March 2, 2014

As the West begins to shape its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the emerging conventional wisdom is that there is little the world can do to stop Vladimir Putin from doing whatever he wants to do. Here is Peter Baker in The New York Times warning that Russia will likely get away with its Soviet-style land grab fairly easily:

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies. [The New York Times]

Ben Judah, writing in Politico Magazine, goes further, arguing that wealthy interests in Europe are too invested in Russia's oligarchical scheme to put any pressure on it:

Moscow is not nervous. Russia's elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner — everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident — confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. [Politico Magazine]

In this view, the West has neither the means nor the will to draw Putin's blood. But it does have the means, including the visa bans and banking sanctions that Judah cites, which would chip at the heart of the Russian regime; a revived effort to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which were scrapped amidst a "reset" in relations that is obviously dead and gone; and a general strengthening of Western-friendly governments around Russia, including Georgia, Poland, and the provisional government in Kiev (whether this includes NATO membership in the case of Georgia and Ukraine is a debate for another day).

Does the West have the will? To suggest that it doesn't seems to underestimate the historical significance of the moment. This is a naked land grab on a different order of magnitude than Russia's move into Georgia in 2008, which was legitimately shrouded in a fog-of-war-type situation. Now that the scales have fallen from everyone's eyes, now that Putin's territorial ambitions and agenda have been so totally exposed, the West has little choice but to make his transgressions as painful as possible — otherwise what would stop Putin from expanding his thug regime? Ryu Spaeth

1:24 p.m. ET
Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Hacked emails published Saturday by WikiLeaks see Hillary Clinton's campaign weighing the pros and cons of having their candidate give a major speech on race issues in America, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

In a conversation in February of this year, Clinton's chief speechwriter, Dan Schwerin, emailed other staff to suggest such a speech could show Clinton's "sustained and comprehensive commitment" to minorities. However, he wrote, the speech could also "unintentionally end up elevating questions that aren't yet being widely asked and introduce new damaging information, especially [Clinton's use of the term] super predator, to a lot more voters."

Schwerin concluded that "if we're slipping fast [in the race against Sen. Bernie Sanders], maybe it's worth rolling the dice and doing the speech. If we're holding relatively steady, maybe we see if we can ride this out without doing the speech."

Clinton did end up giving a speech on race issues in Harlem on Feb. 16. At the time, Sanders was rising rapidly in the polls, from an average of 35 percent support the day before the speech to 42 percent three days later. Bonnie Kristian

12:48 p.m. ET

Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, joined Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday to discuss whether Trump can plausibly accrue the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win the White House.

After Wallace asked what Trump's "realistic path" to that victory could be, the famously smooth-talking Conway insisted with a rapid-fire list of states that the race is not over yet. Clinton is "still under 50 [percent] everywhere," Conway argued, despite an advertising budget that far exceeds Trump's ad spending.

Lapsed voters and first-time voters are enthusiastic about her candidate, Conway added, but likely to be underrepresented in polling data. "We're not giving up," she concluded. "We know we can win this, and we are certainly not acceding to the same chattering class that's been wrong about Donald Trump for about a year and a half." Watch the full exchange below. Bonnie Kristian

12:34 p.m. ET
Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images

Spain's Socialist Party on Sunday cleared the way to ending nearly a year of political deadlock by abstaining from a parliamentary vote which was then able to confirm Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative People's Party (PP) for another term.

The abstention decision follows national elections in December and June which left no single party or coalition with a governing majority. The most recent election saw Rajoy's party take a plurality while the Socialists, the runner-up, lost five seats in parliament. A third general election would have been scheduled soon absent today's shift, and the Socialist Party was worried they might lose additional seats in the third vote.

"We went to win the elections, but since that didn't happen, we need that there is a government to act as the opposition," said Socialist interim party head Javier Fernandez of his party's unusual decision. Without a sweeping mandate from voters, Rajoy has said he must "work day to day, with humility and patience" to pursue his legislative agenda. Bonnie Kristian

11:54 a.m. ET
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

While conventional wisdom suggests income level is the greatest determining factor in white voters' support for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (she the elite insider, he the voice of the beleaguered working class — or rich Republicans facing off against poor Democrats) a new analysis from FiveThirtyEight suggests religion and education level are both far more important.

"Roughly speaking," the report summarizes, "a white voter will lean left if she is 'more college than church' and will lean right if she is 'more church than college.'" For those who fall in the middle of each spectrum, the third most predictive factor — whether a person lives in a more urban or rural area — settled the matter, with rural voters preferring Trump and urbanites going with Clinton.

As for income, the pollsters note it was actually "the least predictive of white voter support" of all seven demographic factors analyzed. The voting habits of white voters will be subject to extensive scrutiny in the run-up to Election Day, as overwhelming minority support for Clinton means Trump would rely primarily on white swing voters to win.

This post has been updated throughout. Bonnie Kristian

11:26 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald Trump was endorsed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an editorial published Saturday night, his first serious newspaper endorsement of the general election. The bulk of the endorsement pitch turned on Supreme Court vacancies, arguing Hillary Clinton must not be permitted to fill those seats.

"Mr. Trump represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave," the article says. "But he promises to be a source of disruption and discomfort to the privileged, back-scratching political elites for whom the nation's strength and solvency have become subservient to power's pursuit and preservation."

Trump was previously only endorsed for the general election by The National Enquirer, while most paper endorsements have gone to Clinton. Even Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson still easily outpaces Trump in newspaper support, with the backing of notable outlets like the Chicago Tribune, The Detroit News, and more. Bonnie Kristian

11:06 a.m. ET
Hoang Dinh Nam/Getty Images

The United States and Iran aren't the friendliest pair on a national level, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has taken a more conciliatory stance toward the West than others in his country's leadership, feels America's pain on having to pick between two historically unpopular presidential candidates.

"America claims it has more than 200 years of democracy, and they have had 50 presidential elections, but there is no morality in that country," Rouhani said in a speech Sunday. "You saw the presidential debates, how they talk ... how they accuse and mock [each other]."

He recounted a recent episode in which he was asked by a fellow head of state whether he preferred to see Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House. "I said should I prefer bad over worse or worse over bad?" Rouhani recalled, declining to specify who is "bad" and who is "worse." Bonnie Kristian

10:42 a.m. ET

"Hey, buddy," Tom Hanks said at the beginning of his heart-to-heart with the oldest Hanks child — the United States of America — in his Saturday Night Live monologue. Hanks was recently named "America's dad" on a magazine cover, so he decided to use his SNL intro to have a little chat with a nation he's noticed is confused and even scared of all the changes happening inside.

Hanks mostly struck an encouraging tone, as any good parent would do. "Remember when you went though that Depression? This is nothing!" he said. "You're just growing up. You're in an awkward phase."

But he had some tough love, too. That national debt, for instance — don't expect dad to pay it off. "I'd like to help you out," Hanks said, "but if I do, you're never gonna learn. Also, I don't have $19 trillion. I have $230 million." Also, everyone can smell the weed, champ.

Watch the whole chat below. Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads