Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

Santorum and the Myths About 2012

If Republicans hold to past form, Rick Santorum, whose potential candidacy was profiled in Politico yesterday, ought to be their next presidential nominee. But the expectation that the runner up from the last race will win the next one—a pattern that applied in five out of the last six competitive GOP primary contests—is not one that will likely apply in 2016. The reasons why it won’t have less to do with Santorum’s shortcomings than with the very different composition of the likely field of candidates and the myths that have grown about the 2012 race in both the party’s establishment and its conservative grass roots.

Read More

If Republicans hold to past form, Rick Santorum, whose potential candidacy was profiled in Politico yesterday, ought to be their next presidential nominee. But the expectation that the runner up from the last race will win the next one—a pattern that applied in five out of the last six competitive GOP primary contests—is not one that will likely apply in 2016. The reasons why it won’t have less to do with Santorum’s shortcomings than with the very different composition of the likely field of candidates and the myths that have grown about the 2012 race in both the party’s establishment and its conservative grass roots.

Almost everyone outside of his inner circle thought Santorum’s candidacy was pure folly heading into the 2012 cycle. But a combination of hard work beating the bushes in Iowa and the fact that he was the one true social conservative in the race enabled Santorum to emerge as the chief challenger to frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though Romney’s ultimate victory was never in doubt, Santorum won a dozen primaries and caucuses and earned the right to call himself the second-place finisher. Though politics isn’t horseshoes, coming close did help Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Romney get the nomination the next time out after similar failures.

But this “rule” about runners up won’t apply this time. Unfortunately for Santorum, politics isn’t a quilt pattern. The prospective Republican field is very difference than it was four years ago, and that will dictate very different results.

First of all, there is no true front-runner as there usually is for GOP races. Indeed, the closest thing to a leading candidate once New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was laid low by Bridgegate is Senator Rand Paul. But renewed fears about terrorism mean that Paul is going to have a hard time expanding his appeal significantly beyond his libertarian base. No one, including Santorum, will be able to head into the first contests playing off the base’s resentment of the eventual candidate since no one will be in that role.

Second, though Republicans will have their share of outliers like Dr. Ben Carson, the lineup in their debates could include some genuine heavy hitters. A roster that could include the likes of Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Christie, Rick Perry (back for his own second go at the presidency), Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, and maybe even Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush will leave less room for a dark horse like Santorum to squeeze through to the front of the pack.

Santorum does have on thing that his potential rivals don’t possess: The ability to play to working-class voters. Santorum was right when he criticized the 2012 Republican National Convention for its emphasis on small business owners with its attempt to counter President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe to the exclusion of those who work for them. But though Santorum brings plenty of substance to the table on economics, social issues, and foreign policy (raising the alarm about the Iranian nuclear threat was a key issue for him during his disastrous 2006 race for reelection to his Pennsylvania Senate seat), it’s far from clear the formula that worked for a time for him last time will do the trick against opponents who don’t fit as neatly into the establishment category as Romney or even New Gingrich did in 2012.

But the discussion of Santorum’s potential candidacy should also cause Republicans to rethink some other myths about their last go round.

One is the idea that Santorum’s challenge was somehow to blame for Romney’s defeat in November.

It is true that it would have been easier on Romney and saved him a great deal of money that he could have employed against Obama had Santorum quit in February rather than pushing on for another couple of months. But it should be recalled that although John McCain’s chief opponents (the most prominent of which was Romney himself) did him that favor in 2008, it didn’t help him win the general election. The same could be said of the 2012 GOP nominee. Even if his grass-roots critics had shut up about his shortcomings sooner and given him an easy glide to the nomination, he was never going to beat Obama. Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate and the enduring, if puzzling, popularity of Barack Obama beat him, not Santorum.

The other prominent 2012 myth among Republicans is the idea that the nomination of a relative moderate depressed the base so much that millions of conservatives stayed home in November ensuring a Democratic victory. That’s a theme that will be sounded by conservatives in the 2016 primaries but there’s little proof that “silent majorities” of right-wingers stayed home in the fall. But unless the GOP establishment coalesces behind a resurgent but still damaged Christie or Jeb Bush decides to run or, as some hope, Romney tries again, there will be little for the base to complain about in a race that will largely be a competition between conservatives.

Santorum’s 2012 achievements should mean that his ambitions deserve more respect from pundits than he’s currently getting. But he is, if anything, an even bigger underdog today than he was four years ago. The bottom line is that in politics there are no real precedents. Nor will rules seeking to end the race earlier than it did last time necessarily work or help the nominee win in November. The coming free-for-all will be played by a different cast and produce different results with the one exception being that it is unlikely to end in a Santorum triumph.

Read Less

Why We’re Still Obsessing About Romney

When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

Read More

When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

That even a savvy political junkie like Chuck Todd would bite on this story and say on MSNBC’s Morning Rundown show today that Romney’s statement “opens the door a crack” to a 2016 run illustrates a few things.

The first is that once the Democratic attack machine that spent a solid year sliming Romney shut down it was possible for a lot of people to start noticing that Romney was not the cartoon villain his opponents claimed him to be. His decency, good humor, and competency look even better because of the ongoing disaster that Barack Obama’s second term has been. After a year and a half of ineptitude, scandals, and foreign-policy disasters, the national buyer’s remorse about giving Obama another four years has softened Romney’s image and given him a legitimacy that the president’s cheering section in the mainstream media denied him when he was a candidate.

But it must also be admitted that one of the reasons so many people continue to try and raise Romney’s name is that none of the likely Republican contenders for 2016 have yet eclipsed the 2012 nomine.

Bridgegate derailed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 juggernaut. Senator Marco Rubio, who seemed the party’s savior at the end of 2012, has had some ups and downs with respect to immigration and sometimes gave the impression that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Jeb Bush appears unlikely to buck his mother’s advice and probably won’t run. Governor Scott Walker is in the fight of his life seeking reelection in Wisconsin. Many in the national party don’t take Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal seriously as a presidential prospect. Senator Ted Cruz is loved by the Tea Party but hated by everyone else in the Senate and viewed as likely to be a disaster in a general election.

Rick Santorum would like the GOP to continue its tradition of nominating the runner-up from the previous primary battle, but he’s finding that most Republicans are as apathetic about his candidacy now as they were before 2012.

The one candidate who has gained ground in the last two years is Senator Rand Paul, who has expanded the libertarian base of his extremist father and shown himself to be a savvy politician even if his isolationist policies are being exposed as ill suited to the times by events in the Middle East. But while it must be conceded that Paul has a plausible chance to be the nominee, mainstream Republican opposition to him remains fierce.

All of which leaves some on the right wondering if they might not be better off trying Romney again. In a more rational world, saying that there’s a one-in-a-million shot of something happening would be interpreted as proof that it won’t, but we are discussing politics, not reason. Yet leaving aside the fact that Romney has made it perfectly clear that he won’t run again, there are good reasons why he shouldn’t even if the former Massachusetts governor changes his mind.

First and foremost is the fact that, as Romney has repeatedly said, he already tried and lost. It’s been nearly 50 years since one of the parties nominated a candidate that had already lost a general election to run for president. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the odds are it won’t. Were Romney to start making real noises about running, the new respect he’s earned in the media would evaporate and Democrats would restart their smear campaigns about his faith and his business experience. He may have been right about the threat from Russia and much else in 2012, but don’t expect anyone in the media to remember that if he intended to run again.

More to the point, a Romney candidacy would throw away the one clear advantage the Republicans have going into the 2016 race. Any Republican running against Hillary Clinton is going to seem like a fresh-faced outsider in comparison to that veteran of more than 20 years of Washington political infighting. Anyone, that is, other than Romney. In spite of his ability to raise money and the trust he has earned from many on the right because of his dogged underdog fight against Obama, Romney would come across as a tired, if likeable retread. That isn’t going to be a winning formula against the person who will be touted as America’s potential first female president.

Republicans, especially conservatives, have good reason to feel some remorse about Romney. Many of them spent most of 2012 trashing him as a RINO instead of doing everything they could to help him beat Obama. That wasn’t the reason he lost. The odds against any Republican going up against the first African-American president were always almost insurmountable and once the economic tailspin in late 2011 turned into the more stable situation of 2012, Obama’s reelection was probably guaranteed. The awful reality of an Obama second term has inspired a surprising amount of nostalgia for Romney’s gallant efforts. But that’s no substitute for a competent and competitive 2016 candidate.

Republicans need to re-focus on their party’s deep bench. All of the possible GOP candidates will be underdogs against Clinton. But there are many with genuine promise and there’s plenty of time for them to hit their stride in the next two years. Romney deserves the love he’s belatedly getting from Republicans, but looking forward rather than backward is the GOP’s only path to victory in 2016.

Read Less

No, Virginia, There Is No Swing Voter

If a tree falls in the forest, and only swing voters are around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Read More

If a tree falls in the forest, and only swing voters are around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Whatever your answer is to the original philosophical question, it should remain unchanged in this version. Swing voters, like political “independents,” are rarely more than science fiction.

That is not to say that voters never change their minds. It’s that when they do so, they tend to trade one opinion for another, not graduate from being undecided (no matter what they tell pollsters). More evidence for this comes from Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman, who takes to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog to explain the results of his latest political science survey, conducted along with coauthors David Rothschild, Sharad Goel, and Doug Rivers.

