Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitch McConnell

Smash the Regulatory State from Within

The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

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The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

With all the talk of reform conservatism, this is a more limited variant of the ambitious reform efforts gaining momentum. There are two categories of such reform, and the abuse-of-power scandals proliferating throughout the Obama administration’s bureaucratic power agencies make it all the more necessary to realize the opportunity they present to conservatives seeking to protect the public from big government.

The first has to do with regulations, and Texas presents a good example. Because so much of the Obama-era Democratic regulations are poorly thought-out and destructive, it’s easy to get the impression that when the government regulates something, it will do so in a deeply stupid way. But it doesn’t have to.

In April 2010, the Washington Post ran an interesting article investigating the following question: Why did Texas escape the real-estate bust? As the Post explained:

Texas’s 3.1 million mortgage borrowers are a breed of their own among big states with big cities. Fewer than 6 percent of them are in or near foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association; the national average is nearly 10 percent. …

Texan subprime borrowers do especially well compared with their counterparts elsewhere. The foreclosure rate among subprime borrowers in Texas, at less than 19 percent, is the lowest of any state except Alaska.

Part of the answer seemed to be restrictions on refinancing and home-equity lending:

A cash-out refinance is a mortgage taken out for a higher balance than the one on an existing loan, net of fees. Across the nation, cash-outs became ubiquitous during the mortgage boom, as skyrocketing house prices made it possible for homeowners, even those with bad credit, to use their home equity like an ATM. But not in Texas. There, cash-outs and home-equity loans cannot total more than 80 percent of a home’s appraised value. There’s a 12-day cooling-off period after an application, during which the borrower can pull out. And when a borrower refinances a mortgage, it’s illegal to get even a dollar back. Texas really means it: All these protections, and more, are in the state constitution. The Texas restrictions on mortgage borrowing date from the first days of statehood in 1845, when the constitution banned home loans.

It turns out such restrictions went a long way toward preventing homeowners from taking out the kind of loans and refinancing that increased the chances of default when the bubble burst, protecting many in Texas from suffering the same fate. It’s the kind of “smart” regulation that not only benefits the private sector but also can prevent future “dumb” regulations: the less prone to such crises states (and especially the federal government) are, the less demand there will be for the kind of “do-something” regulatory pile-ons and bailouts that follow those crises.

Texas is also, of course, a testament to the benefits of limited regulations in other areas of ownership and private property. Another part of the state’s insulation from the real-estate bubble was, as Wendell Cox explained, “the state’s liberal, market oriented land use policies. This served to help keep the price of land low while profligate lending increased demand.” Overregulated housing markets inflated prices and restricted supply. Texas got the balance just right.

So there’s “smart” regulations vs. “dumb” regulations. But the other category of this kind of reform has to do with the bureaucracy. Especially in the Obama era, policy is being made more and more by unelected bureaucrats. As the IRS scandal (and others) showed, the power and insulation from the public eye is a dangerous combination.

Conservatives have generally approached this by concentrating on the need to eliminate either bureaucratic agencies or the powers of those agencies. They should also, however, keep in mind that as long as those agencies exist, personnel is policy. Perhaps no one on the right has internalized this message more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a piece for National Review last year (still paywalled, alas), Daniel Foster wrote about McConnell’s attitude toward staffing decisions made by each party. When bureaucratic commission openings must be filled, it generally falls to the leadership. That means President Obama for the Democrats and McConnell for the Republicans. The Democrats still tend to view such job appointments as patronage positions. But McConnell has rejected the cronyism in favor of competence:

To translate his instincts into names, he brought in GOP veteran Dan Schneider. To look at Schneider’s government rap sheet — stints at the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Labor Department — you’d think he was a die-cast liberal. But when I spoke with him for this story, he said he likes to think of himself as a loyal conservative sent behind enemy lines “to monitor the radicals.”

Schneider came onto McConnell’s radar via the senator’s wife, Elaine Chao. When George W. Bush appointed Chao to head his Department of Labor, Schneider became her first White House liaison, and she gave him free rein to find conservatives to fill more than 200 slots inside the department. He impressed, and, after the Obama transition, migrated into McConnell’s office, where he oversees a sort of national conservative talent search with the title “Policy Advisor and Counsel for Nominations.”

Schneider operates according to a set of five criteria for screening potential nominees first developed by E. Pendleton “Pen” James, Ronald Reagan’s director of personnel management. First, were the nominees competent in the subject matter? Second, were they philosophically compatible with Senator McConnell? Third, did they possess high character and integrity? Fourth, were they tough? Fifth, were they team players?

The result, two or three hundred appointees later, is measurable.

Of course the ultimate aim for such bureaucracies should be to get rid of them or limit their power–something McConnell also engages in, as when he spearheaded the challenge to Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments, which resulted recently in a unanimous Supreme Court rejection of Obama’s power grab.

But conservatives can fight those fights while engaging in limited reform from within the regulatory state. They don’t have to cede ground just because they wish that ground didn’t exist.

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The Casualties of Obama’s War on Coal

This week President Obama is expected to announce new regulations on carbon emissions that will have a potentially devastating impact on America’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. The move was made possible by Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the right to regulate such emissions, giving the president virtual carte blanche to remake this sector of our economy without requiring congressional consent. As the New York Times reports today, this decision is being closely watched abroad as governments look to see whether the U.S. is setting a good example for other nations, such as China, whose economies are driven by coal and which do far more polluting of the atmosphere than America does.

Yet the Chinese aren’t the only ones following this issue. The president has already signaled that addressing climate change was one of the priorities of his second term as well as making it clear that he was eager to move ahead and govern by executive order rather than via the normal constitutional process that involves the legislative branch. As such, the White House rightly anticipates that this broadside aimed at the coal industry will be intensely popular with Obama’s core constituencies on the left as well as the liberal mainstream media. But while leading Democratic donors such as Tom Steyer will be cheering a measure that fits his ideological agenda, not everybody in the Democratic Party is going to be happy with what amounts to a new Obama war on coal. In particular, the Democrats’ brightest hope for stealing a Republican-controlled Senate seat this fall—Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—may wind up paying a fearful price for Obama’s decision.

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This week President Obama is expected to announce new regulations on carbon emissions that will have a potentially devastating impact on America’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. The move was made possible by Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the right to regulate such emissions, giving the president virtual carte blanche to remake this sector of our economy without requiring congressional consent. As the New York Times reports today, this decision is being closely watched abroad as governments look to see whether the U.S. is setting a good example for other nations, such as China, whose economies are driven by coal and which do far more polluting of the atmosphere than America does.

Yet the Chinese aren’t the only ones following this issue. The president has already signaled that addressing climate change was one of the priorities of his second term as well as making it clear that he was eager to move ahead and govern by executive order rather than via the normal constitutional process that involves the legislative branch. As such, the White House rightly anticipates that this broadside aimed at the coal industry will be intensely popular with Obama’s core constituencies on the left as well as the liberal mainstream media. But while leading Democratic donors such as Tom Steyer will be cheering a measure that fits his ideological agenda, not everybody in the Democratic Party is going to be happy with what amounts to a new Obama war on coal. In particular, the Democrats’ brightest hope for stealing a Republican-controlled Senate seat this fall—Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—may wind up paying a fearful price for Obama’s decision.

As the Times notes, the conundrum of America’s extremist environmentalist lobby lies in the fact that the U.S. is actually doing relatively little of the carbon damage that they believe is fueling global warming. The vast majority of the increase in emissions comes from developing economies around the globe, especially in places like China. While resistance to the sort of tough restrictions on carbon that environmentalists lust for is strong in nations that produce fossil-based fuels, the Chinese believe that the West should pay the steep economic price involved in such schemes while they and other developing nations are allowed to burn all the coal they want. By making his ruling, Obama won’t just be harming the U.S. economy. By setting a good example, Washington thinks their going first will somehow persuade the Chinese to follow suit.

This is highly unlikely. Though it pays lip service to global warming theories, China’s top priority is building their economy. Meanwhile, nations such as Russia are not shy about stating their unwillingness to stop burning coal. But by taking what he believes is the high road with respect to the environment, the president will be fulfilling not only the promises made to his domestic liberal constituencies but also behaving in a manner that is consistent with his belief in multilateral foreign policy.

But back at home this high-minded environmentalism may not play as well as he thinks. Many Americans fear that Obama will damage their economy while doing nothing to alter the warming equation that is being decided elsewhere. Though the media has followed the White House playbook in emphasizing any report that hypes the threat from global warming while downplaying any development that undermines this thesis, the public has demonstrated repeatedly that this issue is not a priority, especially when compared to their concerns about the economy and jobs. And this is exactly what the president’s orders will affect most grievously.

Among the biggest losers will be regions where the coal industry is a mainstay of the economy. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the best example of such a state is Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remains the country’s most endangered Republican in an election cycle that should otherwise be quite favorable to the GOP. McConnell has been working hard to tie Grimes to Obama, a charge that she has steadfastly rejected. But the president’s regulatory war on coal will be a body blow to Grimes’s attempt to argue that it will be her and not Obama who will be on the ballot this November. Grimes smartly opposes the administration’s environmentalist stands with respect to coal, but the new orders will escalate the struggle to a point where it could play a crucial role in the midterms. Grimes has sought to make McConnell the main issue in the contest, something that is not to the advantage of the dour minority leader and longtime incumbent. But if the key issue is defense of Kentucky’s coal industry against the White House, it will be difficult for the Democrat to assert that she will be in a better position to resist this assault than the man who may be the majority leader of the upper body next January. In a contest to see who can be most hostile to Obama, the GOP has the edge over even the most independent Democrat.

The war on coal is exactly the ticket to fire up the president’s coastal elite base as well as very much what the international community wants. But it could be the death knell for Grimes’s Senate hopes. If that race makes the difference in deciding control of the Senate, it could be that global warming will be the issue that pushes Obama from a weak-second term incumbent to dead-in-the-water lame duck.

