Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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

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Minority Voters and the GOP: Rand Paul’s Third Way

When confronted with the Republican Party’s poor standing among minority communities, GOP politicians have usually taken one of two approaches: claim these communities constitute “natural conservative constituencies” or advocate a broad change in policy or ideology to attract minority voters. Neither one of these tactics has been effective, for various reasons–chief among those reasons is that the communities under consideration are usually not “natural conservative constituencies.”

Take Hispanics, for example. It is often noted by GOP politicians that Hispanic immigrants are hard-working, family-oriented strivers who tend to be religious. That may be true, but polls showed that while Mitt Romney was generally trusted on the economy more than Barack Obama, Hispanics overwhelmingly trusted Obama on the economy. Whether or not Hispanics share a cultural or social conservatism with the GOP, then, becomes basically irrelevant. I wrote about one poll here that showed 73 percent of Hispanics preferred Obama to Romney on the economy, and 73 percent planned to vote for Obama. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

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When confronted with the Republican Party’s poor standing among minority communities, GOP politicians have usually taken one of two approaches: claim these communities constitute “natural conservative constituencies” or advocate a broad change in policy or ideology to attract minority voters. Neither one of these tactics has been effective, for various reasons–chief among those reasons is that the communities under consideration are usually not “natural conservative constituencies.”

Take Hispanics, for example. It is often noted by GOP politicians that Hispanic immigrants are hard-working, family-oriented strivers who tend to be religious. That may be true, but polls showed that while Mitt Romney was generally trusted on the economy more than Barack Obama, Hispanics overwhelmingly trusted Obama on the economy. Whether or not Hispanics share a cultural or social conservatism with the GOP, then, becomes basically irrelevant. I wrote about one poll here that showed 73 percent of Hispanics preferred Obama to Romney on the economy, and 73 percent planned to vote for Obama. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Conservatives also tried to convince themselves that since black voters were generally disapproving toward gay marriage, they would gravitate toward the GOP. But when it came to national elections, black voters weren’t basing their choices on gay marriage, and now African-American opposition to gay marriage is dropping anyway.

But there is a third way, in fact, to try to appeal to minority voters, and it was typified in Rand Paul’s speech to the predominantly black Howard University yesterday. This strategy may not work either, but it is certainly worth trying. Paul’s third way had two elements. The first, and obvious, one is to show up in the first place. Conservatives cannot expect minority voters to come to them; if you want someone’s vote, you have to prove it–and earn it.

In the Washington Post’s wrap-up of the 2012 presidential election, the paper noted that Paul Ryan, on the ticket as the vice presidential nominee, apparently “had wanted to talk about poverty, traveling to inner cities and giving speeches that laid out the Republican vision for individual empowerment.” The Romney campaign, according to the Post’s sources, was unconvinced. But Ryan had the right idea. (Rand Paul’s speech at Howard raises the question of why Ryan isn’t giving those speeches now that he’s no longer restrained by the top of a presidential ticket.)

As Romney’s disastrous “47 percent” remarks showed, if you appear utterly uninterested in someone’s vote, you’re probably not going to get it. But the second part of Paul’s approach at Howard, and the identifying element of his third way, has to do with policy. When Republicans address the issue of minority voters, they often come off as condescending. They tend to hold that minority voters simply don’t know that they should obviously be voting Republican, or that if they repeat the same message enough it’ll get through–both of which suggest ignorance on the part of the voter being addressed.

But as Rand Paul found out yesterday, these voters quite often do follow the policy fights in Washington and know exactly where they stand on the issues. Luckily, Paul came prepared. Though the students were skeptical of much of what Paul had to say, he did receive cheers for his advocacy of reforming mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders. Mandatory minimums take sentencing discretion out of the hands of judges and often result in wildly disproportionate sentences that have a disparate impact on the black community.

About three weeks ago, Paul and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy introduced a bill that would provide a “safety valve” for drug sentencing, allowing the judge in some cases to levy far less jail time when the circumstances call for leniency. Additionally, while Paul doesn’t favor full legalization of marijuana, he is stridently opposed to the way those who use the drug are prosecuted. In a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, Paul said:

Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things and I think it’s a big mistake.

When California proposed legalizing marijuana in 2010, polling showed it had the support of two-thirds of the state’s black voters, and an NAACP official called it “a civil rights issue.” Paul also supports school choice, which tends to attract support from the black community in both red and blue states.

Paul was far from embraced by the students at Howard yesterday. But Republicans have to start by showing up. It’s a low-risk proposition anyway, since it’s unlikely Paul’s third way will fare any worse than its predecessors.

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Republicans Recognize Their Party in Peril

The new RNC report has elicited a lot of reaction. I wanted to highlight just one element that I found encouraging, which is it clearly understands the magnitude of the challenging facing the national GOP.

The report cites the results of presidential elections from 1968-1988, when Republicans were utterly dominant (winning an average of 417 electoral votes); and from 1992-2012, when Republican have lost the popular vote five out of six times. (During that period no Republican presidential candidate reached even 300 electoral votes.)

I wanted to add several more data points to reinforce the reasons for concern.

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The new RNC report has elicited a lot of reaction. I wanted to highlight just one element that I found encouraging, which is it clearly understands the magnitude of the challenging facing the national GOP.

The report cites the results of presidential elections from 1968-1988, when Republicans were utterly dominant (winning an average of 417 electoral votes); and from 1992-2012, when Republican have lost the popular vote five out of six times. (During that period no Republican presidential candidate reached even 300 electoral votes.)

I wanted to add several more data points to reinforce the reasons for concern.

On demographics: In 2012, Governor Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same last year as it was in 2000, Romney would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won going away. And if it were the same last year as it was in 1980, Romney would have won by a larger margin than Ronald Reagan. Instead Barack Obama won easily. 

On public perceptions: Last month a Pew Research Center poll found that 62 percent of respondents (and 65 percent of independents) agreed with the statement that the Republican Party was “out of touch with the American people.” Even 36 percent of Republicans thought their party was out of touch. And more than half of those surveyed (52 percent) said the Republican Party was “too extreme” (only 39 percent said that same thing of Democrats).

On party affiliations: In the Pew Research Center poll, respondents identified with Democrats more than Republicans by 14 points (51 v. 37 percent) when independents were pressed to say which party they leaned toward.

To add insult to injury, the RNC conducted focus groups in Columbus, Ohio and Des Moines, Iowa with people who formerly considered themselves Republicans. They described the GOP as “scary,” “narrow-minded,” and “out of touch” and said it was comprised of “stuffy, old white men.”

What this means is that unless the GOP makes some fairly significant course corrections, losses will continue to mount. To be clear: It’s not that a Republican candidate can’t beat a Democratic candidate at any particular point in time; it’s that the trajectory of events means that absent a new Republican Party, and a modernized conservatism, it will be harder and harder for the right to win. Republicans will have to produce more and more exceptional candidates and hope Democrats produce more and more sub-par ones.

For the GOP to once again become dominant will require significant upgrades in the mechanics of campaigning (from improvements in data-gathering, micro-targeting and social media outreach to earlier primaries and a better ground game). But it will also require a particularly talented presidential candidate who can recalibrate the party without ripping it apart, and a policy agenda committed to limited government while also repositioning the GOP in ways that addresses its weaknesses and signals to the public that it’s changing.

Fortunately, a lot of work is being done by policy thinkers, public intellectuals and lawmakers and governors on ways to deal with social mobility; exploding college and health care costs (including replacing the Affordable Care Act); pension and collective bargaining reforms; ending corporate welfare; breaking up the big banks; a simpler and leaner tax code; increasing child tax credits; taking advantage of the revolution in energy technology; strengthening our social and civic institutions; reforms in education and immigration; extending the principles of welfare reform to other federal-aid programs; overhauling our prison system; making adoption easier; and more.

This is not the time for intellectual rigidity and repeating the same slogans, only with volume turned up. Rather, people who represent different strands within the party need to engage each other with real arguments.

I have a hunch, too. Those who believe their main purpose in life is to expel heretics from the temple–who believe in addition by subtraction and purity over prudence–are going to make a lot of noise and issue a lot of threats. They’ll cite the Constitution without ever recognizing that it was the product of an extraordinary series of political compromises. And they will repeatedly invoke the name of Reagan even as they come across in most un-Reagan-like ways: agitated and angry, unhappy and bitter, full of scores to settle. They are fading figures, and on some deep level they recognize it.

The good news for the GOP is that political fortunes can shift fairly dramatically. But this will require an honest appraisal of this moment in time. The RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project does that, and for that reason alone it’s a useful contribution to the Republican future.

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The MSM Is Disappointed in Itself

In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

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In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

“Campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans,” according to the report. “Only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans.” …

When news organizations are pushed out of the information pipeline, voters alone are left to sort through messages that are tested in focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. And on the heels of a presidential campaign in which one candidate’s pollster said he refused to let the campaign be dictated by fact-checkers, such a strategy is growing easier to execute.

The facts are these: Campaigns and candidates have more power than ever before to frame both their positive narrative and their opponents’ negative one.  And, if the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending much more time on the negative side of the ledger — at least in 2012.

Think of those numbers the next time you run down the role of the political media.

Yes, you think about that the next time you feel like complaining about front-page stories in papers like the Post. In fact, you’ll probably have that opportunity again soon, because like clockwork the Post identifies the Republican it deems most dangerous to the liberal agenda and fires off a gobsmackingly absurd–and often factually incorrect–story about them. The Post usually follows that story with an article about its previous story, in which it drums up a fake controversy and then drums up fake outrage about it.

The truth is, if the Post is unhappy about the press acting “as megaphones, rather than investigators,” it only has itself to blame. Before Romney was the target, Democrats felt threatened by Texas Governor Rick Perry. So the Post published a story meant to be damning toward Perry’s character, in which it breathlessly reported the existence of a hunting property leased by Perry’s family that once had a rock with a racial epithet painted on it but which no one can find today. Before the Post went after Perry, the paper decided to weigh in on the 2009 Virginia governor’s race by attacking Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old college thesis and publishing about a story a day on it for the first week or so. McDonnell won the election easily, needless to say. And the Post tried to dig up dirt on Marco Rubio, found nothing, and pretended it found something anyway. The Post story was quickly debunked.

None of this is to suggest that modern newspapers publish only nonsense. They do plenty of good work. And the fading of investigative journalism–a function of tightening budgets and lack of resources, mainly–is to be mourned. But too often investigative journalism as currently practiced discredits just this kind of reporting–especially when election season rolls around.

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Hope for the GOP’s Digital Strategy with New RNC Report

Unlike previous, informal autopsies on GOP data and digital performance, yesterday’s release from the RNC, a 100-page report on the future of the Republican Party, comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. Following the election, former digital managers for the Romney campaign joined with DC operatives and consultants for a cheerleading session. These meetings were like letting a murderer conduct the autopsy of his victim, making it impossible to draw meaningful lessons from the election’s many failures. This latest report acknowledges the “unique position” the RNC is in to initiate and execute a transformation in how digital efforts are regarded, funded and staffed in the future.

The RNC’s report details the path forward for a party that has lost the popular vote five out of the last six elections. Its scope is wide, discussing outreach, digital, data, and policy. It’s a document that makes clear that the leadership of the party recognizes that serious changes need to be made in order to prevent it from becoming a permanent minority. Many of the report’s recommendations have made conservatives nervous, especially the language pertaining to immigration. On the data and digital fronts, however, a highly-reported failure of the Romney campaign, there is room for hope.

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Unlike previous, informal autopsies on GOP data and digital performance, yesterday’s release from the RNC, a 100-page report on the future of the Republican Party, comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. Following the election, former digital managers for the Romney campaign joined with DC operatives and consultants for a cheerleading session. These meetings were like letting a murderer conduct the autopsy of his victim, making it impossible to draw meaningful lessons from the election’s many failures. This latest report acknowledges the “unique position” the RNC is in to initiate and execute a transformation in how digital efforts are regarded, funded and staffed in the future.

The RNC’s report details the path forward for a party that has lost the popular vote five out of the last six elections. Its scope is wide, discussing outreach, digital, data, and policy. It’s a document that makes clear that the leadership of the party recognizes that serious changes need to be made in order to prevent it from becoming a permanent minority. Many of the report’s recommendations have made conservatives nervous, especially the language pertaining to immigration. On the data and digital fronts, however, a highly-reported failure of the Romney campaign, there is room for hope.

Yesterday TechPresident interviewed several GOP operatives who, unlike the consultants involved with the Romney campaign, were warning of the failure of those on the right to keep up technologically long before the election. The experts TechPresident spoke with all expressed cautious optimism at the plan’s vision for the future of the Republican Party’s commitment to digital and data strategy. Some aspects were taken straight from the pages of the publication and others like it, specifically consultants who have long been warning that the talent pool for technology on the right was filled with political operatives who were also interested in tech, not the other way around.

The best executed aspects of the Obama campaign’s digital efforts were developed by recruits hired directly from Silicon Valley. These were technologically focused individuals who had little outside experience in politics before the Obama campaign. Yesterday’s RNC report suggested replicating that success, reaching out to youth not just for their votes, but also their expertise. RedState’s Erick Erickson and other conservative activists have long warned about the dangers of the consultant class and its ability to stifle innovation within the party. While the report, as Erickson noted today in an op-ed for Fox News, neglects to address this issue specifically, the fact that the RNC is actively looking to recruit in San Francisco, Austin, New York and Denver holds the promise that the talent pool that the conservative movement draws from would be infused with fresh faces and ideas.

Other experts, like the Heritage Foundation’s Rob Bluey, expressed concern that the party would be centralizing the digital efforts of the movement within the party. Bluey told Raw Story, “When it comes to data, I don’t know if there should be a central repository that the RNC is only going to share with the candidates of its choice, instead of letting the market pick the winners.” This is a legitimate concern that should be addressed as the RNC continues to grow its digital footprint. But if the right candidates are chosen (as Jonathan rightly cautioned was the most essential element of a successful Republican Party), they will be able to compete on par with Democratic nominees in 2016 and beyond if the RNC follows through with the plans set forth in the Growth and Opportunity Project.

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GOP Leadership Seeks Its Own Rebranding

As the Republican Party rolls out its rebranding efforts today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is getting the most press and the most attention. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a piece of news related to the party’s rebranding efforts. Politico reports that a McLaughlin poll commissioned by the YG Network–an outgrowth of the “Young Guns” of the House GOP–is warning Republicans that the party’s focus on debt and deficits is missing the mark with voters.

I wrote about this subject last week, noting that the right’s focus on balancing the budget was crowding out the rest of its economic message and that it would ultimately prove a distraction from a more effective–and marketable–policy approach. Politico is reporting that the House GOP is getting similar feedback from its survey:

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As the Republican Party rolls out its rebranding efforts today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is getting the most press and the most attention. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a piece of news related to the party’s rebranding efforts. Politico reports that a McLaughlin poll commissioned by the YG Network–an outgrowth of the “Young Guns” of the House GOP–is warning Republicans that the party’s focus on debt and deficits is missing the mark with voters.

I wrote about this subject last week, noting that the right’s focus on balancing the budget was crowding out the rest of its economic message and that it would ultimately prove a distraction from a more effective–and marketable–policy approach. Politico is reporting that the House GOP is getting similar feedback from its survey:

The YG Network polling, conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates, found that 38 percent of Americans name the “economy and jobs” as the issue of greatest importance to them. Twenty percent named “deficit and debt” as their top concern, and 16 percent pointed to health care….

The polling questions related to entitlements are just as bracing. Voters are willing to consider some changes to the Medicare system – raising the eligibility age to 67 and means-testing benefits – but less than half are enthusiastic about changing the system immediately in order to balance the budget over a decade.

Asked to choose one government program they would be willing to cut, only 14 percent of respondents named Social Security or Medicare. Just over three quarters – 76 percent – picked military spending or other, unspecified “welfare programs.”

It remains the case that cutting debt is a worthy goal and finds support among the voters. But it is simply not enough of an agenda for them. Americans have a full range of concerns tied to the current economic challenges they face, and it’s not at all clear Republicans have really been listening. This doesn’t mean conservatives in Congress have to pander by offering free goodies or more government programs. But they have to be able to offer a range of solutions.

More important than the results of the survey, however, is where it came from. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the highest ranking “young gun” and generally seen as a conservative force in the House, pulling Speaker John Boehner to the right on legislation. But what often gets missed is that Cantor has been trying to rebrand himself as being closer to the center than he is currently thought to be:

John Murray, who heads the YG Network, confirmed that the poll was “specifically designed to challenge the assumption that spending cuts as a central theme is sufficient.”

It’s not that spending restraint is a bad issue for conservatives, according to Murray; it’s just not enough, on its own, to drive middle-class support for a center-right policy vision.

“It doesn’t feel aspirational and it doesn’t feel like a message of the future,” said Murray, who suggested conservatives need an agenda “broad enough so [Americans] feel like it impacts them in a real way.” …

“You can see where you can have a very solid center-right platform,” he said.

The “young guns” include not just Cantor but Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy as well. And it’s clear they believe the efforts to label conservatives as unconcerned about the poor and middle class are working. They seem almost to be conceding the point by talking about switching to a “center-right” agenda. As Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee last year, Ryan was visibly troubled by this on the campaign trail. He gave speeches about strengthening civil society and the need for a social safety net that encompasses more than federal welfare or entitlement programs.

What is meaningful about the McLaughlin poll, then, is that Cantor’s office wanted a survey that would justify his own desire to move away from an all-debt-all-the-time message, fully aware that he was losing the attention of the American people. And if the poll was structured to tell Cantor basically what he wanted to hear, then the results are perhaps even more significant, because a look at the results shows that what Cantor wanted to hear was more about education, energy policy, and even comprehensive immigration reform.

Quite apart from the self-conscious use of the term “center-right,” these are also issues the GOP should want to address. The GOP would almost certainly gain from taking the immigration issue off the table (though immigration reform is the right thing to do anyway). And the lack of discussion on the right about education is mindboggling. Conservatives are winning the argument on school choice and opportunity, yet find themselves mostly talking about teacher contracts. And high-profile Democratic politicians have been caught suppressing scientific studies showing the safety of economy-boosting and job-creating domestic energy production at a time of high unemployment, putting the issue of energy on a silver platter for conservatives.

The RNC reboot is getting all the attention today, but if this story is to be believed, the shift in the House GOP leadership may be of greater consequence.

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Candidates, Not Message or Tactics, Will Determine 2016 Outcome

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.

It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.

But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.

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Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.

It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.

But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.

It’s easy and fun to spin out counter-factual scenarios and to imagine different results. Yet even if the Republicans had not bored everyone silly with nearly two dozen candidate debates that drove the discussion to the margins rather than the center; if their convention wasn’t overshadowed by hurricane coverage; if their get-out-the-vote effort not been a fiasco; and their candidate hadn’t alienated Hispanics or failed to connect with young voters, Mitt Romney was not going to defeat Barack Obama.

This was more the function of Obama’s strengths as a historic president with a built-in advantage with the media than it was of Romney’s weaknesses. Romney was, after all, the most electable of all the Republican contenders and it’s doubtful that any of his competitors would have done as well as he did.

But not even a Republican Party that was technologically up-to-date and appealing to Hispanics rather than turning them off with threats of “self-deportation” would have been strong enough to overcome Obama, especially with a candidate like Romney who lacked the ability to connect with ordinary Americans (a trait that was only exacerbated by his fatal “47 percent” gaffe).

None of this should serve as an argument in favor of ignoring the RNC report, whose conclusions should be heeded if the GOP is going to continue to compete in the future. Building the party is, however, not quite the same thing as winning a presidential election, which hinges on two specific personalities more than it does on the strengths of their parties.

Fortunately for the Republicans they now have a deep bench from which to choose a better candidate than Romney. Equally fortunate for them is the fact that Barack Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2016 and if Hillary Clinton fails to run, it will be the Democrats who will probably be fielding a less able vote getter.

However, no one can tell yet whether the GOP contenders will pan out or if some Democrat surges to the fore as Obama did in 2008. Even if the RNC achieves all of its stated goals and Republicans embrace immigration reform, it won’t matter if the next matchup is as lopsided as it was in 2012.

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The Republican Path Ahead

I have a column in TIME magazine in which I describe the three different camps Republicans have broken into in the aftermath of the 2012 election, some policy proposals the GOP might consider, and urge Republicans to draw on a conservative tradition that:

seeks to accommodate timeless principles to shifting circumstances, that rejects unyielding orthodoxy and believes prudence, not purity, is the cardinal political virtue. And while it believes in limited government, it is not carelessly antigovernment. The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall elegantly described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way. A chief condition to that end is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under the conditions of time and place.”

I’d add to this several other suggestions.

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I have a column in TIME magazine in which I describe the three different camps Republicans have broken into in the aftermath of the 2012 election, some policy proposals the GOP might consider, and urge Republicans to draw on a conservative tradition that:

seeks to accommodate timeless principles to shifting circumstances, that rejects unyielding orthodoxy and believes prudence, not purity, is the cardinal political virtue. And while it believes in limited government, it is not carelessly antigovernment. The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall elegantly described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way. A chief condition to that end is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under the conditions of time and place.”

I’d add to this several other suggestions.

First, Republicans should make front-and-center their plans to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, immigration policies and regulatory regime are outdated, breaking down, and creating substantial wreckage. If I had to boil it down to a single sentence, I’d urge the GOP to develop its reputation as the party of reform and modernization.

Second, Republican leaders at every level need to conduct themselves in a manner that not just reassures voters but appeals to them. As former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has put it, “as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” This is not just a matter of style; it’s a disposition that reflects an approach to the world. And it matters.

Third, Republicans must resist the temptation of defeatism, enervation, and turning against the country. It is entirely within the power of the GOP to both remain principled and appeal to a majority of Americans. An intellectually self-confident party would, in fact, be energized by a challenge of this scale.

