Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

The GOP’s Resurging Public Image

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Scott Clement write about a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

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The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Scott Clement write about a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The spike in the party’s standing comes after Republicans picked up nine seats to take control of the Senate, raised their numbers in the House to the highest level in more than half a century and added new governorships to its already clear majority.

In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.

This news is welcome news for the GOP. What it means, I think, is that the American people are giving the Republican Party a careful second look in the aftermath of the multiplying failures of the Obama presidency. (Not only do 50 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable impression of the Democratic Party; a majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the presidency, the economy, immigration, and international affairs, while a plurality disapprove of how he’s handling the threat of terrorism.) It’s quite striking that those surveyed give Republicans in Congress a nine-point advantage over Obama when it comes to handling both the economy and immigration.

At the same time, this boost in the GOP’s image is at least in part a temporary development, one you’d expect in the wake of a very successful midterm election. To their credit, the congressional leadership of the Republican Party has been smart enough to avoid taking steps that might have led to a government shutdown, which would have more than washed away the progress the party has made without achieving anything useful.

The task of the GOP during the next two years is to act in ways that are responsible and adult-like, that shift perceptions of it from being the Party of No to being the party of prosperity and the middle class. There are limits to what the Republican Party can do without a presidential nominee. But between now and when it chooses one, the GOP can avoid traps set for it by the president, present itself as a principled and constructive force in American politics, and hand off to the eventual nominee a party that is better positioned than it has been in a decade.

That may not be everything–but it wouldn’t be nothing, either.

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Warren’s Cromnibus Chaos and Hillary’s Nightmare Scenario

It is fitting that “Cromnibus”–the name given to the spending medley passed by the House yesterday to keep the government running–sounds like a Creature from the Bureaucratic Lagoon, because the chaos it unleashed will haunt Hillary Clinton. Populists on both left and right found things to hate in this spending bill, but the most populist energy was unleashed by Democratic-led opposition to a reform of the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme. That reform has passed Congress overwhelmingly in the past. But that was before Elizabeth Warren brought a level of anti-Wall Street demagoguery to Congress that is not going away.

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It is fitting that “Cromnibus”–the name given to the spending medley passed by the House yesterday to keep the government running–sounds like a Creature from the Bureaucratic Lagoon, because the chaos it unleashed will haunt Hillary Clinton. Populists on both left and right found things to hate in this spending bill, but the most populist energy was unleashed by Democratic-led opposition to a reform of the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme. That reform has passed Congress overwhelmingly in the past. But that was before Elizabeth Warren brought a level of anti-Wall Street demagoguery to Congress that is not going away.

Ultimately, Cromnibus passed the House, even after Warren whipped up Democratic opposition. But it was close, and it required the intervention of President Obama to prevail upon his party not to shut down the government and make him look like the world’s biggest hypocrite in the process. That Warren could sow such discord in the House from her perch in the Senate shows she’s been modeling her career on that of Ted Cruz, her conservative counterpart across the aisle. Though she is not nearly the rhetorical talent that Cruz is, she mimicked Cruz’s tactics and strategy to such a degree as to leave one with the impression Cruz is her (unwitting) mentor, if not her (unacknowledged) hero.

So Warren was a big winner last night. Republicans were too. The bill passed the GOP-controlled House despite the revolt. But even if it hadn’t passed, the GOP still benefited. They would have put up a clean continuing resolution to fund the government for another month, at which point they would take over the Senate and Democrats’ influence would be greatly weakened in crafting the next omnibus bill.

The big losers from last night are Obama and Hillary. The president, to borrow Bill Clinton’s quote, may still be relevant here, but not very. Obama had to use his office and his influence and his spokesmen and his advisors just to beat back a freshman senator from his own party, and just barely. Democrats, as Dave Weigel notes in an excellent tick-tock on last night’s mess, “proudly told reporters that calls from the White House — especially calls from Citigroup’s Jamie Dimon — did nothing to move them.”

Obama has dragged his party down enough. The midterms were the end of Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party, because even Democrats now understand they can win by separating themselves from Obama’s toxic legacy. And what about Obama’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton? The Cromnibus chaos was a nightmare for her.

What the Democrats proved last night was that there exists a significant and restive segment of the base. Being Democrats, they still need someone to fall in line behind; unlike the Tea Party, these restive Democrats prefer to take orders from someone. They just would like to take orders from a different brand of statist. Elizabeth Warren is the one they’ve been waiting for.

Warren’s populism is very different from that of the Tea Party. Conservative grassroots value liberty; Warren argues for increasing state power over its citizens and is not above abusing that authority when she has the opportunity. What Warren wants is power concentrated in her hands. What Hillary’s supporters should fear is the possibility that Warren will pursue her quest for power to its logical conclusion and run for president.

She still seems far from making that leap. But ironically what works against Hillary here is not her own age but Warren’s. If Warren passes on running for president in 2016, she is most likely passing on ever running. If Hillary wins two terms, Warren would be 75 for the 2024 election. She’s not running for president at 75. It’s a stretch even to think she’d challenge a sitting Republican president, if that’s who wins in 2016, after that Republican’s first term, though that’s at least a more realistic scenario.

Additionally, the Clintons are infamous for their lust for political revenge. They hold grudges, and that fact is going to help clear the field of prospective candidates who can bide their time. If Warren chooses to challenge Hillary and loses, the Clintons will retaliate. But Warren is not at the beginning of her career (even though she’s a freshman senator); how much does she really have to lose?

There is also another factor: if Warren runs, she is unlikely to lose. Hillary is a terrible candidate who believes in nothing. What Warren proved yesterday is that she can mobilize and inspire support on a large scale, and that there are far more Democrats who prefer Warren’s statism to the creepy there’s-no-such-thing-as-other-people’s-children statism of Hillary.

American leftists are an angry bunch. Elizabeth Warren matches their anger. And they don’t know the issues well enough to know that Warren isn’t telling them the truth–a fact that the Democratic establishment has tried to point out. Hillary doesn’t exemplify anger; she exemplifies entrenched privilege. In 2008, Democratic primary voters chose anger over privilege. The nightmare scenario for Hillary would come to pass if they have the chance to do so again in 2016.

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Everything Wrong with Big Government in One IRS Quote

One of the most loathsome features of the administrative state is the way the taxpayers so often lose no matter which way certain disputes end up. This happens because the instruments of bureaucratic menace have too much power. That power costs taxpayers greatly, and if they elect a government to reduce that power, the affected bureaucracies have enough power left over to punish them for it. What’s worse, they know it. And, as the IRS’s comments to Politico today make clear, they don’t feel the need to veil their threats anymore.

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One of the most loathsome features of the administrative state is the way the taxpayers so often lose no matter which way certain disputes end up. This happens because the instruments of bureaucratic menace have too much power. That power costs taxpayers greatly, and if they elect a government to reduce that power, the affected bureaucracies have enough power left over to punish them for it. What’s worse, they know it. And, as the IRS’s comments to Politico today make clear, they don’t feel the need to veil their threats anymore.

The Politico story is on the Republican Party’s plans to rein in the regulatory state in the next Congress. Up to now, House Republicans have mostly centered their efforts at holding the government accountable on oversight, leaning heavily on hearings. Though the GOP already had much of the “power of the purse” through its House majority, having a majority in the Senate expands the party’s ability to actually pass certain spending priorities. And they appear intent on doing so.

The GOP put cuts in the IRS budget in the so-called “CRomnibus” spending bill being debated today. And the IRS is warning them not to come one step closer–or the taxpayer gets it:

IRS watchers warn that the agency is spiraling toward a rocky future that will rival some of its darkest days in its history, when whistleblowers blew the lid off IRS agents abusing power and thousands of tax returns were lost in the mail.

“Unless we are able to correct this, very bad things will happen to taxpayers,” said Nina Olson of the National Taxpayer Advocate, at a November tax preparer conference — over a month before the latest budget cuts even came to light.

Ahem: the National Taxpayer Advocate isn’t exactly an “IRS watcher”; it’s the IRS. That is some brazen sleight of hand from Politico. Now to be fair, the NTA is a sort of consumer advocate within the agency, a cross between an ombudsman and a customer service hotline. But this is actually a great example of how even aspects of the government that ostensibly exist to help the taxpayer really underline the problem with the system to begin with.

Why do we need a taxpayer advocate within the IRS? Well, two reasons. First because agencies with no oversight and the power to confiscate your money tend to abuse that authority–as we saw with the revelations about the IRS targeting scandal. And second, because the sheer size and complexity of tax law means even well meaning citizens will run afoul of the law.

What’s the solution to these two problems? The obvious, and sensible, one is to give the IRS less power and to reduce the tax burden and simplify the tax code. The regulatory state’s answer is to keep those problems unsolved but hire a couple thousand more employees to deal with it, at taxpayer expense. Heads they win, tails you lose.

The same holds true for the impending “crisis” for the IRS this tax season. Back to Politico:

Spending negotiators this week froze most agency budgets but reduced the IRS funds to $10.9 billion, a 3 percent cut over last year and $1.5 billion below the president’s request. Appropriators bragged in a release that the level is even lower than the IRS’s 2008 budget.

Those new cuts come atop more than a $1 billion reduction to the IRS budget since 2010, which has forced the tax-collecting agency to shed 13,000 employees while it serves an additional 7 million taxpayers, according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Those reductions are about to manifest in what Olson is predicting will be the “worst filing season” in years. For the first time, the agency will be administering Obamacare and another massive international tax law.