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The “War on Women” and the Democrats’ Kentucky Cheap Shots

Alison Lundergan Grimes is running for the Senate in an attempt to unseat the upper chamber’s Republican leader, and she has a message for the voters: she’s a she. As the Washington Post reports:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and, as she did Tuesday night, describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” …

“This is a Kentucky woman through and through, who proudly wears a dress,” she said at one of her final stops along a statewide bus tour that culminated with Tuesday’s primary.…

She wasn’t done talking about what she was wearing.

“I have stood strong in these heels,” she said shortly after her speech in a brief interview inside her bus. “I’ve run circles around [McConnell] in this state in my heels, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

This is an interesting tactic to highlight the Democrats’ invented and condescending “war on women.” But there are good reasons for it–most notably, she would prefer not to talk policy or the issues, since her party is so hostile to Kentucky voters’ concerns.

As the Associated Press reports, Grimes is trying desperately to avoid taking a position on whether she’d have supported ObamaCare. The president’s health-care reform law is unpopular, and Grimes no doubt would like to benefit from the fact that she was not in Congress when Democrats voted for a terrible bill they hadn’t read out of blind loyalty to their dear leader.

At the same time, Grimes doesn’t want to take a stand against it, not least because demonstrating the consensus against ObamaCare would only highlight the fact that her election would further enable ObamaCare’s destructive consequences.

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Alison Lundergan Grimes is running for the Senate in an attempt to unseat the upper chamber’s Republican leader, and she has a message for the voters: she’s a she. As the Washington Post reports:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and, as she did Tuesday night, describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” …

“This is a Kentucky woman through and through, who proudly wears a dress,” she said at one of her final stops along a statewide bus tour that culminated with Tuesday’s primary.…

She wasn’t done talking about what she was wearing.

“I have stood strong in these heels,” she said shortly after her speech in a brief interview inside her bus. “I’ve run circles around [McConnell] in this state in my heels, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

This is an interesting tactic to highlight the Democrats’ invented and condescending “war on women.” But there are good reasons for it–most notably, she would prefer not to talk policy or the issues, since her party is so hostile to Kentucky voters’ concerns.

As the Associated Press reports, Grimes is trying desperately to avoid taking a position on whether she’d have supported ObamaCare. The president’s health-care reform law is unpopular, and Grimes no doubt would like to benefit from the fact that she was not in Congress when Democrats voted for a terrible bill they hadn’t read out of blind loyalty to their dear leader.

At the same time, Grimes doesn’t want to take a stand against it, not least because demonstrating the consensus against ObamaCare would only highlight the fact that her election would further enable ObamaCare’s destructive consequences.

So she’s simply repeating over and over again that she’s wearing a dress–“She paused, looked down at her strawberry-red outfit, and let the crowd of a few dozen supporters whoop and holler at the inside joke,” the Post explains after Grimes told the crowd she “proudly wears a dress.”

There are pitfalls to this strategy as well. Grimes is a seasoned partisan, but she seems to have made a classic rookie mistake along the lines of Christine O’Donnell:

Alison Lundergan Grimes says it everywhere she goes. She said it at dozens of stops in Kentucky over the past week. She said it at her victory speech here Tuesday night after securing the Democratic nomination for Senate. And she plans to say it again all the way to November. She’s not an “empty dress.”

Ever since a Republican strategist used the insult months ago to belittle the 35-year-old Grimes, she has made it a rallying point in her quest to dislodge the Senate’s GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, from the Kentucky seat he has held for three decades.

Everywhere she goes she proclaims she’s not an empty dress? Not only does that come across as defensive, it reminds the crowds of the accusation. This is where the “war on women” rhetoric poses a challenge. Democrats don’t think women are smart enough or capable enough to out-debate and out-campaign their opponents on the issues, so they’ve instructed them to play the victim. But that requires Democratic women to consistently raise the idea that they can’t win on the merits.

If Grimes has already internalized the Democratic Party’s belief that women are inferior candidates, she’s going to have an uphill climb in a Senate election. Additionally, the “war on women” claims open the left up to accusations of hypocrisy. A notable example this election season was when Oregon Democrats spurred overly personal attacks on a Republican victim of domestic violence. The creepy attacks were meant to help Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.

It’s too soon to tell whether that will backfire on Merkley, but Grimes is now under fire for a bizarre false attack on McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao. Specifically, Grimes attacked the family’s wealth after Chao’s mother passed away and left her daughter an inheritance. Grimes suggested Chao’s inheritance money was actually ill-gotten gains McConnell accrued in the Senate.

This is just the beginning of the campaign, so it’s possible Grimes will get her footing. Hopefully the attack on Chao over her deceased mother represents a low point for Grimes’s campaign and it’ll be uphill from here. Perhaps she’ll also find a communications team smart enough to tell her to stop announcing she’s not an empty dress. Either way, the Grimes campaign thus far is a good indication of the damage the Democrats’ “war on women” is doing to political discourse.

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Dems Won’t Be Saved Again by the Tea Party

Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

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Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

It bears repeating that those in the media who are treating this as an ideological shift in which moderates have triumphed over conservatives are mistaken. Though individual groups that claimed the Tea Party banner have attempted to transform a broad grassroots movement into something with a specific address and card-carrying members (while liberals have falsely imagined it to be the function of a few large conservative donors like the Koch brothers pulling the puppet strings of political operatives), the Tea Party movement was always something far more amorphous. It began as an inchoate push across the board from conservatives who were angry about the betrayal of what they felt were the party’s principles from big government Republicans in Congress as well as about the Obama administration’s billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare.

In its first bloom in 2010 and to a lesser degree in 2012 that rise led to the nomination of people like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who had no business getting major party nods. That happened because of the perception that their opponents were somehow part of the permanent governing class that had no compunction about increasing the debt in order to keep funding a government with no limits. But what has happened in recent years is that virtually the entire Republican Party has embraced Tea Party ideology when it comes to the big issues of taxing and spending. While the liberal mainstream media has always labeled Tea Partiers as being a bunch of wild-eyed extremists who were liable to be racists as well as at war with the federal government, the reality is that most of the voters and candidates who identify with the term are simply conservatives who are tired of business as usual Republicans.

What happened on Tuesday is not a situation where mainstream Republicans bested Tea Partiers and beat them on the issues. Rather, it was that voters were faced with candidates that largely shared the same views but understandably preferred more electable Republicans to those who were unlikely to prevail in November.

Indeed, this ideological shift is noticeable even among the Democrats who are being nominated to oppose these conservatives. Candidates like Grimes and Nunn are doing everything to distance themselves from President Obama and seeking to appeal to mainstream voters. While Democrats in blue states are veering to the left, those in the rest of the country understand that they must come across as being comfortable with the basic conservatism of most Americans. That’s good politics, and if the GOP lets them get away with obscuring their dedication to failed liberal policies, the Democrats will prevail.

But after years of the media echo chamber flaying the Republicans for being in thrall to extremists, GOP primary voters have taken that issue off the table. Without it, Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold the Senate.

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Can the GOP Define Dem Senate Challengers?

Today’s primaries in six states across the nation are providing a multiplicity of narratives, but the most popular is the one in which the Tea Party is being depicted as the big loser. If polls are correct those Republican candidates most closely identified with the Tea Party are set to lose to politicians who are backed by the so-called GOP establishment. But as with a number of previous elections in which Tea Partiers have lost, this is somewhat misleading. Though some running under the Tea Party banner, like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, are certain losers, that is more a reflection of the weaknesses of these individuals or the strengths of their opponents (in Bevin’s case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) than any lack of support for the cause of fiscal conservatism that first swept the nation in 2010.

But once the dust settles after today’s primaries the real question facing Republicans will not be about the future of a Tea Party that has already won due to the conversion of virtually the entire Republican Party to Tea Party principles about taxation and spending. Rather, it will be whether they can define Democratic opponents whose challenges in two key races threaten to prevent the GOP from taking back the Senate. While most of the attention has been focused on the GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky (where McConnell is fending off Bevin) and Georgia where a free-for-all has weakened the party and made a runoff likely, the Democratic standard-bearers are already known. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia’s Michelle Nunn both look to be formidable general-election candidates.

But more to the point, the GOP intramural fights have allowed both women, who already have the advantage of name recognition stemming from their famous politician fathers, to emerge largely unscathed to this point. While they can expect that to change once their opponents are named, the conceit of both of their campaigns is to run as centrists who are not identified with President Obama or his unpopular ObamaCare legislation. The question is whether or not it is possible for Republicans to convince the public that, in fact, both are liberals who will seek to implement the president’s agenda rather than pursue the centrist course they claim to support. If Republicans can’t define these two challengers in this manner, their chances of winning control of the Senate may be lost.

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Today’s primaries in six states across the nation are providing a multiplicity of narratives, but the most popular is the one in which the Tea Party is being depicted as the big loser. If polls are correct those Republican candidates most closely identified with the Tea Party are set to lose to politicians who are backed by the so-called GOP establishment. But as with a number of previous elections in which Tea Partiers have lost, this is somewhat misleading. Though some running under the Tea Party banner, like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, are certain losers, that is more a reflection of the weaknesses of these individuals or the strengths of their opponents (in Bevin’s case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) than any lack of support for the cause of fiscal conservatism that first swept the nation in 2010.

But once the dust settles after today’s primaries the real question facing Republicans will not be about the future of a Tea Party that has already won due to the conversion of virtually the entire Republican Party to Tea Party principles about taxation and spending. Rather, it will be whether they can define Democratic opponents whose challenges in two key races threaten to prevent the GOP from taking back the Senate. While most of the attention has been focused on the GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky (where McConnell is fending off Bevin) and Georgia where a free-for-all has weakened the party and made a runoff likely, the Democratic standard-bearers are already known. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia’s Michelle Nunn both look to be formidable general-election candidates.

But more to the point, the GOP intramural fights have allowed both women, who already have the advantage of name recognition stemming from their famous politician fathers, to emerge largely unscathed to this point. While they can expect that to change once their opponents are named, the conceit of both of their campaigns is to run as centrists who are not identified with President Obama or his unpopular ObamaCare legislation. The question is whether or not it is possible for Republicans to convince the public that, in fact, both are liberals who will seek to implement the president’s agenda rather than pursue the centrist course they claim to support. If Republicans can’t define these two challengers in this manner, their chances of winning control of the Senate may be lost.

In Grimes’s case, she has already been under fire from McConnell’s formidable political machine but has, at least to date, been able to portray herself as a centrist alternative to a rabidly partisan minority leader, even if the senator’s primary opponent has absurdly blasted him as a liberal. She can expect those attacks to intensify in the coming months but it is not clear whether efforts to portray her as an Obama acolyte will overcome McConnell’s own low popularity in what polls show to be a dead heat.

But Nunn’s ability to get a free pass from the press and the GOP may have already compromised the Republicans’ ability to hold a seat being vacated by the retiring Saxby Chambliss. To date, Nunn has escaped much scrutiny for refusing to take a stand on most of the president’s policies, even refusing to say whether she would have voted for ObamaCare when it was passed in 2010 or what she would do about the deficit other than the usual empty clichés about stopping fraud and eliminating waste. Unless Republicans can effectively highlight this deceptive strategy, she has a decent chance of winning a Senate seat largely on the strength of being former Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter.

If Republicans want to see what happens to challengers–especially women who are newcomers to politics–when their opponents seek to define them as out of the mainstream, they should look to Oregon where the most formidable GOP Senate candidate seeking the party’s nomination today has been damaged by stories about her supposed stalking of a former boyfriend and husband. Dr. Monica Wehby gained national attention in the last month with her ad titled “Trust,” which featured the parent of one of the patients she treated in her capacity as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Wehby is pretty much a political consultant’s dream in that she is bright, principled, and has no political baggage. As such, she looked to have a better than average chance to put the seat currently held by Democrat Jeff Merkley into play despite the fact that Oregon is a very blue state. But the stories about stalking have put that in doubt. While any candidate is responsible for his or her own behavior, the willingness of Democrats to try to use what appear to be minor, non-violent personal disputes to depict her as a real-life version of the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction shows just how miserable a business politics can be.

While Wehby may yet survive this siege, the lesson here for Republicans is that their opponents’ bare knuckles tactics illustrate just how far they are willing to go in order to hold their Senate majority. While hopefully the GOP won’t sink to that level in order to defeat Grimes or Nunn, neither can they sit back and just hope the voters will wake up and realize that electing them is a vote for Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid, not centrist politics. In an election that hinges on the GOP’s ability to hold its own seats while beating vulnerable Democratic incumbents, the ability to define challengers may be the key to the 2014 midterms.

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Not All Political Gaffes Are Created Equal

With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November.

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With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November.

The two mistakes in question were the kind designed to generate coverage. In the case of McConnell, it concerned a campaign video posted on the Internet that featured a montage of images while the voice of the candidate is heard promising what he will do if he takes over as majority leader of the Senate next year, something that requires not only major Republican gains around the country, but also his reelection in what promises to be a tough race against Alison Lundergan Grimes. One of the final images seen is a brief glimpse of basketball players wearing blue and white jerseys celebrating a victory. But unfortunately for McConnell, the players on the court are not members of the University of Kentucky’s 2012 NCAA champions but those of Duke University’s 2010 winners of the same title (who wear the same colors but with a different name on their shirts). Suffice it to say that McConnell will never hear the end of this in basketball-mad Kentucky.

But there is a difference between a video montage created by a staff—and which appears for approximately two seconds on the screen—and the sort of elitist contempt displayed by Braley. As Tom Bevan wrote on RealClearPolitics about the incident, it’s hard to understand why a candidate in this day and age doesn’t assume that the “camera is on” no matter where they are and to whom they are speaking. It is also astonishing that someone running for office in an agricultural state would disparage a farmer in any context.

The context in question, which Democratic apologists have cited, is that he was discussing the fact that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, Grassley, the state’s senior senator, will become the chair of the Judiciary Committee. This is something that Braley, a trial lawyer by profession who was speaking to a group of trial lawyers at a Dallas fundraiser, regards with horror not only because Grassley is a Republican but because he isn’t a lawyer. Perhaps most lawyers feel the same way, but the odds are, most voters in any state view the matter differently. If anything, the fact that Grassley isn’t a lawyer would probably be an argument in favor of the GOP since most Americans think lawyers already have too much influence in Congress. And it’s probably a given that most Iowans think there’s nothing wrong with having a farmer—even one that’s served on the Judiciary Committee for many years—telling the lawyers what to do.

Thus, rather than just an embarrassing gaffe that could be viewed as an insult to the honor of Iowa and made up for by enough groveling tributes to agriculture by Braley, the video of him showing disrespect for Grassley’s qualifications is the kind of mistake that voters understand gives them an insight into the candidate’s character. That’s something the Republican candidate will take full advantage of, especially if it turns out to be State Senator Joni Ernst, who has been stumping the state bragging that she will make Washington squeal the same way that the pigs she castrated back on her family farm did. Interestingly, that line seems to have Ernst, who was widely seen as more a favorite of establishment Republicans than Tea Partiers or social conservatives, Sarah Palin’s endorsement this week.

Unlike McConnell’s blooper, Braley’s mistake could help cost the Democrats a seat (currently held by the retiring Tom Harkin) they can ill afford to lose.

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Even in KY, Focus Is Obama, Not McConnell

In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

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In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

The mainstream media narrative about the Kentucky race has been fairly consistent. McConnell is the Republican liberals seem to despise the most and 2014 seemed to create a perfect storm of circumstances that could guarantee his defeat. Many Tea Party activists regard McConnell as the quintessential establishment traitor to their cause leading Matt Bevin, a wealthy investment executive, to try to take out McConnell in a primary. But even if he survived a primary, Democrats are fielding a formidable candidate in Grimes, who has a strong record as Kentucky secretary of state and can mobilize heavy hitters like former President Bill Clinton to back her candidacy. The party establishment felt so strongly about Grimes that they went all out to discourage actress Ashley Judd from running and the result is that she has a clear path to November. All that adds up to a competitive race that probably gives the Democrats their best—and perhaps only—chance to unseat a Republican senator this year.

But, as Cohn points out, assuming that a red state like Kentucky will oust an incumbent Republican senator, not to mention one as powerful as the minority leader (who may well become majority leader next January) is a leap of faith that sensible political observers shouldn’t make. The number of incumbents in McConnell’s position that have been defeated for reelection in the last generation can be counted on one hand. Indeed, the only real precedent for such an event is what happened to Alaska’s Ted Stevens in 2008 when Mark Begich narrowly defeated him after the senator was convicted in a corruption case. But, as Cohn helpfully points out, as much as Democrats and some right-wing activists might hate him, McConnell isn’t a convicted felon (while failing to note that Stevens’s conviction was later overturned because of the outrageous and illegal conduct of his prosecutors, though that did the Alaskan, who died in a plane crash soon after the election, little good).

If, as Cohn points out, McConnell could be reelected in 2008 in the middle of the electoral wave for Barack Obama as well as in the wake of his role in the passage of the TARP bailout for the banks, it’s hard to imagine him losing in the midst of what almost everyone concedes will be a big Republican year with voter outrage focused on ObamaCare. Throw in the fact that anger about Obama’s anti-coal policies is running red hot in the state’s coal producing regions and it’s hard to see how Grimes gets to a majority this year.

Moreover, as Cohn also notes, Grimes’s good poll numbers that show her even with the senator have a fatal flaw. She’s currently polling in the low 40s, which sounds good but, given Kentucky’s past voting patterns, that may be her ceiling rather than a jumping off point.

More than anything else, like other Democrats, Grimes is going to have to deal with the massive fallout from ObamaCare. Like Alex Sink in Florida-13, Grimes is trying to finesse the issue by saying the law should be fixed rather than repealed. The Kentucky ObamaCare exchange is working better than in most states leading some to conclude health care won’t be the issue in that state that it is elsewhere. But that’s an assumption that fails to take into account the dynamic of how a national issue can overwhelm local concerns. And, as Sink discovered, the “fix it” mantra may not turn out to be so smart anyway since it forces Democrats to play on Republican turf.

It’s true that Mitch McConnell has a fight on his hands and Grimes may well have a future in national politics beyond this year. But those counting on the minority leader losing are probably backing the wrong horse in this year’s Senate derby.

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The Tea Party Five Years In

This past week marked the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Tea Party Movement. Here are some thoughts on it. 

1. The Tea Party arose from a justifiable concern with the expanding size, scope and reach of the federal government. It was an important factor in the epic 2010 mid-term election. At its best it has integrated itself into the GOP while continuing to apply pressure to Republican leaders to re-limit government and waring them against making careless and unprincipled deals.

2. Particularly early on, the elite media smeared the Tea Party as racist. The double standard was particularly evident in how the press covered the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which was responsible for violence, sexual assaults, arson and general filth in the areas it choose to occupy. If the Tea Party had committed a fraction of the lawless things done by OWS, it would have dominated news coverage for months. But because OWS was advancing a progressive agenda, the transgressions were politely overlooked. (I wrote about the bias here.)

3. The Tea Party has been an important factor in the political rise of senators like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, who have been outstanding additions to Congress. But it has also gotten behind other candidates in primaries – Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and others — who flamed out. The result is that Democrats still retain control of the Senate when they could easily have lost control of it.

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This past week marked the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Tea Party Movement. Here are some thoughts on it. 

1. The Tea Party arose from a justifiable concern with the expanding size, scope and reach of the federal government. It was an important factor in the epic 2010 mid-term election. At its best it has integrated itself into the GOP while continuing to apply pressure to Republican leaders to re-limit government and waring them against making careless and unprincipled deals.

2. Particularly early on, the elite media smeared the Tea Party as racist. The double standard was particularly evident in how the press covered the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which was responsible for violence, sexual assaults, arson and general filth in the areas it choose to occupy. If the Tea Party had committed a fraction of the lawless things done by OWS, it would have dominated news coverage for months. But because OWS was advancing a progressive agenda, the transgressions were politely overlooked. (I wrote about the bias here.)