But it seems to me that the main reason for Republicans to be confident, and the main reason they should act quickly to revive their party, is that reactionary liberalism is exhausted. It has nothing to offer when it comes to the greatest domestic threats facing America: our massive fiscal imbalance, the impending collapse of our entitlement programs, our insanely complicated and inefficient tax code, and anemic economic growth. By the end of President Obama’s second term, the Affordable Care Act will be viewed as a monumental failure. Liberals will have had nothing useful to say about combating poverty, improving education, energy independence or stabilizing a disordered and dangerous world. The propositions of progressivism will have been tried and found wanting in almost every respect. The public will again turn to the Republican Party.

For the GOP to fully reposition itself will require the right presidential nominee to emerge. But the groundwork needs to begin–has begun–with governors, members of Congress, public intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs.

In 1980, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan admitted, “Of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” As it was, so shall it be again.

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An Interesting Time to Be Alive (If You’re a Republican)

In his appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Democratic strategist James Carville was asked what the Republican Party has to do in order to recover. Mr. Carville pointed out that “It’s hard when you’re a congressional party.” What he meant by that is that without a titular head, a party is relatively undisciplined and often sounds cacophonous. The press will focus on the most outrageous statements made by backbenchers, which leads to responsible members of the party often finding themselves with “a fist in your forehead.”

That’s a fair point. At the same time, a period like the Republican Party is in right now can also lead to some intellectual creativity, with good ideas being generated by governors and members of Congress. Wilderness years can help a party that has become ideologically rigid and somewhat out of touch with the changing nature of America. As Rod Dreher pointed out in a recent symposium in COMMENTARY, in the short run political cohesion and effectiveness have their advantages, but this can be “a disaster for a party that needs–as every party does–to have its intellectual base replenished by fresh, creative discussion and argument.”

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In his appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Democratic strategist James Carville was asked what the Republican Party has to do in order to recover. Mr. Carville pointed out that “It’s hard when you’re a congressional party.” What he meant by that is that without a titular head, a party is relatively undisciplined and often sounds cacophonous. The press will focus on the most outrageous statements made by backbenchers, which leads to responsible members of the party often finding themselves with “a fist in your forehead.”

That’s a fair point. At the same time, a period like the Republican Party is in right now can also lead to some intellectual creativity, with good ideas being generated by governors and members of Congress. Wilderness years can help a party that has become ideologically rigid and somewhat out of touch with the changing nature of America. As Rod Dreher pointed out in a recent symposium in COMMENTARY, in the short run political cohesion and effectiveness have their advantages, but this can be “a disaster for a party that needs–as every party does–to have its intellectual base replenished by fresh, creative discussion and argument.”

I also agree with Carville and “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that a strong leader eventually needs to emerge to help the GOP regain its political footing. But that will have to wait at least until the next presidential cycle, which is still a ways off.

Until then, Republicans have to do the best they can given the situation in which they find themselves. And this can be–it actually is–an intellectually interesting moment for the GOP and conservative movement, which are engaged in fairly searching and healthy re-examinations. More needs to be done (Ross Douthat explains why here). Still, reactionary liberalism seems to me to be exhausted and unequipped to address the problems of the 21stcentury. Which means on the national level the Republican Party and conservatism will have their chance again. When it comes, readiness will be all.

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Ryan Has Options, But Has He Already Made His Choice?

Paul Ryan’s role in the 2012 presidential election was, from the standpoint of some congressional Republicans, perfect. Because Ryan is the author of budget-cutting legislation that seeks to reform entitlements, especially Medicare, his proposals are controversial. Republicans in Congress may be supportive of such legislation, and indeed voted for it in large numbers, but it opens up an easy line of attack for their opponents. But they also want to rein in debt, support their fellow (popular) conservative reformer, and stay in the good graces of the party’s grassroots–as Newt Gingrich found out when he criticized Ryan’s plan in harsh terms and earned the ire of conservative voters when he ran for the GOP nomination.

Gingrich backtracked, but he was in an unenviable position: he wanted to appeal to both the center and the base; he didn’t want to appear timid by backtracking and deferring to Ryan, who wasn’t running. But he also couldn’t embrace a plan he had genuine concerns about, both philosophically and with regard to electoral politics. This is where many in the party found themselves on the issue of trying to win local and national elections–caught between prudence and their reformist instincts. Ryan chose not to run for president, which prevented the party’s candidates from having to spend an entire election season defending that one proposal. And because he was picked up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, his own plans were overshadowed by those of Romney–the top of the ticket. Thus, had the GOP ousted President Obama in November, Republicans would have arrived on the cusp of major conservative reform in a relatively quiet way.

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Paul Ryan’s role in the 2012 presidential election was, from the standpoint of some congressional Republicans, perfect. Because Ryan is the author of budget-cutting legislation that seeks to reform entitlements, especially Medicare, his proposals are controversial. Republicans in Congress may be supportive of such legislation, and indeed voted for it in large numbers, but it opens up an easy line of attack for their opponents. But they also want to rein in debt, support their fellow (popular) conservative reformer, and stay in the good graces of the party’s grassroots–as Newt Gingrich found out when he criticized Ryan’s plan in harsh terms and earned the ire of conservative voters when he ran for the GOP nomination.

Gingrich backtracked, but he was in an unenviable position: he wanted to appeal to both the center and the base; he didn’t want to appear timid by backtracking and deferring to Ryan, who wasn’t running. But he also couldn’t embrace a plan he had genuine concerns about, both philosophically and with regard to electoral politics. This is where many in the party found themselves on the issue of trying to win local and national elections–caught between prudence and their reformist instincts. Ryan chose not to run for president, which prevented the party’s candidates from having to spend an entire election season defending that one proposal. And because he was picked up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, his own plans were overshadowed by those of Romney–the top of the ticket. Thus, had the GOP ousted President Obama in November, Republicans would have arrived on the cusp of major conservative reform in a relatively quiet way.

But they didn’t win. And that meant the party faced the prospect of a new cycle of political fights over Ryan’s reforms, since he is the House budget leader. But he could also not be easily overlooked, since he returned as the party’s (unsuccessful) vice presidential hopeful. That’s why in today’s Politico story analyzing Paul Ryan’s competing paths to power, this particular segment stands out as possibly the best harbinger of what to expect from the rising conservative star:

Ryan associates say he has been surprised at how central his governing role has been among House Republicans since returning from his failed run for vice president. He was instrumental in cooking up the GOP’s new debt ceiling strategy and will craft a budget plan that sets the direction for the GOP caucus on virtually every consequential issue. With this in mind, he now calculates that naked national ambitions would only dilute his growing power as Speaker John Boehner’s unofficial wing man.

At the same time, Ryan continues to cultivate a national political and financial network that would serve him in any role. A top GOP source said Ryan recently huddled with Spencer Zwick, Mitt Romney’s fundraising guru, who made plain much of the 2012 donor base stands ready to back him if he were to ever warm again to a White House run. Ryan also made a fundraising trip to Texas last month for his Prosperity PAC. He was hosted by top Romney donors who urged him to run, convinced he has been totally vetted and passed the readiness test.

There are three nuggets of information in those two paragraphs, and they basically summarize Ryan’s current predicament. First, major party donors like him and want him to run for president; second, his instinct is not to run, and instead stick to policy; and third, that the GOP House caucus’s embrace of Ryan when he returned from the campaign played a fairly important role in all this.

Ryan understood that although he is young, losing a national race can halt anyone’s career momentum, and it can leave the impression that the losing candidate is an also-ran. Those perceptions are difficult, though far from impossible, to reverse. And Ryan would have one advantage: no one blames him for the election result, since he was not at the top of the ticket. His selection, in fact, energized grassroots conservatives. Nonetheless, as a candidate for the White House in a close election Ryan had one foot out the door of the House chamber. The fact that House Republicans welcomed his return as a congressional leader says a lot about the value House Republicans place in Ryan, and the confidence he instills in them that they can win with his agenda.

