TIME 2016 Election

Why Josh Duggar’s Past Will Hurt Social Conservatives

Many movement leaders have been close to the reality star now accused of child molestation

As a reality-TV star famous for being part of a large conservative family, Josh Duggar had a public visibility that made him attractive to advocacy groups hoping he could spotlight their shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Now, as he responds to accusations of child molestation as a teenager, that same visibility could hurt the cause.

A police report detailed grim accusations against Duggar, one of the stars of TLC’s series 19 Kids and Counting. According to the newly released report, Duggar, the oldest child, allegedly sexually molested five minors, when he was 15. Jim Bob Duggar, his father, did not report the incidents to police for more than a year.

The political reaction was swift. Duggar, now 27, resigned from his role at the Family Research Council on Thursday, the same day the report was released owing to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, hired Duggar to lead Family Research Council Action, the group’s lobbying arm, in 2013. Duggar was 25, a young, popular TV star who poised to help advance the conservative evangelical political platform. “Josh and his wife Anna have been an inspiration to millions of Americans who regularly tune in to see the Duggar family’s show, and all of us at Family Research Council and FRC Action have long appreciated their commitment to the profamily movement,” Perkins said at the time.

But Duggar worked to be more than a pop-culture icon, he was a favored son in social-conservative politics. He served on two presidential campaigns, Mike Huckabee’s in 2008 and Rick Santorum’s in 2012, and during the recent midterms he campaigned for Senate candidates in Kansas, Mississippi and Virginia. Politics were also part of his upbringing. His father Jim Bob served two terms in the Arkansas house of representatives (1998–2002) and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002, around the time of the allegations against his son.

Josh Duggar focused his work at FRC Action on grassroots outreach, frequently fighting to keep the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. He was at the Supreme Court for arguments on same-sex marriage in April and helped to lead the March for Marriage rally in Washington that week. In December he campaigned, successfully, against an LGBT nondiscrimination measure in Arkansas that he said put children at risk. He tweeted that Islam attacked women. He said his family was the “epitome of conservative values.”

Conservative GOP candidates valued Duggar as a way to advance their agenda and leverage his constituents. He has tweeted photos of him with nearly all the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls — Huckabee, Santorum, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, to name just some in his timeline — and countless representatives, Senators, governors and operatives, from Senator James Lankford to Sarah Palin to GOP head Reince Priebus. He retweeted politicians who promoted FRC Action’s agenda, and challenged others who stood against it. Just last week he pushed hard on social media to promote the U.S. House’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and tweeted at Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “Sorry, but you’re the one lacking compassion.”

But what was Duggar’s political value for Family Research Council, his moral example, has now become a cost. The group has looked to the 2016 elections as an opportunity to advance their cause, especially since there are so many candidates with similar values on family and marriage. Perkins also currently leads the Council for National Policy, a group that quietly seeks to vet candidates. Plus, everyone is bracing for the Supreme Court to decide a landmark gay-marriage case in late June, and the Family Research Council has been at the forefront of working to stop the spread of gay marriage.

That entire agenda is now compromised, and the Family Research Council has to pick up the pieces. Perkins issued a statement Thursday night, saying that the group was previously unaware of Duggar’s past, and that Duggar himself made the decision to resign because he realized “that the situation will make it difficult for him to be effective in his current work.” In the statement, Perkins agreed: “We believe this is the best decision for Josh and his family at this time.”

The Family Research Council will have to find a new executive director for its lobbying arm, and attempt to recover the ground lost from this setback. FRC Action has also removed Duggar’s information from its website. (His bio on FRC Action’s website stated: “Drawing from his unique experiences in family, entertainment, politics and business, Josh seeks to use his God-given platform to encourage others to be engaged in the political process.”)

Reactions from the conservative side still remain to be seen. Huckabee became one of the first politicians to back Duggar on Friday morning. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are, as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” he wrote on Facebook. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

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TIME 2016 Election

Why New Hampshire Will Be the First Real Test for Republicans

Reporters use their mobile phones to record potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as he answers questions after a business roundtable in Portsmouth, N.H. on May 20, 2015.
Brian Snyder—Reuters Reporters use their mobile phones to record potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as he answers questions after a business roundtable in Portsmouth, N.H. on May 20, 2015.