At the blog, Gelman quotes the study’s abstract:

How can election polls swing so much given the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, where switching one’s support between candidates is a significant move? We investigate this question by conducting a novel panel survey of 83,283 people repeatedly polled over the last 45 days of the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign. We find that reported swings in public opinion polls are generally not due to actual shifts in vote intention, but rather are the result of temporary periods of relatively low response rates by supporters of the reportedly slumping candidate. After correcting for this bias, we show there were nearly constant levels of support for the candidates during what appeared, based on traditional polling, to be the most volatile stretches of the campaign. Our results raise the possibility that decades of large, reported swings in public opinion — including the perennial “convention bounce” — are largely artifacts of sampling bias.

He adds:

The short story is much of the apparent changes in public opinion are actually changes in patterns of nonresponse:  When it looked like Romney jumped in popularity, what was really happening was that disaffected Democrats were not responding to the survey while resurgent Republicans were more likely to respond.

Gelman also notes a bit of humorous backstory:

This is a big deal and it represents a major change in my thinking compared to my 1993 paper with Gary King, “Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?” At that time, we gave an explanation for changes in opinion, but in retrospect, now I’m thinking that many of these apparent swings were really just differential nonresponse.  Funny that we never thought of that.

That original question, though, arguably has accrued more relevance over the last two decades. It also seems like a fascinating reversal of process. Polls always carried with them a sense of scientific authority (today they are just plain fetishized). So even though the variability of polls in many elections just didn’t seem right, there wasn’t much more to that. The numbers said one thing and instincts or personal experience another. The numbers always won out. Gelman and Co. have flipped the script in a way.

The polling “swings” are consequential, however. As the authors note in their paper, they inspire a narrative of momentum and create a bandwagon effect:

For example, the Romney campaign saw a surge in donations and volunteers in the days following the debate, attributed in part to his perceived viability. Moreover, of the $400 million raised in the month between the debate and election day, donors making rational investment decisions would have likely directed some of their contributions to tighter senatorial elections if they did not believe the race for president was so close. Further, in an age of highly targeted campaign strategies (Hillygus and Shields 2009), misunderstanding voter intent likely affects decisions ranging from state-by-state spending (over $650 million was spent in that final month) to the general tone of the candidates. Finally, major poll movements often extend into the wider world, affecting, for example, stock and commodity prices (Snowberg, Wolfers and Zitzewitz 2007).

This helps explain why Barack Obama’s campaigns have been so successful. In both 2008 and 2012, the GOP presidential nominee was not exactly beloved by the party’s base. Obama had no such struggles. As I wrote here last month, we may scoff at the methods by which the Obama team fires up the Democratic base, but it is undeniable that firing up the base is an important component of a successful campaign.

In 2012 especially, it appeared bizarre that Obama had abandoned “independent” voters for Big Bird and birth control–a strategy that relied on the angry left to power the campaign. There’s a good reason to ignore independents: as I’ve argued before, they don’t exist, at least not in the numbers the media thinks. The country is deeply polarized; according to Pew, “Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history.” Vote swings are not the result of swing voters, and campaigns should plan accordingly.

Read Less

OFA the Undead: A Political Zombie’s Lessons for Conservatives

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

Read More

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

The basic story is that, as Ham notes, Post political blogger Philip Bump wrote a piece in May that called attention to the fact that OFA was a purposeless shell, aimlessly wandering the country and unable to make a legislative impact on its pet political issues. Bump wrote about OFA’s announcement that with the midterms approaching and the need to maximize fundraising to candidates, it will stop accepting large donations. “Even without that news,” he added, “it’s not clear how much longer OFA will survive.”

OFA, coming from its formative experience as an Obama campaign machine, handles bad press about as well as you would expect the humorless president’s cultish fan clubs would. They challenged Bump over the next couple months to acknowledge and grade their work. He did, and he found that he was right. They’re a joke:

Organizing For Action has spent two months sending emails to the Post, trying to convince us of its effectiveness. (They were unhappy with this post asking how long the organization could survive.) So, we decided to look at what the group’s executive director, Jon Carson, was sending us. To catalog it. To do exactly what Carson apparently intended: Evaluate their work.

In short, we were not terribly impressed. …

By the most important metric, the group is largely ineffective. Of the priorities above — which, according to the group’s mandate, are meant to bolster federal efforts — none has seen national legislative action. The president introduced new restrictions on carbon pollution, but that was an executive action, not legislation. Immigration reform has stalled; there hasn’t been a national minimum wage increase. All of these things are difficult, given the opposition the president faces from Republicans in Congress, but that’s the point, right? Encourage people to take action in their communities? Bottom up change and all that?

Nonetheless, there are a couple things conservatives can learn from OFA’s good days and bad.

The first is that they should not dismiss OFA’s raison d’être. Though we often criticize the means by which the Democrats drum up support from their base–I regularly knock the White House’s “war on women” and took a shot at the pitiful attempts to get the GOP to talk impeachment–rallying the base itself is something conservatives should get used to, and the Obama campaign was very good at it.

Conservatives have tended to recoil a bit from the politicization of everything, and with good reason. But getting involved in partisan politics in a democracy is, as our Pete Wehner noted a couple weeks ago, a noble effort. I’m often reminded of the Jews in DP camps after World War II organizing themselves into political parties, ready to combat the tyranny they were subjected to not with more tyranny but with party politics as practiced by free men–even before they were truly free.

The instinct to organize and vote in or out policies and politicians according to your values and principles is the right way to change what needs changing. Liberal activism often has the feel of mob rule because that’s exactly what it is–except when those same activists who spend their time ostracizing the people they disagree with or destroying the livelihood of a thought criminal show up to the polls and vote. It’s terrible that liberals want to undo the protections in the First Amendment. But they give their authoritarian dreams hope of becoming reality by electing senators who actually introduce their wish lists as bills in Congress. Boosting turnout and organizing political action is the way they do that. Conservatives can’t expect to stop them by hoping John Roberts finds his spine.

The other lesson for conservatives is that the OFA zombie is a very leftist creature. I don’t just mean the politics, which are shallow and conventionally liberal. Its walking dead routine is the logical result of applying the liberal world view to any such organization. It becomes a bureaucracy that never disappears and simply prowls the night desperate for something to feed on.

Conservatives should learn not only from the left’s strengths but their weaknesses. This was a lesson conservatives may have learned from the spectacular failure of the Romney campaign’s get out the vote program. It had many problems, but one was surely its overly hierarchical command structure.

The Tea Party is best placed to relate to the organizing of the left because it is a grassroots movement that got candidates elected to Congress. The existence of a Tea Party Caucus is a good example of how these organizations get bureaucratized and then stuck in place, ultimately working against their own best interests thanks to their obsession with their brand. But there’s still a lot the right can learn from an Obama campaign organization that now seems to be plodding off, arms outstretched, into the sunset.

Read Less

Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

Read More

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

Read Less

Did Perry Just Boost His 2016 Chances?

Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

Read More

Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

Perry has made no secret of his desire for another run at the White House that would, if nothing else, create a different epitaph for a heretofore-brilliant political career. Nobody wants to exit the stage as a laughingstock, which is the only word that adequately describes his performance on the stump and especially in the numerous debates that shaped the prelude to the 2012 GOP primaries. His gaffes, bizarre memory lapses (Perry’s picture should appear in the dictionary next to the word “oops”), and general lack of readiness for prime time doomed him after he appeared to be the frontrunner in the first weeks after his entry in to the race. But while you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the ongoing drama along the Rio Grande has afforded Perry an opportunity to recast his image.

The debacle along the border with Mexico is a nightmare for the Obama administration for two reasons.

One is that it’s obvious that Republicans have a point when they charge that the president’s statements about immigration reform directly caused the surge of illegals, including a vast number of unaccompanied minors that must now be housed and fed by the federal government. Immigration reform is necessary but conservatives who feared that promises about letting illegals stay or even get a path to citizenship would set off another wave of undocumented aliens heading to the U.S. were right. And though criticisms of efforts to legalize the so-called “dreamers”—people who entered this country without permission as children—seemed churlish, the arrival of all those minors from Central America in Texas undermines arguments for that reform.

The other problem is that rather than embrace his responsibility to deal with this debacle, President Obama has chosen avoidance and a characteristic emphasis on partisan politics. Most of the criticism about his behavior has centered on his refusal to visit the border even though he was headed to political fundraisers in Texas this week. This raised comparisons to President Bush’s flyby over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the president’s refusal to be accountable for the problem and his insistence on vain efforts to shift the public’s focus back to Republican opposition to immigration reform with partisan dog-and-pony shows have only made things worse.

But Obama’s peril was Perry’s opportunity and the Texas governor seized on the bad optics to become the most visible Republican in the debate this week. He demanded that Obama visit the border but then got a face-to-face meeting with the president instead. At that meeting, he emerged looking like the more serious of the two leaders as Obama joked and evaded while Perry stayed on message and sounded constructive.

Thus, at a time when no one has emerged as a true frontrunner in the 2016 GOP race, Perry was able to use a national concern to edge his way from the margins of the contest back to the center ring.

One good week doesn’t make a campaign, but his ability to use the bully pulpit of his position to become the leading GOP voice critiquing administration failures was impressive. It’s the sort of thing that will remind Republicans of why they thought he was a credible presidential candidate before he opened his mouth at the debates and made a fool of himself. This will allow Perry to underline his claims that his bad performance in the fall of 2011 was due to the aftermath of back surgery and inexperience on the national stage rather than unsuitability for high office.