3. The Tea Party has been an important factor in the political rise of senators like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, who have been outstanding additions to Congress. But it has also gotten behind other candidates in primaries – Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and others — who flamed out. The result is that Democrats still retain control of the Senate when they could easily have lost control of it.

4.  How positive a force the Tea Party ends up being depends in large part on whether its populist sentiments are channeled in a constructive or destructive way. If the movement becomes one which finds its greatest satisfaction in (a) trying to excommunicate those whom they deem to be the ideologically impure — like those well-known leftists Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Pete Sessions, both of whom have received 100 percent ratings by the American Conservative Union — and (b) championing tactics like shutting down the federal government, it will damage conservatism by discrediting it.

If on the other hand the Tea Party directs its energies toward supporting serious, principles candidates with cross-over appeal and who will advance far-reaching conservative reforms in areas like Medicare, health care, the tax code, elementary, secondary and higher education, and energy, it will be a hugely positive force in American politics.

5. It’s not clear right now which direction the Tea Party will go or what will ultimately become of it. At this particular moment the key to understanding what is animating members of the Tea Party is frustration and outright anger with what they derisively refer to as The Establishment, most especially the GOP establishment, which they see as supine, weak, craven, and timid. That is the thing I’ve heard most often from those who identify with the Tea Party – that Republicans, and in particular GOP leaders, are seized by an “abject fear” of the left, that they are constantly “caving it” to President Obama and Democrats, and simply unwilling to fight. 

Those feelings, while not wholly unjustified, have, I think, led the Tea Party down some blind alleys and into some silly mistakes. The danger is that those feelings are stoked by demagogues in and out of office and that they intensify; that the Tea Party becomes more agitated, more consumed by resentments, and more apocalyptic in its rhetoric and outlook. That would ultimately be self-destructive.

This fate isn’t a foregone conclusion by any means. The Tea Party movement itself (as opposed to some of the organizations that claim to speak for it) is more variegated than is commonly thought, political movements are subject to shifting currents, and Republicans would be unwise to give up on the Tea Party or render sweeping, definitive judgments about it. What Republicans have to hope for is that figures emerge whom members of the Tea Party trust and who can help guide and direct the Tea Party in constructive and conservative, rather than a destructive and radical, ways.

A great deal in American politics hinges on whether such individuals materialize. 

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Why the Tea Party and GOP Just Can’t Quit Each Other

The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker has a piece on the dilemma confronting Tea Party groups working to oust Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate primary, and it should serve as a cautionary tale. The enthusiasm for primary challenges, as we’ve noted time and again, has its dramatic success stories (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee) and its less vaunted adventures (Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell). There is no blanket rule: incumbents don’t own their seats, but sometimes attention and resources can be more strategically deployed in election years.

Additionally, primary challengers should have to earn their support just as incumbents should: calling yourself a Tea Party candidate–especially since Democrats have long since figured out how to game that system and divide the right–shouldn’t be all it takes to get votes and donations. The worst-case scenario is generally considered to be a primary challenger knocking off an “electable” (no, I’m not fond of that word either, but sometimes it does apply) candidate and then losing in the general election. It’s unclear how far Matt Bevin, the Kentuckian challenging McConnell, will get, but so far he’s been underwhelming. Last week Politico revealed that Bevin was something of a hypocrite:

Matt Bevin, who is challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary, calls the 2008 federal bailout of banks and Wall Street giants “irresponsible” and says he would have opposed it as a senator.

Yet back in 2008, as an investment fund president, Bevin backed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, as well as the government takeover of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. McConnell supported TARP, and the Bevin campaign repeatedly reminds voters that the Senate minority leader calls that vote “one of the finest moments in the history of the Senate.”

Politico also explained that conservative groups backing Bevin seemed unshaken by the revelations. Drucker follows up with those groups, and finds they’re still in Bevin’s corner:

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The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker has a piece on the dilemma confronting Tea Party groups working to oust Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate primary, and it should serve as a cautionary tale. The enthusiasm for primary challenges, as we’ve noted time and again, has its dramatic success stories (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee) and its less vaunted adventures (Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell). There is no blanket rule: incumbents don’t own their seats, but sometimes attention and resources can be more strategically deployed in election years.

Additionally, primary challengers should have to earn their support just as incumbents should: calling yourself a Tea Party candidate–especially since Democrats have long since figured out how to game that system and divide the right–shouldn’t be all it takes to get votes and donations. The worst-case scenario is generally considered to be a primary challenger knocking off an “electable” (no, I’m not fond of that word either, but sometimes it does apply) candidate and then losing in the general election. It’s unclear how far Matt Bevin, the Kentuckian challenging McConnell, will get, but so far he’s been underwhelming. Last week Politico revealed that Bevin was something of a hypocrite:

Matt Bevin, who is challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary, calls the 2008 federal bailout of banks and Wall Street giants “irresponsible” and says he would have opposed it as a senator.

Yet back in 2008, as an investment fund president, Bevin backed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, as well as the government takeover of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. McConnell supported TARP, and the Bevin campaign repeatedly reminds voters that the Senate minority leader calls that vote “one of the finest moments in the history of the Senate.”

Politico also explained that conservative groups backing Bevin seemed unshaken by the revelations. Drucker follows up with those groups, and finds they’re still in Bevin’s corner:

In email exchanges with the Washington Examiner, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project vigorously defended Bevin’s personal integrity and conservative credentials. They denied accusations that they targeted McConnell, and continue to invest in Bevin, in an attempt to garner political power, gain attention or raise money.

“Between McConnell and Bevin, McConnell was the only one with the opportunity to prevent TARP from becoming a reality, and he enthusiastically voted for it and convinced others to follow,” Madison Project spokesman Daniel Horowitz said.

One GOP operative even tells Drucker that the groups backing Bevin are destroying their credibility the way they think the party establishment has by supporting the wrong candidates: “That stain does not come out … It’s like the NRSC endorsing Charlie Crist. It leaves a lasting impression whether that’s fair or not.”

The Crist insult is particularly timely, as the former Florida governor is now running for office as a Democrat. Regardless of the virtues of either candidate, however, it’s important that neither side lose perspective. That the Tea Party and the establishment would continue to clash was inevitable. The idea that they can’t, or shouldn’t, coexist within the same party structure is bunk.

In his 1968 book Political Order in Changing Societies, Samuel Huntington noted that the political party was–despite some of the Founders’ distaste for it–the “distinctive institution of the modern polity.” The other political institutions were in some way “adaptations” or “carry-overs” from earlier systems. Bureaucracies weren’t new, nor were parliaments, elections, courts, or even constitutional frameworks. Huntington allows for one possible competitor to parties as the distinctive modern political institution: federalism, though he dismisses it as not unique the way parties were. Either way, the American system had created something new.

It’s worth quoting what he says next to fully understand why the Tea Party is such an important component of American politics:

Cliques and factions exist in all political systems. So also do parties in the sense of informal groups competing with each other for power and influence. But parties in the sense of organizations are a product of modern politics. Political parties exist in the modern polity because only modern political systems require institutions to organize mass participation in politics. The political party as an organization had its forerunners in the revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first appearance of organized political parties, however, comes in the eighteenth century in those countries where political participation was first expanded, in America and then in France. The shift, in Rudolph’s terms, from the politics of status to the politics of opinion, led to the creation of the political party as a political institution.

I am particularly fond of that phrase: “the shift … from the politics of status to the politics of opinion.” The left’s major electoral vehicle today is the Democratic Party, which has shifted from the politics of opinion back to the politics of status. If you’re related to a Kennedy, a Clinton, or a Dingell, you’re still being handed power the moment you ask for it. The Tea Party, to its great credit, does not want that replicated on the right. It isn’t just against the politics of status but it’s also representative of the politics of opinion.

But those opinions are fulfilled through the right’s manifestation of what Huntington called the distinctive institution of modern politics: the party. And the two are compatible not despite their penchant for clashing but precisely because of it. Matt Bevin has every right to challenge Mitch McConnell, and Tea Party groups have every right to support Bevin. But this particular election is shaping up to be a primary for its own sake. And the idea that a politician should be elected merely because of the Tea Party label–well, that’s the politics of status.

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Will GOP Rescue Obama with Debt Fight?

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw down the gauntlet again on the debt ceiling. Speaking to reporters in Washington, McConnell made it clear that Senate Republicans wouldn’t consider putting through a “clean” debt ceiling bill that would merely rubber stamp the latest installment of out-of-control government spending. The issue was specifically left out of the pragmatic deal cut between the two parties by Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray that eliminated the possibility of another government shutdown for two years. But are Republicans really sanguine about the prospect of another bruising fight about the debt ceiling as well as of the attendant dire and somewhat self-fulfilling prophecies about default and the collapse of the economy?

The budget agreement seemed to indicate that the GOP—or at least House Speaker John Boehner—had learned its lesson from the series of debilitating and largely self-destructive fights they’ve engage in over both the budget and the debt in the last two years, but McConnell’s comments seem to indicate that we may be in for another one sometime early in 2014. But given the beating Republicans have taken over previous attempts to exact concessions from Democrats in such situations, the White House may be hoping that McConnell makes good on his threat. While McConnell and other conservatives are right to believe extending the debt ceiling ought to be accompanied by some gesture from the government that indicates a move toward reform, they need to consider whether another skirmish of this sort will do more to harm their cause than help it.

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Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw down the gauntlet again on the debt ceiling. Speaking to reporters in Washington, McConnell made it clear that Senate Republicans wouldn’t consider putting through a “clean” debt ceiling bill that would merely rubber stamp the latest installment of out-of-control government spending. The issue was specifically left out of the pragmatic deal cut between the two parties by Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray that eliminated the possibility of another government shutdown for two years. But are Republicans really sanguine about the prospect of another bruising fight about the debt ceiling as well as of the attendant dire and somewhat self-fulfilling prophecies about default and the collapse of the economy?