Bob Beckett takes his duty to vet presidential candidates in the nation’s first primary so seriously that it’s listed as his profession on his business card: “Registered New Hampshire Voter.”

He might want to have a few more printed up next year. The Granite State primary is poised to play an even bigger role than usual in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, possibly overshadowing the Iowa caucuses one week earlier.

In part, that’s because Iowa voters have lurched to the right, and the unusually large Republican field has more than a few candidates laying the groundwork to win big there, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Each is climbing over his rivals trying to claim the most conservative corner.

That’s led to candidates who are seen as more moderate, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York Gov. George Pataki to pin their hopes on New Hampshire, while the would-be Iowa winners aim for a repeat win. And the states that follow soon after already have home-state figures starting with an advantage: South Carolina is Sen. Lindsey Graham’s home turf, while Florida is a base for both Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

With a broader slate of candidates competing in a more wide-open primary, New Hampshire could play a more crucial role winnowing the field. And for now, at least, it’s anyone’s game. Beckett, a 60-year-old sales manager for a technology company, said New Hampshire residents are still shopping around.

“We’re still kicking the tires,” he said, after a recent event in Bedford, N.H. “We vet these guys and figure out who is serious and who is not.”

From a purely logistical point of view, New Hampshire is an easier state to campaign in. Most of the population lives in the southern part of the state, requiring far less driving than Iowa’s expansive stretches between cities. And for the candidates with day jobs in Washington, it’s a quick flight north from the capital.

The state’s politics also make it more of a jump ball for presidential candidates.

Voters who do not identify with either major political party are the largest bloc in the state, and they can cast ballots in either party’s primary. That gives non-affiliated voters a great say in the winner and offers a preview of a candidate’s appeal with ever-crucial swing votes. To win in Iowa, many candidates have taken deeply conservative positions that come back to haunt them as nominees.

“Independents get to vote in our primary. It’s a better test of your general election strength,” said Steve Duprey, a former state GOP chairman who helped guide Sen. John McCain to his 2000 and 2008 victories in the state’s vaunted primary. “We have a broader range of views in the Republican Party than our cousins in Iowa.”

The Hawkeye State’s GOP has been dragged rightward in recent years. A strain of anti-immigration rhetoric has taken hold there, imperiling candidates who have backed proposals to address the more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. That spells nothing but a headache for Bush, along with two expected rivals who were the architects of the failed, bipartisan attempt to fix the immigration system: Graham and Rubio.

And Iowa’s deeply religious conservatives demand an orthodoxy that rewards candidates such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, 2012’s caucus winner, or Huckabee, who prevailed in 2008. New Hampshire, by contrast, is consistently among the most secular in the country in Gallup polling.

Instead, New Hampshire’s unofficial religion is politics.

“People here in New Hampshire know that it’s their civic duty. It’s what we do,” said Renee Plummer, a marketing executive who has organized luncheons for White House hopefuls to meet with business leaders. “We vet these people. We ask them the questions again and again, and hopefully we do it well for the country.”

History backs up that claim. Only three times since 1952 has the GOP nominee not carried New Hampshire. Iowa, by contrast, is a relatively new recent beachhead for the GOP. And since 1980, the state has four times backed candidates who failed to win the nomination.

It has become a cliché, for sure, but there is something to the refrain that Iowa picks corn while New Hampshire picks presidents.

It’s why Beckett and his neighbors crowded into a house near Manchester this week to hear Bush answer their questions about climate change, foreign policy and education.

“It’s just another day in New Hampshire,” host Rich Ashooh quipped to his guests who packed his living room to hear Bush.

Given the importance of New Hampshire, voters in the state should expect frequent visits from these likely candidates.

“I’m going to engage fully in New Hampshire,” Bush promised a talk-radio interviewer on Thursday as he drove between events.

While nodding to Iowa, it was clear Bush was betting big on New Hampshire: “These early states matter.”