It’s also ironic that Perry would boost his comeback by latching onto immigration as his key issue since it was on that point that Mitt Romney slaughtered him. While Romney was the putative moderate in the race and handicapped by his Massachusetts health-care bill that helped inspire ObamaCare, he was able to shift to the right on immigration and make Perry look squishy because of his support for in-state tuition rates for dreamers.

Can Perry really catapult himself into the first tier of GOP candidates on the strength of his border standoff with Obama? Maybe. Perry can’t help but be better than he was last time and it’s possible that a more focused and professional campaign will create a whole new image for him. But Republicans are right to be skeptical. He’ll be up against a new and probably even tougher bunch of opponents next time and Perry’s weaknesses on the stump were not illusions. While presidential candidates—especially Republicans—often improve on their second try for the office, that usually happens after being the runner-up or at least having a decent showing. They rarely shoot to the top after such a disastrous first run.

Perry remains a long shot for 2016 who is just as likely to be eclipsed by fellow Texan Ted Cruz or the host of promising new GOP candidates. But what happened this week did change the country’s impression of the governor. For the moment at least, Perry has emerged from the shadow of “oops.”

Read Less

Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney”: How Buyer’s Remorse Works

Former Mitt Romney campaign advisor Emil Henry makes an impassioned plea for renominating his old boss in 2016 in Politico Magazine. He knows that such a suggestion will be controversial, so it’s fitting that he–or his editors, more likely–subheadlined the piece “I’m absolutely serious.” The question, though, is whether the lessons of 2012 and the following years would lead the GOP to choose Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney.” It is a choice between copying the 2012 GOP nominee’s homework vs. renominating the man himself.

Read More

Former Mitt Romney campaign advisor Emil Henry makes an impassioned plea for renominating his old boss in 2016 in Politico Magazine. He knows that such a suggestion will be controversial, so it’s fitting that he–or his editors, more likely–subheadlined the piece “I’m absolutely serious.” The question, though, is whether the lessons of 2012 and the following years would lead the GOP to choose Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney.” It is a choice between copying the 2012 GOP nominee’s homework vs. renominating the man himself.

Henry begins by spelling out the challenge of losing a presidential election and then not only winning the nomination again but winning the general election as well. (The model is Nixon.) Henry breaks down the case for Romney into three categories:

  • Romney is re-emerging as the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
  • There is no natural 2016 GOP nominee and the field is highly fractured.
  • All failed nominees other than Romney were career politicians.

Does Romney qualify as someone who isn’t a “career politician”? I can see both sides of this debate. The other two claims seem to me arguments against Romney, if anything. His “re-emergence” as the de facto leader of the party is really his re-emergence as a respected figure of the establishment–an establishment which so happens to be locked in a rather nasty public battle with the party’s conservative grassroots.

In that context, a Romney nomination is unthinkable. Romney was really the last of the “next in liners” with regard to the party’s nominating process. His loss was the end of turn taking and the beginning of the party’s turn to its next generation.

And that brings us to the second point. The field is “highly fractured” not out of weakness but strength. The field of possible 2016 candidates is far more dynamic and in line with the party’s emerging identity than the 2012 field. Romney was preferable even to many conservatives over Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum. It’s doubtful the same would be said for Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, or Bobby Jindal.

There are times when an elder statesman is the appropriate candidate. There’s a much stronger case for a Romney candidacy without the Romney, however. The case for Romney is really about buyer’s remorse–it would be the GOP telling the electorate “we told you so.” But as Henry himself intimates, the electorate doesn’t actually need to be told that. The buyer’s remorse is real, and it’s because they realize now that voting for the birth-control-and-Big-Bird candidate was a fairly irresponsible thing to do.

Barack Obama tends to run extremely shallow campaigns. Manufactured war on women controversies and episodes of messianic self-love are usually all you get. But the electorate seems to have assumed that the ideas would come later–that, at some point, Obama would think seriously about the issues of the day, end the perpetual campaign, and start governing. What they got instead was grade-school name calling. On foreign policy, his dithering and disastrous “leading from behind” led to chaos and disintegrating borders. The response of the international community to this was predictable. No one takes Obama seriously, and his diplomatic endeavors have mostly been laughed out of the room.

What they reasonably hoped was that this would stop after Obama’s reelection, when he had no more elections ahead of him. They have learned the hard way the president had no such intentions. Thus their buyer’s remorse is pretty strong, but also much less relevant to 2016. Just because they wish someone else had won in 2012 doesn’t mean they would prefer Romney to someone who isn’t Obama in a future election. Buyer’s remorse doesn’t really work that way.

But they do have an understanding of the consequences of the president’s world view, and it happens not to be too different from the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. She was, after all, the president’s secretary of state, who managed the Russian “reset,” ignored some allies while haranguing others, and presided over the light-footprint model of state intervention that resulted in the death of an American ambassador in Libya.

It turned out that Romney was right about a whole lot, both on domestic policy and especially foreign policy. Perhaps that’s the road map future candidates will follow: not to mimic all of Romney’s policy prescriptions, but to concentrate on where and why he was right and how polling shows these areas to be weaknesses for the current ruling Democrats. That doesn’t mean they’d need to run Mitt Romney in order to make those arguments, but does explain why we’re having this conversation to begin with.

Read Less

Is Hillary Ashamed of Her Vast Wealth?

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Read More

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Such is the mind of the leftist: good works are done through the government. She didn’t say she’s a good example of the deserving rich because she gives charity. She said she pays her taxes. She surrenders enough of her money to the government, and therefore she gets to keep the rest, no complaints. It’s a bit of a non sequitur: if the concern is income inequality, paying your taxes doesn’t exactly get at the root of the issue, does it?

But then Clinton protested too much: “and we’ve done it through dint of hard work,” she continued. No one really doubts Clinton herself earned her salary as secretary of state, but that’s not where most of the family wealth comes from. It comes from, instead, wealthy donors shoveling money at the Clintons, often through speaking fees. Paying Bill Clinton millions of dollars to talk about himself is honest work, sure–but it’s doubtful the public thinks the Clintons had it tough.

That’s the upshot of the Washington Post’s story laying out just how the Clintons amassed all this post-presidential wealth:

Bill Clinton has been paid $104.9 million for 542 speeches around the world between January 2001, when he left the White House, and January 2013, when Hillary stepped down as secretary of state, according to a Washington Post review of the family’s federal financial disclosures.

Although slightly more than half of his appearances were in the United States, the majority of his speaking income, $56.3 million, came from foreign speeches, many of them in China, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, the Post review found.

The financial industry has been Clinton’s most frequent sponsor. The Post review showed that Wall Street banks and other financial services firms have hired Clinton for at least 102 appearances and paid him a total of $19.6 million.

Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.

Here’s the thing: It’s actually OK that the Clintons are filthy rich–at least it’s OK with conservatives. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that the Clintons are rolling in money basically handed to them by the lords of American finance and Wall Street’s heavy hitters. That’s because contrary to the left’s hysterical propaganda, the financial industry is not evil; it in fact creates wealth and jobs, not to mention keeps New York humming along.

It’s perfectly fine if the Clintons go home to a giant vat of cash from Goldman Sachs and swim around in it, Scrooge McDuck-style. It’s good exercise! And there’s nothing criminal about being paid to hang out at fancy resorts and make jokes and hobnob in return for gobs and gobs of money. But the Clintons leave the impression that something’s not quite right by the way they try to spin their fees. For example:

The Clintons also sometimes request that sponsors pay their fee as a donation to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s nonprofit group that leads global philanthropic initiatives. Hillary Clinton is doing this with her $225,000 fee for a speech this fall at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, according to her office.

Oh come on. The American people don’t enjoy having their intelligence insulted so brazenly. And again, there’s really no reason to be rude: the Clintons did not steal their fabulous wealth. They were paid more money than most Americans can even imagine to show up, say a few words, and maybe take some pictures. They can be proud of the lives they’ve made for themselves. The Clintons are very, very rich–completely out of the orbit of most of the country, to say nothing of the planet.

Sure, it’s not as though–like, say, Mitt Romney–the Clintons were creating jobs or helping businesses adapt to new climates, or turning around failed ventures. And it’s also true that the Clintons are generally paid tons of money just because they’re the Clintons. But trading on celebrity isn’t illegal.

Now, of course it’s possible that voters won’t love the fact that the Clintons essentially used their political power and connections, not to mention the fact that many donors believe Hillary will be the next president, to convince the wealthy to give them lots of money. But what’s the alternative? That the Clintons would get private-sector employment creating wealth, learning skills, helping local communities, and making sure workers have jobs and benefits? Liberals treated the last guy who tried that like he was the spawn of Satan. The Clintons are acting this way because they hope to capture the Democratic Party nomination, and they know their audience.

Read Less

Why the Benghazi Email Still Matters

The release of a new batch of White House emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack is a problem for the Obama administration. The emails, specifically one from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes, indicates that the White House was attempting to orchestrate responses to the attack in such a way as to promulgate the message that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Coming as it does a day after the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the communication appears to be clear proof that the false story that the attack was a case of film criticism run amok can be traced directly to high-ranking officials with clear political motivations.

This email was, according to the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, provided to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform only two weeks ago, although Congress requested them back in August 2013. Judicial Watch published it Tuesday after it forced the government to release them via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This raises serious questions about what Lake aptly termed a White House “slow walk” of the release of information as well as the original concerns as to why the administration was putting out a false story about the attack that senior officials already knew was incorrect. Rhodes’s email seems to confirm the suspicions of many Republicans and other administration critics that the White House was behind the false story that then National Security Council director Susan Rice spouted repeatedly the following weekend on the Sunday news shows.

But as damning as Rhodes’s email seems to be, Democrats don’t seem too worried. The story is being largely ignored or downplayed by most of the same mainstream media that helped foster the narrative that Republicans were nuts to claim the White House was covering something up. Indeed, many on the left and perhaps even some on the right think that the email controversy is a trap for the GOP because it will motivate them to waste more time hammering the administration on an issue that the public doesn’t care about. But while this may not be an issue that will be decisive in the midterm elections, Congress should not let the administration bury this episode. The American people still have a right to know why the White House lied about the origin of the attack and why it covered that lie up for more than a year.

Read More

The release of a new batch of White House emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack is a problem for the Obama administration. The emails, specifically one from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes, indicates that the White House was attempting to orchestrate responses to the attack in such a way as to promulgate the message that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Coming as it does a day after the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the communication appears to be clear proof that the false story that the attack was a case of film criticism run amok can be traced directly to high-ranking officials with clear political motivations.

This email was, according to the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, provided to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform only two weeks ago, although Congress requested them back in August 2013. Judicial Watch published it Tuesday after it forced the government to release them via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This raises serious questions about what Lake aptly termed a White House “slow walk” of the release of information as well as the original concerns as to why the administration was putting out a false story about the attack that senior officials already knew was incorrect. Rhodes’s email seems to confirm the suspicions of many Republicans and other administration critics that the White House was behind the false story that then National Security Council director Susan Rice spouted repeatedly the following weekend on the Sunday news shows.

But as damning as Rhodes’s email seems to be, Democrats don’t seem too worried. The story is being largely ignored or downplayed by most of the same mainstream media that helped foster the narrative that Republicans were nuts to claim the White House was covering something up. Indeed, many on the left and perhaps even some on the right think that the email controversy is a trap for the GOP because it will motivate them to waste more time hammering the administration on an issue that the public doesn’t care about. But while this may not be an issue that will be decisive in the midterm elections, Congress should not let the administration bury this episode. The American people still have a right to know why the White House lied about the origin of the attack and why it covered that lie up for more than a year.

In response, administration defenders claim that this is still much ado about nothing. Does it, as Hillary Clinton asked last year, matter who said what about Benghazi that weekend when the real issue is the fact that terrorists killed four Americans?

There is some truth to this line of reasoning. A much bigger scandal than the lies told about the attack is the fact that to this day not a single one of the murderers has been captured, let alone tried and punished.

But the reason the lie still sticks in the collective craw of the American people is that the falsehoods helped reelect President Obama. As Rhodes’s communication makes clear, the White House’s No. 1 concern at that moment seemed to be more about the American people thinking that al-Qaeda was reviving than the fact that the terror group and its affiliates had done it. The attempt to convince Americans that a video was at fault (for which the administration wrongly issued a profuse apology to the Muslim world) was no innocent mistake. With the assistance of the mainstream media (remember CNN Candy Crowley intervening on behalf of the president when he was pressed on the issue by Mitt Romney?), Obama was able to maintain his stance that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden.

The point is Rhodes’s email reveals that Rice’s false story was not an innocent mistake. It was a cynical attempt to divert public attention from the revival of Islamist terrorism at a moment during a competitive reelection when the president was basing his reelection in no small part on the notion that he was a strong leader who had vanquished that movement.

The lie may not have changed the outcome of an election that Obama was probably fated to win anyway. Nor is it as outrageous as the subsequent failure of the United States to find the terrorists responsible for the murders. But as with so many other scandals, the coverup is in some ways worse than the original lie. As much as liberals have tired of the discussion, it should not be buried along with the four Benghazi victims.

Read Less

Dems Shouldn’t Bother Arguing with Silver

Back in 2012, Republicans and many conservative writers weren’t buying Nate Silver’s forecasts about the presidential election. They argued he was exaggerating President Obama’s appeal and some, like me, doubted the New York Times writer’s assumptions about turnout that year resembling that of the 2008 election. As everyone knows, we who differed with Silver were wrong. In fact, we were extremely wrong and those who care to learn from the experience will try not to allow their political opinions or their hopes temper their views of the numbers again. But, as the Washington Post reports, this time around it’s the Democrats who are the doubters.

Silver, who left the Times to start his own website associated with ESPN, posted a piece this weekend establishing the GOP as a clear favorite to win control of the Senate this fall. But, as the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to argue that the man who called all 50 states right in the 2012 election is wrong. The DSCC claims that there aren’t enough polls to justify Silver’s assertion that the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of picking up at least six Senate seats. The Democrats also point out instances of Silver being either wrong in the past or at least underestimating the actual margins of races. But while the attempt to take down Silver will reassure some nervous Democrats who may have been under the impression the liberal-leaning pundit/statistician was only capable of predicting results they like, the response bears all the signs of the same denial that characterized GOP jousting with the writer two years ago.

Read More

Back in 2012, Republicans and many conservative writers weren’t buying Nate Silver’s forecasts about the presidential election. They argued he was exaggerating President Obama’s appeal and some, like me, doubted the New York Times writer’s assumptions about turnout that year resembling that of the 2008 election. As everyone knows, we who differed with Silver were wrong. In fact, we were extremely wrong and those who care to learn from the experience will try not to allow their political opinions or their hopes temper their views of the numbers again. But, as the Washington Post reports, this time around it’s the Democrats who are the doubters.

Silver, who left the Times to start his own website associated with ESPN, posted a piece this weekend establishing the GOP as a clear favorite to win control of the Senate this fall. But, as the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to argue that the man who called all 50 states right in the 2012 election is wrong. The DSCC claims that there aren’t enough polls to justify Silver’s assertion that the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of picking up at least six Senate seats. The Democrats also point out instances of Silver being either wrong in the past or at least underestimating the actual margins of races. But while the attempt to take down Silver will reassure some nervous Democrats who may have been under the impression the liberal-leaning pundit/statistician was only capable of predicting results they like, the response bears all the signs of the same denial that characterized GOP jousting with the writer two years ago.

As the Post notes, the DSCC has been trying to fundraise off of Silver’s last prediction about the Senate made less than a year ago. Last summer, Silver’s assessment of the various competitive Senate races gave the Republicans a 50-50 chance to pick up the seats they need. The article was cited in an attempt to rouse a somewhat lethargic Democratic donor base into action to fend off a potential disaster for President Obama’s party. But now that Silver’s analysis has begun to point toward what many are thinking may be a wave election in November, the Democrats are rightly worried about panic setting in among their ranks.

Silver’s breakdown of the competitive races is not particularly original. You don’t have to be a stat geek to know that the GOP will be heading into the fall knowing that, barring some kind of cataclysm, they will gain at least three red-state seats in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana. They are odds-on favorites to pick up two more from the Democrats in Arkansas and Louisiana. He rates North Carolina as a 50-50 tossup as to whether the GOP will seize yet another red-state Democratic seat won in Barack Obama’s big year in 2008. Worse than that, he gives the Republicans at least a 40 percent shot at taking three more in Colorado, Michigan, and Alaska. And he rates Democratic chances of gains in Kentucky and Georgia as no better than 25 and 30 percent respectively. While it is conceivable to think that unforeseen circumstances or GOP gaffes can allow the Democrats to hold on, the chances of that happening are no better than those of the Republicans winding up winning far more than the six they need.

So my advice to Democrats is to not waste time arguing with Silver. He may be a liberal but as we have seen in the past few years, his background in baseball statistics as one of the leading lights of the SABRmetric revolution leads him inevitably to sober and unflinching looks at the numbers. If liberals don’t like the way things are heading this year, they would do better to evaluate their own positions on issues like ObamaCare or the fact that their out-of-touch “Downton Abbey” elitist party (to use the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Green’s apt phrase) is setting this midterm cycle up as one that will be extremely favorable for the GOP, not bad poll numbers or faulty analysis. If not, they’ll be eating crow that is just as bitter as the dish so many conservatives had to consume in 2012.