Though Ryan is a fine public speaker and a solid debater, he was always more at home writing policy than on the campaign trail. If he wanted to compete for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he surely could, and he would have something of a head start on his rivals with both the base and party donors. But the lesson of Bob Dole’s run for president in 1996 looms large: it is difficult–Dole found it impossible, actually–to be a congressional leader and presidential candidate at the same time. Ryan may very well be the most influential Republican in the House already. Though he could certainly make a play for being even more, he appears to be relieved to have his old role back, for the time being. The party’s base has reason to be relieved, as well, that Ryan’s colleagues didn’t lose their resolve to fight for real reform in his brief absence.

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The Sore Loser Electoral College Plan

Could a change in the way states allocate their votes in the Electoral College have changed the outcome of the 2012 presidential election? The answer to that question is generating outrage among Democrats over schemes that are currently under consideration in Virginia and some other states. That’s because had every state in the union discarded the winner-take-all rule currently used in all but two and instead employed one in which each Congressional district would be an individual contest, Mitt Romney might have earned a slim victory despite losing the popular vote.

Nebraska and Maine currently divide their votes in this manner giving both major parties a chance to win individual districts. That is each state’s prerogative since there is nothing in the Constitution saying that the winner-take-all rule is sacred. But in 2012, when President Obama won a narrow majority in the popular vote but a decisive victory in the Electoral College, allowing such splits would have created an anomalous outcome since the president’s win was predicated on his sweep of virtually every closely-fought battleground state in which he ran up big vote totals in urban areas while losing rural counties. That’s leading Democrats to call the plan to change the system in Virginia, which Obama won by a razor-thin margin, a “sore loser” scheme that is a GOP effort to subvert democracy.

Even though Republicans in some states have been talking about this issue for years, coming on the heels of their 2012 loss, it’s hard to argue that the sore loser tag doesn’t apply. Indeed, though their plan has its virtues, the idea of changing the rules in order to skew the results a bit more in their favor instead of working on issues and producing candidates that will win on their own merits sounds like exactly the sort of foolish thing Republicans ought to be avoiding as they ponder how to do better in 2016. Nevertheless, though the plan creates some bad optics for the GOP, even its Democratic critics should admit that it is neither crazy nor essentially undemocratic.

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Could a change in the way states allocate their votes in the Electoral College have changed the outcome of the 2012 presidential election? The answer to that question is generating outrage among Democrats over schemes that are currently under consideration in Virginia and some other states. That’s because had every state in the union discarded the winner-take-all rule currently used in all but two and instead employed one in which each Congressional district would be an individual contest, Mitt Romney might have earned a slim victory despite losing the popular vote.

Nebraska and Maine currently divide their votes in this manner giving both major parties a chance to win individual districts. That is each state’s prerogative since there is nothing in the Constitution saying that the winner-take-all rule is sacred. But in 2012, when President Obama won a narrow majority in the popular vote but a decisive victory in the Electoral College, allowing such splits would have created an anomalous outcome since the president’s win was predicated on his sweep of virtually every closely-fought battleground state in which he ran up big vote totals in urban areas while losing rural counties. That’s leading Democrats to call the plan to change the system in Virginia, which Obama won by a razor-thin margin, a “sore loser” scheme that is a GOP effort to subvert democracy.

Even though Republicans in some states have been talking about this issue for years, coming on the heels of their 2012 loss, it’s hard to argue that the sore loser tag doesn’t apply. Indeed, though their plan has its virtues, the idea of changing the rules in order to skew the results a bit more in their favor instead of working on issues and producing candidates that will win on their own merits sounds like exactly the sort of foolish thing Republicans ought to be avoiding as they ponder how to do better in 2016. Nevertheless, though the plan creates some bad optics for the GOP, even its Democratic critics should admit that it is neither crazy nor essentially undemocratic.

The Electoral College already gives an unfair advantage to small states that are always overestimated in Congress since each gets at least one member of the House and two in the Senate (the number of Electoral College votes each state gets is determined by their total of members in the House and Senate). But though the College rarely produces a result at variance with the national popular vote (as it did in 1876 and more recently in the Bush-Gore fiasco in 2000) it does tend to distort most results as it did again in 2012 when it gave Obama a much bigger win than his share of the popular vote would have dictated (332-206 in the College while only 51-47 in the popular). In that sense, opposition to the GOP scheme exposes many Democrats to the charge of hypocrisy since they spent most of the last year carrying on about any possible threat to the one-person, one-vote rule.

Since all Congressional districts are supposed to have approximately the same populations the new system if applied nationwide ought to allow the Electoral College to more closely mirror the popular vote around the country.

Changing the system to allow the votes of more Americans to count in the Electoral College is a move toward more democracy not less. It would also force the parties to abandon a practice of active campaigning only in swing states and force them to fight and to spend money everywhere. That means Democrats would be encouraged to compete in red states in the South and Middle West while Republicans would no longer ignore large blue states like New York and California.

But when applied to some individual states, there’s no question that it would help the GOP. President Obama’s ability to run the table in swing states was the function of his big wins in cities while losing rural districts. Romney won seven of the 11 Congressional Districts in Virginia and 11 of the 16 districts in Ohio while both states and the election.

In our current political environment in which Democrats have a stranglehold on large states such as California, New York and Illinois, the winner-take-all rule gives them a big advantage. It is true that the same change would give them a share of a large red state like Texas that they wouldn’t currently get but they would certainly be the losers in the exchange.

Assuming that elections in the future will be dictated by the politics of our present day is always a mistake. So it would be a mistake for either party to decide its position on the future of the Electoral College based on past votes. In particular, Republicans might want to think about the possible perils of changing the system before 2016 when it is entirely possible that they will be able to nominate a candidate who might win the swing states that Romney lost. Democrats may assume that demography will dictate that they will never again lose states like Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania or Ohio but the GOP should think twice about taking votes that a candidate like Marco Rubio or Chris Christie might win and giving them to the Democrats.

In principle, there is nothing undemocratic about allocating Electoral College votes by district rather than by states. And Democrats who never complained about Nebraska or Maine having such a system are in no position to claim it is wrong for Virginia to adopt it. But since it might have prevented Obama’s re-election in a way that most Americans would have thought unfair, Republicans should not allow themselves to be seen as working to game the system in such a way as to thwart the will of the majority. If Republicans want to eliminate the unfairness baked into the Electoral College system, they can advocate scrapping it altogether. Anything short of that is not going to do them or the country a bit of good in the long run.

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Learning from Obama’s Campaign Victory

Immediately following the election, a great deal of attention was paid to the incredibly inept Romney GOTV effort by this blog and many others. The failure of the program Orca was almost too complete, too shocking to be believed and it left many, including myself, wondering what might have been if the Romney campaign had an effective GOTV effort on Election Day. Obama’s margin of victory was such that if there had been a GOTV and organizational effort by the Romney campaign even close to his opponent, there might have been a clear chance at victory in several swing states for the Republican nominee. 

After the election, Romney’s digital campaign staff conducted a post-mortem with leading GOP and conservative strategists and, shockingly, reportedly came out feeling “cheerful” despite their walloping not only at the polls, but also in the digital realm. How could these experts have reached a conclusion so far from reality? Simply, many of these digital consultants have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo. RedState’s Erick Erickson named names shortly after the election and explained how and why a group of strategists linked to the RNC and other conservative groups rake in millions every election season, despite their continued failures. There is one notable exception to that group of consultants and digital strategists: Patrick Ruffini. 

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Immediately following the election, a great deal of attention was paid to the incredibly inept Romney GOTV effort by this blog and many others. The failure of the program Orca was almost too complete, too shocking to be believed and it left many, including myself, wondering what might have been if the Romney campaign had an effective GOTV effort on Election Day. Obama’s margin of victory was such that if there had been a GOTV and organizational effort by the Romney campaign even close to his opponent, there might have been a clear chance at victory in several swing states for the Republican nominee. 

After the election, Romney’s digital campaign staff conducted a post-mortem with leading GOP and conservative strategists and, shockingly, reportedly came out feeling “cheerful” despite their walloping not only at the polls, but also in the digital realm. How could these experts have reached a conclusion so far from reality? Simply, many of these digital consultants have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo. RedState’s Erick Erickson named names shortly after the election and explained how and why a group of strategists linked to the RNC and other conservative groups rake in millions every election season, despite their continued failures. There is one notable exception to that group of consultants and digital strategists: Patrick Ruffini. 

Since the election, while the attention of almost every other conservative strategist and activist was focused on the failure in the Romney campaign, Ruffini has spent a significant amount of time and effort deconstructing the incredibly successful Obama campaign. Ruffini, the founder and owner of the consulting firm EngageDC, sneaked into Obama For America (OFA) strategy sessions, live-tweeting and later collating his findings. He has also pored over information released by OFA about their organizational structure to learn how OFA operated so that a future GOP candidate wouldn’t find themselves so outgunned in future campaigns. In one large report, Going Inside the Cave, Ruffini’s team analyzed the organization, strategy and implementation of OFA’s digital efforts, explaining: 

OFA was, far and away, the most sophisticated political organization on the planet. And Republicans needed to learn from them. So we set about gathering insights, data, and anecdotes from hundreds of news articles, blog posts, interviews, podcasts, and presentations. 

The Cave is what OFA called the windowless room that housed their analytics team. Like digital in 2008, analytics came of age in the 2012 campaign. OFA’s analytics team had 50 staffers. By comparison, the Romney-Ryan campaign had a data team of 4 people.

Veterans of OFA have been surprisingly forthcoming in providing details on how they leveraged the latest in technology and digital strategy to make their campaign as effective and efficient as possible.

In 2016, Republicans can’t afford to fight the battles of 2012. We have to look forward to the future and start preparing now.

Last night Ruffini live-tweeted his analysis of the “OFA Legacy Report,” which he then compiled along with other digital strategists’s anecdotes. Why is Ruffini and his firm spending so much time deconstructing the reelection campaign of a second-term president? While this may be Obama’s last term in office, OFA isn’t going anywhere. Mother Jones reports:

Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign was the most technologically advanced political operation in American history. The campaign, led by Jim Messina, amassed and distilled vast quantities of voter data, built apps and networks to mobilize voters and enlist volunteers, and practically perfected the science of email fundraising. Post-election, Messina and his lieutenants weren’t about to let their data files, email lists, algorithms, and grassroots machine simply gather dust. Instead, they will soon launch Organizing for Action, a standalone advocacy group created to bolster Obama as he pursues his second-term agenda.

The new group will be used to mobilize Obama supporters around the key issues of Obama’s second term in office.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi explained that the group “dwarfs any part of the Democratic coalition.” The LA Times was the first to report on the new group’s hypocritical tax status, given the Obama campaign’s demonization of “dark money” groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, a 501(c)4: 

The organization will be set up as a 501(c)4 social welfare group, according to top Democrats privy to the discussions. That structure allows it to accept unlimited contributions.

The Obama campaign’s data files — its most valuable assets — may be housed in a separate legal entity that would make them accessible to Democratic candidates and party committees, according to a source familiar with the plans.

If Republicans want to make this inauguration day the last of a Democratic president for quite some time, serious time and money needs to be invested in analyzing Obama’s efforts in order not to replicate them, but to best them. Ruffini’s work is a great first step, but instead of GOP consultants and strategists spending time meeting to pat each other on the back, it’s time finally admit how sweeping defeat was in 2012 in order to catch up enough to give the 2016 GOP nominee a chance at victory.  

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Jon Huntsman Can’t Get Over Himself

“Jon Huntsman Can’t Stop Talking About The Republican Party,” proclaims a Buzzfeed headline teasing an interview with the former GOP presidential candidate. And they weren’t kidding: the story was posted first thing in the morning yesterday, and by the end of lunch time they posted a second story on Huntsman’s interview. The glaring question–Does Jon Huntsman really have that much of interest to say?–has an unsurprising answer: Nope. But he assured the Buzzfeed editors that he had bestowed upon them a truly generous gift:

“I haven’t asked anyone for a single interview. I don’t do that,” he said, adding, “I’d say we take about 2 percent of the media requests that come in. Really.”

Having thus flattered his audience that they are more important to a former governor of Utah than 98 percent of the media out there, Huntsman proceeded to do what Huntsman does: speak for long periods of time without saying anything. Indeed, what’s striking about the two stories worth of interviews he did with Buzzfeed is the complete lack of policy ideas. He spent most of the time talking about how Republicans don’t like him, how much he enjoyed the movie Lincoln, and that he still believes in climate change.

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“Jon Huntsman Can’t Stop Talking About The Republican Party,” proclaims a Buzzfeed headline teasing an interview with the former GOP presidential candidate. And they weren’t kidding: the story was posted first thing in the morning yesterday, and by the end of lunch time they posted a second story on Huntsman’s interview. The glaring question–Does Jon Huntsman really have that much of interest to say?–has an unsurprising answer: Nope. But he assured the Buzzfeed editors that he had bestowed upon them a truly generous gift:

“I haven’t asked anyone for a single interview. I don’t do that,” he said, adding, “I’d say we take about 2 percent of the media requests that come in. Really.”

Having thus flattered his audience that they are more important to a former governor of Utah than 98 percent of the media out there, Huntsman proceeded to do what Huntsman does: speak for long periods of time without saying anything. Indeed, what’s striking about the two stories worth of interviews he did with Buzzfeed is the complete lack of policy ideas. He spent most of the time talking about how Republicans don’t like him, how much he enjoyed the movie Lincoln, and that he still believes in climate change.

He didn’t seem to put much effort into making excuses for his poor showing in the GOP primaries. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped blaming his election woes on being too awesome for his own good. He recently spoke with the New York Times Magazine (which apparently made it into the elite 2 percent) as well. He’s had time to reflect upon his election losses, and here is the conclusion he’s drawn:

Honesty? You’re in the wrong business.
It’s terrible. You saw where honesty got me in the primary.

Obviously you’ve thought a lot about it. What went wrong?
When the decision was made to refuse any pandering — because my wife would have left me if I had done any of that — you pretty much disarm yourself. On top of that you have people like Michael Moore, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter coming out and giving you kudos as a sane Republican. That doesn’t play so well in the primary phase of Iowa or South Carolina.

The New York Times referred to you during the campaign as “an early favorite of the pundit classes.” Did you read that and think, I’m toast?
That’s the first dagger to the heart.

This is nonsense, because Mitch Daniels was also an early favorite of the pundit classes, and Daniels also received plaudits from liberal journalists and opinion writers. And yet, whereas Republicans begged Huntsman to leave, they pleaded with Daniels not to go. It isn’t honesty that got Huntsman in trouble, but how he expressed that honesty. The second Buzzfeed article recalls Huntsman’s tweet about global warming: “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” What got Huntsman in trouble was his palpable, oozing disdain for Republican voters. He doesn’t like them or their party, and it shows. In the Times Magazine interview, here is how he describes primary voters: “People aren’t turning out for primaries because they work for a living, and those who do turn out are professional activists.”

Surely Huntsman must understand that calling people bums or telling them they only have opinions because they’re paid to have those opinions isn’t the best prelude to asking them for their vote. And why would Huntsman want their vote anyway? Following Huntsman’s logic, it’s degrading to even ask a voter who cares enough about his party to vote in primaries for his support. And maybe that’s how Huntsman feels. But here’s a thought: if Huntsman doesn’t have any respect for the process, then maybe he shouldn’t take part in that process. Call me crazy.

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Rubio to the Rescue

In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.

As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents). 

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In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.

As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents). 

Senator Rubio also understands that while immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet for the GOP, the immigration issues is “a gateway issue for Hispanics… No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don’t like them or want them here, it’s difficult to get them to listen to anyone else.”

That’s right; and that is what the modern GOP had done, for reasons that strike me as substantively wrong and politically unwise. There are ways for Republicans to deal with illegal immigration without coming across as anti-Hispanic and anti-immigration.

Conservatives like Marco Rubio are perfectly situated to begin to correct that problem, and the sooner, the better.

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Obama’s Immigration Dilemma

Last summer, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio was hard at work on an immigration reform bill, it put the White House in an awkward position. President Obama wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform at some point to add to his legacy. But the timing was miserable for him: Obama wanted the policy victory after the election, lest prominent GOP support for immigrants erode the president’s lopsided advantage among Hispanic voters. So he did the politically expedient thing: he signed an executive order (or more accurately took “executive action”) designed to circumvent, rather than reform, the law.

This was useful for the president in two ways. First, it killed Rubio’s DREAM Act legislation. And second, it checked Republican opposition by forcing them to either oppose the move, which would look like they were opposing immigrants, or keep quiet and let Obama govern without Congress, marginalizing his opposition going forward. But that left the question of what to do about immigration–and Obama’s repeatedly broken promises to address it in comprehensive fashion–in his second term. Apparently governing by executive action is an addictive activity. The president is once again, as the Washington Post reports today, shelving comprehensive immigration reform:

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Last summer, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio was hard at work on an immigration reform bill, it put the White House in an awkward position. President Obama wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform at some point to add to his legacy. But the timing was miserable for him: Obama wanted the policy victory after the election, lest prominent GOP support for immigrants erode the president’s lopsided advantage among Hispanic voters. So he did the politically expedient thing: he signed an executive order (or more accurately took “executive action”) designed to circumvent, rather than reform, the law.

This was useful for the president in two ways. First, it killed Rubio’s DREAM Act legislation. And second, it checked Republican opposition by forcing them to either oppose the move, which would look like they were opposing immigrants, or keep quiet and let Obama govern without Congress, marginalizing his opposition going forward. But that left the question of what to do about immigration–and Obama’s repeatedly broken promises to address it in comprehensive fashion–in his second term. Apparently governing by executive action is an addictive activity. The president is once again, as the Washington Post reports today, shelving comprehensive immigration reform:

Immigration advocates on Thursday hailed a rule change at the Department of Homeland Security that would make it easier for many undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States as they seek permanent residency, saying it will improve the lives of relatives who could have been separated for years without the changes.

For President Obama — who has called the inability to achieve comprehensive immigration reform among the biggest regrets of his first term — the new policy is among a series of steps his administration has taken over the past year aimed in part at easing the pace of deportations, which have surged during his tenure. Many of the steps came amid a presidential campaign that included sharp disagreements over immigration policy and strong support among Latinos and Asians for Obama.

The centerpiece was Obama’s decision, announced last June, to stop deporting people who were brought to the country as children and have gone on to be productive and otherwise law-abiding residents.

“He is checking off every administrative box he can of what he can do with executive authority that comports with his overall view of immigration policy,” said Angela Kelley, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank allied with the White House.

This demonstrates how effective Obama’s 2012 executive action was in boxing in the GOP. They protested last year, but then the Romney/Ryan ticket lost Hispanics by historic margins, and lost other immigrant groups as well. Chastened by the election returns and demographic trends that threatened to keep punishing the GOP, the party’s rhetoric on the issue took a more positive turn immediately after the presidential election.

What’s notable about the GOP’s response to this week’s move is that there wasn’t one. Obama’s 2012 order gave him the room go big on immigration reform in a second term, but the astounding margin of victory among immigrant groups signaled that politically, Obama–who now doesn’t have to run for reelection and thus feels no great pressure to jump into immigration reform with both feet–need be in no rush to take a polarizing issue that splits the GOP and helps his party electorally off the table.

But what’s the administration’s excuse for delaying reform yet again? It’s that they really, really wanted to do immigration reform early, but Obama’s “timetable has been complicated by the prospect of another round of fiscal negotiations over the debt ceiling in February and the president’s pledge to support a gun-control bill in the wake of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.”

Of course the president cannot control events. And sure, man plans while God laughs, and all that. But this is a bit disingenuous. Judging by the way the “fiscal cliff” compromise was reached, Vice President Joe Biden is the White House’s negotiator with Congress, not the president–who not only wasn’t participating constructively in the last-minute dealmaking but was happy to demonstrate as much by holding a campaign-style photo op/stand-up comedy routine while Biden and the GOP leadership were busy working.

And speaking of Joe Biden, he’s the one in charge of the gun control issue as well, with the president designating Biden to lead a commission to figure out what legislation, if any, is needed or politically possible in the wake of the shooting. Since “Prime Minister” Biden (as Jonathan so aptly dubbed him yesterday) is working on all the issues that are supposedly taking up the president’s time, Obama went back to finish his Hawaii vacation.

Maybe if immigration proponents really want reform, they should just do what the GOP leadership finally did and go straight to Biden.

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How the Right Can Reclaim its Edge on Foreign Policy

Aside from the prospect of automatic cuts in near-term defense spending, the ongoing drama over the so-called fiscal cliff continues to sideline the issue of foreign policy. But as the Republican Party recovers from the November election and finds its issue compass going forward, foreign policy should never be far behind—not least because of what Dan Drezner writes in a new Foreign Affairs essay on the GOP: Republicans finally saw the end of their dominance of public opinion on foreign policy they have held since the era of the Vietnam War.

Conservatives may already be tired of what they perceive to be lectures on their party’s ills from those who don’t share their ideological preferences. I don’t blame them. But Drezner’s essay is worth reading because Drezner generally eschews ad hominem attacks and his writing is tonally free of partisan hostility. Additionally, conservatives reading the essay will find that in addition to what they are accused of getting wrong, they will discover that an honest assessment of the GOP’s recent foreign policy gets a fair amount right.

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Aside from the prospect of automatic cuts in near-term defense spending, the ongoing drama over the so-called fiscal cliff continues to sideline the issue of foreign policy. But as the Republican Party recovers from the November election and finds its issue compass going forward, foreign policy should never be far behind—not least because of what Dan Drezner writes in a new Foreign Affairs essay on the GOP: Republicans finally saw the end of their dominance of public opinion on foreign policy they have held since the era of the Vietnam War.