TIME ted cruz

Ted Cruz Courts Conservative Pastors at Private Gathering

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz greets supporters at the Georgia Republican Convention in Athens, Ga. on May 15, 2015.
David Goldman—AP Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz greets supporters at the Georgia Republican Convention in Athens, Ga. on May 15, 2015.

In a bid for the support of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party, Sen. Ted Cruz spoke to a private gathering of 600 conservative pastors and their wives Thursday morning in Washington.

The Texas Republican was the only 2016 presidential hopeful to speak at the annual “Watchmen on the Wall” conference, held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. His remarks focused almost exclusively on the idea that religious liberty is under attack.

“The modern Democratic Party has become so radical, so extreme, that they have determined that their devotion to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states trumps any allegiance to religious liberty under the First Amendment,” Cruz told the ballroom. “We’ve got an obligation, as this conference recognizes, to be watchmen on the wall.”

The Watchmen on the Wall briefing is sponsored by the Family Research Council to connect pastors with policy and legislation. The group has more than doubled in size since the last year—there are now more the 38,000 Watchmen pastors in the U.S., up from 16,000 in 2014, according to the Family Research Council. Last year, the group told TIME it wanted to grow the Watchmen to 40,000 pastors by 2015 in advance of the 2016 election.

Cruz’s father Rafael, a pastor with strong conservative evangelical ties, introduced him—“hopefully the next president of the United States”—to the group after joking to Family Research Council leadership that he expects “to be sleeping the Lincoln bedroom.” Last year, Rafael Cruz gave a speech to the Watchmen on the five principles of whom the Bible tells them to vote for. “My son will not compromise his principles in Washington,” he reminded the crowd on Thursday.

In his remarks, Ted Cruz portrayed religion in America as under “assault” and referenced “heartbreaking” religious freedom battles in Indiana and Arkansas, where state lawmakers backed down from laws that critics said would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

He also used the moment to set himself apart as a candidate for president. “Let me tell you something that was even sadder, was just how many Republicans ran for the hills,” he said. “I’ll point out some of the Republicans running in 2016 were nowhere to be found when Indiana was being fought. I will tell you this—I will always, always, always stand and fight for religious liberty of every American.”

The audience erupted in applause. Cruz clapped along with them. Someone started blowing a shofar, a traditionally Jewish liturgical instrument often made from the horn of a ram.

 

Cruz also touted his experience as solicitor general in Texas fighting against atheists at the Supreme Court and defending a veterans’ cross memorial in the Mojave Desert. And he attacked the White House’s response to ISIS—“They are crucifying Christians….They are beheading children. You cannot win a war on radical Islamic terrorism with a president who is unwilling to utter the words, radical Islamic terrorism”—and aligned himself instead with Pope Francis, who has called for these Christians to be protected.

Cruz received at least three standing ovations during his 24-minute talk. He urged the pastors to influence their churches and networks to vote. He claimed that 45 million evangelical Christians do not vote, and that their votes are needed to get America back on track. “God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said. “You are warriors spreading the truth. The truth will set us free.”

Cruz took the stage after Wayne Grudem, a theology professor at the evangelical Phoenix Seminary known for his teachings that men have spiritual leadership over women. Grudem compared Family Research Council president Tony Perkins to Martin Luther King Jr., saying Perkins is a modern day King for standing up for Christian beliefs against the government. Earlier in the morning, the Family Research Council’s vice president of church ministries, Kenyn Cureton, spoke against gay marriage and led the crowd in a rousing chant of “I am a soldier of the cross. Here I stand!”

Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise was scheduled to follow Cruz, but was delayed to votes. Other speakers at the three-day event include Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

TIME Republican Party

Republicans Prepare for Painstaking Nomination Fight

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013.
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013.

It could be like the Obama-Clinton fight of 2008, only with more candidates

After Mitt Romney’s bruising nomination fight in 2012, Republican Party officials changed the rules in an effort to streamline the 2016 primaries. But the increased influence of super PACs and an unusually deep bench of candidates mean the changes could have the opposite effect intended.

Several Republican presidential hopefuls are already preparing for a long, blistering and potentially inconclusive nominating fight that could go all the way to the national convention.

