Commentary Magazine


Topic: GOP

The GOP’s Political Reconstruction Project

Like most political analysts, I’m of the view that the GOP will do well, and maybe very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections. (Demographics usually favor Republicans in such elections, when voters tend to be older and whiter.) I believe, too, that Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be an average political talent who carries a fair amount of baggage. Add to that the fact that the country will presumably be tired of Mr. Obama and his party and looking for a change in course. 

Yet despite all this, I agree with Bill Kristol. At this moment, he wrote, “Republicans seem likely to win in 2014 and to lose in 2016.”

Having laid out the basis for my views before, I decided to amass additional data to underscore them. In this instance, the data is based on a memorandum by Doug Sosnik, a Democratic political strategist who was a close adviser to Bill Clinton. The memo was recently posted at Politico Magazine. Mr. Sosnik is a partisan, but the data he relies on for his analysis strikes me as sound – and for Republicans, alarming. The information below is taken in large part, but not exclusively, from the Sosnik article. 

The Blue Wall

In each of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia—which currently total 242 electoral votes—as base states, leaving them only 28 votes short of the 270 necessary to win the White House. Ron Brownstein of National Journal notes, “The blue wall encompasses the 11 states from Maryland to Maine (except New Hampshire); the three West Coast states; and Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Hawaii (plus the District of Columbia).” Brownstein points out that Democrats have won another 15 electoral votes (in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) in five of the last six elections.

Three of these base states—California, New York, and Illinois—alone total 104 electoral votes. Even when Republicans have won, their ceiling of electoral votes has been relatively low, leaving them a very small margin for error. Since 1988, no Republican candidate has managed to secure 300 electoral votes in a single election. 

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Like most political analysts, I’m of the view that the GOP will do well, and maybe very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections. (Demographics usually favor Republicans in such elections, when voters tend to be older and whiter.) I believe, too, that Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be an average political talent who carries a fair amount of baggage. Add to that the fact that the country will presumably be tired of Mr. Obama and his party and looking for a change in course. 

Yet despite all this, I agree with Bill Kristol. At this moment, he wrote, “Republicans seem likely to win in 2014 and to lose in 2016.”

Having laid out the basis for my views before, I decided to amass additional data to underscore them. In this instance, the data is based on a memorandum by Doug Sosnik, a Democratic political strategist who was a close adviser to Bill Clinton. The memo was recently posted at Politico Magazine. Mr. Sosnik is a partisan, but the data he relies on for his analysis strikes me as sound – and for Republicans, alarming. The information below is taken in large part, but not exclusively, from the Sosnik article. 

The Blue Wall

In each of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia—which currently total 242 electoral votes—as base states, leaving them only 28 votes short of the 270 necessary to win the White House. Ron Brownstein of National Journal notes, “The blue wall encompasses the 11 states from Maryland to Maine (except New Hampshire); the three West Coast states; and Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Hawaii (plus the District of Columbia).” Brownstein points out that Democrats have won another 15 electoral votes (in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) in five of the last six elections.

Three of these base states—California, New York, and Illinois—alone total 104 electoral votes. Even when Republicans have won, their ceiling of electoral votes has been relatively low, leaving them a very small margin for error. Since 1988, no Republican candidate has managed to secure 300 electoral votes in a single election. 

Women and the GOP

Women now constitute 53 percent of all voters. In the last two presidential elections, women supported Barack Obama over the Republican nominee by double digits. While the president lost by 10 percentage points among independents in Ohio, for example, he won by 12 points among women in the state—and carried Ohio. 

The Youth Vote and the GOP

In 2012, Obama won the youth vote by 23 points—60 percent to 37 percent. In 1992, Democrats won the youth vote by 9 points; in 1996, by 19 points; in 2000, by two points; in 2004, by 13 points; and in 2008 by 34 points.

Right now, young voters constitute 25.5 percent of the eligible electorate, a figure that will rise to 36.5 percent by 2020. And a recent Pew report found that only 17 percent of millennials currently identify themselves as Republicans.

Minorities and the GOP

In 2012, 88 percent of Mitt Romney’s support came from white voters. Yet over the past quarter century, as the non-white share of the population has expanded, the white share of the vote for president has steadily declined, falling from 87 percent in 1992 to 72 percent in 2012.

Mitt Romney lost the non-white vote to Barack Obama by 63 points.

Asian-Americans voted for Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent after backing him against John McCain 62 to 35. President Obama also won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. The Pew Hispanic Center projects that by 2030, 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote—up from 27 million today. Since George W. Bush’s 2004 election, Hispanic voters have abandoned the Republican Party in droves (Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004). Indeed, since the 2004 election, Republicans have steadily lost ground among women voters, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and youth.

Public Perceptions of the GOP

A March ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 68 percent of respondents believe that the Republican Party is out of touch with the concerns of most people today. Only 28 percent say it’s in touch with the concerns of most Americans. 

I highlight these matters not because they are the only way to interpret the political landscape these days. Nor do I believe a GOP presidential victory in 2016 is anything like out of the question. I call attention to these data instead to point out to Republicans their substantial intellectual and outreach deficit, even while President Obama is down in the polls and even if they do well in November.  

It’s an undeniable empirical truth that the GOP coalition is shrinking, and it’s shrinking in the aftermath of two fairly decisive defeats, with the latter coming against a president whose policies were judged by many Americans to have been failures. Which means the Republican task isn’t simply to nominate a candidate who can fire up the base; it is to find principled conservative leaders who can win over voters who are not now voting for the GOP at the presidential level. This requires putting forward a governing vision and agenda that is reform-minded and modernizing, that speaks to the purposes of government and not just its size, that aligns itself with the challenges of the 21st century, and that persuades Americans who are not traditional Republicans.

The GOP, in other words, is engaged in a fairly serious political reconstruction project. Democrats did this with Bill Clinton and the British Labour Party did this with Tony Blair. The burning political question facing Republicans is whether they will make the changes necessary to appeal to an America very different than the one that existed a generation ago.

They’ll go some distance toward answering that question over the course of the next two years.

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The GOP’s Ongoing Challenges

Republicans have plenty of reasons to believe that the 2014 mid-term elections will be favorable, and maybe very favorable, for them. But that doesn’t necessarily prefigure success in 2016, as this story by Dan Balz of the Washington Post demonstrates.

Mr. Balz asked a veteran of GOP presidential campaigns which, if any, of the recent battleground states are likely to become more Republican by 2016? Answer: Very few. According to Balz:

From 1992-2012, Democrats built a base that rivals or exceeds that of the Republicans in the earlier period [1980-2000]. Eighteen states and the District have voted Democratic in each of the six presidential elections. They represent a total 242 electoral votes, according to the current allocation. Three other states, with a total of 15 electoral votes, have backed the Democrats five times.

Meanwhile, Republicans won 13 states in those six elections, but because most of them were smaller states, their electoral votes totaled just 102. The biggest consistent GOP state in this period has been Texas, with 38 electoral votes. Five other states backed the GOP nominee in five of the six elections, for an additional 56 electoral votes.

Adding together the states that voted Republican or Democratic in at least four of the six elections gave Democrats 281 electoral votes and Republicans 219. Only two states — Colorado and Florida, with a total of 38 electoral votes — were won three times for each party in those six elections.

Key states that were once genuine toss up states, or leaned Republican, are now much more reliably Democratic. “Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016,” according to Balz.

Will they succeed?

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Republicans have plenty of reasons to believe that the 2014 mid-term elections will be favorable, and maybe very favorable, for them. But that doesn’t necessarily prefigure success in 2016, as this story by Dan Balz of the Washington Post demonstrates.

Mr. Balz asked a veteran of GOP presidential campaigns which, if any, of the recent battleground states are likely to become more Republican by 2016? Answer: Very few. According to Balz:

From 1992-2012, Democrats built a base that rivals or exceeds that of the Republicans in the earlier period [1980-2000]. Eighteen states and the District have voted Democratic in each of the six presidential elections. They represent a total 242 electoral votes, according to the current allocation. Three other states, with a total of 15 electoral votes, have backed the Democrats five times.

Meanwhile, Republicans won 13 states in those six elections, but because most of them were smaller states, their electoral votes totaled just 102. The biggest consistent GOP state in this period has been Texas, with 38 electoral votes. Five other states backed the GOP nominee in five of the six elections, for an additional 56 electoral votes.

Adding together the states that voted Republican or Democratic in at least four of the six elections gave Democrats 281 electoral votes and Republicans 219. Only two states — Colorado and Florida, with a total of 38 electoral votes — were won three times for each party in those six elections.

Key states that were once genuine toss up states, or leaned Republican, are now much more reliably Democratic. “Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016,” according to Balz.

Will they succeed?

William H. Frey, a demographer and census expert at the Brookings Institution, analyzed nine key states and found the following: five—Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia—are definitely moving toward the Democrats because of their growing diversity. Three states—Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin—are genuine toss-ups but aren’t moving in the GOP’s direction. Ohio is one state that could become more hospitable to Republicans, because aging white baby boomers continue to make up a large part of the population there.

Beyond those nine states, Frey “sees some glimmers of hope for Republicans in Michigan and Pennsylvania, if the GOP can find the right candidate.” On the other hand, Frey envisions potential problems for the party in states such as Arizona and Georgia, which he said could be toss-ups by 2016 and could lean Democratic in the long run.

Balz includes the caveat that nothing is static in politics, candidate quality matters, and President Obama’s standing with the electorate will influence how people vote in 2016. Still, he concludes, “Republicans have considerable ground to recapture to win the presidency, and underlying trends have not been helping them.”

The danger for the GOP is that in focusing on 2014, it fails to do the work–in terms of policy reforms, governing vision, outreach, tone and countenance, and recruitment–that is necessary for it to win the presidency in 2016. It turns out that the 2010 mid-term election was something of a false dawn for Republicans, at least when it came to 2012. They would be fools to commit the same error again or underestimate the magnitude of the long-term challenges still facing the GOP.    

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Voter Enthusiasm Among GOP Rises

Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

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Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

The GOP-Democratic gap is actually less troubling for Obama than the rising enthusiasm among independent voters. What’s causing the trend? The next line in the CBS story might give you an idea:

As for the direction of the country, voters are growing increasingly more pessimistic, however.

Sixty-four percent of those polled think the country is on the wrong track, up from 62 percent in May.

At HotAir, Ed Morrissey raises another good, related point:

The big takeaway, though, is that 49 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents express increased enthusiasm for this election, while only 27 percent of Democrats say the same thing. If Obama’s attacks are depressing enthusiasm, it’s pretty clear whose enthusiasm he’s depressing. That was always the risk for a candidate whose main qualification for office was hope and change, and whose signature outcome has been economic stagnation.

This is particularly problematic for Obama because his reelection relies on him either getting his base out to the polls in greater numbers than in 2008 or winning over new supporters to make up for the ones he’s lost. It doesn’t look like he’s made headway in either area, according to this poll. Not only does this point to a troubling trend down the road, it also requires Obama to refigure his current talking points. As Politico’s Donovan Slack reports, the Obama campaign has tended to play up positive enthusiasm numbers to argue it’s in good shape for November.

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Adelson Threatens DCCC With Libel Suit

It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.

The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”

The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:

“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …

“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”

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It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.

The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”

The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:

“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …

“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”

I’m not usually a fan of libel suits, and there would be a high threshold to meet here as Adelson is a public figure. He might have a solid case for “actual malice” — that the statement was knowingly false and published with the intent to harm — particularly because the lightest bit of fact-checking by PolitiFact earned the DCCC a “pants on fire” label on a similar subsequent statement:

As our Ohio colleagues point out, the allegation that Adelson allowed prostitution at the Macau comes from a fired employee. The DCCC takes that claim and says money from prostitution was included in Adelson’s campaign contributions to GOP congressional incumbents — including Duffy.

There’s no evidence that Duffy received contributions from Adelson, and he has no control over contributions to groups that support him.

“The claim that Adelson’s donations to these other groups amount to ‘Chinese prostitution money’  is dubious enough that inserting the word ‘allegedly’ can’t save it,” PolitiFact Ohio wrote in its assessment.

That holds no matter what name is inserted into the cut-and-paste news release.

You can repeat a claim, but the smell of smoke remains the same. Pants on Fire.

