Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bob McDonnell

McDonnell Case Shows Character Counts

There are a number of unhappy conclusions to be drawn from the sad details of the indictment of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife on federal corruption charges yesterday. Whether you believed McDonnell was a legitimate contender for national office (as many of his backers did until yesterday’s revelations), he was an able governor and a talented politician who had every reason to look forward to other opportunities to serve his country even if he hadn’t sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That’s over now, even in the unlikely event that he is acquitted of the numerous criminal charges of taking gifts from a wealthy contributor.

One of the facts of American political life exemplified by the McDonnell case is the dilemma faced by all politicians who are not independently wealthy. Lacking their own sources of riches they must raise vast sums of money almost continually and thus find themselves thrown together with unusually wealthy people whose lifestyles are very different from those of the middle class from which many politicians spring. If elected, their duties include entertaining on a scale that is difficult, if not impossible, to manage on the admittedly generous salaries they are paid for holding public office. The temptation to accept what at first may seem kindnesses from their rich friends—who often have a clear financial motive to ingratiate themselves with officials—can overwhelm their better judgment. Though Americans are deeply cynical about the ethics of their politicians, most in public office do manage to avoid trouble. But a certain percentage fall prey to the attraction of easy money and lavish gifts

But rather than merely demonstrating the McDonnells’ poor judgment or the advantages the wealthy enjoy when running for and staying in office, what this episode also illuminates is the importance of public morals and character in our politicians.

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There are a number of unhappy conclusions to be drawn from the sad details of the indictment of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife on federal corruption charges yesterday. Whether you believed McDonnell was a legitimate contender for national office (as many of his backers did until yesterday’s revelations), he was an able governor and a talented politician who had every reason to look forward to other opportunities to serve his country even if he hadn’t sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That’s over now, even in the unlikely event that he is acquitted of the numerous criminal charges of taking gifts from a wealthy contributor.

One of the facts of American political life exemplified by the McDonnell case is the dilemma faced by all politicians who are not independently wealthy. Lacking their own sources of riches they must raise vast sums of money almost continually and thus find themselves thrown together with unusually wealthy people whose lifestyles are very different from those of the middle class from which many politicians spring. If elected, their duties include entertaining on a scale that is difficult, if not impossible, to manage on the admittedly generous salaries they are paid for holding public office. The temptation to accept what at first may seem kindnesses from their rich friends—who often have a clear financial motive to ingratiate themselves with officials—can overwhelm their better judgment. Though Americans are deeply cynical about the ethics of their politicians, most in public office do manage to avoid trouble. But a certain percentage fall prey to the attraction of easy money and lavish gifts

But rather than merely demonstrating the McDonnells’ poor judgment or the advantages the wealthy enjoy when running for and staying in office, what this episode also illuminates is the importance of public morals and character in our politicians.

While we are continually told by pundits and even much of the public that all they care about are results, the perils of modern democracy turn out to place greater emphasis than we might have thought on the need to recruit upstanding people to run for office.

Let’s dispense with the defense being offered by McDonnell and his lawyers that his hobnobbing with a wealthy contributor is no worse than what President Obama or other politicians do while raising money. McDonnell claims that if the government can’t prove that he actually traded some benefit for the gifts he received, he’s guilty of nothing other than poor judgment. But the line between fundraising and bribes is, in reality, a bright one. As much as we lament the influence of money on politics—something that no law or set of laws can ever prevent—or the complicated nature of many of the laws that limit gifts, the rules about what a politician can and cannot do are not complicated. Office-holders can take money for their campaigns but they can’t take personal compensation as a perk of the job. As Byron York writes in the Washington Examiner, the facts about the watches, the cash, and the stocks McDonnell and his wife took from a pharmaceutical mogul are sordid. So were their attempts to cover all this up.

While McDonnell and his wife don’t come off as sympathetic figures in the account presented by the government or even in their own defense, the path of politicians who don’t enter public office with private wealth is not an easy one. The demands on their private purses as well as the fact that they are obligated to spend a great deal of time in the homes of the rich can make many feel out of place. While, as York notes, they can easily cash in on their former status once they leave office, while they are in public harness they and their families must be satisfied with what they have. That is why many talented people who can earn far more in the private sector want no part of politics even without considering the scrutiny and abuse that comes with it.

But it also means those who place their desire for power and their potential to do good above their desire for money or privacy must be made of sterner stuff than the McDonnells. Moreover, the process of selecting candidates also requires voters and journalists who often treat the private failings of candidates as less important than their stands on issues to rethink that notion. As much as we should avoid prurient investigations into candidates’ private lives or treating minor peccadilloes as outweighing an individual’s potential to be an effective leader, public morals do matter. As much as our democracy needs men and women of intelligence and ability, it also needs people of good character. When we ignore that aspect of a candidate, focusing only on the resume, we can — and often do — wind up with scandals, both fiscal and moral, that debase our democracy, undermine the rule of law and decrease public respect for office-holders and thus government itself.

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McAuliffe’s Lead Should Worry GOP

Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

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Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

In a more GOP-friendly environment, McDonnell’s problems (which have put an end to any talk about him having a political future) might not be dragging Cuccinelli down. Nor would the attempts of the liberal mainstream media to tar the Republican candidate as an extremist be working quite as well if Republicans could still count on the more conservative southern and western parts of the state being able to turn out votes that could overwhelm the margins Democrats racked up in the northern districts close to Washington. But, as the last two presidential contests showed, that is no longer the case.

