TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Runs Conservative Gatekeeper Gauntlet

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Jeb Bush made headlines Friday when he used wit to parry the boos of college-age conservatives at a conference outside Washington, D.C. “For those who made an ‘ooo’ sound — is that what it was? — I’m marking you down as neutral and I want to be your second choice,” he told the crowd, in what sounded like a prepared line.

But the moment may not have been the most consequential conservative test he passed last week. Just a day earlier, Bush addressed and largely won over a crowd of strict fiscal conservative donors off camera and thousands of miles away at a gathering of wealthy donors at a Club for Growth confab in Palm Beach, Fla.

David McIntosh, the group’s president, who interviewed Bush on stage, said his members, who tend to be wealthy fighters for strict fiscal conservatism, had been wary before Bush appeared, wondering who they would meet, “the old Governor or a new Bush,” a reference the raw feelings many conservatives still have against Jeb’s father and brother, who both enraged conservatives during their administrations.

But Bush made a forceful case for himself, McIntosh said. “I got to be governor of this state — this purple state, this wacky, wonderful state — for eight years,” Bush told the group, according to an account from the Washington Post. “I ran as a conservative, I said what I was going to do, and I had a chance to do it. And trust me, I did.” By the time it was over, McIntosh was all praise. “Bush impressed people,” he said.

That seal of approval could prove huge dividends as the establishment frontrunner works to avoid a movement backlash to his nascent presidential effort. The man who once said Republicans should “lose the primary to win the general election” is nonetheless aiming to establish his credentials in a way that minimizes the ideological protest against his candidacy from the right. But the fight is far from over. Other conservative activists have been far more skeptical. Grover Norquist, who runs another fiscal conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform, has been critical of Jeb Bush for refusing to sign his pledge, during his gubernatorial campaigns and now, to oppose all increases in taxes.

“My concern is that he has not made a commitment to the American people that he will not raise taxes when all the other candidates have done so,” Norquist said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. “I think Jeb will take the pledge at the end of the day because both his father and his brother said ‘I don’t know’ and then when they realized what the pledge was and what it actually meant and that it was a pledge to the American people and not to me or Americans for Tax Reform, and that they had no intention of raising taxes, and that everyone else was doing it, they said yes, absolutely.”

Bush has so far refused to budge, and on Saturday his spokesman dismissed Norquist’s organization as just another “lobbying group.” “If Governor Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, told ABC News. President George H.W. Bush famously signed Norquist’s pledge and then broke it by supporting a tax increase as part of the 1990 budget, a move that hurt his reelection effort in 1992. President George W. Bush signed and honored the pledge as president, and his White House worked closely with Norquist to rally support for tax cuts in his first term.

One reason for Jeb Bush’s reluctance may be his desire to strike a bargain to reform entitlements if he became president. In 2012, he said in a congressional hearing that he would accept a theoretical deal to raise $1 of tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, a position that had been rejected by that year’s Republican presidential contenders, in large part because of Norquist’s pledge.

Like Norquist’s group, the Club For Growth also has a reputation for taking a hard line against any candidate who either raises taxes or leaves the door open to tax increases. But so far this cycle, there are no signs that the Club will target Bush. In 2008, the Club for Growth played an aggressive role in opposing Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, attacking him for some tax increases he pushed as governor of Arkansas. In 2012, the group released research papers on the candidates, but did not spend money or offer endorsements in the primary. This year, the group could be more agressive. “There is no decision on an endorsement,” McIntosh said.

But Bush is not seeking an endorsement as much as a lack of opposition. If the Club simply concludes that Bush can be seen in the same category as other Club for Growth favorites, including Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rand Paul, that would be victory enough for his presidential effort.

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME 2016 Election

Forget the Past America, Donald Trump Could Run For President

Donald Trump is huge. Don’t anyone forget that.

Also, he is really serious about running for president. Just look at what he told the Washington Post. “I am more serious about this than I’ve ever been before,” he said. That sounds pretty serious, unless you have a memory of what he has said before.

Left out of the Post story was a crucial piece of context. He used those exact same words—more serious than ever before—four years ago, the last time he didn’t run for president. When TIME interviewed him in the Spring of 2011, he said he was delaying the renewal of his television show, The Celebrity Apprentice, to explore the possibility of a political campaign. In the end, he used the publicity raised by not running for President as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with NBC. Now he is saying the same thing. Say what you will about Trump, but the man knows how to negotiate.

The echoes of past feints haunt Trump’s latest tease like a poker tell. Now he talks about hiring staff in South Carolina. In 2011, he was sending staff to Iowa and New Hampshire, offering himself as a speaker at rubber-chicken dinners. If he runs in 2016 in a crowded Republican field, he says this time he will have a clear message: “People around the world are laughing at us,” he told the Post. “Look at China, they’re killing us, taking our jobs. We have weakness in the Middle East and with ISIS. We have incompetent people running the country and I’m tired of it.”

That sounds familiar too. Here’s what he told TIME about four years ago: “Nobody can do the job that I can do. . . I can make this country great again. This country is not great. This country is a laughingstock for the rest of the world.” And here’s what he said in 1987, the first time he did not run for President, in a full-page newspaper ad attacking the administration of Ronald Reagan, the very man lionized by attendees at the Conservative Political Actions Conference where Trump will speak later this week: “The world is laughing at America’s politicians.”

So it goes. There was one other time Trump did not run for President, back in the runup to 2000, when he teased the Reform Party into talking about making him their nominee. His platform back then was the sort of stuff that would probably disqualify any Republican not named Trump from even being talked about as GOP nominee. It included federal single-payer health care—yes, the sort of socialism that even Barack Obama did not embrace—and a one time net worth tax of 14.25% on all Americans worth more than $10 million. (Primary residences, like those in upscale Trump properties, were exempted, of course, effectively turning Trump’s empire into an enormous tax shelter.) For the record, Trump says he has changed his mind on both ideas. He has also recently abandoned his pro-choice views on abortion.

But Trump knows something about the modern media that allows him to skate by all this: We scribblers have lousy memories, and a huge hunger for a good story. And boy, oh boy, is Trump a good story. For instance, just two days ago, he tweeted: “The Oscars were a great night for Mexico & why not—they are ripping off the US more than almost any other nation.” Hilarious! I am sure that will play well in Nevada, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico, where Republicans are set on improving their dismal 2012 margins with Hispanics. He is also lobbying to be the next Oscar host, because why not. Trump is huge.

To understand the man, and his brilliant business, you have to understand his history. And you can’t write about his presidential temptations without mentioning the past. Nothing has changed in 30 years. He really is a marvelous salesman. As I wrote in 2011:

Fretting over the niggling details of reality didn’t get him where he is today — worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes, with a hit reality show, a men’s clothing line at Macy’s, a string of best-selling business books, swanky country clubs, luxury hotels, Trump tea, Trump chocolate, Trump bottled water, mail-order Trump steaks, the Miss Universe pageant and foreign financiers who solicit the use of his name for new condos in Dubai or on the Black Sea or wherever money is blowing up the skyline with brazen luxury.

Unlike most developers who scraped Manhattan dirt, Trump didn’t make his fortune simply by building things with glass and steel. He sold story lines of living large: Trump, with the best, the tallest, the most, the biggest and the brightest. A decade before reality television, he offered himself as performance art, what Advertising Age calls the “human logo.” “The show is ‘Trump,'” he told Playboy in a 1990 interview. “And it is sold-out performances everywhere.” Without the “Trump,” after all, those steaks are just meat in the mail, and he is just another rich guy who thinks he can buy his way into the White House.

That’s who Trump is. And thanks to a political press that loves to a Trump tale and lacks the column inches for context, that is who he will continue to be. The NBC suits must be feeling faint. He’s as serious as he has ever been about leaving The Celebrity Apprentice. America is a laughingstock. He is huge. He might even go through with becoming a candidate this time. The show is still sold out everywhere.

TIME 2016 Election

Chris Christie Looks to Get His Groove Back With Union Talks

Conservative Activists And Leaders Attend The Iowa Freedom Summit
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, speaks during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015.

A long overdue reset for the governor of New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to get his mojo back.