So ObamaCare is costing families more in health insurance, and now it’s costing them more–at least if the IRS has its way–in associated implementation costs. And you just have to love the last part of that quote: “another massive international tax law.” Allow me to suggest that the agency enforcing “another massive international tax law” is not the victim here.

The IRS wastes money. That’s not the taxpayer’s fault, but now it’s the taxpayer’s problem. Welcome to the administrative state. And what is the IRS’s priority for next year? Cutting back? Nope: “The IRS early in 2015 is expected to release a draft rule to clarify how much political activity these 501(c)(4) groups can legally engage in while keeping their tax-exempt status.”

So it’s going to go after nonprofits again, and will spend its time and (your) money hassling and harassing citizens in order to curb their political speech. All this tells you Republicans are exactly right to go down this route, despite the sympathetic press the IRS will get in Politico and other Beltway outlets. The American people should not be blackmailed and treated as hostages by their own government. The agency’s response to the threat of budget cuts shows just how necessary it is to carry them out.

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Liberalism’s Setbacks Aren’t Fatal

Last week was not a good week for the institutions of American liberalism. Which is not shocking, because last month was a terrible month for American liberalism. And that was mainly the result of the fact that the last year has not been a good one for American liberalism. But conservatives ought to remember the greatly exaggerated rumors of their own demise pushed by gleeful and historically ignorant liberals after the American right’s last such slump. Certainly liberalism is experiencing a crisis of sorts, but as Miracle Max could tell them, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

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Last week was not a good week for the institutions of American liberalism. Which is not shocking, because last month was a terrible month for American liberalism. And that was mainly the result of the fact that the last year has not been a good one for American liberalism. But conservatives ought to remember the greatly exaggerated rumors of their own demise pushed by gleeful and historically ignorant liberals after the American right’s last such slump. Certainly liberalism is experiencing a crisis of sorts, but as Miracle Max could tell them, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

The continuing ObamaCare disaster, the IRS corruption revelations, and the manifold foreign-policy failures of the Obama-led Democrats over the last year led to a cratering of the public’s faith in the left and produced a trouncing at the polls for Democrats in the midterms. With Saturday’s runoff defeat of Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu coupled with the GOP gains in states Obama won, it is the Democrats who appear at risk of being considered a regional party–an epithet they tossed at Republicans in 2012. How are the Democrats handling being washed out of the South almost entirely? Not well, if Michael Tomasky’s public breakdown is any indication:

Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)

With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good. Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise. The Democrats don’t need it anyway.

The funniest part is the headline: “Dems, It’s Time to Dump Dixie.” In fact, Dixie has clearly already dumped the Dems. If it were only the South, Tomasky’s neo-secessionism would at least be somewhat viable. But the Democrats have lost, at least for the time being, too much of the country to run away from.

The drubbing the Democrats have taken, sealed with Landrieu’s loss, has been so bad that you kind of want to put an arm around Tomasky, buy him a double bourbon (Kentucky isn’t technically part of the Deep South, right? He can still have bourbon?) and tell him it gets better. Because it always does.

Many obituaries were written for American conservatism by the concern-trolling left in the wake of President Obama’s two victories (the first supposedly heralding the death of conservatism, the second confirming it). They were all, without exception, deeply ahistoric and scandalously stupid items of triumphalist rubbish.

But for sheer symbolism, the crowning jewel of the group is without a doubt the essay, later expanded into a book, published in February 2009: “Conservatism Is Dead,” by Sam Tanenhaus. It ran in the New Republic.

Less than six years later, conservatism is alive and the New Republic is dead.

Not really dead, mind you. But to its writers and devotees, it is. I should say ex-writers and ex-devotees, because when last week news broke that Chris Hughes, the accidental Facebook billionaire (or almost-billionaire) and owner of TNR, shoved Frank Foer out the door and with him went Leon Wieseltier, a mass exodus ensued. That’s not only because Foer is beloved by his peers and Wieseltier is an institution. It’s also because Hughes has announced he doesn’t think magazines with lots of big words are worth keeping around anymore, bro, and the literary tradition should be replaced with whatever passing fad can be monetized at this very moment. Carpe diem, and all that jazz. (Well not jazz, I guess, which is a bit nuanced and old and has absolutely no cat gifs in it whatsoever; but you get the point.)

Critics of American liberalism have pointed out, however, that the Altneurepublic being mourned was not the Altneurepublic of popular imagination. There seems to be a general consensus, in fact, that the decline and fall of that TNR became undeniable with its infamous anti-intellectual anthem which began “I hate President George W. Bush,” published about a decade ago.

Not that there weren’t warning signs along the way. The best of these in recent years might be this 2013 Reason magazine piece by Matt Welch mourning “the death” not of liberalism, but “of contrarianism.” With the new New Republic, Welch lamented, the magazine’s modern incarnation as a constructive questioner of liberal received wisdom was gone:

An entire valuable if flawed era in American journalism and liberalism has indeed come to a close. The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever. Progressivism has reverted to a form that would have been recognizable to Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann when they founded The New Republic a century ago: an intellectual collaborator in the “responsible” exercise of state power.

Liberalism is in crisis for many reasons, but surely one of them is this: it has ceased to look at itself in the mirror. If it did, would it be horrified by what it saw? One hopes.

Whatever the answer, conservatives must also understand the difference between crisis and death. Liberals are still here. The president is a liberal, and the next one might be a liberal too. Democrats have less than half the Senate but not much less than half the Senate. And it was not all that long ago that the country found itself in the bizarre situation of having to pay attention to Nancy Pelosi.

It’s true that a genuinely intellectual liberalism is nowhere to be found at the moment. But it’ll wander back. Crises are good times for political movements to take stock and cease pretending everything is just fine. It is not a matter of if, but when the pendulum will swing back in the other direction. And conservatives should be aware and humble enough to see it coming.

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Changing Demographics and the GOP

In his most recent column, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz summarizes data from the demographer William Frey, author of Diversity Explosion. According to Mr. Frey, “the United States is in the midst of a pivotal period ushering in extraordinary shifts in the nation’s racial demographic makeup.”

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In his most recent column, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz summarizes data from the demographer William Frey, author of Diversity Explosion. According to Mr. Frey, “the United States is in the midst of a pivotal period ushering in extraordinary shifts in the nation’s racial demographic makeup.”

Among the highlights found in Mr. Balz’s column:

  • We’re witnessing the rapid growth among Hispanics, Asians, and multiracial populations. All are expected to double in size over the next 40 years. We’re also seeing declining growth rates and rapid aging of the white population, the result of both lower birth rates among younger white Americans and the advancing age of the Baby Boom generation.
  • We’re seeing the continued growth of the black middle class and the migration among black Americans from North to South, reversing the historic South-to-North wave of migration in the 20th century.
  • By later in this century, there will be no majority demographic group in the United States.

As for politics:

  • In 2012, for every 10 votes Mitt Romney won, nine came from white voters. Barack Obama won eight out of every 10 votes cast by a minority voter.
  • In 2008 and 2012, minority voters provided the key to victory for Mr. Obama in seven states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and Colorado. It was also decisive in Indiana in 2008 and Wisconsin in 2012.
  • Changing demographics have afforded Democrats opportunities to compete in states that once were reliably Republican. That’s already happened in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Democrats may also become more competitive presidentially in states like Arizona (because of the Hispanic population) and Georgia (because of the growing African American population).
  • Mr. Frey points to six northern states—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa—whose demographic makeup may be better for Republicans. Their populations are older and whiter than those in the newer battlegrounds of the Sun Belt, and their electorates are composed of more white, blue-collar voters. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have been reliably Democratic in recent presidential elections (Ohio and Iowa have been more competitive).

It’s certainly true that Republicans have done extremely well–historically well–in the last two midterm elections. The GOP is now the governing party in America, if you take into account the political composition of the Senate, the House, governorships, and state legislatures. It may also be true that Barack Obama is sui generis; his appeal to rising demographics may not translate to other Democrats nearly as well as it did for him. Still, Republicans are kidding themselves if they don’t acknowledge that changing demographics are working to the disadvantage of Republicans. As William Frey told Balz, “In the longer term, [Republicans] absolutely have to be much more open to minorities and make a much more serious attempt to deal with Hispanics.”

Exactly how to do this remains an open question. But that it needs to be done is undeniable, at least if the GOP hopes to win on the presidential level on a consistent basis.

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A Lawless Presidency Will Destroy Itself

There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

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There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

The GOP-controlled Congress doesn’t appear to have legislative options that won’t involve funding measures that can be portrayed as a new government shutdown. Though it would take presidential vetoes to kick off such a confrontation, with the help of a still docile mainstream media (see Grubergate), Republican leaders understand that this is a political trap they need to avoid. However, what Democrats who assume the mass amnesty will transform the political landscape in their favor and doom Republicans to perpetual defeat are ignoring is that the executive orders will change the terms of the debate about this issue. Though there may be no way of rescinding these orders while Obama remains in office, the real political trap may be the one that the president’s arrogant assumption of unprecedented personal power may be setting for his party.

As for the justification for this action, the notion that the president must act because Congress has not done so is utterly unconvincing even for those who support the cause of immigration reform.

The presence of an estimated 11 million illegals within our borders is a problem that must eventually be dealt with in a sensible manner. Mass deportations are neither feasible nor desirable, especially with those targeted by the president’s orders that may have children or other family members who are either citizens or legal residents. It is also true that many Republicans that supported the bipartisan immigration compromise that passed the Senate last year signed on to a process that would have given illegals a path, albeit a difficult one, to citizenship.

However, the need to address the problem doesn’t justify the president’s stand.

A measure that is imposed outside of the law that is not directly tied to border security and a reform of a broken immigration system does not solve the problem. If anything, as we saw last summer, such measures only encourage more illegal immigration. That surge of illegals proved that critics of the bipartisan bill were right and those of us (including me) who supported it were wrong. The border must be secured first and then and only then will it be possible to start sorting out those who are still here without permission. That was the approach favored by many in the House of Representatives last year and a new attempt at a fix to the problem should start there rather than trying to resurrect the Senate bill as the president demands.

That is why the administration’s narrative about the executive orders is simply false. Far from the president stepping in to provide a solution where Congress failed, what he is doing is making the problem worse, not better.

Far worse is the manner in which he is doing it.

It is, strictly speaking, within the president’s lawful authority to direct agencies operating under him to exercise prosecutorial discretion. But to do so on a mass scale isn’t merely unprecedented. It breaks new ground in the expansion of executive authority. As much as the president thinks the current law is inadequate to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, it is not up to him to unilaterally legislate a new solution. Only Congress may re-write the laws of the land. The idea of a president acting unilaterally to invalidate existing statutes in such a way as to change the status of millions of persons, however sympathetic we may be to their plight, places Obama outside the law and blaming Congress for inaction does not absolve him.

Nor can it be justified as falling within the executive’s right to act in a crisis.

There are circumstances when, usually in wartime, a crisis looms and broad presidential discretion is unavoidable. But as much as advocates for the illegals may trumpet their plight, this is not a ticking bomb that requires the normal constitutional order to be set aside. If majorities in both the House and the Senate could not be found to support a measure the president deemed important, he had the normal recourse of going to the people and asking them to elect a Congress that will do so. Unfortunately for those who claim that the president has no choice but to bypass Congress, we have just undergone such an election and the people’s answer was a resounding rebuff to the White House. The president may think it is in his interest to pretend as if the midterms should not determine his behavior in his final two years in office but it was he who said his policies were on the ballot. While there was an argument prior to November 4 that claimed that it was the GOP-controlled House that was thwarting public opinion on immigration, that claim disappeared in the Republican sweep.

That brings us to the long-term political consequences of this act.

While much has been made of the impact of amnesty on the Hispanic vote, with these orders the president is digging Democrats a hole that they will have difficulty climbing out of in the next two years.

Hispanics may be grateful for the temporary end of the deportations but it will not escape their notice that in doing so the president has ended any chance of immigration reform for the rest of his term. Nor will they be unaware that a GOP successor will invalidate amnesty with a stroke of the pen as easily as the president has enacted them. Republicans will rightly understand that there is no dealing with an administration that would rather go outside the law than first negotiate in good faith with a newly elected Congress on immigration. Nor can they be blamed for thinking any deal based on promises on border enforcement will be worthless with a president who thinks he has the right to simply order non-enforcement of the laws he doesn’t like.

Even more to the point, the orders will create a backlash among the rest of the electorate that always results when presidents begin to run afoul of both the law and public opinion. A lawless presidency is something that is, by definition, dysfunctional, and that is a term that has already defined Obama’s second term up until this point. Democrats who are counting on wild applause from their base should understand that just as Republicans learned that domination by their Tea Party wing undermines their electoral viability, they too should be wary of governing from the left.

The spectacle of mass amnesty without benefit of law will shock ordinary voters, including many who are Democrats or who think the immigration system should have been fixed. After the orders, responsibility for the failure to do so will rest on Obama, not the Republicans. What the president may be doing with these orders is to remind the voters that parties that grow too comfortable with exercising authority without benefit of law must be taught a lesson, one that will be paid for by his would-be Democratic successor in 2016. Rather than building his legacy, the president may actually be ensuring that his time in office is remembered more for his lack of respect for the rule of law than any actual accomplishments.

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The Midterms, the Jewish Vote, and Liberalism’s Price of Admission

In the wake of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms, the left aimed some of its most spiteful rhetoric at the women and minorities elevated into office in the GOP wave. Perhaps the most cringe-inducing display of delegitimization belonged to the author Darron T. Smith, who wrote in the Huffington Post that Utah Republican Mia Love “might look black, but her politics are red.” Yet strangely enough, the best way to understand liberal anger at Republican African-Americans and women is through this Atlantic piece analyzing the Jewish vote in the midterm elections.

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In the wake of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms, the left aimed some of its most spiteful rhetoric at the women and minorities elevated into office in the GOP wave. Perhaps the most cringe-inducing display of delegitimization belonged to the author Darron T. Smith, who wrote in the Huffington Post that Utah Republican Mia Love “might look black, but her politics are red.” Yet strangely enough, the best way to understand liberal anger at Republican African-Americans and women is through this Atlantic piece analyzing the Jewish vote in the midterm elections.

In “Are Democrats Losing the Jews?” Emma Green attempts to understand why Democrats’ share of the Jewish vote decreased and what that means both for American Jews and the Democratic Party going forward. The unfortunate aspect to Green’s story is that she has the facts in front of her, so her conclusion is the result of ignoring, not utilizing, the information at her disposal. Though at various points in the article she seems to begin to understand the issue, in the end she concludes with a statement that sets a new standard for being wrong about the Jewish vote.

Green notes that although Democrats usually enjoy an overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, at times truly terrible presidents cost their party a notable swath of those votes. Jimmy Carter, for example, only received 45 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980. Seen in that light, it’s not terribly surprising that although President Obama’s name wasn’t on the ballot in the midterms, his relentless attacks on Israel’s government and his downgrading of the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war were bound to cost Democrats some of the Jewish vote.

Green then digs into last year’s Pew report on Jewish identity and assimilation. She attempts to draw some conclusions:

But these statistics do provide some context for what’s happening among Jewish voters. In 2006, 87 percent of Jews voted for Democratic candidates for the House, as did 50 percent of white Catholics and 37 percent of white Protestants—a 37- and 50-percentage point difference, respectively. In 2014, those gaps narrowed: There was only a 12-point difference between Jews and white Catholics, and a 40-point difference between Jews and white Protestants. Those are still big differences, obviously, but the conclusion is there: Jews are voting more like white people.

Put aside the “Jews are voting more like white people” remark: it’s clumsy and obviously silly, but we know what Green was trying to say. She then says that Republicans aren’t necessarily going to start winning the Jewish vote. “But,” she concludes, “it may be that, as a people as much as a voting bloc, Jews are becoming less influenced by their Jewishness.”

And here we have the liberal mindset perfectly distilled. Just like Darron Smith thinks blacks who don’t vote for Democrats are in some way voting against their “blackness,” and Ann Friedman can write that Republican women aren’t “truly pro-woman,” the idea undergirding Green’s conclusion is that liberalism is political Judaism. Of course that’s insulting to those who take their Jewish faith seriously, and it’s certainly a creepy parallel to the “price of admission” ideology of leftism going back to the French Revolution. But it’s also, crucially, wrong.

There has been no major swing of the Jewish vote away from Democrats, and there likely won’t be. But incremental gains by the GOP are not evidence of Jews being less Jewish; they’re exactly the opposite. Although the Orthodox are far from being anywhere close to a majority of American Jews–and will remain far from it for quite some time, even if current trends hold–they are still increasing their share of American Jews. As the numbers have increased, so has their political activism. And they are much more likely to care not only about Israel but about issues like school choice and economic liberty, to say nothing of religious liberty. (Pew found that “57% of Orthodox Jews describe themselves as Republicans or say they lean toward the Republican Party.”)

The Orthodox Union took some heat from other corners of the Jewish world for supporting the Catholic-driven attempts to allow religious exemptions from the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. The OU’s Nathan Diament explained that the organization did so not because it opposes birth control but because “we, particularly as a religious minority in the United States, must stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in demanding the broadest protections for rights of conscience in the face of government (and socio-cultural) coercion to the contrary.”

It’s no surprise that as the share of observant Jews increases, those Jews will be less likely to support a Democratic Party that is increasingly hostile to religious freedom and faith more generally, and instead support a Republican Party that seeks to protect religious practice from the authoritarian instincts of statist liberalism. Green could not be more wrong, in other words, about Jewish identity and voting trends. But her analysis was just one more example that modern liberalism requires its adherents to sacrifice all other aspects of their identity for The Cause. If minorities must choose between their community and leftist doctrine, it’s encouraging that many of them choose the former.

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Dems Learn No Lessons From Defeat

In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

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In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

Like President Obama, who seemed uninterested in drawing any conclusions from the midterms, Pelosi brushed off any talk about a GOP “wave” in an interview with Politico:

“I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave,” Pelosi said in her first sit-down interview since Democrats lost a dozen House seats to Republicans on Nov. 4. “There was no wave of approval for the Republicans. I wish them congratulations, they won the election, but there was no wave of approval for anybody. There was an ebbing, an ebb tide, for us.”

That’s been a consistent theme for Democrats who prefer to interpret the elections as the consequence of a failure to generate a big enough turnout from their base to win. Like President Obama, who said he would listen to those who voted as well as those who didn’t vote, Democrats have begun to treat midterms as somehow an illegitimate test of American public opinion as opposed to presidential elections where they do better.

There is a superficial logic to their thinking as the pattern of the last four federal elections has alternated Democratic presidential wins with Republican sweeps of the midterms. But rather than worrying that their inability to translate the popularity of Barack Obama into congressional majorities since their big win in 2008, Democrats have preferred to slip into a mentality that they are a presidential party rather than one that works in the midterms. Since Democrats take it as an article of faith that their policies are unquestionably right and that most voters understand this, they see no reason to change a thing about their approach. And as long as they can keep winning presidential elections, perhaps they can get away with this.

But, as Rep. DeGette seems to understand, politics never stands still. The assumption that Democrats will always bring out enough youth, minority, and female voters to offset any of their failings may not hold up indefinitely. Indeed, the 2014 midterms ought to be a wakeup call to Democrats reminding them that their dominance of these constituencies is not, unlike the government programs they believe in, a permanent entitlement. What happened this time was not just a decline in Democratic turnout but a sign that the Democrats’ favorite memes, such as the war on women, and their reliance on minority voters may be a trap. What worked in 2012 did not work this year everywhere. Even worse, their reliance on minority voters has caused them to slip into an acceptance of the idea that other groups are the preserve of Republicans. But, as much as Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic, surely Democrats don’t think they can keep winning the presidency by getting only a third of white males. That’s a gender gap that puts the GOP’s problems with women in perspective.

While the political terrain of 2016 will be more favorable to the Democrats than this year’s vote, the ability of Republicans to expand their map and put purple states that were thought to be turning blue into play should alarm the president’s party. They should also be drawing conclusions from the fact that when Republicans put up credible candidates in competitive states, they are winning or doing far better than expected. Smart politicians might conclude that the Democratic advantage in past votes has been as much a function of awful GOP candidates as anything else. But while some of what Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are saying now can be put down to political braggadocio, there seems little doubt that they mean it when they say they think there’s no reason to change anything.

To her credit, the one Democrat that seems to be thinking seriously about what happened is Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While Wasserman Schultz is equally convinced that Democrats are right on the issue, she is at least open to the possibility that the way they’ve been selling themselves to the voters has been a mistake. She is convening a committee to study the midterms that is tasked with presenting a report early next year. If they’re smart, Democrats will use this as an opportunity to rethink a great deal of what they’ve been doing. But since DWS has been marginalized by the White House and is not liked by much of the party’s congressional leadership, the odds that anything she produces will be heard, let alone accepted, are not good. Indeed, rather than accept that dislike of his policies is the problem, Obama may decide to make the DNC chair the scapegoat for the loss.

The contrast between the Republican responses to their election defeats couldn’t be greater. In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the party underwent a collective soul searching experience that is still resonating in debates about immigration reform and other issues. Though there isn’t complete consensus about what to do, the party’s concern for recruiting good candidates and seeking to stop bad ones from gaining nominations was a start.

But Democrats don’t seem much in the mood for a similar round of introspection. Instead, they prefer to wait until 2016 when they are confident that Hillary Clinton will lead them to victory. That is a possibility. But a smarter party or one that was actually interested in ideas might consider that the loss of so many congressional seats, governors, and state legislative chambers should motivate them to do some soul searching.

It will take a presidential defeat in 2016 to force Democrats to undergo the kind of self-examination that Republicans are struggling with. But if they do, the debris from the decline for the party that Barack Obama’s unpopularity has wrought may take them more than one election cycle to fix. Nothing in politics is permanent, but there is a price that must be paid for ignoring election results. Whether they like it or not, that is one lesson Democrats may eventually learn.

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How the Midterms Vindicated Both the Establishment and the Grassroots

On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

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On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

Surely the Times had such a story ready to go; it always has such a story ready to go. Perhaps the paper’s editors wanted to wait for the Sunday edition to really make a splash by republishing essentially the same story they write about four thousand times a year. In any event, there it was, the crystallization of the unthinking man’s midterms narrative: Republicans lose when they lose, and they lose when they win.

Such reporting has become more interesting since the Times embraced data journalism first with Nate Silver and now with its post-Silver Upshot blog. Since the Times’s reporting is usually heavy on wishful thinking and light on facts, the paper would be at risk of its data journalists undoing the narratives the Times’s political reporters and editors work so hard to establish. Such is the case with the Upshot’s latest, “G.O.P. Is Making Progress Toward Presidency but Is Still Playing Catch-Up.”

Not only does the piece debunk the notion that there is some fixed demographic state that will hold true from now on and lock Republicans out of the popular vote, but it also makes clear that there will only be a civil war on the right if Republicans foolishly invent one. In fact, the most notable takeaway from the Upshot piece is that in the battle over whether the colossal rout the Republicans achieved last week proved the “establishment” or the “Tea Party” (a term that has probably just about outlived its usefulness) right, the answer is: both.

First, the debunking of the Democrats’ exceedingly silly argument that they lost so badly simply because of non-presidential year turnout:

The Democratic losses were not simply because of low turnout. Republicans often made significant gains among rural, white voters. Some candidates made inroads among young and Hispanic voters, as well, according to exit polls and county and precinct-level results.

Precisely. Some of the Democrats’ woes had to do with lower-than-2012 turnout and some had to do with the fact that conservatives were expanding their coalition while liberals weren’t. I imagine conservatives wouldn’t mind if Democrats persist in their emphatic denial of reality, though even President Obama–who made a point of trying to delegitimize midterm voters in a typical bout of petulant foot stomping–seems to be coming around to the absurdity of the White House’s initial spin. (Though he is still not quite approaching reality.)

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn continues:

On Tuesday, Joni Ernst, now a Republican senator-elect, won a decisive nine-point victory. She swept much of traditionally Democratic eastern Iowa, where Democrats have long fared well with rural voters.

In Colorado, Cory Gardner, now a senator-elect, also made significant gains among rural white voters. He also outperformed past Republicans in traditionally Democratic, heavily Hispanic counties.

These gains suggest that demographic trends have not doomed Republicans to minority-party status, as some political analysts predicted. Those predictions hinged in part on the assumption that Democrats could fare no worse among white voters than Mr. Obama. That assumption ignored Mr. Obama’s strengths among white voters outside the South.

It’s important to note that the trends haven’t been completely reversed, either. Republicans aren’t doomed but neither are Democrats; indeed, Democrats still have a strong presidential-year coalition. The risk they run is in ignoring the plain fact that Republicans appear to be better capable of making inroads into that Democratic coalition than political prognosticators thought. And since the Democratic electoral coalition is sustained through identity politics and not ideas, if Republicans can negate those identity-politics appeals the Democrats would be in trouble.

But the other lesson here is that the establishment and the grassroots made a superb team in this year’s midterms. The ability of Ernst in Iowa and Gardner in Colorado, among others, to win competitive races in states Obama carried twice showed that the candidate mattered, as the establishment has been emphasizing, and that conservative ideas were winners even in blue states, as the grassroots have been insisting.

Ernst, in fact, was conservative enough to cause Super-Civil Centrist Norm Ornstein to have a breakdown on social media, calling Ernst a “lunatic.” But an important element in allowing those conservative ideas to be heard was the nominations of better candidates, the GOP’s efforts in media training those candidates, and in some cases ensuring the nominations of establishment-friendly candidates who would win quietly. As Chuck Todd accidentally admitted after the election, had one conservative candidate uttered a controversial remark, the press would have forced that remark into every single race throughout the country.

This is not to say the GOP was mistake-free. Indeed, the establishment clearly erred in not intervening to encourage Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas to retire–Roberts being an extremely dangerous play since his race turned out to be competitive. But it wasn’t about either the establishment or the grassroots being perfect, it was about not making the kinds of mistakes that change the narrative and toughen the terrain for other candidates around the country. That was a test they passed, and in doing so proved the attractiveness of conservatism even in places it was assumed to be unwelcome.

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Hillary Learning Wrong Midterm Lessons

If you thought something important was missing from the extensive coverage afforded the midterm elections this week, you were right. Amid the deluge of interviews and analyses of the stunning Republican victory, there was complete silence from one of the most important political players in the country: Hillary Clinton. The former first lady/secretary of state was presumably in a secure undisclosed Democratic location once the returns started coming in so as to avoid having to say anything about the defeat of her party and some of the people she worked hard to elect. But now that the dust is settling, the “ready for Hillary” crowd thinks it will soon be safe for her to come out of hiding and begin the process of allowing Democrats to coronate her as their next presidential nominee. But, if the report about their thinking in the New York Times is any indication, it looks like Hillary and her acolytes are choosing to learn all the wrong lessons from the midterms.

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If you thought something important was missing from the extensive coverage afforded the midterm elections this week, you were right. Amid the deluge of interviews and analyses of the stunning Republican victory, there was complete silence from one of the most important political players in the country: Hillary Clinton. The former first lady/secretary of state was presumably in a secure undisclosed Democratic location once the returns started coming in so as to avoid having to say anything about the defeat of her party and some of the people she worked hard to elect. But now that the dust is settling, the “ready for Hillary” crowd thinks it will soon be safe for her to come out of hiding and begin the process of allowing Democrats to coronate her as their next presidential nominee. But, if the report about their thinking in the New York Times is any indication, it looks like Hillary and her acolytes are choosing to learn all the wrong lessons from the midterms.

According to this very friendly insider report in the Times, Hillary’s crowd is actually encouraged by this week’s election results. While they indicate that the candidate will take her time and conduct a listening tour of the country to help her figure out what stands and issues to campaign on, they believe there’s no point in delaying the start of her campaign much longer. The Clintonites think having a Republican Congress in power will give her an easy foil to run against in 2016. And though many of her allies were beaten on Tuesday, they are actually taking solace from one of their party’s most humiliating defeats — the loss in deep blue Maryland’s governor’s race — since that can be interpreted as a rejection of outgoing Governor Martin O’Malley, who may challenge Clinton in the presidential primaries.

All three of these conclusions should trouble those who are rooting for Clinton to be elected in 2016.

First, the idea that Hillary will be spending the coming months in much the same way she began her career in elective office when running for a New York Senate seat, reminds us of her greatest weakness as a politician.

Unlike most people who are running for president, Clinton never seems to know what exactly she stands for except her own advancement. Listening is one thing, trying to concoct yet another new political identity on the fly is quite another. Bereft as she is of any political principles, she can never decide whether she is a centrist who can play the adult in the room or an Elizabeth Warren-style left-wing populist. Clinton may believe if she listens to enough smart people and takes good notes, she will learn her lessons and be able to present herself as a plausible president. But as she has repeatedly demonstrated this past year on first her book tour and then her campaign appearances for what Rand Paul’s staff aptly labeled “Hillary’s losers,” the transparent inauthenticity of her approach as well as her lack of the natural campaign skills her husband possesses, inevitably leads to gaffes and embarrassment. Anyone who expects a different result this time is bound to be disappointed.

Second, the facile optimism about the GOP victory being good news for Clinton shows few in her circle are thinking seriously about the results.

It is true that many Democrats think Clinton can profit from running against what they will label a “do-nothing” or “obstructionist” Congress regardless of whether these descriptions are accurate. But the notion that Republicans will remain the sole owners of Washington gridlock in the next two years is a dubious one. If the House and the Senate act in concert, as they should, it will be Obama who will be the one saying “no” via vetoes, not the right-wingers in the House or Senate. That will make it harder for someone who will effectively be running for a third term for Obama to absolve herself and her party of all connection to the nation’s problems.

Just as important, the returns reminded us that without the magic pull of the president at the top of the Democratic ticket, there is no guarantee of the sort of massive turnout of minorities and young people that characterized the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Clinton may hope the historic nature of her own candidacy will enable her to pull off the same feat as Obama did. But we know Clinton can’t hold a candle to the president when it comes to political appeal. The midterms proved that the Democrats’ reliance on their old memes about the beastliness of the GOP has run out of steam. Hillary will need to think up something new and that brings with it as many dangers as advantages. As Michael Barone writes, the shrinkage of Obama’s blue empire this year may well indicate that Democrats are losing ground. While the 2016 electorate will probably be more favorable for Democrats than that of 2014, it may not be enough to convince voters to allow Obama’s party yet another term in office.

Last, any relief about O’Malley’s discomfit at the Maryland results only serves to reinforce the lack of sense that always seems to characterize Hillary’s camp. O’Malley, the most deferential to Clinton of all her potential Democrat challengers, was never going to be a threat to Hillary. Her real trouble will come from the hard left as Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Elizabeth Warren crowd cheering him on, will push her away from centrist positions if she hasn’t already abandoned them.

Though Hillary Clinton is the certain Democratic presidential nominee and will enter 2016 with considerable advantages, nothing that happened this week should be considered good news for her candidacy. That Clinton’s camp seems incapable of figuring this out as they prepare for another fake listening tour, is a harbinger of trouble for her efforts.

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After the GOP Wave

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

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Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

1. The majority of Republicans have reacted to their victories in an impressive fashion. Their rhetoric is restrained, serious, and mature. They know that while they did extremely well in races at every level, they still have a ways to go to earn the trust and loyalty of most Americans (that’s more true of congressional Republicans than those who are governors). Republicans in the Senate and House are signaling a willingness to work with the president if he’s willing to show some flexibility. (The president’s apparent commitment to go forward with an unconstitutional executive amnesty order will be all the evidence we need that Mr. Obama is determined to further polarize our politics and rip apart our political culture.) Speaker Boehner and the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have already put forward their to-do list; so have others. There’s evidence that Republicans–most of them, anyway–have internalized the need to show they’re more serious about putting forward a governing agenda and solving problems facing middle class Americans than “telegenic confrontations” and “volcanic effusions.”  The GOP’s detoxification effort is well under way.

2. What ought to encourage Republicans isn’t simply that their ranks have swollen, but the quality of many of the new arrivals, from Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse in the Senate to Elise Stefanik and Barbara Comstock in the House to many others. The GOP does best when it’s seen as the home of individuals with conservative principles and a governing temperament. A winsome personality doesn’t hurt, either.

3. The GOP’s victory was the result of many things, from President Obama’s unpopularity and the awful political environment Democrats faced to the superior quality of the Republican candidates, their disciplined, gaffe-free campaigns, successful fundraising, and the select intervention by various groups into Republican primaries (ensuring that the most electable conservative was nominated). But not to be overlooked is that Republicans did a much better job than in the past with their Get Out The Vote effort, including turnout of low-propensity voters. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it:

A review of the RNC’s targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.

A few Democrats saw this coming. “Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. “Their electorate doesn’t look like ours, so we don’t recognize or respect what they’re doing.”

4. The most surprising outcome of the evening may have been how well Republicans did in governor’s races around the nation. They were predicted to lose several seats; instead, they made a net gain of three. Among the most impressive was Ohio’s John Kasich, who won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key purple state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. Mr. Kasich has amassed an impressive record as governor–and a popular one, too. He’s one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. If he wants to run for president in 2016, he certainly helped his cause on Tuesday.

5. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to be buoyed. They have very impressive people, including people in their ’30s and ’40s, at every level. Of the two parties, the GOP seems to be the one of greater energy and ideas. The Democratic Party, and liberalism more broadly, seems stale, aging, and exhausted. And of course the GOP has now strung together massive, back-to-back midterm wins. But it’s still worth keeping in mind that Republicans had spectacular showings in 1994 and 2010–and they were defeated by rather large margins in the presidential races two years after those wins. The danger is that a victory like the one Republicans experienced on Tuesday creates a false dawn, a sense of false confidence. Winning midterms elections is important; but midterm elections are different than presidential elections. The GOP still has repair work to do and things to build on. But progress is being made–and the results of this week’s election are the best evidence of that fact.

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Harry Reid Throws Himself a Pity Party

In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

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In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

Woodward describes Krone’s reaction:

“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”

Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.

On the ride back to the Capitol, Reid made it clear Krone did exactly what Reid wanted him to: “You stood up to him,” Reid said. “He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him.”

So goes Reid’s relationship with Obama. They absolutely can’t stand each other. And all that makes what is happening in the wake of the Democrats’ 2014 midterms shellacking seem both shocking and also inevitable. Reid is publicly blaming Obama for the Democrats’ woes, and using Krone to do it. This time, however, he’s escalated the Democratic civil war. He’s authorized Krone to slap Obama around on the record, a rarity.

In Robert Costa and Philip Rucker’s excellent wrap-up story on the midterms, they recounted how two days before the elections, “Krone sat at a mahogany conference table in the majority leader’s stately suite just off the Senate floor and shared with Washington Post reporters his notes of White House meetings. Reid’s top aide wanted to show just how difficult he thought it had been to work with the White House.”

Reid’s office was pre-spinning the expected loss of the Senate by going on record with the Post to blame Obama before anyone had a chance to say otherwise. And what was he saying? That the Obama White House wasn’t getting Democrats the money they could and should have to help fend off the Republicans charging up the hill. It was not, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of money, and the disagreement seemed highly technical. But that’s not how Reid saw it. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Krone–the top staffer to the outgoing Senate majority leader–thinks the Obama White House’s indifference and incompetence is costing the party. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum pushes back on this and on the other prominent complaints about Obama from Senate Democrats:

Apparently David Krone is such an unbelievable [a**hole] that he actively decided to vent all his bitterness and bile to a couple of reporters solely to demonstrate just how hard poor David Krone’s job had been during this election season. He even made sure to bring along his notes to make sure he didn’t forget any of his grievances. As an example of preemptive CYA, this is unequaled in recent memory.

Obama certainly was a drag on his party. But Reid’s behavior here is childish to the point of absurdity for one reason. Reid is in a far better position, post-midterms, than the Democrats representing their party in the rest of the federal government. The Republicans are going to end up, in all likelihood, with 54 seats in the Senate. And yet in 2016, they will be defending 24 seats while the Democrats will be defending 10. Further, as Roll Call explains, “only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than half a dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.”

The Democrats are by no means guaranteed to take back the Senate–far from it. But the terrain is friendly enough to them in 2016 that it’s a real possibility, especially since they’ll have higher presidential-year turnout. If the election at the top of the ticket goes well for them, the Democrats might very well earn back the majority (if they win the presidency they’ll need only 50, not 51 seats to do so) just two years after losing it.

Compare that to the House, where Republicans continue to have a favorable landscape and have expanded their majority to its largest in more than 80 years. And for the White House, the news doesn’t get any better. Obama was repudiated resoundingly by the voters, and his legacy will be one of taking a wrecking ball to his party’s electoral coalition such that the Republicans control not only the House and Senate but governorships in blue states and a majority of state legislatures. Obama, unlike Reid, has no “next election” to brush off the narrative of failure. This was his last election, and he was on the wrong end of a landslide.

So Reid isn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic loser here, even putting aside the fact that Democrats are now discovering what Republicans have long known: Reid is a toxic person devoid of integrity. Unless Obama has truly checked out, the White House is guaranteed to respond, ensuring the country will finally answer the question: How low can Harry Reid go?

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Tuesday’s Tidal Wave

It’s worth stepping back and assessing the breadth and dimensions of the results of the 2014 midterm elections:

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It’s worth stepping back and assessing the breadth and dimensions of the results of the 2014 midterm elections:

  • The Republican Party made substantial gains in the Senate, the House, among governorships, and in state legislatures. It now has a comfortable majority in each. The Republican Party “is basically the nation’s governing party,” as my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin put it.
  • In the Senate, Republicans started the week with 45 seats. They’re likely to end the year (after the December 6 Louisiana runoff) with 54–a net gain of nine seats. Note well: Not since 1980 have Republicans beaten more than two incumbent Democrats. On Tuesday, Republicans defeated four incumbent Democrats–in Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alaska–and they’re favored to win in Louisiana. Republicans also won open seats in Iowa, West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota, all previously held by Democrats.
  • The GOP will hold at least 31 governorships, including gains made in the traditionally Democratic states of Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
  • The GOP now holds 69 of the country’s 99 state houses and senates. (The previous high was 64 chambers in 1920.)
  • Republicans will have full control of at least 29 state legislatures, the party’s largest total since 1928.
  • In the races for the Senate, House, and governorships, Republicans will have picked up 32 seats (nine in the senate, 19 in the House, and four governorships); Democrats will have picked up just four seat (three in the House and the governorship of Pennsylvania).
  • As for the damage the Obama years have done to the Democratic Party, consider this: During President Obama’s first term, Democrats held 60 seats in the Senate. By the end of his term they’ll probably hold 46, a net loss of 14. When Mr. Obama took office in 2008, Democrats had control of 257 House seats; by the end of his term, the likely number will be 185–a net loss of 72 seats. And when Mr. Obama was first sworn in as president, Democrats held 28 governorships; by the end of his term, they’ll hold 18–a net loss of 10 seats.

Prior to Tuesday’s election, the political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote, “President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row. In fact, Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman.” The midterm results were even worse for Democrats than Mr. Rothenberg anticipated. All of which may vindicate this judgment by Michael Barone, who said it looks as if President Obama will leave his party “in worse shape than any president since Woodrow Wilson nearly a century ago.”

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President Obama says, “What, me worry?”

In the nearly six years of his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the Democratic Party about what the Royal Air Force did to Hamburg in July 1943. As George E. Condon Jr., points out in National Journal:

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In the nearly six years of his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the Democratic Party about what the Royal Air Force did to Hamburg in July 1943. As George E. Condon Jr., points out in National Journal:

The numbers tell the story: In 2009, Democrats had 60 senators, when you include the two independents who caucused with them; in 2015, they will have 45. In 2009, Democrats had 256 members of the House; in 2015, they will have 192. In 2009, Democrats had 28 governors; in 2015, they will have 18. In 2009, Democrats controlled both legislative chambers in 27 states; in 2015, they will control only 11. In 2009, Democrats controlled 62 legislative chambers; in 2015, they will control only 28 (with one tie and two still undecided).

The impact of the carnage in state legislatures on Obama’s watch is hard to overstate. This is where the future classes of mayors, governors, and members of Congress are bred. This is where the boundary lines are drawn for congressional and legislative districts. This is where party leaders come from. And this is where the rules are made for party primaries and election laws are set. According to Tim Storey at the National Conference of State Legislatures, what we saw on Tuesday was an almost unprecedented “Republican wave,” which he said, leaves “Democrats at their lowest point in state legislatures in nearly a century.”

Even E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post, who can be depended upon to find the liberal silver lining in the blackest of political clouds, writes that Tuesday’s wipeout was “Bigger than 2010.”

And the Republicans have a large number of young, fresh political talents who are considered possible presidential timber in 2016, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (who’s 44), Senators Marco Rubio (43) and Rand Paul (51), governors Scott Walker (47) and Chris Christie (52), and former governor Jeb Bush (the old guy at 61). Many of these have thought deeply about what the country needs, and many of them have had extensive and successful executive experience. President Obama has shown what the lack of such experience can mean.

the Democrats, meanwhile, have a presidential bench that is thin, to put it mildly, and old. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (67), Senator Elizabeth Warren (65), and Vice President Joe Biden (71) are about it. None of those three have so much as ten minutes worth of executive experience.

President Obama, in his extraordinarily detached press conference yesterday about the debacle, seems to have been scripted by Alfred E. Neuman. As Condon wrote:

The president didn’t seem energized at all and certainly wasn’t very interested in analyzing the political cataclysm that now will color the remainder of his time in office. Instead, Obama was flat and unemotional in his mien, bloodless in his assessment of an election that claimed so many of his supporters, and passionless in his declaration of goals for the next two years. He even refused to come up with a word like “shellacking” (2010) or “thumping” (2006) to describe the slaughter. “Republicans had a good night” was as far as he would go.

By the way, has there ever been a president who gave such boring, humorless, graceless, and endless press conferences? One has the impression that if a reporter asked Obama what time it was, the answer would last ten minutes and wouldn’t contain the time of day. If you’d like a thoroughly entertaining contrast, spend ten minutes watching a master of the presidential press conference, John F. Kennedy, at work.

Obama’s self-absorption and ideological rigidity have made him not only a disaster for the country, but for his own party as well.

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Don’t Fear Civil Society

Any Republican midterm success is going to be treated by some corners of the media, inevitably, as a version of the “angry white male” meme that is both thoroughly discredited and utterly unkillable. As Tim Cavanaugh wrote yesterday at NRO, “Ever since the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings diagnosed Republican gains in the 1994 midterm elections with the deathless phrase ‘The voters had a temper tantrum,’ every midterm setback for a Democratic president has inspired mainstream media pros to let loose their inner Sigmund Freuds.”

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Any Republican midterm success is going to be treated by some corners of the media, inevitably, as a version of the “angry white male” meme that is both thoroughly discredited and utterly unkillable. As Tim Cavanaugh wrote yesterday at NRO, “Ever since the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings diagnosed Republican gains in the 1994 midterm elections with the deathless phrase ‘The voters had a temper tantrum,’ every midterm setback for a Democratic president has inspired mainstream media pros to let loose their inner Sigmund Freuds.”

Cavanaugh drew attention to one response at Yahoo News that painted the electorate as “self-loathing.” Cavanaugh’s post was headlined “Goodbye, Angry White Men; Hello, ‘Self-Loathing Electorate’.” If only. Just hours after Cavanaugh inaugurated this new era, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte predictably took readers back to bad old days of hackneyed hackery with her post, “Revenge of the White Male Voter.”

Now, the days in which such an “analysis” would be taken seriously are long gone. These days it would appear there is nothing to fear from a white male voter especially if he’s Republican, since Republican voters swept into Congress minorities, women, and minority women this year. Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina became the first black senator elected in the South since Reconstruction. But whether it’s vengeful white males or a self-loathing electorate, you can be sure the media’s leftists will find any sweeping Republican victories utterly incomprehensible.

There’s one kind of analysis, however, that goes beyond the usual trite nonsense. Another narrative started taking hold on the left that the 2014 midterms prove the system itself is broken. There were a rash of such columns and blog posts before the election, when the writing was on the wall. It has not stopped, since the election turned out worse for Democrats than it seemed. And I think it’s worth drawing attention to one such critique of the American polity, which is far more advanced a thought process than sputtering rage about white men electing black women to Congress. It comes via the New York Times’s Nick Kristof. He writes:

“Politics is the noblest of professions,” President Eisenhower said in 1954, and politics in the past often seemed a bright path toward improving our country. President Clinton represented a generation that regarded politics as a tool to craft a better world, and President Obama himself mobilized young voters with his gauzy message of hope. He presented himself as the politician who could break Washington’s gridlock and get things done — and we’ve seen how well that worked.

So far so good, if a bit clichéd. I agree, and have written as much, about the nobility of politics. That has less to do with politics as a profession and more to do with the fact that democratic politics is a far healthier way for citizens to resolve political disputes than any other on offer. But still, the point stands. Kristof, unfortunately, goes further:

I’m in the middle of a book tour now, visiting universities and hearing students speak about yearning to make a difference. But they are turning not to politics as their lever but to social enterprise, to nonprofits, to advocacy, to business. They see that Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America in her dorm room at Princeton University, has had more impact on the education system than any current senator, and many have given up on political paths to change.

I have to say that I find this incredibly encouraging. I don’t want the country to abandon professional politics completely, and I don’t think that’ll happen. Instead, the best thing that could happen to American politics is the reinvigoration of the “little platoons.”

There’s a serious disconnect, most prominently on the left today, between supporting the idea of charity and supporting the true practice of it. The left tends to think in terms of collective action when that collective action is taken through the state. Liberals believe that as long as someone has a good provided for them, it doesn’t matter if it’s through private charity or the state–that in fact it might even be better if it’s done through the state because that implicates everyone else in the act and it suggests the existence of a program through which more people could obtain such goods.

It could not be further from the truth, because when the state takes on a role as the sole provider society unlearns the habits necessary for a self-governing people. Additionally, for the government to be able to afford what it should provide, we need talented young people to go into business and strengthen the private sector. I don’t know exactly what Kristof means when he says “social enterprise,” but the fact that the people he meets want to bring about societal improvement themselves rather than by electing someone else who promises to do it for them it a sign of a healthy polity.

Government shouldn’t be toxic. But neither should private enterprise be equated with cynicism. We need both undertaking their proper responsibilities. And it sounds like Kristof is meeting bright young Americans who agree.

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Rand Paul’s Utopian Realism and 2016

Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

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Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

At Bloomberg View, Lanhee Chen (a top advisor to Mitt Romney) writes that foreign policy helped Republicans win over Asian-American voters on Tuesday. Chen looks at the exit polls, and notes that while “one should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a sample of just 129 Asian respondents, the marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy – and outside the margin of error for the poll.”

And at the Daily Beast Eli Lake goes into detail on how the Republican wave, and specifically its takeover of the Senate majority, could impact American foreign policy going forward. Republicans elected young, promising hawks like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and more importantly the GOP will take the chairmanships of the foreign-policy related Senate committees. “You could call it the neoconservatives’ revenge or the year of the hawks,” Lake writes. “But it has produced an interesting moment in Washington, where even the dovish side of the Republican Party now acknowledges the midterms were a win for their party’s American exceptionalists.”

One person who wasn’t happy was Ron Paul, who tweeted his wild apocalyptic take on the election. And one person who could not have been happy about that tweet was Paul’s son, Rand, who plans to run for president and therefore would benefit from his father declining to set his hair on fire in public every time a Republican says something nice about America’s role in the world.

More substantively, however, it raises the question of whether the midterms produced a wave Paul can ride to his party’s nomination or one that washed him out of contention. Paul has noticed that what appeared to be a noninterventionist moment in the GOP has not solidified into a major shift in conservative foreign-policy circles. And so it was Paul who has shifted.

At first that shift was mainly one of tone, and I am sympathetic to those who felt that this shift was being exaggerated by hawks who wanted to portray Paul as someone who decided that he couldn’t beat them so he joined them. But with Paul’s speech to the annual dinner of the Center for the National Interest, it’s clear Paul wants to be seen as shifting more than his tone. The key part of the speech was this:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

President Obama claims that al Qaeda is decimated.  But a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.

Prosecuting the war on terror is far more consequential than standing athwart hypothetical ground invasions. The war on terror is far more relevant to America’s day-to-day security maintenance because it involves the prevention of the multitude of threats to the American homeland. It’s also significant because of the noninterventionists’ much-feared renewed land war in the Middle East.

The possibility of putting “boots on the ground”–or additional boots on the ground, depending on how you look at it–in Iraq and elsewhere is not because America is interested in toppling the Iraqi government but in preserving it. The entity threatening to bring down allied governments is the network of Islamist terrorists, in this case specifically ISIS. The global war on terror, then, can be just as much about preventing additional land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rand Paul seems to understand this, if his speech is any indication. His supporters, especially his libertarian supporters who are once again looking to Gary Johnson, won’t like it. Others will, as James Poulos seeks to over at the Federalist, reimagine Paul’s limited policy aims as a broad and grand and ocean-deep set of assumptions about human nature. Aside from the unfortunate (but common) false characterizations about neoconservatives, Poulos interprets Rand Paul’s foreign policy as no less a utopian scheme than the strains of conservative foreign policy Poulos says Paul rejects. Elsewhere, Poulos credits Paul with ideas that neoconservatives have long been championing, such as the underestimated role of corruption in global affairs.

Suddenly, Paul’s unique approach to American foreign policy relies on nuance to even tell it apart from the status quo. That’s because Paul can read the polls, and he’s been watching the electorate he hopes to lead. One wonders, then, whether what will ultimately undo Paul is that he will have convinced his once-ardent supporters that he’s left their camp while failing to convince those who doubted him all along.

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Arrogant Obama Has Learned Nothing

Last night as the country was absorbing the midterm election results, the New York Times reported that President Obama was “irritated” about the Democrats’ stunning defeat but that he did not consider the outcome to be a “repudiation” of himself or his administration. In response, some talking heads on the cable news networks suggested that given some time to reflect on events, he would take responsibility for a historic drubbing. They were wrong. When the president came out to face the public at his White House press conference this afternoon, it was clear that not only would he refuse to take blame for his party’s losses but was unchastened by the experience.

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Last night as the country was absorbing the midterm election results, the New York Times reported that President Obama was “irritated” about the Democrats’ stunning defeat but that he did not consider the outcome to be a “repudiation” of himself or his administration. In response, some talking heads on the cable news networks suggested that given some time to reflect on events, he would take responsibility for a historic drubbing. They were wrong. When the president came out to face the public at his White House press conference this afternoon, it was clear that not only would he refuse to take blame for his party’s losses but was unchastened by the experience.

Though the press had wondered what adjective he would use to describe a defeat similar in magnitude to a 2010 midterm election that he dubbed a “shellacking,” his speech writers appeared not to have employed a thesaurus. The most he would say was that “Republicans had a good night.” But this unwillingness to acknowledge the magnitude of the outcome was merely the prelude to a lengthy display of presidential arrogance that made it clear he had no intention of taking the voters’ lack of confidence to heart or changing a thing about a presidency that the majority of Americans no longer regard favorably.

Rather than taking a page from Bill Clinton’s book and understanding that he had to adjust his policies and ideas to political reality, Obama seems to think he has no lessons to learn from the voters who broadly rejected the policies that he told us last month were on the ballot yesterday.

Asked several times by members of the press if he was prepared for genuine compromise, all he gave them was the usual boilerplate he’s been employing throughout his presidency about being willing to listen to Republicans if they come up with reasonable ideas. The only problem with that: he believes the only one with reasonable ideas is Barack Obama.

As for the American people, he dismissed their votes as merely a symptom of restlessness and impatience, not a reasoned assessment of his conduct in office. If there was any conclusion to be drawn from their votes, he took it as a slap at both Republicans and Democrats. As far as he is concerned, what the people want is for Congress to “get stuff done.”

It’s true that Republicans in Congress have favorability ratings even lower than the president’s awful poll numbers. But to claim that the voters took an equally dim view of both sides of the partisan divide is to ignore the results. Democrats took a beating around the country as an anti-Obama backlash tarnished their brand and even some highly unpopular Republicans wound up winning races easily that had been thought to be hard slogs. With his party suffering massive losses in the Senate and the House and even in governor’s races where Democrats suffered from their association with the president, it is simply impossible to honestly assert that what happened was a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave. Instead of a “Seinfeld election” about nothing, it was an anti-Obama six-year itch of historic proportions.

Speaking prior to Obama’s press conference, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the president to work with Republicans and accept the olive branch he was offering. But he also warned him that if he ignored the election results and moved ahead with plans to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, he would be immediately “poisoning the well” and making bipartisan deal-making far more difficult.

Yet that is exactly what Obama seems intent on doing. His attitude about immigration was no different than his stance on every other issue where he differs from Congress: It’s my way or the highway. If a Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t want him doing end runs around their constitutional authority, Obama says their only choice is to pass bills he likes. If not, he will act on his own.

This is the main point of his remarks. Though he spoke at times of being willing to have more drinks or rounds of golf with Republicans or members of Congress—something most presidents understand is part of their job but which Obama regards as being somehow beneath his dignity—the president believes such meetings are merely an opportunity for others to listen to him and learn the errors of their ways. In his view, “getting stuff done” means Republicans passing liberal legislation, not him being willing to agree to some of the GOP agenda.

Listening to Obama discuss the need to accommodate or even listen to critics, it’s easy to see he still thinks of himself as the adult in rooms full of petulant children that an unkind fate has forced him to supervise. Rather than treat opponents as equals who must be met halfway, even after six years of failure with Congress, Obama still seems to believe he is, at worst, a constitutional monarch who must suffer the indignity of hobnobbing with commoners even if he would rather die than relinquish his royal prerogatives.

Though the president did the right thing last night by calling election winners from both parties and scheduling a meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, based on today’s performance there is no reason to think the next two years will be any different from those that preceded them when it comes to Obama working with his opponents.

It is one thing to be undaunted by electoral reversals. It is quite another to pretend that such petty annoyances are unworthy of your attention. Though he was the one who reminded us in January 2013 that “elections have consequences” when he was asked about working with defeated Republicans, this is a president who believes that he doesn’t have to heed the verdict of the voters if it goes against him and his allies. That, and not congressional squabbling, is the answer to the question voters ask about why Washington doesn’t function properly.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy After the Midterms

In that Temple of Denial known as the White House, President Obama is no doubt telling himself that the voters just don’t get it–they are punishing him, he probably thinks, because they have not yet digested the fact that economic growth has picked up speed, ObamaCare implementation has gotten smoother, and Ebola has been contained. As one aide told the New York Times, “He doesn’t feel repudiated.”

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In that Temple of Denial known as the White House, President Obama is no doubt telling himself that the voters just don’t get it–they are punishing him, he probably thinks, because they have not yet digested the fact that economic growth has picked up speed, ObamaCare implementation has gotten smoother, and Ebola has been contained. As one aide told the New York Times, “He doesn’t feel repudiated.”

He should, especially in national security which I am convinced was as important a factor in this election as it was in the 2006 midterm when, in the midst of Iraq War debacles, the Republicans lost control of the Senate. The president did himself incalculable damage when he set a “red line” for Syria last year but failed to enforce it. That created an image of weakness and indecision which has only gotten worse with the rise of ISIS and Putin’s expansionism in Ukraine.

The question now is whether the president will overcome his initial denials and squarely face the message that the voters were trying to send: He needs to change course. I will leave it to others to spell out what such a course change will mean in domestic policy, but when it comes to national-security policy he would do well to take all or some of the following steps:

  • Save the defense budget from the mindless cuts of sequestration, which are already hurting readiness and, if left unabated, risk another “hollow” military.
  • Impose tougher sanctions on Russia, freezing Russian companies entirely out of dollar-denominated transactions, while sending arms and trainers to Kiev and putting at least a Brigade Combat Team into each of the Baltic republics and Poland to signal that no more aggression from Putin will be tolerated.
  • Repeal the 2016 deadline for pulling troops out of Afghanistan and announce that any drawdown will be conditions based.
  • Increase the tempo of airstrikes against ISIS, and send a lot more troops to Iraq and Syria to work with indigenous groups–we need at least 15,000 personnel, not the 1,400 sent so far. This isn’t a call for U.S. ground combat troops, but we do need a lot more trainers, Special Operators, and support personnel, and they need to be free to work with forces in the field rather than being limited to working with brigade and division staffs in large bases far from the front lines.
  • Make clear that any deal with Iran will require the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities–not just a freeze that will leave it just short of nuclear weapons status.
  • End the rapprochement with Iran that has scared our closest allies in the Middle East, and make clear that the U.S. will continue its traditional, post-1979 role of containing Iranian power and siding with the likes of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE over Tehran. A good sign of such a commitment would be launching airstrikes on Iran’s proxy, Bashar al-Assad.
  • Get “fast track” authority from Congress and finish negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

Sadly, the odds are that Obama won’t do any of this except for TPP. That will leave a Republican Congress seething in frustration but its ability to compel presidential actions in foreign policy will be highly limited–even with the addition of knowledgeable lawmakers such as Senator Tom Cotton, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, and with Senator John McCain, the GOP’s leading foreign-policy voice, taking over the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers can demand that Obama submit any deal with Iran for Senate approval as a treaty and, if he refuses, they can vote to keep sanctions in place that Obama will try to suspend unilaterally–but in practice achieving this outcome will be very difficult because it will require veto-proof majorities in both houses. Democrats are happy to talk tough about Iran, but will they vote against their own president on an issue where he is sure to lobby hard? Lawmakers can also push for increases in the defense budget but this will undoubtedly require a deal with the White House in which the GOP would have to swallow higher domestic spending and/or tax increases that will be a hard sell on the right.

In the end Obama will retain tremendous discretion as commander-in-chief. We can only hope he will use his authority to stop the dissipation of American power and prestige that has occurred in recent years. He would do well to borrow a page from Jimmy Carter who became a born-again hawk after the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But given Obama’s history of stubborn adherence to ideology, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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How Mitch McConnell Outsmarted Obama

Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

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Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

As Jonathan Tobin mentioned late last night, McConnell belongs at the top of the list of winners, while Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is second only to Obama in the losers column. Yet the efforts of both men to bring about that result are still widely–and in some cases, probably purposely–misunderstood. A perfect distillation of how to get the McConnell strategy exactly wrong comes via Vox, unsurprisingly. There, Matt Yglesias sums up the Democratic spin on how the Senate has been run by both Reid and McConnell. The spin is unambiguously false, but it does show the extent to which Reid’s mendacious propaganda actually convinced many liberals who don’t grasp the granular details of the Senate. Here’s Yglesias:

A Republican comeback of this scale was by no means guaranteed. In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition[.]

Yglesias then quotes McConnell as saying “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” and adds himself:

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s quite possible Yglesias actually believes this. Many on the left have been thoroughly confused by how the Senate works, and they are almost always eager to believe the most negative portrayal of Republicans out there. But rather than Obama being generously and genuinely bipartisan, what happened was that he took his election to be a mandate for his own plans–“I won,” as he famously said.

And so the Obama strategy, with Reid’s help in the Senate, was to get what Yglesias calls the “sheen” of bipartisanship: get a very liberal bill that consists mostly of handouts to liberal interest groups and greatly increases presidential power on an issue, and pretend it’s the work of both parties by offering token, vote-buying concessions to convince a few Republicans to put their names on the overall bill. McConnell wasn’t buying it, because he understood that Obama had no intention of actually crafting bills that would prominently feature conservative ideas–the two sides were too far apart anyway.

McConnell also understood that Obama’s ideas were terrible, and would be unpopular. In some cases, we knew the bills were unpopular before they even went up for vote. Obama wanted an insurance policy (no ObamaCare pun intended): to have his name on the “achievement” if it turned out to be popular but to have Republicans own its passage in case it wasn’t. It was cynical and dishonest, and it didn’t succeed because Obama fooled his fans in the media but not McConnell.

Additionally, as anyone who follows the Senate closely knows, Reid’s strategy was to put unprecedented limits on the minority (Republicans) in the legislating process. Republicans were shut out of the traditional bipartisan role and also shut out of the amendment process. Reid didn’t want Republican input at all and didn’t want debate either. The plain fact is that it was Reid who “decided to break” the Senate, since Republicans weren’t willing to simply add their names to Obama’s legislative wish lists. And in order to protect constitutionally suspect legislation in the courts, Reid tossed out the filibuster as well.

Last night was a resounding victory for McConnell not because he sabotaged the Senate but because it confirmed what he already knew: Obama’s ideas are naïve and destructive, and therefore unpopular. McConnell’s refusal to allow his GOP minority caucus to be a rubber stamp for the disastrous liberal agenda was what stopped the midterms from being a pox on both houses and instead a referendum on those responsible for the wreckage: the Democrats.

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The Biggest Winners and Losers of 2014

The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:

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The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:

The Winners:

The first and most obvious winner is Mitch McConnell who will be the majority leader in January. Earlier in the year, he looked to be under siege in his race for reelection but ran among the smartest campaigns in the country as he first swamped a Tea Party challenger and then destroyed Alison Lundergan Grimes, the candidate the Clintons helped handpick to oppose him, in the general election. McConnell finally gets his chance to run the Senate and the man in position to put the heat on President Obama even if he won’t have an easy time with some members of his caucus.

Tom Cotton came into 2014 as the most hyped GOP Senate candidate but was thought to have run a lackluster campaign that turned an easy win into a nail biter. In the end, he won his Arkansas seat in a landslide. That puts him back into the conversation as the most highly regarded young (only 37) Republican and a future leader of his party.

In the course of the last year Joni Ernst went from an unknown to the leading Republican dragon slayer who turned a likely Democratic hold to a GOP Senate pickup in Iowa. The first woman sent to D.C. from the Hawkeye State, she turned out the most effective ad of the campaign in which she spoke of castrating hogs and making the pigs in Washington squeal. Forget about Sarah Palin and Michel Bachmann. Ernst is the new female star of the Tea Party with a bully Senate pulpit.

Ted Cruz wasn’t on the ballot and his GOP nemesis McConnell got a major promotion. But Republican control of the Senate will also make him more important and bring even more attention to his guerrilla campaign against both the Republican establishment and the Obama administration as he prepares for a presidential run.

Scott Walker’s struggles to win reelection as Wisconsin governor were supposed to tarnish his hopes for the presidency. But rather than being knocked off by another huge effort by the unions and liberal super-PACs, he wound up prevailing by a convincing margin that will boost his credibility for 2016. Though he is still untested on the national stage, winning three elections in four years elevates him to the first tier of GOP candidates if, as is expected, he runs for president.

Chris Christie didn’t have a very good 2014 that started off with Bridgegate and ended with a video in which he told a critic to “sit down and shut up.” But as head of the Republican Governors Association, he has to get some of the credit for a GOP wave that saw major wins for the GOP in blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. That gives his flagging hopes for the presidency a much-needed boost.

The only Democrat on our list is Elizabeth Warren, another senator who wasn’t on the ballot. Being in the minority in the Senate will only enhance her standing as the idol of her party’s base. It will also put her in a position to wage her own guerilla campaign to hold President Obama’s feet to the fire should he be tempted to try to cut any deals with the GOP Congress.

Losers:

The most obvious loser is President Barack Obama for whom this midterm must stand as a personal repudiation even if he chooses to pretend that is not the case. Whether he chooses to try to work with Congress or attempts to govern on his own with executive orders of questionable legality, the lame duck period of his presidency begins now.

The other obvious loser is Harry Reid who gets demoted from majority to minority leader. Reid, who ran the Senate with an iron fist and squelched debate from both sides of the aisle, will not find the change invigorating or pleasant.

Even before her party tanked on Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was already lined up to be the scapegoat for the defeat. The White House has been waging a war on women with her in the cross-hairs for the last three years but the devastating loss may give Obama the opening to finally fire someone that he seems to dislike almost as much as Benjamin Netanyahu.

The competition for the worst campaign of 2014 is stiff but the title has to go to Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who singlehandedly turned a safe Democratic Senate seat into a Republican pickup. Though, as I noted, Joni Ernst ran a nearly perfect campaign against him, Braley’s gaffes will not soon be forgotten. Runners up would be Alison Lundergan Grimes who turned a close race against an unpopular Mitch McConnell into a rout. And she still isn’t saying whether she voted for Obama. Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was probably even more inept than Braley or Grimes but doesn’t get the title because she would have lost in red Texas even if she ran a perfect campaign. Still, the collapse of her mendacious run for statewide office was as catastrophic as her rise from obscurity via a pro-abortion filibuster last year was meteoric.

She wasn’t on the ballot yesterday, but the likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a hit as much as any other member of her party. The scope of the GOP win and the inability of her party to generate an Obama-style turnout without the president on the ballot should chill Democratic optimism about the next national election. So should the failure of the Clintons to help Democratic candidates around the country.

The one Republican loser on the list is Scott Brown. Though he wound up losing by only a whisker in a New Hampshire Senate race that few gave him a chance to win, had he stayed home in Massachusetts and run for governor, he’d have been the one to beat Martha Coakley. Had Brown done so, he’d be governor and have a bright future instead of seeing his career in elective politics finished.

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