The Republicans may be working on the assumption that the off-year turnout for the Democrats in 2013 will resemble that of 2009 when McDonnell won rather than 2012 when large numbers of minority and young voters helped Obama hold Virginia. But the ability of a flawed and not terribly popular Democrat to stay ahead of Cuccinelli speaks not only to the Republicans’ problems but also to the fact that the state has to be seen as tilting to the left.

All politics is local, but if these numbers hold up in November, this is a very bad sign for the GOP. The conventional wisdom is that the national turnout in the 2014 midterms will be drastically down from that of 2012 and look more like the 2010 numbers when the Tea Party revolution helped generate a Republican landslide that took back the House of Representatives. That may well be the case, but the Virginia governor’s race could show that Democrats have the ability to turn out their voters in sufficient numbers to hold onto battleground states even in off-year elections.

Coming as it always does the year after the presidential election, the Virginia race is often seen as a bellwether. That will be even more the case this year since the only significant election this November—the New Jersey’s governor’s race—is a foregone conclusion with Chris Christie coasting to an easy win.

Despite the predictions of doom from the liberal press about the future of the Republican Party, 2014 looks to be a golden opportunity for the GOP to win back the Senate and set themselves up nicely for 2016. But Virginia presents an ominous indication that talk of changing demographics with larger numbers of minority voters is not merely liberal hype. Conservatives who believe their party shouldn’t worry about trying to attract Hispanics or blacks or independents need to look closely at Virginia this year and see that their assumptions about turnout may wind up being as misleading as they were last year when Romney lost. Complacence about changing demographics is a luxury Republicans can’t afford.

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The MSM Is Disappointed in Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The CPAC Clown Act

Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.

“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.

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Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.

“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.

Apparently this combination of traits is enough to warrant an invitation to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

This is obviously a stunt, meant to generate attention to the CPAC event. We all get that. The problem is that in the process, conservatism itself will be harmed, since is will confirm pre-existing caricatures and stereotypes about conservatives. 

For those who actually care about conservatism and who take seriously its intellectual and moral tradition, what CPAC is doing is unfortunate and destructive, and I hope someone at the conference says so. (A Sister Souljah moment, anyone?)

Mr. Trump will garner much attention, the left and the press will have a field day, and the public will watch all of this unfold and simply shake their head at the childishness and unseriousness of it all.

Well done, CPAC. Well done.

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McDonnell’s Mistake

Conservatives dislike it when politicians on the right are told to be more like Democrats. And they are usually just as suspicious when the political press tells prominent Democrats to be more like certain Republicans. Such is the conservative movement’s relationship with the media that good press is often the wrong press, and that is no less true today of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Fresh off of getting slammed in the Wall Street Journal and by Red State’s Erick Erickson for his plan to hike sales and transportation taxes in the state and for opening the door to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor is, unsurprisingly, now the recipient of stories extolling his supposed moderation. National Journal nudges President Obama in McDonnell’s direction on the willingness to embrace compromise and stand up to his party’s base. McDonnell right now needs such headlines like he needs a hole in the head, but it’s worth noting why. Erickson hints at it when he writes:

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Conservatives dislike it when politicians on the right are told to be more like Democrats. And they are usually just as suspicious when the political press tells prominent Democrats to be more like certain Republicans. Such is the conservative movement’s relationship with the media that good press is often the wrong press, and that is no less true today of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Fresh off of getting slammed in the Wall Street Journal and by Red State’s Erick Erickson for his plan to hike sales and transportation taxes in the state and for opening the door to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor is, unsurprisingly, now the recipient of stories extolling his supposed moderation. National Journal nudges President Obama in McDonnell’s direction on the willingness to embrace compromise and stand up to his party’s base. McDonnell right now needs such headlines like he needs a hole in the head, but it’s worth noting why. Erickson hints at it when he writes:

What tells you that Bob McDonnell isn’t really a conservative is that there was never any interest on the part of his administration in finding funding for roads through cuts or privatizing state services. Contrast this with what a real conservative does, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker – when a state commission recommended he raise the gas tax to pay for roads, he said he’d sell off state property and privatize other functions to pay for it rather than raise taxes. McDonnell was never interested in doing that.

The emergence, and success, of a genuine conservative reform movement has deprived Republican politicians of an excuse they used to be able to lean on when attacked from their right flank: political necessity. All throughout the Republican primary process last year, the longest shadow of all the Republicans who chose not to run was cast by then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Daniels was considered serious and electable by election watchers on both sides of the isle. But the most powerful case for Daniels was that he, perhaps more (or at least earlier) than anyone else, had proven that conservatives can govern successfully–as conservatives.

This has always been a knock on the modern conservative movement: the right is accused of going so far in its anti-government zealotry that it couldn’t possibly be trusted to govern. It won’t wield the levers of power responsibly; it’ll just start tossing out all the levers. This was encapsulated perfectly in the GOP primaries. When Rick Perry famously forgot the third federal department he would eliminate, what is often lost in the recollection of that moment is Ron Paul’s response on that debate stage: “You mean five!” What kind of big-government bureaucrat, after all, only wants to get rid of three federal agencies?

Erickson is right to mention Walker’s reforms in Wisconsin, but the real problem for those like McDonnell is that Daniels pushed for a total change in the way state executives approached management and spending. Andrew Ferguson’s profile of Daniels in the Weekly Standard lays out Daniels’s blueprint:

In fact, the governor’s office has publicized a “Citizens’ Checklist” that people can take to their local school boards to see if school officials have made every possible economy. Citizens in Vincennes need to take that list and get answers, he said. The list is filled with questions. Have the administrators “eliminated memberships in professional associations and reduced travel expenses”? Have they “sold, leased, or closed underutilized buildings”? Have they “outsourced transportation and custodial services”?

