TIME 2016 Election

Influential GOP Group Backs Cruz, Paul and Rubio

U.S. Senator Rubio announces bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during speech in Miami
Joe Skipper–Reuters U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announces his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during a speech in Miami, Fla. on April 13, 2015.

Conservative outside groups could be poised to play a kingmaker role in the 2016 nominating contest

The first three candidates to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination earned rave reviews Thursday from a powerful conservative group.

The Club for Growth, a deep-pocketed network of economic conservatives, published detailed analyses of the voting records of Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio that heaped praise on each of the candidates.

“Cruz, Paul, and Rubio are the real deal,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “We’ve looked at their records and their rhetoric, and they give us hope for the future of the GOP on fiscal policies.”

The verdicts weren’t a surprise. The Club backed each of the candidates in their campaigns for the Senate, and all three have amassed staunchly conservative voting records during their short stints on Capitol Hill. But the rave reviews were a reminder that conservative interest groups are poised to play a kingmaker role in the 2016 nominating contest, pulling candidates to the right in the process.

The Club has long been known for spending large sums to oppose candidates who stray on economic issues. But it is considering a more aggressive role in this year’s GOP primary, including a possible endorsement. In late February the group drew a range of presidential hopefuls — including Cruz, Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — to address a donors’ conclave in Florida.

The group found quibbles with each of the first three candidates, from Cruz and Paul’s support of special tax credits for NASCAR to Rubio’s proposed top marginal tax rate. But overall, it spared little praise for the Senators. “Cruz has shown extraordinary determination in the fight against Obamacare,” McIntosh said. “Paul’s budget proposals are a blueprint for limited government, and Rubio has drafted a massively pro-growth tax cut and reform plan.”

It’s a far cry from the 2012 presidential race, when the group was lukewarm or worse on candidates ranging from Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty to Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. And there will surely be 2016 candidates who don’t fare as well. (Keep an eye out for a withering assessment of Mike Huckabee.) But the first batch of reviews was a early sign that this cycle’s crop of candidates will produce a far more competitive — and potentially just as conservative — race after the yawner of four years ago.

TIME Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina Outlines New GOP Strategy to Talk About Abortion

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor Carly Fiorina speaking at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2015.

Carly Fiorina laid out the new Republican strategy for talking about abortion at an event in Washington Thursday.

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and likely Republican presidential candidate explained how she discusses the issue with female voters, many of whom she said are initially “uncomfortable” with the GOP’s pro-life stance.

Her answer, she says, is always to ask them whether or not they’ve read the Democratic platform on the issue.

“I remind them that it says any abortion, any time, at any point in a woman’s pregnancy for any reason to be paid for by taxpayers and now, some would like to add, to be performed by a non-doctor,” Fiorina said. “A policy succinctly summarized by (Sen.) Barbara Boxer as, ‘It’s not a life until it leaves the hospital.’ How do you feel about this? Women are horrified by that.”

The 2012 Democratic national platform says that it “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.” The Boxer quote, often cited by pro-life activists, comes from a 1999 colloquy on the Senate floor which the California Democrat has said is taken out of context.

Fiorina’s roadmap on the issue tracks other Republican comments. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who recently launched his campaign for the GOP nomination, took a similar tack when answering a question about abortion on the campaign trail.

“You go back and go ask (Democratic National Committee head) Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she’s OK with killing a 7-pound baby that’s just not born yet,” he told a reporter with the Associated Press. “Ask her when life begins, and ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, come back to me.”

Fiorina said that bringing the Democrats into discussions about abortion is a crucial way to make people who may have been skeptical more receptive to the Republican message.

“I don’t expect everyone to agree with my position on everything,” she said. “But I do think when you start to have a conversation in that way and lay out things that maybe people haven’t thought of before, then it is easier to find common ground.”

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie’s Straight Talk Plan Hits Its Tax Speed Bump

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.
Darren McCollester—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.

Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to use straight talk to fight his way back into the 2016 Republican presidential primary has already hit its first snag.

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Republican proposed reducing or cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees who continue to earn money, an idea known as means testing. Under his plan, Social Security checks would be reduced for those who earn more than $80,000 a year in retirement and ended for those who earn more than $200,000.

Christie has framed the proposal as a much-needed burst of truth-telling on America’s entitlement programs. But it has already drawn criticism from some influential conservatives as a roundabout tax on upper-income Americans.