The can-do, tough-as-nails, straight-talking governor has spent the last several months tossed around in the shifting seas of presidential politics. Jeb Bush raided his prospective campaign piggy bank. Scott Walker claimed his old crown—the conservative fighter willing to put taxpayers ahead of government workers. And an imprecise vaccine comment in London left Christie fleeing reporters has he sped to his plane back home.

Just last week, during a speech in Washington, a deflated Christie seemed to distance himself from his own state’s economic record, blaming the state legislature for the status quo. “I don’t know exactly whose economic plan has been implemented or not,” he said of the state he runs. It was a far cry from the victorious Christie, who declared upon winning reelection in 2013, “I did not seek a second term to do small things. I sought a second term to finish the job. Now watch me do it.”

“Now” will finally arrive on Tuesday, his advisers promise, when he reveals a new plan to address New Jersey’s struggling finances, a new schedule for another statewide tour and a well-kept secret: For months, he has been breaking bread with his one-time union foes, the New Jersey Education Association, discussing further reforms to the state’s underwater state pension system Christie began to reform with controversial legislation during his first term.

“I did not come here just to identify the problem, shrug my shoulders and return to business as usual,” he plans to say later today, returning to his old rhetorical style. “And that is why I am here today to ask you to do what may be politically difficult, but what is morally and physically the right thing to do. This is what it is about. Coming together. Thinking differently. Serving the people. Addressing the long term. This is how we get things done.”

The shift in tone is long overdue for a governor who has never played defense as well as offense. Just a year ago, he was a formidable force in the Republican Party, with a mainline connection to the establishment looking for someone to take on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. But an uneven message, a distracting criminal investigation over his staff’s involvement in a politically motivated road closure and deteriorating economic conditions in his state have tarnished his reputation.

“There’s an opportunity here for a comeback, because the press will love that,” says John Weaver, a former presidential strategist for Republicans John McCain and Jon Huntsman. “But they have to act fast or he will go down in history having squandered a great opportunity.”

The state’s fiscal situation, which will be the focus on Tuesday’s address, may prove the problem least fixable by a quick shift in strategy. On Monday, just a day before the planned pivot, a state judge ruled that Christie had failed to live up to his own signature legislative accomplishment by failing to fully fund the state’s share of recalculated public employee pensions. In her ruling, state judge Mary Jocobson took a shot at Christie’s public claims to have achieved a historic reforms during his first term, since he had since decided not to fund the state’s share of his own plan. “The governor now takes the unusual position in this court of claiming that this legislative contractual guarantee, which embodied significant reforms for which he took substantial credit with great national fanfare, violates the New Jersey Constitution,” she wrote.

Christie has promised to appeal the ruling which requires him to spend $1.57 billion more on pensions this year, arguing that other state governors have also failed to fully fund the program in the past. But such explanations won’t make good campaign slogans. In part because of the standoff, credit-ratings agencies have repeatedly cut New Jersey’s standing, a fact that could be easily used against the governor in 2016 campaign ads.

Christie’s pre-campaign messaging will also need some attention, as the early state voting map provides him with few credible paths to the nomination. “Christie’s path has narrowed considerably,” said one veteran GOP operative, who is not yet working for a 2016 presidential contender. “Lesser-known candidates have thicker skin with the media and even Rand Paul exhibits more discipline.”

On the road in Iowa or New Hampshire, Christie’s message has thus far boiled down largely to his personality, a move that worked well through two elections in New Jersey. He tells audiences of his family upbringing in an attempt to turn his legendarily brash persona into an asset. “You’ll always know what I believe and you’ll always know where I stand,” he said in Iowa last month.

But the personality pitch depends on a state record to back it up, and may need to be refined for voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. That’s where a potential truce with the unions could come in handy. Just a few years ago, union leaders were circulating an email joking about Christie’s death, and the governor was regularly lobbing words like “greed and self-interest” in the direction of the union. Now Christie has another talking point to add to his claim that he can bring conservative ideas to a blue state and make divided government work.

