Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mike Pence

Should Rand Paul Embrace or Downplay the Libertarian Label?

About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

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About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

Frayda Levin, a New Jersey libertarian activist and former small-business owner, is a woman of many passions: promoting liberty, ending marijuana prohibition and opposing her state’s recent minimum-wage increase. But Ms. Levin has added another cause as well. At gala benefits for free-market research institutes and at fund-raisers for antitax groups, she has urged like-minded donors to help send Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to the White House.

“I consider that one of my main goals,” said Ms. Levin, who has met with Mr. Paul several times and in February introduced him at a private conference in Florida hosted by the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. “I tell people he’s the Republican of the future. He’s got both the intellectual heft and the emotional understanding.”

A libertarian’s declaration that Paul is the “Republican of the future” is not just good for Paul, but arguably has benefits for the GOP as well. After all, popular libertarian candidates who want to run for president tend to leave the GOP and run on their own ticket. This is, electorally speaking, frustrating for Republicans and counterproductive for libertarians. As staunch libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in 2012, “The Libertarian Party’s effort will, if effective, attract more libertarian voters away from the candidate who is marginally less hostile to liberty, and help hand the election to the candidate who is more hostile to liberty.”

But a libertarian(ish) Republican, if effective, does the opposite: he can galvanize support for libertarian policy objectives without splintering the conservative coalition that remains the only hope of standing athwart the statist project yelling stop. But there’s a catch, and here’s where libertarians get justifiably put off by the right: the Republican Party wants someone like Paul to be just popular enough. It’s up to libertarians to convince the party that he should be the GOP’s standard bearer, and it’s not an easy sell.

Which raises the question: is it easier to make that sell if Paul embraces his libertarianism or downplays it? That will be one question the 2016 nomination race seeks to answer. It’s easy to see both sides of it. It’s possible that the GOP just isn’t ready to go full libertarian at the presidential level, and therefore downplaying his libertarian label in favor of a more conservative-Republican tag might settle some nerves. Yet it’s also possible that by avoiding the term “libertarian” Paul is implicitly reinforcing the idea that libertarianism is an idea whose time has yet to arrive, thus justifying the suspicions of the establishment.

But it’s also important to note that whatever Paul chooses to call himself, he has been branded a libertarian and that is how he will be viewed relative to the other candidates. That is, Paul has essentially emerged as the candidate for libertarians, whether or not he calls himself the libertarian candidate.

It is for that reason that the much-feared “establishment” is only a real threat to Paul in the primary if there is no consensus establishment candidate. The conservative grassroots will not, at least in significant numbers, choose Jeb Bush or Chris Christie over Rand Paul. Many non-libertarian conservatives would prefer Paul over a genuinely moderate candidate. So rather than an anyone-but-Paul movement coalescing against him, he would probably benefit from the reverse.

But what if Bush doesn’t run? Well then Paul has a problem, because the “establishment” will support someone, and there are many palatable candidates on offer. The governors, especially Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would probably easily compete with Paul for non-libertarian voters and get establishment backing. Marco Rubio is another candidate who would appeal to establishment figures but also many conservatives–though his support for comprehensive immigration reform presumably makes him less of a threat to Paul’s base of support.

In such a case, Paul’s best hope is to compete for the “constitutional conservative” label, not differentiate himself from it. He has less to lose if he’s up against a 2016 version of Mitt Romney. So is Paul a libertarian? The best guess right now is: It depends.

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The GOP and the Question of “Experience”

In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

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In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

While Obama’s meteoric ascent to the White House may give each of the Republican senators hope, a relatively thin résumé can be a major liability, especially when the field could include current and former governors, such as Jeb Bush of Florida or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who can claim executive experience.

In addition, the GOP has a long track record of nominating presidential candidates with established national profiles who are seen as next in line — whether it was Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.

You can see the problem here. The GOP is moving away from next-in-linism anyway, but even if it weren’t, who would be the next in line? Arguably Paul Ryan, a 44-year-old member of the House. As for the field of governors, this is where Politico makes a good point–though the grassroots seem pretty energetically opposed to Jeb Bush, so his inclusion on that list makes less sense.

Indeed, the point is stronger if you exclude Jeb. Including Bush would make it easier for conservative voters to stay away from the “establishment” candidate. Taking Bush out of the lineup blurs the distinction a bit. If anything, the conservative grassroots have been too instinctively suspicious of (congressional) experience. Witness, for example, the quote Paul’s advisor gave Politico: “We have had great presidents who were governors, and terrible presidents who have been governors. Often the problem with senators who run for office is not that they haven’t been here long enough, it’s the exact opposite: Too often, they have been in Washington too long.”

The sense of entitlement is something the Tea Party has fought to root out of the party, and rightly so. The tendency to primary sitting congressmen has been a key expression of this, and a Jeb Bush candidacy would be its perfect target in 2016. But if Bush doesn’t run, the Politico argument is stronger. Neither Scott Walker nor Mike Pence is an establishment figure, certainly not the way Chris Christie was shaping up to be.

Although Pence has among the best resumes of the prospective candidates, I’m not sure his time as governor will have nearly the impact on the conservative electorate that Walker’s would, since Walker’s successful battle against the public unions became a national story and thus a cause célèbre, resulting even in a recall campaign against him–which he won as well.

The “experience” argument on its own almost certainly isn’t a game changer. But if the contest doesn’t include Jeb or Christie, a candidate with executive experience could also be a candidate with appeal to the base, making experience more valuable as a possible tie breaker. But throw in a genuinely moderate establishment candidate, and it could make the experience argument less, not more attractive to the base.

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Why Americans Seem So Torn on Foreign Policy

Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

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Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

Max notes the central contradiction in the results: the pollsters asked Americans what they thought (in addition to a bevy of other issues) about foreign policy, and Americans responded, essentially, that they have no idea. They succumbed to a kind of magical thinking on foreign policy in which they want the U.S. to pull back from the world without creating a vacuum–a logical impossibility. They appear frustrated that when America plays a reduced role in world affairs its influence is replaced by Vladimir Putin instead of unicorns and labradoodles (I’m paraphrasing slightly).

But on some level that confusion is understandable because the president of the United States is arguing out loud with the straw men in his head, claiming that the alternative to toothless sanctions is total world war. Americans at home may see this as the amusing inanity of an ideologue who is losing an argument, but it’s doubtful the Europeans are laughing. It turns out there is some middle ground between treating Putin like Gilly from Saturday Night Live and nuking Moscow, though you wouldn’t know it from the commander in chief.

The fact of the matter is, as I’ve noted from time to time, the president has a unique ability to shape public opinion on foreign policy, more so than on domestic policy. Americans have internalized the president as both the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the armed forces of the planet’s only superpower. So the public is not going to be easily persuaded on the goodness of American power projection by this administration.

Looking forward, again, Europeans are probably not too encouraged. The Democrats are seeking to succeed Obama with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who presided over the failed Russian “reset,” chewed out allies like Israel, and expressed regret to Pakistan–which cooperates with anti-American terrorists and sheltered Osama bin Laden–for past American policy. On the right, the debate looks to be more interesting, not least because unlike the Democrats the Republicans do want to have an actual debate, not a coronation.

Sentiments like those expressed in the poll are reflected in the way the Republican race for the nomination has taken shape so far. The president’s abject failures have opened space for those who can present a serious alternative. That means that Republicans with the most success so far have been those like Scott Walker and Rand Paul, with the former proving conservative governance can fix even deep and costly liberal mismanagement and the latter making a thoughtful case for individual liberty in the face of liberal attacks on basic freedoms.

But the effect on the foreign-policy debate has been muted. Paul advocates retrenchment (though without the apology tour, one suspects) and has warned not to “tweak Russia.” Others like Walker seem to disagree with Paul on foreign policy but as the governor of a Midwestern state locked in a battle with government unions in the midst of the dismal Obama economy, the issue doesn’t exactly come up very often. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who possesses one of the stronger resumes of the potential 2016 class, has started branching out a bit more into foreign affairs but remains mired in a debate over education policy back home. Others are facing similar circumstances, with the high-profile exception of Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has dropped a bit in the polls recently, but he has not shied away from displaying his fluency in foreign affairs or striking a contrast to Paul’s perspective.

So yes, Americans are inclined toward the maintenance of a peaceable world order, and they are persuadable on the need for America to protect that order with a robust presence on the world stage. But they’re not going to get there on their own.

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Why Bridgegate Won’t Clear Jeb’s Path

Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

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Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he will make a decision on whether to run for president in 2016 at “the right time” — later this year.

“I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘Now what am I going [to] do today to make the decision?’ I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year,” Bush said in an interview Wednesday with Miami CBS affiliate WFOR.

The brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush said he will make up his mind based on whether he can run an uplifting campaign.

Jeb Bush is also pushing back, ever so diplomatically, against his mother’s comments last year that “there are other families” besides the Bushes, and it’s time to give someone else a turn. After Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush, was asked about the comments by Jay Leno (and said his brother would make a great president), CNN quoted Jeb’s response: “Even when I was a teenager, I’d listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don’t have to listen to every word she says,” he said, drawing laughs. “At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up.”

But his name came up on Leno’s show again this week, in a more positive mention:

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner made his first ever appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday, just to get some facetime with Leno before he leaves the show on Feb. 6. …

Asked what he thought of the upcoming presidential race in 2016, Boehner said, “I’m not endorsing anybody. But Jeb Bush is my friend and, frankly, I think he’d make a great president.”

Jeb Bush not only has the gubernatorial success and moderate credentials to match those of Christie, but he is also thought to have the crossover appeal to voters outside the GOP’s traditional support blocs that Christie does. So it’s reasonable to assume that Bush, who in fact has picked fewer fights with the grassroots than Christie has, could step into Christie’s shoes. But does that make him, like Christie was thought to be, the frontrunner?

Probably not, because Bush’s path to the nomination would be complicated in a few ways. The most obvious is his last name, and the GOP, with a bevy of young stars, will probably only be more hesitant to nominate Bush now that it appears Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner. One advantage Republicans would have over Clinton is that she represents a bygone era both for the country in general and the Democratic Party in particular, having already spent eight years in the White House of a president with a very different political agenda than the one she served as secretary of state. It’s doubtful the grassroots, so opposed to the GOP’s history of next-in-linism, would be satisfied with a Bush-Clinton election.

Additionally, Christie wasn’t the only prospective candidate standing in Jeb Bush’s way. The general consensus was that either Bush or Marco Rubio would run in 2016, but not both. They served the same state and would thus split their constituency, most likely ensuring neither would win. Would the party prefer to run Jeb or Rubio? The latter seems the better bet at this point.

Competing with the senators won’t be easy, considering Rand Paul’s popularity and Ted Cruz’s Texas network. And the governors, like Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would thrive against a wounded (or absent) Christie. Luck has never been on Jeb Bush’s side with regard to the presidency: no one doubts his qualifications, experience, intelligence, diligence, or sense of service, to say nothing of his accomplishments in office in areas like education reform. But even with Christie weakened by bridgegate, his path to the presidency is strewn with roadblocks.

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Jim DeMint to Boycott CPAC

The last time I wrote about social conservatives’ boycott of CPAC due to the participation of GOProud, a Republican gay-rights group, I predicted that it would have little impact on the success of the event unless major speakers or financial backers began to pull out. But now Sen. Jim DeMint, a regular speaker at the conference, has announced that he’ll be skipping it this year:

“With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Sen. DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in an e-mail.

Prominent social conservatives have dropped out of the event and criticized it for its inclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud. Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House’s Republican Study Committee, also has joined the boycott.

This in itself isn’t a huge blow to CPAC. But it could be a sign of more problems to come. DeMint is highly influential in the conservative movement, and his decision could make it easier for other speakers to drop out of the conference as well.

And while it’s unlikely that prospective candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will drop out of the event — they wouldn’t want to risk alienating disparate segments of the conservative movement at this point — it could make it more difficult for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, to book prominent speakers next year.

CPAC makes a good deal of its money off students, who attend the event to hear speeches from top conservative leaders. If the conference isn’t able to draw as many big names, it may start to lose out on student fees.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel also notes that Rep. Mike Pence hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be speaking. Pence is considered more mainstream than DeMint, and if he’s a no-show, that would be a major indicator that the conference’s influence in the movement is waning.

The last time I wrote about social conservatives’ boycott of CPAC due to the participation of GOProud, a Republican gay-rights group, I predicted that it would have little impact on the success of the event unless major speakers or financial backers began to pull out. But now Sen. Jim DeMint, a regular speaker at the conference, has announced that he’ll be skipping it this year:

“With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Sen. DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in an e-mail.

Prominent social conservatives have dropped out of the event and criticized it for its inclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud. Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House’s Republican Study Committee, also has joined the boycott.

This in itself isn’t a huge blow to CPAC. But it could be a sign of more problems to come. DeMint is highly influential in the conservative movement, and his decision could make it easier for other speakers to drop out of the conference as well.

And while it’s unlikely that prospective candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will drop out of the event — they wouldn’t want to risk alienating disparate segments of the conservative movement at this point — it could make it more difficult for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, to book prominent speakers next year.

CPAC makes a good deal of its money off students, who attend the event to hear speeches from top conservative leaders. If the conference isn’t able to draw as many big names, it may start to lose out on student fees.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel also notes that Rep. Mike Pence hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be speaking. Pence is considered more mainstream than DeMint, and if he’s a no-show, that would be a major indicator that the conference’s influence in the movement is waning.

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Morning Commentary

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

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Liberals, Pragmatists, and Taxes

A week ago, David Brooks revealed a “vision” that would vindicate his belief in Barack Obama as a “pragmatist”: a State of the Union address proposing comprehensive tax reform to “lower rates and make the tax code fair,” eliminating loopholes and special-interest provisions. Today the lead article in the New York Times reports that Obama is “considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues.” As Abe notes, Obama is learning economics in spite of himself.

It was not so long ago that Obama thought higher tax rates were essential for fairness — to help spread the wealth. In his 2008 colloquy with Charlie Gibson, Obama supported doubling tax rates on capital gains even if that generated less revenue — “for purposes of fairness.” A few days ago, Obama was angry about the inability to impose higher tax rates next year; he promised to try again in two years. If Brooks’s vision proves true, it will be one of the fastest transformations of a politician from doctrinaire liberal to pragmatic tax-cutter.

Two days ago, William Galston emphasized the pragmatism more directly in a New Republic post entitled “The Only Way Obama Can Win in 2012.” Galston urged Obama to move “comprehensive tax reform to the center of his agenda” with a State of the Union speech proposing a broadened tax base and reduced rates, making the system simpler and fairer. In his column today, Brooks has a new label for Obama: “network liberal” — a liberal willing to network with non-liberals to do things such as this week’s tax deal. Brooks urges Obama to bring a “networking style” to reforming the tax code.

There is a great networking opportunity right in front of Obama: Mike Pence’s flat tax proposal. It is a progressive tax with a large standard deduction and dependent exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers: after that, “the more money you make, the more you pay.” The tax would be “fair, simple and effective;” and you could tweet tax returns.

Perhaps a pragmatist is simply a liberal who has been shellacked by reality and wants to network. We’ll see.

A week ago, David Brooks revealed a “vision” that would vindicate his belief in Barack Obama as a “pragmatist”: a State of the Union address proposing comprehensive tax reform to “lower rates and make the tax code fair,” eliminating loopholes and special-interest provisions. Today the lead article in the New York Times reports that Obama is “considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues.” As Abe notes, Obama is learning economics in spite of himself.

It was not so long ago that Obama thought higher tax rates were essential for fairness — to help spread the wealth. In his 2008 colloquy with Charlie Gibson, Obama supported doubling tax rates on capital gains even if that generated less revenue — “for purposes of fairness.” A few days ago, Obama was angry about the inability to impose higher tax rates next year; he promised to try again in two years. If Brooks’s vision proves true, it will be one of the fastest transformations of a politician from doctrinaire liberal to pragmatic tax-cutter.

Two days ago, William Galston emphasized the pragmatism more directly in a New Republic post entitled “The Only Way Obama Can Win in 2012.” Galston urged Obama to move “comprehensive tax reform to the center of his agenda” with a State of the Union speech proposing a broadened tax base and reduced rates, making the system simpler and fairer. In his column today, Brooks has a new label for Obama: “network liberal” — a liberal willing to network with non-liberals to do things such as this week’s tax deal. Brooks urges Obama to bring a “networking style” to reforming the tax code.

There is a great networking opportunity right in front of Obama: Mike Pence’s flat tax proposal. It is a progressive tax with a large standard deduction and dependent exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers: after that, “the more money you make, the more you pay.” The tax would be “fair, simple and effective;” and you could tweet tax returns.

Perhaps a pragmatist is simply a liberal who has been shellacked by reality and wants to network. We’ll see.

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Obama’s FTA Delay

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

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The Flat Tax

Both Jen and Rick noted Mike Pence’s speech at the Detroit Economic Club yesterday in which he called for, along with many other good ideas, a flat tax.