“Is it not, a straight-out wealth tax,” influential conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Christie Tuesday. “It’s a tax on people who accumulated wealth during their life, or inherited it, they might not have earned it, they might have inherited it, but it’s a straight out wealth tax, right?”

Christie defended the plan to Hewitt, saying, “What it is, is a recognition of the fact that this program needs to provide first and foremost for those people who need retirement security the most.”

Taxes are a tricky issue for Christie owing to his record as governor. Despite a no-new-taxes pledge as a candidate in 2010, he cut property tax breaks for many New Jersey residents shortly after taking office to close a budget shortfall—effectively increasing their rates. He also raised fees for many state services.

Asked by a reporter Wednesday whether he would be open to raising any revenues at the federal level, Christie said he would listen to all proposals.

“Listen, I think we need to change the tax system significantly,” he said, adding, “As I’ve said in New Jersey, I always consider everything. Everything is on the table for conversation. But I don’t think that the problem right now in America is that we are under-taxed.”

But even his openness to considering revenue increases puts him outside GOP orthodoxy, where signing the Americans for Tax Reform “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” pledge has become the norm. Christie has not signed the pledge, according to a database maintained by the group. (He’s not alone. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also said he would not sign the pledge, drawing criticism from some conservatives who are still unhappy about his father’s record as president.)

It also breaks with recent history. In 2012, all of the Republican presidential candidates unanimously pledged to veto any deficit reduction plan that raised new revenues, even if 10 times the amount taken in was cut from the budget.

Christie has not exactly endorsed the idea of raising taxes, but for some conservatives, anything but all-out opposition signals squishiness on the issue. Still, he framed his thinking on the issue as more straight talk.

“I am a guy who is always willing to listen to anybody, but let me be clear, I don’t believe the problem we have in America right now is that we’re under-taxed,” Christie repeated. “And so the fact of the matter is when you’re a leader, you have to be willing to listen to everybody’s ideas, but my ideas, I’ve laid out very specifically how to fix the programs, which doesn’t include raising taxes. That’s not the way to fix this problem.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist defended Christie Wednesday in an email to TIME, praising him as a acolyte of President Reagan.

“To date Christie has opposed and vetoed all tax hikes in New Jersey,” Norquist said. “Reducing a benefit is not a tax hike. Shame on any conservative who confuses spending cuts and tax increases. For a Northeast Republican he is very Reaganite.”

TIME

Morning Must Reads: April 16

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Meet the 2015 TIME 100

Here are the most influential people in the world: the titans, pioneers, artists, icons and leaders who are shaping the future. “We tell 100 stories of individual influence,” managing editor Nancy Gibbs writes. “But taken together, these stories are an anthem to interaction, the convergence that occurs when you harmonize a good idea”

Tsarnaev’s Family Speaks

Members of the Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s family tell TIME they tried in vain to dismiss his defense lawyers

ISIS Launches New Offensive

ISIS launched an offensive Wednesday in Iraq’s western Anbar province, capturing three villages near the provincial capital of Ramadi

Here’s Why Wi-Fi on Planes Could Lead to Disaster

The U.S. Government Accountability Office says new aircraft may be susceptible to having inflight computer systems hacked by terrorists through onboard wi-fi networks or remotely. Passenger wi-fi, it said, was “a direct link between the aircraft and the outside world”

Pakistan Could Charge CIA Officials With Murder Over Drones

A judge in Pakistan has ordered police to formally investigate former CIA agents for allegedly authorizing a 2009 drone strike. It may mark the first time that U.S. citizens have been charged with murder, under Pakistan’s penal code, for covert drone strikes

U.N. Envoy to Yemen Resigns

The U.N. envoy to Yemen has resigned, citing an interest in “another assignment.” Jamal Benomar, who has served as the U.N. Secretary-General’s special envoy to the Middle Eastern country since 2012, reportedly quit due to lack of support from Gulf countries

Morris Scores in 1st U.S. Start in 2-0 Win Over Mexico

Jordan Morris made a loud statement in his first start for the U.S. national team against his country’s biggest and most bitter rival. The 20-year-old Stanford sophomore scored his first international goal early in the second half

Netflix Membership Soars Past 60 Million

The online-video-streaming company’s growth continued last quarter as revenue jumped 24% and membership surpassed 60 million global users. Netflix reported $1.57 billion in quarterly revenue, in line with analyst predictions

Aaron Hernandez Gets Life in Prison

Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the downfall of an athlete who once had a $40 million contract and a standout career ahead of him

