ruse since 1987, the first time he ruminated about replacing the permanent political class that had made America a “laughingstock.” He has gone farther this time to sell the fantasy, hiring political staff in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. But the success of the stunt will still be measured in money, not votes.

After all, there are about eight billion reasons Trump won’t be president. He was pro-choice until recently. He supported massive taxes on the ultra-rich. He has advocated tightening gun laws. He backed single-payer healthcare, a policy that conservatives abhor even more than Obamacare. His approvals are 32 points underwater in his own party, making Trump the least popular presidential candidate since at least 1980. If he wants to swap the executive boardrooms for the cornfields of Iowa, that is his business.

Read More: How to Get Hair Like Donald Trump

The fact that such a stunt can pay off is a symptom of how flawed the process has become. Trump is hardly the first enterprising businessman to recognize that the endless primary can be vehicle for personal enrichment. But in a race that rewards bluster and penalizes substance, serious candidates are likely to get Trumped. Only 10 candidates will make the stage at the first Fox News debate on Aug. 6; the remainder will be relegated to a forum earlier in the day. The CNN debate the following month will use a similar system, shunting the rest of the candidates into a second-tier debate. National polls will be the deciding metric, which means a guy with his own primetime TV show—and the name recognition that attends it—is apt to boot more legitimate candidates.

It is unlikely that the party could find a way to exclude him from the debate stage, if indeed they wanted to. “This sounds crazy, but it’s safer to just include him,” says one 2016 presidential aide. Trump is a draw; for years he’s been invited to address Republican Party fundraisers. Every four years, candidates made the trek to Trump Tower to flatter him and solicit support. “They come up to my office,” Trump boasts. “I’m meeting with three of them in the next week.”

The GOP’s approach to Trump has always been grudging tolerance, knowing his megaphone makes a good cudgel. Already he has been needling candidates like Jeb Bush. “They will never make America great again,” Trump says of his rivals. “They don’t even have a chance.”

Trump talks of the nation like another of his renovation projects, a dilapidated teardown that needs to be gutted to the studs. “The American Dream is dead,” he declares. “We don’t have victories anymore,” he says. “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.” The crowd roared at the line.

The target of these riffs is not people like him. Trump is skilled at speaking to fearful blue-collar workers, to whom the glittering Trump brand can look like genuine luxury. “We have to get back to America being the superpower we were, and the only way we can do that is with a businessman in office. ” says Lori Burch, 55, a superintendent from Jersey City. “He’s an awesome American,” adds Nadine Steel, a 30-something sales rep at a department store in Hackensack. “I think he’s a friend of the rich, but I also think he’s a friend of the poor.”

The crowds couldn’t match the bluster. In his speech, Trump said there were “thousands” of people on hand to watch the announcement— really, it seemed more like a few hundred. Staffers handed out “Make America Great Again!” T-shirts outside the Gucci on Fifth, while others distributed Trump signs to the crowd, designed to look as if they’d been made at home. The supporters who turned out seemed positive Trump would be the next president. “I don’t think there’s anybody as strong as the Donald,” says Burch.

What would Trump do as President? “I would do various things very quickly,” he says. Crush the Islamic State. Beat China. Build a “great great wall” on the southern border and send the bill to Mexico. Is this even possible? Does it matter? Whether people are wise to the game has never made a difference to Trump, so long as the show helps the bottom line.

With reporting by Zeke J Miller

Read Donald Trump’s full speech here.

TIME 2016 Election

This Agency May Have Already Been Killed by the 2016 Campaign

Fred Hochberg, Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States holds up a copy of the bank's Default Rate Report as he testifies during a hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee June 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Fred Hochberg, Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States holds up a copy of the bank's Default Rate Report as he testifies during a hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee June 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The fight over an obscure federal agency has become a flashpoint for the 2016 GOP field

The chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank has spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill lately fighting to save his embattled institution. The bank, whose charter lapses June 30, has been the target of a coordinated campaign orchestrated by conservatives who call it a form of crony capitalism. Which means chairman Fred Hochberg has been shuttling between meetings with influential lawmakers, pleading with top House Republicans like Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling to keep the credit export agency alive.

“I’m still confident that we are going to get reauthorized,” Hochberg told reporters Friday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. But he acknowledged the possibility that it wouldn’t happen before the deadline, which would force supporters to find a way to revive the multi-billion dollar institution later on. “We’ve got some headwinds,” Hochberg conceded. “There is no plan B.”

The headwinds buffeting the obscure federal agency are a reflection of the forces reshaping Republican politics. In 2012, the bank was backed by big bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate. And if the crusade to shutter it succeeds, it won’t be because lawmakers suddenly realized a bank that chiefly benefits big corporations like Boeing and General Electric didn’t mesh with the tenets of free-market economics.

Instead, it will be because the Ex-Im bank—which in 2014 provided about $20 billion in federal loan guarantees to support U.S. exports—has been denounced as corporate welfare by the deep-pocketed Koch political network, influential free-market think tanks and conservative interest groups. Organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth have launched direct-mail campaigns and TV ads to ramp up pressure on wavering lawmakers.

The same pressures loom large in the presidential race. In the early stages of the 2016 campaign, the expiration of the Ex-Im Bank has become a crucial litmus test for Republicans—and it’s no coincidence that nearly the entire field has wound up on the same side.

Scott Walker wants to see the bank’s charter lapse. So does Marco Rubio. Same goes for Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Bobby Jindal? Ditto. Jeb Bush—who was once employed by a manufacturer that received $74 million in Ex-Im financing to sell water pumps to Nigeria—came out against the bank this winter. Rick Perry, who last year wrote a letter to Congress urging the bank’s reauthorization, was the latest to change his mind, publishing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that argued “the best way to mend Ex-Im is to end it.”

The rare defender of Ex-Im in the 2016 field is Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose home state of South Carolina is the site of a major Boeing plant that employs more than 7,500 people, according to company records.

Why has the bank has become unpopular among 2016 GOP contenders? In most cases, its foes can do more for presidential candidates than its friends. Ex-Im has powerful allies, from the major corporations who are beneficiaries to influential business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and well-funded trade associations. But the conservative ideologues pushing to kill the bank hold greater sway with the energized activists who can lift or sink a presidential prospect’s primary chances.

The Koch network alone plans to fork over nearly $900 million in the run-up to the 2016 election. It’s one reason why candidates seeking to win their favor have taken up against the bank. “The government should not be picking winners and losers when it comes to the free market,” Rubio said on a recent call organized by the Koch-based Americans for Prosperity.

Hochberg dodged a question about how the opposition of the 2016 field has affected the debate. “A small minority are opposed to us,” he said. But they are a powerful cadre of people, which is why the bank’s charter looks increasingly likely to lapse for the first time in 80 years.

TIME 2016 Election

Scott Walker’s Bucks Arena Deal May Be a 2016 Misfire

scott walker wisconsin governor
Scott Olson—Getty Images Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker gets ready to participate in a Roast and Ride event hosted by freshman Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on June 5, 2015 near Des Moines, Iowa.

The governor is caught between Wisconsin sports fans and conservative ideologues

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to save a hometown hoops team could be an air ball that affects his presidential hopes.

Walker has proposed forking over $250 million in taxpayer money to help construct a new arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, who have threatened to relocate if the city doesn’t build them a new home by 2017. But the idea of using public funds has drawn fire from Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature, as well as from some of the influential conservative groups who propelled Walker’s political career.

On the surface, a fight over arena financing in a basketball backwater is a provincial spat, not a national concern. But it has the potential to alienate Walker’s allies and undermine his conservative bona fides as it comes to a head over the coming weeks, amid the two-term governor’s final preparations for a presidential campaign launch.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums,” said David Fladboe, who has served as director of Americans for Prosperity’s Wisconsin chapter, which played an integral role in the trio of statewide victories that established Walker as a national conservative star. “This proposal needs to be rejected and the people of Wisconsin need to be protected.”

The MacIver Institute, a free-market think tank that has helped drive Walker’s agenda, also criticized the deal. “We really do question whether a fundamental mission of government [should be] to subsidize billionaires to build a brand new arena,” says Nick Novak, the group’s communications director.

For Walker, the billionaires in question don’t help matters. One of the Bucks’ co-owners is investment tycoon Marc Lasry, a close ally of the Clinton family and a top fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Lasry, who purchased a stake in the Bucks in 2014, previously employed Chelsea Clinton at his firm Avenue Capital, and invested $1 million in her husband’s nascent hedge fund. Lasry’s co-owner, private-equity magnate Wesley Edens, has been a donor to Democratic Senate candidates.

Walker has argued that despite the cost of the deal, it would be cheaper to pony up to keep the Bucks than to let the franchise skip town. “We would lose $419 million over the next 20 years if we did nothing, if we said, go on, move somewhere else, which the NBA said they would do,” Walker told ABC News June 7. That figure includes the loss of tax revenue from NBA players, among a variety of other factors.

Walker’s aides say the state will only kick in $80 million—$4 million for each of the next 20 years, drawn from its general fund—and argue tax revenues will cover the cost. “This plan protects taxpayers from the loss of current and future tax revenue generated by the Bucks and visiting teams and supports a new arena without tax increases or state bonding,” says Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Local and county government will fund the rest, with the Wisconsin Center District kicking in $93 million in bonds. Those would be repaid with an extension of taxes that were set to expire in coming years, including 3% on car rentals, 2.5% on hotel rooms and 0.5% on food and beverage sales. Walker said the extension does not qualify as a tax increase, though many conservatives disagree. A complicated arrangement, in which Wisconsin takes on the role of collecting unpaid debt to the counties and takes a fee from collections, will kick in another $80 million over the next two decades.

“All across the nation,” Walker told ABC News, “when they do projects like this, it’s a good deal.”

Economists disagree. A host of academic reports over the years have found that using public financing for professional sports venues is a bad investment that rarely lives up to the lofty numbers brandished by the projects’ boosters and often incurs sizable cost overruns.

One such paper, published in 2001 by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, determined “the rate of return a city or metropolitan area receives for its investment is generally below that of alternative projects.” In addition, the authors wrote, “cities and metro areas that have invested heavily in sports stadiums and arenas have, on average, experienced slower income growth than those that have not.”

Citing such concerns, the libertarian Cato Institute opposed Walker’s proposal as “corporate welfare,” noting that “economic projections for subsidized stadiums are always vastly overstated.” So did the popular conservative blog RedState. Walker “is largely seen as a strong fiscal conservative,” the author wrote. “His recent announcement should surely put that idea to rest.”

Walker is not the only 2016 Republican presidential contender who has been caught between local sports fans and free-market economics. During Rick Perry’s governorship, two Texas NFL teams—the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans—built new stadiums financed in part by taxpayers. As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush at first rejected plans to publicly finance a new retractable-roof ballpark for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. But as the club escalated threats to relocate, Bush expressed openness to multiple proposals under consideration in the legislature, which would have granted as much as $60 million in state subsidies to the construction of a new ballpark. (A bill never made it to Bush’s desk, but a similar subsidy was approved by his successor, Charlie Crist.)

Like Bush, President Barack Obama has shifted positions on stadium financing. As an Illinois state senator, Obama voted to publicly finance an upgrade of Soldier Field, the home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. In a 2007 presidential primary debate, Obama defended the decision. “Absolutely, it was the right call,” he said, “because it put a whole bunch of Illinois folks to work, strong labor jobs were created in this stadium, and at the same time, we created an enormous opportunity for economic growth throughout the city of Chicago.”

But Obama has come to question the wisdom of public subsidies for private stadiums. His 2016 budget calls for barring the use of tax-exempt bonds to finance professional sports facilities. These bonds have raised about $17 billion during the past three decades to fund stadiums and arenas around the U.S

“Allowing tax-exempt governmental bond financing of stadiums transfers the benefits of tax-exempt financing to private professional sports teams because these private parties benefit from significant use of the facilities,” the Treasury Department wrote in its explanation of Obama’s budget request. “The current structuring of the governmental bonds to finance sports facilities has shifted more of the costs and risks from the private owners to local residents and taxpayers in general.”

The future of the Bucks arena proposal is uncertain. The issue has split both Wisconsin Republicans and influential talk-radio hosts. A cadre of Republicans have objected to tucking the proposal into the state budget, but as a standalone bill it could struggle to find the votes to pass. Republican are wary of a possible primary challenge if they support the bill, while Democrats are disinclined to back anything Walker favors.

Mordecai Lee, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and former Democratic member of the Wisconsin legislature, says Walker has handled a difficult issue deftly. At the same time, Lee says, it could backfire on Walker in the coming campaign as rivals try to pick apart his reputation as a conservative purist.

“It’s an opening for people to get to his right,” Lee says, noting 2016 rivals could criticize Walker as “a fake conservative who was going to do corporate welfare for billionaire owners of NBA franchises.”

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