I’ve been an advocate for a flat tax since Steve Forbes first brought it to widespread attention in 1996, when his seemingly quixotic presidential campaign got surprising traction, thanks largely, I suspect, to the flat tax.

For liberals, of course, high marginal rates on the rich are part of their political religion and thus, like all religious beliefs, not always subject to ratiocination. But since politicians will always cater to the rich — for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: that’s where the money is — high marginal rates in a democratic society will always be offset by loopholes so that the rich don’t actually have to pay those high marginal rates. This has been, at the least, one of the main engines behind the ever-increasing complexity of the tax code since it was first enacted in 1913.

It is also why tax revenues don’t rise much above 19 percent of GDP, whatever the bomfog coming out of Washington. The marginal rate (the tax on the last dollar of income) has been as high as 91 percent and as low as 28 percent. But the effective tax rate (the percentage of total income taxed away) has not changed much over the years since World War II, thanks to the loopholes and their partial elimination when rates were lowered. Read More

Both Jen and Rick noted Mike Pence’s speech at the Detroit Economic Club yesterday in which he called for, along with many other good ideas, a flat tax.

I’ve been an advocate for a flat tax since Steve Forbes first brought it to widespread attention in 1996, when his seemingly quixotic presidential campaign got surprising traction, thanks largely, I suspect, to the flat tax.

For liberals, of course, high marginal rates on the rich are part of their political religion and thus, like all religious beliefs, not always subject to ratiocination. But since politicians will always cater to the rich — for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: that’s where the money is — high marginal rates in a democratic society will always be offset by loopholes so that the rich don’t actually have to pay those high marginal rates. This has been, at the least, one of the main engines behind the ever-increasing complexity of the tax code since it was first enacted in 1913.

It is also why tax revenues don’t rise much above 19 percent of GDP, whatever the bomfog coming out of Washington. The marginal rate (the tax on the last dollar of income) has been as high as 91 percent and as low as 28 percent. But the effective tax rate (the percentage of total income taxed away) has not changed much over the years since World War II, thanks to the loopholes and their partial elimination when rates were lowered.

If liberals would only abandon their fixation on marginal rates and look at the effective rate, they would love the flat tax. Because under a flat tax, the rich inescapably pay a higher effective rate. As Mike Pence pointed out, a flat tax consists of a generous personal exemption, no other deductions (and therefore no loopholes), and a flat marginal rate. To illustrate, say the personal exemption is $10,000 and the rate 20 percent. That would mean a family of four with an income of $40,000 would have an effective tax rate of zero percent ($40,000 minus exemptions totaling $40,000 times 20 percent equals zero). At an income of $50,000, the effective tax rate would be 4 percent, at $100,000, 12 percent. At $1 million, 19.6 percent. Liberals could still sock it to the rich by raising the personal exemption (thus eliminating any tax liability for many at the lower end of the income spectrum) and raising the flat rate. In a national emergency such as war, the personal exemption could be lowered and the flat rate raised, bringing a gusher of money into the Treasury (and damping down consumer demand at the same time).

Of course, along with loopholes, the flat tax would eliminate “tax expenditures,” by which politicians are able to hand out goodies while pretending to be deficit hawks. Under a flat tax, if the government wanted to, say, subsidize homeownership, it would have to send checks to homeowners instead of allowing them to deduct their mortgage-interest expense. The political class doesn’t like that idea one bit, evidence that liberalism in its latter days is really about furthering the interests of the political class, not the little guy.

The flat tax also has an enormous advantage over a frequently mentioned alternative — some form of national sales tax to replace the income tax. There is no way to easily transition from the current income-based tax system to a consumption-based tax system. Individual families, having made economic decisions (such as whether or not to buy a house) based on the current code, might be devastated by a sudden shift. Worse, there is no way to estimate even an approximation of what sales tax rate would be necessary to provide the same revenue as the current tax code provides. There are just too many variables, and human nature is too ineluctable. (How much of the economy would go underground, for instance, with barter replacing cash payments?) It would be a shot in the dark that might produce a very ugly surprise.

But with a flat tax, it would be easy. The revenues can be estimated with reasonable accuracy, and individual families could transition by being allowed to choose which system to file under. New tax filers would have to use the new system, however, and once a family filed under the new system, it could not return to the old. This has worked well in places like Hong Kong.

The flat tax has been on the political table now for 14 years. I can only hope that its time is coming soon. I can’t think of another reform that would be better for the American economy, or American politics, than the flat tax.