Chris Christie Pins Hopes for Comeback on Straight Talk

Dogged by lower approval ratings at home and overshadowed by Republican rivals, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is pinning his still unannounced campaign’s prospects on straight talk, hoping his unscripted moments will help revive his presidential ambitions

Gisele Retires After 20 Years on the Runway

The supermodel, who has two children with NFL-quarterback husband Tom Brady, says she is leaving to spend more time with her family but plans to continue to work in the fashion industry, likely as a designer. She already has her own line of flip-flops and lingerie

Michael Phelps Will Aim for 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio

The gold medalist swimmer said Wednesday that he will try to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, marking the the first time Phelps has publicly committed to trying for the Games

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TIME 2016 Election

Clinton Foundation Will Still Accept Foreign Donations From 6 Countries

Future donations will only be allowed from six governments

(WASHINGTON) — The board of the Clinton Foundation says it will continue accepting donations from foreign governments but only six nations, a move aimed at insulating presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton from controversies over the charity’s reliance on millions of dollars from abroad.

Clinton resigned from the foundation’s board last week amid criticism over the charity’s ties to foreign governments.

Foundation officials said Wednesday night that future donations will only be allowed from the governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. All have supported the charity’s health, poverty and climate change programs.

Other nations could continue participating in a subsidiary program, the Clinton Global Initiative, which doesn’t require direct donations.

The foundation also will begin disclosing its donors every quarter instead of annually.

TIME Marco Rubio

Why Marco Rubio’s Presidential Bid Makes Republicans Nervous

U.S. Senator Rubio announces bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during speech in Miami
Joe Skipper–Reuters U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announces his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during a speech in Miami, Fla. on April 13, 2015.

It throws a costly, competitive Senate race up for grabs

When he announced his campaign for President on Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio noted that not everyone in his party was thrilled about the idea. “I have heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn,” the Florida Republican told supporters gathered at Miami’s Freedom Tower.

Rubio wasn’t just alluding to critics who question his decision to run for the White House while still in his first term in the Senate. He was also talking about some of his allies on Capitol Hill, who were tracking his deliberations for an entirely different reason.

The freshman Senator, 43, is also up for re-election in 2016. And when he jumped into the race for the White House, Rubio reaffirmed his decision not to defend his Senate seat. “If you’ve decided that you want to serve this country as its president, that’s what you should be running for,” he explained to NPR in the wake of his campaign launch.

Rubio’s decision to ditch the Senate puts the GOP in a bit of a bind. Republicans recaptured the chamber last fall, but in 2016 they will be defending 24 seats to the Democrats’ 10. With a shaky majority and an unforgiving electoral map this go-round, the GOP was counting on Rubio — a proven fundraiser with name recognition and some cross-party appeal — to win re-election in one of the nation’s few true swing states.

Instead Republicans now seem destined for a contested primary and competitive general election that will force them to spend extravagantly to keep the seat. “It’s a problem,” says a former senior official with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). “The challenge that Rubio presents is that there’s a $20 million hole that was just blown in the NRSC budget.”

To skirt this problem, some Republicans quietly sought to persuade Rubio to stay in the Senate, arguing he faced an uphill contest against former Gov. Jeb Bush, a fellow Floridian who has been soaking up the support and largesse of the party’s most powerful donors. If strategists in Washington fretted about shelling out millions to protect the seat, some GOP operatives and donors in the Sunshine State were shocked Rubio would run against Bush, who remains a dominant figure in the state and whom Rubio has described as a mentor.

“There’s a lot of angst about him running” for President, says one veteran Republican consultant, who believes Rubio’s bid for the Oval Office is a long shot. “He would’ve held onto the [Senate] seat. He’s a terrific fundraiser, and it probably wouldn’t have been as competitive.”

Republicans have a deep bench in Florida. “Florida Republicans have consistently demonstrated a proven capacity to win statewide races and we look forward to electing another strong Republican like Senator Rubio,” says Kevin McLaughlin, deputy executive director of the NRSC. But the GOP Senate campaign arm may struggle to recruit a candidate of comparable strength. Already two top potential candidates, state chief financial officer Jeff Atwater and former state House speaker Will Weatherford, have passed on the race.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has announced a run for the Democratic nomination. In the absence of Rubio, the race could be one of the nation’s toughest. Last month the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling surveyed hypothetical match-ups between eight leading prospective contenders from both parties; on average, the Democrat led by less than one point. Rubio, in contrast, was running well ahead of top Democratic rivals.