[…]

Regulatory agencies track the speed with which permits and variances are granted. The economic development agency has to compare the hourly wage of each new job brought to the state with the average hourly wage of existing jobs. In the case of the [Bureau of Motor Vehicles], the two most important metrics were wait times and customer satisfaction. Now each receipt is stamped with the time the customer arrives and the time his transaction is completed. Wait times have dropped from over 40 minutes to under 10 minutes. Surveys put customer satisfaction at 97 percent.

“But when you meet your goal,” Kitchell said, sitting at his office conference table, “he just moves the goalpost.” He turned to his computer and scrolled to an email the governor had just sent. That morning a transportation official had emailed with the happy news that bids on a new road construction project were coming in 28 percent below projections. No doubt he expected a hearty attaboy for driving a hard bargain to save the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Kitchell read me the governor’s reply: “Shoot for 30 percent.”

As Erickson notes, McDonnell didn’t seem nearly interested enough in finding other ways to pay the bill. This attitude toward spending–you better have a good reason behind every single dollar you want to confiscate in taxes–has been embraced in red states and blue state too, by GOP reform-minded governors. In many ways, though the 2012 election may be over, the long shadow of Mitch Daniels hasn’t gone anywhere.

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Jindal, Brownback, and the State-Led Conservative Opposition

Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

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Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

This month, the largest tax cut in Kansas history took effect, and most of its Medicaid system was handed over to private insurers. The bill introduced this week would pare taxes further, with the goal of eventually eliminating the state’s individual income tax. Mr. Brownback has already slashed the state’s welfare roll and its work force. He has merged government agencies and is proposing further consolidation. He is pushing for pension changes, to change the way judges are selected and for altering education financing formulas.

“I think it is the leading edge of the conservative economic and political movement,” said State Representative Tom Sloan, a Republican representing the area around Lawrence. “As such, it is the example that other state leaders will look to to determine whether the political philosophy can mesh with the expectations of the public.”

The Washington-centric focus of the press and the drama over negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and the Obama White House tend to overshadow the far-reaching economic reforms taking place at the state level. And that focus is exactly what Jindal plans to take aim at in his keynote speech tonight to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Jindal, who has been at the forefront of conservative education reform and is a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, plans to argue forcefully against his own party’s concentration on Washington. As the Washington Post reports:

“By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

It will be interesting to see just how clearly Jindal can pair his critique of Washington with a conservative alternative. On the broad strokes, Jindal is certainly correct: Washington’s buddy system and its self-perpetuating bureaucracy make it ripe both for bad policy and for cronyism that often too easily seduces Republicans as well as Democrats.

But there’s also a trap here Jindal is setting for himself, and his party. Conservatives are on firm ground when they talk of the need to reform Washington, but they should be careful not to treat the capital as incidental. Congress’s approval ratings may be low, and there is certainly a limited amount of policymaking the GOP can do with only one house of Congress and Harry Reid’s refusal to permit even basic Senate business from taking place in the other house. But conservatives should learn the right lesson: they need to be in a position to legislate.

Nothing proved this more clearly than the Obamacare debacle. Republicans didn’t have enough seats in Congress to block it, and then Chief Justice John Roberts allowed himself to be bullied and intimidated into ruling in favor of the president’s constitutionally suspect legislative overreach out of concern for his legacy and his public stature rather than his own best judgment. Roberts is an example of how the conservative movement cannot rely on the courts to protect the country from unconstitutional big-government schemes. Conservatives have the right idea on state-level reform to act as a bulwark against some of the terrible policy coming from the White House. But they also can’t ignore the battles on Capitol Hill.

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Is Gun Control the First Major 2016 Issue?

With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)

Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.

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With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)

Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.

As Jonathan wrote, Cuomo’s recent “state of the state” address was a liberal wish list designed to appeal to the Democratic Party’s base, gun control included. O’Malley has been strongly signaling that he’ll make a run for the nomination as well. Biden will no doubt use his gun control commission–whatever the result–as evidence of the essential role he played in generating policy and legislation from the Obama White House. Democrats seem to genuinely want gun control on their resume as they bid for national office. But should they?

If history is any guide, no. There’s a reason Republicans and pro-gun rights Democrats don’t seem too concerned by the fact that even the White House has elevated this issue now to take advantage of the headlines and public sympathy generated in the wake of the Newtown massacre. As Mark Blumenthal wrote before the Sandy Hook tragedy, reminding readers of the post-Columbine trend in public opposition to stricter gun control:

The post-Columbine bump had faded about a year later, and support for stricter gun laws remained roughly constant over the next eight years. Following the 2008 election, however, support for stricter gun laws dropped off considerably. By April 2010, Pew Research found more Americans placing greater importance on protecting the rights of gun owners (49 percent) than on restricting gun ownership (45 percent).

The one wild card here is how long the issue is kept in the news. If high-profile Democrats and 2016 contenders keep the issue in the headlines, they might think they can also keep up public outrage at the dangers of gun ownership. But it’s easy to imagine that the opposite might be true. When leftists say they want to “have a conversation” about guns, what they mean is they want a monologue. We’ve been having a national conversation about guns for quite some time, and it’s awfully clear the left is losing the argument in a rout. The way mass shootings fade from the public’s attention over time–as does all news–probably insulates Democrats from putting forward unpopular legislation.

And President Obama might very well have agreed, believing he could put Biden’s name on a commission and then blame Republicans if nothing came from the recommendations, covering his left flank and avoiding antagonizing the right. Governors, meanwhile, had it (politically) easier: they could have avoided taking up the issue entirely, since most of the fuss was focused on Congress.

Biden may simply take an “I tried” tack with regard to the issue, allowing his time on the commission to prevent him from having to lurch to his left on guns in a Democratic primary season. In the YouTube age, however, it’s getting more and more difficult for politicians to bounce back to the center after appealing to their party’s base in the primaries. Rick Perry and Bob McDonnell are far from sure things to enter the 2016 race, but their comments are indicative of the fact that GOP contenders now probably think they’d enter a 2016 general election having been spotted a few points by a clumsy and overeager opponent.

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Dominance of GOP Governors Continues

Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.

In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:

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Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.

In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:

But while Republicans hailed their victory in North Carolina as a way forward to “four years of balanced budgets, limited taxes and economic growth,” critics argued that losses in several other contested states revealed fissures in the GOP strategy.

“Like Republicans’ failure to reclaim control of the Senate, 2012 presents a year of missed opportunities for the GOP in governors’ races,” a release from the Democratic Governors Association said.

That is the statement of someone at the wrong end of an election drubbing. The DGA’s response to the GOP’s election night success was that Republicans didn’t crush them quite as thoroughly as they could have. An unspinnable victory has got to alleviate at least some of the bitterness on the right for what was a terrible night on other fronts, especially the Senate.

It’s more significant, however, because of the way the GOP has utilized those governorships. Blue states used to elect liberal Republicans who would basically govern as the Democrats would. But that’s not the case with this (young) crop. Many on the right are thinking about the promising future of these governors in terms of a 2016 presidential run. But it’s also important for conservatives to keep reforming the states’ approaches to economic and education policy to help insulate them from the worst of the Obama economy’s doldrums and the consequences of the left’s decision to completely give up on education reform. One lesson for the GOP on Election Day was that candidates matter. When it comes to governors, the right appears to need no such reminder.

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How Vanilla Are the GOP Veep Hopefuls?

Now that the Republican presidential nomination is no longer in doubt, attention is starting to focus on the next big question to be answered in 2012: who will be Mitt Romney’s running mate? The main candidates for the job are well known: Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, Mitch Daniels and Bob McDonnell. But the only thing we know for sure is that unlike in 2000 when George W. Bush ultimately tapped the person running the job search —Dick Cheney — for the position himself, Romney won’t be asking his longtime advisor Beth Myers to put her own name at the top of the list she will be vetting.

With months to go before we find out the answer, anybody’s guess is good as any other as to the identity of the GOP veep. But Michael Barone points out that those expecting any great contrast between Romney and his choice or an attempt at balance are probably barking up the wrong tree. Romney would probably be best off picking someone like himself: a competent moderate conservative who would give the Republicans a “double vanilla” ticket. He’s probably right about that, but the only argument I have with this view is that one of the quintet of most likely candidates is anything but vanilla. If Romney were to choose Paul Ryan, he would be adding one of the most dynamic and ideas-oriented politicians in the country.

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Now that the Republican presidential nomination is no longer in doubt, attention is starting to focus on the next big question to be answered in 2012: who will be Mitt Romney’s running mate? The main candidates for the job are well known: Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, Mitch Daniels and Bob McDonnell. But the only thing we know for sure is that unlike in 2000 when George W. Bush ultimately tapped the person running the job search —Dick Cheney — for the position himself, Romney won’t be asking his longtime advisor Beth Myers to put her own name at the top of the list she will be vetting.

With months to go before we find out the answer, anybody’s guess is good as any other as to the identity of the GOP veep. But Michael Barone points out that those expecting any great contrast between Romney and his choice or an attempt at balance are probably barking up the wrong tree. Romney would probably be best off picking someone like himself: a competent moderate conservative who would give the Republicans a “double vanilla” ticket. He’s probably right about that, but the only argument I have with this view is that one of the quintet of most likely candidates is anything but vanilla. If Romney were to choose Paul Ryan, he would be adding one of the most dynamic and ideas-oriented politicians in the country.

Analyzing this list, I agree with Barone that Marco Rubio should be taken at his word. If Rubio says that running with Romney “isn’t going to happen,” I assume that is going to be the case. Moreover, as Barone points out, the idea that Romney must have a Hispanic on the ticket to win is overblown. It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but it won’t make the difference between winning and losing.

Looking at the other four, both Daniels and McDonnell bring a lot of competence and intelligence to the ticket but not much in the way of charisma. Despite being as dull as dishwater, Daniels remains the idol of many conservative ideologues, but the same reasons that caused him to stay out of the presidential race are likely to keep him off of Romney’s ticket. McDonnell would help the Republicans take back Virginia, a key swing state, which will be a not insignificant factor in his favor.

In recent weeks, there’s been something of a boomlet for Portman. The senator from Ohio has the perfect background to appeal to a technocrat like Romney. As a former budget director and trade representative, he has the knowledge of key areas of economics that will be Romney’s priority if he gets to the White House. And though it’s not clear that he could ensure a Republican victory in Ohio, anything that would put that state back in the GOP column would weigh heavily on his behalf.

Paul Ryan also should appeal to Romney’s inner policy wonk. Ryan is his party’s leader on budget and tax issues and a powerful voice for reform of entitlements. Barone thinks his role, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, is so essential to the passage of any future legislation in a Romney administration that it constitutes the most powerful argument against him being picked to run for vice president.

But Ryan’s leadership on issues of substance also makes him something of a lightening rod for Republicans. Whether or not he winds up on the ticket, he will be an issue in the general election. Democrats will seek to demonize his reformist agenda and brand Romney as being as willing to destroy Medicaid as they claim Ryan is. To some that constitutes a powerful reason not to choose him, but if Romney is looking for a game changing choice for vice president, Ryan is the man.

For those who recall the last time a GOP candidate picked a “game changing” vice presidential nominee, rest assured that Ryan is no Sarah Palin. He’s among the smartest people in Washington and used to the give and take of debate in the big leagues of American politics.

Though all of the other potential veeps bring a lot to the table, Ryan is the top ideas person in his party and a perfect foil to Romney in the sense that he can’t be accused of flip-flopping on his principles. Far from hiding him in a congressional corner, Republicans would be well advised to put him center stage where he can wage the battle for conservative principles in the limelight. Ryan may be controversial, but he’s anything but vanilla, and that may be exactly what Romney needs.

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Waiting for Cream to Rise to the Top

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

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Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida’s Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida’s Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.

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Follow the States, But Only the Right Ones

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

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Part 2: Immigration and the Golden State

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

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The New Political Division

Peter writes,

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

I certainly agree that the gambit will fail. And one of the main reasons Obama has and will fail “to transcend the usual divisions in American politics,” is, I think, that the usual divisions aren’t there this election cycle. They may never be there again.

John Fund had a fascinating article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about the pollster Scott Rasmussen. The White House was stunned by Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts last winter. Rasmussen, he writes, thinks a principal reason,

lies in a significant division among the American public that he has tracked for the past few years — a division between what he calls the Mainstream Public and the Political Class. …

Before the financial crisis of late 2008, about a tenth of Americans fell into the political class, while some 53% were classified as in the mainstream public. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. Now the percentage of people identifying with the political class has clearly declined into single digits, while those in the mainstream public have grown slightly. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents all agree with the mainstream view . … “The major division in this country is no longer between parties but between political elites and the people,” Mr. Rasmussen says.

Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner writes that,

The current GOP fault line is not exactly conservatives vs. moderates or new guard vs. old guard. For 2010, the rivalry is the Tea Party wing against the K Street wing. To tell which kind of Republican a candidate is, see how the Democrats attack him: If  he’s branded a shill for Wall Street, he’s from the K Street wing. If he’s labeled an extremist outside the mainstream, he’s a Tea Partier.

More tellingly, study their campaign contributions. K Street Republicans’ coffers are filled by the political action committees of defense contractors, drug companies, lobbying firms, and Wall Street banks. A Tea Party Republican is funded by the Club for Growth or the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is run by the Republican leadership’s least-favorite colleague, Jim DeMint.

The K Street wing is business as usual, whereas the tea parties represent the new politics that has, for thirty years and more, been slouching towards Washington to be born. The election of Chris Christie, Scott Brown, and Bob McDonnell is a sign of the growing power of tea-party politics. The SEC suit against New Jersey is a sign that the old rules are changing, as is the spate of news stories about the power of public-employee unions and their excessive compensation that is bankrupting states.

Politicians, like generals, prefer to fight the last war. The politicians who have figured out that the election of 2010 is being fought along new lines will still have jobs after November 2nd. But the Democrats under Obama have a big problem. They are the party of the political elite and big government. They can’t remake themselves in two months. That’s why they are in such terrible trouble.

Peter writes,

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

I certainly agree that the gambit will fail. And one of the main reasons Obama has and will fail “to transcend the usual divisions in American politics,” is, I think, that the usual divisions aren’t there this election cycle. They may never be there again.

John Fund had a fascinating article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about the pollster Scott Rasmussen. The White House was stunned by Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts last winter. Rasmussen, he writes, thinks a principal reason,

lies in a significant division among the American public that he has tracked for the past few years — a division between what he calls the Mainstream Public and the Political Class. …

Before the financial crisis of late 2008, about a tenth of Americans fell into the political class, while some 53% were classified as in the mainstream public. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. Now the percentage of people identifying with the political class has clearly declined into single digits, while those in the mainstream public have grown slightly. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents all agree with the mainstream view . … “The major division in this country is no longer between parties but between political elites and the people,” Mr. Rasmussen says.

Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner writes that,

The current GOP fault line is not exactly conservatives vs. moderates or new guard vs. old guard. For 2010, the rivalry is the Tea Party wing against the K Street wing. To tell which kind of Republican a candidate is, see how the Democrats attack him: If  he’s branded a shill for Wall Street, he’s from the K Street wing. If he’s labeled an extremist outside the mainstream, he’s a Tea Partier.

More tellingly, study their campaign contributions. K Street Republicans’ coffers are filled by the political action committees of defense contractors, drug companies, lobbying firms, and Wall Street banks. A Tea Party Republican is funded by the Club for Growth or the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is run by the Republican leadership’s least-favorite colleague, Jim DeMint.

The K Street wing is business as usual, whereas the tea parties represent the new politics that has, for thirty years and more, been slouching towards Washington to be born. The election of Chris Christie, Scott Brown, and Bob McDonnell is a sign of the growing power of tea-party politics. The SEC suit against New Jersey is a sign that the old rules are changing, as is the spate of news stories about the power of public-employee unions and their excessive compensation that is bankrupting states.

Politicians, like generals, prefer to fight the last war. The politicians who have figured out that the election of 2010 is being fought along new lines will still have jobs after November 2nd. But the Democrats under Obama have a big problem. They are the party of the political elite and big government. They can’t remake themselves in two months. That’s why they are in such terrible trouble.

