Commentary Magazine


Topic: Karl Rove

Midterm Sour Grapes, Tea Party Edition

Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling gloomy today. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party will retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House, some Tea Party conservatives look around the country at the GOP’s roster of candidates and say they’ve been cheated. Rather than win by nominating hard-core right-wingers wherever possible, the party has, instead, put forward a more mainstream electoral cast including many that have been labeled, whether fairly or unfairly, as establishment types. That leads people like Erick Erickson to label today’s results a “hollow victory” in a Politico Magazine article. But while many Tea Partiers may share some of his frustration about the GOP establishment, they should reject his reflexive disgust and embrace this opportunity to not only act as a break on the Obama administration’s liberal agenda but to actually govern.

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Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling gloomy today. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party will retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House, some Tea Party conservatives look around the country at the GOP’s roster of candidates and say they’ve been cheated. Rather than win by nominating hard-core right-wingers wherever possible, the party has, instead, put forward a more mainstream electoral cast including many that have been labeled, whether fairly or unfairly, as establishment types. That leads people like Erick Erickson to label today’s results a “hollow victory” in a Politico Magazine article. But while many Tea Partiers may share some of his frustration about the GOP establishment, they should reject his reflexive disgust and embrace this opportunity to not only act as a break on the Obama administration’s liberal agenda but to actually govern.

Let’s concede that Erickson and other Tea Partiers are not crazy to be suspicious about the Republican leadership. They remember what happened the last time the GOP had control of both houses of Congress. The reason there is a Tea Party movement is due to the fact that during the George W. Bush administration, the party was rightly perceived to have embraced a tax-and-spend mentality that helped dig the country a hole that it has not yet climbed out of. The pointless discussions about who is a RINO (Republican in name only) inevitably descend into tests of purity whose aim is to demonstrate which conservatives are holier than anyone else. Yet the question of who is a big-government Republican is a serious one that should influence the new freshman class of Senators and Representatives to avoid the mistakes made during the reign of error presided over by former Speaker Denny Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

But Erickson’s animus seems not to be so much focused on whether the next Republican majority will avoid the temptations of big government and resume spending like drunken sailors as it is on those that sought to avoid the kind of disasters that cost the party golden opportunities to win the Senate in 2010 and 2012. Erickson is still angry with national Republican political consultants such as Karl Rove and people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who worked hard to recruit Senate candidates based on whether they could win rather than on their conservative purity. The result was that Tea Party insurgents in states like Kansas and Mississippi were defeated and establishment Republicans won.

Not all of these decisions were wise. Certainly, the GOP must look back at the effort to ensure that Pat Roberts was given the party’s Senate nomination rather than a Tea Party rebel with some mixed feelings. Roberts is the poster child for out-of-touch incumbents who richly deserve to be retired rather than given a ticket for another six years in Washington. If Roberts loses his Kansas seat today—especially if the GOP falls one seat short of a majority—Tea Partiers will never let the establishment live that one down. Conservatives also still have hard feelings over the way the party leadership went all-out to save incumbent Thad Cochran in Mississippi even though he is another senator that grew roots in D.C. and replacing him as a nominee would not have cost the party the seat.

Erickson also takes a shot at Thom Tillis in North Carolina and David Perdue in Georgia. Both are not incumbents but still represent an establishment mentality that provides voters with unattractive choices rather than a fresh and principled conservative alternative.

This critique is consistent with the theme we’ve heard from many conservatives about the pitfalls of Republicans nominating so-called moderates for president like John McCain or Mitt Romney. This thesis holds that the party alienates its base and creates millions of missing Republican voters by putting forward certain losers without the passion of true conservatives. To that indictment, Erickson adds that this is largely the fault of consultants who profit handsomely from such losses.

There is something to be said for the argument that merely nominating respectable losers does nothing to advance the conservative cause or to stop the growth of the big-government monster that is devouring the U.S. economy and stealing more of our individual freedom every year. But the idea that the only choice before the GOP is between nominating fat cat losers and principled conservative winners is, like the straw men that President Obama likes to use as his favorite rhetorical device, a false choice. What Republicans need is not so much Tea Party fervor as it is political skill.

What Hastert and the K Street caucus that profited from past Republican majorities taught us is that Republicans need to be about more than just attempts to buy votes with government pork. But in 2010 and 2012, the right also taught it that putting forward candidates who can’t win the support of a majority of voters isn’t too smart either. Without the Tea Party insisting on nominating Sharron Angle for a Nevada race, Harry Reid would have been defeated in 2010. Nor should anyone on the right forget that putting forward Christine O’Donnell rather than a respectable GOP moderate ensured that the Democrats would win a seat in Delaware that they are likely to hold for a long time. The disdain for national leaders attempting to vet Senate candidates also seems absurd given what happened in Missouri when Rep. Todd Akin (an extreme social conservative rather than a Tea Partier) not only threw away a certain defeat of Democrat Claire McCaskill but also tarnished the Republican brand around the nation with his idiotic comments about rape and pregnancy.

These lessons should be remembered even when we look at what seem like reasonable criticisms of the establishment by Erickson. While re-nominating Roberts and even Cochran may be classified as unforced errors, what he’s leaving out of the discussion is the very real possibility that loose cannons such as Milton Wolf and Chris McDaniel might have sunk the party. In particular, it can be argued that keeping McDaniel, a former radio talker with a paper trail of wild comments a mile long, out of the general election might have been the smartest thing the GOP did all year since he might have been the 2014 version of Akin.

The question of what Republicans do with their majority if they win it is something we’ll find out in 2015. But you can’t govern without winning elections and that is something the Tea Party hasn’t always mastered. Too often, some of them seem more interested in fighting and destroying their slightly less conservative party opponents than in beating Democrats and then governing. Sour grapes from Tea Partiers about “hollow victories” strikes me as being just as absurd as the excuses already put forward by Democrats about why they are losing this election. If Rove, McConnell, and Co. have stopped them from blowing up another chance for a Republican majority, that is something that even the most dedicated conservatives should be celebrating tonight.

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Re: NY Times Partially Vindicates Bush on WMD

A recent New York Times article reported that the United States found roughly 5,000 old but dangerous chemical weapons in Iraq. The author, C.J. Chivers, claims the Bush administration covered up these discoveries because the old weapons ran counter to administration claims about active Iraqi WMD programs. As I noted a couple days ago, the Bush administration had always maintained that Saddam Hussein’s old undeclared chemical weapons were part of the threat that needed addressing. On that point, the Times has proved Bush correct. But here’s who it proved wrong: the UN.

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A recent New York Times article reported that the United States found roughly 5,000 old but dangerous chemical weapons in Iraq. The author, C.J. Chivers, claims the Bush administration covered up these discoveries because the old weapons ran counter to administration claims about active Iraqi WMD programs. As I noted a couple days ago, the Bush administration had always maintained that Saddam Hussein’s old undeclared chemical weapons were part of the threat that needed addressing. On that point, the Times has proved Bush correct. But here’s who it proved wrong: the UN.

A USA Today article from 2004 states: “A report from U.N. weapons inspectors to be released today says they now believe there were no weapons of mass destruction of any significance in Iraq after 1994[.]” That report represented a doubling down on the UN’s previous position that Saddam had no active WMD programs, but might still have had unaccounted for chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Americans were beginning to discover and suffer harm from those nonexistent weapons. So much for the reliability of UN inspections.

At the Daily Beast, Eli Lake reports that Karl Rove was the main figure behind the Bush administration’s low-key approach to finding Saddam’s old WMD. The article makes clear three important points. First, many Republicans and Iraq War supporters desperately wanted the administration to go public about the weapons because their discovery constituted an intelligence victory.

Second, according to Dick Cheney’s former advisor David Wurmser, when the WMD were initially uncovered, the administration “quite properly asked it be kept quiet until they track down the source of the weapons so that they can secure it and not tip off Sunni insurgents to go and retrieve them themselves.” Good policy.

Third, as time passed, the administration thought it imprudent to venture a victory lap over this partial victory. In Wurmser’s account, Karl Rove said, “Let these sleeping dogs lie; we have lost that fight so better not to remind anyone of it.” To what fight was Rove referring? It was obviously not the fight over the WMD Saddam was hiding. Indeed, as Lake notes, Wurmser,  Rick Santorum, and others were incensed because they wanted this accomplishment to be well known.  No, the administration had lost the fight over the public perception of the war and of the reasons behind it. The antiwar side, including the UN, had successfully revised history in order to pronounce anything but the discovery of an active WMD program a failure. So while Saddam’s old chemical weapons had always been one casus belli, the public had become disinterested. (Similarly, even though Bush’s freedom agenda had been a fundamental element of Iraq’s liberation from the start, the antiwar crowd managed to paint that as an insincere ad-hoc cause once no WMD programs were found.) Was the administration correct in downplaying the chemical weapons? It’s hard to say. With so much else going wrong in Iraq at the time, boasting about this one issue would probably not have played well. But this was no “covered-up” mistake; it was a quiet achievement.