At the very least, Adelson could cause some serious headaches for the DCCC. But would he really want to go through with the suit and open himself up to a discovery process by a group that has its claws out for him?

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Chief Justice’s Approval Rating Dives 40 Points With Republicans

Obviously Chief Justice John Roberts was going to take a hit in the polls after his ObamaCare decision — but a 40-point drop among Republicans? There’s no way he ever bounces back from this, right?

A Gallup poll released Monday found that Roberts’s favorables dropped 11 percentage points among all Americans since the last survey in September 2005. The most recent polling showed Roberts with 39 percent of national adults having a favorable opinion of him. In 2005, the same poll found that 50 percent of adults had a favorable view of the chief justice.

Among Republicans, Roberts’s drop has been more drastic. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Roberts in 2005, a figure which plummets 40 points to 27 percent in the 2012 survey. Four percent had an unfavorable view of the chief justice in 2005, jumping to 44 percent in the new poll.

Roberts’s betrayal wouldn’t have been as gut-wrenching if his decision had been based on principled arguments, even if they were wrong. The elevation of politics over principle made it much worse. He wasn’t just mistaken; he sold out his own side for political expediency. Americans have come to expect that from politicians, but not from the Supreme Court.

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Obviously Chief Justice John Roberts was going to take a hit in the polls after his ObamaCare decision — but a 40-point drop among Republicans? There’s no way he ever bounces back from this, right?

A Gallup poll released Monday found that Roberts’s favorables dropped 11 percentage points among all Americans since the last survey in September 2005. The most recent polling showed Roberts with 39 percent of national adults having a favorable opinion of him. In 2005, the same poll found that 50 percent of adults had a favorable view of the chief justice.

Among Republicans, Roberts’s drop has been more drastic. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Roberts in 2005, a figure which plummets 40 points to 27 percent in the 2012 survey. Four percent had an unfavorable view of the chief justice in 2005, jumping to 44 percent in the new poll.

Roberts’s betrayal wouldn’t have been as gut-wrenching if his decision had been based on principled arguments, even if they were wrong. The elevation of politics over principle made it much worse. He wasn’t just mistaken; he sold out his own side for political expediency. Americans have come to expect that from politicians, but not from the Supreme Court.

Republicans aren’t going to forgive Roberts anytime soon. But what about the other conservative justices on the Supreme Court who were reportedly furious with him?

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes, and according to a couple of justices, the rancor at the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of the Affordable Care Act decision probably won’t survive the summer.

“Everyone here does have the sense the institution is so much more important than the nine who are here at any point in time and we should not do anything to leave it in worse shape than it was in when we came on board,” one justice told the National Law Journal. “My guess is we’ll come back in the fall and have the opening conference and it will be almost the same. I would be very surprised if it’s otherwise.”

Another justice echoed those sentiments, for the most part. “The term always starts friendly and relaxed, and gets tense at the end when the most difficult cases pile up. It’s still collegial, but there is an overlay of frustration,” the NLJ reported a second justice as saying.

This seems much more intense than the usual “overlay of frustration.” Have there ever been this many leaks after a Supreme Court decision? That alone tells you the extent of the friction. Roberts didn’t just have a disagreement with his conservative colleagues; he basically threw them under the bus on what may be the defining case of his tenure.

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Health Care Vote Not Just for Show?

Some conservatives have complained that the House vote to repeal ObamaCare tomorrow is just for show and has no chance of passing the Senate or — even if it miraculously did — surviving a presidential veto. True, but so what? Many voters are just starting to tune in to the general election, and it’s worth getting the latest positions of House lawmakers on the record. For Democrats running in conservative districts, this could be the last shot to oppose the unpopular health care law before the election. For Republicans, it’s a chance to show they’re on the side of the majority of Americans who oppose ObamaCare.

And for the White House, it’s a potential political embarrassment, depending on how many Democrats switch over to the anti-ObamaCare side. The Hill reports:

Only three Democrats voted for repeal after the GOP took control of the House last year, but Republicans are confident they can add to this number on Wednesday in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the law is constitutional.

Already, one politically vulnerable Democrat, Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.), has said he will vote to repeal the health care law after opposing the same measure a year ago.

The GOP’s hope is that a strong House vote — and fresh Democratic opposition — will thwart the White House’s effort to boost political support for the law in light of the Court ruling, said one House Republican leadership aide. Conservatives complaining about symbolic votes are being unrealistic.

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Some conservatives have complained that the House vote to repeal ObamaCare tomorrow is just for show and has no chance of passing the Senate or — even if it miraculously did — surviving a presidential veto. True, but so what? Many voters are just starting to tune in to the general election, and it’s worth getting the latest positions of House lawmakers on the record. For Democrats running in conservative districts, this could be the last shot to oppose the unpopular health care law before the election. For Republicans, it’s a chance to show they’re on the side of the majority of Americans who oppose ObamaCare.

And for the White House, it’s a potential political embarrassment, depending on how many Democrats switch over to the anti-ObamaCare side. The Hill reports:

Only three Democrats voted for repeal after the GOP took control of the House last year, but Republicans are confident they can add to this number on Wednesday in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the law is constitutional.

Already, one politically vulnerable Democrat, Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.), has said he will vote to repeal the health care law after opposing the same measure a year ago.

The GOP’s hope is that a strong House vote — and fresh Democratic opposition — will thwart the White House’s effort to boost political support for the law in light of the Court ruling, said one House Republican leadership aide. Conservatives complaining about symbolic votes are being unrealistic.

ObamaCare isn’t going away unless President Obama is voted out of office, which means all the GOP can do at the moment is apply political pressure to Democrats and sympathize with voter anger about the law. Because House Democratic leaders are trying to change the subject away from health care, that means it’s probably working:

Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to portray the GOP as myopically focused on health care at the expense of the economy and other problems. The office of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a video mocking the vote by using the mantra employed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): “Where are the jobs?”

To refresh Pelosi’s memory, it wasn’t the Republicans who jammed through Obama’s health care law instead of focusing on job creation. Now that ObamaCare’s been spared by the Supreme Court, Democrats would prefer to ignore the unpopular law until after November. House votes like the one tomorrow won’t let them.