Read Less

Demographics and the GOP

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

Read More

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

Barack Obama v. Mitt Romney

  • In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 126 electoral votes (332 to Romney’s 206) and won the popular vote by nearly 5 million. Mr. Obama is the first president to achieve the 51 percent mark in two elections since President Eisenhower and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. He did this despite losing white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in American history.
  • Of the 12 “battleground” states, Obama won 11—eight of them by a margin of more than 5 percentage points. Remarkably, this meant that if there had been a uniform 5 point swing toward the Republicans in the national popular vote margin—that is, had Romney won the popular vote by 1.1 percentage points instead of losing it by 3.9—Obama would still have prevailed in the Electoral College, winning 23 states and 272 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster, ran through the exit poll data, explaining that Chicago had dramatically pulled off its coalition-of-the-ascendant play–turning out an electorate even more diverse than in 2008, not less, as Newhouse assumed would be the case. Nationally, the white vote fell from 74 to 72 percent, while the black proportion held stead at 13. Participation among Hispanics rose from 8 to 10 percent, among women from 53 to 54 percent, and among young voters from 18 to 19 percent. Obama’s share of each of those blocs ranged from commanding to overwhelming: 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 55 percent of women (and 67 percent of unmarried women), and 60 percent of young voters. (Source: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann)
  • In 2012 the minority share of the vote rose to 28 percent, 2 percentage points above 2008 and more than double the 12 percent level for Bill Clinton’s first victory in 1992. (Source: Ron Brownstein

Historic/Demographic Trends

  • In the last two decades of Democratic dominance, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic six out of six times. These currently have 242 electoral votes, which is quite close to the 270 needed to win the presidency. There are 13 states that have voted Republican in every election since 1992, but they total just 102 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • White voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP, have gone from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. (This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category.) Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same in 2012 as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • The 2012 election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. About 72 percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20-point lead and the fourth highest for a Republican since the advent of exit polling. No presidential candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost. Yet Romney lost the election by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • From 1996 to 2012, according to census figures, the white share of the eligible voting population (citizens who are older than 18) has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years, from 79.2 percent to 71.1 percent; over that same period, whites have declined as a share of actual voters from 83 percent to 74 percent (according to census figures) or even 72 percent (according to the exit polls). With minorities expected to make up a majority of America’s 18 and younger population in this decade, all signs point toward a continued decline in the white share of the eligible voter population—which suggests the GOP would have to marshal heroic turnout efforts to avoid further decline in the white vote share. If the electorate’s composition follows the trend over the past two decades, minorities would likely constitute 30 percent of the vote in 2016. (Source: Ron Brownstein
  • If minorities reach 30 percent of the vote next time, and the 2016 Democratic nominee again attracts support from roughly 80 percent of them, he or she would need to capture only 37 percent of whites to win a majority of the popular vote. In that scenario, to win a national majority, the GOP would need almost 63 percent of whites. Since 1976, the only Republican who has reached even 60 percent among whites was Reagan (with his 64 percent in 1984). Since Reagan’s peak, the Democratic share of the white vote has varied only between 39 percent (Obama in 2012 and Clinton in the three-way election of 1992), and 43 percent (Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1996). (Source: Ron Brownstein)
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic reduction in African-American turnout, a Republican presidential candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record-high share among each portion of the non-white vote (African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and others) to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • Every Democratic nominee since 1980 has run better among single than married whites. In 1984, married couples represented 70 percent of all white voters; by 2012, that number slipped to 65 percent. (The decline has been especially sharp among married white men, who have voted more Republican than married women in each election since 1984.) Another trend steepening the grade for the GOP is growing secularization. Since 2000, Democrats have averaged a 32-point advantage among whites who identify with no religious tradition, and the share of them has increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent by 2012, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. (Source: Ron Brownstein)

My purpose with this post is to present the empirical data, not to interpret it, except to say this: Republican problems are not superficial, transient, or cyclical. The trends speak for themselves. The GOP therefore needs to articulate a governing vision and develop a governing agenda that can reach groups that have not traditionally been supportive of it. Republicans, at least when it comes to presidential elections, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

For the GOP to revivify itself and enlarge its appeal, Republicans at every level will have to think creatively even as they remain within the boundaries of their core principles. It isn’t an easy task, but it’s certainly not an impossible one. (Bill Clinton did this for the Democratic Party in 1992 and Tony Blair did this for the Labour Party in 1997.) It would of course help if those speaking for the party were themselves irenic rather than angry, inviting rather than off-putting, individuals of conviction who also possess the gift of persuasion and a certain grace. “You know what charm is,” Albert Camus wrote in The Fall, “a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.”

Whether Republicans understand the nature of the challenges they face–and if they do how they intend to deal with them and who will emerge from their ranks to lead them–will go a long way toward determining the future of their party and their country.

Read Less

“Mitt”—The Right Man at the Wrong Time

For those who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, reliving the pain of his defeat may not seem like premium family entertainment. Yet if watching Mitt, Greg Wheatley’s documentary about the Republican nominee now appearing exclusively on Netflix, is not always easy viewing, it does provide a clear portrait of the man who was beaten by Barack Obama.

This is not a film about the issues that divided the country or the merits of the Obama presidency. ObamaCare is never mentioned nor is RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care bill that helped undermine the candidate’s critique of the president’s plan. Campaign strategy is mentioned only in passing and the strategists and aides who worked feverishly to put Romney in the White House are almost completely absent. Instead, the focus is solely on the candidate and his family, in footage shot in hotel rooms and on the campaign trail where Mitt is with the people closest to him: his wife Anne, their five sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. That means we don’t learn as much as we might wish about why the protagonist should have been president. But what we do learn what an extraordinarily decent man the GOP nominee is. That’s something a lot of Americans who saw Romney as a remote, rich guy who didn’t understand them should have learned while the issue was still in doubt.

The Mitt Romney of Mitt is funny, kind, and loving. He’s also skeptical about his prospects for success, introspective, aware that he is a “flawed candidate” and frustrated by the way his opponents smeared him. He has a sense of his limits as well as a healthy perspective on all the advantages he received from his father George, who remains his hero. Contrary to the narrative hammered home by the Democrats’ unprecedented barrage of negative advertising, this is not a privileged character who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

This Mitt seems nothing like the one who came across on television in two presidential campaigns (the film begins in 2006 and also includes his defeat by John McCain in the 2008 GOP primaries) as a plastic, almost robotic politician who seemed allergic to the business of retail politics. It’s difficult not to like or to care about the man at the heart of this movie, a verdict that should cause Romney’s 2012 brain trust to wonder how it is that they failed to bring these qualities across to the nation during the campaign.

Read More

For those who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, reliving the pain of his defeat may not seem like premium family entertainment. Yet if watching Mitt, Greg Wheatley’s documentary about the Republican nominee now appearing exclusively on Netflix, is not always easy viewing, it does provide a clear portrait of the man who was beaten by Barack Obama.

This is not a film about the issues that divided the country or the merits of the Obama presidency. ObamaCare is never mentioned nor is RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care bill that helped undermine the candidate’s critique of the president’s plan. Campaign strategy is mentioned only in passing and the strategists and aides who worked feverishly to put Romney in the White House are almost completely absent. Instead, the focus is solely on the candidate and his family, in footage shot in hotel rooms and on the campaign trail where Mitt is with the people closest to him: his wife Anne, their five sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. That means we don’t learn as much as we might wish about why the protagonist should have been president. But what we do learn what an extraordinarily decent man the GOP nominee is. That’s something a lot of Americans who saw Romney as a remote, rich guy who didn’t understand them should have learned while the issue was still in doubt.

The Mitt Romney of Mitt is funny, kind, and loving. He’s also skeptical about his prospects for success, introspective, aware that he is a “flawed candidate” and frustrated by the way his opponents smeared him. He has a sense of his limits as well as a healthy perspective on all the advantages he received from his father George, who remains his hero. Contrary to the narrative hammered home by the Democrats’ unprecedented barrage of negative advertising, this is not a privileged character who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

This Mitt seems nothing like the one who came across on television in two presidential campaigns (the film begins in 2006 and also includes his defeat by John McCain in the 2008 GOP primaries) as a plastic, almost robotic politician who seemed allergic to the business of retail politics. It’s difficult not to like or to care about the man at the heart of this movie, a verdict that should cause Romney’s 2012 brain trust to wonder how it is that they failed to bring these qualities across to the nation during the campaign.

But even if they had, it’s important to remember that the mission Mitt Romney accepted in 2012 was probably impossible. Republicans were immune to Barack Obama’s charms and largely ignored the way most Americans responded to his historic status as our first African-American president. Nothing short of a cataclysm could have convinced a majority not to reelect Obama. Protected as he was 24/7 by the fawning support of the mainstream media—a fact that is highlighted in the documentary in its footage of the second presidential debate when CNN’s Candy Crowley intervened to insert an erroneous correction of one of Romney’s statements during an exchange over the Benghazi terror attack—the president’s victory was probably never in doubt even at the moment when Romney hit his stride in their first debate.

At the beginning of the film we see Romney gathering his family to debate the pros and cons of a presidential run. Most seem skeptical and deeply aware of how a campaign and being elected would have a negative effect on their lives. But his oldest son Tagg reminds him that he had a duty to his country and to God to run and therefore try his best to make things better. Romney did just that, and if he failed it was not for lack of effort or a sincere desire to lead his nation back from the dangerous path on which Obama had placed it. As he says at one point in the movie, the candidate “left it all on the field” in 2012. Despite his shortcomings as a politician, it’s not likely that any other Republican could have done better. For all the recriminations about 2012 that have convulsed the Republican Party since the election, conservatives should watch this film and remind themselves that the person they nominated was a good man who would have been a good president.

Read Less

Obama’s Incompetence Now Twinned to Mendacity

The news for President Obama continues to get worse.

According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, only four out of 10 Americans believe Mr. Obama can manage the federal government effectively. Fifty-three percent don’t view him as a strong and decisive leader. And 56 percent say he does not agree with them on important issues and he does not inspire confidence.

But the numbers on the president’s personal characteristics should alarm the White House most of all. More than half (53 percent) believe he’s not honest and trustworthy, while 56 percent say he’s not a person they admire.