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Hillary’s Rules of Engagement for 2016

It’s doubtful that anyone who watched the cringe-inducing moment on Election Night 2012 when Karl Rove refused to believe President Obama had won Ohio would ever again think of the veteran strategist as a political genius. Rove, whose guru status was earned by piloting George W. Bush’s ascent to the presidency and managing his reelection, is still a major player in GOP politics with an influential PAC and is a regular presence in the media. But his ham-handed effort to raise the question of Hillary Clinton’s health damaged him more than it did her. Though everyone agrees that a presidential candidate’s health is fair game for comment, the blowback from the New York Post’s Page Six report of remarks he made about her having possible “brain damage” isn’t likely to convince anyone not to vote for the former secretary of state and first lady and made it harder to take Rove seriously as an analyst.

But that’s not the spin coming from much of the left today. Rather than merely joining much of the mainstream media including a number of leading conservative voices in scratching their heads at Rove’s poor judgment, liberals are using his gaffe not so much to defend Clinton but to prepare the ground for a general counter-offensive against any criticism of the likely Democratic candidate for president in 2016. According to Peter Beinart, Rove’s comments were just the latest example of his “dirty tricks.” Raising Hillary’s health in this manner was, he thought, a calculated attempt to smear the Democrat favorite.

While Beinart is right to note that “defining” one’s opponent in a pejorative fashion has become an integral part of American politics, the furious pushback from Clinton’s camp and the universal outrage from liberals about Rove’s temerity in even discussing any possible flaws in her armor smacks of something other than high-minded disdain for gutter politics. If Rove’s comments were, as Beinart suggests, among the first shots fired in the 2016 campaign, it appears most of the bullets are flying not at the Democrat but at her detractors. Like the outrage on the left about the notion of Clinton being forced to answer questions about Benghazi or why she failed to designate the Boko Haram Islamists as terrorists two years ago, the main point to be gleaned from this dustup is not the nastiness of the GOP but a strategy in which any and all criticism of Clinton is viewed as just another dastardly instance of a Republican war on women.

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It’s doubtful that anyone who watched the cringe-inducing moment on Election Night 2012 when Karl Rove refused to believe President Obama had won Ohio would ever again think of the veteran strategist as a political genius. Rove, whose guru status was earned by piloting George W. Bush’s ascent to the presidency and managing his reelection, is still a major player in GOP politics with an influential PAC and is a regular presence in the media. But his ham-handed effort to raise the question of Hillary Clinton’s health damaged him more than it did her. Though everyone agrees that a presidential candidate’s health is fair game for comment, the blowback from the New York Post’s Page Six report of remarks he made about her having possible “brain damage” isn’t likely to convince anyone not to vote for the former secretary of state and first lady and made it harder to take Rove seriously as an analyst.

But that’s not the spin coming from much of the left today. Rather than merely joining much of the mainstream media including a number of leading conservative voices in scratching their heads at Rove’s poor judgment, liberals are using his gaffe not so much to defend Clinton but to prepare the ground for a general counter-offensive against any criticism of the likely Democratic candidate for president in 2016. According to Peter Beinart, Rove’s comments were just the latest example of his “dirty tricks.” Raising Hillary’s health in this manner was, he thought, a calculated attempt to smear the Democrat favorite.

While Beinart is right to note that “defining” one’s opponent in a pejorative fashion has become an integral part of American politics, the furious pushback from Clinton’s camp and the universal outrage from liberals about Rove’s temerity in even discussing any possible flaws in her armor smacks of something other than high-minded disdain for gutter politics. If Rove’s comments were, as Beinart suggests, among the first shots fired in the 2016 campaign, it appears most of the bullets are flying not at the Democrat but at her detractors. Like the outrage on the left about the notion of Clinton being forced to answer questions about Benghazi or why she failed to designate the Boko Haram Islamists as terrorists two years ago, the main point to be gleaned from this dustup is not the nastiness of the GOP but a strategy in which any and all criticism of Clinton is viewed as just another dastardly instance of a Republican war on women.

In 2012 Democrats devoted more effort to smearing Mitt Romney than in defending Obama’s poor record as president. It worked, as by the time voters went to the polls that November Romney, who is one of the most decent men to run for the presidency in recent memory, had been tarred as a rapacious capitalist as well as a high school bully and a man who tied his dog to the roof of his car. That Republicans failed to defend him adequately or to highlight what a mensch he actually was is to their discredit. But perhaps their real mistake was in acting as if those attempting to cut him down had a right to do so.

Clinton’s defenders are, however, not making that mistake.

While paying lip service to the notion that the health of presidential candidates is fair game, the counterattack to Rove’s remarks has not been so much about the inaccuracy of the Post’s quotes (and Rove says he was misquoted) but to depict him as a bully who is cleverly (!) trying to intimidate the Democrat frontrunner. If Rove’s decision to inject Hillary’s health into the political discussion was as premeditated as liberals assert, neither is it an accident that the left is so determined to squelch even the merest hint of a debate about any potential problem for Clinton.

Rather than stick to the facts about her health—which I hope is as good as her spokesman says it is—or to claim that she made no mistakes on Benghazi or Boko Haram, not to mention the other terrible blunders she committed as secretary of state like the Russia reset, Clinton’s defenders are doing something different. What we are witnessing now is proof that they are prepared to answer any attacks with a scorched earth approach that will make any mainstream conservative think twice before trying to muss up her hair, let alone make a point about her supposedly glittering resume for high office. Anyone making any attack on her, whether reasoned or as goofy as Rove’s comments, will be the subject of the kind of opprobrium that was once only leveled at other candidates.

What Democrats are doing now is to establish rules of engagement that will insulate Clinton in much the same manner that Obama was protected by charging his opponents with racism no matter what the substance of their criticism. Though Rove doesn’t deserve much sympathy, his demolition is a warning shot fired at the GOP to show that all criticism of Hillary will be treated as a dirty trick or a sexist assault on the first female president.

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Can Christie Win With the Bush Formula?

Chris Christie appeared at the recent meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston to tell them about how his administration in New Jersey is a model for how Republicans can both govern and win elections. If it seemed familiar, it should, since he used his prime time television spot at last summer’s GOP convention to make some of the same points. But if there is any model that Christie is following these days, it appears to be the one dreamed up by Karl Rove that led George W. Bush to the presidency. Christie’s establishment of a national fundraising network was the lede of a story on him in yesterday’s New York Times. That’s an important element of his gubernatorial reelection that shows just how formidable a presidential contender he could be in 2016. But the even more significant development is the aspect that bears a striking resemblance to George W. Bush’s campaign for reelection as governor of Texas in 1998 and his subsequent successful run for the presidency. As the Times reports:

Senior Republicans who are familiar with Mr. Christie’s strategy say it is most closely modeled after Mr. Bush’s bid in 1998 for re-election as governor of Texas. The parallels are clear. Mr. Bush was considered a shoo-in for re-election to the governor’s office, but he and Mr. Rove became determined to win over Hispanic and black voters to demonstrate the governor’s broad appeal to a national audience. Mr. Bush won that race, with 68 percent of the vote, which included more than a third of the Hispanic vote, offering him a powerful credential when he ran for president two years later as “a different kind of Republican.”

This summer, Mr. Christie established a bilingual campaign office in Paterson, N.J., and spent $275,000 on a Spanish-language television ad. He has also announced a Hispanics for Christie coalition and is now running even among Hispanic voters against Ms. Buono, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released 10 days ago.

While Christie’s truculent personality will make it a bit harder to sell him to the public as the “compassionate conservative” that Bush was depicted as being, this is exactly the sort of candidate that Republicans who hope to improve on their increasingly poor showings with minorities and independents want. But the question for both Christie and the GOP is whether the party’s conservative base will interpret this outreach as a form of “treason” rather than commonsense politics.

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Chris Christie appeared at the recent meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston to tell them about how his administration in New Jersey is a model for how Republicans can both govern and win elections. If it seemed familiar, it should, since he used his prime time television spot at last summer’s GOP convention to make some of the same points. But if there is any model that Christie is following these days, it appears to be the one dreamed up by Karl Rove that led George W. Bush to the presidency. Christie’s establishment of a national fundraising network was the lede of a story on him in yesterday’s New York Times. That’s an important element of his gubernatorial reelection that shows just how formidable a presidential contender he could be in 2016. But the even more significant development is the aspect that bears a striking resemblance to George W. Bush’s campaign for reelection as governor of Texas in 1998 and his subsequent successful run for the presidency. As the Times reports:

Senior Republicans who are familiar with Mr. Christie’s strategy say it is most closely modeled after Mr. Bush’s bid in 1998 for re-election as governor of Texas. The parallels are clear. Mr. Bush was considered a shoo-in for re-election to the governor’s office, but he and Mr. Rove became determined to win over Hispanic and black voters to demonstrate the governor’s broad appeal to a national audience. Mr. Bush won that race, with 68 percent of the vote, which included more than a third of the Hispanic vote, offering him a powerful credential when he ran for president two years later as “a different kind of Republican.”

This summer, Mr. Christie established a bilingual campaign office in Paterson, N.J., and spent $275,000 on a Spanish-language television ad. He has also announced a Hispanics for Christie coalition and is now running even among Hispanic voters against Ms. Buono, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released 10 days ago.

While Christie’s truculent personality will make it a bit harder to sell him to the public as the “compassionate conservative” that Bush was depicted as being, this is exactly the sort of candidate that Republicans who hope to improve on their increasingly poor showings with minorities and independents want. But the question for both Christie and the GOP is whether the party’s conservative base will interpret this outreach as a form of “treason” rather than commonsense politics.

It should be remembered that many Republicans saw the younger Bush as the establishment’s candidate for 2000, and in many ways that was exactly right. But Bush succeeded in arousing the sympathy of movement conservatives as well as his father’s large donors. That worked because the 43rd president’s social conservative views that placed him to the right of Bush 41 convinced the party’s base that he could be trusted to govern even though he worked hard to show himself as open to constituencies that were not Republican strongholds, like Hispanics. What Bush strategist Karl Rove understood was that if you turn out your base while eating into Democratic majorities in other demographic sectors, that was a formula for victory.

Flash forward 15 years later and Republicans understand that victory in 2016 will rely on the same prescription, but find themselves handicapped by the willingness of much of the GOP base to identify themselves with opposition to immigration reform, a cause that has often spilled over into open prejudice such as that articulated recently by Rep. Steve King. Even more disturbing, an increasingly vocal segment of Republicans aren’t so much dedicated to these views as they are suspicious of anyone who seeks to work with Democrats (or embrace them when they come bearing federal aid money after a hurricane, as Christie did with President Obama last October) or willing to try to work to get Hispanic or black votes.

Christie’s problem thus isn’t so much whether his views are sufficiently conservative—as a pro-life opponent of big labor and budget cutter he should be acceptable to the right on his own terms—as whether his efforts to cast himself as a centrist is itself disqualifying.

Perhaps to some on the right it is, and there’s little doubt that this reputation as well as his commendable attack on isolationist views on security and foreign policy will hurt him with some Tea Partiers. As Seth wrote last week, merely putting Christie forward as more likely to win than other Republicans isn’t a compelling argument. But neither should Christie be discouraged from mimicking the George W. Bush formula. If, like the Texan, he can credibly claim to be a conservative (as perhaps John McCain and Mitt Romney did not) while also demonstrating an ability to beat Democrats on their home turf in New Jersey (something Romney feared to try to do a second time in Massachusetts), then maybe the Bush formula can elect another Republican to the White House.

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Much Ado About Rove

In the aftermath of their presidential election defeat, many Republicans took out their frustration on Mitt Romney and his staff. Their manifold shortcomings and mistakes, both in terms of judgment and technical gaffes, were raked over with consummate thoroughness by conservative commentators. But with Romney sensibly gone to ground (though he will break his silence this month at the annual CPAC conference) and his advisors making poor targets on their own, that got boring after a while. So with the people who determined the GOP fate in 2012 no longer such inviting targets, the spleen of some conservatives is now being vented on Karl Rove.

In the years since his masterful supervision of George W. Bush’s presidential victories, Rove has assumed a larger-than-life role in the imagination of those on both the left and the right. To the left, he was the evil genius behind every Republican victory whose fundraising prowess was the engine driving the conservative agenda. To many on the right, he became the symbol of an inside-the-Beltway GOP establishment seeking to stifle the Tea Party in order to perpetuate the go-along-to-get-along payola culture that betrayed conservative principles and empowered Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

But lately Rove has been looking more like a consultant with feet of clay than a political prince of darkness. In the last month since Rove announced the creation of the Conservative Victory Project, conservative critics have been denouncing him and liberals have been crowing over his supposed demise. The right has seen his effort aimed at preventing GOP outliers from losing winnable Senate and House seats as an unconscionable establishment attempt to stifle the grass roots. The left views it as a sign of Republican weakness that can’t be masked by Rove’s tactics or fundraising skills. But the idea that Rove’s moment has passed, and that his virtual defenestration from the good graces of the same people whose votes he turned out in 2000 and 2004 marks the end of era, as today’s feature in Politico seems to indicate, is overblown at best. What’s wrong here is not so much the evaluation of the consultant and talking head’s current difficulties as it is the assumption that Rove is the giant bestriding American politics whose fortunes are in some way indistinguishable from that of his party.

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In the aftermath of their presidential election defeat, many Republicans took out their frustration on Mitt Romney and his staff. Their manifold shortcomings and mistakes, both in terms of judgment and technical gaffes, were raked over with consummate thoroughness by conservative commentators. But with Romney sensibly gone to ground (though he will break his silence this month at the annual CPAC conference) and his advisors making poor targets on their own, that got boring after a while. So with the people who determined the GOP fate in 2012 no longer such inviting targets, the spleen of some conservatives is now being vented on Karl Rove.

In the years since his masterful supervision of George W. Bush’s presidential victories, Rove has assumed a larger-than-life role in the imagination of those on both the left and the right. To the left, he was the evil genius behind every Republican victory whose fundraising prowess was the engine driving the conservative agenda. To many on the right, he became the symbol of an inside-the-Beltway GOP establishment seeking to stifle the Tea Party in order to perpetuate the go-along-to-get-along payola culture that betrayed conservative principles and empowered Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

But lately Rove has been looking more like a consultant with feet of clay than a political prince of darkness. In the last month since Rove announced the creation of the Conservative Victory Project, conservative critics have been denouncing him and liberals have been crowing over his supposed demise. The right has seen his effort aimed at preventing GOP outliers from losing winnable Senate and House seats as an unconscionable establishment attempt to stifle the grass roots. The left views it as a sign of Republican weakness that can’t be masked by Rove’s tactics or fundraising skills. But the idea that Rove’s moment has passed, and that his virtual defenestration from the good graces of the same people whose votes he turned out in 2000 and 2004 marks the end of era, as today’s feature in Politico seems to indicate, is overblown at best. What’s wrong here is not so much the evaluation of the consultant and talking head’s current difficulties as it is the assumption that Rove is the giant bestriding American politics whose fortunes are in some way indistinguishable from that of his party.

Let’s specify that Rove has been an enormously successful political consultant whose guiding of George W. Bush to two presidential election wins would be enough for any mortal to dine out on for the rest of his life. Since then, he has continued to help raise large amounts of money for Republicans and his opining on the issues of the day on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal has given him a unique status among GOP strategists and talking heads.

But the failure of many of the Republicans he backed last year in both primaries and general elections showed that he was neither infallible nor all-powerful. The spectacle he made of himself on election night when he disputed the decision of Fox News to call Ohio for President Obama (made memorable by Megyn Kelly’s long march from the studio to the office where the election nerds made the decision) linked him to Romney’s loss in a visceral way that was quite unexpected. The negative reaction of many conservatives who see his Victory Project as an establishment evil empire striking back against activists, and the way so many other mainstream GOP figures immediately distanced themselves from the idea, seemed to mark the moment when Rove ceased to be the center of GOP gravity.

But those reviling and writing off Rove need to get a better grip on reality. Just because Rove ran the last winning GOP presidential campaign and appears on Fox didn’t make him the head of the Republican Party. He may well have profited from the myth of his pervasive influence, but that didn’t make it so. Rove was and is a very big deal in American politics but he was, after all, just a consultant whose fortunes are bound to rise and fall with the candidates he backs.

Political junkies have long tended to mythologize campaign managers. But as Rove understands well, it was George W. Bush who won those elections, even if his turn-out-the-vote efforts helped make it possible. No matter how much of a genius a consultant may be or how much money he manages to raise, it is the candidates who are always the deciding factors in any political battle.