That’s why some Republicans are holding out hope that he reconsiders his decision if his presidential run fails to gather steam. As Rubio has noted, Florida election law bars a candidate from running for two offices on the same ballot. But the filing deadline to jump into the Senate race isn’t until May 2016, leaving plenty of time to test the waters in Iowa and New Hampshire. It would hardly be an unusual strategy. Fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul is running for re-election in Kentucky as he mounts a bid for the White House after lobbying the state party to change its election laws to allow him to do both.

But Rubio has always been a man in a hurry, and as he’s confessed to allies, the Senate’s sclerosis has frustrated him. This dissatisfaction with the job helps explain why he’s ready to relinquish it for a shot at the presidency. And some longtime Florida political hands argue Rubio’s stock in the GOP primary is undervalued.

“There were a lot of Republicans who were shocked, at times even indignant, that Marco would step out of line,” says Steve Schale, a Florida Democratic strategist who served as a top adviser to both of Barack Obama’s Florida campaigns. “I’m in the camp that thinks he’s going to do better than most people have been saying.”

With reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke J. Miller

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie Pins Hopes for Revival on Straight Talk

Chris Christie
Jim Cole—AP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. takes a questions during a town hall meeting with area residents in Londonderry, N.H., April 15, 2015.

For Chris Christie, it was a do-over of sorts. Laura Condon, a New Hampshire anti-vaccination activist, took the microphone at the Londonderry Lions Club to ask the New Jersey Governor if he would stand with conscientious objectors who want to opt out of vaccinating their children.

“Yeah, no, you can’t count on me for that,” the shirt-sleeved New Jersey governor said without missing a beat, surrounded by applauding voters in the first in the nation primary.

It was a much different response than he gave when a reporter asked Christie during a February trip to England. Then, his off-the-cuff remarks about balancing parent choice and public health led to criticism and a quick walk-back by his staff back in New Jersey.

But if Christie’s presidential ambitions can be hurt by his unscripted moments, he also hopes they’ll help revive his campaign. Dogged by lower approval ratings at home and overshadowed by his Republican rivals, Christie is pinning his still-unannounced campaign’s prospects on straight talk.

Wednesday’s event was the kick-off of his “Tell It Like It Is” tour, designed to put Christie into the fray in town halls, restaurants and rec centers across the Granite State.

Christie’s presidential ambitions depend on his success in interactions like this, modeled after former Sen. John McCain’s two successful primary campaigns in the state. He and his political aides are betting it all on his ability to break through in New Hampshire, as he seeks to resurrect his presidential ambitions following the fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and a tough fiscal climate in New Jersey.

The town hall is Christie’s preferred format at home, where on Thursday he will hold his 135th since taking office, though they often feature high-octane interactions with those that disagree with him. Christie brought his swagger to New Hampshire, but he didn’t need it. He faced a capacity crowd of friendly faces, even dispensing his ritualistic recitation of his four rules for town halls, including the warning that “if you give it, you are getting it right back.”

And it worked on the vaccination critic.

“He was pretty harsh with his answer, but I don’t think he was disrespectful toward me,” Condon told reporters after the 90-minute event, crediting him with being “strong in his opinions.”

The interaction highlighted Christie’s core strength as a politician and all-but-certain presidential candidate—his confidence interacting with voters one-on-one, on topics of their choosing is second-to-none in the Republican field. Christie and his political aides are betting it all on his ability to break through in New Hampshire, as he seeks to resurrect his presidential ambitions following the fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and a tough fiscal climate in New Jersey.

On Wednesday, he faced questions on his new plan to reform Social Security and Medicare, the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran, and the rising cost of college tuition.

“We need to start having a national conversation with out colleges and universities about cost-control,” he said using his own family as an example. His eldest son and daughter are students at Princeton and Notre Dame respectively, and Christie said his tuition bills next year would top $120,000, drawing gasps from the audience. He suggested that future federal grant money be tied to schools’ commitment to keep education affordable.

He delivered a detailed response to a question about campaign finance reform, saying he believes that the best solution to repairing a broken system to allow unlimited donations with immediate disclosure.

“There shouldn’t be any restrictions on who can give how much to whom,” he said, “But there needs to be 24 hour absolute giving out of that information on the internet of who you are taking that money from.”

And he earned a round of chuckles mocking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose campaign and its affiliates are looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion to send her to the White House. “But she wants to then get the corrupting money out of politics…,” he said, referencing her promise to do the same in Iowa on Tuesday.