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GOP’s in a Wisconsin State of Mind

When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

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When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

Paul Ryan has taken the reins on budget issues for the GOP, but his public persona is inextricably tied to his proposed entitlement reforms, especially Medicare. Ryan’s ideas became the Republican Party’s budget. He became a standard-bearer at a level usually reserved for presidential nominees. (When Gingrich slammed Ryan’s proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” he was practically booed and hissed out of the race.) Ryan’s reforms became their own litmus test to see if conservative presidential candidates were “serious” about the country’s fiscal future.

And no one will soon forget the liberal reaction to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms–the deepest in the country. To avoid even voting on legislation, Democratic members of the state’s Senate fled Wisconsin to live in a hotel in Illinois. It didn’t exactly do wonders for the Democratic Party’s credibility, but neither did the DNC-organized protests; the nicest protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak, the less generous compared him to–who else–Hitler. In fact, Walker’s reforms were tough but smart, and have provided a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Fearing the effect of fiscal restraint on their taxpayer-financed largesse, the unions helped organize recall elections for state senators and Walker himself. The GOP survived, and so did the reforms.

And today at National Review Online, Katrina Trinko profiles Reince Priebus, the first-term Republican National Committee chair who has improved the party’s fundraising, kept a lower profile, and stayed more on-message than his predecessor. Priebus is also from Wisconsin.

So what is it about the Badger State? At first glance, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely laboratory for conservative reforms. It hasn’t thrown its electoral votes into the Republican column since 1984–though George W. Bush nearly nabbed the state in 2004. And though it has become more competitive in recent years, that should only make it less given to producing politicians willing to take the political risks Ryan and Walker have. Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly famous for political courage, so reformers take the risk of being demagogued into the ground–having their voters and their caucus scared off. But Wisconsin’s voters aren’t so easily bullied by unions either.

Wisconsin, then, is a peculiar kind of potential swing state. Wisconsin’s conservatives are not only enacting serious reforms, but are encouraging the national party to follow suit. (Compare this with Florida, where politicians walk a very careful line with regard to entitlement reform in an election year.) Is creative conservative reform the path to a Wisconsinite’s heart? Perhaps its liberal leanings have helped. Thompson’s reforms came just as the state was beginning to vote Democratic in presidential elections, and voters seemed to seek some kind of balance–the state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since Thompson became governor, but it has also only had one Democratic governor in that same time (Walker’s predecessor).

Whatever the reason, the success of Wisconsin’s reform-minded politicians suggests the country isn’t as resigned to a welfare state future as many fear. Even without a candidate in a presidential election year, the state remains at the center–and often sets the terms–of the debate.

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Younger Voters Turning Against Obama

Political cynicism is on the rise among young voters, and they’re directing it at President Obama and government in general. According to a spring Harvard Institute of Politics poll, and today’s New York Times report, 18 to 24-year-olds are far less likely to support President Obama than 25 to 29-year-olds, and they’re more likely to hold conservative tendencies:

Polls show that Americans under 30 are still inclined to support Mr. Obama by a wide margin. But the president may face a particular challenge among voters ages 18 to 24. In that group, his lead over Mitt Romney — 12 points — is about half of what it is among 25- to 29-year-olds, according to an online survey this spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics. And among whites in the younger group, Mr. Obama’s lead vanishes altogether.

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Political cynicism is on the rise among young voters, and they’re directing it at President Obama and government in general. According to a spring Harvard Institute of Politics poll, and today’s New York Times report, 18 to 24-year-olds are far less likely to support President Obama than 25 to 29-year-olds, and they’re more likely to hold conservative tendencies:

Polls show that Americans under 30 are still inclined to support Mr. Obama by a wide margin. But the president may face a particular challenge among voters ages 18 to 24. In that group, his lead over Mitt Romney — 12 points — is about half of what it is among 25- to 29-year-olds, according to an online survey this spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics. And among whites in the younger group, Mr. Obama’s lead vanishes altogether.

There is also a libertarian streak among the youngest voters that isn’t as apparent in the slightly older group:

Today, specifically, the youngest potential voters are more likely than their older peers to think it is important to protect individual liberties from government, the Harvard data suggest, and less likely to think it is important to tackle things like climate change, health care or immigration.

Mr. Tevlin, for instance, found the Supreme Court ruling upholding Mr. Obama’s health care law troubling.

“I don’t think the government should force you to buy anything,” he said.

The Times seems to blame the economy for this rise in libertarian sentiment, but there could be other causes. Due to the internet, smart phones, and other technology, youngest voters grew up in a culture that placed increasing emphasis on the individual. That could certainly have contributed to their more libertarian outlook, and gives Republicans an opening to reach out to these younger voters.

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Holder Found in Contempt of Congress

As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

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As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

The criminal charge isn’t the only avenue the House GOP is pursuing. They may be able to get some results through civil action, CNN reports:

House Republicans are well aware of this recent history, which helps explain the separate measure authorizing a civil action. That resolution, according to a GOP spokesman, would allow the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department’s failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration’s assertion of executive privilege.

Even then, it will take awhile before Republicans get any documents they may be owed — likely too long to matter in the upcoming election. But that doesn’t mean the White House is off the hook. Politically, this looks terrible. To have an attorney general held in contempt for withholding documents related to the murder of a border patrol officer is bad enough. To have a president who is seen as actively protecting this attorney general is much worse, particularly in an administration that already has a history of eschewing independent investigations.

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Can GOP Make Gains With Hispanic Voters?

Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

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Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

Is there room for Republican optimism? Maybe for future elections, but not a lot of it for this upcoming one. The poll reaffirmed previous studies that show registered Hispanic voters rate unemployment and the economy as higher voting priorities than immigration policies — a sign that Romney is right to focus on how Obama’s economic policies have hurt Hispanics. There also appears to be a generational shift that could give Republicans an opening to attract younger Hispanic voters in the future:

Still, Romney does twice as well among second-generation Latinos compared with immigrants. Among immigrant voters, just 18 percent support Romney. That number rises to 22 percent among the children of at least one immigrant parent and to 35 percent among Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for two generations or more.

Democratic pollster Margie Omero says she heard threads of “generational movement and shift” in a focus group of Hispanic women in Las Vegas this month that she helped run with Republican pollster Alex Bratty. The session was part of a series sponsored by Wal-Mart on middle-income women seen as swing voters and dubbed “Wal-Mart Moms.”