The attention paid to Rove now over his campaign to weed out people like Christine O’Donnell, Sharon Angle and Todd Akin from the party’s slates around the country is as much a matter of hype as was the glory he received after 2004. His critics are absolutely right when they point out his instinctive backing of establishment favorites has identified him with as many losers as winners. Moreover, the idea that Rove can do a better job than the Tea Party in picking prospective senators runs aground when you consider that many of his choices tanked in the last two election cycles and that winners like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz wouldn’t be in Washington if everyone had listened to him. But this proof that he isn’t really the GOP pope is not exactly a revelation. Consultants win some and they lose some. The techniques he pioneered in 2000 and 2004 are no longer the determining factors in elections, as the Obama machine proved twice since then.

Though I’m far from sanguine about the ability of his new group to steer the GOP back to control of the Senate, he doesn’t deserve the abuse he has been getting lately any more than he really merited the god-like manner with which some wrote about him in the years prior to 2012.

Whatever the state of Rove’s current fortunes, this tells us nothing about how he or the party will do in 2014 or 2016. Republicans should welcome any group, including that of Rove, aimed at helping them win elections. But that makes him just one voice among many seeking to help influence events. Liberals may want to hold onto Rove as a right-wing boogey man, but conservatives need to stop obsessing about him and the mythical establishment he represents. If they are to win again, they will need all they help they can get–even from the likes of Rove.

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Focus on Ideas, Not Just the Candidates

Some on the right are unhappy about the news that a group of major Republican donors led by former Bush strategist Karl Rove is organizing an effort called the Conservative Victory Project to fund mainstream candidates running against extremists in GOP primaries. According to Politico, leaders of the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund weren’t impressed by the prospect of party heavy-hitters parachuting into local races and preventing right-wing outliers from losing winnable elections against vulnerable Democrats:

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller essentially responded by pointing to the scoreboard in recent primaries in which conservative insurgents have prevailed and emerged as influential GOP leaders.

“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

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Some on the right are unhappy about the news that a group of major Republican donors led by former Bush strategist Karl Rove is organizing an effort called the Conservative Victory Project to fund mainstream candidates running against extremists in GOP primaries. According to Politico, leaders of the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund weren’t impressed by the prospect of party heavy-hitters parachuting into local races and preventing right-wing outliers from losing winnable elections against vulnerable Democrats:

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller essentially responded by pointing to the scoreboard in recent primaries in which conservative insurgents have prevailed and emerged as influential GOP leaders.

“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

He has a point. It’s easy to fault Tea Partiers for foisting on the GOP crackpot senatorial candidates like Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle–whose victories over more moderate candidates in Republican primaries cost the party all-but-certain wins in the last two election cycles. More to the point, Akin’s astoundingly stupid remarks about rape and abortion not only led to his defeat but helped sink Richard Mourdock in Indiana and tarnished the brand of the party everywhere. But not every insurgent is a loser, and not every establishment type is likely to win. The party’s problem is not only that it is not always easy to predict who is the better candidate but also that these top-down efforts are band-aids on a broader dilemma that must be addressed. The question is not just who should be running but what does the Republican Party stand for. The Victory Project’s Steven Law defended the initiative as nothing more than an effort to do what William F. Buckley always advocated, to pick the most conservative candidate who can win to face off against Democrats.

If, the group can in some way help prevent people like Akin, O’Donnell or Angle from winning primaries they will be doing the Republicans a service. But there is also good reason to be skeptical about the process by which this determination will be made. If this amounts to an incumbency protection plan it will only infuriate grass roots activists who will rightly resent the effort. It’s also true that sometimes, as was the case with people like Toomey and Rubio, it is not just that the insurgents are more faithful proponents of conservative ideas than their moderate rivals, but that they are also better candidates. Moreover, the prospect of national groups being able to override local sentiment in the name of victory is doubtful, as is the assumption that throwing more money at a race can determine the outcome.

The test case appears to be the upcoming 2014 race to pick a successor to retiring Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. This ought to be a great chance for a Republican pick-up but if, as appears likely, Representative Steve King wins the GOP nomination, the party may be setting itself up for another Tea Party disaster that leads to victory for the Democrats. King has a long record of incendiary remarks that his conservative fans don’t care about but which could sink him in a statewide general election. But persuading Iowa Republicans to do as Rove tells them to do will require more than an investment in campaign funds in the primary. As the party discovered to its sorrow last November, GOP moderates are also capable of losing Senate elections that seemed like sure bets.

What Republicans need is not so much a new civil war in which moderates wage war on Tea Partiers but a focus on ideas that will help the party regain its footing and confidence. If the GOP allows itself to become a loose collection of opportunists who are only capable of offering the public a faint echo of Democratic promises minus 10 or 15 percent for the sake of fiscal sense, all they will have done is to recreate the old pre-Ronald Reagan and Republican Revolution GOP that was only fit to be a polite minority. But by the same token, it cannot allow itself to be painted as only being the party of austerity. In 2014, the GOP must offer a positive vision of economic growth and defense of freedom abroad along with a sensible advocacy of entitlement reform that will save the country from impending fiscal doom.

If it can do that, then the candidates will sort themselves out. Republican winners come in all shapes and sizes — moderates as well as Tea Partiers. So do losers. But without the ideas that can swing the nation back from President Obama’s push for a revival of big government liberalism, it won’t matter whom the big donors or the activists are trying to nominate. 

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Obama’s Problem: Romney is Not Kerry

President Obama isn’t apologizing. Rather than backing away from discredited charges about Mitt Romney outsourcing jobs and attacks about his wealth, the president doubled down on the mud slinging in the past few days. With the economy remaining in the doldrums and no prospect of improvement before November, the president has proposed no new ideas for its revival other than another hike in federal spending. So rather than running on his accomplishments, such as they are, the president is concentrating on discrediting his opponent and appealing to his political base.

In doing so, the president appears to be following the model established in 2004 when President Bush faced a tough re-election fight against a plausible but not very compelling opponent in John Kerry. Bush never personally engaged in the sort of vitriol that Obama routinely engages in (Bush was too conscious of the dignity of his office and such conduct also went against the grain of the nice-guy persona that was key to his appeal). The focus of his re-election effort was the push to increase the turnout of conservatives and evangelicals that enabled him to win a close race. Though the Democrats won’t admit it, they are hoping this Karl Rove-inspired formula will be just as successful for them. But while his liberal base has been begging Obama to get nastier since he took office, it remains to be seen whether a man who was catapulted to office by lofty rhetoric about “hope” and “change” can remain in it by wallowing in political mire. Nor does it alter the fundamental question that any incumbent seeking re-election must answer about whether the nation’s fiscal health has improved on his watch.

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President Obama isn’t apologizing. Rather than backing away from discredited charges about Mitt Romney outsourcing jobs and attacks about his wealth, the president doubled down on the mud slinging in the past few days. With the economy remaining in the doldrums and no prospect of improvement before November, the president has proposed no new ideas for its revival other than another hike in federal spending. So rather than running on his accomplishments, such as they are, the president is concentrating on discrediting his opponent and appealing to his political base.

In doing so, the president appears to be following the model established in 2004 when President Bush faced a tough re-election fight against a plausible but not very compelling opponent in John Kerry. Bush never personally engaged in the sort of vitriol that Obama routinely engages in (Bush was too conscious of the dignity of his office and such conduct also went against the grain of the nice-guy persona that was key to his appeal). The focus of his re-election effort was the push to increase the turnout of conservatives and evangelicals that enabled him to win a close race. Though the Democrats won’t admit it, they are hoping this Karl Rove-inspired formula will be just as successful for them. But while his liberal base has been begging Obama to get nastier since he took office, it remains to be seen whether a man who was catapulted to office by lofty rhetoric about “hope” and “change” can remain in it by wallowing in political mire. Nor does it alter the fundamental question that any incumbent seeking re-election must answer about whether the nation’s fiscal health has improved on his watch.

With the polls showing the race a virtual dead-heat, there is little likelihood of either candidate pulling away. Nor is there any great mass of undecided voters whose more moderate views would make a swing to the left imprudent. Thus, Obama’s decision to pursue the decidedly unpresidential route of sliming his opponent makes some political sense. His only hope of victory is to energize a liberal base that is decidedly less enthusiastic than it was four years ago. To do that, he must feed them what they want to hear: class warfare and attacks on Romney as a wealthy plutocrat.

Thus, not only will Romney not get any apologies for the president recycling canards about his business career, he can expect it to only get worse with Democrats. That ought to concern Republicans who fear an all-out assault by the president will define his opponent and turn his personal record of success into a liability. One shouldn’t underestimate the power of negative attacks, but there are two reasons why a repeat of the GOP’s 2004 tactics may fail.