Each of these figures are all-time records for Mr. Obama in CNN polling.

In their fascinating behind-the-scenes book on the 2012 election, Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write that the campaign’s research showed “that there was a deep well of sympathy for Obama among voters.” In focus groups after the first debate, they write, “people offered excuse after excuse for his horrific presentation. In Florida, one woman said, almost protectively, ‘I just bet you he wasn’t feeling well.’”

Read More

The news for President Obama continues to get worse.

According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, only four out of 10 Americans believe Mr. Obama can manage the federal government effectively. Fifty-three percent don’t view him as a strong and decisive leader. And 56 percent say he does not agree with them on important issues and he does not inspire confidence.

But the numbers on the president’s personal characteristics should alarm the White House most of all. More than half (53 percent) believe he’s not honest and trustworthy, while 56 percent say he’s not a person they admire.

Each of these figures are all-time records for Mr. Obama in CNN polling.

In their fascinating behind-the-scenes book on the 2012 election, Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write that the campaign’s research showed “that there was a deep well of sympathy for Obama among voters.” In focus groups after the first debate, they write, “people offered excuse after excuse for his horrific presentation. In Florida, one woman said, almost protectively, ‘I just bet you he wasn’t feeling well.’”

That deep well of sympathy–that willingness to give the president the benefit of the doubt and the attachment and connection voters felt for Mr. Obama–has been crucial to his success for his entire political life. He has always been viewed as a likeable and decent man, even when his campaign employed fairly ruthless tactics. But the days of broad public faith and trust in this president appear to be over. And no wonder.

The fact that the president knowingly misled the public on such a crucial element of his health-care program so many times, over such a long period of time, with such apparent ease, has penetrated the public consciousness in a way nothing else ever has. Incompetence has now been twinned to mendacity. And not surprisingly, that deep well of sympathy is drying up.

Mr. Obama will discover that trust, once lost, is hard to recover. 

Read Less

Are We Still Underestimating Santorum?

Prior to the 2012 campaign, as Rick Santorum prepared to run for president few pundits (including this one) took his bid seriously. Nor did most Republican operatives think the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign had a ghost of a chance to even survive until the votes started being counted in Iowa. Yet Santorum persisted and wound up winning a dozen caucuses and primaries on the way to being the unofficial runner-up for the nomination to eventual winner Mitt Romney. Though there are no silver medals handed out for finishing second in politics, it was still an amazing achievement for someone who had been left for dead politically after losing his 2006 re-election race by a landslide.

Given that strong showing, you might think Santorum would be treated as a viable candidate for 2016. Indeed, given the Republicans’ unofficial tradition of nominating for president the candidate who failed after a strong run in the previous competitive race (a list that includes Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan), you might think Santorum would be considered a first-tier contender for 2016, if not a frontrunner. But that isn’t the case. The consensus appears to be that with a much stronger field of prospective candidates than the party had in 2012—a group that includes Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker—Santorum hasn’t much of a chance. But that might be a mistake. As pieces in the Daily Beast and Politico published today point out, Santorum is not only back on the hustings in Iowa (where he outworked the other candidates last year); he has a hold on the affections of a crucial portion of the GOP electorate that none of those big names can claim. So long as no other Republican can establish themselves as the favorite of social conservatives or as one who cares about the working class, Santorum will be a factor in the presidential race.

Read More

Prior to the 2012 campaign, as Rick Santorum prepared to run for president few pundits (including this one) took his bid seriously. Nor did most Republican operatives think the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign had a ghost of a chance to even survive until the votes started being counted in Iowa. Yet Santorum persisted and wound up winning a dozen caucuses and primaries on the way to being the unofficial runner-up for the nomination to eventual winner Mitt Romney. Though there are no silver medals handed out for finishing second in politics, it was still an amazing achievement for someone who had been left for dead politically after losing his 2006 re-election race by a landslide.

Given that strong showing, you might think Santorum would be treated as a viable candidate for 2016. Indeed, given the Republicans’ unofficial tradition of nominating for president the candidate who failed after a strong run in the previous competitive race (a list that includes Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan), you might think Santorum would be considered a first-tier contender for 2016, if not a frontrunner. But that isn’t the case. The consensus appears to be that with a much stronger field of prospective candidates than the party had in 2012—a group that includes Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker—Santorum hasn’t much of a chance. But that might be a mistake. As pieces in the Daily Beast and Politico published today point out, Santorum is not only back on the hustings in Iowa (where he outworked the other candidates last year); he has a hold on the affections of a crucial portion of the GOP electorate that none of those big names can claim. So long as no other Republican can establish themselves as the favorite of social conservatives or as one who cares about the working class, Santorum will be a factor in the presidential race.

Right now, political observers are focused—as we were before 2012—on the question of which Republican can best appeal to the Tea Party movement. That will be a major factor in the GOP race, but we forget that social conservatives remain a key Republican constituency. Though a single-minded focus on abortion or opposition to gay marriage would be a liability to the GOP in a general election, religious conservatives can’t be ignored in Republican primaries. Though all of the possible 2016 contenders are pro-life, none, save for Santorum, can be said to be particularly or exclusively devoted to their interests as he was, or as Mike Huckabee was in 2008. They were the factor that propelled Santorum to the first tier last year and could do the same for any of the contenders in the next contest.

Just as important is Santorum’s critique of the 2012 GOP campaign for ignoring the interests of working-class voters. Running an extremely wealthy candidate like Romney with no seeming connection to the concerns of ordinary middle-class voters was enough of a problem. But Santorum is on to something when he says that even the Republican National Convention’s attempt to exploit President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe was only directed toward business owners, not the people who labor in those businesses.

What Santorum is aiming at here is a GOP strategy that seeks to re-engage with what an earlier generation called “Reagan Democrats” or even the Ross Perot voters of the 1990s. They make up what Sean Trende identified in Real Clear Politics as the party’s “missing white voters” who could theoretically make up for their failure to connect with the growing Hispanic population.

None of this will necessarily make up for Santorum’s relative lack of star power compared with any in the upcoming class of GOP candidates. Christie’s ability to appeal to independents could make him a juggernaut, as could Paul’s growing libertarian faction. Moreover, it is entirely possible that a candidate like Ryan or Rubio could steal the Pennsylvanian’s thunder with religious voters and make him irrelevant in 2016. But anyone inclined to write off Santorum this far in advance is likely making a mistake.

Read Less

The Hazards of Hillary Hagiography

As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

Read More

As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

The chairman of the Republican National Committee says NBC and CNN are in the bag for Hillary Clinton, and he’s pledging to block the networks from sponsoring 2016 GOP primary debates unless they scratch their respective TV projects about the former secretary of state.

Reince Priebus accused the networks of promoting Clinton “ahead of her likely Democratic nomination for president in 2016” by airing the productions.

NBC is planning a miniseries about Clinton staring Diane Lane, and CNN has a documentary in the works about Clinton’s professional and personal life, expected to air in theaters before running on the cable network. In a letter to program executives, Priebus asserts that the networks’ plans will tip the scale toward Clinton in the next presidential election, providing unfair treatment not only to Republicans but also to other Democrats vying for the nomination. He called the networks “campaign operatives” for Clinton, and noted that Democrats protested when Citizens United tried to air a pay-per-view film about her before the 2008 election.

It’s possible this is just an easy way for Priebus and the RNC to reduce the number of debates, a prospect that was always easier said than done because the events brought revenue to local parties and gave candidates extra time in the spotlight. The debates were useful, without question, because the race was wide open and because it was important for Republican candidates–who won’t have the networks airing hagiographic propaganda on their behalf, unlike their opponents–need to be able to debate effectively. That was important in 2012 because although Obama isn’t a very good debater, the moderators intervened when they thought he was in trouble. It will be more important against Hillary Clinton, who is a far superior debater.

But 20 debates is excessive, and with few exceptions the last round of moderators didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. It should also be noted that while the debates may have played a central role in derailing Perry’s candidacy, the later revelations about his health problems at the time suggests he might not have made it to the finish line even with fewer debates.

There is also the matter of the content of the CNN and NBC documentaries on Hillary Clinton. I doubt anyone thinks the network once derided as the “Clinton News Network” and the network that hired Clinton’s daughter will take a terribly critical view of the former first lady. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is not how the Clintons will interpret the movies. Their standards for unadulterated worship are high. When Hillary Clinton spoke at the Saban Forum in late 2012 she permitted her event to be on the record–which included a film about Clinton preceding her speech whose tone was, wrote the New Yorker’s David Remnick, “so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology.”

Anything less will likely result in the expression of the typical Clinton suspicion that borders on paranoia (Clinton did, after all, introduce us to the “vast right-wing conspiracy”) and manifests in vicious public counter-attacks and character assassination. The networks are playing with fire: even the mere presumption of balance will set the Clintons fuming, and a replay of the Saban Forum’s Brezhnevite pomp will be a laughingstock.

Priebus is right to want to cut back on the debates and exert more discernment in choosing moderators and networks. He is also right to object to the hero-worship filmography of “news” networks covering the election. But the networks are probably asking for trouble, and Priebus and the RNC might end up enjoying not the films themselves, but the spectacle that follows.

Read Less

Is Perry a Viable 2016 Contender?