But Romney’s problem with Hispanic voters appears to be as much about the overall GOP brand as it is about him specifically. The Republican Party has very high unfavorables (58 percent with Hispanics born outside the U.S. and 61 percent with Hispanics born in the U.S.) and very low favorables (25 percent and 32 percent for the same categories). Of course it doesn’t help that he took a very strong stance against the DREAM Act during the primary. But the problem is about more than just Romney, and it’s not going to be solved in one election.

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What Scott Walker’s Victory Signals

Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his seven-point win against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was by a greater margin than in 2010 – will have profound national ramifications. It was a historic defeat for organized labor, and most especially public sector unions. They chose Wisconsin as the ground on which they would make their stand and make an example out of Walker. Instead, they were decimated. In addition, Walker instantly becomes a dominant political player in the GOP, as well as a model to other reform-minded governors. The loss will also drive a wedge between President Obama and organized labor, which cannot be pleased at the indifference Obama showed toward this race. (Tom Barrett was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2007.) The president wasn’t there when organized labor needed him. They are likely to return the favor in November.

When combined with the dismal jobs report on Friday, the news Monday that new orders for U.S. factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months, and the downward revision of economic growth in the first quarter (to 1.9 percent) – all of which signal that our weak economy is growing still weaker – Democrats must feel as though the walls are beginning to crash down around them.

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Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his seven-point win against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was by a greater margin than in 2010 – will have profound national ramifications. It was a historic defeat for organized labor, and most especially public sector unions. They chose Wisconsin as the ground on which they would make their stand and make an example out of Walker. Instead, they were decimated. In addition, Walker instantly becomes a dominant political player in the GOP, as well as a model to other reform-minded governors. The loss will also drive a wedge between President Obama and organized labor, which cannot be pleased at the indifference Obama showed toward this race. (Tom Barrett was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2007.) The president wasn’t there when organized labor needed him. They are likely to return the favor in November.

When combined with the dismal jobs report on Friday, the news Monday that new orders for U.S. factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months, and the downward revision of economic growth in the first quarter (to 1.9 percent) – all of which signal that our weak economy is growing still weaker – Democrats must feel as though the walls are beginning to crash down around them.

The epic 2010 mid-term election was foreshadowed by three races in particular – the victories by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey in November 2009 and Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts in January 2010. They were clear signals of what awaited Democrats in November 2010.

Scott Walker’s crushing win in Wisconsin – which occurred only 154 days before the presidential election — has a similar feel to it. Wisconsin ain’t Utah; it is the home of Robert La Follette and a state with a strong progressive tradition. Barack Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 and it hasn’t gone Republican since 1984. For Governor Walker to win by the margin he did, based on the agenda he’s enacted, is a sign that the political currents in America strongly favor conservatism and the GOP. Even in Wisconsin.

Intelligent Democrats know that. Which is why panic is spreading throughout their ranks this morning. They see another huge wave forming and growing. And right now, they have no idea how to avoid it.

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GOP Seeks to Avert Defense Cuts

I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.

The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

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I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.

The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

As the sequestration cuts fall disproportionately on defense (half the cuts slash defense spending even though it’s less than 20 percent of the overall federal budget), Democrats have every reason to sit back and allow the cuts to hit–unless Republicans cave on higher taxes, which they are unlikely to do. Thus, the odds grow of a “perfect storm” that will devastate the defense budget.

I am in the process of touring West Coast military installations–I was just in San Diego where I met with Navy SEALs and toured an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a Navy aviation maintenance plant, and Camp Pendleton, the West Coast home of the Marine Corps. Everywhere I saw what I have come to expect when visiting our military installations–superbly trained and motivated men and women doing incredible, often dangerous, and usually unheralded work to defend our republic. It  would be a tragedy not only for the U.S. but for the entire world if this first-class military, developed over decades and committed to expanding and preserving freedom around the globe, were to be wrecked overnight through a lack of political will in Congress. But that, alas, appears to be increasingly likely.

 

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NJDC’s False Claims About Eric Cantor

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”

Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:

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The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”

Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:

In an astonishing but brutally honest admission to Politico today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—the only Jewish Republican in Congress—openly discussed the challenges of anti-Semitism and racism confronted within the House Republican caucus, adopting his questioner’s labeling of it as the “darker side” of the caucus. National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris commented:

It’s both admirable and disturbing in the extreme to hear Majority Leader Cantor’s candid remarks regarding the dual challenges of racism and anti-Semitism that he has detected in the House GOP caucus. From the widespread use of abusive Holocaust rhetoric among House GOP members and candidates to behind-the-scenes skirmishes like Cantor’s own well-documented decision to oppose the reelection of Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) over his statement to Cantor that Cantor would not be ‘saved,’ there are clearly deep-seated problems within the GOP. The time has come for more GOP leaders to have Cantor’s courage to step forward, and for the GOP to start addressing the problem directly—with actions, not just words.

The NJDC’s claim is based on a Think Progress story from earlier today headlined “Cantor Suggests Anti-Semitism is a Problem Within the House GOP Caucus,” which blatantly misrepresented (even by TP’s usual standards of accuracy) the congressman’s comments this morning. At NRO, Patrick Brennan knocks down the story:

TP reported, “Calling it the ‘darker side,’ Cantor responded to Politico’s Mike Allen’s question of whether there is anti-Semitism in Congress by trying to avoid commenting.” While TP is understandably eager to portray the House GOP caucus as “the darker side,” they’re not just spinning his words, they’re lying: Cantor answered the question directly, and didn’t attempt to avoid comment. The fact that he eventually grew tired of Allen’s games and didn’t respond to the final needling can’t be taken as evidence that he actually believes the precise opposite of his initial, straightforward response — which is exactly what TP tries to do.

Cantor’s office said the unambiguous “no” the congressman gave in response to Allen’s question speaks for itself.

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Is the Gender-War Rhetoric Hurting GOP?