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Obama’s Cheerleaders Losing Steam Too

It is not only Obama who is on the skids. His biggest constituency, the mainstream media, is also in trouble. Gallup reports:

Americans continue to express near-record-low confidence in newspapers and television news — with no more than 25% of Americans saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in either. These views have hardly budged since falling more than 10 percentage points from 2003-2007.

You see the problem: whatever cheerleading the media are doing for Obama (granted, it was less than a year ago) isn’t doing either of them much good. The public doesn’t trust what they see or hear. And Obama no doubt mistakes liberal pundits and softball-throwing reporters for representatives of the voters at large, a delusion a less-cocooned liberal might not embrace.

We see anecdotal evidence of this as well. The Washington Post devoted its news as well as op-ed pages to defeating Bob McDonnell in the Virginia gubernatorial race. He won by 20 points.

In sum, the mainstream media are more partisan than ever, less influential then ever, and less profitable than ever. Conservative candidates and elected officials should be concerned with media bias, but they shouldn’t obsess over it. The problem, along with the number of consumers of the liberal media, will diminish over time.

It is not only Obama who is on the skids. His biggest constituency, the mainstream media, is also in trouble. Gallup reports:

Americans continue to express near-record-low confidence in newspapers and television news — with no more than 25% of Americans saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in either. These views have hardly budged since falling more than 10 percentage points from 2003-2007.

You see the problem: whatever cheerleading the media are doing for Obama (granted, it was less than a year ago) isn’t doing either of them much good. The public doesn’t trust what they see or hear. And Obama no doubt mistakes liberal pundits and softball-throwing reporters for representatives of the voters at large, a delusion a less-cocooned liberal might not embrace.

We see anecdotal evidence of this as well. The Washington Post devoted its news as well as op-ed pages to defeating Bob McDonnell in the Virginia gubernatorial race. He won by 20 points.

In sum, the mainstream media are more partisan than ever, less influential then ever, and less profitable than ever. Conservative candidates and elected officials should be concerned with media bias, but they shouldn’t obsess over it. The problem, along with the number of consumers of the liberal media, will diminish over time.

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Endorsed by the Mosque Builders’ Cheerleader

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer – for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer – for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

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Not Getting any Better for Dems

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics suggests that far from improving their position, the Democrats are continuing their slide. Obama’s current approval ties his all-time low (43 percent) and less than 40 percent of voters approve of his performance on the economy, job creation, immigration, and the deficit. As for the midterm elections, there is no good news in the numbers. Republicans (66 percent) best Democrats (59 percent) when it comes to excitement about the election (“extremely” or “very interested”). And in the generic congressional poll, Republicans have a huge 47-to-36 percent advantage. (Two weeks ago their margin of advantage was only four points.)

Maybe this is a temporary dip. But the Democrats are running out of time. Clearly, a large segment of the electorate would have to be talked out of their current opinion of the president and his party in order for a Democratic wipe-out to be avoided. And if the voters are to be persuaded, Obama isn’t the one to do it. Right now, I suspect far more Republican than Democratic candidates are rooting for him to show up in their districts and states. After all, it did wonders for Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown.

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics suggests that far from improving their position, the Democrats are continuing their slide. Obama’s current approval ties his all-time low (43 percent) and less than 40 percent of voters approve of his performance on the economy, job creation, immigration, and the deficit. As for the midterm elections, there is no good news in the numbers. Republicans (66 percent) best Democrats (59 percent) when it comes to excitement about the election (“extremely” or “very interested”). And in the generic congressional poll, Republicans have a huge 47-to-36 percent advantage. (Two weeks ago their margin of advantage was only four points.)

Maybe this is a temporary dip. But the Democrats are running out of time. Clearly, a large segment of the electorate would have to be talked out of their current opinion of the president and his party in order for a Democratic wipe-out to be avoided. And if the voters are to be persuaded, Obama isn’t the one to do it. Right now, I suspect far more Republican than Democratic candidates are rooting for him to show up in their districts and states. After all, it did wonders for Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown.

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The Un-Obama Governors

Gov. Chris Christie continues to earn kudos from conservatives and liberals alike. Gov. Bob McDonnell has a 64 percent approval after less than a year as Virginia’s governor. Both Christie and McDonnell are garnering praise for doing what inside-the-Beltway Democrats refuse to do — cut spending, resist calls to hike taxes, and stand up to public-employee unions. They, and others like Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Tim Pawlenty, undermine the Democrats’ patter that Republicans are too wacky or too unrealistic to govern. They provide a vivid contrast to Obamaism and to the notion that only by a massive increase in the size of government and corresponding tax increases can we pull out of our economic tailspin.

Any one of these conservatives would be a formidable rival to Obama in 2012. Obama will no doubt try, as he did in 2008, to run against someone not on the ballot — George W. Bush. By 2012 that will, I suspect, provoke groans if not laughter. The choice, if Republican primary voters are savvy, will not be Obama vs. Bush but Obama vs. a not-Obama reformer.

As Noemie Emery points out, it didn’t have to be this way. She explains that Obama could have lived up to his billing as a transformative leader if, on ObamaCare, for example, he had “built the bill out from the center, in a way that held on to the unhappy left, appealed to the center, and became a wedge issue that split Republicans.” Obama, in contrast to the GOP governors who are drawing applause from those on both ends of the political spectrum, has undermined his own popularity, his party’s electoral prospects, and his own agenda. (“Since Obama became president, everything that he wants has become more unpopular: more intrusive and much bigger government, more taxing and spending, more state control.”)

