Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitt Romney

The Ever-Expanding 2016 GOP Field

The nature of the GOP’s nominating race for 2016 is such that good polls for some potential candidates are also tempting for others not yet included in the polls. For example, the most recent polling on Iowa, which Jonathan wrote about last week, showed Mike Huckabee with a healthy lead. Early polls are about name recognition, so they can only be taken so far. Nonetheless, candidates who have already built name recognition by running in the past can’t help but notice the value of such recognition when some of their strongest competitors are, theoretically, relative unknowns nationwide.

Read More

The nature of the GOP’s nominating race for 2016 is such that good polls for some potential candidates are also tempting for others not yet included in the polls. For example, the most recent polling on Iowa, which Jonathan wrote about last week, showed Mike Huckabee with a healthy lead. Early polls are about name recognition, so they can only be taken so far. Nonetheless, candidates who have already built name recognition by running in the past can’t help but notice the value of such recognition when some of their strongest competitors are, theoretically, relative unknowns nationwide.

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Other than those two, the potential candidates who had run presidential campaigns in the past tended to score higher than those who haven’t yet run–a quite logical finding. If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). Walker was involved in a high-stakes national issue: the fight over public unions. And thanks to that, he was subject to a recall election that saw national press and mobilized national liberal groups. Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–the human résumé–was at just 38 percent. Huckabee was at 54 percent, higher than previous candidate Rick Santorum (but lower than Rick Perry) as well as all the non-previous candidates except Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who was at 55 percent. Huckabee also tied Christie for the highest favorability rating in that poll.

And that poll didn’t even include Mitt Romney, who shows up leading New Hampshire polls for the same reason Huckabee polls well in Iowa. And while a Romney candidacy would certainly have its cheerleaders, Huckabee is talking openly about testing those polls:

The Republican told a group of reporters on Monday over coffee at a restaurant just outside of D.C. that he learned from his failed 2008 bid that he can’t take money and fundraising for granted, even though he is leading in GOP early primary state polls.

Huckabee says he will make a decision early next year about another presidential run but noted he’s in a “different place than I was eight years ago,” due to a lucrative career as a Fox News and radio show host.

That career has also opened the door to meetings with donors he said he wouldn’t have gotten in 2008. Then, they’d say, “Who are you? How do you spell your name?”

In fact, Huckabee said he’s in talks with donors, and, “with a lot of people, it’s [going] pretty good.” He pointed to the nonprofit, America Takes Action, which he recently set up that, he says, has already raised seven figures.

“Not a single person I’ve asked [to contribute to the group] has said no,” he told reporters.

Huckabee had a decent run for an underdog in 2008 and he has a natural constituency, as well as an amiability that translates into votes. The same cannot be said for another retread who is the subject of speculation: former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman has a few things going for him: he’s got gubernatorial experience as well as foreign-policy chops from his time as ambassador to China, and he has considerable financial resources at his disposal. But unlike Huckabee, outside of the media Huntsman has no natural base (and the reporters who love him will vote for Hillary anyway in the general). And also unlike Huckabee, Huntsman is almost shockingly unlikeable for a politician.

Huntsman has a general disposition that is about as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard. He does not like Republican voters, and he does not want them to think otherwise. The feeling is mutual: Huntsman’s numbers from 2012 suggest the pool of Huntsman voters is made up entirely of people who are either named Huntsman or owe him money.

And then there is Jindal, a smart, wonky conservative with executive experience and a strong command of the issues. Jindal’s name recognition is so low that he’s forced to be less coy than others about his possible presidential ambitions:

“There’s no reason to be coy,” Jindal said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I am thinking, I am praying about whether I’ll run in 2016. I said I won’t make that decision until after November.”

Jindal has certain strengths: he’s as smart as Huntsman pretends he is, for starters. And he’s far from insufferable about it: he doesn’t project arrogance, just competence. He’s been twice elected governor of Louisiana, so he has experience on the campaign trail. He’s proved himself in a crisis. And he seems to genuinely like interacting with voters.

But his competition would include another impressive, reformist conservative governor in Scott Walker; other young conservatives with poise and presence, like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and possibly Ted Cruz; and more experienced social conservatives such as, potentially, Huckabee, Rick Perry, and perhaps Mike Pence. The question, then, is whether Jindal could find some way to stand out from the pack. And with polls like those we’ve seen so far, that roster of rivals is likely to keep expanding.

Read Less

Deep Bench? None in GOP Stand Out for ’16

Paying attention to presidential polls two years in advance can be something of a sucker’s game. We are a long way from intense campaigning, let alone voting, which means such polls tend to be more about name recognition than anything else. Yet the latest poll of Iowa Republicans about 2016 makes it hard to avoid some hard conclusions about the nature of the race and the roster of possible candidates. While Democrats still appear to be ready to coronate Hillary Clinton as their nominee, the Republican race really is wide open. For the first time in recent memory, there really will be no one who can be considered a frontrunner.

Read More

Paying attention to presidential polls two years in advance can be something of a sucker’s game. We are a long way from intense campaigning, let alone voting, which means such polls tend to be more about name recognition than anything else. Yet the latest poll of Iowa Republicans about 2016 makes it hard to avoid some hard conclusions about the nature of the race and the roster of possible candidates. While Democrats still appear to be ready to coronate Hillary Clinton as their nominee, the Republican race really is wide open. For the first time in recent memory, there really will be no one who can be considered a frontrunner.

The Iowa poll confirms the cliché about name recognition since the runaway leader in the survey of possible GOP presidential candidates is Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor has been a favorite in the Hawkeye State since winning the caucus there in 2008. But it’s been several years since the talk show was active politically and there is no indication that he will run. If we eliminate him we see that the leader is Rep. Paul Ryan with only 12 percent supporting him. The rest of the field is in single digits with none of the big names, such as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, or Rick Perry making much of an impact. Nor has Rick Santorum, who won Iowa in 2012 in a huge upset after months of beating the bushes in rural counties, retained much support as he comes in as the preference of only three percent.

There’s good news and bad news for Republicans in these poll figures.

The good news is that 2016 shapes up to be a competitive and interesting race. No imposing frontrunner with deep pockets will be there to scare off talented candidates who want to test the waters. The GOP has to hope that in contrast to the chaos of 2012, with a more rational debate and primary schedule this time, the party will be able to run a competitive race that will produce a presidential candidate with the political moxie to effectively challenge Hillary Clinton.