At the National Review, Heather Mac Donald calls on the Republican Party to cease and desist with the gender-discrimination claims, because they’re starting to sound like liberals:

The chance that the Obama White House, staffed by eager products of the feminist university, is a hostile workplace for women is exactly zero — as low as the chance that the Bush I, II, or Reagan White Houses were hostile to women. Any Republican who actually believes [former White House aide Anita] Dunn’s charge has merely allowed his partisan desire for political victory to silence what should be his core knowledge about the contemporary world. …

Equally dismaying is the RNC’s embrace of the charge that the Obama White House pays female aides less than male ones. Such disparate pay claims are of course bread and butter to the discrimination bar and are virtually always based on junk social science. But the likelihood that this particular employer — the immaculately “progressive” Obama White House — is discriminating against female employees of equal merit as males is just as crazy as the charge that Walmart, say, discriminates against qualified female employees in its own pay scale. Conservative critics of extortionist feminist legal claims cannot have it both ways — rightly decrying them when directed at free-market employers but embracing them when they are directed against political opponents.

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At the National Review, Heather Mac Donald calls on the Republican Party to cease and desist with the gender-discrimination claims, because they’re starting to sound like liberals:

The chance that the Obama White House, staffed by eager products of the feminist university, is a hostile workplace for women is exactly zero — as low as the chance that the Bush I, II, or Reagan White Houses were hostile to women. Any Republican who actually believes [former White House aide Anita] Dunn’s charge has merely allowed his partisan desire for political victory to silence what should be his core knowledge about the contemporary world. …

Equally dismaying is the RNC’s embrace of the charge that the Obama White House pays female aides less than male ones. Such disparate pay claims are of course bread and butter to the discrimination bar and are virtually always based on junk social science. But the likelihood that this particular employer — the immaculately “progressive” Obama White House — is discriminating against female employees of equal merit as males is just as crazy as the charge that Walmart, say, discriminates against qualified female employees in its own pay scale. Conservative critics of extortionist feminist legal claims cannot have it both ways — rightly decrying them when directed at free-market employers but embracing them when they are directed against political opponents.

Mac Donald is right. It’s obviously tempting for Republicans to try to score political chips by playing the gender card, but the Romney campaign has to be careful not to undermine years of conservative arguments – and essentially kosherize fake gender discrimination claims – by doing so.

That said, conservatives should still raise issues like the White House pay wage gap and female unemployment claims as a way to contradict fake liberal outrage rather than try to top it. It’s a matter of hypocrisy. If the Obama campaign is going to argue Republicans are anti-women based on their criticism of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, then conservatives are right to point out that Obama’s own White House doesn’t live up to his own equal-pay standards.

Does this mean the Obama White House is anti-women? Of course not. But force the president try to explain the incongruity between his rhetoric and reality. He won’t be able to, unless he’s actually honest and admits that the gender wage gap (as far as it actually still exists) isn’t based on gender discrimination by employers, but on the fact that women and men (on average) tend to seek out different career choices and paths.

That was the point conservatives were trying to make by turning Obama’s gender pay gap into an issue. But when the RNC and the Romney campaign seize on these stories to try to play to the generic “women’s vote,” it destroys the message.

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Obama’s Poll Troubles Suggest His 2012 Strategy Is Backfiring

The fallout from two major polls yesterday—Washington Post/ABC and New York Times/CBS—finding measurable and significant drops in support for Barack Obama nationwide during the past month has instantly changed the national conversation. Obama is in trouble, and there’s no pretending he isn’t. One poll might have been viewed as an outlier, but two polls taken around the same time with the same sample size of American adults can’t be dismissed as statistical noise. In the New York Post today, in a column written before the release of the NYT/CBS survey, I suggest the media focus on macroeconomic good news is blinding commentators (many of whom wish to be blinded) to facts of American life that can’t be so easily measured. People will not be convinced that they should feel better than they do about their current financial condition and the prospects for the future by assurances about a positive change in the unemployment rate that says nothing about what’s going on with the value of their house and the cost of oil at the pump.

But I want to propose another possibility for Obama’s troubles: His political and tactical strategy for 2012 may be backfiring on him. He has decided, for obvious reasons, to do what he can to highlight the differences between him and the Republicans at every turn, most notably in the recent “contraceptive health” debate. He’s trying to polarize the debate (while making it seem the GOP is doing it), to draw sharp lines of distinction between him and the Republicans; it’s a classic strategy when you can’t run a good-news campaign. And yet this may be the worst possible time for such an effort. Time and again during the past year, Obama has decided to go to the American people with this story to tell: I can’t work with these lunatics. And every time he does—during and after the debt-ceiling debacle in particular—he and his supporters are surprised to find the public assigns him a considerable portion of the blame for the inability to strike deals and move forward.

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The fallout from two major polls yesterday—Washington Post/ABC and New York Times/CBS—finding measurable and significant drops in support for Barack Obama nationwide during the past month has instantly changed the national conversation. Obama is in trouble, and there’s no pretending he isn’t. One poll might have been viewed as an outlier, but two polls taken around the same time with the same sample size of American adults can’t be dismissed as statistical noise. In the New York Post today, in a column written before the release of the NYT/CBS survey, I suggest the media focus on macroeconomic good news is blinding commentators (many of whom wish to be blinded) to facts of American life that can’t be so easily measured. People will not be convinced that they should feel better than they do about their current financial condition and the prospects for the future by assurances about a positive change in the unemployment rate that says nothing about what’s going on with the value of their house and the cost of oil at the pump.

But I want to propose another possibility for Obama’s troubles: His political and tactical strategy for 2012 may be backfiring on him. He has decided, for obvious reasons, to do what he can to highlight the differences between him and the Republicans at every turn, most notably in the recent “contraceptive health” debate. He’s trying to polarize the debate (while making it seem the GOP is doing it), to draw sharp lines of distinction between him and the Republicans; it’s a classic strategy when you can’t run a good-news campaign. And yet this may be the worst possible time for such an effort. Time and again during the past year, Obama has decided to go to the American people with this story to tell: I can’t work with these lunatics. And every time he does—during and after the debt-ceiling debacle in particular—he and his supporters are surprised to find the public assigns him a considerable portion of the blame for the inability to strike deals and move forward.

The president knows the public loathes Washington, and so he has decided to run against Washington. This is usually a Republican strategy and for a good reason—Republican politicians do generally hew to the belief that the federal government is too big and too intrusive and needs to be checked. Barack Obama has presided over the most rapid growth in the size and power of the federal government since the Second World War. He has empowered Washington, and everyone knows it.