First, is the difference between Romney and Kerry. Like the 2004 Democratic nominee, Romney may be a wealthy man, but unlike Kerry, he built his own fortune rather than marrying into wealth. He is not a natural politician and doesn’t connect well with the voters. But neither is he a passive aristocrat who acted as if he was entitled to the nation’s highest office, as Kerry often did. While Kerry gave the appearance of a stationary target, Romney is a clever man who will not willingly play the role of tackling dummy for the Democrats.

The second difference is that the country is in a very different position than it was in 2004. Eight years ago, the Iraq War was starting to look like a mess, but the economy was not in crisis the way it is today. More Americans had voted for Bush’s opponent in 2000, and even his response to the 9/11 attacks had not reconciled Democrats to his presidency, so he was in for a tough fight in 2004 no matter what he had accomplished.

By contrast, today Obama still has the advantage of being a historic president with the bulk of the press in his pocket. But with the state of the economy the only issue anyone is talking about, the president’s belief that he can avoid blame by pointing the finger at his predecessor may be mistaken.

The problem with political science is that it is not science. Each election is different. If the president’s campaign and its unpleasant tactics can generate a big turnout from the left, the president may yet prevail. But the circumstances of 2012 are not those that allowed the Bush campaign to run to the right with impunity in 2004. The harsh economic reality that is leading to a steady stream of bad economic news may render the Karl Rove formula moot.

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Santorum’s Life With a Political Cannibal

Rick Santorum has enough problems these days with his gaffe insisting on English being the official language of Puerto Rico and the impact of his insistence on raising troubling social issues such as contraception and pornography even though these discussion do him no good. But the real gift that keeps on giving for Santorum is his decision in 2004 to back Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election against an impeccable conservative challenge, then Rep. Pat Toomey. The issue has caused him no end of embarrassment in subsequent years, especially after Specter backed President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and then ObamaCare after turning his coat and switching to the Democrats in 2009.

The issue will get another hearing this month because, as Politico reports, Specter’s political memoir Life With the Cannibals will soon be released. In it, Specter details Santorum’s help in 2004 as well as his 2009 advice about how to hold onto the seat he would lose, ironically enough, to Toomey in 2010. Specter’s book won’t help Santorum among conservatives who regard the decision as one more instance of how the Pennsylvanian’s desire to be a “team player” often came into conflict with his conservative values. But as much as Santorum deserves to be criticized for his decision, a little perspective on that race is in order.

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Rick Santorum has enough problems these days with his gaffe insisting on English being the official language of Puerto Rico and the impact of his insistence on raising troubling social issues such as contraception and pornography even though these discussion do him no good. But the real gift that keeps on giving for Santorum is his decision in 2004 to back Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election against an impeccable conservative challenge, then Rep. Pat Toomey. The issue has caused him no end of embarrassment in subsequent years, especially after Specter backed President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and then ObamaCare after turning his coat and switching to the Democrats in 2009.

The issue will get another hearing this month because, as Politico reports, Specter’s political memoir Life With the Cannibals will soon be released. In it, Specter details Santorum’s help in 2004 as well as his 2009 advice about how to hold onto the seat he would lose, ironically enough, to Toomey in 2010. Specter’s book won’t help Santorum among conservatives who regard the decision as one more instance of how the Pennsylvanian’s desire to be a “team player” often came into conflict with his conservative values. But as much as Santorum deserves to be criticized for his decision, a little perspective on that race is in order.

First of all, though Specter credits Santorum for pulling him through a difficult primary in which he wound up beating Toomey in a close race, it should also be remembered that the most important conservative backing the incumbent in Pennsylvania that year was not Santorum. It was George W. Bush, who believed keeping Specter on the ticket was vital to his chances of winning Pennsylvania in a tough battle for re-election.

Another point often obscured in discussions of that election is that the issue was not so much, as Santorum now insists, a matter of ensuring that conservative Supreme Court justices were confirmed in Bush’s second term (though even Santorum and Specter’s most virulent conservative critics can’t fault his efforts to secure the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) as it was giving Bush a chance in Pennsylvania and holding onto a slim GOP majority in the Senate that fall. The assumption then was that Toomey simply couldn’t hold the seat. That’s why everyone in the Republican establishment including Santorum (who was then a member of the Senate leadership) moved heaven and earth in 2003 to persuade Toomey to back off.

That assumption was incorrect, as I think Toomey could have beaten then Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, the Democrat who eventually lost to Specter in November 2004. But none of the trio of Bush, Karl Rove and Santorum thought it was worth gambling a Senate majority on Toomey when they assumed Specter would have an easy time in a general election. As it turned out, Specter didn’t win by the landslide the GOP thought he would, a result that was a harbinger of future trouble for the senator.

It should also be remembered that literally hours after declaring victory in the primary, Specter held a news conference in Philadelphia in which he repaid both Bush and Santorum by giving them the back of his hand by stating he didn’t consider himself bound to support the president’s measures in the coming years. Those who believe Specter’s recent statements about private conversations he had with Santorum about court confirmations in 2004 should remember that double cross as well as the countless other betrayals that can be credited to Specter when they take his word for it when he says he made no promises to his colleague.

As for Santorum’s intervention call in 2009 seeking to “help” Specter hold onto his seat by persuading him to vote against the stimulus, that, too, deserves some perspective. Heading into 2009, the feud between Specter and Toomey had seemingly been forgotten. At that time, a tacit agreement between the two existed in which Toomey would forgo another primary challenge against Specter in exchange for the latter’s support for the conservative’s run for the post of governor of Pennsylvania. So in urging Specter to stick with his party on the stimulus, Santorum was an advocate not so much for the “team” as for peace in a still bitterly divided Pennsylvania GOP. But once Specter left the GOP reservation on the stimulus, the anger of conservatives was such that Toomey felt obliged to abandon his plans to run for governor and instead challenge Specter. Specter rightly understood that without Bush and Santorum holding his coat, he had no chance of winning a Republican primary and jumped to the Democrats. In an act of poetic justice, Specter lost the Democratic primary the next year to a more liberal candidate, Rep. Joe Sestak, who was, in turn, defeated by Toomey in November.

Santorum deserves blame, as do Bush and Rove, for enabling Specter to survive for six more years. But the moral of the story is not so much Santorum’s lack of principle (an argument that a onetime liberal GOP Senate candidate like Mitt Romney is ill-placed to make) as it is the difficulty of dealing with as slippery a character as Specter. Though Specter now presents himself as being too pure to survive any longer in the dark world of American politics, he was himself the worst example of an unprincipled politician that we have had in the last 30 years. As his 2004 opponent Hoeffel memorably said of him, “It’s hard to run against Arlen on the issues because he’s on both sides of every one.” If Santorum is to be shamed for his 2004 decision, he is as entitled as anyone to lament how hard it was serving alongside a “cannibal”-like Specter in the Senate for 12 years.

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Obama’s Not-So-Very-Good Week

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.” Read More

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.”

Second, David — in contrasting Obama favorably this week with “cluster liberals” — writes:

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex.)

Some of this analysis I agree with. I would point out, however, that (a) during his press conference, Obama was as visibly angry as many people can recall seeing him, and (b) the term “hostage takers” was used by Obama against Republicans.

Finally, I disagree with David’s verdict that Obama had “a very good week.” Brooks’s argument is that Obama has put himself in a position to govern again, and I understand and have some sympathy with the point he’s making: Obama is distancing himself from his liberal base and, in so doing, embracing a policy that is both fairly popular and wise.

What’s going to damage Obama, though, is the manner in which the distancing was done. The president’s base is enraged at him; what we’re seeing looks very much like a political revolt within his own ranks. It’s stating the obvious to say that having members of your own congressional caucus cursing at you is not a very good thing. And as President George H.W. Bush found out with his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge, creating fury within your base in order to tack to the center can hurt one rather than help one.

Nor is it clear yet that Nancy Pelosi will even bring the legislation Obama has blessed to the floor for a vote without changes. I assume she will — but if the speaker decides not to, and if as a result Obama fails to get this deal signed into law, it will be a terrifically damaging blow to his prestige and his presidency. And even if Obama does succeed, he has created enormous unhappiness and mistrust among his base. This won’t be forgotten any time soon. Presidents, while needing to distance themselves from their base at times, don’t usually succeed when they are at war with it.

Democratic tempers will cool over time; new political battles will reconnect Obama to his party. And the key variable remains the economy. If in 2012 unemployment is going down, if the economy is growing at a brisk pace, and if people are confident about the trajectory the country is on, Obama will be in good shape with both his base and with independents. For now, though, the president is in a precarious position, having (for the moment at least) lost his base without having won over the rest of the country. It may be that the former is necessary to achieve the latter — but the way these things are done matters quite a lot. And this has been ugly all the way around.