“The rules were designed to make it more of a contest so that more states and activists are engaged in the process—and that’s definitely going to happen,” says Steve Duprey, the New Hampshire National Committeeman who helped to shepherd the rules changes through in 2012 and 2013. “The bad news is, this campaign is likely to go on longer than we’ve seen in a long time.”

Republican Party officials blamed a broken primary process in 2012 for contributing to Romney’s defeat and set about changing the party rules to keep it from happening again.

The committee shortened the calendar between the first caucus and the last primary, required the binding of delegates in primaries and caucuses and raised the bar for nominating candidates on the convention floor, requiring a nominee to win the majority of eight state or territory delegations. The idea was that a compressed timetable would favor better-funded candidates, while keeping lesser candidates from making a scene in Cleveland.

But three years later, the primary will be playing out in a very different stage, one where a massive crop of candidates with huge sums of unlimited cash have little incentive to exit early. Party operatives and campaign aides are predicting a longer, more intense contest next year than in 2012. They believe it will be more akin to the Obama-Clinton fight in 2008—a slow state-by-state contest to rack up delegates—only with a lot more candidates remaining competitive.

On paper, the RNC’s efforts will shorten the time from the Iowa Caucuses to when the nominee clinches a majority of delegates—primarily accomplished by a successful effort to keep the first contests from advancing into February. But Romney’s victory was all-but-assured months before he secured 50% of convention delegates in late May 2012.

Josh Putnam, an assistant professor at Appalachian State University who runs the exhaustive Frontloading HQ blog tracking the primary calendar, explains that about 50% of delegates to the GOP convention will be awarded by March 8, 2016, with 75% awarded by April 26—both weeks earlier than in 2012. “That is important because the last two Republican nominees established a lead by that 50% point and had clinched the nomination around the time that 75% of the delegates had been allocated,” he says.

But changes in campaign finance and an unusually strong field threaten to throw that precedent out the window. Now many party strategists expect four to six candidates to emerge as a top tier from the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. With roughly the same delegate support and momentum, they expect that the proportional contests in early March—when a front-runner usually emerges—may not be decisive. On March 1, for instance, more than 600 delegates are set to be awarded. “Lots of people will be able to claim victory that day,” said one top advisor to a Republican candidate.

Meanwhile, the rest of field may be in no hurry to go anywhere. The explosion of mega-donors writing significant checks to candidates and their super PACs has mitigated the historical impetus for dropping out, while the lessons of the up-and-down 2012 primary have incentivized staying in the race even when the odds turns slim.

“This could actually be a convention that matters for the first time since 1964,” says Saul Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid and a former RNC member who backed the rules changes. “I still don’t think most of the campaigns have an infrastructure in place to deal with it.”

Not all strategists blame the predictions of a messy nomination process on the new rules. Michael Shields, the former RNC chief of staff, told TIME he believes the deciding factor in stretching out the primary in 2016 is likely to be the number of candidates who can raise money. “It would have been longer without the reform,” he said.

To be sure, all the prognosticating could also be wrong—a single candidate could build enough momentum in the early states to run away with the nomination in weeks. But with a field of more than a dozen candidates that appears at the moment to be unlikely.

Some campaigns are only just coming to the realization that this contest will be far different from the last, having spent the past months focused on the early states. “Those who have started to think it through recognize it’s going to be a long chase for delegates,” said a veteran GOP strategist.

Anuzis said Cruz is planning for the long haul and is already eyeing favorable congressional districts in California—which will go to the polls on June 7, 2016, and awards its delegates to the winners in each congressional district. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign has hired Jon Waclawski, a veteran of the RNC counsel’s office who was involved in drafting the rules after the 2012 campaign, as its counsel and chief delegate counter. People close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign said his team is drawing up plans to deal with what they expect to be a painstaking fight for delegates.

“This changes the way you have to run your entire campaign,” says one candidate aide. “You really do have to target, racking up local endorsements, for instance. Those people are going to be important when you’re competing on a congressional district by congressional district basis.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s advisers see the proportional contests in early March, and the potential for a drawn out delegate fight, working to their advantage. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told reporters Thursday that he is broadly supportive of the rules changes, but is worried about the compressed calendar, “and it becomes just a money issue, and not an issue of momentum.”