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to pass up a chance for a fourth full term in office will make for a lively race to replace him next year. But the fact that he is clearly leaving the door open for another run for the presidency in 2016 raises the question as to whether a second try will give Perry a better chance than he had in 2012. Though there is an informal tradition among Republicans that the second time is invariably the charm, if Perry thinks he can count on that helping him to the nomination, he may be in for as unhappy a ride in 2016 as his 2012 run.

Perry’s record as governor is, if anything, even more of an asset today than it was in 2011 when he declared his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy, and three years is a lifetime in politics. But there is simply no precedent for a man who was a laughingstock as a presidential candidate in one election cycle to transform himself into the winner at the next contest. The memory of what happened to Perry in those first disastrous months of his campaign combined with the far more formidable nature of the competition in 2016 should give him and his potential backers pause before they commit themselves to an effort that is unlikely to meet with any more success than he had before. No one has ever better illustrated the gap between success at the statewide level—even in a state as big as Texas—and the national stage than Rick Perry.

Read More

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to pass up a chance for a fourth full term in office will make for a lively race to replace him next year. But the fact that he is clearly leaving the door open for another run for the presidency in 2016 raises the question as to whether a second try will give Perry a better chance than he had in 2012. Though there is an informal tradition among Republicans that the second time is invariably the charm, if Perry thinks he can count on that helping him to the nomination, he may be in for as unhappy a ride in 2016 as his 2012 run.

Perry’s record as governor is, if anything, even more of an asset today than it was in 2011 when he declared his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy, and three years is a lifetime in politics. But there is simply no precedent for a man who was a laughingstock as a presidential candidate in one election cycle to transform himself into the winner at the next contest. The memory of what happened to Perry in those first disastrous months of his campaign combined with the far more formidable nature of the competition in 2016 should give him and his potential backers pause before they commit themselves to an effort that is unlikely to meet with any more success than he had before. No one has ever better illustrated the gap between success at the statewide level—even in a state as big as Texas—and the national stage than Rick Perry.

After 13 years in office, Perry has placed an indelible stamp on Texas political history. Though he has his detractors on the left, it’s difficult to argue that the state’s growth and prosperity has nothing to do with his leadership. The specific economic circumstances that apply to Texas may have worked to his advantage, but the least you could say about Perry is that he didn’t get in the way of those factors. Nor did he allow the legislature or the state bureaucracy to derail the boom. No matter how you look at it, he’s been an efficient manager and an effective promoter of the Lone Star State’s virtues. Any governor or president would be thrilled to be able to boast of a record that was anywhere close to what he achieved. After eight years of Barack Obama’s indifferent leadership, that ought to make for a powerful argument for Perry in 2016.

But any talk about another Perry presidential run has to start—and perhaps end—with a discussion of what happened to him the first time he ran.

Perry did enter the race late in the election cycle. By the time he declared his candidacy in August 2011 (on the day of the Ames, Iowa straw poll), his rivals had been at it for months if not years. But while he, and any other candidate, would be well advised to start a lot earlier in the run-up to 2016, it would be a mistake to assume that late start hurt him. In fact, it might have helped. After a summer and a couple of early debates that showed just how lackluster the GOP field was, Perry’s entrance into the contest could not have been better timed to ensure an easy path to the nomination for him. Perry looked to be the perfect candidate with a strong resume as a governor as well as close ties to both religious conservatives and Tea Partiers who loved his small government Texas philosophy. Indeed, the polls taken after his declaration showed him to be the frontrunner, easily eclipsing Mitt Romney and his other rivals.

It was only after he started opening his mouth and actually campaigning and taking part in the seemingly endless round of GOP debates that the trouble started.

What the nation soon learned was that while Perry had won three gubernatorial elections in Texas, he had never had to face the competition he was up against in the presidential contest. It wasn’t just that he soon got the kind of scrutiny from the national press that for the most part he didn’t receive in Austin. It was that he seemed utterly unprepared, if not completely incapable of putting forward a coherent argument for his candidacy.

The standard excuse for Perry’s disastrous debate performances is that he was still recovering from back surgery. That probably didn’t help him, but the indelible image of his “oops” moment when he couldn’t remember the three federal departments he said he wanted to disband is something that will stick with him until the day he dies. There are lots of reasons why a candidate can flop under that kind of pressure, but excuses don’t cut it in the big leagues in which he sought to compete. Within a few months, he went from being a likely winner to a punch line. It wasn’t that he lost so much as it was that he appeared to be in over his head outside the friendly confines of Texas politics. That is the sort of transformation that doesn’t just require a political makeover but an obituary.

The second try paradigm is what is tempting Perry back into the race, but the examples of Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan don’t really offer much comfort to Perry. All of them mustered decent showings in their previous tries for the presidency. If this “rule” offers much hope to anyone it should be encouraging Rick Santorum, who came from the back of the pack to win a dozen primaries and caucuses before ending up as the unofficial runner-up for the nomination.

But what both Santorum and Perry have to contend with in 2016 is a potentially far tougher field than they faced in 2012. With political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz in the mix, retreads from the failed attempts to stop Barack Obama have no reason to assume they start with an advantage over newcomers. More than that, the constituencies that seemed most likely to boost Perry in 2012 now have stronger claimants on their support. Santorum is a more natural candidate to support for social conservatives while Tea Partiers are far more likely to embrace fellow Texan Ted Cruz or one of the other conservatives. With Christie and potentially Walker in the race, Perry will also have strong competition for the title of most successful governor.

Perry may be a better candidate if he runs for president again, but the point is that his first try was so bad that anything would be an improvement. Second tries only lead to victory if the first impression a candidate makes on the national electorate is not as dismal as the one Perry made in 2011 and 2012. There are no absolutes in politics, but pegging him as a long shot for 2016 would probably be giving him more of a chance than he actually has.  

Read Less

Young Voters Give Obama “A” for Effort

It’s no secret that the Republican Party is struggling with its message–and appeal–to millennial voters. Yesterday the College Republican National Committee released a new report written principally by a research analyst with the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, with the aim of explaining how the GOP got in a rut with young voters and what it can do to dig itself out. Anderson and her associates conducted extensive focus groups nationwide with various populations, spanning the ethnic, educational and wealth divide. There’s no magic bullet for Republicans to win the majority of the youth vote back (the CRNC report reminds readers of the fact that George W. Bush lost young voters by more points than he lost seniors).

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the report’s findings and the issues the GOP clearly has to take on in order to remain relevant. Many of the points are no surprise: gay marriage is viewed as a deal breaker for many young voters who might otherwise be almost entirely on board with the GOP with other major issues. Young voters are less likely to view the GOP’s strong record on defense as a net positive, as many have little, if any, memory of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

Read More

It’s no secret that the Republican Party is struggling with its message–and appeal–to millennial voters. Yesterday the College Republican National Committee released a new report written principally by a research analyst with the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, with the aim of explaining how the GOP got in a rut with young voters and what it can do to dig itself out. Anderson and her associates conducted extensive focus groups nationwide with various populations, spanning the ethnic, educational and wealth divide. There’s no magic bullet for Republicans to win the majority of the youth vote back (the CRNC report reminds readers of the fact that George W. Bush lost young voters by more points than he lost seniors).

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the report’s findings and the issues the GOP clearly has to take on in order to remain relevant. Many of the points are no surprise: gay marriage is viewed as a deal breaker for many young voters who might otherwise be almost entirely on board with the GOP with other major issues. Young voters are less likely to view the GOP’s strong record on defense as a net positive, as many have little, if any, memory of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

One issue that pops up in the report several times, however, is the notion that while President Obama and his party haven’t come close to solving the major issues on the minds of young voters, namely the economy, jobs, student loan debt and, to a lesser extent, healthcare, voters were willing to give the president an “A” for effort. Soltis explains:

Despite those poor marks for Obama and the Democrats on the economy, Democrats held a 16-point advantage over the Republican Party among young voters on handling of the economy and jobs (chosen as the top issue by 37% of respondents). For those respondents who said they approved of the job Obama had been doing as president, the number one word they used? “Trying.” He was trying. Young voters were disappointed in Obama’s performance, but gave him credit for attempting to improve the situation.

Millennials seem particularly susceptible to this “participation trophy” mindset, which is one indication of the extension of certain markers of childhood well into adulthood. Yet parents are far from blameless. A recent piece in Psychology Today, entitled “A Nation of Wimps,” describes just how devastating the trendy brand of parenting known as “helicopter parenting” can be for the offspring of the most well-intentioned of parents:

The end result of cheating childhood is to extend it forever. Despite all the parental pressure, and probably because of it, kids are pushing back—in their own way. They’re taking longer to grow up.

Adulthood no longer begins when adolescence ends, according to a recent report by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg and colleagues. There is, instead, a growing no-man’s-land of postadolescence from 20 to 30, which they dub “early adulthood.” Those in it look like adults but “haven’t become fully adult yet—traditionally defined as finishing school, landing a job with benefits, marrying and parenting—because they are not ready or perhaps not permitted to do so.”

Using the classic benchmarks of adulthood, 65 percent of males had reached adulthood by the age of 30 in 1960. By contrast, in 2000, only 31 percent had. Among women, 77 percent met the benchmarks of adulthood by age 30 in 1960. By 2000, the number had fallen to 46 percent.