The bad news is that although Republicans have spent much of the last two years bragging about their deep political bench, the roster of GOP presidential wannabes may not be as bright as they thought. By this time, somebody in the field should have been capable of impressing early state voters and caucus-goers as a potential keeper. But so far, none seems to stand out in contrast to the others.

Each would-be candidate has had his ups and downs. Christie might have been in a very strong position by now but Bridgegate derailed his potential juggernaut. Paul remains a strong candidate but ISIS and various other global crises have made his neo-isolationism a lot less attractive to the GOP mainstream. Rubio had a bad 2013 and the conservative base may never forgive him for backing an immigration reform bill. The others haven’t broken through yet and even old familiar names like Jeb Bush don’t seem to be attracting more than token support.

While this is good news for journalists who love a close horse race, it needs to be emphasized that this is really unexplored territory for Republicans who have a historical tradition of liking front-runners, especially those who have run and lost before. You have to go back to 1940 when dark horse Wendell Wilkie edged New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey to get the right to oppose Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bid for a third term to find a GOP presidential race that was as wide open as the one we will witness in 2016. In every presidential contest since then, there has been at least one or two genuine frontrunner types or former candidates who dominate the race. That means that whoever does emerge from this battle will almost certainly at least start the 2016 general-election campaign as a heavy underdog to Clinton.

It is possible that one or two of the current bunch scrambling for attention will break through in 2015 and enter the primary season as something resembling a frontrunner. But for now, it appears to be a struggle in which none have anything that looks like a clear advantage. Since even the best of them have little experience on the national stage, questions about whether this deep bench is equal to the task of running for president are entirely legitimate.

That’s why the buzz about Mitt Romney returning to the fray seems to be about more than buyer’s remorse about President Obama’s dismal second term or guilt on the part of conservatives that trashed their 2012 nominee but now realize the former Massachusetts governor wasn’t so bad after all. In a race where none of the contenders have a real political or financial advantage, a candidate with the name recognition and the fundraising prowess of Romney might sweep the field again as he did last time.

This isn’t an argument for Romney running again. A third trip to the well might not yield any better results for him than the previous one. He’s right to say, as he continues to insist, that it’s time for some one else to step up and take their turn. But it must be conceded that in a race this open, anything can happen. Instead of celebrating the diversity of riches in their candidate roster, Republicans need to be wondering which, if any of them, can step up and show they’re ready to tangle with Clinton. Right now, the sports cliché about all prospects being suspects seems to apply to the GOP field.

Read Less

Why We’re Still Obsessing About Romney

When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

Read More

When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

That even a savvy political junkie like Chuck Todd would bite on this story and say on MSNBC’s Morning Rundown show today that Romney’s statement “opens the door a crack” to a 2016 run illustrates a few things.

The first is that once the Democratic attack machine that spent a solid year sliming Romney shut down it was possible for a lot of people to start noticing that Romney was not the cartoon villain his opponents claimed him to be. His decency, good humor, and competency look even better because of the ongoing disaster that Barack Obama’s second term has been. After a year and a half of ineptitude, scandals, and foreign-policy disasters, the national buyer’s remorse about giving Obama another four years has softened Romney’s image and given him a legitimacy that the president’s cheering section in the mainstream media denied him when he was a candidate.

But it must also be admitted that one of the reasons so many people continue to try and raise Romney’s name is that none of the likely Republican contenders for 2016 have yet eclipsed the 2012 nomine.

Bridgegate derailed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 juggernaut. Senator Marco Rubio, who seemed the party’s savior at the end of 2012, has had some ups and downs with respect to immigration and sometimes gave the impression that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Jeb Bush appears unlikely to buck his mother’s advice and probably won’t run. Governor Scott Walker is in the fight of his life seeking reelection in Wisconsin. Many in the national party don’t take Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal seriously as a presidential prospect. Senator Ted Cruz is loved by the Tea Party but hated by everyone else in the Senate and viewed as likely to be a disaster in a general election.

Rick Santorum would like the GOP to continue its tradition of nominating the runner-up from the previous primary battle, but he’s finding that most Republicans are as apathetic about his candidacy now as they were before 2012.

The one candidate who has gained ground in the last two years is Senator Rand Paul, who has expanded the libertarian base of his extremist father and shown himself to be a savvy politician even if his isolationist policies are being exposed as ill suited to the times by events in the Middle East. But while it must be conceded that Paul has a plausible chance to be the nominee, mainstream Republican opposition to him remains fierce.

All of which leaves some on the right wondering if they might not be better off trying Romney again. In a more rational world, saying that there’s a one-in-a-million shot of something happening would be interpreted as proof that it won’t, but we are discussing politics, not reason. Yet leaving aside the fact that Romney has made it perfectly clear that he won’t run again, there are good reasons why he shouldn’t even if the former Massachusetts governor changes his mind.

First and foremost is the fact that, as Romney has repeatedly said, he already tried and lost. It’s been nearly 50 years since one of the parties nominated a candidate that had already lost a general election to run for president. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the odds are it won’t. Were Romney to start making real noises about running, the new respect he’s earned in the media would evaporate and Democrats would restart their smear campaigns about his faith and his business experience. He may have been right about the threat from Russia and much else in 2012, but don’t expect anyone in the media to remember that if he intended to run again.

More to the point, a Romney candidacy would throw away the one clear advantage the Republicans have going into the 2016 race. Any Republican running against Hillary Clinton is going to seem like a fresh-faced outsider in comparison to that veteran of more than 20 years of Washington political infighting. Anyone, that is, other than Romney. In spite of his ability to raise money and the trust he has earned from many on the right because of his dogged underdog fight against Obama, Romney would come across as a tired, if likeable retread. That isn’t going to be a winning formula against the person who will be touted as America’s potential first female president.

Republicans, especially conservatives, have good reason to feel some remorse about Romney. Many of them spent most of 2012 trashing him as a RINO instead of doing everything they could to help him beat Obama. That wasn’t the reason he lost. The odds against any Republican going up against the first African-American president were always almost insurmountable and once the economic tailspin in late 2011 turned into the more stable situation of 2012, Obama’s reelection was probably guaranteed. The awful reality of an Obama second term has inspired a surprising amount of nostalgia for Romney’s gallant efforts. But that’s no substitute for a competent and competitive 2016 candidate.

Republicans need to re-focus on their party’s deep bench. All of the possible GOP candidates will be underdogs against Clinton. But there are many with genuine promise and there’s plenty of time for them to hit their stride in the next two years. Romney deserves the love he’s belatedly getting from Republicans, but looking forward rather than backward is the GOP’s only path to victory in 2016.

Read Less

No, Virginia, There Is No Swing Voter

If a tree falls in the forest, and only swing voters are around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Read More

If a tree falls in the forest, and only swing voters are around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Whatever your answer is to the original philosophical question, it should remain unchanged in this version. Swing voters, like political “independents,” are rarely more than science fiction.

That is not to say that voters never change their minds. It’s that when they do so, they tend to trade one opinion for another, not graduate from being undecided (no matter what they tell pollsters). More evidence for this comes from Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman, who takes to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog to explain the results of his latest political science survey, conducted along with coauthors David Rothschild, Sharad Goel, and Doug Rivers.

At the blog, Gelman quotes the study’s abstract:

How can election polls swing so much given the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, where switching one’s support between candidates is a significant move? We investigate this question by conducting a novel panel survey of 83,283 people repeatedly polled over the last 45 days of the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign. We find that reported swings in public opinion polls are generally not due to actual shifts in vote intention, but rather are the result of temporary periods of relatively low response rates by supporters of the reportedly slumping candidate. After correcting for this bias, we show there were nearly constant levels of support for the candidates during what appeared, based on traditional polling, to be the most volatile stretches of the campaign. Our results raise the possibility that decades of large, reported swings in public opinion — including the perennial “convention bounce” — are largely artifacts of sampling bias.

He adds:

The short story is much of the apparent changes in public opinion are actually changes in patterns of nonresponse:  When it looked like Romney jumped in popularity, what was really happening was that disaffected Democrats were not responding to the survey while resurgent Republicans were more likely to respond.

Gelman also notes a bit of humorous backstory:

This is a big deal and it represents a major change in my thinking compared to my 1993 paper with Gary King, “Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?” At that time, we gave an explanation for changes in opinion, but in retrospect, now I’m thinking that many of these apparent swings were really just differential nonresponse.  Funny that we never thought of that.

That original question, though, arguably has accrued more relevance over the last two decades. It also seems like a fascinating reversal of process. Polls always carried with them a sense of scientific authority (today they are just plain fetishized). So even though the variability of polls in many elections just didn’t seem right, there wasn’t much more to that. The numbers said one thing and instincts or personal experience another. The numbers always won out. Gelman and Co. have flipped the script in a way.

The polling “swings” are consequential, however. As the authors note in their paper, they inspire a narrative of momentum and create a bandwagon effect:

For example, the Romney campaign saw a surge in donations and volunteers in the days following the debate, attributed in part to his perceived viability. Moreover, of the $400 million raised in the month between the debate and election day, donors making rational investment decisions would have likely directed some of their contributions to tighter senatorial elections if they did not believe the race for president was so close. Further, in an age of highly targeted campaign strategies (Hillygus and Shields 2009), misunderstanding voter intent likely affects decisions ranging from state-by-state spending (over $650 million was spent in that final month) to the general tone of the candidates. Finally, major poll movements often extend into the wider world, affecting, for example, stock and commodity prices (Snowberg, Wolfers and Zitzewitz 2007).

This helps explain why Barack Obama’s campaigns have been so successful. In both 2008 and 2012, the GOP presidential nominee was not exactly beloved by the party’s base. Obama had no such struggles. As I wrote here last month, we may scoff at the methods by which the Obama team fires up the Democratic base, but it is undeniable that firing up the base is an important component of a successful campaign.

In 2012 especially, it appeared bizarre that Obama had abandoned “independent” voters for Big Bird and birth control–a strategy that relied on the angry left to power the campaign. There’s a good reason to ignore independents: as I’ve argued before, they don’t exist, at least not in the numbers the media thinks. The country is deeply polarized; according to Pew, “Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history.” Vote swings are not the result of swing voters, and campaigns should plan accordingly.

Read Less

OFA the Undead: A Political Zombie’s Lessons for Conservatives

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

Read More

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

The basic story is that, as Ham notes, Post political blogger Philip Bump wrote a piece in May that called attention to the fact that OFA was a purposeless shell, aimlessly wandering the country and unable to make a legislative impact on its pet political issues. Bump wrote about OFA’s announcement that with the midterms approaching and the need to maximize fundraising to candidates, it will stop accepting large donations. “Even without that news,” he added, “it’s not clear how much longer OFA will survive.”

OFA, coming from its formative experience as an Obama campaign machine, handles bad press about as well as you would expect the humorless president’s cultish fan clubs would. They challenged Bump over the next couple months to acknowledge and grade their work. He did, and he found that he was right. They’re a joke:

Organizing For Action has spent two months sending emails to the Post, trying to convince us of its effectiveness. (They were unhappy with this post asking how long the organization could survive.) So, we decided to look at what the group’s executive director, Jon Carson, was sending us. To catalog it. To do exactly what Carson apparently intended: Evaluate their work.

In short, we were not terribly impressed. …

By the most important metric, the group is largely ineffective. Of the priorities above — which, according to the group’s mandate, are meant to bolster federal efforts — none has seen national legislative action. The president introduced new restrictions on carbon pollution, but that was an executive action, not legislation. Immigration reform has stalled; there hasn’t been a national minimum wage increase. All of these things are difficult, given the opposition the president faces from Republicans in Congress, but that’s the point, right? Encourage people to take action in their communities? Bottom up change and all that?

Nonetheless, there are a couple things conservatives can learn from OFA’s good days and bad.

The first is that they should not dismiss OFA’s raison d’être. Though we often criticize the means by which the Democrats drum up support from their base–I regularly knock the White House’s “war on women” and took a shot at the pitiful attempts to get the GOP to talk impeachment–rallying the base itself is something conservatives should get used to, and the Obama campaign was very good at it.

Conservatives have tended to recoil a bit from the politicization of everything, and with good reason. But getting involved in partisan politics in a democracy is, as our Pete Wehner noted a couple weeks ago, a noble effort. I’m often reminded of the Jews in DP camps after World War II organizing themselves into political parties, ready to combat the tyranny they were subjected to not with more tyranny but with party politics as practiced by free men–even before they were truly free.

The instinct to organize and vote in or out policies and politicians according to your values and principles is the right way to change what needs changing. Liberal activism often has the feel of mob rule because that’s exactly what it is–except when those same activists who spend their time ostracizing the people they disagree with or destroying the livelihood of a thought criminal show up to the polls and vote. It’s terrible that liberals want to undo the protections in the First Amendment. But they give their authoritarian dreams hope of becoming reality by electing senators who actually introduce their wish lists as bills in Congress. Boosting turnout and organizing political action is the way they do that. Conservatives can’t expect to stop them by hoping John Roberts finds his spine.