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Three Months, Three Speeches

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

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Waiting for Cream to Rise to the Top

Fred Barnes writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Barnes writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pence Raises His Profile

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

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The Palin Quandary

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.” Read More

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.”

And there are others. Those whom Ward spoke with are not unnamed party insiders with a motive to bolster their own candidates’ standing. These are Tea Party attendees willing to go on record and face their fellow activists. In short, these are the people most sympathetic to the causes Palin champions.

What’s interesting is that the reaction of ordinary Tea Partiers is not that far removed from leaders both in the Tea Party and in establishment circles. A Tea Party leader tells Ward:

“Lot’s love her on a personal level, and as a conservative icon, but I haven’t heard widespread support for her as a presidential candidate,” he said. “I think the candidates who will be on top in 2012 have yet to really emerge from the pack. … Folks have interest in Mike Pence and of course [Sen. Jim] DeMint. I would guess that if asked, DeMint would be the top choice of Tea Party folks right now. He’s fighting the establishment from inside, and I think that will be a plus in 2012.”

And a conservative leader chimes in:

“I think people love to hear her speak and love that she’s out there stirring the waters and challenging the status quo,” the conservative leader said, asking that his name not be used. “But I don’t get the sense that they’re ready to say, ‘She’s the one we want to see as president.’”

“You would think if people were going to coalesce around her that would be happening. And quite frankly I don’t see it,” he said.

Palin and her defenders would no doubt say that none of these people are representative of sentiment in the party. But at some point, the candidate has to take these kinds of  reports — by credible conservative-leaning outlets — and the ample poll data seriously if she is serious about a run. She will have to weigh the risk that she may not prevail (either in the primary or the general election), and thereby lose her aura and the anticipation of a future candidacy.

In that regard, as in so many other ways, she is unique. For the average pol, a presidential run, even an unsuccessful one, raises his profile and gives him new credibility and earning power. For Palin, it may be the opposite.

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Add at Least One More Name to the 2012 List

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

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RE: A Significant Letter

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

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Is ABC Becoming MSNBC?

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that? Read More

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that?

PAUL: Right. I think that soldiers have to be paid. Now, can we say that gradually we don’t need as large of an Army if we’re not in two wars? Yes, I think you can say that. You can save money there. You can bring some troops home or have Europe pay more for their defense and Japan pay more and Korea pay more for their defense or bring those troops home and have savings there. . .

AMANPOUR: So, again, to talk about the debt and to talk about taxes, there seems to be, again, just so much sort of generalities, for want of a better word.

PAUL: Right.

AMANPOUR: And, for instance, there are many people…

PAUL: Well, the thing is that you can call it a generality, but what if — what if I were president and I said to you, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have a 5 percent cut across the board in everything”? That’s not a generality, but there are thousands of programs. If you say, “Well, what are all the specifics?” There are books written on all the specifics.

Is she so wedded to her script that she’s not listening to the answers? Or is she simply there to argue with her conservative guests while lobbing softballs at those with whom she is in ideological agreement? She ends with an inappropriate snipe at her guest: “Well, we hope to have you back, and we’ll get more details from you next time.” I suspect he won’t be back anytime soon.

There are a couple of problems with her approach. For starters, it’s not very enlightening. Paul repeatedly answered Amanpour’s question, but we didn’t learn much beyond that. (Do other Republicans share his position? How do we cut defense while fighting a war?) She was so busy arguing with his answer that she never followed up on the answer he gave.

Second, she is so obviously playing the role of partisan advocate that her interviews take on a lopsided, cheerleading quality for her invariably liberal positions. In the interview with David Stockman and Mike Pence that followed, all her probing “You can’t really mean that?” questions were directed at Pence, while she all but applauded Stockman for his insistence that we needed to raise taxes.

The faux interview format in which hosts use guests not to elicit information but to push their own agenda works for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Glenn Beck on Fox, but is that the approach ABC News, which hasn’t gone the partisan route, now wants to adopt? So far, Amanpour is a ratings loser and a journalistic embarrassment. The ABC execs will have to decide whether it’s worth risking their brand for no apparent financial gain.

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Searching

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories. Read More

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.

So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.

Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.

Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.

Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.

So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities – also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.

So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.’”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.’”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

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Here’s That Bipartisan Alliance

Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?

Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?

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