The reelection of Barack Obama, however, highlights another unfortunate side-effect of parents who insist that every child, regardless of merit or achievement, receive a participation trophy. When these young people “grow up” (while they may not necessarily be adults, they are at least of voting age), they consider any effort, even with dismal planning and execution, worthy enough of a trophy–in this case, reelection. Soltis discusses how this translated for her focus group participants in terms of the health-care reform law:

Despite these concerns about the law, the general sentiment seemed to be that at least Obama had attempted to change things. Few felt like the current health care system was working well, and thus even with their concerns about how Obamacare might turn out, they once again gave the president credit for trying. As one participant in our focus group of young men in Columbus put it, “at least Obama was making strides to start the process of reforming health care.”

Research, including that of Psychology Today which linked higher rates of anxiety to helicopter parenting, indicates that children who aren’t given the opportunity to fail are disadvantaged for life. While the focus has thus far been on how this increasingly popular form of parenting affects individuals and their development, Soltis’s CRNC report contains frightening indications of how the “participation trophy” mindset could seriously damage our national political landscape. If young voters are content to elect anyone who appears on MTV and messages to them effectively, regardless of any proven record of success, the future of America is in more danger than it seemed in the immediate aftermath of the November election. 

Read Less

Phyllis Schlafly and the Road to GOP Ruin

In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

Read More

In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

But Ms. Schlafly’s comments provide a good opportunity to call attention to recent remarks by Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute. Among the points made by Olsen:

  • The election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. Seventy-two percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. That bloc includes people of many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. But while there’s no monolithic white vote any more than there is a monolithic non-white vote, the racial differences are still stark.
  • Mitt Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20 point lead. No candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost the presidency. Governor Romney lost, by four points. He lost by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Among Hispanics, Romney lost 71 percent v. 27 percent.)
  • In every election since the 1996 election, like clockwork, the share of the non-white vote has gone up as a share of the total voters by 2 percent and the share of the white vote has gone down by 2 percent, much of that stemming from Hispanic population increases.
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic shrinkage in the African-American vote, a Republican candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record high among African-Americans, plus a record high among Asians, plus a record high among Hispanics, plus a record high among those people who don’t classify themselves in any of those categories, or are American-Indian or Hawaiian or Aleut, to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote.

Now these data points by themselves don’t mean Republicans should support the immigration reform legislation that is being crafted in the Senate. That legislation needs to be judged on its substantive merits. It’s also true that Mitt Romney did not appeal to white working class and blue-collar voters in anything like the numbers he needed to in order to win. But of course one can do both: appeal to rising immigrant groups and white working class voters. It’s not an either/or proposition.

In addition, the data points cited by Olsen do indicate that the strategy Ms. Schlafly is recommending–which is that Republicans should give up on Hispanic voters, who will never vote for Republicans anyway, and simply reach out to white voters–is a path to permanent political minority status. Republican presidential candidates are already doing fantastically well with white voters. The problem for the GOP is that they are a shrinking percentage of the electorate (from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012).

As for the Schlafly mindset, Michael Gerson and I addressed it in our recent essay in COMMENTARY, when we wrote this:

Conservative critics of such [immigration] reforms sometimes express the conviction that Hispanic voters are inherently favorable to bigger government and thus more or less permanently immune to Republican appeals. It is a view that combines an off-putting sense of ideological superiority—apparently “those people” are not persuadable—with a pessimism about the drawing power of conservative ideals. Such attitudes are the prerogative of a sectarian faction. They are not an option for a political party, which cannot afford to lose the ambition to convince.

Phyllis Schlafly has lost the ambition to convince, which is just one reason why her counsel should be ignored. 

Read Less

Sic Transit Bachmann: The Ridicule Principle and 2016

There was a moment two years ago when Representative Michele Bachmann looked like she had a realistic chance to be a first-tier Republican presidential candidate. In the spring and summer of 2011, Bachmann seemed to be the favorite of Tea Party voters and her strong showing at the first debates indicated that she could emerge from the pack as the person who could mobilize social conservatives as well as anti-tax rebels and give mainstream frontrunner Mitt Romney a run for his money. Indeed, when she showed the organizational heft that allowed her to win the straw poll in Ames, Iowa that August she knocked former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the race and seemed poised for a long and possibly significant presidential campaign.

But that was her high point, and from there her candidacy, if not her celebrity, went into a steep decline. Not only did she not win the actual Iowa caucus the following January, she finished so far down in the standings that she dropped out the next day. The Michele Bachmann moment in our national political history was so short that even though it happened less than two years ago, it’s hard even for some political junkies to remember it. The news today that Bachmann won’t run for re-election to Congress next year is a reminder for both politicians and journalists of the enduring wisdom to be found in not getting so caught up in what is happening in each segment of the 24/7 news cycle that they lose perspective on things or people that turn out to be flashes in the pan rather than have staying power. While no one should assume that we’ve heard the last of Bachmann, her exit from office illustrates just how fleeting such moments can be. And that’s something the next crop of GOP presidential contenders, including current Tea Party idol Ted Cruz, should remember.

Why did Bachmann fade so quickly? The answer is simple. There aren’t many hard and fast rules in politics that apply to all situations, but surely one of them is to avoid ridicule.

Read More

There was a moment two years ago when Representative Michele Bachmann looked like she had a realistic chance to be a first-tier Republican presidential candidate. In the spring and summer of 2011, Bachmann seemed to be the favorite of Tea Party voters and her strong showing at the first debates indicated that she could emerge from the pack as the person who could mobilize social conservatives as well as anti-tax rebels and give mainstream frontrunner Mitt Romney a run for his money. Indeed, when she showed the organizational heft that allowed her to win the straw poll in Ames, Iowa that August she knocked former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the race and seemed poised for a long and possibly significant presidential campaign.

But that was her high point, and from there her candidacy, if not her celebrity, went into a steep decline. Not only did she not win the actual Iowa caucus the following January, she finished so far down in the standings that she dropped out the next day. The Michele Bachmann moment in our national political history was so short that even though it happened less than two years ago, it’s hard even for some political junkies to remember it. The news today that Bachmann won’t run for re-election to Congress next year is a reminder for both politicians and journalists of the enduring wisdom to be found in not getting so caught up in what is happening in each segment of the 24/7 news cycle that they lose perspective on things or people that turn out to be flashes in the pan rather than have staying power. While no one should assume that we’ve heard the last of Bachmann, her exit from office illustrates just how fleeting such moments can be. And that’s something the next crop of GOP presidential contenders, including current Tea Party idol Ted Cruz, should remember.

Why did Bachmann fade so quickly? The answer is simple. There aren’t many hard and fast rules in politics that apply to all situations, but surely one of them is to avoid ridicule.

Bachmann’s penchant for saying whatever came into her head caught up with her. She got labeled as the candidate who made the loony comment about a vaccine against sexually transmitted diseases causing mental retardation. She had genuine charisma as well as a better grasp on many issues than better known and funded candidates (need we mention Rick Perry?), but the more America got to know her, the less it took her seriously. Her fans can blame that on the mainstream media’s liberal bias, but the fault was hers. Where once she looked to be about to replace Sarah Palin as the La Passionara of the Tea Party movement, she wound up just looking ridiculous. There are few examples of politicians recovering from that malady, though Anthony Weiner is giving that principle a run for its money this year.

The speculation about why Bachmann is not running for re-election needn’t detain us long. Her protestations that her decision was unrelated to the ongoing investigations into the financing of her campaign or fears of winning re-election ring hollow. Since she was already running ads for 2014, it’s clear the baggage she carried endangered her chances of winning a seat that she had only barely held onto last November. By leaving now before taking another chance on losing in an overwhelmingly Republican district, she preserves her options for the future. She can be become a popular figure on the conservative lecture circuit or a talk show host.

But what Bachmann taught us in 2011 is that the gap between being a celebrated congressional dissident whose antics delighted the conservative base and someone who can actually challenge for the nomination of a national party is not so narrow as some politicians think. The crop of 2016 GOP contenders seems to be a lot deeper and more serious than the 2012 roster, but what happened to Bachmann should be considered an object lesson for people like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who appears to be auditioning for the post of leader of the bomb thrower niche of the Republican Party that Bachmann briefly occupied.

You may argue that Cruz is a lot more polished and substantive than Bachmann was, and you might be right–though many forget that she knew what she was talking about when it came to tax policy and the Middle East. But as much as the grass roots is applauding when Cruz calls his Republican colleagues “squishes” and says he doesn’t trust them, the potential for crossing the line into caricature is there too.

Partisans like their politicians to be blunt and give the other side hell. But there is a fine line between that and getting labeled a nut case. Cruz may think he’s cut from a different mold than Bachmann, but he should regard her swift rise and even swifter fall as a warning of just how slippery a business politics can be.

Read Less

Debating How to Save the GOP

Last week I had a discussion/debate with Ben Domenech at Furman University to discuss “How to Save the GOP,” a topic that was inspired, in part, by the essay in COMMENTARY that I co-authored with Michael Gerson. Our conversation covered the 2012 election, social issues, the case for limited and effective government, and the 2016 presidential contest. For those interested, a link to the event can be found here

Last week I had a discussion/debate with Ben Domenech at Furman University to discuss “How to Save the GOP,” a topic that was inspired, in part, by the essay in COMMENTARY that I co-authored with Michael Gerson. Our conversation covered the 2012 election, social issues, the case for limited and effective government, and the 2016 presidential contest. For those interested, a link to the event can be found here

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.