The budget agreement seemed to indicate that the GOP—or at least House Speaker John Boehner—had learned its lesson from the series of debilitating and largely self-destructive fights they’ve engage in over both the budget and the debt in the last two years, but McConnell’s comments seem to indicate that we may be in for another one sometime early in 2014. But given the beating Republicans have taken over previous attempts to exact concessions from Democrats in such situations, the White House may be hoping that McConnell makes good on his threat. While McConnell and other conservatives are right to believe extending the debt ceiling ought to be accompanied by some gesture from the government that indicates a move toward reform, they need to consider whether another skirmish of this sort will do more to harm their cause than help it.

After a year in which a string of scandals and then a disastrous rollout of his signature health-care bill have caused President Obama’s approval ratings to collapse, the White House is looking for a way to change the subject from broken promises and dysfunctional websites.

Their strategy appears to be one in which the president finally makes good on the promises of his 2013 State-of the Union speech and pivots hard left. That’s part of the reason veteran liberal strategist John Podesta has been drafted to help shore up the team of presidential advisors. Obama’s recent speech attempting to make income inequality the fulcrum of the national political debate was largely unpersuasive ideological cant. That’s what the Democratic base wants to hear, but it’s not the sort of thing that will do much to help reelect vulnerable Democrats in red states and keep the Senate out of Republican hands. Nor will it divert the public or even the mainstream media from coverage of the ongoing fiasco that is ObamaCare. But if Republicans throw Obama a lifeline in the form of another debt ceiling crisis, they might provide him with just the opening he needs to both bury the ObamaCare story and to resurrect his favorite campaign theme about GOP extremists who are willing to sacrifice the nation in pursuit of partisan goals.

Such a characterization of Republican efforts to rein in government spending and taxes before agreeing to go on expanding the debt is patently unfair. Tea Party activists and some of their GOP congressional hostages, like McConnell, are in the right on this issue. Raising the debt ceiling isn’t merely paying the bills, it’s a gesture that enables more irresponsibility and has done just that every time it has been raised.

But it needs to be reiterated that with control of only one half of one third of the government, neither House Republicans nor the GOP minority in the Senate have the ability to force Obama and the Democrats to agree to any of the commonsense ideas they propose. Going to the brink over this is a political loser. It is a given that neither Speaker Boehner nor Senator McConnell is really willing to see the nation go over the fiscal cliff over this. Whether the dire predictions heard from liberals are false or not it can’t be denied that the uncertainty will hurt the economy and that Republicans will take the brunt of the blame. Doing so in an election year will only help Democrats reframe the issues in a way that could revive Obama’s increasingly dismal second term and give their party the boost they need to hold onto the Senate.

Conservatives and Tea Partiers will dismiss such warnings as cynical political gamesmanship and brand, as they’ve done every commonsense thing congressional Republicans have done in the past year (like ending the government shutdown or passing the Ryan compromise budget), as a sellout. But the same realism that pushed them to abandon suicidal tactics in the past shouldn’t be ignored now. If conservatives are serious about changing Washington, they are going to have to start by winning the 2014 midterms. A debt-ceiling crisis, like the shutdown, will be a gift to Democrats allowing them to evade questions about presidential misrule and the devastating impact ObamaCare is having on millions of Americans.

Its understandable that McConnell and other Republicans who face stiff primary challenges from the right this year don’t want to be called RINOs and thus are talking about going to the brink again. But if McConnell wants to win in November and move to the majority leader’s desk, he’s going to have to find a way to avoid a debt debacle.

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Can GOP Win Budget Language War?

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

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There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

At the heart of this problem for Republicans is the fact that their opponents’ demands have been every bit as ideological as their own in the various budget negotiations. If Republicans are adamant that spending must be reined in and that, as McConnell rightly asserts, the country’s problem isn’t that taxes are too low, then how can that position be branded as extremist when Democrats are digging in their heels, demanding that entitlement programs be preserved intact and that taxes must go up? Rather than merely rail at the unfairness of it all, it’s time conservatives started calling out Obama in the same manner that they have been labeled.

Can it work?

Well, as some on the right would be the first to point out, it doesn’t matter what they say if it is only being transmitted to much of the public via the filter of mainstream liberal publications and broadcast outlets. But such a defeatist attitude fails to take into account that earlier generations of conservatives—in particular Ronald Reagan—managed to change the way the country thought about the welfare state in an even more hostile media environment. If Reagan could convince Americans that government was the problem in an era when national television news meant three liberal talking heads and without the help of Fox News and conservative talk radio, how is it that those who claim to be his successors are incapable of changing the way contemporary issues are framed?

It may not be fair to compare anyone to the “Great Communicator,” but the lesson here is not that Republicans need another Reagan. That would be nice, but a more realistic hope is for their talking heads and leaders to concentrate their fire on the unwillingness of the president and his supporters to drop their addiction to taxes and spending. Language not only counts, it is decisive in determining the outcome of political battles. Tea Partiers who are currently obsessed with anger at those on the right who understood that the shutdown was a fiasco need to refocus their ire at the White House. If Republicans hope not to be schooled again by Obama, they’d better start following McConnell’s lead and turning the hostage metaphor around.

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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McConnell’s Bad Week Isn’t Fatal

There’s a lot of chortling going on right now among Democrats about Mitch McConnell, and who can blame them? The contretemps over the Senate minority leader’s campaign manager saying he will be “holding my nose” while working for McConnell is not only a public-relations gaffe. It’s a reminder that some conservatives and the libertarian wing of the GOP are decidedly unenthusiastic about supporting the senator’s reelection campaign. At a time when McConnell is already facing a pesky primary opponent purporting to represent the Tea Party and what may be a formidable challenge from the Democrats in the general election, this unforced error is the last thing McConnell needed this week.

There is no doubt that in a year when Democrats are defending a number of vulnerable seats leading even a liberal pundit like Nate Silver to give the GOP an even chance of taking back the Senate, McConnell appears to be the most endangered Republican up for re-election in 2014. But the bad news for Democrats who relish the thought of defeating their leading Washington nemesis is that it will take a lot more than a bad news week 15 months ahead of Election Day to knock off McConnell. Even more to the point, the “holding my nose” quote itself actually should remind us that the leading libertarian in the Senate has a vested interest in helping McConnell win that should overwhelm any reluctance on the part of his followers.

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There’s a lot of chortling going on right now among Democrats about Mitch McConnell, and who can blame them? The contretemps over the Senate minority leader’s campaign manager saying he will be “holding my nose” while working for McConnell is not only a public-relations gaffe. It’s a reminder that some conservatives and the libertarian wing of the GOP are decidedly unenthusiastic about supporting the senator’s reelection campaign. At a time when McConnell is already facing a pesky primary opponent purporting to represent the Tea Party and what may be a formidable challenge from the Democrats in the general election, this unforced error is the last thing McConnell needed this week.

There is no doubt that in a year when Democrats are defending a number of vulnerable seats leading even a liberal pundit like Nate Silver to give the GOP an even chance of taking back the Senate, McConnell appears to be the most endangered Republican up for re-election in 2014. But the bad news for Democrats who relish the thought of defeating their leading Washington nemesis is that it will take a lot more than a bad news week 15 months ahead of Election Day to knock off McConnell. Even more to the point, the “holding my nose” quote itself actually should remind us that the leading libertarian in the Senate has a vested interest in helping McConnell win that should overwhelm any reluctance on the part of his followers.

As embarrassing as it is, we didn’t need to learn about the comments of Jesse Benton that were actually uttered in January about his distaste for his boss to know that his presence in the McConnell campaign was the result of a strategic alliance between Rand Paul and the minority leader. As is well known, Benton performed the same function for Rand Paul in 2010 following a stint as press spokesman for Paul’s father Ron. He’s also married to one of Ron’s granddaughters. His hiring and Rand Paul’s endorsement of the minority leader’s reelection seemed to solidify an informal deal between Kentucky’s two Republican senators.

That this is an alliance based more on mutual needs than shared ideas is also true. McConnell saw a need to shore up his right flank against possible primary opponents while Paul rightly understood that having the minority leader as an ally rather than a potential enemy would bolster his presidential ambitions. This is an important point when considering how libertarians like the members of Paul’s extended clan look at 2014. Though McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin will seek to exploit this to appeal to Rand’s supporters, the point to remember here is that while some of Paul’s supporters may be tempted to oppose him, the Paulbots have a vested interest in having a Senate minority or possibility majority leader that owes their candidate a favor in 2016. The more trouble McConnell finds himself in next year, if indeed Bevin has any chance at all in a primary against the Senate veteran, the more likely it is that Paul will have a powerful motive to help his reelection. The bottom line here is that it will take a lot more than a staffer’s gaffe to inject some life into Bevin’s uphill challenge.

McConnell got a bad break when Democrats wisely passed on putting up Ashley Judd and instead got behind a stronger opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes. But though polls show Grimes well within striking distance of knocking off McConnell, the numbers may look a bit different next year as her positions are put under the spotlight along with McConnell’s perceived flaws. With considerable resources at his disposal and the very real possibility that 2014 will, as midterms usually are, be a good year for the party out of power, the minority leader may not be in as much trouble as his critics think.

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What Does the Tea Party Want?

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a little fun at the expense of his Republican counterpart when he joked that Mitch McConnell had “tried to make love to the Tea Party but they didn’t like it.” The vulgar reference was to the fact that it appears as if the minority leader will be facing a primary challenge from an opponent claiming to represent the interests of Tea Party conservatives anxious to knock off one of the leading members of the Washington establishment. Politico reported on Friday that Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment analyst, had begun reserving airtime for television ads in anticipation of launching an effort to unseat McConnell. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin will announce his candidacy tomorrow. This means that after working hard to shore up ties with conservatives in his home state—a process that included making nice with Senate colleague Rand Paul—McConnell will still find himself in a fight to retain the GOP nomination against a candidate who is presumably rich enough to self-fund his campaign.

Despite his cordial relationship with the minority leader, Paul is not seeking to discourage the Bevin challenge, merely saying that “it’s a free country” even as he predicts a McConnell victory. While not exactly neutral—Paul has endorsed McConnell’s reelection—that ambivalence will serve Bevin’s interests since the conceit of his candidacy is that he, rather than McConnell, truly represents the beliefs of the GOP’s activist base that adores the libertarian icon. The fact that Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman is a former president of the Louisville Tea Party lends some credence to that notion.