He can’t get away with blaming Washington’s ineffectuality and division on the other guys because he is the candidate of Washington. If you want more government—more safety net, more redistribution, more restrictions on the rights of mediating institutions like religious-run charities and hospitals for the purpose of expanding your definition of freedom—Barack Obama is your man. For him to turn around and effectively tell the electorate, “I hate this town like you do, so reelect me because I share your values,” is, to put it mildly, not credible. And there’s this as well: If we’ve spent weeks talking about contraception, which seems to driving everyone bonkers, who’s responsible for that?

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How Republicans are Losing Control of the Contraception Debate

The fight about the Obamacare provision requiring Catholic organizations and hospitals to provide employees with birth control could have been a major boost for Republicans. It was an opportunity to simultaneously attack the unpopular health care law, defend religious freedom, and make the case against Big Government overreach.

But somewhere along the way, the debate about religious freedom started shifting into one about the merits of birth control. It’s a debate social conservatives can’t win, since they already lost it about four decades ago – which is exactly why Democrats are so eager to rehash it.

How did the GOP lose control of the narrative so badly?

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The fight about the Obamacare provision requiring Catholic organizations and hospitals to provide employees with birth control could have been a major boost for Republicans. It was an opportunity to simultaneously attack the unpopular health care law, defend religious freedom, and make the case against Big Government overreach.

But somewhere along the way, the debate about religious freedom started shifting into one about the merits of birth control. It’s a debate social conservatives can’t win, since they already lost it about four decades ago – which is exactly why Democrats are so eager to rehash it.

How did the GOP lose control of the narrative so badly?

First, blame the media, which is always willing to do the Democrats’ heavy lifting on social issues (case in point: Darrell Issa’s hearing on religious freedom and the birth control mandate last week snowballed into a fake “scandal”about the lack of women on his first panel).

But Rick Santorum’s long-time opposition to birth control, and his newfound prominence in the primary race, has also helped Democrats take hold of the narrative, by presenting them with the perfect “anti-contraception” boogeyman.

It’s not Santorum’s fault. He’s gamely trying to stick to the real issue – religious freedom for Catholic employers – while pointing out that he has no intention of banning birth control. But he also responded to questions about his own personal views on contraceptives last week. And his comments don’t just put him at odds with most Americans, they’re also helping fuel the Democrat-and-media-manufactured dispute about the merits of birth control access.

Democrats are winning the debate by changing it to one that Republicans never even wanted to have and have no chance of winning. If the GOP wants to get back to the real debate about religious freedom, they’ll have to stop taking the bait on the contraception question. It’s a losing issue.

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NY Times Calls Gingrich “Useful Obama Surrogate”

Who benefits the most from Newt Gingrich’s class warfare-themed attacks on Mitt Romney in Florida? According to a New York Times report, it might be the Obama campaign, which has been sitting back while Gingrich blasts Romney on everything from his low tax rate to his time at Bain Capital:

In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has had a useful surrogate in Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who has accused Mr. Romney of destroying jobs while at Bain and pressured him to release his tax returns.

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Who benefits the most from Newt Gingrich’s class warfare-themed attacks on Mitt Romney in Florida? According to a New York Times report, it might be the Obama campaign, which has been sitting back while Gingrich blasts Romney on everything from his low tax rate to his time at Bain Capital:

In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has had a useful surrogate in Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who has accused Mr. Romney of destroying jobs while at Bain and pressured him to release his tax returns.

The extent to which Gingrich has picked up the language of the left is astonishing – and it actually appears to be effective so far with Republican voters. Newt continues to climb in the polls, and now leads Romney by seven percent nationally. While criticizing Romney’s immigration stance in Florida today, Gingrich’s lines sounded like something you’d hear from Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

When asked about Romney’s position on immigration, Gingrich said that deporting all undocumented immigrants is unrealistic.

“You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and making $20 million for no work, to have some fantasy this far from reality,” Gingrich said.

Here’s a depressing thought: Whether or not Gingrich wins the nomination, is he helping to reinvigorate a populist, anti-business, suspicious-of-the-rich strain in the conservative movement, just in time for Obama’s reelection campaign? And if even Republican voters are now persuaded by attacks on low taxes and creative destruction, then how much hope is there the GOP can win over independents?

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Senate Republicans Turn Against SOPA/PIPA

Today’s Internet blackout protesting the SOPA/PIPA bills – which would allow the federal government to shut down accused copyright violators online without due process – is already making an impact. Legislators who support the bills are being barraged with angry phone calls, and this morning Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his co-sponsorship of the PIPA legislation:

I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.

However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies. …

Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.

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Today’s Internet blackout protesting the SOPA/PIPA bills – which would allow the federal government to shut down accused copyright violators online without due process – is already making an impact. Legislators who support the bills are being barraged with angry phone calls, and this morning Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his co-sponsorship of the PIPA legislation:

I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.

However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies. …

Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.

This comes after six Republican senators sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid distancing themselves from the bill and asking him to postpone the vote:

“We have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights,” said Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in the letter.

Sens. Cornyn, Sessions and Coburn previously backed the bill, and Sens. Grassley and Hatch are co-sponsors.

The new opposition to SOPA/PIPA could delay a floor vote, especially because high-profile defections might encourage others to abandon the bill as well. Other Republicans who came out against SOPA/PIPA today include Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Paul Ryan.

However, there’s still plenty of bipartisan support for the bill, which is well-intentioned but potentially disastrous for websites. The law would allow a copyright holder to receive an injunction against a website for intellectual property theft. Currently, the burden of proof is on the copyright holder – he has to provide evidence that a website has stolen his intellectual property before legal action can be taken. The law would shift the burden of proof onto the accused website, which would have to provide evidence that it didn’t commit theft.

Anyone who writes for a living understands the necessity of intellectual copyright laws, and there are real problems with foreign companies – I’m looking at China – stealing intellectual property under the radar of current law enforcement mechanisms. But it’s not difficult to see how SOPA/PIPA could have unintended consequences that create devastating problems for websites.