The New Jersey teacher’s union was a party to the lawsuit that resulted in Monday’s decision, but in a statement to reporters, Christie aides said the new negotiations represented a new chapter in the relationship. “The issue has come full circle – back in 2010 and 2011 when Governor Christie first took on pension and health benefits reform, the NJEA was opposed to any changes,” reads the guidance from the governor’s office. “But today, just five years later, the Governor has reached out to a political adversary and offered them partnership in working toward a solution and they have accepted.”

Any new chapter is a welcome one for Christie at this point. But this won’t be enough. In the coming months, he will need several more to win the nomination of his party.

TIME White House

Obama Claims Republican Rhetoric Could Help ISIS

Rather than ignore his critics, the President takes them on

The newest front in the American war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) will not take place in the deserts of Syria, Iraq or Libya, but on the covers of the nation’s tabloids and the airwaves of its cable television jabfests. President Obama, with two speeches in as many days, has decided to take the battle to his conservative critics.

Those who identify the black-clad extremists with their religious roots, the commander-in-chief argued repeatedly, are peddling a “lie” that will drive recruitment by the nation’s enemies and ultimately hurt U.S. interests. These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative,” he said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State.

But he did not stop there. A day after talking about the “debate in the press and among pundits” over terminology, he accused others in the public sphere Thursday of aiding the terrorist cause by highlighting the connection between Islamic teachings and Islamic State’s tactics, which include rape, beheadings, crucifixions and slavery. “That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations,” he continued. “That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence, and that hurts all of us, including Islam and especially Muslims who are the ones most likely to be killed.”

On the other side are conservative commenters and Republican Presidential contenders, who have argued Obama has weakened the international effort to defeat the radicals by whitewashing their religious roots in public statements. “I think it’s a mistake to think that ISIS is not what it is,” said Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush, after a foreign policy address on Wednesday. “It’s violent, extreme Islamic terrorism, and the more we try to ignore that reality, the less likely it is that we’re going to develop the appropriate strategy to garner the support in the Muslim world to do what I said, which is tighten the noose and then take them out.”

Neither side shows much interest in backing down, making this a seminal moment in the Obama Administration’s long battle against the conservative press and his Republican critics. With the exception of his political campaigns and the debate over health care reform, White House aides have mostly preferred to be dismissive, not confrontational, when faced with the rhetoric of the right. But in this case, the White House has concluded that the rhetoric could have a real impact on the strength of the nation’s military foe.

Conservatives are unbowed by this claim, just a week before a major gathering in Washington of conservative leaders, where the red-meat rhetoric is certain to fly freely. A day after Obama’s first speech, the cover of the conservative New York Post photoshopped a blindfold on the President’s portrait with the headline, “Islamic terror? I just don’t see it.” Just two days earlier, Bill O’Reilly, the popular Fox News anchor, upped the temperature by declaring on his show “The Holy War is here, and unfortunately it seems the president will be the last to acknowledge it” — the exact frame that Obama argues validates the Islamic State cause.

Many of the Republicans presidential contenders have also embraced this critique of Obama’s approach to the Islamic State, even as they have offered little detail on how they would prosecute the military campaign differently. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Obama “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists,” on Fox News Wednesday night.

“Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said earlier this month on “Fox and Friends.” “The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another likely candidate for President, criticized Obama earlier this month for his choice of words. “He certainly doesn’t like to say radical Islamic,” Jindal said in another Fox News appearance. “There’s a politically correct crowd that jumps on you when you say that.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted a link to a poll showing concern about Obama’s handling of the Islamic State. “We should call it what it is: radical Islamic terrorism,” Walker wrote.

Obama’s efforts to separate the ideology of extremists from the underlying teachings of Islam are a long-held strategy of the U.S. Government. In the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-President George W. Bush, who used the term “Islamic extremist,” spoke repeatedly about the difference between Islam and the efforts of Al Qaeda. “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that,” Bush said, as the rubble in lower Manhattan still smoldered. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

Some conservative and evangelical activists, however, have since rejected that formulation. In a recent email to supporters, David Lane, a Christian political organizer at the American Renewal Project, who has led trips overseas with many Republican leaders, including Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Huckabee and members of the Republican National Committee, wrote that George W. Bush was mistaken when he claimed in 2004 that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same deity. “The denial of the existence of evil, that God actually has enemies, is part of the fallout of a Biblically illiterate nation,” Lane wrote. “Our previous president was conned.”