While, as Paul says, McConnell is likely to beat Bevin, the question for Tea Partiers in Kentucky isn’t so much about the challenger’s qualifications or even the popularity of the incumbent. It’s something much more fundamental: What exactly do they want? While Tea Party conservatives had some rationale to challenge other Republican incumbents, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, in recent election cycles, the choice here isn’t between a moderate and a conservative but between two conservatives. After leading the fight against the stimulus, ObamaCare and becoming the major obstacle to virtually every other item on the president’s agenda, it’s fair to ask what Tea Partiers can ask McConnell to do that he hasn’t already tried to accomplish?

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Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a little fun at the expense of his Republican counterpart when he joked that Mitch McConnell had “tried to make love to the Tea Party but they didn’t like it.” The vulgar reference was to the fact that it appears as if the minority leader will be facing a primary challenge from an opponent claiming to represent the interests of Tea Party conservatives anxious to knock off one of the leading members of the Washington establishment. Politico reported on Friday that Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment analyst, had begun reserving airtime for television ads in anticipation of launching an effort to unseat McConnell. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin will announce his candidacy tomorrow. This means that after working hard to shore up ties with conservatives in his home state—a process that included making nice with Senate colleague Rand Paul—McConnell will still find himself in a fight to retain the GOP nomination against a candidate who is presumably rich enough to self-fund his campaign.

Despite his cordial relationship with the minority leader, Paul is not seeking to discourage the Bevin challenge, merely saying that “it’s a free country” even as he predicts a McConnell victory. While not exactly neutral—Paul has endorsed McConnell’s reelection—that ambivalence will serve Bevin’s interests since the conceit of his candidacy is that he, rather than McConnell, truly represents the beliefs of the GOP’s activist base that adores the libertarian icon. The fact that Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman is a former president of the Louisville Tea Party lends some credence to that notion.

While, as Paul says, McConnell is likely to beat Bevin, the question for Tea Partiers in Kentucky isn’t so much about the challenger’s qualifications or even the popularity of the incumbent. It’s something much more fundamental: What exactly do they want? While Tea Party conservatives had some rationale to challenge other Republican incumbents, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, in recent election cycles, the choice here isn’t between a moderate and a conservative but between two conservatives. After leading the fight against the stimulus, ObamaCare and becoming the major obstacle to virtually every other item on the president’s agenda, it’s fair to ask what Tea Partiers can ask McConnell to do that he hasn’t already tried to accomplish?

Nobody, not even the head of a party caucus, is entitled to a Senate seat by divine right. As is the case in Wyoming, where Liz Cheney is challenging Mike Enzi, if a younger, better Republican comes along there is no reason why voters shouldn’t have the opportunity to choose between them and the incumbent. But if Bevin is going to be embraced by Tea Partiers in the manner of other insurgents around the nation, they will be hard pressed to make a case that the conservative cause will be better served by McConnell’s defeat than by his reelection.

Some Tea Partiers won’t forgive McConnell for voting for the TARP bailout in 2008 or for going along with the fiscal cliff deal at the start of the year. Some just instinctively distrust any incumbent or anyone who is part of Washington’s power elite no matter what their positions. But if Tea Partiers or other advocacy groups, such as the Club for Growth or those groups associated with current Heritage Foundation chief and former Senator Jim DeMint, were to embrace Bevin, a better explanation is in order.

Not everyone in Washington or back home in Kentucky may love McConnell, but it’s difficult to argue that he hasn’t been Barack Obama’s chief antagonist over the past few years. While House Speaker John Boehner is the highest ranking Republican and a clear foe of the White House, McConnell’s guerrilla warfare against the presidential agenda in the Democrat-controlled Senate has set the tone for the partisan divide in Congress. Though he has been accused of pandering to the Tea Party in order to avoid the challenge that Bevin is providing, McConnell is still public enemy No. 1 for Democrats. That’s exactly why Reid and the rest of the D.C. liberal establishment are thrilled about McConnell having to face a well-funded challenger. Simply put, there is no current issue, even those on which conservatives disagree like immigration reform, in which McConnell cannot be counted on as a leading force for the right.

Just as important, and in a dramatic distinction to the case in Wyoming, Democrats do stand to benefit if McConnell is forced to spend heavily in order to fend off Bevin. Expected Democratic candidate Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes is no pushover and will have the full backing of her national party next year. Kentucky may be deep red in presidential elections, but Democrats remain competitive in state and local races there. If Tea Partiers create a genuine schism on behalf of Bevin, it is far from inconceivable that Grimes could take advantage of it and steal a seat from the GOP in a year when they are expected to gain ground in the Senate.

All this is not to say that Bevin doesn’t have the right to run or to make a case for himself if there is one. But what it does mean is that he should not do so with the imprimatur of national conservatives who should understand the consequences of torpedoing a genuine conservative leader merely for spite or to prove they can do it. 

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Dem Filibuster Win Doesn’t Change Much

The aftermath of yesterday’s agreement to end Republican filibusters of several of President Obama’s nominees to federal posts is being widely interpreted as a severe defeat for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. After holding up several appointments, the GOP conceded the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In exchange, the president withdrew his two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans had challenged in court as being illegally put into office via bogus recess appointments, but immediately nominated replacements that will presumably not be filibustered. In exchange for this, Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew the threat of a “nuclear option” that would stop filibusters on presidential appointments, though not judicial nominations or ordinary legislation.

Taken in sum, McConnell’s critics are probably right to say this is a victory for the Democrats and a setback for the GOP caucus. But while the deal gives Reid a rare good day as well as helping the president pack the federal apparatus as he likes, the idea that this is a turning point in the struggle between the parties that will enable the president to successfully implement his second term agenda is an exaggeration at best. As much as the Republicans have been portrayed as a menace to the government, the ability of a minority—even Senate minorities—to obstruct a determined majority is not unlimited. Holding up nominations is the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. Such tactics can annoy and wear down the opponent, but they won’t by themselves take down a president and no one in the Republican Party thought they could. Ending this particular standoff is merely one more round in an endless conflict in which the president and his Senate allies cannot claim more than a temporary small-scale victory.

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The aftermath of yesterday’s agreement to end Republican filibusters of several of President Obama’s nominees to federal posts is being widely interpreted as a severe defeat for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. After holding up several appointments, the GOP conceded the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In exchange, the president withdrew his two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans had challenged in court as being illegally put into office via bogus recess appointments, but immediately nominated replacements that will presumably not be filibustered. In exchange for this, Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew the threat of a “nuclear option” that would stop filibusters on presidential appointments, though not judicial nominations or ordinary legislation.

Taken in sum, McConnell’s critics are probably right to say this is a victory for the Democrats and a setback for the GOP caucus. But while the deal gives Reid a rare good day as well as helping the president pack the federal apparatus as he likes, the idea that this is a turning point in the struggle between the parties that will enable the president to successfully implement his second term agenda is an exaggeration at best. As much as the Republicans have been portrayed as a menace to the government, the ability of a minority—even Senate minorities—to obstruct a determined majority is not unlimited. Holding up nominations is the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. Such tactics can annoy and wear down the opponent, but they won’t by themselves take down a president and no one in the Republican Party thought they could. Ending this particular standoff is merely one more round in an endless conflict in which the president and his Senate allies cannot claim more than a temporary small-scale victory.

McConnell may have taken Reid to the brink in this confrontation, but, as was the case when their positions were reversed only a few years ago, beyond a certain point the smaller caucus must always give in to some extent. The confirmation of an agency head that has actually already been in place for more than a year is not a substitute for a viable legislative program or a coherent policy. Nor can it be portrayed as anything more than a tactical triumph with little or no carry-over to the rest of the president’s fading agenda.

There are two reasons why Democrats have to crow about the deal as a seminal event.

One is the obvious fact that, after being consistently stymied by a wily minority, Reid’s bluffs about the “nuclear option” at least allowed him to say that he got the better of McConnell for at least one day. Such days don’t happen very often in the Senate, as even with 55 seats and few moderates in his caucus to thwart the liberals, Reid often finds himself unable to outmaneuver his counterpart and—despite the complaints of many conservatives—rarely is able to get many Republican votes on virtually any matter of consequence.

The other reason goes to the liberal misconception about what the Republicans are doing. The president and many in his party really do believe the goal of the GOP is to literally stop the government from functioning. Thus, anytime they are able to do anything, such as getting his nominee to lead an agency Republicans would like to abolish confirmed, they tell themselves that they have thwarted a primary aim of their opponents. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding both of the Republicans and of what they hope to accomplish.

Few Republicans really thought they could hold off Cordray indefinitely anymore than they can stop Obama from filling any post if the Democrats care enough about it to make it an issue. The point of the delay was to call attention to their opposition to the agency and to lay the groundwork for attempts to change its structure—to give it a bipartisan leadership—or eventually abolish it. The same is true of the NLRB appointees who might well have been tossed out of their positions by the courts if Obama hadn’t backed down and agreed to replace them.

Reid may feel his nuclear threat about the filibuster will smooth the way for future Obama nominees, but he knows very well that if the president chooses to put forward people who are vulnerable to criticism, the GOP will be back with stalling tactics. Like momentum in baseball that depends on a team’s starting pitcher on each day, the outcome of the next battle has more to do with the identity of future appointees than it does with what happened yesterday.

More to the point, the greatest victory for the Democrats in this deal has nothing to do with Obama’s nominations and everything to do with his own dubious prospects for sitting at the majority leader’s desk in 2015. Since, as I wrote on Monday, even liberal pundit/prognosticator Nate Silver is predicting the GOP will emerge from the 2014 midterms with 50-51 seats, preserving the right to filibuster is just as important to the Democrats as it is to McConnell. The ease with which the long standoff was solved tells us as much about Reid’s desire to preserve the right to stall as it did about McConnell’s interests.

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The Real Reason Reid Wants to Go Nuclear

For those trying to figure out the current state of partisanship, comity, and cooperation in the U.S. Senate, recent news would only add to the confusion. For example, the Hill published a story yesterday afternoon headlined “GOP presses for quick confirmation of Obama UN ambassador pick.” That sounded encouraging for those who think the president should have a great deal of latitude in choosing his own advisors, and the article did not disappoint.

