Archive for category Republicans
The situation is almost surreal. A small group of Republicans want to shut down government to try to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood. Not that Planned Parenthood had done anything illegal, but this is part of the on going anti-abortion crusade, this time fed by videos showing officials of the organization un-emotional over the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses for on going medical experiments. There is nothing wrong with that practice either – better that than just throw it away – but for the zealots that was enough.
Never mind that if that funding was cut – 40% of Planned Parenthood’s budget comes from federal funds, mostly Medicaid – there would probably be a large increase in abortions since so many poor benefit from the contraception services the organization provides – a much more important part of their operation than abortions. Never mind as well that the President would veto the action, and a shut down would probably hurt the 2016 Republicans as much as the 1995 shutdown hurt the GOP in 1996. Zealots rarely give in to rational thought.
Both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell recognized that their moral duty was to govern, and not risk the horrid effects of a shutdown over this quixotic fight. While McConnell has most of the Senate on his side (only a whiney Ted Cruz strongly disagrees), Boehner faced a full uprising from House Conservatives, about three or four dozen who want to fight this jihad rather than compromise and govern.
And these members, as well as many conservative media sources like Rush Limbaugh and redstate.com, routinely attack Boehner with a vengeance, denigrating him and calling him a lackey to Obama, all because he recognized the limits of divided government. These people, so frothy in their fervor, don’t understand that they are not only a minority in the GOP, but a detriment to a party that hopes to regain the White House in 2016. The Democrats have no strong Presidential candidates on the horizon, this could be a big GOP year if they don’t blow it.
Boehner had enough.
He has been fighting this fight for four years, since he became speaker (he joined the House in 1990). He has survived despite vilification from the right wing, in large part because most Republicans respect him and know he has conservative values. He choose to leave at a time no one expected, but which seems appropriate.
We don’t yet know when he made the decision. I wonder if, listening to the Pontiff talk about the need to govern and compromise, he realized he needed to extricate himself from a caucus in complete disarray. Maybe he decided that this was an appropriate ending point for his career – he has wanted a Papal address to Congress for years, starting back when John Paul II was Pope – the visit of the head of a Catholic Church that means much to him.
Boehner was crucified by his caucus because he wanted to do the right thing – make compromises and govern, recognizing that the Democrats weren’t an enemy to be annihilated, but a necessary part of a democracy that runs well only when there are diverse perspectives which are listened to and respected. With inbred blogs and media pushing emotional themes and making compromise look like surrender, he was humiliated every day for trying to do the job of Speaker of the House properly.
He deserved better. He took a lot of bullets for the GOP, he made compromises that were necessary. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the news of Boehner’s departure “seismic” and it seems a clear indicator of the dysfunction within the majority party. He will no doubt push the hated compromise through, doing his duty to the democracy he serves and avoiding a catastrophic government shutdown. Already firebrand Cruz is attacking him, even as other Republicans praise his service, and former Presidential candidate John McCain expresses sorrow over his departure.
The Republicans, already wounded by the bizarre media behavior of people like Trump and Carson, have just over a year to get their act together and show Americans they are a responsible conservative party, not a group of loons wanting to shut down the government over one organization’s funding. With Clinton’s woes, they should be in a much better position then they are. It’s time for the majority of Republicans to take back their party from the extremists. That would be best for the GOP, and best for the country.
At one point Donald Trump seemed a relic of the past. A celeb in the 80s, ridiculed by Bloom County and known for conspicuous consumption, it seemed bankruptcies and time made him irrelevant. Later I heard he had a reality show and the catch phrase “you’re fired,” but I never watched or thought about that much.
So how do we get to a point where he’s the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination? And can he win?
The answer to the first question says a lot about Trump and what propelled him to his current position. He became politically relevant when he embraced the “birther” cause, claiming he had special investigators who determined that it was almost certain that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Typical Trump – the birther cause was one that most Republicans either shied away from or treated ambiguously (‘I think he was born in Hawaii, but I understand the concern.’)
Not Trump. He went all in, with grandiose claims of his own investigation and proof. Soon he was the darling of the birther crowd (probably his core constituency to this day – they bonded with him). But then it appeared Trump was humiliated and put in his place at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner. That was the day Obama published his real birth certificate and then ridiculed Trump, who was in the audience showing no humor.
And while the birther controversy died down, Trump never surrendered. Most people thought he had been politically destroyed. There was talk of him running for President in 2012, but it never materialized.
That episode says a lot about Trump – he knows how to grab center stage, will say anything to get attention (whether true or not) and never backs down, even if all the smart people say it’s time to apologize and move on. He’s in constant fight mode, any sign of regret or retreat is seen as weakness, and when the vultures are circling, he doubles down. To those sick of scripted boring candidates who say what is expected (but never follow through), Trump is a welcome relief.
Take his reaction to how Bernie Sanders handled “Black Lives Matter.” After they disrupted one of his events, Sanders met with the group and actually integrated them into his message and program. Trump’s reaction: Sanders is weak and disgusting, caving into pressure. Trump’s people would physically remove the protesters. That’s Trump – strength is a virtue, and backing down, compromising, or just not trying to win is not only weak, but disgusting. That’s how Trump lives his life.
So can he win? Of course. But it is very unlikely.
The Republican field has 16 or so candidates. At this point, the plurality in the polls is around 20%. One person in five. Looked at that way, Trump is not exactly being embraced by the Republican faithful! So what does he need to do to win?
- Gain support as the field narrows. Soon Republicans with little support will realize they lack the resources and capacity to compete in this marathon. Trump has to gain a chunk of their supporters if he’s to have a chance. It’s very unlikely that people who don’t now support Trump would turn to him. If Rand drops out, his supporters may find Rubio or Walker a much better choice than Trump, for example.
- Marginalize Walker and Christie. If anyone is looking for a “Trump lite,” those two qualify. (I suspect it’s rare that Christie is considered ‘lite’.) Christie is the no-nonsense tell it like it is candidate who actually is smart and understands the policy issues. He is more measured in how he fights, always keeping a door open for compromise. Walker is resting on his “I took on the unions and got the liberals really pissed and won” record to gain support. Walker, like Trump, doesn’t back down and considers that a strength. Unlike Trump, he saves his venom for true political foes, not reporters like Meghan Kelley.
- Start a winning streak in the early caucuses/primaries, and start to be seen as Presidential enough. In other words, at some point being Trump will get him a chunk of support, but also set a ceiling. To break through that ceiling, he has to at some point stop the bombast and appear reasonable. I don’t think Trump can do it – his strength and weakness is that he can’t help but be himself.
The politics behind President Obama’s executive order on immigration are fascinating, so I’ll quickly dispense with the policy stuff. Yes, what he did is legal. It probably should have been earlier, and it comes after he tried to work with Congress for six years to get a legislative solution. No, this doesn’t go as far as comprehensive immigration reform – we’ll still need Congress to do that (and I suspect they will – but only in 2017) – but it definitely gives the US a more humane, compassionate and reasonable approach to immigration.
And the politics, well…as Spock would say, fascinating.
One theory is Obama is purposefully “trolling the Republican party.” Not so much by the policy – Obama was going to do this anyway – but by not waiting until a bill was passed in December to continue government spending. The logic goes like this: the Republicans do not benefit politically when they try to shut down the government. Most Republicans do not want a government shut down. Already 2016 looks difficult for them, wounding themselves politically is something they want to avoid.
Moreover, the GOP remains divided. They want to create the impression they are united and can be responsible, but the divisions are intense. If those divisions can be brought into the open and be shown to bring chaos into Republican ranks, then the Democrats not only have a better shot to perhaps win back both houses in 2016, but Obama will benefit politically, giving him more leeway. Already talk radio hosts, tea party activists and many in the House and Senate are calling for a government shut down.
This would, however, be a major shift of tone from a President who has been criticized for being too nice with Republicans, too unwilling to take unilateral action. He is by nature a consensus builder and he has tried to use pressure and persuasion with Republican leaders who make ultimatums and refuse to compromise. It’s not that they don’t want to compromise, but they don’t have their House caucus under control. To make significant compromises would be to face a rebellion, and Speaker Boehner would prefer to lead a “do-nothing” Congress with at least the illusion of party unity than one gets things done, but further divides and weakens the GOP.
So the White House may believe: a) there is nothing to gain by trying to work with this Congress – it’ll be no different than the last one; b) it’s now or never, we have two years to continue our agenda; and c) if we act now and inspire anger in the GOP base, then the party will be divided, play with the fire of a government shut down, and ultimately be weakened going into 2016.
On top of that, Latinos will be thankful, will see and get angry at the rhetoric coming from the right, and turn out in record numbers to vote in Democrats in 2016. The Republicans will claim the Democrats are “bribing Hispanics,” but that will be even more insulting. The result: a weakened GOP and a revived Democratic party, already recovering from the 2014 election and realizing that overall the direction of the country still favors the Democrats.
To be sure, Obama wouldn’t have done this if he thought it was bad policy. This could be another aspect of his legacy that one day shines brightly, despite the controversy now. It could also make it easier for the GOP to actually decide to pass a bi-partisan immigration policy that has more of what they want, realizing they get nothing if they just complain. If the Republicans did that, they might find it easier to win over Latino voters in the future.
To Boehner and McConnell, they have to somehow satisfy their right wing (Boehner calling Obama ‘the most lawless President in history’ shows at least he’ll use their rhetoric) but chart a path that shows the country that the Republicans aren’t a bunch of angry whackos who can’t be trusted with the steering wheel. This is a real test of whether or not the GOP can actually use their new majority effectively.
Clearly Obama is still very relevant and willing to use his power. Senator McConnell said the President is ignoring the will of the voters (the relatively small number of voters who voted in the midterm), but the Majority Leader should be reminded that Obama won elections with significant majorities twice. That means he has been entrusted to follow his best judgment.
It’s also interesting how fickle politics can be. Just over two weeks ago Republicans were overjoyed and Democrats demoralized by the 2014 Midterm elections. Between the defeat of the Keystone pipeline, the China-US climate deal and now bold leadership from the President on immigration, it’s the Republicans feeling angry and upset, and liberals light on their feet. But that could change just as quickly.
McConnell and Boehner will lead the Senate and House in the next Congress
Although I held out hope, the result of the election was not a surprise. The Republicans had a good night – the map was on their side, it’s the six year curse on the President’s party, and the Democrats ran a strategically bad campaign. Rather than arguing for policy and supporting the President, they ran scared. The result? Moderates figured they didn’t stand for anything, and the base was repulsed. Especially Black and Latino voters stayed home. Even then so many states stayed very close until the end, it clearly wasn’t a massive GOP wave.
Yet to hear people on the left talk, the election was a disaster. The Republicans hold the House and Senate! Scott, Walker and LePage were re-elected as tea party governors! The country is going the wrong way, people are ignorant, big money is warping our system, and the media is shilling for the right, etc.
My response to that? Chill people! The sky isn’t falling, and there are a lot of reasons for optimism. Don’t make yesterday’s Republican victory out to be more than it is. Here’s why:
1. The House has always led Republican obstructionism, with Senate Republicans able to say that they can’t do more because the Democrats were in control. Now the Senate has no excuse – if they are willing to compromise, real progress can be made.
2. Obama has no incentive to capitulate. He’s not running again. Especially the first year, look for him to be aggressive with the use of executive orders and other unilateral actions. Obama may do more to make liberals happy this coming year than the last six put together – in part because if he doesn’t do it now, he’ll never have the chance, and in part to pressure the GOP: If you don’t compromise, I’ll act!
3. In 2016 the Democrats will have the map on their side, unlike this year. In many ways, the surprise of the election was that the Democrats were able to keep so many states so close. Of the 34 Senate seats up in 2016, 24 will be Republican, only 10 Democratic. Of the ten Democratic seats, only Nevada and Colorado are likely to be in danger, and those are both states that voted for Obama in 2012. Of the Republican seats, nine are in states won by Obama in 2012, and many others could be in play. In other words, 2016 might be a mirror image of 2014. Remember: Democrats do much better in Presidential election years.
4. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Democrats could retake the House in 2014. They’d need to win forty seats, something difficult to do – but if the GOP doesn’t compromise and gets seen as obstructionist, it’ll be possible.
5. The President has veto power. He’s a firewall against a Republican agenda. With the Republicans in control – the onus is on them to prove they can provide a productive legislative branch. If they don’t, they’ll be that much more likely to have a devastating year in 2016.
6. The Republicans are moving away from the tea party. If you look at the candidates they choose, the effort to control the message, and the anger about, say Thad Cochran, it looks like the GOP recognizes that the tea party has no staying power. I don’t think the GOP is there yet, but they’re in the process of moving away from ideological dogma towards true conservatism.
7. The country’s culture and demographics still point to a progressive future. It was virtually a non-story yesterday that a Federal Judge ruled Missouri’s ban on same sex marriages illegal. The culture has changed that much. In the grand scheme of things, the trajectory of the country has not changed.
Try this: there is nothing you can do to change the election result anyway! Unless you invent a time machine and can go back and tell Democrats that their timid strategy of ignoring Obama rather than embracing him hurt more than helped, what’s done is done. Why waste energy by feeling depressed and angry? It not only doesn’t help, but that energy could better be directed in a positive way. Practice pragmatism: Accept what you can’t change, change what you can. And there is a lot we can do!
Every election cycle I make predictions right before the election. In 2008 I predicted Obama would win with 410 electoral votes. He had 365. In 2010 I didn’t post predictions, but posted lists of races to watch, and different scenarios. In 2012 I predicted Obama would win with 347 electoral votes. He won with 332.
I also predicted the Senate races in 2012. I predicted the Democrats would come out with a 56 – 44 majority, counting the two independents with the Democrats. That was seen as wildly optimistic (especially that I picked Heidi Heitkamp and Tammy Baldwin), but I was only one seat off – and I knew my prediction of Richard Carmona in Arizona was iffy. I did not try to predict the House in any election, though in 2010 I was skeptical that the wave would be as big as it was.
So my track record is: a) my predictions aren’t bad; and b) they are slightly biased in favor of the Democrats. That makes sense – subconsciously everyone thinks that what they want is more likely. Yet I do have reasons for my prediction. So here goes:
First – really safe seats, ones NOT up for election: 34 Democrats (including 2 indies who caucus with the Democrats), 30 Republicans
SAFE REPUBLICAN (asterix = pickup)
Alabama, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana*, Nebraska, both Oklahoma races, both South Carolina races, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia*, Wyoming
(44 either not running or safe)
South Dakota* (45 not running, safe, or likely)
Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia
(45 either not running or safe)
First, note how there are few states that are just likely. South Dakota probably is safe Republican, but three way races are problematic and volatile, so I can’t quite call it safe. But this leaves us with a 45 – 45 split, and 10 races that will decide it. Democrats must win five of those ten to keep the Senate, Republicans must win six. So here are my predictions:
Arkansas – Tom Cotton over Mark Pryor by 4
Kentucky – Mitch McConnell over Alison Grimes by 6
Louisiana – Bill Cassidy over Mary Landrieu by 6 in a run off
Alaska – Mark Begich over Dan Sullivan by 1
Colorado – Mark Udall over Cory Gardner by 1
Iowa – Bruce Braley over Joni Ernst by 2
Georgia – Michelle Nunn over David Perdue by 0.2% in a run off
Kansas – Greg Orman over Pat Roberts by 6 (indie – likely to caucus with the Democrats)
North Carolina – Kay Hagan over Thom Tillis by 4.5
New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen over Scott Brown by 4
Senate result: Democratic Caucus 52, Republicans 48
Of the Democratic victories, Georgia, Colorado and Alaska are the ones least likely. If I’m wrong on those three – and current polls suggest I will be, then the Republicans will control the Senate 51-49.
Why did I choose as I did? Digging into differences in the ground game and its importance in Alaska lead me to think Begich will pull it out. In Colorado the mail in ballot should help Udall, who also has a good get out the vote machine. Polls in Colorado have under-counted Democrats in the past. In Georgia I think the state is shifting purple, and Michelle Nunn is in a position to pull off an upset – she has been up in some recent polls. Iowa is neck neck in the polls now, but early voting seems to be favoring the Democrats and bringing out more voters that didn’t vote in 2010. There is an outlier that just came out showing Ernst up 7; five other polls show shifting leads, very small.
To be clear: I know I’m predicting an upset. I do believe this upset is going to happen. Last week the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys met the 2-5 Washington Redskins in Dallas. Very few predicted a Redskins upset, but they beat the Cowboys. (Aside: I predict the Vikings will beat the Redskins Sunday – and that is a blatantly partisan wishful thinking prediction!)
If there is a GOP wave, as some speculate, Republicans could take all of these races and have a 55-45 majority. I’m obviously not expecting a wave, but it’s certainly possible. Tuesday we’ll know!
The midterm elections of 2014 look tailor made for the GOP. The President has low approval ratings, the public is in fear mode over ebola and ISIS, Democrats are structurally in an election that would be difficult anyway. They are defending 21 Senate seats, the Republicans are defending only 15. The Democrats are defending seats in traditional Republican and “split” states, while the GOP is defending in states that went for Romney in 2012. Three states the Democrats are defending: South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia look all but certain to go to the Republicans.
Given all this one would expect November 4th to be a huge blow out victory for the GOP. And it certainly could be just that. However, the Democrats remain tantalizingly close in the polls, and there are many scenarios in which the GOP makes up on November 5th disappointed. Instead of a wave, which many Republicans expect, the water could turn out to be still and flat.
Three things should give the Democrats hope: 1) In Senate elections the candidates matter more than the party to swing voters; 2) in close races voter turnout is likely to be higher than usual – Democratic enthusiasm has rebounded, unlike 2010; and 3) the polls are so tight that get out the vote efforts could make a difference.
Currently the Senate is split 53-45 in favor of the Democrats. Two independents caucus with the Democrats, so it’s really 55-45. That means Republicans need to win six seats to gain control (Vice President Biden would be the tiebreakers if they won only 5). Of the 21 seats they are defending, the Democrats look secure in only 11 of them. Of the ten remaining, Republicans look like they are coasting to victory in three of them (though with a three way race, South Dakota could surprise).
Currently there are ten seats “in play” – three Republican seats have the potential for a Democratic pick up. Each of the two parties each can only be reasonably sure of 45 seats at this point. To gain a majority Republicans need to win 6 of those 10 races, Democrats need to win five.
Assessing the individual races
Alaska: Republican Dan Sullivan seemed to eek out a slight lead in recent polls, though the most recent poll (with a low sample size) showed Democratic incumbent Mark Begich up by 6. Given the advantage incumbents have, Begich has a real shot. Going strictly with the numbers the Huffpost pollster (here after HP) gives Sullivan a 62% chance to win.