TIME Marijuana

Colorado Warns About Marijuana Danger for Pregnant Women, Drivers and Youth

Medical Marijuana
Colin Brynn—Getty Images

A state panel finishes a comprehensive review of the published science on pot

A Colorado state panel set up to review the health effects of marijuana warned citizens Monday about the dangers of using the drug during pregnancy, while driving and during adolescence and young adulthood.

The report, which was commissioned by the state legislature to clarify sometimes contradictory health information about marijuana, also found preliminary evidence to suggest that legalization in the state had resulted in increased hospitalizations, emergency room visits and poison center calls possibly related to marijuana.

“The committee’s work represents one of the first and most comprehensive reviews to assess the strength of credible scientific literature available today regarding marijuana use,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

For years, a lack of scientific research and distrust of the federal government’s historic rhetoric on marijuana led to conflicting ideas about the drug’s negative health effects among users. In the 1930s, Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics, warned Americans that the drug increased criminality. “Some people will fly into a delirious rage, and they are temporarily irresponsible and may commit violent crimes,” he said in congressional hearing. “Other people will laugh uncontrollably. It is impossible to say what the effect will be on any individual.”

Today the scientific literature has advanced beyond such outlandish claims, though it is far from complete. Violent criminal behavior is not considered an expected result of marijuana use, and there are inconclusive findings on the permanent effects of marijuana use among adult users. Scientists have repeatedly found short-term memory effects lasting up to a week after heavy adult use. While marijuana has many of the same carcinogenic chemicals as tobacco, the lung cancer risk of the drug has not yet been conclusively identified.

For specific populations, however, marijuana use can have clear negative impacts, the Retail Marijuana Public Advisory Committee found in the review of scientific literature. The rate of motor vehicle crashes, for instance, doubled with recent use of marijuana. The committee also found that maternal use during pregnancy was associated with negative effects on exposed offspring, “including decreased academic ability, cognitive function and attention.” Some effects of the effects may not appear until adolescence.

Most of the committee’s warnings were focused on teens and young adults. Youth marijuana use is associated with higher future risk of using other drugs, including alcohol, tobacco, opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine. Use by teens is also associated with decreased school performance and memory impairments that last as long as 28 days after use. There is also a demonstrated correlation between early and heavy marijuana use and the development of psychotic symptoms and disorders like schizophrenia in adulthood among certain populations.

Adult use in Colorado is higher than the rest of the country, according to two surveys included in the report. In one survey, 3% of adults reported increased use of marijuana since retail legalization. The data on marijuana use rates among youth are contradictory—one 2013 survey found lower high school use than the national average, while another from 2012 and 2013 found higher middle school use than the rest of the country.

Medical marijuana has been allowed in Colorado since 2000, and recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014. The full 188-page report can be found here.

TIME 2016 Election

Lindsey Graham Forces Foreign Policy On 2016 GOP Field

Senator Lindsey Graham
Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Senator Lindsey Graham speaks at a press conference in Washington on January 13, 2015.

The talk on the trail these days is focused on Main Street. But that could change.

At the moment his staff hit publish on a new pre-presidential campaign website, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had distinguished himself from the rest of the already unwieldy Republican 2016 field. “Security Through Strength,” was the name of his new group, with a military-style combat unit shield as its logo.

Foreign policy would be Graham’s focus, and his tack would be unmistakable: He would be the candidate who could update Ronald Reagan’s Cold War vision of “Peace Through Strength” for the ongoing battle against radical Islam. Visitors had to read a couple hundred words of filler before any mention of domestic policy appeared. “Graham is also a leader in cutting spending,” the copy reads. Also, as if it were an afterthought.

As a political strategy, this was a bold move, given that most of his challengers have been focused their rhetorical fire on the cause du jour, the economic frustrations of the struggling American middle class. But then presidential campaigns rarely end where they begin, as Graham’s biggest backer, Arizona Sen. John McCain learned well in his 2008 race. That contest began squarely in McCain’s wheelhouse, as a foreign policy debate over the Iraq War. But it ended with an economic crises that McCain was not equipped to handle. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he was on record admitting in 2007.

There is a real potential for 2016 to follow the same pattern in reverse. Domestically, the economy remains stuck in neutral for most Americans, but gas prices are dropping, the labor market is firming, and the ground may be set for incomes begin to rise again. Overseas, however, the world is as tumultuous as it has been in a decade, with terrorist attacks in Europe, a virtual proxy war bubbling up between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, tense nuclear negotiations with Iran and Sunni radicals redrawing national boundaries in the Middle East.

In this environment, Graham stands relatively alone in clearly presenting a foreign policy vision. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where we need to be,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told TIME. Bolton is contemplating a run for president to keep foreign policy in the national conversation. “Having two paragraphs in a stump speech should not be confused with having a foreign policy,” he said.

Some would-be candidates have talked about foreign policy more than others. On Sunday evening at a panel hosted by a group affiliated with the Koch brothers, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, had as much criticism for the governors as he had for ideological rival Sen. Rand Paul, who has presented a more modest vision of U.S. power abroad. “Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said, in apparent reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was at the Koch event and is planning a trip to the United Kingdom next month.

Similarly, Mitt Romney has made clear that foreign policy will be a central theme of his third run, should he choose to continue with the race. “The President’s dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst,” Romney said Wednesday, in a speech before students in Mississippi.

But other Republicans, especially the deep bench of governors with White House ambitions, have yet to find their footing. Instead of offering a vision, they have been focused on schooling themselves in the arts of international trade craft.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been receiving briefings by a team including Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. Trade Representative, and Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and Romney campaign advisor. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been soliciting briefings from foreign and domestic policy experts for more than a year to study up for a second campaign. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has co-authored a hawkish foreign policy white paper last year with former Sen. Jim Talent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who launched his political organization this week, is expected to start receiving policy briefings in the next several weeks, with Marc Thiessen, the American Enterprise Institute scholar—and co-author of Walker’s book—expected to play a key role.

The former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, supported his brother’s foreign policy while in office, but has rarely spoken out on more recent threats. Last month he called for strengthening, rather than weakening, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, for instance. It is not clear whether he has started formal briefings, but he has been reaching out to an array of experts in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the calls.

Some Senate aides have pointed out that the state leaders could find themselves at a steep disadvantage in the general election. “We need someone who can credibly push back against Hillary Clinton’s failed record,” said an aide to one Senator eyeing the White House. “And the governors can’t do that.”

But governors may also have an advantage, not having their foreign policy so clearly defined before they run. Paul has been largely defined as an isolationist, while Rubio and Graham are affiliated with neo-conservatives, and Ted Cruz is has taken a hawkish line on many issues but favors budget cuts to defense programs.

“We don’t know very much of the foreign policy viewpoints of Jeb, Christie, and Walker,” said a veteran Republican policy aide to presidential candidates. “They have an opportunity to formulate and articulate the worldview that makes the most sense given time and space.”

That strategy works better if no one is forcing foreign policy questions into the debate at this early point in the cycle. In other words, a good day for Lindsey Graham, who enjoys easy access to the national press off the Senate floor, may be a bad one for many of his rivals in the months to come.

TIME 2016 Election

Sarah Palin and Donald Trump Are Not Running for President

Sarah Palin Meets With Donald Trump In New York During Her Bus Tour
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Former U.S. Vice presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Donald Trump walk towards a limo after leaving Trump Tower at 56th Street and 5th Avenue on May 31, 2011 in New York City.

Despite what you might have heard, there is a big difference between a presidential campaign and a reality show.

Anyone can say they are running for President. Just ask Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

“I have that fire in my belly,” Palin told Fox News. “That’s sort of my problem.” Trump was not far behind. “I can tell you this,” he told a crowd of conservative activists. “If I run and if I win, this country will be respected again.”