The Hill tells us that Republicans want the nominee, Samantha Power, in her office and settled in by the time the September meeting of the UN General Assembly rolls around. Despite some initial criticism, “Her confirmation is all but assured.” It’s difficult to square that report, which is true, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the sky is falling in on the Senate’s confirmation process due to Republicans’ intransigence, which is false. As Politico reports, Reid appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to sell his plan to deploy the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules to speed through certain nominees:

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For those trying to figure out the current state of partisanship, comity, and cooperation in the U.S. Senate, recent news would only add to the confusion. For example, the Hill published a story yesterday afternoon headlined “GOP presses for quick confirmation of Obama UN ambassador pick.” That sounded encouraging for those who think the president should have a great deal of latitude in choosing his own advisors, and the article did not disappoint.

The Hill tells us that Republicans want the nominee, Samantha Power, in her office and settled in by the time the September meeting of the UN General Assembly rolls around. Despite some initial criticism, “Her confirmation is all but assured.” It’s difficult to square that report, which is true, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the sky is falling in on the Senate’s confirmation process due to Republicans’ intransigence, which is false. As Politico reports, Reid appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to sell his plan to deploy the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules to speed through certain nominees:

“The changes we’re making are very, very minimal. What we’re doing is saying: ‘Look American people, shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?’” Reid said. “If you want to look at nominations, you know what the Founding Fathers said: ‘Simple majority.’ That’s what we need to do.”

Reid is set to deploy the “nuclear option” — which would allow 51 senators to change the Senate rules instead of the 67 that are normally required. Triggering it would dislodge several stalled Obama nominees, and it would allow senators to approve executive branch nominees — not judicial nominees or legislation — by a simple majority.

If Cabinet nominees are already getting through just fine, and the proposed changes won’t help judicial nominees or legislation get around the filibuster and receive an up-or-down vote, we can ask why Reid wants the changes enough to “go nuclear.” We can also ask Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell why he opposes such changes so staunchly. One answer is that the nomination changes apply to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board, the latter of which President Obama staffed up by making appointments the courts have found to be unconstitutional, and Republicans want to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.

But the more important answer has to do with a fundamental difference in how the two parties wish to govern–and contrary to what you may hear from the media, it reveals McConnell’s GOP to have far more respect for Congress and the legislative process than Reid’s Democrats.

I wrote about this last month, pointing readers to law professor Jonathan Turley’s column in the Washington Post about the “rise of the fourth branch,” the administrative state that has increasingly usurped Congress’s lawmaking authority without replicating the accountability or (relative) transparency. This is the crux of Turley’s argument:

For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.

This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.

The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical.

The recent scandals at the IRS and EPA, in which a government bureaucracy, egged on by powerful Democrats, absorbed the establishment’s liberal bias so thoroughly as to be actively targeting conservatives, prove both the efficacy and the inherent corruption in this worldview. Democrats understand that if they control the bureaucracy they can install “legislators” who remain anonymous, unelected, and unaccountable. Reid can be voted out of office, but the IRS cannot.

Where once the energetic and youthful liberal grass roots at least had an anti-authoritarian suspicion of government power and abuse, today the liberal movement is united in its belief that government must expand–and keep expanding. When liberal intellectuals swoon over China’s authoritarian rule, it isn’t because they are enamored of Chinese Communism but because the consolidation of power into a ruling elite is, to these intellectuals, an unfortunate means to a desirable end. Sacrificing a bit of freedom and democracy isn’t optimal to the professional left, but otherwise they’d have to pass up an opportunity to impose their dubious and unpopular environmentalist activism on the country.

And the same goes for financial regulation and public-union backslapping. That’s why Reid is willing to “go nuclear” not over judicial nominees or legislation but bureaucratic agencies. Reid isn’t defending the Congress’s traditional role by speeding up votes; he’s changing rules on the fly to further weaken Congress while striking another blow against transparency and democratic accountability. What he hopes is that Americans won’t realize what’s at stake before it’s too late.

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Dems’ Tired Filibuster Hypocrisy

After threatening to do so ever since they took back control of the Senate in 2008, Democrats may finally get around to trying to limit the right to filibuster this month. As the New York Times reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s finally got a clear path to hamstringing Republican attempts to use the rules to prevent the president from getting more of his nominees for various offices confirmed. But though they—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media—believe the time is right to start rolling back filibusters, it is far from certain that even this limited proposal can pass.

Reid appears to be planning to stage some confirmation fights in which he knows he doesn’t have 60 votes for cloture. But this carefully crafted confrontation won’t really be about the kinds of filibusters that generally get the most attention. Democrats are proposing that the new rule will only affect stalls of appointments to federal agencies and cabinet posts but leave in place procedures which require at least 60 votes to end debate on judicial appointments as well as legislation. That will allow Democrats to argue that the only thing they are asking is for Republicans to allow the government to function and to let the president have, as tradition allows, his choice on who should lead Cabinet departments and agencies. But the notion that the motivation for all this is a particularly unique or unprecedented series of actions by Senate Republicans to obstruct the government doesn’t wash. Both the specific nominations that Reid will use to leverage the filibuster limits and the recent history of Democrat stalls undermine the majority’s credibility. Getting even 51 Democrats to buy into making historic alterations in the Senate rules on these flimsy grounds may be a heavier lift than Reid and President Obama think.

Though this all may be a gigantic Democratic bluff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted during his frequent speeches on the issue, “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

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After threatening to do so ever since they took back control of the Senate in 2008, Democrats may finally get around to trying to limit the right to filibuster this month. As the New York Times reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s finally got a clear path to hamstringing Republican attempts to use the rules to prevent the president from getting more of his nominees for various offices confirmed. But though they—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media—believe the time is right to start rolling back filibusters, it is far from certain that even this limited proposal can pass.

Reid appears to be planning to stage some confirmation fights in which he knows he doesn’t have 60 votes for cloture. But this carefully crafted confrontation won’t really be about the kinds of filibusters that generally get the most attention. Democrats are proposing that the new rule will only affect stalls of appointments to federal agencies and cabinet posts but leave in place procedures which require at least 60 votes to end debate on judicial appointments as well as legislation. That will allow Democrats to argue that the only thing they are asking is for Republicans to allow the government to function and to let the president have, as tradition allows, his choice on who should lead Cabinet departments and agencies. But the notion that the motivation for all this is a particularly unique or unprecedented series of actions by Senate Republicans to obstruct the government doesn’t wash. Both the specific nominations that Reid will use to leverage the filibuster limits and the recent history of Democrat stalls undermine the majority’s credibility. Getting even 51 Democrats to buy into making historic alterations in the Senate rules on these flimsy grounds may be a heavier lift than Reid and President Obama think.

Though this all may be a gigantic Democratic bluff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted during his frequent speeches on the issue, “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

Though thanks to Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington they are enshrined in American popular culture, filibusters are not mentioned in the Constitution. The Senate can change its rules allowing them any time it wants as the advent of cloture rules requiring 60 votes to stop debate showed.

But the reason why filibusters survive in their current form is the stark knowledge that both parties know they are the only thing that allows minorities in the upper body to have a say in legislation. Without them, the Senate could function like the British House of Commons where a narrow majority can always shove any bill down the country’s throat. The filibuster is important because it is the perfect tool for an institution created by the Constitution specifically to act as a check on majority opinion and impulses.

Critics of the filibuster say it is a fundamentally undemocratic practice and they’re right about that. But the Senate is itself a body created to thwart democracy with small states getting a disproportionate voice in the nation’s affairs and six-year terms meant to stand in contrast to the more frequent election cycles that, at least in theory, keep the membership of the House of Representatives closer to public opinion.

But the main point here is that it was only a few years ago that Senate Republicans were in charge and it was the Democrats who used filibusters to stop George W. Bush’s nominations to the judiciary and even cabinet posts. As I noted in 2009, the New York Times endorsed filibusters as an essential tool that enabled liberals to thwart the GOP, but they changed their minds as soon as Democrats took back the Senate. Since then, Republicans have done their share of obstructionism, but it has been no worse than the Democratic mayhem wreaked on Bush administration plans. If Senate Democrats and the mainstream liberal media are up in arms about the use of the filibuster now, it is only because the dysfunction of Congress has become their main talking point about GOP beastliness, not because what Republicans are doing is any worse—or better—than what President Obama and his party were doing prior to his taking office.

Even more damning is the fact that the specific nominations that Reid has chosen to make his stand over are not typically anodyne confirmations. All of them are controversial not so much because of the individual nominees but because of the manner in which they were appointed or because the agency posts they seek to fill are in and of themselves points of partisan contention.

In particular, Republicans are on very firm ground in seeking to use the rules to stop President Obama’s nominations to the National Labor Relations Board. Four of Obama’s nominees to the NLRB are already serving since the president snuck them into their posts as recess appointments, something that was rightly opposed by the GOP as a power grab. The Supreme Court has accepted the case for review and may well rule that they should never have been appointed in this manner in the first place. The Senate should wait until that case is decided before going any further.

The GOP also has a strong case in opposing other nominations that Reid is seeking to use as a litmus test for the future of the filibuster. Virtually the entire Republican caucus has vowed not to confirm any appointment to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until it is reformed in order to create a bipartisan leadership for it rather than having it led by a single political appointee.

While Democrats are eager to get these agencies functioning in a manner that will further their political agenda, these appointments are poor examples of the alleged plague of Republican-inspired dysfunction.

But above all, the key issue here is hypocrisy. As even the New York Times noted today, it was Senator Barack Obama who said the following about GOP threats of changes in the filibuster rules:

If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.

The president was right about this issue then, even if he and his followers have attempted to throw that statement and the reasoning behind down the proverbial memory hole. One suspects that more than a few Democrats mindful of the fact that they might find themselves in the minority in 2015 or 2017 will remember that and prevent Reid from changing the rules.