In sum, Obama has opened the way for any number of reformist, grown-up Republicans to present voters with a choice in 2012 and an alternate vision to the liberal statism against which voters have already rebelled.

Gov. Chris Christie continues to earn kudos from conservatives and liberals alike. Gov. Bob McDonnell has a 64 percent approval after less than a year as Virginia’s governor. Both Christie and McDonnell are garnering praise for doing what inside-the-Beltway Democrats refuse to do — cut spending, resist calls to hike taxes, and stand up to public-employee unions. They, and others like Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Tim Pawlenty, undermine the Democrats’ patter that Republicans are too wacky or too unrealistic to govern. They provide a vivid contrast to Obamaism and to the notion that only by a massive increase in the size of government and corresponding tax increases can we pull out of our economic tailspin.

Any one of these conservatives would be a formidable rival to Obama in 2012. Obama will no doubt try, as he did in 2008, to run against someone not on the ballot — George W. Bush. By 2012 that will, I suspect, provoke groans if not laughter. The choice, if Republican primary voters are savvy, will not be Obama vs. Bush but Obama vs. a not-Obama reformer.

As Noemie Emery points out, it didn’t have to be this way. She explains that Obama could have lived up to his billing as a transformative leader if, on ObamaCare, for example, he had “built the bill out from the center, in a way that held on to the unhappy left, appealed to the center, and became a wedge issue that split Republicans.” Obama, in contrast to the GOP governors who are drawing applause from those on both ends of the political spectrum, has undermined his own popularity, his party’s electoral prospects, and his own agenda. (“Since Obama became president, everything that he wants has become more unpopular: more intrusive and much bigger government, more taxing and spending, more state control.”)

In sum, Obama has opened the way for any number of reformist, grown-up Republicans to present voters with a choice in 2012 and an alternate vision to the liberal statism against which voters have already rebelled.

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Senate Up for Grabs

The Wall Street Journal has an extremely helpful guide to the Senate races, making the point that if — a big, if — pieces fall into place, the GOP could take back the Senate:

The emergence of competitive Republican candidates in Wisconsin, Washington and California—Democratic-leaning states where polls now show tight races—bring the number of seats that Republicans could seize from the Democrats to 11. …

Republicans would have to win virtually every competitive race to retake the Senate, without losing any seats of their own—clearly an uphill climb. The trouble for Democrats is that many trends are against them. Surveys show that Republicans are more motivated than Democrats to go to the polls, and that voters are looking for new leadership in Congress.

“I think there is definitely a chance” of losing the Senate, said Democratic strategist Gary Nordlinger, a Washington-based media consultant. “I wouldn’t call it a probability, but there is certainly a chance.”

Democrats have been surprised by strong GOP candidates in California and Wisconsin. As to the latter:

In the weeks before the Republican convention in late May, Ron Johnson, who hasn’t held political office, began appearing at tea party rallies. Tall and silver-haired, he proved a commanding speaker.

Mr. Johnson provided copies of his speeches to local talk radio hosts, and conservative host Charlie Sykes read excerpts over the air. Mr. Johnson jumped into the race six days before the convention, pledging to spend millions on the campaign. “He literally came out of nowhere,” said Brian Westrate, chairman of the Eau Claire County GOP.

Mr. Johnson built his successful company, which makes a specialty plastic for packaging, from the ground up, and it exports to various countries including China. But he also has made comments Democrats have seized on, such as asking in a March speech, “How is Social Security different from a giant Ponzi scheme?” Democrats are using that quote to suggest Mr. Johnson is radically anti-government. Mr. Johnson rejects the idea. “The problem is that Social Security funds have been spent,” he said in an interview. “They’re gone. I’m just describing the problem.”

If Democrats are going to run on a “What Social Security problem?” platform at a time when voters are increasingly serious and unwilling to accept political spin, they may be in more trouble than we imagined.

But the wild card may be Republicans’ own untested candidates (Rand Paul and Sharon Angle, for example). They will have to make sure they hold their own seats (Ohio is a tough race) and hope voters are finally immune to the kinds of tricks (George Bush! Abortion will be illegal!) that have gotten rather weak Democratic candidates through past races.

This year is different. The only question is whether it’s different enough to see a 10-seat swing in the Senate. I’d have said no way before Scott Brown, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell all won.

The Wall Street Journal has an extremely helpful guide to the Senate races, making the point that if — a big, if — pieces fall into place, the GOP could take back the Senate:

The emergence of competitive Republican candidates in Wisconsin, Washington and California—Democratic-leaning states where polls now show tight races—bring the number of seats that Republicans could seize from the Democrats to 11. …

Republicans would have to win virtually every competitive race to retake the Senate, without losing any seats of their own—clearly an uphill climb. The trouble for Democrats is that many trends are against them. Surveys show that Republicans are more motivated than Democrats to go to the polls, and that voters are looking for new leadership in Congress.

“I think there is definitely a chance” of losing the Senate, said Democratic strategist Gary Nordlinger, a Washington-based media consultant. “I wouldn’t call it a probability, but there is certainly a chance.”

Democrats have been surprised by strong GOP candidates in California and Wisconsin. As to the latter:

In the weeks before the Republican convention in late May, Ron Johnson, who hasn’t held political office, began appearing at tea party rallies. Tall and silver-haired, he proved a commanding speaker.

Mr. Johnson provided copies of his speeches to local talk radio hosts, and conservative host Charlie Sykes read excerpts over the air. Mr. Johnson jumped into the race six days before the convention, pledging to spend millions on the campaign. “He literally came out of nowhere,” said Brian Westrate, chairman of the Eau Claire County GOP.

Mr. Johnson built his successful company, which makes a specialty plastic for packaging, from the ground up, and it exports to various countries including China. But he also has made comments Democrats have seized on, such as asking in a March speech, “How is Social Security different from a giant Ponzi scheme?” Democrats are using that quote to suggest Mr. Johnson is radically anti-government. Mr. Johnson rejects the idea. “The problem is that Social Security funds have been spent,” he said in an interview. “They’re gone. I’m just describing the problem.”

If Democrats are going to run on a “What Social Security problem?” platform at a time when voters are increasingly serious and unwilling to accept political spin, they may be in more trouble than we imagined.

But the wild card may be Republicans’ own untested candidates (Rand Paul and Sharon Angle, for example). They will have to make sure they hold their own seats (Ohio is a tough race) and hope voters are finally immune to the kinds of tricks (George Bush! Abortion will be illegal!) that have gotten rather weak Democratic candidates through past races.

This year is different. The only question is whether it’s different enough to see a 10-seat swing in the Senate. I’d have said no way before Scott Brown, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell all won.

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California Dreamin’?

George Will takes a look at the Carly Fiorina/Barbara Boxer Senate race. He reminds us of Boxer’s far-left political views and of California’s miserable economic condition:

Unemployment is at least 15 percent in 21 of the state’s 58 counties. Of the 13 U.S. metropolitan areas with unemployment that high, 11 are in California, which has lost more than 400,000 jobs since passage of the $862 billion stimulus. Like Barack Obama as he campaigns in what he calls Recovery Summer for more stimulus (because the first did not ignite recovery), Boxer is vexed by the fact that California’s unemployment rate is 2.2 points higher than when stimulus was passed. When she said the stimulus was responsible for 100 jobs at a Los Angeles lithium-battery factory, the owner demurred, saying the stimulus had nothing to do with the jobs.

Republicans who have witnessed many a year when the state was declared to be in play when it really wasn’t are wary of getting their hopes up. But Fiorina has several things going for her: she is well funded, well spoken, and, well, lucky. She’s running in a year when the usual scare tactics of the Democrats seem particularly cheesy and manipulative. On the abortion issue, Will makes this observation:

It is theoretically impossible to fashion an abortion position significantly more extreme than Boxer’s, which is slightly modified infanticide. She supports “partial birth” abortion — the baby, delivered feet first, is pulled out as far as the neck, then is killed. And when asked during a Senate debate whether the baby has a right to life if it slips entirely out of the birth canal before being killed, she replied that the baby acquires that right when it leaves the hospital: “When you bring your baby home.” Fiorina believes that science — the astonishing clarity of sonograms showing the moving fingers and beating hearts of fetuses; neonatal medicine improving the viability of very premature infants; the increasing abilities of medicine to treat ailing fetuses in utero — is changing Americans’ sensibilities and enlarging the portion of the public that describes itself as pro-life.

Third-party groups and pundits can make that point, but Fiorina would do well to follow Bob McDonnell’s example from Virginia: let the Democrat obsess over hot-button social issues while keeping one’s own campaign focused on bread-and-butter issues.

California might be, as Will put it, “irredeemably blue.” But that’s what they said about New Jersey and Massachusetts.

George Will takes a look at the Carly Fiorina/Barbara Boxer Senate race. He reminds us of Boxer’s far-left political views and of California’s miserable economic condition:

Unemployment is at least 15 percent in 21 of the state’s 58 counties. Of the 13 U.S. metropolitan areas with unemployment that high, 11 are in California, which has lost more than 400,000 jobs since passage of the $862 billion stimulus. Like Barack Obama as he campaigns in what he calls Recovery Summer for more stimulus (because the first did not ignite recovery), Boxer is vexed by the fact that California’s unemployment rate is 2.2 points higher than when stimulus was passed. When she said the stimulus was responsible for 100 jobs at a Los Angeles lithium-battery factory, the owner demurred, saying the stimulus had nothing to do with the jobs.

Republicans who have witnessed many a year when the state was declared to be in play when it really wasn’t are wary of getting their hopes up. But Fiorina has several things going for her: she is well funded, well spoken, and, well, lucky. She’s running in a year when the usual scare tactics of the Democrats seem particularly cheesy and manipulative. On the abortion issue, Will makes this observation:

It is theoretically impossible to fashion an abortion position significantly more extreme than Boxer’s, which is slightly modified infanticide. She supports “partial birth” abortion — the baby, delivered feet first, is pulled out as far as the neck, then is killed. And when asked during a Senate debate whether the baby has a right to life if it slips entirely out of the birth canal before being killed, she replied that the baby acquires that right when it leaves the hospital: “When you bring your baby home.” Fiorina believes that science — the astonishing clarity of sonograms showing the moving fingers and beating hearts of fetuses; neonatal medicine improving the viability of very premature infants; the increasing abilities of medicine to treat ailing fetuses in utero — is changing Americans’ sensibilities and enlarging the portion of the public that describes itself as pro-life.

Third-party groups and pundits can make that point, but Fiorina would do well to follow Bob McDonnell’s example from Virginia: let the Democrat obsess over hot-button social issues while keeping one’s own campaign focused on bread-and-butter issues.

California might be, as Will put it, “irredeemably blue.” But that’s what they said about New Jersey and Massachusetts.

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