Both reality television stars spoke those words in 2011, in what proved to be low-cost feints designed to drum up national attention and raise their profiles before the last presidential campaign. Now they are at it again, with what appears to be a nearly identical playbook. In Iowa over the weekend, both described the same unquantifiable assertion of mental effort—”seriously considering”—to characterize their relationship to becoming a candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

There is no evidence that either is any more serious about an actual campaign this time—no fundraising, no staff hires, no grassroots organizing in early states. But both have the same incentives to make the nation, and the political press corps, think differently. And the political press corps, struggling at the moment to interest a nation exhausted with politics in another 20-month campaign, has an incentive to write about Palin and Trump, who truth be told are simply more fun than actual presidential candidates.

A large part of this delight springs from both non-candidates disdain for the political scribblers they court. Trump is well known for personally attacking reporters who doubt his sincerity with school-yard epithets like “loser.” And Palin has increasingly reordered her political worldview around the concept of a “lamestream” media that seeks to undermine the nation, and the decent, God-fearing people who occupy it.

On Saturday, Palin held up an old copy of TIME magazine that carried a cover line “Can Anybody Stop Hillary?,” before interpreting this deliberation on the Democratic nomination fight as an effort to undermine national pride. “The press asks, ‘Can anyone stop Hillary?’ ” she said. “This is to forego a conclusion, right, is to scare us off and convince us that a pantsuit can crush patriots?”

Between the two of them, however, Trump has a far more storied history of propping up and then pulling the football away from political watchers anticipating his candidacy. “I know what needs to be done to make America great again,” Trump said at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, in a speech that also promoted a new Trump-branded hotel being built near the White House. Those words borrowed verbatim from speeches he gave before the 2012 campaign. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Trump is how consistent his messaging has been since he first started flirting with running for President in the 1980s. In 1987, Trump took out full-page ads in several newspapers criticizing the political establishment for its handling of gulf oil states and Japan, stoking speculation that he might join the fray. In 2000, he made moves to win the Reform Party ticket with the same talking points.

If his message has been repetitive, Trump’s policy solutions have varied wildly. In a book that preceded his 2000 non-campaign, he embraced the ides of single-payer healthcare and a one-time 14.25% net worth tax on all Americans worth more than $10 million, two ideas that would horrify most of the people cheering for him in Iowa. (The tax would have exempted net-worth held in primary residences, effectively making Trump’s real estate empire for the wealthy into a new, massive tax shelter.) He has since said he no longer supported either plan.

The timing of Trump’s 2011 campaign tease raised his national profile just as he was finalizing negotiations with NBC News on a new contract for the Celebrity Apprentice. (“I have a big decision to make,” he would say then, of the choice between seeking the Oval Office and evaluating the half-naked selfies of Geraldo Rivera.) Palin launched a multi-state bus tour—she even had the bus wrapped with her mug and signature—raising her profile as a pundit in advance of the campaign. She now sells online subscriptions to her own video network, giving her financial incentive for her publicity even more direct than a book tour.

Just how far Palin and Trump choose go this time down the campaign trail is not possible to predict, though their odds of winning the Republican nomination can be safely handicapped as far more aspirational than practical. Perhaps they might go all the way to a debate stage, if only to prove the skepticism of political reporters wrong. After all, they both have so little to lose, and so much to gain.

 

 

TIME 2016 Election

The Invisible Presidential Campaign Kicks Off in Earnest

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential  Hopefuls
Scott Olson—Getty Images Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Presidential candidates-to-be, and a passel of well-known clingers on, converged in Iowa this weekend with all the flash and fun the nation has come to expect of the Grand Old Party.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina managed substantive introductions, alongside businessman Donald Trump, who declared there is “nobody like Trump,” and Sarah Palin, who struggled with diction and metaphor, offering phrases like “We don’t sit on our thumbs this next time when one of our own is being crucified.”

The real action, however, lay elsewhere, off the stage and out of sight, in an invisible primary taking place behind closed doors in states not known for their place in the nominating calendar. Candidates have been crisscrossing the nation and working the phones, dialing for dollars and loyalty in a contest that may prove far more consequential than speech that can be given before any crowd at this point.

The goal is not to win votes, but to win the support of Republicans like Bobbie Kilberg, who hosted an off-the-record event in Virginia for Christie last week with 96 corporate technology leaders. In recent months, she has taken not one, but two calls from Mitt Romney informing her of her thinking, as he edges toward another campaign. And having worked for the administrations of both Presidents Bush, she feels a special affinity for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose son, George P. Bush, she recently supported in his race for Texas land commissioner.