The other lesson for conservatives is that the OFA zombie is a very leftist creature. I don’t just mean the politics, which are shallow and conventionally liberal. Its walking dead routine is the logical result of applying the liberal world view to any such organization. It becomes a bureaucracy that never disappears and simply prowls the night desperate for something to feed on.

Conservatives should learn not only from the left’s strengths but their weaknesses. This was a lesson conservatives may have learned from the spectacular failure of the Romney campaign’s get out the vote program. It had many problems, but one was surely its overly hierarchical command structure.

The Tea Party is best placed to relate to the organizing of the left because it is a grassroots movement that got candidates elected to Congress. The existence of a Tea Party Caucus is a good example of how these organizations get bureaucratized and then stuck in place, ultimately working against their own best interests thanks to their obsession with their brand. But there’s still a lot the right can learn from an Obama campaign organization that now seems to be plodding off, arms outstretched, into the sunset.

Read Less

Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

Read More

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

Read Less

The Buck Stops Here, But It’s All Their Fault

Charles Blow of the New York Times wins today’s disingenuousness award for his column in defense of President Obama. The subject: does President Obama deserve his reputation for blaming either the previous administration or congressional Republicans for the nation’s problems?

Read More

Charles Blow of the New York Times wins today’s disingenuousness award for his column in defense of President Obama. The subject: does President Obama deserve his reputation for blaming either the previous administration or congressional Republicans for the nation’s problems?

Blow huffily responds that this president is, in fact, a latter day Truman, a “habitual blame taker.” For example, President Obama said in a 2013 interview that “ultimately, the buck stops with me.”

But, as Blow neglects to mention, the president immediately added: “And, you know, I’ve said before—and I continue to say—you know, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get Congress—and Republicans in Congress in particular—to think less about politics and party and think more about what’s good for the country.” That is, when it comes to preventing selfish and unpatriotic Republicans from destroying the country, President Obama takes full responsibility.

To be sure, Blow finds other places in which Obama invokes Truman. For example, in 2012, Obama shared what Blow calls “his philosophy of presidential responsibility”: “as president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and, you know, the buck stops with you.”

However, as Blow chooses not to say, Obama was there in the midst not of taking responsibility for anything but of demanding that Mitt Romney take the blame for what Bain Capital did when Romney was not actively managing it.

In two of the other six quotations Blow hand-selects to prove that President Obama is positively eager to take responsibility for what happens on his watch, the president is at best holding himself accountable for (some day) cleaning up the mess that somebody else made. Concerning the bonuses A.I.G. executives, the president did say, again, “the buck stops with me,” but only after saying “We’ve got a big mess that we’re having to clean up. Nobody here drafted these contracts. Nobody here was responsible for supervising A.I.G.”

Concerning the slowness of the recovery, here it is again: “the buck stops with me.” President Obama said that in response to Wolf Blitzer, who had just reminded him of a statement he made when he took office: “if I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Obama’s responded, “when I came into office, I knew I was going to have a big mess to clean up and frankly, I think the mess has been bigger than I think a lot of people anticipated.” In other words, he took responsibility for pulling America out of the mess the previous administration had made, a responsibility he would perhaps have already fulfilled, he added, were it not for Congress (i.e. the Republicans): “we’re going to need folks to move off some of these rigid positions they’ve been taking in order to solve these problems.”

So in the week Charles Blow presumably spent googling up quotations that would demonstrate “how outrageously untrue” it is that the president rarely takes responsibility for failures, he was able to find exactly two cases in the past six years—one concerning the health-care website—in which President Obama held his administration accountable without blaming a Republican in the next breath.

Of course, President Obama was not to blame for all the problems he inherited. But that we are still discussing the “Bush hangover” in the middle of his second term is a testament less to the scope of the difficulties the country faced when the president took office than to the refusal of this administration to concede that its policies and leadership have anything to do with the foreign and domestic difficulties the country still faces.

Read Less

Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney”: How Buyer’s Remorse Works

Former Mitt Romney campaign advisor Emil Henry makes an impassioned plea for renominating his old boss in 2016 in Politico Magazine. He knows that such a suggestion will be controversial, so it’s fitting that he–or his editors, more likely–subheadlined the piece “I’m absolutely serious.” The question, though, is whether the lessons of 2012 and the following years would lead the GOP to choose Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney.” It is a choice between copying the 2012 GOP nominee’s homework vs. renominating the man himself.

Read More

Former Mitt Romney campaign advisor Emil Henry makes an impassioned plea for renominating his old boss in 2016 in Politico Magazine. He knows that such a suggestion will be controversial, so it’s fitting that he–or his editors, more likely–subheadlined the piece “I’m absolutely serious.” The question, though, is whether the lessons of 2012 and the following years would lead the GOP to choose Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney.” It is a choice between copying the 2012 GOP nominee’s homework vs. renominating the man himself.

Henry begins by spelling out the challenge of losing a presidential election and then not only winning the nomination again but winning the general election as well. (The model is Nixon.) Henry breaks down the case for Romney into three categories:

  • Romney is re-emerging as the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
  • There is no natural 2016 GOP nominee and the field is highly fractured.
  • All failed nominees other than Romney were career politicians.

Does Romney qualify as someone who isn’t a “career politician”? I can see both sides of this debate. The other two claims seem to me arguments against Romney, if anything. His “re-emergence” as the de facto leader of the party is really his re-emergence as a respected figure of the establishment–an establishment which so happens to be locked in a rather nasty public battle with the party’s conservative grassroots.

In that context, a Romney nomination is unthinkable. Romney was really the last of the “next in liners” with regard to the party’s nominating process. His loss was the end of turn taking and the beginning of the party’s turn to its next generation.

And that brings us to the second point. The field is “highly fractured” not out of weakness but strength. The field of possible 2016 candidates is far more dynamic and in line with the party’s emerging identity than the 2012 field. Romney was preferable even to many conservatives over Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum. It’s doubtful the same would be said for Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, or Bobby Jindal.

There are times when an elder statesman is the appropriate candidate. There’s a much stronger case for a Romney candidacy without the Romney, however. The case for Romney is really about buyer’s remorse–it would be the GOP telling the electorate “we told you so.” But as Henry himself intimates, the electorate doesn’t actually need to be told that. The buyer’s remorse is real, and it’s because they realize now that voting for the birth-control-and-Big-Bird candidate was a fairly irresponsible thing to do.

Barack Obama tends to run extremely shallow campaigns. Manufactured war on women controversies and episodes of messianic self-love are usually all you get. But the electorate seems to have assumed that the ideas would come later–that, at some point, Obama would think seriously about the issues of the day, end the perpetual campaign, and start governing. What they got instead was grade-school name calling. On foreign policy, his dithering and disastrous “leading from behind” led to chaos and disintegrating borders. The response of the international community to this was predictable. No one takes Obama seriously, and his diplomatic endeavors have mostly been laughed out of the room.

What they reasonably hoped was that this would stop after Obama’s reelection, when he had no more elections ahead of him. They have learned the hard way the president had no such intentions. Thus their buyer’s remorse is pretty strong, but also much less relevant to 2016. Just because they wish someone else had won in 2012 doesn’t mean they would prefer Romney to someone who isn’t Obama in a future election. Buyer’s remorse doesn’t really work that way.

But they do have an understanding of the consequences of the president’s world view, and it happens not to be too different from the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. She was, after all, the president’s secretary of state, who managed the Russian “reset,” ignored some allies while haranguing others, and presided over the light-footprint model of state intervention that resulted in the death of an American ambassador in Libya.

It turned out that Romney was right about a whole lot, both on domestic policy and especially foreign policy. Perhaps that’s the road map future candidates will follow: not to mimic all of Romney’s policy prescriptions, but to concentrate on where and why he was right and how polling shows these areas to be weaknesses for the current ruling Democrats. That doesn’t mean they’d need to run Mitt Romney in order to make those arguments, but does explain why we’re having this conversation to begin with.

Read Less

Is Hillary Ashamed of Her Vast Wealth?

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Read More

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Such is the mind of the leftist: good works are done through the government. She didn’t say she’s a good example of the deserving rich because she gives charity. She said she pays her taxes. She surrenders enough of her money to the government, and therefore she gets to keep the rest, no complaints. It’s a bit of a non sequitur: if the concern is income inequality, paying your taxes doesn’t exactly get at the root of the issue, does it?

But then Clinton protested too much: “and we’ve done it through dint of hard work,” she continued. No one really doubts Clinton herself earned her salary as secretary of state, but that’s not where most of the family wealth comes from. It comes from, instead, wealthy donors shoveling money at the Clintons, often through speaking fees. Paying Bill Clinton millions of dollars to talk about himself is honest work, sure–but it’s doubtful the public thinks the Clintons had it tough.

That’s the upshot of the Washington Post’s story laying out just how the Clintons amassed all this post-presidential wealth:

Bill Clinton has been paid $104.9 million for 542 speeches around the world between January 2001, when he left the White House, and January 2013, when Hillary stepped down as secretary of state, according to a Washington Post review of the family’s federal financial disclosures.

Although slightly more than half of his appearances were in the United States, the majority of his speaking income, $56.3 million, came from foreign speeches, many of them in China, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, the Post review found.

The financial industry has been Clinton’s most frequent sponsor. The Post review showed that Wall Street banks and other financial services firms have hired Clinton for at least 102 appearances and paid him a total of $19.6 million.

Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.

Here’s the thing: It’s actually OK that the Clintons are filthy rich–at least it’s OK with conservatives. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that the Clintons are rolling in money basically handed to them by the lords of American finance and Wall Street’s heavy hitters. That’s because contrary to the left’s hysterical propaganda, the financial industry is not evil; it in fact creates wealth and jobs, not to mention keeps New York humming along.

It’s perfectly fine if the Clintons go home to a giant vat of cash from Goldman Sachs and swim around in it, Scrooge McDuck-style. It’s good exercise! And there’s nothing criminal about being paid to hang out at fancy resorts and make jokes and hobnob in return for gobs and gobs of money. But the Clintons leave the impression that something’s not quite right by the way they try to spin their fees. For example:

The Clintons also sometimes request that sponsors pay their fee as a donation to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s nonprofit group that leads global philanthropic initiatives. Hillary Clinton is doing this with her $225,000 fee for a speech this fall at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, according to her office.

Oh come on. The American people don’t enjoy having their intelligence insulted so brazenly. And again, there’s really no reason to be rude: the Clintons did not steal their fabulous wealth. They were paid more money than most Americans can even imagine to show up, say a few words, and maybe take some pictures. They can be proud of the lives they’ve made for themselves. The Clintons are very, very rich–completely out of the orbit of most of the country, to say nothing of the planet.

Sure, it’s not as though–like, say, Mitt Romney–the Clintons were creating jobs or helping businesses adapt to new climates, or turning around failed ventures. And it’s also true that the Clintons are generally paid tons of money just because they’re the Clintons. But trading on celebrity isn’t illegal.

Now, of course it’s possible that voters won’t love the fact that the Clintons essentially used their political power and connections, not to mention the fact that many donors believe Hillary will be the next president, to convince the wealthy to give them lots of money. But what’s the alternative? That the Clintons would get private-sector employment creating wealth, learning skills, helping local communities, and making sure workers have jobs and benefits? Liberals treated the last guy who tried that like he was the spawn of Satan. The Clintons are acting this way because they hope to capture the Democratic Party nomination, and they know their audience.

Read Less

Iraq, Another Grim Point for Romney

At the Washington Post, David Ignatius recalls a 2012 debate exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, during which the two covered al-Qaeda and Iraq:

Romney tried to shake Obama’s optimistic narrative about al-Qaeda. “It’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 20 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.”

[…]

Obama scored points later in that debate when he dismissed Romney’s concerns about Iraq. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.” The transcript records Romney sputtering back: “I’m sorry, you actually — there was a — .”

Obama had the better of that exchange, certainly for a war-weary United States that a few weeks later gave him a new mandate. But looking back, which picture was closer to the truth? Probably Romney’s.

Probably? Al-Qaeda has gone from terrorist organization to conquering army and it’s still not entirely safe to say President Obama kind of blew it on that whole anti-terrorism thing.

But the grudging acknowledgement is something. Reality has the ability to trump spin. Obama was elected in large part to pull out of Iraq “responsibly.” But few watching ISIS plow through the country are thinking that he’s handled things well.

Read More

At the Washington Post, David Ignatius recalls a 2012 debate exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, during which the two covered al-Qaeda and Iraq:

Romney tried to shake Obama’s optimistic narrative about al-Qaeda. “It’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 20 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.”