If David Brooks is right and this week signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in Obama’s governing philosophy, then the president has helped himself. If, on the other hand, what Obama did this week was simply an anomaly, a tactical shift without a fundamental rethinking, then he has complicated his life and damaged his presidency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

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The Delaware Lesson

Sen. Jim DeMint declared that Christine O’Donnell lost because Republicans “so maligned her … that she didn’t have a chance.” This is both self-serving and false.

DeMint and Sarah Palin went to bat for O’Donnell, helping to fuel Tea Party enthusiasm for the hard-line novice. If anything, DeMint et. al so maligned Rep. Mike Castle (whose voting record reflected his tenuous position as the representative of a liberal state) that he didn’t have a chance in the primary.

This was shortsighted and ultimately cost the GOP a Senate seat. Long before Karl Rove dared to point out that she was an unelectable candidate, polls showed her far behind Chris Coons. It was hardly skeptical Republicans who did her in. Exit polls showed that 44 percent of the electorate was Democratic in Delaware. O’Donnell got a grand total of 9 percent of that group. Among Republicans, who comprised 30 percent of the electorate, O’Donnell got a respectable but not impressive 81 percent of the vote. She lost narrowly among independent voters (48-45 percent).

In sum, in a Blue State, O’Donnell had virtually no appeal with the largest segment of the electorate. It is important for Republicans to be clear on the facts and learn the correct lesson if they want to prevail in 2012. They need to know the makeup of the electorate in presidential races and consider whether a Christine O’Donnell–like figure — or a Jim DeMint one — is really the best approach to recapturing the White House.

Sen. Jim DeMint declared that Christine O’Donnell lost because Republicans “so maligned her … that she didn’t have a chance.” This is both self-serving and false.

DeMint and Sarah Palin went to bat for O’Donnell, helping to fuel Tea Party enthusiasm for the hard-line novice. If anything, DeMint et. al so maligned Rep. Mike Castle (whose voting record reflected his tenuous position as the representative of a liberal state) that he didn’t have a chance in the primary.

This was shortsighted and ultimately cost the GOP a Senate seat. Long before Karl Rove dared to point out that she was an unelectable candidate, polls showed her far behind Chris Coons. It was hardly skeptical Republicans who did her in. Exit polls showed that 44 percent of the electorate was Democratic in Delaware. O’Donnell got a grand total of 9 percent of that group. Among Republicans, who comprised 30 percent of the electorate, O’Donnell got a respectable but not impressive 81 percent of the vote. She lost narrowly among independent voters (48-45 percent).

In sum, in a Blue State, O’Donnell had virtually no appeal with the largest segment of the electorate. It is important for Republicans to be clear on the facts and learn the correct lesson if they want to prevail in 2012. They need to know the makeup of the electorate in presidential races and consider whether a Christine O’Donnell–like figure — or a Jim DeMint one — is really the best approach to recapturing the White House.

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No Honor Among Pols

I am actually surprised it took this long. The Obama team has blamed foreign money, voter confusion, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, a dearth of “civility,” insufficient communication by the omnipresent chief executive, and just about everything other than its agenda for the midterm debacle. But it took them a few days to get around to the obvious fall guy: Rahm Emanuel. This report explains:

Some of them shake their heads in disbelief that Emanuel would bolt at precisely the juncture when the Democrats needed to shape their strategy and message during the homestretch of what everyone knew would be the toughest election cycle in years. …

Several lower-level White House aides say they’re still surprised that Emanuel would so readily follow his personal ambition instead of staying beside the many Democrats he helped elect in the foxhole in the final weeks of the campaign.

OK, now that’s funny. Can you imagine such blind ambition and blatant job-hopping?! Tut, tut. Aside from the unintended hilarity, there is some vague notion here that Emanuel led Obama astray:

“It was Rahm who always said, ‘We’ve just got to put points on the board,’ and that’s why we have a transactional presidency,” said one former colleague. “The only problem is that Obama is not a transactional politician. It was Rahm’s strategy and then he leaves a month before the election for his own personal political career. It’s extraordinary.”

I have no clue what a “transactional” president is — an effective one? Did Obama not want to pursue all this radical legislation? Well, whatever Emanuel did, it was very bad, and the president, who really can’t be held accountable for his own administration, is left holding the bag.

But not to fear — another political hack and true believer is on the way: “David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s campaign, is expected to join the White House early in the new year with an expansive brief.” Yes, what the White House is missing is someone who understands campaigning because the problem, you see, is a failure to communicate, and who better than the campaign chief to fix that?

I am actually surprised it took this long. The Obama team has blamed foreign money, voter confusion, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, a dearth of “civility,” insufficient communication by the omnipresent chief executive, and just about everything other than its agenda for the midterm debacle. But it took them a few days to get around to the obvious fall guy: Rahm Emanuel. This report explains:

Some of them shake their heads in disbelief that Emanuel would bolt at precisely the juncture when the Democrats needed to shape their strategy and message during the homestretch of what everyone knew would be the toughest election cycle in years. …

Several lower-level White House aides say they’re still surprised that Emanuel would so readily follow his personal ambition instead of staying beside the many Democrats he helped elect in the foxhole in the final weeks of the campaign.

OK, now that’s funny. Can you imagine such blind ambition and blatant job-hopping?! Tut, tut. Aside from the unintended hilarity, there is some vague notion here that Emanuel led Obama astray:

“It was Rahm who always said, ‘We’ve just got to put points on the board,’ and that’s why we have a transactional presidency,” said one former colleague. “The only problem is that Obama is not a transactional politician. It was Rahm’s strategy and then he leaves a month before the election for his own personal political career. It’s extraordinary.”

I have no clue what a “transactional” president is — an effective one? Did Obama not want to pursue all this radical legislation? Well, whatever Emanuel did, it was very bad, and the president, who really can’t be held accountable for his own administration, is left holding the bag.

But not to fear — another political hack and true believer is on the way: “David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s campaign, is expected to join the White House early in the new year with an expansive brief.” Yes, what the White House is missing is someone who understands campaigning because the problem, you see, is a failure to communicate, and who better than the campaign chief to fix that?

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Dems and GOP Both Have Their Issues

Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:

[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.

Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:

The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.

The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse. Read More

Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:

[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.

Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:

The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.

The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse.

As for the Republicans, their problem is in recognizing that two component parts of the GOP — the Tea Partiers and the establishment (i.e., professional pols) — are dependent on one another. It might satisfy some would-be leaders of the Tea Party contingent to attack Karl Rove or Ed Gillespie, but is that what building a governing majority is all about? The Tea Party brought energy, ideological firmness, and grassroots organization to a moribund Republican Party. But the Republican Party provided many of the most electable, sober conservatives (e.g., Rob Portman, Dan Coats, John Boozman) who can translate the Tea Party agenda into legislation. If the party had run only Sharron Angles and Christine O’Donnells, there would have been no “shellacking”; without the Tea Party, there would have been no unifying theme and no electoral wave to put those seasoned conservatives into office.

The GOP, therefore, could use some unifiers — namely those who understand that the name of the game is not to spend time poking their fingers in the eye of half of the conservative coalition. The challenge now is to devise a strategy that first stops the Obama onslaught and then offers a thoughtful conservative alternative. The GOP is badly in need of such unifying figures — both to navigate the next two years and to lead the party in 2012. Those who find it personally satisfying to bicker with their allies do damage to their cause — and ultimately their own career objectives.

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Money Doesn’t Buy You Love — or Votes

The Democrats’ favorite excuse in the waning days of the campaign was that foreign money was their undoing. Soon-to-be-ex-Speaker (yeah, wow) Nancy Pelosi said everything was going fine until the Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove or a mystery woman from Hong Kong (oh, wait — that was their side) opened up their wallets. Yes, it was bunk. But little did we know how much bunk it was:

In two-thirds of the House seats that Republicans picked up Tuesday, Democratic candidates had more money behind them, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission. Overall, Democratic candidates in the 63 races that flipped to the GOP had $206.4 million behind them, a tally that includes candidate fundraising and spending by parties and interests. That compares with only $171.7 million for their GOP rivals.

The pattern appears to contradict widespread complaints from Democrats that they were being unfairly overrun by wealthy Republicans, many of whom donated money to conservative groups to spend on political races — unencumbered by the limits and public-disclosure requirements that constrain most political fundraising. The data show that even in many races in which Republicans had more outside help, they still had fewer resources than their Democratic opponents.

So it was in Senate races as well. Meg Whitman’s personal fortune was of no use. Neither did it help Linda McMahon. Sharron Angle outraised Harry Reid and still lost.