“I have three wonderful friends in this race,” said Kilberg, who runs the Northern Virginia Technology Council, but supports candidates only in a personal capacity. “My expectation is that all three of them will run.”

But the physics of political fundraising does not allow for her fealty to be equally divided for long. Connecters like Kilberg now face enormous pressure to decide on a single candidate to benefit from their vast Rolodexes. “I think there is enough donor bandwidth for all three of them in the center right lane,” Kilberg explains of the three candidates. “The finite group are the bundlers.”

Securing the 2012 nomination cost Romney $76.6 million, raised in increments up to the legal limit of $2,500. His super PAC, Restore Our Future, which could accept unlimited contributions, added nearly $50 million to the tally.

Operatives affiliated with multiple campaigns say candidates will need at least $50 million to win the nomination this time around, but predict more of the spending will tilt toward the outside groups.

Bush, Romney and Christie are especially squeezed by the fundraising pressures, as their candidacies are set to rely heavily on their predicted ability to match Hillary Clinton’s formidable potential. The early start to the race — candidates are traveling the country earlier and more frequently than ever on the Republican side — adds strain across the board. Complicating matters further are changes to the nominating calendar with fewer debate opportunities and a compressed timeline that favor well-funded candidates once voters get to the polls.

Kilberg and her husband Bill, a prominent Washington lawyer, helped bundle together more than $100,000 in checks of less than $2,000 in 2004 for George W. Bush. In 2012, she helped lead Mitt Romney’s fundraising in Virginia, bringing in a reported $322,000 at just one event at her home. The Tuesday event Kilberg had with Christie and northern Virginia technology executives was not a fundraiser, she said, but a get-to-know-you session.

At almost the same time the event was happening, Bush was meeting in the offices of Dirk Van Dongen, a Republican fundraiser who runs the National Association of Wholesalers. Dongen, a Washington fundraiser for another White House aspirant, Marco Rubio, plans to support Jeb Bush this time, if he runs.

The Bush events were not fundraisers either, though forms were distributed inviting donors to begin bundling for Bush’s new political action committee, Right to Rise. The main purpose, as with the Virginia events, was to win over the networkers who traditionally hold the purse strings of presidential politics. According to people who attended, Bush spoke broadly about his views of the country and the best way to approach the presidential race. He said a winning candidate would have to connect with middle-class anxiety by walking in the shoes of regular people, said one attendee.

“The contrast was obvious,” the attendee said, explaining how Bush appeared to be contrasting himself with Romney’s 2012 campaign. “That’s 100 degrees from the 47% comment.”

Romney, meanwhile, has been reactivating his own donor base, having chosen a donor event in New York early in the month to formally announce his decision to begin pursuing a third presidential campaign. The former private-equity executive has been working the phones since then, telling donors he is serious about considering another bid.

Senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, held his annual retreat for his top donors in Miami over the weekend, a move designed to keep his loyalists close while he considers his options. He later joined fellow Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on stage in Palm Springs at the winter meeting of the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a spending vehicle for the billionaire GOP megadonor Koch brothers and their allies. Also in attendance, after a well-received appearance in Iowa, was Walker, who was making the first stop on a multi-day West Coast fundraising swing for his new fundraising committee, which will be announced as soon as Monday.

While Republican voters have more than a year to decide on the candidate they want to take on Democrats in 2016, the donors clock is ticking. Quarterly fundraising totals, which will come out early this summer and again in the fall, will help shape the race, determining which candidates have the money to mount serious contests, with the grassroots organizing ability and television firepower to withstand the early contests.

“It’s really what we would call in the business a pre-sell,” says a senior Republican strategist about Bush’s visit to Washington this week. “They’ll come back in the next 60 days and do some big fundraising, and they’ll hope to get a lot of those same people to be on their committee.”

For those keeping score, the results of such appeals will be the ones that count, not the applause of activist crowds. In this democratic process, the voices of the people only matter after the first waves of money have been counted.

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