What remains to be seen is whether this intensified primary process will be a benefit or liability to the eventual nominee in the general election. The knockdown, drag-out 2008 Democratic contest is viewed as having ultimately helped Obama, who emerged tested with a network of support outside of the early primary states. For months after winning the nomination, Republican presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain could hardly gain notice from the media­. “Will there be some broken glass, will there be some negative attacks, sure,” Shields acknowledged. “But I do believe this process, like the Obama-Hillary one, will leave our nominee stronger.”

Others are less sanguine, fearing the compressed timeframe could result in a more weakened nominee, battered by months of attacks from candidates and super PACs

“It’s pretty different when it’s a two person extended race opposed to a multi-person race—and in 2008 you didn’t have super PACs playing the role that they did and they generally tend to go negative,” said another longtime GOP operative.

With reporting by Philip Elliott/Little Rock, Ark.

TIME Foreign Policy

The Republicans’ Iraq Trap

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 2015.
Ricardo Arduengo—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 2015.

Jeb Bush still doesn’t know how to talk about Iraq.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential candidate’s strategy for handling his trickiest political inheritance has swung wildly in recent days, earning criticism from both sides of the aisle.

On Saturday the former Florida governor appeared to say he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq even if he knew weapons of mass destruction weren’t present. By Tuesday, Bush was backpedaling, claiming he “misheard” the question. And by Wednesday he was punting, arguing against answering “hypothetical” questions about a war that claimed 4,491 U.S. lives.

No candidate this year is haunted by that conflict like Bush, who must weigh political and familial considerations. But he’s not alone in his struggles. In a campaign dominated so far by foreign policy themes, GOP presidential hopefuls are increasingly torn between the need to project toughness and the need to acknowledge what many voters see as the defining error of the last Republican commander-in-chief.

It’s a balancing act driven by the demands of the electorate. Years of surveys show the American public’s rejection of a war launched on faulty intelligence: a 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, found 71% of voters thought the war “wasn’t worth it,” compared to just 22% who thought it was. At the same time, the tumult rippling across the Middle East—from the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) to the unrest in war-torn nations like Libya, Syria and Yemen—has rejuvenated the nation’s hawkish impulses. A succession of polls this year suggest most Americans support sending ground troops to fight ISIS.

As a result, GOP candidates have embraced anew a muscular foreign policy that had atrophied for much of the Obama presidency. Promises to calm the chaos of the Middle East have dominated early candidate cattle calls, while tough talk on Iran has taken the place of Obamacare as a stump speech fixture. Even Sen. Rand Paul, who advocates a restrained foreign policy as part of the party’s more isolationist wing, introduced an amendment to significantly boost the defense budget. After announcing his presidential bid in April, the Kentuckian posed in front of a retired aircraft carrier in the port of Charleston to repeat his call. On a recent trip to South Carolina, Sen. Marco Rubio invoked Liam Neeson’s avenging promise from the movie Taken: “We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.”

The bellicosity is one element of a broader strategy that includes also blaming President Obama for the mess in the Middle East and tethering Bush to his older brother. “If we knew then what we know now and I were the president of the United States, I wouldn’t have gone to war,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN. Paul told the Associated Press that Bush’s comments represent “a real problem if he can’t articulate what he would have done differently.”

“Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn’t go into Iraq,” Sen. Ted Cruz told The Hill.

Rubio went even further in an interview Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it. He said so,” he said.

Turning Iraq into a centerpiece of the campaign is fraught with risk for Republicans, who have wrestled with the demons of a misbegotten war for a decade now. In 2004, the GOP made support for the conflict into a proxy for patriotism and rode the decision to victory in the presidential election. But by 2006, Democrats regained control of Congress amid the persistent casualties and growing sectarian violence sweeping Iraq.

Two years later, Obama’s early opposition to the war helped vault him past Hillary Clinton in their epic primary contest. He then used Sen. John McCain’s outspokenness for the war against him, mocking McCain’s suggestion that there might be an American presence in Iraq for 100 years. In 2012 Obama won re-election while highlighting his commitment to end the war.