[…]

Obama scored points later in that debate when he dismissed Romney’s concerns about Iraq. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.” The transcript records Romney sputtering back: “I’m sorry, you actually — there was a — .”

Obama had the better of that exchange, certainly for a war-weary United States that a few weeks later gave him a new mandate. But looking back, which picture was closer to the truth? Probably Romney’s.

Probably? Al-Qaeda has gone from terrorist organization to conquering army and it’s still not entirely safe to say President Obama kind of blew it on that whole anti-terrorism thing.

But the grudging acknowledgement is something. Reality has the ability to trump spin. Obama was elected in large part to pull out of Iraq “responsibly.” But few watching ISIS plow through the country are thinking that he’s handled things well.

The crumbling of Iraq, of course, isn’t the first event to vindicate a maligned Romney debating point. Back when he pronounced Russia “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” Obama derided Romney as a Cold Warrior 20 years past his sell-by date. The president, for his part, was busy touting his “reset” with the Kremlin. But the American public soon took up the fight against Vladimir Putin’s human-rights abuses—and then Russia invaded Crimea. Thus came headlines explaining “Why Obama Got Russia Wrong (and Romney Got It Right).”

That’s not all he got right. While the Obama administration plays Let’s Fake a Deal with Tehran, it’s worth recalling another Romney line of foreign-affairs analysis: “Of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. If Obama gets that wrong, belated acknowledgment of his error won’t quite cut it.

Read Less

Hillary’s Rules of Engagement for 2016

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

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The GOP and the Question of “Experience”

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

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

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Union Leader’s About-Face on School Choice

Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts, union membership remains at all-time lows. Meanwhile, public disapproval of labor unions is near all-time highs. Teachers’ unions have been a main catalyst of public antipathy. During the last presidential election campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney tried to make teachers’ unions a lightning rod to rally support. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has likewise used antipathy toward teachers’ unions as a populist tool.

One of the reasons why teachers’ unions have become such a lightning rod is the belief, even among many who would normally be pro-labor, is the sense that teachers’ unions pit membership interest above that of children. Nowhere has this become more apparent than with the case of school vouchers which allow otherwise underprivileged youth or those stuck in poorly performing districts a chance at a better education. While many underprivileged students have sought to take advantage of these vouchers, teachers’ unions have uniformly opposed them. Here, for example, is the National Education Association position on vouchers and here is the American Federation of Teachers’ position.

How refreshing it is to see a union leader, even if retired, rethink his position and put kids first. George Parker used to be president of the Washington Teachers Union, and is a 30-year veteran teacher of the Washington D.C. school system. Writing last month in the Tennessean, here is what he had to say:

Read More

Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts, union membership remains at all-time lows. Meanwhile, public disapproval of labor unions is near all-time highs. Teachers’ unions have been a main catalyst of public antipathy. During the last presidential election campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney tried to make teachers’ unions a lightning rod to rally support. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has likewise used antipathy toward teachers’ unions as a populist tool.

One of the reasons why teachers’ unions have become such a lightning rod is the belief, even among many who would normally be pro-labor, is the sense that teachers’ unions pit membership interest above that of children. Nowhere has this become more apparent than with the case of school vouchers which allow otherwise underprivileged youth or those stuck in poorly performing districts a chance at a better education. While many underprivileged students have sought to take advantage of these vouchers, teachers’ unions have uniformly opposed them. Here, for example, is the National Education Association position on vouchers and here is the American Federation of Teachers’ position.

How refreshing it is to see a union leader, even if retired, rethink his position and put kids first. George Parker used to be president of the Washington Teachers Union, and is a 30-year veteran teacher of the Washington D.C. school system. Writing last month in the Tennessean, here is what he had to say:

My change of heart boiled down to this: I realized my opposition to opportunity scholarships was based on prioritizing adult interests above those of kids. As a former union leader, I made maintaining union influence and power a greater priority than meeting the educational needs of parents and students. But seeing firsthand the positive impact that D.C.’s federally funded voucher program had on many families — especially those of color and limited means — compelled me to rethink my position.

He then gives three reasons why school vouchers work:

First, it puts more power back in the hands of parents, where it belongs. I think we can all agree that parents should have the biggest voice in deciding what type of school is best for their child. Second, expanding school choice helps level the playing field by giving low-income families the same options as high-income ones. Opportunity scholarships will be a godsend for disadvantaged families who cannot afford private school, or to move to a community with better public options. Third, and most importantly, opportunity scholarships work. Similar programs in other states report greater levels of student achievement and parental satisfaction.

Let us hope that his former colleagues will have a similar change of heart. At the very least, his litmus test of what benefits students should become the key litmus test for anyone concerned about the state of public education in the United States, whether they are parents, community leaders, non-unionized teachers, or, indeed, teachers’ unions as well.

Read Less

Romney’s Vindication Is Complete

In the summer of 2012, Politico broke the news that Mitt Romney was planning to travel abroad to make a series of speeches intended to earn some foreign-policy credibility in his effort to defeat Barack Obama. One item on the itinerary was expected to be “a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia.” It made perfect sense: Russia had been causing trouble in its near abroad and in the Middle East, and allies who had been ignored (or worse) by the Obama administration were justifiably nervous.

To Obama-era Democrats, however, obsessed with erasing the Cold War from memory, countries like Poland stopped existing the moment they became independent from Moscow. Obama, in one of his trademark leaden attempts at humor, even dipped into junior-high parlance and taunted Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” (Perhaps he was all out of knock-knock jokes.) Hence all the nonsense about blaming NATO enlargement for Vladimir Putin’s actions, as if the countries themselves should have no say in their own affairs but still be subject to Russia’s veto.

The idea of blaming NATO has been discredited of course, thoroughly refuted by events: Obama froze NATO expansion long before Russia invaded Ukraine, for example. But the idea of even recognizing those countries’ existence is generally treated as preposterous by the left, and so Romney’s proposed itinerary was received in the media as though he were visiting another planet. Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist. She followed that up later that month by devoting an entire story to various Obama administration officials’ equally ignorant snarking about Romney’s trip.

Read More

In the summer of 2012, Politico broke the news that Mitt Romney was planning to travel abroad to make a series of speeches intended to earn some foreign-policy credibility in his effort to defeat Barack Obama. One item on the itinerary was expected to be “a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia.” It made perfect sense: Russia had been causing trouble in its near abroad and in the Middle East, and allies who had been ignored (or worse) by the Obama administration were justifiably nervous.