Arkansas: Republican Tom Cotton pulled ahead of incumbent Mark Pryor in recent weeks, but hasn’t been able to sustain a lead. This is why the GOP isn’t making this a slam dunk, they can’t seem to pull away from the Democrats. The latest poll has Pryor up by 1 – it’s close. Again, given the advantage incumbents have, this is winnable for the Democrats. HP also has this as a 62% likely GOP win.
Colorado: Another race giving Republicans both hope and headaches. Cory Gardner appeared to polling solid leads, even up 7% in one poll. But four of the last five polls show incumbent Mark Udall with a 1% lead. With Colorado’s mail in voting, this may be one where voter turnout helps the Democrats. It’s definitely winnable for Udall, though HP gives Gardner a 61% chance.
Georgia: Two new polls tell starkly different stories. One has Republican David Perdue up 8%, another (Rasmussen, with twice the sample size) has the race tied. Polls have shown Democrat Michelle Nunn or Perdue up 2 or 3, no one has had a sustained lead. Given demographic change in Georgia and high minority voter turnout in early voting, Nunn has a good shot. HP gives Perdue a 64% to win.
Iowa: Another race that seems to be shifting. Republican Joni Ernst had a week or so of consistent leads in the polls. Small, but consistent. In the last week Democrat Bruce Braley has polled better, the latest poll has him up 4. It appears Iowa may be shifting towards the Democrats, though HP still gives Ernst a 56% chance of victory.
Kansas: A deeply red state with an incumbent Republican running, this should be a no-brainer. Yet right now Greg Orman, running as an independent, looks like he’s holding a small lead over Pat Roberts. This race is too close to call, even HP has both with a 50% chance of winning.
Kentucky: Another sign of GOP trouble – that Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is in trouble! Lately his well oiled machine has put him ahead in almost all the polls, between 2 and 8%. This is a longer shoot for Democrat Alison Grimes, but it’s close enough that it can’t be seen as likely Republican. HP has a 66% chance of a McConnell win.
Louisiana: Due to the fact that the top two vote getters compete in a run off, it’ll be December before we know who wins, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that Mary Landrieu will save her seat from Republican challenger Bill Cassidy. However, Landrieu has appeared dead before and the race may shift in tone once they go into run off mood. At this point, though, it looks good for the GOP, and HP gives Cassidy a 68% chance of victory.
North Carolina: Kay Hagan has managed to stay ahead of Republican challenger Thom Tillis, but not by much. HP gives Hagan a 58% chance to keep her seat, but it would not be a shock of Tillis pulled off a victory.
New Hampshire: Democrat incumbent Jeanne Shaheen has also managed to stay ahead of Republican challenger Scott Brown in most polls, though as with Hagan it remains too close to call. HP gives Shaheen a 59% chance of victory.
What do we make of these ten races? At this point the Democrats only look ahead in two of them, according to the polls. If Orman won Kansas as well, that would be three of the ten for the Democrats, seven for the GOP, and the Republicans in control of the Senate 52 – 48 (assuming the two independents continue to caucus with the Democrats). However, the Democrats would only need two of the remaining seven to hold on to their control. And at least five of the seven look very possible for the Democrats.
In other words – this election is going down to the wire. If the last week does bring forth a Republican wave, the GOP could win some that look good for the Democrats now, and have up to 55 seats. If the Democrats manage to pull ahead in these close races, they could end up with a more comfortable majority, maybe as much as 52 or 53 seats. Neither is a sure thing.
A wave seems unlikely because the economy is good, people give the Democratic party higher approval ratings than the Republican party, and there is no tea party zeal or raw anger like there was in 2010. But even if there is no wave, it’s an uphill battle for the Democrats to try to hold the Senate.
That the Democrats are this close in so many races should give them heart, even if they end up losing the Senate. That’s because in 2016 it’ll be the Republicans defending twice the seats as the Democrats! I will make predictions the day before the election, I want to see if there is any momentum shift in the polls in this last week. But with so many close races, election night should be exciting!
The American Conservative, an often refreshing publication espousing classical conservatism, has a rather provocative article out suggesting that President Obama is really a Republican, heir to Richard Nixon rather than Saul Alinsky (photo above is from their article). I had to google Alinsky, he was an mid-20th Century radical.
The piece goes issue by issue, noting that Obama has undertaken essentially conservative policies, ones much in line with traditional conservative thought. He has been hawkish on national security, yet skeptical of jumping into wars. His economic policies have dramatically brought down the deficit, and he has been fiscally conservative, much to the consternation of his own party. He still enforces tough drug laws, even as states decriminalize. It took him a long time to voice support for gay marriage, even as his party was leading the way.
Corporate profits have risen, he hasn’t done much to address the imbalance of wealth between blacks and whites, he’s been hawkish about security leaks, and even his health care reform was based on Romney’s plan in Massachusetts (and is less bold than Nixon’s proposal back in the 70s).
So why does the right have such outlandish personal attacks on Obama? By any objective standard he’s been a competent, centrist President. Yet he gets called a radical. He gets labeled “incompetent,” and his successes are swept under the carpet. He gets blamed for things like ISIS – an absurd claim, but one those on the right fall over themselves to make. Though the Center for Disease Control is one of the most respected health organizations in the world,the cautious and successful approach they’re taking to ebola gets criticized. In fact anything wrong in government (and left and right can agree there are always some problems in government) is laid at his feet.
Up until now I thought the reason for this antipathy was because some on the right think Obama is different. Not just racially, but he’s urbane, cosmopolitan, has a strange name, and doesn’t seem to be the kind of good old boy Americans were used to. He symbolizes a transformation of the country that many fear but are powerless to stop.
However, there are two other factors. One, given the treatment of Bush by the left, it might be that any President these days will be vilified by the other side, especially given the prevalence of inbred media (blogs, media, and other sources populated by only one part of the political spectrum). But more importantly, if someone is a competent centrist, all you really have are personal attacks.
To true partisans of the left, the news that Obama governs from the center isn’t new. Much of his disapproval rating comes from the left side of the political spectrum. The biggest criticism of his Presidency is that he’s too cautious, too willing to work with Republicans and concerned more about finding solutions that appeal broadly, rather than fighting for a cause. From fracking to the trans-pacific partnership and the Canadian oil pipeline, Obama has been slow to act. A liberal activist would govern much differently.
Partisans of the right might grumble that it’s only because of Republican opposition that Obama could not get more done. They may take credit for forcing him to govern from the center. Yet that doesn’t explain his style – even during his first two years with a Democratic Congress he showed a penchant for pragmatism.
So is this a good thing? With all due respect to my liberal activist friends, I still believe Obama will be remembered as one of the great Presidents in large part because of his pragmatism. It’s not that I agree with him on everything – I don’t. Yet agreement with me isn’t the measure of a President!
The country is in the midst of a radical transformation. The economy is deep in debt, and the financial meltdown Obama inherited shows deep structural flaws in our economic system. Transformation in the Mideast, the source of our cheap energy for last half of the 20th Century, creates real security threats. Environmental problems are real, even if people want to close their eyes to them or embrace some wild theories to deny global warming.
The only way we’ll get through the next decades without paralyzing political gridlock is if we find a way to work together. Not just here at home, but internationally (and Obama retains very high respect abroad). That means compromising even on important issues- that’s how the world works. While Republican hyperbole and obstructionism may tempt Democrats to use executive power to its fullest extent, Obama has been moderate in its use. He believes in being President to all Americans, even those who call him names.
We are undergoing a profound cultural and demographic transformation. As the tea party fades and Republicans finally start to work against extremists in their party, the stage is set for compromise in the future. No matter who wins the midterms, the conversation has shifted away from the radical rhetoric of 2010. Obamacare is entrenched – it may be changed, perhaps improved, but not gutted. The power of Grover Norquist, while still real, has declined. Tax increases are thinkable as part of a budgetary compromise. Even climate change denial is shifting as the weather patterns make clear something real and potentially dangerous is happening.
So the left may be dissatisfied by Obama’s centrism while the right finds all sorts of absurd reasons to try to cut him down. But quietly and effectively, he’s been a steady force in a country under going a fundamental transformation – a fact that will become much more evident in hindsight.
As a football fan I believe very much in having a strong ground game. I’ve always thought games are won or lost by the offensive line. Yes, Super Bowl champions also need good skill players, the line can’t do it alone. But the ability to control time of possession and keep the other team’s offense off the field can provide a real advantage late in the game when players tire.
It is with that in mind that I consider a New York Times article which notes that Democrats are spending far more than Republicans on their ground game – early voting, voter registration, absentee voting and of course election day get out the vote efforts. Republicans are focusing media, especially television ads.
As a social scientist, I find this an interesting test. The Democrats have always been hurt in the midterms because their voters are less likely to vote than Republicans. In Presidential elections the turn out is good, but it drops off dramatically in the midterms.
So the Democrats are placing a bet. They believe that if they invest heavily in their ground game, they’ll alter the election dynamic and fare much better than polls anticipate. Pollsters show very tight races in at least ten Senate contests. If the Democratic get out the vote effort changes the usual voting pattern, Democrats might out perform poll expectations. The polls weight their results based on anticipated voter turnout, after all. Democrats are trying to change that dynamic.
Consider: young voters tend to vote Democratic. In 2008 youth turnout (18 and 19 year olds) was 51%. In 2010 it dropped to 20%. Voter turnout was back up in 2012. If you expand the age to 18-29, Obama won with 60% of that vote. If those voters stay home in 2014, the Republicans will have a very good year.
The same is true when it comes to race; voter turnout among blacks surpassed white turnout in 2012 for the first time. Youth and black voters were a major reason Obama won handily. If the voter demographics were the same as they had been in 1980, Romney would have won a landslide victory. Yet those voters tend not to vote in midterms. This gives the GOP an advantage, and helps explain the discrepancy between the 2010 and 2012 elections.
So the Democrats are trying to wage a different form of midterm fight. Rather than trying to win votes (i.e., market share) by advertising heavily and hoping to convince voters (consumers) that their brand is best, they’re putting money into trying to get new customers into the market with more contact on the ground.
Will it work? It’s probably a better strategy than simply matching the Republican ad blitz. It’s not clear how persuasive campaign ads are to swing voters, most people have made their minds up.
Consider the South Dakota race. Despite being outspent by 13 to 1, former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, running now as an independent, has surged to 25% in the polls, becoming a real factor. While one can attribute this climb to skillful media use, name recognition and dissatisfaction with the gridlock in Washington, clearly media spending is NOT the reason he rose in the polls.
So this is an interesting test. The GOP is focusing on the air waves, the Democrats on getting out the vote. If the Democrats out perform polls and do better than expected in key races, that will be strong evidence that emphasis on the ground game pays off. If not, well, the Democrats need to find a good QB for 2016!
If anyone epitomizes the toxic partisan atmosphere of the US Congress these days, it’s Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Whether it’s allegations about Benghazi, the IRS, or most recently the Hatch Act, Issa has searched for anything he could use to manufacture a scandal in order to tarnish the Obama Administration. He has issued 99 subpoenas, most of them unilateral and political.
Recently, trying to argue that the White House was violating the Hatch Act prohibiting senior officials from engaging in political activity while doing their duties, Issa subpoenaed David Simas, a top White House advisor. The White House balked, saying there is no reason to him to testify and as a top advisor he was immune from such a subpoena. Issa had called two other witnesses, but after seeing that their testimony would contradict his claims of clear violations of the Hatch Act, he quickly ended the session without giving them a chance to testify.
The subpoena abuse and abrupt cutting off of testimony that would weaken his claim angered ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings, who said Issa was using the committee as “center stage for political theater.” Indeed, Issa’s activities go far beyond the norm for that committee. His subpoenas are mostly “unilateral,” meaning they don’t have the approval of the ranking Democrat nor has the committee voted. In essence he’s casting his net wide hoping he’ll find something.
This is unprecedented – in the past (except for a brief time when the GOP pursued Clinton) the committee has been very careful with subpoenas – almost always they had bipartisan support. That in a microcosm is what’s wrong with Washington. Rather than trying to figure out how to run the country better and solve problems, the goal is to find some way to politically embarrass the other side.
But there is also reason not to trust Issa. Issa has been accused of car theft, insurance fraud (he settled out of court for $20,000 with an insurance company rather than collecting hundreds of thousands he was insured for because the fire was so suspicious) and there is no evidence of how he was able to purchase his business anyway. In short, the guy is at best shady. (Read more: here)
The desire on the far right for some kind of scandal to use to impeach Obama has failed, yet they have created a fantasy land where they think Obama’s been acting like a tyrant. They claim he’s trying to run the country with executive orders when the number he’s made is small by historical standards, and minuscule compared to his predecessor. Of course, when Dick Cheney, architect of an Iraq war that has damaged US foreign policy more than any other policy in history, says Obama’s the worst President – well, it’s clear he can’t handle reality.
The GOP has to watch it. While inbred blogs and talk radio can get them to bolster their own fantasies and think it’s clear that Obama is an idiot and the scandals are real, that’s not reality. It’s a political fantasy shared with an almost cult-like set of memes and false beliefs.
They correctly see how the culture of the US and our role in the world is shifting due to globalization, changing demographics, and economic reality. They don’t like the way the country is changing, and a black President Barack Hussein Obama personifies the new emerging America. Rather than dealing with reality, they hope they can make it go away by finding some sexy scandal that could destroy Obama and thus the America he represents.
That prevents them from playing a constructive role in dealing with the real issues (rather than improve Obamacare they try in vain to eliminate it). Ultimately, reality bites. The world is changing, and there is no super scandal that will turn back time. We need a constructive conservative voice, not a delusional one.
On Thad Cochran’s fourth birthday Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, sending the US into World War II. Like most Mississippians of that era, Cochran grew up a Democrat. In those days the south produced very conservative Democrats who eschewed the Republican party because it was the party of Abraham Lincoln. Cochran was a success at almost everything he undertook: he was an Eagle Scout, majored in Psychology (minored in Poli-Sci), served a stint in the Navy and ultimately graduated from the University of Mississippi Law School.
In the sixties the country was changing and Cochran recognized that the Republican party was increasingly reflecting the view of southern conservatives. He became one of the early converts to the GOP, winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1972 in a close race.
After three terms in Congress Cochran successfully ran for the Senate, replacing retiring Democrat James Eastland. That made Cochran one of the first of the new breed of southern Republicans to get elected. Given the Democrats’ choice of George McGovern to run in 1972, the next decade would see a massive shift to the Republican party in the south.
Southern Democrats were in something of a civil war then. The establishment Democratic candidate opposing Cochran was Maurice Dantin. He was supported by Eastland and part of the good old boy southern Democratic tradition. Yet the Democrats were also now the party of the civil rights movement, and Charles Evers, a black liberal, ran as an independent. This split the Democratic vote and allowed Cochran to win with a plurality.
Time once labeled Cochran one of the most effective Senators. Always a behind the scenes “persuader,” he brought pork to Mississippi (he was a master of the earmark) and earned a strong 88% rating from the American Conservative Union. He developed considerable influence in both Mississippi and the Senate, and was generally well liked. In 1990 he ran unopposed, and after his narrow first win his margins were: 61-39, 100-0, 71-27, 85-13, and 61-39. He was never given a serious challenge in a state Republican primary.
Now as the GOP is engulfed in its own civil war, Cochran faced a surprisingly serious challenge from Tea Party backed State Senator Chris McDaniel. In the state primary, a candidate must win a majority to gain the nomination. In the first round, McDaniel won a plurality, defeating Cochran 49.57 – 48.88. That is enticingly close to a majority, but 50% + 1 vote is needed for a majority. In the second round, Cochran prevailed 50.9% to 49.1%.
This result was not expected. Most polls showed McDaniel comfortably ahead by 5 or 6%, with national groups questioning giving continued support to Cochran. McDaniel went into the day the favorite, and came out defeated. He is supposedly considering legal action against Cochran because Cochran’s team reached out to black voters and Democrats. In their mind a true conservative Republican was defeated because an old establishment Republican got support from black voters. It appears they are right – the numbers indicate that black voters probably did give Cochran his margin of victory. They may not have been Republican, but they didn’t like McDaniel’s views.
So what does Cochran’s victory mean? Well, coming so soon after Eric Cantor’s loss, it shows that the establishment is not dead, and the tea party has less influence on the Republican party than any time since its 2009 inception. There is a sense of desperation within the movement that their ideals are under threat from their own party leadership.
Cochran’s victory means that the GOP “civil war” is about to enter it’s final stage. The tea party/far right sees politics as good vs. evil. They do not want compromise and pragmatic governance, they are driven by ideology and many of them want a kind of political holy war – defeat the liberals completely and bring America back to their image of what should be/once was. That image is more nostalgic fantasy than reality, but they are convinced they are the only ones with the proper conception of what America should be.
When they thought they could dominate their party and defeat the Democrats, their disdain for RINOs (Republicans in name only) meant primary challenges and, more often than not, electoral defeat at the hands of the Democrats. This led the establishment to fight back – they can tolerate the extremists, but they can’t tolerate continual electoral defeat – and now the tea party realizes that they are a minority in their own party, and Eric Cantor notwithstanding, losing clout.
The last act of this civil war will be the tea party going all out to fight against the GOP leadership. It will either lead to a bitter primary season in 2016 as the Tea Party goes for the big prize – the Presidential nomination. Or if truly cut out, more radical elements will likely try a third party, convinced they are the future of the conservative movement – that the Grand Old Party is obsolete. Either way, the Tea Party will lose, and the Republican establishment will reassert control.
Ironically, this would be a Republican version of what helped bring Thad Cochran to Congress in 1972. The Democrats had been engaged in their own civil war thanks to the anti-war and civil rights movements. The 1968 Chicago convention started a fight that ended after a tortured 1972 Democratic Convention rejected party moderates and nominated the fiercely anti-war liberal George McGovern. This created widespread dissent within the party and the Democrats had one of their worst Presidential elections in history.
The good news for the Republicans is that if history is a guide, the election isn’t a direct threat to their holdings in the House and Senate. The House Democrats did lose 13 seats in 1972, but kept their majority. Senate Democrats actually gained two seats. People did not automatically take dissent with the Presidential candidate as a reason to distrust their own representative.
Thad Cochran’s career will thus bookend the two biggest internal civil wars the major US parties had in the post-war era: The Democrats in the late sixties and early seventies, followed by the Republicans since 2010. And he represents the side that wins those civil wars – the party establishment.