But as the stability of Iraq crumbled in the wake of Obama’s troop withdrawal, Republicans sensed they could regain the upper hand. GOP candidates have criticized Obama for not leaving a larger security force in place to support the Iraqi government. Party strategists believe the path to the presidency hinges in part on an ability to disavow George W. Bush’s mistakes while blaming Obama for making the mess much worse.

Recognizing it won’t be easy, some of the party’s presidential contenders are treading lightly. In a speech laying out his foreign policy vision Wednesday, Rubio only briefly alluded to Iraq, implying that Obama’s troop drawdown was too swift and invoking “Afghans worried that America will leave them like we left Iraq.”

The delicate balancing act is sharply different from the strategy employed by the likely Democratic nominee. After years of standing by her vote to authorize the war, Clinton wrote in her 2014 memoir that she “got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

It was a reflection of how the politics of the issue had shifted—and may be shifting still.

TIME Campaign Finance

Meet the Man Who Invented the Super PAC

David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics testifies during a Senate hearing highlighting abuses in the public financing of campaigns on May 7, 2013, in Albany, N.Y.
Mike Groll—AP David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics testifies during a Senate hearing highlighting abuses in the public financing of campaigns on May 7, 2013, in Albany, N.Y.

The plaintiff in a landmark campaign finance case wants to loosen regulations even further

The mastermind behind the super PAC has no regrets. “My only regret is the backlash,” David Keating says with a wry smile.

Keating is one of the most influential political activists you’ve never heard of. He was the architect of a federal lawsuit that ended in a landmark 2010 court ruling that reshaped the way elections are run. The case, SpeechNow.org vs. FEC, scrapped annual limits on individual contributions to campaign advocacy groups, ushering in the era of super PACs—political-action committees that can raise unlimited sums as long as they don’t coordinate directly with parties or candidates.

Five years later, campaigns are only beginning to harness the power of Keating’s creation. In the 2016 presidential race, virtually all of the candidates will have companion super PACs, many of which will wield more influence than the campaigns themselves. Candidates have leveraged super PACs to supercharge fundraising, pay for staff salaries and trips to primary states and even assume the duties once reserved for the campaigns themselves, from running TV ads and organizing supporters to direct mail campaigns and digital microtargeting.

Many of these innovations have surprised Keating, a soft-spoken man with a graying beard. But he delights in watching how, year by year, political strategists are using super PACs to refine the mechanics of elections. Using a super PAC specifically to promote a candidate “just never entered my mind,” he says. “But it’s totally obvious when you think about it.”

Not everyone is so sanguine about the impact of his creation. Political critics, campaign-finance watchdogs and even some candidates argue that super PACs have invited an avalanche of outside spending that gives the wealthy outsize influence and makes a mockery of the limits established by the FEC.

“We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all,” Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton said recently. But it’s a sign of the super PAC’s power that Clinton has nonetheless embraced a group of her own. Despite her stated objections, she plans to personally court influential donors, according to the New York Times.

Keating celebrates such changes. A longtime conservative activist, he believes in an unfettered right to political speech, and decries caps on campaign donations as an infringement of First Amendment rights. Now the president of the Center for Competitive Politics, an independent group that works to loosen campaign-finance regulations, he says his mission was “to do for the First Amendment what the NRA did for the Second.”

Keating casts super PACs as a better way for ordinary citizens to organize and exercise their First Amendment rights. “It comes down to speech,” he says. “If you don’t like [others’] speech, start your own group and talk to people.” And he argues a system that allows the super-rich to pump a gusher of cash into elections is a testament to a thriving democracy.

“That’s how we elected all our great presidents,” he told TIME in an interview Tuesday in his office in Alexandria, Va., ticking off leaders from Lincoln to Eisenhower who took office after elections held under looser campaign-finance regulations. “Rich people have always had the ability to spend whatever they want.”