To Obama-era Democrats, however, obsessed with erasing the Cold War from memory, countries like Poland stopped existing the moment they became independent from Moscow. Obama, in one of his trademark leaden attempts at humor, even dipped into junior-high parlance and taunted Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” (Perhaps he was all out of knock-knock jokes.) Hence all the nonsense about blaming NATO enlargement for Vladimir Putin’s actions, as if the countries themselves should have no say in their own affairs but still be subject to Russia’s veto.

The idea of blaming NATO has been discredited of course, thoroughly refuted by events: Obama froze NATO expansion long before Russia invaded Ukraine, for example. But the idea of even recognizing those countries’ existence is generally treated as preposterous by the left, and so Romney’s proposed itinerary was received in the media as though he were visiting another planet. Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist. She followed that up later that month by devoting an entire story to various Obama administration officials’ equally ignorant snarking about Romney’s trip.

There were signs that the media had begun to figure out that they’d been had–that the Obama White House talking points they were parroting were making them look ridiculous. As Russia took center stage on world affairs in recent months, Romney began receiving respectful hearings on liberal cable news outlets and a refrain of “Romney was right” could be heard bouncing around among the left. Now Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Poland on his own reassurance tour and Romney has taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to describe the strategic and diplomatic failures that led to this point. This morning, the New York Times’s Mark Landler tweeted:

Sitting in Warsaw reading Mitt Romney on POTUS: I think we can all agree the 80′s got its foreign policy back.

Romney’s op-ed in the Journal is being discussed as a classic “I told you so,” but Romney’s far too polite to say it. It’s also not necessary. Nonetheless, he certainly does criticize Obama’s leadership, noting that each time a potential crisis turns into an actual crisis, the president throws up his hands and defensively demands just what he’s supposed to do about it. There’s a reason for that, Romney writes:

A large part of the answer is our leader’s terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

If anything, Romney is actually too charitable toward Obama when he writes:

When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

But in fact it’s not clear the administration knew anything of the sort. The intelligence community leaked that there would surely be no Russian invasion on the eve of the Russian invasion. Romney assumes that because he understands Putin and is therefore able to predict his behavior with some accuracy, the president does as well. The evidence suggests, however, that this isn’t the case. It remains to be seen if Obama finally gets it, now that Putin has made his point impossible to ignore.

Read Less

George W. Bush, Still Living Rent-Free in Their Heads

Remember that time the George W. Bush administration simultaneously invaded Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea? Apparently, according to the New York Times report today on the Obama administration’s foreign-policy readjustment, a former national-security aide to Obama does. The Times’s article is an in-depth look at how the Obama administration’s naïve worldview has shattered on the rocks of reality. Only they don’t know what to replace it with, because they still seem to think they’re running against George Bush.

The guiding principle of Obama administration strategy, to try to figure out what Bush would do and then do the opposite all the while proclaiming moral superiority, has been a flop. But the fact that they still seem to be haunted by their obsession with him is troubling. And yet we get this, from the Times:

Read More

Remember that time the George W. Bush administration simultaneously invaded Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea? Apparently, according to the New York Times report today on the Obama administration’s foreign-policy readjustment, a former national-security aide to Obama does. The Times’s article is an in-depth look at how the Obama administration’s naïve worldview has shattered on the rocks of reality. Only they don’t know what to replace it with, because they still seem to think they’re running against George Bush.

The guiding principle of Obama administration strategy, to try to figure out what Bush would do and then do the opposite all the while proclaiming moral superiority, has been a flop. But the fact that they still seem to be haunted by their obsession with him is troubling. And yet we get this, from the Times:

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands. Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs.

Followed by this:

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.

“No one is arguing for military action, for bringing back George Bush’s chest-thumping,” the former aide said. At the same time, he said, the president’s oft-repeated lines that those who violate international norms will be “isolated” and “pay a heavy price” over the long term have sounded “more like predictions over time, and less like imminent threats.”

I don’t know who the source is obviously; since it’s in the New York Times he or she is anonymous. (How long until Times bylines are also anonymous? And how much would this benefit Tom Friedman?) But I sincerely hope this person’s view isn’t too widely shared among the Obama inner circle.

It was understandable to run against Bush in 2008. He was the sitting president of the other party, and his approval numbers were low. Additionally, the GOP candidate that year, John McCain, was considered even more hawkish than Bush. At the very least, he was more closely associated with the successful “surge” in Iraq than pretty much anyone except the president himself. Obama (who made a prediction on the surge that turned out to be completely and totally wrong) ran on his opposition to the Iraq war. So the contrast between the two candidates was clear, and it made sense for Obama to play up those differences. He felt he was on the right side of public opinion on them.

But that stark contrast had more or less evaporated by Obama’s reelection in 2012. He ran against Mitt Romney, who was certainly tougher on Putin’s Russia (Obama turned out to be wrong there too, as a pattern emerges) but who was otherwise hesitant to run too far to Obama’s right. Obama even used their debates to taunt Romney for being insufficiently bloodthirsty and too hesitant to blow stuff up. Obama ran as the bold assassin. Bin Laden is dead, or haven’t you heard?

More revealing is the fact that Democrats still slamming Bush aren’t actually criticizing Bush, but instead taking aim at the version of Bush they seemed to invent for electoral purposes but ended up believing was real. The power of propaganda can sometimes be most acutely felt by the propagandist. Bush didn’t bomb Iran in response to its nuclear pursuit, or Russia in response to its invasion of Georgia, etc.

And it’s a testament to the incoherence of leftist foreign policy that we’re also reminded of that by the White House–such as when Bush is portrayed as being too naïve for looking into Putin’s eyes and seeing his soul. It’s no wonder the administration has no idea how to respond to the provocations of rogue states: if they want to do the opposite of Bush, but believe Bush is all over the map on policy, what space is left for them?

Not much. The Obama administration has boxed itself in by not giving up its long-stale and outdated campaign rhetoric. It’s disturbing to have to say this in 2014, but it’s time for Democrats still obsessed with Bush to just let it go.