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NPR Outlet: Liberal Group Taped McConnell

The mainstream media and liberal commentators have been claiming that the source that gave a tape recording of a campaign strategy meeting held in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office had to be a GOP insider, and mocked the assertion that this constituted another Watergate. But today a Kentucky NPR outlet may have started to break the story open in a way that will give no comfort to McConnell’s Democratic detractors.

According to WFPL News, a member of the local Democratic County Committee is claiming that two members of Progress Kentucky—the group that has targeted McConnell before and which he claimed might be responsible for the incident—bragged to him that they were the ones who made the recording. Jacob Conway said Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, the founders of Progress Kentucky, managed to get into the building where McConnell’s office is located and then taped the campaign meeting from the hallway, perhaps by putting a recording device at the door. The Democrat, who repeated his accusations on Fox News this afternoon, says he is speaking about the group because he feared their activities would be associated with his party.

If true, and reports are now also saying that FBI are pulling surveillance tapes of the building, then what we are talking about here is nothing less than a crime. Far from McConnell crying wolf, as Chris Matthews claimed yesterday, the Watergate analogy may actually turn out to be entirely accurate.

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The mainstream media and liberal commentators have been claiming that the source that gave a tape recording of a campaign strategy meeting held in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office had to be a GOP insider, and mocked the assertion that this constituted another Watergate. But today a Kentucky NPR outlet may have started to break the story open in a way that will give no comfort to McConnell’s Democratic detractors.

According to WFPL News, a member of the local Democratic County Committee is claiming that two members of Progress Kentucky—the group that has targeted McConnell before and which he claimed might be responsible for the incident—bragged to him that they were the ones who made the recording. Jacob Conway said Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, the founders of Progress Kentucky, managed to get into the building where McConnell’s office is located and then taped the campaign meeting from the hallway, perhaps by putting a recording device at the door. The Democrat, who repeated his accusations on Fox News this afternoon, says he is speaking about the group because he feared their activities would be associated with his party.

If true, and reports are now also saying that FBI are pulling surveillance tapes of the building, then what we are talking about here is nothing less than a crime. Far from McConnell crying wolf, as Chris Matthews claimed yesterday, the Watergate analogy may actually turn out to be entirely accurate.

The principle here is one that both parties ought to condemn not just because it is a crime to record a person without his consent in this manner but also because acts of political espionage are a direct attack on our democratic system.

For much of the last three years we’ve heard non-stop complaints about the abusive nature of Tea Party rhetoric and the way the political right has supposedly dragged political discourse in this country down. The mainstream media has played this tune often and loud in spite of numerous instances of liberal incivility. But what has happened in Kentucky isn’t merely rude; it is a sign that the left has taken political warfare to a completely new level of aggressiveness.

Progress Kentucky is, after all, the same group that made offensive and racist tweets about the ethnicity of McConnell’s wife. Now they may have engaged in the kind of political espionage that brought down the Nixon administration. Its time for the same liberal outlets that have been talking about the Tea Party’s alleged offenses to stop ignoring McConnellgate.

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The Media Can’t Bury McConnellgate

Is it ever okay to bug an opponent’s political headquarters? Even those who are too young to remember what happened when officials connected with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign unleashed an incompetent band of dirty tricksters on the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate complex, one would think the answer to that question is an emphatic no. While the Watergate scandal may have been more about the cover up than the crime, the line crossed by Nixon’s henchmen has always appeared to be a bright line that no one—not even liberals who can generally count on favorable media treatment—dare cross in this country. Yet someone or some group may have done so in Kentucky, and if that explanation of what happened at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office holds up what follows will be an interesting test of the media’s integrity.

The provenance of the tape of a discussion during a meeting between the senator and his campaign aides at his office is currently unknown. Since this was not a fundraiser held at someone’s home where guests or waiters could have taped the remarks—as was the case when President Obama was taped talking about Americans clinging to their bibles and guns or when Mitt Romney dropped his “47 percent” bomb on his own campaign—there are only two possible explanations for the tape. One is that one of the senator’s high-level aides made the tape and sent it to Mother Jones magazine. The other is that one of the senator’s political opponents was running their own version of Watergate and found a way to bug his private conversations. While one cannot exclude the possibility that the former is the case, it seems unlikely. If the latter is true, then we’re going to find out whether liberals can get away with the sort of thing for which they once took down Tricky Dick.

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Is it ever okay to bug an opponent’s political headquarters? Even those who are too young to remember what happened when officials connected with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign unleashed an incompetent band of dirty tricksters on the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate complex, one would think the answer to that question is an emphatic no. While the Watergate scandal may have been more about the cover up than the crime, the line crossed by Nixon’s henchmen has always appeared to be a bright line that no one—not even liberals who can generally count on favorable media treatment—dare cross in this country. Yet someone or some group may have done so in Kentucky, and if that explanation of what happened at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office holds up what follows will be an interesting test of the media’s integrity.

The provenance of the tape of a discussion during a meeting between the senator and his campaign aides at his office is currently unknown. Since this was not a fundraiser held at someone’s home where guests or waiters could have taped the remarks—as was the case when President Obama was taped talking about Americans clinging to their bibles and guns or when Mitt Romney dropped his “47 percent” bomb on his own campaign—there are only two possible explanations for the tape. One is that one of the senator’s high-level aides made the tape and sent it to Mother Jones magazine. The other is that one of the senator’s political opponents was running their own version of Watergate and found a way to bug his private conversations. While one cannot exclude the possibility that the former is the case, it seems unlikely. If the latter is true, then we’re going to find out whether liberals can get away with the sort of thing for which they once took down Tricky Dick.

Liberal talking heads are trying to pooh-pooh Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s complaint that the left has engaged in dirty tricks against him and are instead trying to divert public attention to whether it was appropriate for a politician and his advisors to discuss in private whether a potential opponent’s record could be against her. The opponent was, of course, actress Ashley Judd, who at the time of the conversation was actively considering challenging McConnell.

According to this view of the incident, we are supposed to be shocked and outraged that a senior legislator would sit and listen as his aides happily contemplated doing opposition research against a rival. To say that McConnell’s people were confident they could take down Judd is an understatement. The phrase that one person in the conversation uses to describe how easy it would be to find foolish statements by Judd—“a haystack of needles”—will, no doubt, enter the country’s political lexicon regardless of the source of the tape. However, liberals seem to be saying that the only decent thing for McConnell to do was to leave the room or perhaps even fire those chuckling about Judd’s personal foibles.

This is, of course, hypocrisy on an Olympian scale. After a year in which Barack Obama’s campaign spent much of its time trying to falsely portray Mitt Romney as a heartless murderer and tax cheat, Democrats are in no position to cry foul about Republicans discussing the possibility of working over Judd.

But the real question here is not liberal hypocrisy about McConnell. The issue is the practice of taping private political conferences between a candidate and his staff. Unless one of McConnell’s aides went rogue and gave up his boss to, of all publications, the far-left San Francisco-based Mother Jones, what happened in Louisville was a criminal act of the sort that American politicians were supposed to understand had been conclusively placed beyond the pale by Nixon.

McConnell has earned the resentment of liberals both for his skillful leadership of Senate Republicans and by being an unabashed advocate of conservative principles. But since when does that give opponents the right to tape his private conversations? Had a similar incident happened to Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or any prominent Democrat, the mainstream liberal media would be leading with this topic in every broadcast and front page with each story drenched in Watergate analogies instead of the focus on a candidate “plotting” against a rival, as has been the case with accounts of McConnell’s tape.

No matter what turns out to be the true story behind this tape—if indeed we ever do find out the truth—liberals and conservatives should both be condemning the taping of private political conferences in this manner. A consensus that these sorts of tactics could never again be tolerated followed Watergate. But if McConnell’s enemies can get away with it, no party and no individual will be safe from political espionage.

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Ashley Judd and the Will Rogers Democrats

As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

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As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

Some Democrats started encouraging Judd to run for the Senate from Kentucky. GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat is up in 2014, and liberals think he’s more vulnerable than in past cycles. Following their old Will Rogers instincts, some Democrats saw an entertaining way to blow their chances by nominating a classic Hollywood liberal instead of a conservative Democrat. McConnell’s campaign was giddy at the prospect.

At some point the story went from being “hey, wouldn’t it be fun if Ashley Judd ran for Senate” to “Ashley Judd is seriously considering running for Senate” and the Dean Democrats panicked. They called in party elders to do something, and party elders called in Bill Clinton to run Judd’s budding campaign off the road, which Clinton gladly did. It soon became clear why Democrats feared nominating Judd. “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell,” Judd said about the race last month.

Then on Wednesday came the moment national Democrats were waiting for: ABC News reported that Judd announced—“in a series of tweets,” naturally—that they could rest easy:

After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate…. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!

Judd’s decision not to run—which, it seems from the ABC report, was made for her by Bill Clinton—represents the new Democratic Party, in which discipline is enforced from the top along with a willingness to completely get in line and have party leaders make the decisions. (Witness my earlier post about Democrats who voted for Obamacare expressing shock and disbelief at discovering over the course of three years what was actually in the bill.)

Democrats don’t even seem to want a primary fight for the 2016 presidential nomination, preparing instead to pave the way for Hillary Clinton, wife of the previous Democratic president and secretary of state in the current Democratic president’s first term. The other plausible challenger for the nomination is the current vice president.

Republicans, on the other hand, tried to nominate anyone but the next in line last time and have no next in line for 2016 unless Paul Ryan runs. And as far as congressional races are concerned, Republicans are the minority in the Senate in large part because the so-called establishment is unable to pick and choose its candidates around the country, ending up with Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and the like to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, these days the lack of establishment money and support is more likely than not to win you the nomination; call yourself a “Tea Party” candidate and watch the primary votes roll in.

That phenomenon of course often yields far better candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ted Cruz. It connects the party agenda with the zeitgeist of the grassroots, and thus makes a candidate’s principles more valuable than his campaign war chest. (This concept is unimaginable to Democrats, as is the idea that political principles can have any intrinsic value beyond their immediate utility in any given election cycle.)

The post-Dean era Democrats have neither the benefits nor the drawbacks of such a state. For 2014, that means no Ashley Judd.

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