SpeechNow came on the heels of Citizens United, its more-celebrated brethren in the annals of campaign-finance deregulation. “After Citizens, our case became a total slam dunk,” he says. Though lesser known, SpeechNow significantly widened the impact of Citizens, making it the arguably the more important of the two landmark cases. The combination paved the way for an election that has already seen significant evolutions in super PAC usage.

The two most interesting innovations in 2016, Keating says, have been the quartet of interlinked super PACs backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the approach taken by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has delayed his campaign launch to stockpile his Right to Rise PAC. The group has effectively supplanted Bush’s campaign-in-waiting as the hub of his political operation. “What Jeb is doing takes a lot of discipline” due to the prohibitions on direct coordination, Keating notes, though says he is confident that Bush’s lawyers have kept him on the right side of the law.

Though a staunch conservative—he was formerly an executive at groups like the National Taxpayers Union and the Club for Growth—Keating appears to admire the political innovations of the super PAC era no matter where they come from. He notes that Correct the Record, a research group originally formed to defend Clinton, has relaunched as a pro-Clinton super PAC that says it is able to coordinate with the likely Democratic nominee because it will restrict itself from paid media campaigns.

“Here is another innovation–a Super PAC that can legally coordinate with a candidate,” he wrote in an email Tuesday evening. “The reason why they can do that is because they will not make any public communications, as defined in the regulations. Mass mailings do not include e-mail.

“Clever,” he concluded.

But maybe not. About an hour later he emailed again. “This … issue is actually pretty complicated,” he noted, “and it’s not clear they can do what they say they want to do. There isn’t enough detail about their plans to determine if what they plan to do is OK or not.”

It seemed a fitting testament to the murkiness of this new campaign-finance landscape that even its creator can’t always be sure what’s legal.

TIME States

Don’t Worry, Texas, the Federal Government Isn’t Planning a Military Takeover

Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, April 27, 2015
Jay Janner—AP Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, April 27, 2015

The military's largest training exercise is just that—an exercise

In Texas, conspiracy theories have swirled that a two-month U.S. military exercise — named Jade Helm 15 — in seven states across America’s southwest might be an armed federal takeover of the Lone Star state in disguise.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter rebutted these claims with an emphatic “No,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Jade Helm 15 is the largest military training exercise ever undertaken by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The fears of some Texans were stoked when military maps to be used in the exercise were found to show Texas (as well as Utah and California) as “hostile” territory.

The resulting controversy prompted Governor Greg Abbott to request that the Texas State Guard monitor the exercise.

Actor Chuck Norris also chimed in, exhorting Texans to be vigilant: “It’s pretty sad and bad when major military ops are ordered in a large, fiery state like Texas and not even the governor or its senators know the specifics.”

Carter emphasized on Thursday that Pentagon officials had notified the state government of the relevant details: “We’re very open and up front about our training activities in the United States, and I should say that we’re very grateful for the support of communities around the United States.”

TIME

Cruz Walks a Careful Line on Immigration Reform

Ted Cruz
Cliff Owen—AP Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas gestures while he talks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), on April 29, 2015, at the National Press Club in Washington.

The GOP presidential hopeful opposes a path to citizenship, but casts himself as a supporter of legal immigration

Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz cast himself as a supporter of immigration reform on Wednesday, while criticizing Democrats for killing prospects of a bipartisan deal by insisting on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“I consider myself a proponent of immigration reform,” Cruz said during a question-and-answer session in Washington hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “There is no stronger advocate of legal immigration in the U.S. Senate than I am.”

Cruz was an outspoken detractor of the bipartisan rewrite of U.S. immigration laws that passed the Senate in 2013, which in the eyes of many Republicans would have shored up the party’s moribund support among Hispanic voters. His comments offer a telling glimpse of how he will attempt to find a delicate balance on a pivotal issue during his campaign.

The GOP presidential hopeful opposes citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but he stressed Wednesday the need to celebrate and encourage legal immigration. And he noted his support for dramatically increasing the available number of high-tech visas. His remarks drew an implicit contrast with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a likely rival for the GOP nomination, who recently took a protectionist stance on legal immigration levels.

Cruz declined to directly answer a question from TIME about whether he would support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., indicating a legislative fix should first focus on shoring up border security.