On his entitlement plan, which would raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security and means-test the programs, Christie sought to reassure a room heavy with seniors that his plan wouldn’t affect current or near-term beneficiaries. He added that some advisors tried to convince him not to give speech about entitlements yesterday, owing to Social Security’s mythical status as a ‘third rail’ of American politics. “I have to say this stuff because it’s true,” Christie said, earning another round of applause.

On immigration reform, Christie said he would prioritize border enforcement, but that building a border wall “sends a bad signal about who we are as a people.” He added that the debate over a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status is only prolonging immigration reform efforts.

“So let’s stop having this argument about a path to citizenship, because most of the folks that I’ve met want to work,” he said, not vote.

Former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald said the performance reminded him of McCain’s 2000 and 2008 “straight talk,” which propelled him to victory in both primaries.

“New Hampshire is about retail politics—it’s about events like this one,” MacDonald, who has yet to endorse a candidate, told TIME. “The candidates who appreciate that process are the ones that do well and are the most successful, and certainly Gov. Christie demonstrated that today.”

Before the town hall, Christie visited Chez Vachon, the Manchester diner that has hosted dozens of presidential contenders over the years, where he was playfully ribbed by a table of seniors about the bridge closing and the ending of the HBO drama The Sopranos.

On Friday, Christie will be back in New Hampshire for another town hall at an Exeter sportsbar. “We’re doing a town hall meeting in a bar, because a guy from Jersey should do a town hall meeting in a bar,” Christie joked. The crowd ate it up.

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie Takes a Swing at Jeb Bush

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.
Darren McCollester—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for not providing more specifics on his foreign policy views, his most direct critique yet of his better-funded Republican rival.

In an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Wednesday, Christie was asked whether he agrees with the Bush family record and its approach to foreign and domestic policy. “I’ll wait to see what Jeb is going to have to say about these things,” Christie said. “He’s certainly got a father and brother who have a record. And I don’t know what Jeb Bush is going to say about foreign policy.”

“The one speech that he’s given so far I thought was rather general and didn’t really give you any great insight into what he wanted to do,” he continued. “So let’s see what he’s got to say for himself. In the end, his record, and more importantly his vision for what the future is going to be is what is going to determine how credible of a candidate he is.”

Bush leads Christie both in fundraising and in national and early state polling.

Christie, who held his first town hall in New Hampshire Wednesday, noted that on Tuesday he delivered a policy speech on entitlement reform, the first of four addresses in the coming months. His foreign policy speech has yet to be scheduled.

“So if I decide to run for president, you can conclude that it’s because I believe that I’d be a better candidate for our party and a better president than Jeb Bush or anybody else who decided to run,” Christie added.

TIME Congress

Former Donors Sue Disgraced Congressman Aaron Schock

Congressman Expenses
Ron Johnson—AP U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., gives a news conference regarding his recent spending controversies outside his office in Peoria, Ill. March 6, 2015.

Some of former Rep. Aaron Schock’s donors are suing him, arguing that he misrepresented himself as an honest and ethical politician during his campaign.

The class-action lawsuit seeks refunds for thousands of the Illinois Republican’s donors who were allegedly swindled by a “campaign full of corruption and lies about his integrity,” according to a statement by the plaintiffs’ law firm, Hagens Berman.

Schock was accused of improperly using taxpayer money to take a private jet to a Chicago Bears game, using campaign money for a duty-free shopping spree in Buenos Aires and a number of other colorful scandals. The Justice Department has already launched a criminal investigation.

Filed on April 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the lawsuit is based on racketeering and common-law fraud, among other things. But political lawyers are skeptical about the legal reasoning, noting that campaign donations are not guarantees.

“By definition, campaign contributions must be ‘donations’ unaccompanied by any expectation of a ‘quid pro quo’ return,” said Stefan Passantino, head of McKenna Long & Aldridge’s political law team.

Craig Engle, founder of the Arent Fox political law group, said that donors can ask for a refund if they gave money for a race the candidate never ended up running or if they accidentally gave too much (for example, a donor who gave $2,800 in a race where donations are legally capped at $2,600 is entitled to a $200 refund).

“I think what you have here is a moral obligation that the congressman has a lot of explaining to do, but certifying a class action of donors and giving them a right to a refund under the racketeering statutes, I don’t see that going forward,” he said.