Conservatives may already be tired of what they perceive to be lectures on their party’s ills from those who don’t share their ideological preferences. I don’t blame them. But Drezner’s essay is worth reading because Drezner generally eschews ad hominem attacks and his writing is tonally free of partisan hostility. Additionally, conservatives reading the essay will find that in addition to what they are accused of getting wrong, they will discover that an honest assessment of the GOP’s recent foreign policy gets a fair amount right.

A great deal of Drezner’s criticism revolves around rhetoric. Thus, there were moments when Mitt Romney, for example, squandered opportunities with unforced errors. The most memorable instance was Romney’s decision to call Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney was guilty of the same mistake the Obama administration made with regard to Russia: They both overestimated Russia’s power. Obama thought Russia could and would deliver all sorts of cooperation on a range of issues. Yet Vladimir Putin had no intention and in many cases no ability do more than talk tough. Putin simply bluffed his way to more and more American concessions, and pocketed them.

Drezner expands his criticism to an issue directly relevant to the current budget debate. “Republicans continually attempt to justify extremely high levels of defense spending, for example, on the grounds that the United States supposedly faces greater threats now than during the Cold War,” he writes. It is essential that conservatives, and especially the Republican politicians taking part in the standoff over the fiscal cliff, understand how to advocate for defense spending.

It is true that the existence of foreign threats doesn’t necessitate, by itself, historic levels of defense spending. But those threats are far from the only justification for the defense budget. Republican officeholders would do well to turn to another essay in the same issue of Foreign Affairs that makes this case. The essay, by Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, explains how a fully engaged America abroad yields both security and financial benefits that make defense spending a bargain.

They note that American security guarantees around the globe prevent the rise of regional hegemons, military conflict, and the spread of destabilizing nuclear weapons more often than not; secure multilateral cooperation; and bring the U.S. economic benefits by both strengthening the dollar and giving America leverage when it comes to negotiating free trade agreements. Romney’s repeated exhortations that we’d want a military so powerful no one would dare “test us” is an inadequate justification for a highly justifiable policy.

Finally, Drezner writes:

George W. Bush’s greatest foreign policy accomplishments came not in the military realm but in rethinking economic statecraft. He signed more free-trade agreements than any other president. Through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Bush administration devised innovative ways of advancing U.S. interests and values abroad. In developing the architecture for improved financial coercion, the administration paved the way for the sanctions that are now crippling Iran’s economy. Force can be an essential tool of statecraft, but it should rarely be the first tool used, and sometimes it can be most effective if never used at all. Republicans understand the power of the free market at home; they need to revive their enthusiasm for the power of the market abroad, as well.

There are two points to make here. First, Romney had no trouble grasping this, as evidenced by his concentration on economics-based statecraft in the foreign policy debate with President Obama. Republicans remain the party of free trade, and show no sign of abandoning that position. Second, on Iran, there isn’t a ton of daylight between Drezner and the right. Conservatives have pushed for tough sanctions backed up by the credible threat of force. Obama has opposed and weakened tough sanctions every step of the way, and his administration has worked to undermine any credible threat of force.

Drezner says bellicosity is hurting the GOP with a war-weary public. He’s right that the public is war-weary, but Iran is not the issue where this is hurting the GOP. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, public support for military action against Iran in the event sanctions fail is now at a high point. Even out of power, the GOP won that argument.

This is not to say that last year’s crop of GOP presidential candidates always had the policy right–far from it. From flirtations with a trade war with China to undue nostalgia for Hosni Mubarak to loyalty investigations into Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide, there were plenty of forgettable—and dangerous–suggestions. But the 2016 crop of candidates will likely be quite different from the 2012 cast of characters, which too often spoke as if the world wasn’t listening. It was–and is–and conservatives need to remember (or learn) how to reclaim what was a well-earned advantage over the left on foreign policy.

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The Right’s Latest Meaningless Purity Test

In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

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In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

Could there possibly be a bigger waste of time than what is currently taking place? Conservatives are at each other’s throats fighting over a plan that has no chance thanks to a Democratically controlled Senate and White House. Once upon a time, conservatives understood that the only chance at passing conservative legislation was by holding those branches of government, as Philip Klein pointed this out today in the Washington Examiner,

If all it takes to enact a conservative agenda is to hold one chamber of Congress, then why did conservative activists work so hard for Republicans to win control of the Senate? Why did they spill so much sweat in an effort to defeat Obama, even though it meant supporting Mitt Romney?

Klein goes on to say “Conservatives should acknowledge that some sort of compromise is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean they have to swallow anything that Boehner cooks up.” While these groups don’t have to go along with Boehner’s plan, if they plan to spend their precious political capital fighting “Plan B” they need to at least have an alternative that House Republicans can work with. While many of these groups have their own proposals, none stands a chance at passage through a Democratically controlled Senate, nor will Obama sign them.

During the primary season when opposition to Mitt Romney was at its peak, a group of conservatives started a group called the Not Mitt Romney coalition. The group spent its time fighting the eventual choice of Romney as the Republican nominee. From early on, it became clear that Romney was the most viable of all possible picks in a slim Republican field of candidates, and despite this, conservatives continued to fight his nomination instead of trying to find and recruit an alternative who would be more acceptable to their base (with the exception of the Weekly Standard‘s editor Bill Kristol, who famously spent months trying to draft reluctant Republicans into running). By the time Romney secured the nomination, a great deal of his campaign’s energy, money and political capital was spent battling his eventual nomination with fellow Republicans instead of building his case against Barack Obama. In campaign post-mortems, many of Romney’s top staff attributed their loss in part to this lengthy and nasty primary battle. 

If conservatives have learned anything from that primary experience, it’s that along with principled stands against objectionable legislation or politicians, they need to provide acceptable alternatives. It’s easy to declare that something or someone fails the conservative litmus test, but in order for Republicans to move past the label as the “Party of No” (which inevitably leads to plummeting approval ratings), they need to start offering reasonable solutions. 

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Poll: Can the GOP Win Over Hispanics?

Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

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Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

Only 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Mitt Romney, a steep drop from 2004 when 44 percent voted to reelect George W. Bush. It’s still not the lowest of recent elections–in 1996, the GOP won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote–but as an increasing share of the electorate, the Hispanic vote is becoming ever more critical.

While there isn’t a lot of good news here, the Resurgent Republic poll (which can be read in full here) did find room for growth and common ground. One area that Republicans can work on is the tone of the immigration debate. Hispanic voters may not be monolithic when it comes to immigration policy, but there are sensitivities the GOP might want to keep in mind when discussing the issues:

The tone Republicans use to discuss immigration has an impact on Hispanics who are not directly affected by the issue. Some Republicans argue that harsh rhetoric and policies regarding illegal immigrants will not affect Hispanics who are American citizens. But this survey suggests otherwise. All Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Yet Mitt Romney lost Puerto Rican voters in Florida by 64 to 36 percent, one of the main reasons why Obama won the state. Many Hispanic Americans take attacks on undocumented Hispanics as an attack on the entire Hispanic community.

There is also room for outreach when it comes to federal spending, taxes and regulations:

While a majority of Hispanics in each state believes in increasing government investment, a significant minority believes in lower government spending, lower taxes, and fewer regulations: 42 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Colorado, 39 percent in New Mexico, and 40 percent in Nevada. All of those are higher percentages than Romney received in 2012, significantly higher in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Republicans probably won’t be able to win the majority of Hispanic voters. But it seems that  there is room for significant improvement–especially since many lean right on social and fiscal issues. And with the number of Hispanic voters growing, that could be enough to swing a future presidential race.

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