The PIPA bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, and it’s currently cosponsored by the following senators:

Sen Alexander, Lamar [TN]
Sen Ayotte, Kelly [NH]
Sen Bennet, Michael F. [CO]
Sen Bingaman, Jeff [NM]
Sen Blumenthal, Richard [CT]
Sen Blunt, Roy [MO]
Sen Boozman, John [AR]
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA]
Sen Brown, Sherrod [OH]
Sen Cardin, Benjamin L. [MD]
Sen Casey, Robert P., Jr. [PA]
Sen Chambliss, Saxby [GA]
Sen Cochran, Thad [MS]
Sen Coons, Christopher A. [DE]
Sen Corker, Bob [TN]
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL]
Sen Enzi, Michael B. [WY]
Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA]

Sen Franken, Al [MN]

Sen Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [NY]
Sen Graham, Lindsey [SC]

Sen Grassley, Chuck [IA]
Sen Hagan, Kay [NC]
Sen Hatch, Orrin G. [UT]
Sen Isakson, Johnny [GA]
Sen Johnson, Tim [SD]
Sen Klobuchar, Amy [MN]
Sen Kohl, Herb [WI]
Sen Landrieu, Mary L. [LA]
Sen Lieberman, Joseph I. [CT]
Sen McCain, John [AZ]
Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ]
Sen Nelson, Bill [FL]
Sen Risch, James E. [ID]
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY]
Sen Shaheen, Jeanne [NH]
Sen Udall, Tom [NM]
Sen Vitter, David [LA]
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon [RI]

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“Inside the Beltway” Talk About Gingrich

For a time, conservatives who were critical of Newt Gingrich were dismissed as the GOP “establishment,” the “ruling class,” and inauthentic conservatives. The argument was that opposition to Gingrich wasn’t a good faith one; it was instead based on a desire of people living “inside the Beltway” to ingratiate themselves with the liberal political class. Oh, and they also wanted to be invited to – check that, they desperately wanted to be invited to — Georgetown cocktail parties.

But lo and behold, what do you know? Some of those who once attacked the establishment for being critical of Gingrich are now finding themselves leveling sharp attacks on, you guessed it, Newt Gingrich (for Gingrich’s attacks on Bain Capital). I guess that makes them card-carrying members of the much-maligned GOP establishment.

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For a time, conservatives who were critical of Newt Gingrich were dismissed as the GOP “establishment,” the “ruling class,” and inauthentic conservatives. The argument was that opposition to Gingrich wasn’t a good faith one; it was instead based on a desire of people living “inside the Beltway” to ingratiate themselves with the liberal political class. Oh, and they also wanted to be invited to – check that, they desperately wanted to be invited to — Georgetown cocktail parties.

But lo and behold, what do you know? Some of those who once attacked the establishment for being critical of Gingrich are now finding themselves leveling sharp attacks on, you guessed it, Newt Gingrich (for Gingrich’s attacks on Bain Capital). I guess that makes them card-carrying members of the much-maligned GOP establishment.

It all gets so darn confusing. Perhaps this matter can be sorted out while having brie and chablis with Andrea Mitchell, Diane Rehm, and Bob Schieffer at the next party hosted by Donald Graham.

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The Not-So-Weak GOP Frontrunner

For a man who is, we’re told, an incredibly weak frontrunner, Mitt Romney is doing a pretty good job disguising himself as a strong one.

The former Massachusetts governor has proven to be an excellent debater. He’s assembled a first-rate team. He can raise a lot of money. And he showed last night that he can give a very good speech. Romney is the only candidate who a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an acceptable GOP nominee for president. But most importantly, Romney has shown he can win.

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For a man who is, we’re told, an incredibly weak frontrunner, Mitt Romney is doing a pretty good job disguising himself as a strong one.

The former Massachusetts governor has proven to be an excellent debater. He’s assembled a first-rate team. He can raise a lot of money. And he showed last night that he can give a very good speech. Romney is the only candidate who a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an acceptable GOP nominee for president. But most importantly, Romney has shown he can win.

Governor Romney is the first Republican, other than a sitting president, to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s ahead in South Carolina and Florida. And he may effectively lock up the nomination by the end of this month, earlier than any non-incumbent has ever done. The rap on Mitt Romney four years ago was that he did much better in polls than he did in elections. That isn’t the case this year, at least thus far.

Romney has vulnerabilities for sure, all of which have been discussed many times. But in some respects that makes the point, doesn’t it? They exist, but so far, they haven’t cost him.

Remember how RomneyCare was supposed to be political kryptonite in this year’s GOP race? Not so. The line of attack adopted by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry has reduced them to sounding like a couple of aging Occupy Wall Street protesters. Tim Pawlenty was going to be Romney without the baggage? The Minnesota governor dropped out of the race last August. Romney doesn’t inspire the right wing? Perhaps, but he’s making himself acceptable to it. There is no McCain or Huntsman-like reflex to stick a finger in the eye of conservatives or to speak down to them. And they, in turn, are becoming increasingly comfortable with Romney. And while there’s no question Romney is fortunate he faces such a weak field, that’s not his fault or his doing. All he can do is compete against the candidates who show up. And right now, Romney is dominating them. That counts for something.

Now for the qualifiers: any judgment about Romney as a candidate is, at this stage, preliminary. The voting has barely begun. Political currents can shift suddenly and dramatically (ask Newt Gingrich, who just last month led in the polls by double figures in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida). And particularly if Romney becomes the nominee, he’ll be tested and tested again. Running for president is a brutal process. Among the challenges for Romney will be to resist the temptation to pretend he’s something he’s not, which can easily happen to candidates. Self-knowledge – what you do well and what you don’t; who you are and who you are not – is a priceless gift in politics, as in life itself. My sense is that who Romney is — a very intelligent, able, data-driven, steady, and disciplined man, able to prosecute his case, running as a center-right candidate in a center-right country – is quite enough to reassure Republican voters and, later, the American electorate.

If you look at the political calendar, the GOP primary is a long way from over. Yet if you look at the dynamics of the race so far, and the underlying realities, we may be nearing a denouement. In January. Just weeks after the first vote in Iowa was cast. A full seven months before the GOP convention. We’ll know much more after the January 21 primary in South Carolina and the January 31 primary in Florida. But if what I’ve outlined in fact happens – and it’s certainly in the realm of the possible and getting close to being in the realm of the likely – we can probably all agree that it wouldn’t be a half-bad achievement for an incredibly weak frontrunner.

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