Passantino agreed. “My impression is that this document reads more as a political document for public consumption than anything,” he said. “The investigation and enforcement of these allegations belongs with the (Federal Election Commission) and the Justice Department Public Integrity Section.”

Read next: Meghan McCain: Aaron Schock Embarrassed and Betrayed Millennial Republicans

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TIME Opinion

Another Similarity Between Lincoln and Obama: They Polarized the Nation

Abraham Lincoln portrait
Stock Montage / Getty Images Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) posed for a formal portrait, mid-19th century.

Lincoln was a lightning rod—and Obama is too

Americans yearn for an end to political polarization and partisanship, and many today fault President Obama for failing to achieve consensus on his major initiatives: health care, immigration reform, foreign policy and so on. But consider Abraham Lincoln. From their state of origin to their legal backgrounds, the two presidents have drawn many comparisons, and here’s another: Despite his various efforts at outreach, our sixteenth president was, in life, an intensely polarizing and partisan figure, every bit as polarizing and partisan as our current president.

Lincoln’s presidency, which ended exactly 150 years ago today, sharply differed from the experience of his predecessors. Before Lincoln, five presidents had won a second term: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson. Each had carried both North and South in at least one of his presidential bids. By contrast, Lincoln was purely a regional candidate, despised by intense majorities in a large chunk of the country. In 1860, he received zero popular votes south of Virginia, and in 1864, none of the 11 states in Dixie held a valid presidential election, thanks to sectional war precipitated by Lincoln’s prior election. Even Lincoln’s assassination was related to regional differences: John Wilkes Booth was an intense southern partisan.

In the ensuing century and a half, many of America’s most successful presidents have managed to achieve considerable popularity in both North and South. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all outdid Lincoln in this regard. But our current president won, twice, by following a more emphatically Lincolnian path to power—that is, a distinctly northern route: Of the 11 states in the former confederacy, Obama lost eight twice, and lost a ninth (North Carolina) once, prevailing twice only in Virginia and Florida.

In our era, as in Lincoln’s, regional polarization is on the upswing. Prior to 1850, the winning presidential candidate typically carried both North and South. But that pattern broke down in the 1850s, even before Lincoln rose to national prominence; and a similar fate has befallen Obama. At the presidential level the North and the South have backed different candidates in every one of the six most recent elections; and many states are becoming increasingly red or blue, presidentially. In 2012, only four swing states—Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia—were close enough to be decided by fewer than five points.

If we shift gears from regional polarization to political polarization, Lincoln and Obama once again appear as political doubles. Both made efforts to reach across the aisle. For example, Lincoln, a Republican, chose a former Democrat, Edwin Stanton, to serve as Secretary of War. Democrat Obama has symmetrically chosen Republicans Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel to fill the same slot, now renamed the Secretary of Defense. Still, Lincoln’s signature executive accomplishments were at risk in a judiciary dominated by appointees of the opposite political party; the same remains true for Obama. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, every single congressional Democrat voted against the Fourteenth Amendment, which codified Lincoln’s dream of birthright equality of all citizens; almost never before had America seen such 100% polarization. In our era, every single congressional Republican likewise opposed Obama’s signature health care plan.

But even on the topics where his proposals were most radical, Lincoln’s opponents’ arguments have not aged well. Shortly before his death, he signed a proposed constitutional amendment providing for an end to American slavery—immediately and with no financial compensation to slaveholders. Nothing like this had ever happened in any American jurisdiction where slavery was widespread. In 1860, less than 1% of America’s black population voted on equal terms. In 1870, all racial disfranchisement was constitutionally forbidden, building on another suggestion made by Lincoln himself in his last public speech, just days before he died.

That level of equality had been a new public stance for Lincoln, a break from his more cautious early views, much as Obama has only recently evolved to a position of open embrace of same-sex marriage. If the Supreme Court later this year constitutionalizes this egalitarian vision, following the lead of the latest lanky lawyer from Illinois to occupy the Oval Office, the decision will likely trigger howls of protest. These howls are likely to be loudest in those regions that hated Lincoln and all that he stood for when he was still standing. But Lincoln’s example should remind us that contemporary controversy does not necessarily mean that the judgment of history will be equivocal. Lincoln’s vision of racial equality has been vindicated by posterity; and the same seems highly likely for Obama’ vision of sexual-orientation equality. As Mark Twain is said to have noted, history never repeats itself—but it sometimes rhymes.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Akhil Reed Amar is a professor of law at Yale and author of the newly released book, The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of our Constitutional Republic.

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