The freshman Senator said he believed there was significant bipartisan agreement around securing the borders and streamlining the legal immigration system. He criticized Democrats for crippling the recent reform plan in Congress by insisting on the “poison pill” of citizenship.

“They are treating immigration as a political cudgel,” Cruz said, “where they want to use it to scare the Hispanic community. And their objective is to have the Hispanic community vote monolithically Democrat.”

Many Republicans argued Mitt Romney’s hardline position on immigration was largely to blame for his dismal performance with Latino voters in the 2012 presidential race. But Cruz said his view—born out by his Senate campaign’s internal polling—was that Romney had alienated Hispanics with a message that appeared to denigrate middle-class Americans while venerating the wealthy.

Cruz argued that Republicans could win over Hispanics with a message of economic opportunity, saying Republicans “should be the party of the 47%.”

TIME ted cruz

What the Flap Over a Ted Cruz Dinner Means

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a town hall event at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa on April 1, 2015.
Nati Harnik—AP Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a town hall event at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa on April 1, 2015.

Correction appended: April 29, 2015

This is a short parable about the polarized state of American politics.

A Republican candidate holds a dinner one Monday evening at the home of two gay businessmen. It is an unusual pairing: the businessmen are prominent gay-rights activists, while the politician is a prominent opponent of same-sex marriage. But they have similar views on Israel and decide that’s enough to set aside those differences.

By Thursday, the politician, under pressure from supporters, releases a defensive statement. His spokesman says the venue was an error.

By Sunday both businessmen, facing boycotts and vitriol from their allies, post apologies on Facebook, calling the event “a terrible mistake.”

The politician is Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. The businessmen are Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, New York hoteliers who own properties in Manhattan and off Long Island that are geared toward gay guests. The swift backlash from their shared dinner says as much as any tale about our factionalized politics, in which anyone who appears to stray from tribal alliances faces the prospect of excommunication.

In some ways, the most surprising aspect of the summit was that either party was surprised by the blowback. Both sides cast a classic political transaction — the exchange of money for proximity to power — as a function of mutual support for Israel. “It was all things Israel,” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler told the Washington Examiner. “They were in a discussion about something they all agreed about.”

But Cruz’s path to the presidency runs through Iowa, where evangelical activists who oppose gay marriage dominate the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. An ardent social conservative, Cruz is seeking a constitutional amendment that would protect the right of states to define marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.

A New York Times report that Cruz took a conciliatory tone on marriage during the dinner appeared to jeopardize his outreach to social conservatives. It didn’t help that the dinner was held in a swank duplex abutting Central Park, where a 23-year-old gay man was found dead in a bathtub in an apparent drug overdose last fall, according to police sources.

Cruz released a statement to reporters decrying the flap as a media witch hunt. “When asked, I stated directly and unambiguously what everyone in the room already knew, that I oppose gay marriage and I support traditional marriage,” he said. “One person further asked how [Cruz’s wife] Heidi and I would react if we found out one of our (4- and 7-year-old) daughters were gay. My reply: ‘We would love her with all our hearts. We love our daughters unconditionally.’

“A conservative Republican who is willing to meet with individuals who do not agree on marriage and who loves his daughters unconditionally may not reflect the caricature of conservatives promoted by the left, but it’s hardly newsworthy,” he added.

If Cruz opted for damage control through defiance, Reisner and Weiderpass were more chastened. Gay rights activists, who argue opposition to same-sex marriage is intolerance, were furious with the hoteliers’ decision to host Cruz. Over several days last week, the two were hit with the threat of business boycotts, canceled events and a protest rally. On Sunday, they took to Facebook to issue separate apologies.

“I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days,” Reisner wrote. “I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights.”

“I share in Ian’s remorse. I, too, lay humbled with what has happened in the last week,” Weiderpass wrote in a separate post. “I made a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, I cannot undo this. You taught me a painful but important lesson.”

The post doesn’t specify what lesson he learned. But the larger moral of the parable seems clear: in American politics today, what keeps us apart matters more than what brings us together.

Correction: The original version of this story mischaracterized the event attended by Ted Cruz on April 20 in New York City. It was a dinner.

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