Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

 

1. Sarah Palin was in Iowa today -- not for electioneering, but for the premiere of Undefeated, a new documentary about her. Outside the Pella Opera House, she refused to elaborate on her daughter's statement on Fox and Friends yesterday that her mother had "definitely" made up her mind about whether she will run.

"What exactly did Bristol say?" she said. "I texted Bristol, I said 'What did you say this morning, honey?' What I told Bristol, too, I said, 'What is talked about on the fishing boat stays on the fishing boat.'"

She also said that she is "not ready to announce anything yet" about a possible candidacy.

2. Speculation continues, too, about the intentions of Texas Governor Rick Perry. He will be in California this week, holding private meetings with Republican leaders, potential fundraisers and legislators.

Tomorrow morning, he will meet with business leaders in Beverly Hills, a city which is a rich source of campaign funding. Later, he will meet with GOP leaders in Newport Beach, before meeting Republican legislators in Sacramento.

While a spokesman says that the trip has nothing to do with the 2012 campaign, this programme of meetings appears to say otherwise.

3. Michele Bachmann has styled herself "American Girl" of the presidential race, as the grassroots Tea Party candidate, and used the 1977 hit song at the end of two speeches this week in Waterloo, Iowa, where she formally kicked off her campaign. But if reports are to be believed, she won't be able to use it as her theme for long. According to the Los Angeles Times, Tom Petty has told Bachmann that he doesn't want her to use his song at campaign events.

She is not alone -- Petty was also reported to refuse George W Bush's request to use his song "I Won't Back Down". If you are still in any doubt about the singer's political orientation, Hillary Clinton used "American Girl" at events when she was running for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Petty did not object.

4. The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA launched a television advert today in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia (states thought to be competitive in the next election), rebutting claims made in an ad by Crossroads GPS, an independent conservative group founded by Karl Rove.

The $5m Crossroads ad -- released on Monday -- blamed President Barack Obama for the unemployment rate, national debt, and high gas prices.

The Priorities USA ad, which by contrast cost in the region of $750,000, calls this "politics at its worst".

5. Herman Cain, the Republican presidential candidate, will publish a book detailing his life and career as the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza.

The memoir will be called Who is Herman Cain? and is set for release in October.

A statement released by the publisher said:

The recent Republican debate in New Hampshire introduced Herman Cain as a Presidential candidate, yet little is known about his impressive background. A proud 'outsider' in the political arena, Cain created his name in corporate America rather than on Capitol Hill, through four decades spent revitalizing business in the private sector.

Unfortunately, he is still polling in low single-digit numbers, though.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Leader: The age of Putinism

There is no leader who exerts a more malign influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin.

There is no leader who exerts a more malign ­influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin. In Syria, Russia’s military intervention has significantly strengthened the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. Under the guise of fighting Islamist terrorism, Mr Putin’s forces have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hospitals and schools. Syrian government forces and their foreign allies have moved closer to regaining control of the rebel-held, besieged eastern part of Aleppo, a city in ruins, after a period of intense fighting and aerial bombardment. In Europe, Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, formerly the Prussian city of Königsberg, through the streets of which the great philosopher Immanuel Kant used to take his daily walk.

Across the West, however, Mr Putin is being feted. As Brendan Simms writes on page 30, the Russian president has “annexed Crimea, unleashed a proxy war in eastern Ukraine and threatens Nato’s eastern flank, to say nothing of his other crimes”. Yet this has not deterred his Western sympathisers. In the US, Donald Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian autocrat as a fellow ethnic nationalist and “strongman”. The president-elect’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence is an invitation to Russian expansionism in the Baltic states and eastern Europe.

Mr Trump is far from alone in his admiration for Mr Putin. In France, François Fillon, the socially conservative presidential candidate for the Républicains, favours the repeal of European sanctions against Russia (imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea) and a military alliance in Syria. In return, Mr Putin has praised his French ally as “a great professional” and a “very principled person”.

Perhaps the one certainty of the French election next spring is that Russia will benefit. Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader and Mr Fillon’s likely opponent in the final round, is another devotee of the Russian president. “Putin is looking after the interests of his own country and defending its identity,” she recently declared. Like Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen seems to aspire to create a world in which leaders are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of rebuke.

In Britain, Paul Nuttall, the newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party, has said that Mr Putin is “generally getting it right” in Syria. Mr Nuttall’s predecessor Nigel Farage named the Russian leader as the politician he admired most.

Mr Putin, who aims to defeat the West by dividing it, could not have scripted more favourable publicity. But such lion­isation masks Russia’s profound weaknesses. The country’s economy has been in recession for two years, following the end of the commodities boom, the collapse in the oil price and the imposition of sanctions. Its corrupt and inefficient bureaucratic state now accounts for 70 per cent of its GDP. Its population is ageing rapidly (partly the result of a low ­fertility rate) and is forecast to shrink by 10 per cent over the next 30 years, while life expectancy is now lower than it was in the late 1950s.

Yet this grim context makes Mr Putin an even more dangerous opponent. To maintain his internal standing (and he is popular in Russia), he must pursue external aggression. His rule depends on seeking foreign scapegoats to blame for domestic woes. Not since the Cold War has the threat to Russia’s eastern European neighbours been greater.

How best to respond to Putinism? The United Kingdom, as Europe’s leading military power (along with France), will be forced to devote greater resources to defence. Theresa May has rightly pledged to station more British troops in eastern Europe and to maintain sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreements, providing for a ceasefire in Ukraine, are implemented. The Prime Minister has also condemned Russia’s “sickening atrocities” in Syria. Germany, where Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor, will be another crucial counterweight to a pro-Russian France.

It is neither just nor wise for the West to appease Mr Putin, one of the icons of the illiberal world. The Russian president will exploit any weakness for his own ends. As Tony Blair said in his New Statesman interview last week, “The language that President Putin understands is strength.” Although Russia is economically weak, it aspires to be a great power. We live in the age of Putinism. Donald Trump’s victory has merely empowered this insidious doctrine.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage