Archive for category Tea Party
The Plan B pill is taken by women the morning after having sexual intercourse in order to avoid getting pregnant. Unfortunately for the Republicans and John Boehner, their plan B could not prevent the birth of a fiasco, meaning the Republicans are screwed.
After weeks of talks it was clear that there was no way Speaker John Boehner could get his party to support the kind of deal that he and President Obama were building to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. The Republican leadership decided they needed a “plan B” to pressure the Democrats to make more concessions.
At first Plan B was simply to pass a higher tax rate on to millionaires, with rates staying the same for everyone else. Boehner’s argument: “I’ve now shown I’m willing to accept a tax rate increase. That’s what the President has wanted from me. Now let’s see what he’ll give me in exchange.” If nothing, Boehner reasoned, the GOP would have some cover -rather than being seen as an intransigent party refusing any tax increase on the wealthy, they could say they had moved and the Democrats need to respond in good faith.
Only thing – Boehner had to get Plan B passed. At first he figured it should be easy. His party has the majority in the House, and back in 2011 many Democrats had suggested that raising rates on millionaires would be enough – Boehner could throw their own words back at them. If it could get through the Senate with Democratic help, it would force Obama to veto the bill and make it look like he was blocking progress. Fearful of that happening, Obama would have to give the Republicans more of what they wanted.
It didn’t work.
First, Democrats were pretty united against it. What was said in 2011 is irrelevant; this is a new political reality. Given that, Boehner needed to have Republican unity to get it to at least pass the House. He failed. Too many conservatives had taken a career stand against EVER raising taxes, even on millionaires.
Boehner appealed to reason – the lower tax rates will expire on everyone on January 1. Then the House will be forced to pass a bill lowering taxes on those under $250,000, meaning rates will go up on a lot more people. “I need this for my negotiations,” Boehner said – for leverage, it’s not actually going to become law!
Nope. The hard right, already angry that some of its members had committee assignments plucked away from them for their disloyalty, dug in. So Boehner added budget cuts to the mix – cuts that meant that any chance that the Democrats could support it withered. He didn’t care, he was desperate. He had to pass something in the House. ANYTHING.
After a tense meeting on the evening of Thursday December 20, the Republicans managed to impale themselves. The far right accepted nothing, the Speaker’s leadership was rejected, and the party was split. Conservatives were gleeful about the separation, believing they had gotten revenge on the Speaker and had stood on principle. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory.
In the headlines the story is clear: Boehner’s efforts to compromise even a bit were shot down by extremists in his own party. Any effort to shift blame to the Democrats or show that the Republicans were negotiating in good faith fell apart. Any deal that gets passed will be a Democratic agreement — the President and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will craft a proposal that can pass the Senate and the House, appealing to at least enough Republicans to get it through.
Moreover, this will likely happen after New Year’s, meaning that the Republicans might lose the President’s offer to raise rates only on those earning $400,000 and higher.
Conservatives say fine – make the Democrats own what is passed. Make them responsible for tax increases, make them responsible for any cuts that are made. Rather than governing, which is what legislative bodies are supposed to do, they want to make stands on “principle.” But principles are always simplified rules of thumb, inapplicable across all contexts. Sticking to simple principles is for the simple minded – reality is far more complex.
Governance is about compromise and problem solving. John Boehner understands that; too many in his party do not.
So now what? The Republicans are in disarray, still fighting over the lessons of 2012, even as a recent CNN poll shows that 53% of Americans consider the GOP too extremist while 57% consider the Democrats mainstream. They may hope that 2014 is 2010 redux — another off year election — but the mood of the country is much different.
Simply, they are seeing their “conservative revolution” die. The country is moving slightly center-left, with pragmatism trumping ideology. The Grover Norquist types are 20th century relics, whose politics are poison today. The tea party was the last gasp of this movement, reacting in horror to the election of man they couldn’t imagine as President. But it was an illusion, they won in 2010 because of the economy and the fact the voters thought it would facilitate compromise. It wasn’t a popular conservative rebellion against Obama.
2012 may be seen as the election that solidified a move to the left that started in 2006, and was interrupted by the 2010 elections. If that’s the case, the Republican party is going to have to go through a kind of reconstruction, rethinking how their principles and beliefs apply in the 21st Century. They’ll need to look at other successful conservative parties in Europe, and most of all recognize that the world today is not the same as it was thirty years ago.
Perhaps its fitting that a party that has been fighting against contraception insurance with no co-pays for all women should have its Plan B fail. The party has reached rock bottom, there is no place to go but up. Will it be a Rubio uniting the conservatives with a more moderate message? Perhaps Chris Christie’s gruff style can be a pragmatism conservatives embrace? Right now the Republicans are down and out, but the future is pregnant with possibilities.
My prediction: The next Senate will be Democrats 56 Republicans 44 (D + 3). The Democratic numbers include two independents expected to caucus with the Democrats. If I had made this prediction a year ago it would have been laughed at as utterly insane. As it is, I’m predicting two to four more Democratic seats than do most pundits. The RCP “no tossups” map shows the Democrats up 54 – 46.
Going into 2012 it looked certain that the Republicans would gain the majority in the Senate. Math was on their side – Democrats had 23 seats to defend, the Republicans only 10. This was the result of the skewed wave election of 2006, when anti-war sentiment led voters to give Democrats a huge midterm victory. With the Senate at 53 to 47 the GOP needs to pick up only four to have a majority (or three should Governor Romney win the Presidency).
Safe seats: Each party has a number of “safe seats.”
Republican safe: Utah, Wyoming, Texas, Mississippi, Tennesse (5)
Democratic safe: Washington, Minnesota, California, Michigan, West Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware. (11)
That leaves 17 “real” races out there. If they were split 50-50 the GOP would gain three to four seats and yield a 50-50 Senate or even a Republican majority. However, the Democrats look to outperform expectations actually pick up seats in a year that had looked disastrous to them. State by State:
Likely Democratic Holds
NEW MEXICO: At one point Heather Wilson looked to mount a strong challenge to Democrat Martin Heinrich for the seat being vacated by Democrat Jeff Bingaman. Although one poll shows her down in the high double digits to Heinrich, most show Heinrich leading comfortably. Given Obama’s popularity and the likelihood of high Latino turnout, I call this for Heinrich.
FLORIDA: Bill Nelson was seen by many as likely to fall to Connie Mack this year, as Nelson suffered low job approval and doesn’t appear a “natural” politician. Connie Mack seemed more charismatic and energized. Nelson has managed to lead most polls, often in the double digits. Nelson should hold his seat.
Toss up states likely to stay Democratic:
CONNECTICUT: At one point Linda McMahon hoped to use her wealth along with experience from her narrow 2010 defeat to overwhelm Democrat Chris Murphy. However, Murphy has shown a steady 4 to 6 point lead in the polls, and despite a self-financed last minute ad-blitz by McMahon, Murphy looks likely to win this seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman.
MISSOURI: Although I’m not certain Akin won’t come back — a lot of late money has flowed into this race — Republican Todd Akin, a tea party favorite who defeated moderates Sarah Steelman and John Brunner in the primary, is consistently down in the polls by 4 to 5 points. This was an easy GOP pick up for anyone by Akin. If he hadn’t made his controversial comments about “legitimate rape,” causing a queasy GOP to abandon him (at least until near the end), he’d have won. His rape comments, however, now make it probable McCaskill will hold her seat.
MONTANA: This race has bounced back and forth, and Democratic incumbent Jon Tester appears slightly up against Denny Rehberg. It could go either way, but I think late momentum is with Tester and he’ll pull it off. This is a state Republicans really hope to pick up. I struggled with this pick.
NORTH DAKOTA: Late polls show this race a toss up, and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp seems to have momentum. That said, Republican Rick Berg has had consistent leads of about 5 points. I think Heitkamp plays well to the independent Dakota mentality and I predict she’ll pull it off, holding for the Democrats the seat vacated with Kent Conrad’s retirement.
OHIO: Incumbent Sherrod Brown has suffered low approval ratings and a genuine decline in popularity, and if he had been on the ballot in 2010, he’d surely have lost. Republicans thought they had a very good shot at this, but so far Josh Mandel seems to be falling short. Brown should hold his seat.
PENNSYLVANIA: Bob Casey is a new deal liberal Democrat who many considered very vulnerable in this election cycle. Lately challenger Tom Smith has been closing the gap and I’m not as convinced now as I was two weeks ago that Casey will win. He remains the favorite.
VIRGINIA: This is a very close race, both in the polling and due to the fact there are two popular candidates. Tim Kaine has polled better in the more reputable polls than Republican George Allen. They are contesting the seat Democrat Jim Webb decided to abandon after one term. Very close, but Kaine should win.
WISCONSIN: This seat looked to be trending strongly towards Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who emerged as a surprisingly strong contender against former Governor Tommy Thompson. Thompson was rusty on the campaign trail and seemed to lack the energy for a tough fight. Lately Thompson has been closing in and polls vary. Baldwin seems to be holding her slight lead, and so I predict she’ll keep Democratic the seat open due to the retirement of Herb Kohl.
Toss up states likely to stay Republican
NEVADA: Dean Heller was appointed to replace scandal ridden Senator John Ensign. Shelly Berkley has mounted a decent challenge, but has not performed as well as Democrats hoped. Still, it remains close. In 2010 polls had Sharon Angle at a similar advantage over incumbent Harry Reid, but Reid prevailed due to strong Latino turnout. It might happen again, though I suspect pollsters have learned there lesson. Heller’s small lead has been consistent.
Predicted Democratic pickups
ARIZONA: This is my long shot pick, Democrat Richard Carmona upending Congressman Jeff Flake. Carmona, Attorney General under President Bush, has mounted a behind the scenes insurgency to catch up to Flake. This race got no notice until a few weeks ago when Carmona zoomed ahead in some polls. Though the Republicans have responded with lots of money and support, Carmona could be bolstered by a better than expected Hispanic turnout. I’m going to bet Carmona here – it just feels like he’s going to emerge on top.
INDIANA: This was the safest Republican seat in the country (other than Maine) going into the election cycle. Richard Lugar’s re-election was assured. Then tea partier Richard Mourdock upended Lugar in the primary to face conservative Democrat Joe Donnelly. Like Akin, Mourdock tripped over comments about rape and women’s rights, and now appears unlikely to win. Surprisingly, Indiana should be the most easy Democratic pick up this cycle.
MAINE: Maine was also a sure bet for the Republicans before Senator Olympia Snowe announced her retirement. At first people expected a hotly contested race, but then two things happened. First, Independent former Governor Angus King got in the race, and second very liberal Cynthia Dill won the Democratic primary. This has assured that King will retain solid Democratic support. Though coy on which party he’ll caucus with, King will be unlikely to embrace a Republican party that has viciously attacked him throughout the campaign. Maine and Indiana will be two Democratic pick ups, both unthinkable two years ago, but now close to sure things.
MASSACHUSETTS: Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s seat back in 2010 and despite being a tea party favorite at the time, he’s been a traditional New England Republican – moderate and reasonable. Despite amassing a fortune for this contest, Elizabeth Warren has bested him in debates and appears poised to take back the seat for the Democrats. Ted Kennedy would be pleased.
Predicted Republican Pickups:
NEBRASKA: Up until a couple weeks ago this was a no brainer. Bob Kerrey as an elder statesman no longer had the appeal he had when he was Nebraska’s favorite son twenty years ago. He’s lived too long outside the state and was no match for Republican Deb Fischer. Recently some polls showed the contest tightening to within 3 to 5 points (others see Fischer retaining her lead). Chuck Hagel and Joe Lieberman have endorsed Kerrey. Some Democrats are hopeful, especially given Kerrey’s history of late minute comebacks. But it is a tough task – Fischer should win, a GOP pick up of the seat being vacated by Democrat Ben Nelson.
Analysis: It could have been even much rosier for the GOP. If the Republicans had chosen the moderate, establishment Senate candidates in Colorado, Nevada and Delaware in 2010, the Senate would be sitting at 50-50 right now. In this cycle extreme candidates threaten a GOP seat in Indiana and could squander the best Republican pick up opportunity of the year in Missouri. Given that partisanship led Olympia Snowe to retire and give up her safe Republican seat in Maine, between 2010 and 2012 six seats that would be certain Republican are now possible or probable Democrat — all because the GOP chose to go with ideologues over moderates.
In any event, the idea that the Democrats could emerge from this election cycle remaining in control of the Senate, let alone potentially gaining seats, is perhaps the most amazing story from this election cycle. The races are close enough that the Republicans could still gain a majority — but unless the polls are way off, that’s unlikely.
Conventional wisdom says that this election is destined to be close, if only because so many people have already made up their mind and are unlikely to be persuaded to change it.
I think the conventional wisdom is wrong. I’ve been keeping track of daily polls on my 2012 Polls! page, and what I’m seeing causes me to think that the electorate may be tipping to the Democratic side in a level not unlike how the GOP scored in 2010. That would mean a Democratic wave, not only securing a second term for President Obama, but also keeping the Democrats in charge of the Senate and perhaps endangering the GOP House majority.
Why I may be right
Obama is clearly up in every swing state but Florida (and most polls show Florida at least leaning Obama), and has even taken a lead in North Carolina, a state assumed likely for Romney. Despite tracking polls that show a close race, more major polls show Obama opening up a 5 to 8 point lead on his challenger. The well regarded Pew poll with a sample of over 2000 likely voters showed Obama up 8. Nate Silver notes that pollsters who use live interviews and call cell phones as well as land lines are the ones that show a larger Obama lead. These polls are generally regarded as more reliable.
But it’s not just Obama. All over the country there is a surge for Democratic Senate candidates. Democrat Elizabeth Warren went from about five points down to Scott Brown in Massachusetts to being a few points up. Most people thought Democrat Tammy Baldwin didn’t have much of a chance in Wisconsin against the popular former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. From being down near ten, she’s showing a consistent lead in the polls.
In states like Michigan, Ohio and Florida, where the Republicans thought they had decent shots at grabbing Democratic Senate seats the incumbents are starting to open up double digit leads. The most likely GOP pick up earlier this year was Missouri, but thanks in part to Todd Akin’s missteps the Democrats look set to hold that seat.
Not long ago the question about the Senate was how many seats the Democrats would lose and if they could keep control. Now it’s possible they could gain seats. If this is a true swing to the Democrats, this could impact House races and instead of winning the predicted 10 to 15 seats the Democrats could win 30 or more – enough seats are vulnerable that a wave could pull ones into play that people think are likely to stay Republican.
Finally, there doesn’t look to be anything that can change the dynamic, save some kind of external shock. Mitt Romney has proven himself an extremely poor candidate, unable to arouse excitement or generate support. He’s always been a weak candidate, the idea he’ll remake himself in the next six weeks hard to imagine. On top of that reports today suggest that the vaunted Romney money advantage may not exist. That’s been the one hope of the Republicans, that an ad blitz in the final month might pull their man over the top. Now it looks like neither candidate will have a clear financial advantage, even when Super Pac money is calculated into the mix.
Why I might be wrong
The Rasmussen and Gallup tracking polls continue to show a tight race, and they may be right. Moreover, this bump up in polling numbers for the Democrats may mean they are peaking too soon. The Republicans have time to adjust and respond. If this had come in the last couple weeks of the campaign, the GOP would be caught off guard.
While Obama and Romney may be tied in money, the Republicans have more to spend in Congressional races, and they’ve only begun to invest there. Even if Obama is pulling ahead of Romney that’s just a sign of how bad a candidate Romney is; the economy and other factors still favor Republicans. The Democrats may keep the Senate, but there is no sign that this is part of a larger wave spreading to the House.
Finally, the biggest reason I may be wrong is that the idea of a Democratic wave seems completely implausible given conditions in the country today.
Why a wave in 2012?
When unemployment is at 8.0%, the economy sluggish, and the incumbent Democratic President has a job approval rating of under 50%, how could the Democrats possibly have a good year?
Here’s how it could be playing out: through the summer the public was willing to give the Republicans a shot. Mitt Romney had a reputation as a moderate, and people considered breaking with Obama. However, Romney’s been an unbelievably weak candidate, dogged by constant missteps. He insulted the British during a trip abroad designed to show his foreign policy credibility, he couldn’t put aside controversy over his taxes, and Obama’s team engineered a successful summer ad campaign defining Romney as a secretive plutocrat. Then the conventions juxtaposed an angry and pessimistic Republican gathering with an upbeat, optimistic and even celebratory Democratic one.
Side by side, the Democrats spoke to centrists and average Americans while Republicans preached to the converted. Add to that Romney’s Libya reaction and the leaked tape, and the public developed a distaste for a Republican party that seemed angry, a bit mean spirited and pessimistic. Meanwhile, Democrats disappointed by Obama’s inability to bring about the change they desired became enthused about the election thanks to a strong convention and a desire not to let the Republicans win.
And the economy? Most people aren’t suffering. Disposable income is rising. People aren’t going to vote on the basis of the jobs report or unemployment rate. They’ll vote on how things feel to them. They also recognize how bad things were in 2008, and still blame the Republicans. By not offering a new vision for the future, the GOP forfeited their chance to argue that they are a force for change in 2012.
The result: a possible Democratic wave, caused less by the Democrats’ success or popularity than by a Republican failure to offer a new, persuasive and optimistic vision of what America could become with their leadership. At this point some of the most vicious attacks on Romney are coming from conservatives and Republican insiders.
In short, campaigns matter, especially if one side runs a very, very bad campaign with a weak candidate.
If the charge had been made in early 2002 it may have gained traction. Michelle Bachmann and others claimed that Huma Abedin should be investigated for possible links to Muslim Brotherhood. The warning: perhaps she and other Muslim “extremists” have infiltrated the highest ranks of the State Department and US government, putting the country in danger.
Bachmann had no evidence, and ultimately only could point to the fact that back in Saudi Arabia her late father had connections with people who had connections with people who were in an organization with connections with the Muslim Brotherhood. So clearly, she’s a threat. She also probably knows Kevin Bacon.
But in the emotion-laden post-9-11 days, just the hint of the fact a Muslim was high up in the State Department and could potentially be linked to extremists would have had the country atwitter. There probably would have been a series of calls for investigations and warnings of Muslim infiltration of the apparatus of the US government. Unfortunately for Bachmann her call came ten years too late — it was like warning of Communists in the State Department in 1963.
Instead Republicans from John McCain to Jim Sensenbrenner called Bachmann out for her outlandish claim, defending Abedin and noting that it was un-American to make such accusations based solely on her religion or vague ties of acquaintances of her family decades in the past. The Muslim Brotherhood itself professed puzzlement at the charge, noting that it’s having trouble infilitrating even the Egyptian government!
Hopefully this is a sign that the Islamophobia that seemed to grab the country in the 00’s has given way to recognition that Muslim Americans are not all would-be terrorists out to destroy the western way of life. Indeed, the Arab spring has shown Americans that Muslims in the Mideast want freedom and democracy as well.
Still, the fear remains. Behind Bachmann’s outrageous charge is a nefarious organization called the Center for Security Policy, headed by hard core neo-con Frank Gaffney, which has as its primary goal the promotion of a neo-conservative foreign policy. Such a policy seeks to spread American ideals through force if necessary, and sees any indigenous Islamic movement in the Mideast as dangerous. However, even Gaffney has to know that Abedin is no inside threat. What really bothers him and those who still cling to the neo-con dream of an American dominated Mideast is the fact that the US increasingly recognizes that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups in general are not the enemy. Indeed, they are important actors in moving the Islamic world towards modernism. Gaffney and those of his ilk would prefer we see any Islamic organization not overtly embracing western values as a threat.
During the era of knee jerk Islamophobia after 9-11 it was assumed that political Islam was all a variant of Osama Bin Laden’s ideology and al qaeda. Evidence for that claim could always be found using quotes of members of different organizations, even if the quotes were decades old and not aimed at the US. This led to support for a US effort to dominate the region to both bring in an American style democracy and have friendly regimes in control of Persian Gulf oil. That was considered the best way to undercut future terrorism. The Iraq war has shown that such a strategy was folly – it didn’t work and was based on false premises.
Now, however, a more nuanced view dominates. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have a wide range of views, and some quotes and ideas do sound radical. That’s to be expected given the oppression and violence used against them by dictatorial regimes in the past. But these organizations are evolving in a reality where politics is becoming more open. They are no longer just a small group competing against powerful corrupt regimes, but have become a large organization needing public support to try to remake the politics of the region.
As such there is no reason to expect them to be hostile to the US and the West, so long as we are not hostile to them. Indeed, it is in our interest to cultivate a solid relationship with such groups to help them make the transition from being on the outside fringe to governing. This isn’t a new process either. Ever since Robert Michel put forth his view on the “iron law of oligarchy” in 1911, it’s been well known that radical groups moderate when they become part of the system. The Greens in Germany, for instance, went from being radical pacifists and anti-NATO/anti-growth to being part of a German government that fought in Kosovo and embraced pro-market policies to increase growth and competitiveness in Germany.
The neo-cons and other fear mongers will point to parties like the Nazis in Germany and say “see, they didn’t moderate.” But there is no reason to expect the Muslim Brotherhood or other such organizations to behave that way – quite the opposite, in fact.
Change in the Arab world will be gradual, a culture dominated by Ottoman style repression and dictatorship for 700 years doesn’t blossom into a stable functioning democracy overnight. Some states like Saudi Arabia have yet to start the inevitable transition. But with the almost universal rejection of the McCarthy like Islamophobic “warning” of Michelle Bachmann, there is cause to believe that the US can be a positive influence in assisting change, working with a variety of groups in the Mideast to develop a path to democracy rather than fearing our lack of control over the process.
Some facts from an article in the New York Times by John Harwood got me thinking. His argument was straightforward: in a close election President Obama will have an edge due to changes in demographics. Some facts:
- 89% of the electorate was white in 1976, now it is 74%
- 1% of the electorate was Hispanic in 1976, now it is 9%
- In 12 battleground states the “working class white” vote is down 3% from 2008
This may mean that the election is “economics vs. demographics,” though that’s oversimplifying. But what does this say about the future? To me it points to an inevitable shift in the Republican party as they move to embrace policies that right now are anathema to the Tea Party, such as immigration reform, gay marriage, and a welfare reform that doesn’t just seek to cut welfare, but make it more effective. The Democrats, on the other hand, need to find a way not to have to rely on non-whites for victory. Both parties face a demographic challenge, though the GOP’s situation is more dire.
Consider – the shifts described above are not over. The working class white vote is declining, the white vote in general will continue to go down (and at some point be below 50%), the urban vote is growing, the rural vote receding, and Hispanics are voting in ever larger numbers.
At some point, the Presidency will be almost unwinnable to the GOP if they do not shift policies in order to appeal to these demographic groups. This isn’t yet true in 2012, and maybe not be for a few election cycles, but the writing is on the wall. If the 2008 election had been held with the demographics of 1976 or even 1988, Obama wouldn’t have had a chance. A President Obama was only possible because of demographic change.
Some of the Tea Party is driven by fear of this change. The cultural transformation of the last thirty five years have been immense, and many yearn to return to when things were “normal.” However, anti-immigration stances are poison for the GOP. Besides not getting results, they assure that the largest growing demographic is captured by the Democrats, even if there are some big name Republican Hispanics. This doesn’t have to be; Hispanics are not naturally predisposed to the Democrats, the GOP is pushing them into Democratic hands. If this goes on too long, they will be hard to convert.
It’s a no-brainer that the GOP has to alter its stance. It must embrace immigration reform, even if it draws the ire of their base. It may be too late for candidate Romney to aspire to win much of the Hispanic vote, even if he chooses Marc Rubio to be his Veep. There are too many sound and video bites of Romney from the primary season that the Obama team is going to make sure get a lot of airplay before the election.
Even though they are not representative of the GOP, social conservatives have been very good at getting involved, being active in local organizations, and making it to the polls, especially during primary season. Take an issue like gay marriage. A majority of Americans now support it, and the largest number of supporters are among the youth. The culture has shifted and that can’t be undone.
But unlike immigration reform, the GOP can finesse this one. Romney is refusing to make this a major campaign theme, which irritates social conservatives like Rick Santorum. The GOP can take a “states’ rights” stance and say that this isn’t an issue for a President. That way Republicans in Alabama can be stalwart against gay marriage while a Massachusetts Republican can be progressive. Over time, the issue will lose its relevance, just as interracial marriage did.
The GOP also needs to mesh it’s conservative values with an understanding of the challenges facing minorities and the poor. George W. Bush has already shown how to do that. In 2000 he talked about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and about building an ‘ownership’ society. Rather than painting social welfare, unions and the like as all bad – with free market and less government the vaguely defined alternative, Bush’s approach sought to redefine the role of government with new markers. Even ardent Democrats have to admit that high debt loads and the growing number of poor show that the programs we have now aren’t working right. A discussion of how to fix things needs to be more than one said asking for more and the other side asking for less. (I discussed ways the GOP could hone it’s message here).
Ultimately it’s not a question of if the Republicans will change, but when and how. So Democrats should not get too comfortable looking at the demographic trends. Parties adapt to cultural shifts. The loud tea party “take back America” voice of today cannot win in the long run, and wouldn’t even have a chance if not for the on going economic crisis. Just as Obama couldn’t have won back in 1988, Romney of today wouldn’t have a chance in 2028.
As Republicans adapt to the new environment and their party changes, Democrats will also be forced to change as well. When the GOP starts making inroads with Hispanics and other minorities, the Democrats will have to address what used to be their core constituency: working class whites. If the two parties become voices for ethnic blocs, American politics will break down. We need two effective parties exploring creative ideas will nudge each other not to be complacent with a particular ideology or set of solutions.
These demographic trends point to two parties that face both long challenges and great opportunities. Democrats should look at working class whites (their support among them is about 30-35%) as a great potential source of votes. Republicans should look at Hispanics and other minorities as their key to the future – as Karl Rove and George W. Bush tried to do in 2000. Avoiding the demographic split is the best way for the two parties to heal the dysfunction the defines US politics today.
I was re-reading Game Change, a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Two passages struck me:
“The candidates lined up at the urinals, Guiliani next to McCain next to Huckabee, the rest all in a row. The debate was soon to start, so they were taking care of business — and laughing merrily at the one guy who wasn’t there. Poking fun at him, mocking him, agreeing how much they disliked him. Then Willard Mitt Romney walked into the bathroom and overheard them, bringing on a crashing silence.” (Pgage 293)
“Unlike Guiliani, Romney had no reticence about slashing at his rivals. But the perception of him as a man without convictions made him a less than effective delivery system for policy contrasts. The combination of the vitriol of his attacks and his apparent corelessness explained the antipathy the other candidates had towards him. McCain routinely called Romney an ‘asshole’ and a ‘fucking phoney.’ Guiliani opined, ‘that guy will say anything.’ Huckabee complained, ‘I don’t think Romney has a soul.’ (Page 294)
Granted, that was in the heat of the 2008 race, but consider that even then Romney had a huge money and organizational advantage and he ended up succumbing quickly to John McCain — a man who had been considered dead a few months earlier due to a backlash in the GOP base against his stance on immigration reform. McCain had even said “why would I want to lead a party of such assholes” (page 284). But despite intense attacks from Limbaugh, Hannity and Glenn Beck, McCain emerged on top.
Fast forward to 2012. Williard Mittington Romney again has a huge advantage, this time having the GOP establishment in his pocket moreso than in 2008. Yet it seemed as if the Republicans were looking to find anyone else. If there had been a man with the record and character of John McCain in the running, he’d no doubt have managed to overcome Romney. But there wasn’t.
First was Bachmann, but she had no substance. Then came Perry, and he turned out to be embarrassingly unable to hold his own in debates and public grilling — a male Palin, if you will. Then they turned to Gingrich who, despite his numerous faults, was gaining traction and looked set to take down Romney. Romney used his money advantage to go hyper-negative on Gingrich and destroyed him. Gingrich was easy prey, to be sure, but still Romney couldn’t beat him by staying positive. Then last was Santorum who stuck around despite being an improbable candidate who had even lost his Senate seat in an election that wasn’t close. The Republicans had nowhere else to turn. But Santorum was simply too out of touch and weak. Romney emerged on top.
Simply, Romney hasn’t won by being himself or standing for something, he’s won inspite of the fact he can’t connect with voters and neither inspires nor excites. Where he did win in the past — the Governship of Massachusetts — he did so by embracing traditional northeast Republican pragmatism. He was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and he created a health care program for the state that inspired much of what became Obamacare. That path is gone. However competent he may be for the office, he’s simply not a good candidate. He’s speeches are boring, if he goes off script he sounds out of touch, and as a candidate he seems like a phoney. Hardly anyone believes he meant all of what he said during the primary season.
Republicans try to console themselves with bouts of wishful thinking:
1. It’s a referendum on Obama. Here the thinking is that it doesn’t matter who the GOP candidate is, people are going to vote about the economy and whether or not they’re happy with Obama’s performance. As long as Romney doesn’t implode, he can simply allow all the negative ads to work against Obama and eek out a victory.
The problem with that argument is first that Obama isn’t that unpopular. His job approval rating is about 50%, which is on the low side for an incumbent (much like President Bush in 2004), but his personal approval remains high — Americans generally like their President. While he’s not the rock star he was in 2008, he has a record and has disproven the “he’s a radical left wing extremist” rhetoric the GOP tried to use last time.
Second, the economy is enigmatic. We’re growing, but growing slowly. Jobs are returning, but returning slowly. Obama didn’t fix it yet, but it was the GOP who broke it. The economy really hurts a President when things look pretty good when he takes over and then fall apart on his watch. That’s not the case with Obama. This means that people aren’t simply going to vote one way or another in a knee jerk manner based on the economy, they’re going to consider the candidates.
2. Obama’s lost his luster. Here the thinking is that reality has bitten the young President, whose hair is now turning grey and who no longer arouses hope and the excitement of 2008. As such, he’s vulnerable and weak.
The reason this would make a difference is that it could create an enthusiasm gap — Democrats won’t be as inspired and enthused as in 2008, while the Republicans will be focused on removing him from office. Both look unlikely at this point.
Obama’s speeches are still powerful, and the Republicans have given him some assistance. The extremist agenda and rhetoric of the tea party and the red meat primary campaign have galvanized Democrats. Obama can point to achievements and skewer a “do nothing Congress.” Obama would be in a lot more trouble if the Democrats had kept the House in 2010.
On the other hand, Republican enthusiasm for Romney is weak. Voting turn out in GOP primaries was meager — sometimes in the single digits. It’s not clear what the evangelical base will do in response to Romney’s Mormon faith. At this point the “enthusiasm gap” looks almost certain to favor the President.
It’s early, things can change, but right now Mitt Romney looks to be a very weak candidate. He’s never shown a capacity to connect with voters or inspire. He’s relied on attacks and weak opposition. Obama’s weathered just about every attack one can imagine. His capacity to come out of nowhere to win in 2008 show that no matter what you think of Obama as President, he certainly is a strong candidate.
(This is the fourth post in a row about the state of the Republican party. It sums up my points from the last three posts, and puts forth a vision of how the GOP could recover. I’m a former Republican who sees the state of a party that used to be far more moderate and pragmatic as sad and dangerous. Even if they make the changes I suggest I wouldn’t come back – I’ve moved too far to the so-called left. But I think we need a strong, reasonable conservative voice in the political arena).
I like President Obama and intend on voting for his re-election. I don’t like him so much that I revel in the apparent implosion of the Republican party. The country needs two strong parties offering different perspectives and ideas. As Walter Lippmann noted in The Essential Opposition, democracy is a process designed to produce better results. To do so requires that both sides listen and engage each other. If the two parties end up being like parallel universes, not only will it be hard to get anything done, but the crucible of debate and discussion will not help the two sides critically assess the arguments and see ideas and possibilities they overlooked. Learning stops if people think they have an ideology that gives them all the answers. Ideologies are always vast over-simplifications of reality.
So to that end, I’ll proscribe what I think the Republicans need to become viable either for 2012, or at least 2016:
1. An optimistic future oriented message. As I noted awhile back, the tone of the campaign from the GOP has been intently negative. America’s collapsing, our freedoms are in jeopardy, Obama’s going to take away your guns, etc. For the true believing conservatives this is their reality — the Democrats are threatening the American dream enabled by a media that cheerleads and schools that indoctrinate. It’s a kind of fairy tale where liberals are evildoers wanting to destroy the good, while conservatives are fighting against all odds to preserve the American dream.
That kind of story line will keep the true believers motivated but doesn’t appeal to independents who look at Obama and say, “he doesn’t seem that bad, but I’m not sure he’s handling the job well.” They aren’t looking for someone to save us from doom and gloom, but someone who might offer a better vision of what should be done. (Note: one can find a mirror image fairy tale on the far left too — both sides have their true believers).
Here’s my suggestion: Start with the slogan: Building a Sustainable America. This slogan may sound awkward at first, but bear with me. Sustainability has been a key word for progressives concerned about climate change, the environment and the future. The GOP can claim it as their own and sound forward looking and progressive. This would appeal to independents and even moderate Democrats.
Second, it can fit GOP policies. They could talk about economic sustainability (cut spending, focus on debt, defend entitlement reform), social sustainability (the need to protect American values – vague enough to appeal to social conservatives without turning off independents), and political sustainability (foreign affairs, the US role in the world, etc.) This is a positive forward looking message that would still speak to the main themes of the GOP. Instead of being negative and petty, it could be lofty and persuasive. It has the advantage of suggesting that there is a danger inherent continuing the policies in place, meaning that the Republicans don’t have to ditch their critique completely.
2. Ditch the current crop of candidates: Mitt Romney probably would be a decent Republican President. At this time, however he’s damaged goods both amongst independents and within the Republican base. What they need to do is go into their convention in Tampa without a clear candidate, and then find someone who can unite the party behind a positive message. Americans don’t really focus until Labor Day anyway, a breath of fresh air could gain quick support.
They also need a fresh face. Not Daniels of Indiana or Christie of New Jersey. Daniels is too bland, and Christie too fat. Presidential elections are very much marketing campaigns, you need a candidate who looks the part. I think they should instead choose a woman from Alaska. No, not THAT woman! I’m talking Lisa Murkowski.
Murkowski won her Senate campaign in 2010 as a write in candidate, defeating Joe Miller, who narrowly beat her in the GOP primary. Many tea party types hated her after that, but Miller was a very weak candidate and now her appeal to independents and ability to inspire a rare write in Senate victory play in her favor. Coming from Alaska her professionalism contrasts to the flakiness that Sarah Palin represents. In that sense it would put a new, more serious face on the Republican party.
I doubt they’d choose her though, she’s too moderate (and anyway, I’d prefer Olympia Snowe if they went that route). They need someone not tainted by this year’s mudfest. Only Jon Huntsman qualifies, he was too weak to be scathed by the infighting; the others are have all been blemished by the sheer negativity of the campaign. Jeb Bush may be the best personal choice, but the country probably doesn’t want another President Bush, at least not at this point.
3. Demographics and Infromation reform: There is nothing about conservative thinking that makes immigration reform something to be avoided. In fact, Ronald Reagan promoted and championed the most comprehensive reform in history back in the 80s. Now the GOP has to embrace the kind of reform President Bush and Senator McCain tried to push in 2007, only to be stymied by the right wing of their party. This is essential if they are going to adjust to demographic change in the country. They have to mount a credible challenge for Hispanic voters, and their current anti-immigration stance hurts them. Saying “we’re only opposed to illegal immigration” doesn’t work — they have to embrace reform and then court hispanic voters who tend already to be socially conservative.
Polls show Obama leading in the Latino vote 6 to 1, with no Republican above 14%. That’s because of the immigration issue and the harsh stance taken by the GOP. It is the most severe self-inflicted wound the party has given itself.
4. It’ll never be 1980 again. All this will go for naught if the GOP doesn’t take seriously the fact that the country is profoundly different than it was 30 years ago. Gay marriage is here and will continue to expand. Contraception? Sorry Rick. I think the tea party/nostalgia/’end of liberty’ bit in the GOP is a short term reaction to the shock of 1) a black President named Barack Hussein Obama who grew up outside the continental US and seems strange compared to past Presidents; 2) the apparent decline of US power and prestige in the world, creating a fear of a ‘post-American world’; and 3) demographic and cultural change as whites are soon to be less than 50% of the population and society becomes more secular and diverse. Many can’t comprehend how quickly after 9-11 what they thought was a conservative shift to a more forceful America went south so quickly.
Republicans don’t have to accept the direction the country is going, but nostalgia and a desire to “take back” America in the sense of going back to what used to be isn’t going to work. They have to futurize their message and their ideology. That requires rejection of the tea party and a shift towards a less shrill and ideological conservatism. That’s not going to be easy, but ultimately that’s necessary for the GOP to succeed.
So far the 2012 campaign has been surreal. Despite seeming unpopular and down during most of 2011, President Obama did not draw one serious primary challenger and now leads all Republican candidates in head to head polls. Given that his approval is still hovering around only 50% (though better than even a month ago), this has to give Democrats a sense that the tide has turned their way.
More telling is the nastiness and division of the Republican primary, and the way in which the appeal is to the right, not the middle. Even in the emotional Democratic primary of 2008 the competition ended up being for the moderates, not the base. This meant that except for an occasional gaffe, the soundbites and quotes coming out of the primary season were not particularly harmful to the candidate in the general election. The Republicans are competing to win the hearts and minds of conservatives, meaning that red meat rhetoric delicious to the tea party is standard fare. One can imagine Obama’s campaign scouring every speech and statement for something to use down the line. Moreover, current front runner (at least in the polls) Rick Santorum was quoted as saying that mainstream protestantism has left the ‘real’ Christian faith. Uh, OK…
It is to me virtually impossible to imagine Obama losing at this point IF the economy continues its upward tick. It looks like it will, at least long enough for Obama to benefit. Not only have the jobs numbers been improving, but leading economic indicators have been strong and consumer sentiment rising. These things feed in on themselves and don’t usually turn around on a dime, especially since it’s been private sector growth not government jobs such back in early 2011.
The Republicans, as I noted last week, have had a very dour and negative message, leaving them little to go on if the country looks to be rebounding. “We could have recovered quicker” is a clunker as a campaign slogan, after all! They had a negative message in 2010 that worked as the economy was bleak and people upset. That was in an off year election; 2012 is a whole different ball game.
But how might the campaign matter? The Vice Presidential choice is probably irrelevant. Rarely does a choice truly help a candidate, often (such as with Sarah Palin in 2008) it does real harm. Debates could matter, though Obama is already proven himself disciplined and effective, it would be hard for a Republican to really savage him in a debate. Outside interests spending massive amounts of money could matter — though there are signs that dirty politicking is less effective now than it used to be.
A third party candidate: A third party candidate or a serious independent (and there is still time) could be a game changer. Still, a third party challenger would be more likely to draw from voters skeptical about President Obama on the right than those on the left. A fiscal conservative focused on debt like Ross Perot was in 1992 could give Obama headaches on the budget, allowing the Republican and the independent to gang up on the President. Yet that would likely split the anti-Obama vote, especially if someone like Santorum is the nominee.
A major scandal: All administrations have little scandals, but so far the Obama administration has remained relatively untainted. Despite efforts to trumpet stimulus funds going to an energy company that ultimately went bankrupt, or to ask questions about what the Attorney General knew about a drug/gun case, no scandal has gained traction. But ask Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan – a scandal can su
Economy sours again: Three months ago I’d have said that Obama would have no chance if the economy doesn’t continue it’s recovery. Now, I’m not so sure. Given the weakness of the GOP candidates, Obama’s cash, the benefits of incumbency and the campaign machine’s prowess it would still be possible to win, even if unemployment lingers at 8:0 ro rises slightly. In that case the campaign would matter – at least to the extent Obama can keep victory a possibility. If Romney is the nominee and the economic recovery falters, it’s hard to see Obama winning. Against Santorum or Gingrich he’d have a chance even in a poor economy.
The “secret weapon”: When a country is losing a war, people often turn to hope of some secret weapon that will turn things around. Increasing the Republicans are talking about the possibility of a brokered convention, a new candidate emerging from the pack who can somehow bring everyone together – Jeb Bush (are you serious?), Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Marc Rubio or someone. The trouble is, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and even Newt once occupied that role. When they had to campaign for real, difficulties emerged. Perhaps there is a someone else who can overcome all the problems of the current candidates, but hoping for a brokered convention shows desperation.
As we drift towards March, the campaign is starting to get the feel of one where the incumbent will coast to victory — more like 1972, 1984, and 1996 then 1980 or 1992. Even if things go sour for the President, chances are that the election will be close, like 2004, when a relatively unpopular George W. Bush held off John Kerry — a man who made it through the Democratic primary season relatively unscathed that year.
Things can turn around, of course, but the drama in 2012 may be less about the Presidential election and more about who ends up controlling the House and Senate.
When Ronald Reagan won the Presidency in 1980, he charmed Americans as a man of character who was inherently good natured and calmly confident. When Jimmy Carter tried to jab him in debates he said “there you go again,” with a smile. No anger, no bile.
The one time Reagan did get angry was when George H.W. Bush tried to keep a New Hampshire debate to two people. Reagan’s ire was not at Bush but at the moderator who was ordering “Turn off Governor Reagan’s microphone.” A visibly agitated Reagan stood up, and said with steely resolve “I am paying for this microphone,” and got thunderous applause.
Reagan was elected, however, for his optimism and character more than his ideology. Since Reagan it’s hard to find a successful candidate who ran on anger. Bill Clinton was charisma and hope, George W. Bush espoused a “compassionate conservatism,” with a vow to unite. Barack Obama promised “change we can believe in.” That last angry candidate was Richard Nixon, though most of the anger we know about now was hidden from the public. In the history of media intensive US elections (the last sixty years or so) there has never been someone with an angry and volatile persona like Newt Gingrich who has won the White House.
Add to that his ethical failures — serving divorce papers to his wife while she’s in bed with cancer, having to leave the House Speaker position and being fined $300,000 for ethics violations in Congress, and numerous stories that show him to be arrogant and extremely self-centered only accentuate the unlikelihood that he could be elected President.
So what the heck are the Republicans in South Carolina thinking? Is the GOP really going to ditch Romney not for a new visionary to lead the party into the future, but an angry ‘blast from the past’ with a blemished character and lack of appeal beyond the GOP base?
Probably not. Gingrich plays better in the south and in the more conservative states. The GOP primary battle will be a slog, and the party establishment fears he could not only fail to defeat President Obama, but could perhaps endanger Republican efforts to take the Senate or keep its House majority. Still, this says something about the state of the Republican party.
Many Republicans are driven by nostalgia, seeing a 21st Century America that looks far different than the country they grew up in. That is also much of what drives the tea party – nostalgia for the loss of an America they remember from the past. The white middle class ethos and life style of the late 20th Century have given way to a new cultural landscape. From the shining city on the hill with a vibrant economy and unquestioned world leadership to economic collapse and international decline, everything about the country has changed.
This has happened before. Nixon and the “silent majority” was a response to the changes brought by the sixties counter culture. Rock music, women’s liberation, the civil rights movement, a growing social welfare system all caused a yearning for the America of the 50s. Not that the fifties were all that great in objective terms, but change yields an idolized view of the past. That was the real America, somehow we lost it.
Of course, the cultural changes of the sixties and seventies took root. Cultural change is inevitable and real. America’s future will never be from its past.
Nonetheless, with a black President with foreign roots, an Occupy Wall Street movement that challenges the status quo, and international crises that call into question our faith in the economy and the US role in the world, it’s possible that Gingrich can pull a Nixon – perhaps anger can win. I doubt it. Nixon may have ultimately been more flawed a human than Gingrich, but he constructed an effective public persona. Gingrich’s problems are well documented and should he get the nomination the ad hominems will be intense, and almost certainly effective.
Can he pivot? Right now he has to play to the right wing of the GOP now to get the nomination. But his past work with Nancy Pelosi on climate change and other clearly moderate positions also define his record. His recent attacks on Romney at Bain Capital have echoed some of the concerns of Occupy Wall Street about capitalist excess. Might the anger and venom of the primary season give way to reason and calm vision? Will a “new Gingrich” bury the old one, with the public forgiving or shrugging at his personal problems in order to express the view of the new “silent majority” that change is coming in a too fast and too scary manner?
Perhaps. Gingrich has proven as malleable in his politics as Romney, but his angry forceful manner makes it appear he’s sticking to a principled script. Yet just as the cultural changes of the 60s were real and did not go away at all with the elections of Nixon or Reagan, the changes that the tea party and the right decry are likely to remain a part of what America is becoming regardless who wins. And perhaps in 2044 we’ll see a candidate running on the notion that we need to get back “America as it once was” – back in the old fashioned era of circa 2012.
The Republicans in the Senate were getting nervous. The House had passed an extension of the payroll tax holiday for a year in a bill so overly partisan that it had no chance to pass in the Senate. They believed the Democrats were engaging in demagoguery by saying that the Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the very wealthy but don’t mind the working middle class paying more.
Nobody liked the idea of a two month extension, but intense negotiations between both parties, which included John Boehner, yielded that compromise. It would buy time for them to reach broader agreement on a year extension after the holidays. The deal sailed through the Senate 89-10, with overwhelming bipartisan support. Speaker Boehner indicated the House would vote the deal through as well, and it appeared that the two sides managed to avoid giving the middle class a higher tax bill in January.
Then the rumbling started. Republicans in the House complained that they shouldn’t yield again to the Senate, and that a two month extension was meaningless. Lead by the tea party freshman, the House GOP revolted against Boehner and soon he was backtracking. The House turned down the extension and called for a Conference Committee to come together to patch up the differences between the Senate and House bills.
For Democrats, that’s a non-starter. First, the Senate bill was a compromise, negotiated between the two parties with Boehner indicating he approved of the agreement. Given that, a conference committee would not only be inappropriate, but if they couldn’t quickly come to agreement then both parties would share blame for not being able to extend the tax break. Why should the Democrats risk that? This way the onus is solely on the GOP.
If the Senate GOP hadn’t sided with the Democrats (with many Republican Senators urging the House to pass the two month extension) then the Republicans in the House would have some political wiggle room. As it is, they are finding it impossible to spin this as a failure of both parties — it’s a failure of the House Republicans.
Republicans who supported the measure in the Senate include budget hawk Tom Coburn, tea party stalwarts Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio, and of course Mitch McConnell (who was reportedly convinced Boehner would be able to get the measure through). Only seven Republicans voted “no.” This was a done deal.
Perhaps the House GOP thought that they could play Russian roulette with this issue like they did with the debt ceiling earlier this year, forcing the Senate and President to cave to some of their demands so they could claim victory and make the President look weak. Yet the debt ceiling was a serious issue. If it hadn’t been raised there would have been global economic turmoil and havoc for the US economy.
On this issue Democrats see themselves as having little at risk. They’re the ones who are calling for an extension, they worked out a bipartisan compromise, President Obama was ready to sign it, and the Republicans in the House moved the goalposts. Many Democrats see this as the first pivotal moment in the 2012 election cycle, whereby the Democrats nail home the argument that it’s GOP obstruction and extremism that is causing dysfunction in Washington politics.
Moreover the symbolism of the Republicans caring more about avoiding tax increases on the wealthy than imposing them on the middle class make this a dream issue for the Democrats going into 2012. If class war is being waged, it looks like the Republicans in the House want to wage it on the middle class. Exasperated Senate Republicans are furious, both at the tea party wing in the House, but also at Boehner for breaking another promise. It’s not that Boehner wants to break promises, it’s just that his caucus won’t follow him. The result is a Christmas gift for the Democrats.
John Boehner is proving to be a weak Speaker of the House. He got lucky with the debt ceiling debacle because even though he had indicated to the President he wanted a grand deal that could include closing tax loopholes, the President got punished in public opinion polls when Boehner couldn’t deliver. This time he’s not going to be that lucky. If he can manage to pass an extension early next year and make the issue go away as soon as possible he might limit damage. Otherwise, 2011 ends with the House GOP delivering a self-inflicted wound that could have profound ramifications for the 2012 election.