It seems that, rather than money, a candidate’s voting record, the economy, and the relative levels of enthusiasm of the parties’ supporters is what mattered. (“Republicans were able to win despite being badly outspent in Democratic-leaning districts. Outside Philadelphia, Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D), the Democratic Party and groups backing them had about three times as much as conservatives and the campaign of former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.”) Money is a convenient excuse, of course. But like blaming the voters’ “misperceptions,” it simply wasn’t the cause of the Democrats’ defeat. The voters knew exactly what they were doing, and no amount of money was going to convince them otherwise. And as for the self-financers, unless you are a solid candidate (Ron Johnson, for example), it’s better not to fritter away the family fortune.

The Democrats’ favorite excuse in the waning days of the campaign was that foreign money was their undoing. Soon-to-be-ex-Speaker (yeah, wow) Nancy Pelosi said everything was going fine until the Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove or a mystery woman from Hong Kong (oh, wait — that was their side) opened up their wallets. Yes, it was bunk. But little did we know how much bunk it was:

In two-thirds of the House seats that Republicans picked up Tuesday, Democratic candidates had more money behind them, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission. Overall, Democratic candidates in the 63 races that flipped to the GOP had $206.4 million behind them, a tally that includes candidate fundraising and spending by parties and interests. That compares with only $171.7 million for their GOP rivals.

The pattern appears to contradict widespread complaints from Democrats that they were being unfairly overrun by wealthy Republicans, many of whom donated money to conservative groups to spend on political races — unencumbered by the limits and public-disclosure requirements that constrain most political fundraising. The data show that even in many races in which Republicans had more outside help, they still had fewer resources than their Democratic opponents.

So it was in Senate races as well. Meg Whitman’s personal fortune was of no use. Neither did it help Linda McMahon. Sharron Angle outraised Harry Reid and still lost.

It seems that, rather than money, a candidate’s voting record, the economy, and the relative levels of enthusiasm of the parties’ supporters is what mattered. (“Republicans were able to win despite being badly outspent in Democratic-leaning districts. Outside Philadelphia, Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D), the Democratic Party and groups backing them had about three times as much as conservatives and the campaign of former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.”) Money is a convenient excuse, of course. But like blaming the voters’ “misperceptions,” it simply wasn’t the cause of the Democrats’ defeat. The voters knew exactly what they were doing, and no amount of money was going to convince them otherwise. And as for the self-financers, unless you are a solid candidate (Ron Johnson, for example), it’s better not to fritter away the family fortune.

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Right and Left Agree: Obama Stands Pat

The right and the left have something in common: neither is impressed with the White House’s initial reaction to the GOP blowout. George Will writes:

It is amazing the ingenuity Democrats invest in concocting explanations of voter behavior that erase what voters always care about, and this year more than ever — ideas. This election was a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama’s idea of unlimited government.

The more he denounced Republicans as the party of “no,” the better Republicans did. His denunciations enabled people to support Republicans without embracing them as anything other than impediments to him.

Rather, as Will points out, the “blame” is to be found elsewhere: “George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, the Supreme Court, a Cincinnati congressman (John Boehner), Karl Rove, Americans for Prosperity and other “groups with harmless-sounding names” (Hillary Clinton’s ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ redux), ‘shadowy third-party groups’ (they are as shadowy as steam calliopes), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, finally, the American people.” In his press conference, Obama added a new theory: the “misperception” of overreach.

Meanwhile, as I speculated yesterday, the left is not pleased with the Grumpy Gus routine. Greg Sargent observes Obama’s “surprisingly pessimistic tone.” Sargent frets:

More broadly, the bulk of the presser seemed to display the President feeling his way on a new and uncertain political landscape. …

First, with Republicans moving to roll back key chunks of his agenda, how does he draw a line against those efforts without allowing Republicans to paint him as arrogant and deaf to the message of last night’s results?

And second: How aggressively can he highlight the Republicans’ refusal to compromise, and thus claim the moral high ground, without undercutting the impression — one he clearly wants to feed — that he’s reaching out and trying to establish common ground with them?

Notice Sargent’s assumption: Obama won’t permit any ideological softening or substantive compromise. It’s all now a matter of tactics — how not to budge an inch and how to blame the GOP for daring to take the voters’ mandate seriously.

Maybe Obama will demonstrate new ideological flexibility and eschew the parts of his agenda that put John Boehner in the speaker’s chair. But if Will and Sargent are any indication, neither side really thinks that is possible. After all, they’ve been paying attention for the past two years, and there’s no evidence that Obama is able or willing to go that route.

The right and the left have something in common: neither is impressed with the White House’s initial reaction to the GOP blowout. George Will writes:

It is amazing the ingenuity Democrats invest in concocting explanations of voter behavior that erase what voters always care about, and this year more than ever — ideas. This election was a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama’s idea of unlimited government.

The more he denounced Republicans as the party of “no,” the better Republicans did. His denunciations enabled people to support Republicans without embracing them as anything other than impediments to him.

Rather, as Will points out, the “blame” is to be found elsewhere: “George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, the Supreme Court, a Cincinnati congressman (John Boehner), Karl Rove, Americans for Prosperity and other “groups with harmless-sounding names” (Hillary Clinton’s ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ redux), ‘shadowy third-party groups’ (they are as shadowy as steam calliopes), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, finally, the American people.” In his press conference, Obama added a new theory: the “misperception” of overreach.

Meanwhile, as I speculated yesterday, the left is not pleased with the Grumpy Gus routine. Greg Sargent observes Obama’s “surprisingly pessimistic tone.” Sargent frets:

More broadly, the bulk of the presser seemed to display the President feeling his way on a new and uncertain political landscape. …

First, with Republicans moving to roll back key chunks of his agenda, how does he draw a line against those efforts without allowing Republicans to paint him as arrogant and deaf to the message of last night’s results?

And second: How aggressively can he highlight the Republicans’ refusal to compromise, and thus claim the moral high ground, without undercutting the impression — one he clearly wants to feed — that he’s reaching out and trying to establish common ground with them?

Notice Sargent’s assumption: Obama won’t permit any ideological softening or substantive compromise. It’s all now a matter of tactics — how not to budge an inch and how to blame the GOP for daring to take the voters’ mandate seriously.

Maybe Obama will demonstrate new ideological flexibility and eschew the parts of his agenda that put John Boehner in the speaker’s chair. But if Will and Sargent are any indication, neither side really thinks that is possible. After all, they’ve been paying attention for the past two years, and there’s no evidence that Obama is able or willing to go that route.

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The Chronically Unserious Dana Milbank

Fox News has an unparalleled capacity to cause liberal journalists to say really stupid things. Take the case of the chronically unserious Dana Milbank. (Who can forget this moment?) In his Washington Post column, Milbank opens things this way:

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a “results watch” at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch’s cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama – and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

“That’s an earthquake,” exulted Fox’s own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. “It’s a big darn deal.”

“It’s a comeuppance,” Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

“I have one word,” said Sean Hannity. “Historic.”

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. “A gigantic – not a wave election but a tidal wave election,” he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected.

It was to be expected, and for a simple reason: what the commentators and reporters on Fox said is indisputable. Even President Obama, himself, referred to the results of the 2010 midterm election as a “shellacking.” And also Milbank’s former Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz and Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico used the word “bloodbath” to describe the election. So were Obama, Kurtz, Smith, and Martin “cheerleading” as well? So long as they don’t appear on Fox, the answer seems to be no.

Milbank decided to compound his tendentiousness by willfully misleading readers. Mr. Milbank writes:

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House – an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for “perspective,” said it still qualified as a “blowout evening.” To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. “This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party,” he proclaimed.

So which Democrats does Milbank leave off this list? How about Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Ferraro, Joe Trippi, and Pat Caddell? Why would Milbank neglect to name any of these individuals? Because it would run counter to the narrative he’s trying to advance. Thomas Huxley referred to such things as “the slaying of a beautiful deduction by an ugly fact.”

The Washington Post publishes some of the finest columnists who have ever graced the pages of an American newspaper. But it also, alas, publishes Dana Milbank.

Fox News has an unparalleled capacity to cause liberal journalists to say really stupid things. Take the case of the chronically unserious Dana Milbank. (Who can forget this moment?) In his Washington Post column, Milbank opens things this way:

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a “results watch” at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch’s cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama – and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

“That’s an earthquake,” exulted Fox’s own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. “It’s a big darn deal.”

“It’s a comeuppance,” Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

“I have one word,” said Sean Hannity. “Historic.”

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. “A gigantic – not a wave election but a tidal wave election,” he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected.

It was to be expected, and for a simple reason: what the commentators and reporters on Fox said is indisputable. Even President Obama, himself, referred to the results of the 2010 midterm election as a “shellacking.” And also Milbank’s former Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz and Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico used the word “bloodbath” to describe the election. So were Obama, Kurtz, Smith, and Martin “cheerleading” as well? So long as they don’t appear on Fox, the answer seems to be no.

Milbank decided to compound his tendentiousness by willfully misleading readers. Mr. Milbank writes:

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House – an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for “perspective,” said it still qualified as a “blowout evening.” To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. “This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party,” he proclaimed.

So which Democrats does Milbank leave off this list? How about Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Ferraro, Joe Trippi, and Pat Caddell? Why would Milbank neglect to name any of these individuals? Because it would run counter to the narrative he’s trying to advance. Thomas Huxley referred to such things as “the slaying of a beautiful deduction by an ugly fact.”

The Washington Post publishes some of the finest columnists who have ever graced the pages of an American newspaper. But it also, alas, publishes Dana Milbank.

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LIVE BLOG: Perspective

Karl Rove makes the point that the average Senate pickup for the “out” party is 3. The GOP is on track to pick up 7 or 8. That is by any measure a huge pickup. Combined with a potential record number of pickups in the House, I think this will qualify for whatever natural disaster (earthquake, tsunami, etc.) you would like to label the contest.

Karl Rove makes the point that the average Senate pickup for the “out” party is 3. The GOP is on track to pick up 7 or 8. That is by any measure a huge pickup. Combined with a potential record number of pickups in the House, I think this will qualify for whatever natural disaster (earthquake, tsunami, etc.) you would like to label the contest.

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LIVE BLOG: O’Donnell

Christine O’Donnell loses in Delaware. Will the conservative blogo- and Twittersphere apologize to Karl Rove and others who rightly said Christine O’Donnell was a preposterous candidate without a chance of getting elected?

Christine O’Donnell loses in Delaware. Will the conservative blogo- and Twittersphere apologize to Karl Rove and others who rightly said Christine O’Donnell was a preposterous candidate without a chance of getting elected?

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Is the Joke on Them?

David Brooks, in his online conversation with Gail Collins, observes of the upcoming rally by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart:

By the way, I’m totally confused about what the political impact of Stewart-stock and Colbert-palooza will be. On the one hand, watching their shows I get the impression they are generally mainstream liberals. On the other hand I do think their shows are unintentionally conservative. Just as the show “60 Minutes” sends the collective message that political institutions are corrupt, so the Comedy Central shows send the message that politicians are buffoons. Both messages undermine faith in political action and public sector endeavor and so cut right against the intentions of their founders.

But normally their audiences are self-selected, largely liberal viewers who enjoy the collective experience of mocking conservatives. So they don’t really do damage to their “cause.” Their goal is more cultural than political: to reaffirm that they are cooler, smarter, and more clever than those dim-witted right-wingers.

How that comes off to the “public” — that is, a larger audience that is not in on the joke but rather the butt of the joke — is what has so many liberals nervous. The title of the event — the Rally to Restore Sanity — tells it all. Like Obama (but funnier), Colbert and Stewart are quite certain that Americans, after demonstrating sheer brilliance in 2008, are suffering from some mental affliction. If the comedians really wanted to restore sanity, they’d start with those on the left who are convinced that foreign money, Karl Rove, and Fox News are to blame for their party’s woes. But I don’t see that happening.

David Brooks, in his online conversation with Gail Collins, observes of the upcoming rally by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart:

By the way, I’m totally confused about what the political impact of Stewart-stock and Colbert-palooza will be. On the one hand, watching their shows I get the impression they are generally mainstream liberals. On the other hand I do think their shows are unintentionally conservative. Just as the show “60 Minutes” sends the collective message that political institutions are corrupt, so the Comedy Central shows send the message that politicians are buffoons. Both messages undermine faith in political action and public sector endeavor and so cut right against the intentions of their founders.

But normally their audiences are self-selected, largely liberal viewers who enjoy the collective experience of mocking conservatives. So they don’t really do damage to their “cause.” Their goal is more cultural than political: to reaffirm that they are cooler, smarter, and more clever than those dim-witted right-wingers.

How that comes off to the “public” — that is, a larger audience that is not in on the joke but rather the butt of the joke — is what has so many liberals nervous. The title of the event — the Rally to Restore Sanity — tells it all. Like Obama (but funnier), Colbert and Stewart are quite certain that Americans, after demonstrating sheer brilliance in 2008, are suffering from some mental affliction. If the comedians really wanted to restore sanity, they’d start with those on the left who are convinced that foreign money, Karl Rove, and Fox News are to blame for their party’s woes. But I don’t see that happening.

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All the President’s Enemies

I had lunch yesterday with a long-time friend who is intelligent, well informed, and a life-long Democrat. In the course of our conversation I asked for his reaction to what the president said on Univision.

If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder.

Given how out of sync the president’s words have been, compared with his high-minded campaign rhetoric, I asked my friend, “Help me to decode Obama.” I wanted to hear his perspective as someone who had invested great hopes in the president.

His response was arresting: “He’s ruthless.” My friend proceeded to tell me that Obama should be understood in the context of the Chicago Way.

This exchange was revealing on several levels. First, my friend’s disenchantment with the president is nearly off the charts. He told me he was as disappointed in Obama as he has ever been in a politician, to the point that on Tuesday he’s going to vote for almost a straight Republican ticket. Many more voters will undergo this same reversal of preferences come Tuesday, which is one reason why it will be a brutal night for the Democrats.

Second, Obama’s rhetoric — using the word “enemy” to describe members of the opposition party — has become nearly unhinged. For Obama there are, it seems, no honest or honorable critics; they are all dishonest, dishonorable, operating in bad faith, and now, apparently, out-and-out enemies. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is more scorching toward Republicans than it is toward Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Il.

What Obama said on Univision is simply the latest in a massive and increasingly wearisome smear campaign aimed at Obama’s critics (the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, conservative talk radio, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the Tea Party movement, critics of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court, the state of Arizona, etc.). As Democrats reach the last stretch of this campaign, invective is almost all they have to offer. And as the magnitude of the impending defeat on Tuesday sinks in, Obama is becoming more brittle, more small-minded, and more mean-spirited.

What makes this stand out all the more, of course, is that Obama is the man whose campaign, at its very core, was the antithesis to these sorts of attacks. During his inaugural address, for example, Obama said this:

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

These are moving words and, like so much of what Obama said during the campaign, they turned out to be empty ones.

The president is right; the Scriptures do say to put away childish things. They also say by your fruits ye will be known. That is precisely Barack Obama’s problem.

I had lunch yesterday with a long-time friend who is intelligent, well informed, and a life-long Democrat. In the course of our conversation I asked for his reaction to what the president said on Univision.

If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder.

Given how out of sync the president’s words have been, compared with his high-minded campaign rhetoric, I asked my friend, “Help me to decode Obama.” I wanted to hear his perspective as someone who had invested great hopes in the president.

His response was arresting: “He’s ruthless.” My friend proceeded to tell me that Obama should be understood in the context of the Chicago Way.

This exchange was revealing on several levels. First, my friend’s disenchantment with the president is nearly off the charts. He told me he was as disappointed in Obama as he has ever been in a politician, to the point that on Tuesday he’s going to vote for almost a straight Republican ticket. Many more voters will undergo this same reversal of preferences come Tuesday, which is one reason why it will be a brutal night for the Democrats.

Second, Obama’s rhetoric — using the word “enemy” to describe members of the opposition party — has become nearly unhinged. For Obama there are, it seems, no honest or honorable critics; they are all dishonest, dishonorable, operating in bad faith, and now, apparently, out-and-out enemies. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is more scorching toward Republicans than it is toward Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Il.

What Obama said on Univision is simply the latest in a massive and increasingly wearisome smear campaign aimed at Obama’s critics (the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, conservative talk radio, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the Tea Party movement, critics of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court, the state of Arizona, etc.). As Democrats reach the last stretch of this campaign, invective is almost all they have to offer. And as the magnitude of the impending defeat on Tuesday sinks in, Obama is becoming more brittle, more small-minded, and more mean-spirited.

What makes this stand out all the more, of course, is that Obama is the man whose campaign, at its very core, was the antithesis to these sorts of attacks. During his inaugural address, for example, Obama said this:

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

These are moving words and, like so much of what Obama said during the campaign, they turned out to be empty ones.

The president is right; the Scriptures do say to put away childish things. They also say by your fruits ye will be known. That is precisely Barack Obama’s problem.

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