Read Less

Demographics and the GOP

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

Read More

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

Barack Obama v. Mitt Romney

  • In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 126 electoral votes (332 to Romney’s 206) and won the popular vote by nearly 5 million. Mr. Obama is the first president to achieve the 51 percent mark in two elections since President Eisenhower and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. He did this despite losing white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in American history.
  • Of the 12 “battleground” states, Obama won 11—eight of them by a margin of more than 5 percentage points. Remarkably, this meant that if there had been a uniform 5 point swing toward the Republicans in the national popular vote margin—that is, had Romney won the popular vote by 1.1 percentage points instead of losing it by 3.9—Obama would still have prevailed in the Electoral College, winning 23 states and 272 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster, ran through the exit poll data, explaining that Chicago had dramatically pulled off its coalition-of-the-ascendant play–turning out an electorate even more diverse than in 2008, not less, as Newhouse assumed would be the case. Nationally, the white vote fell from 74 to 72 percent, while the black proportion held stead at 13. Participation among Hispanics rose from 8 to 10 percent, among women from 53 to 54 percent, and among young voters from 18 to 19 percent. Obama’s share of each of those blocs ranged from commanding to overwhelming: 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 55 percent of women (and 67 percent of unmarried women), and 60 percent of young voters. (Source: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann)
  • In 2012 the minority share of the vote rose to 28 percent, 2 percentage points above 2008 and more than double the 12 percent level for Bill Clinton’s first victory in 1992. (Source: Ron Brownstein

Historic/Demographic Trends

  • In the last two decades of Democratic dominance, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic six out of six times. These currently have 242 electoral votes, which is quite close to the 270 needed to win the presidency. There are 13 states that have voted Republican in every election since 1992, but they total just 102 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • White voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP, have gone from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. (This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category.) Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same in 2012 as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • The 2012 election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. About 72 percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20-point lead and the fourth highest for a Republican since the advent of exit polling. No presidential candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost. Yet Romney lost the election by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • From 1996 to 2012, according to census figures, the white share of the eligible voting population (citizens who are older than 18) has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years, from 79.2 percent to 71.1 percent; over that same period, whites have declined as a share of actual voters from 83 percent to 74 percent (according to census figures) or even 72 percent (according to the exit polls). With minorities expected to make up a majority of America’s 18 and younger population in this decade, all signs point toward a continued decline in the white share of the eligible voter population—which suggests the GOP would have to marshal heroic turnout efforts to avoid further decline in the white vote share. If the electorate’s composition follows the trend over the past two decades, minorities would likely constitute 30 percent of the vote in 2016. (Source: Ron Brownstein
  • If minorities reach 30 percent of the vote next time, and the 2016 Democratic nominee again attracts support from roughly 80 percent of them, he or she would need to capture only 37 percent of whites to win a majority of the popular vote. In that scenario, to win a national majority, the GOP would need almost 63 percent of whites. Since 1976, the only Republican who has reached even 60 percent among whites was Reagan (with his 64 percent in 1984). Since Reagan’s peak, the Democratic share of the white vote has varied only between 39 percent (Obama in 2012 and Clinton in the three-way election of 1992), and 43 percent (Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1996). (Source: Ron Brownstein)
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic reduction in African-American turnout, a Republican presidential candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record-high share among each portion of the non-white vote (African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and others) to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • Every Democratic nominee since 1980 has run better among single than married whites. In 1984, married couples represented 70 percent of all white voters; by 2012, that number slipped to 65 percent. (The decline has been especially sharp among married white men, who have voted more Republican than married women in each election since 1984.) Another trend steepening the grade for the GOP is growing secularization. Since 2000, Democrats have averaged a 32-point advantage among whites who identify with no religious tradition, and the share of them has increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent by 2012, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. (Source: Ron Brownstein)

My purpose with this post is to present the empirical data, not to interpret it, except to say this: Republican problems are not superficial, transient, or cyclical. The trends speak for themselves. The GOP therefore needs to articulate a governing vision and develop a governing agenda that can reach groups that have not traditionally been supportive of it. Republicans, at least when it comes to presidential elections, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

For the GOP to revivify itself and enlarge its appeal, Republicans at every level will have to think creatively even as they remain within the boundaries of their core principles. It isn’t an easy task, but it’s certainly not an impossible one. (Bill Clinton did this for the Democratic Party in 1992 and Tony Blair did this for the Labour Party in 1997.) It would of course help if those speaking for the party were themselves irenic rather than angry, inviting rather than off-putting, individuals of conviction who also possess the gift of persuasion and a certain grace. “You know what charm is,” Albert Camus wrote in The Fall, “a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.”

Whether Republicans understand the nature of the challenges they face–and if they do how they intend to deal with them and who will emerge from their ranks to lead them–will go a long way toward determining the future of their party and their country.

Read Less

“Mitt”—The Right Man at the Wrong Time

For those who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, reliving the pain of his defeat may not seem like premium family entertainment. Yet if watching Mitt, Greg Wheatley’s documentary about the Republican nominee now appearing exclusively on Netflix, is not always easy viewing, it does provide a clear portrait of the man who was beaten by Barack Obama.

This is not a film about the issues that divided the country or the merits of the Obama presidency. ObamaCare is never mentioned nor is RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care bill that helped undermine the candidate’s critique of the president’s plan. Campaign strategy is mentioned only in passing and the strategists and aides who worked feverishly to put Romney in the White House are almost completely absent. Instead, the focus is solely on the candidate and his family, in footage shot in hotel rooms and on the campaign trail where Mitt is with the people closest to him: his wife Anne, their five sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. That means we don’t learn as much as we might wish about why the protagonist should have been president. But what we do learn what an extraordinarily decent man the GOP nominee is. That’s something a lot of Americans who saw Romney as a remote, rich guy who didn’t understand them should have learned while the issue was still in doubt.

The Mitt Romney of Mitt is funny, kind, and loving. He’s also skeptical about his prospects for success, introspective, aware that he is a “flawed candidate” and frustrated by the way his opponents smeared him. He has a sense of his limits as well as a healthy perspective on all the advantages he received from his father George, who remains his hero. Contrary to the narrative hammered home by the Democrats’ unprecedented barrage of negative advertising, this is not a privileged character who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

This Mitt seems nothing like the one who came across on television in two presidential campaigns (the film begins in 2006 and also includes his defeat by John McCain in the 2008 GOP primaries) as a plastic, almost robotic politician who seemed allergic to the business of retail politics. It’s difficult not to like or to care about the man at the heart of this movie, a verdict that should cause Romney’s 2012 brain trust to wonder how it is that they failed to bring these qualities across to the nation during the campaign.

Read More

For those who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, reliving the pain of his defeat may not seem like premium family entertainment. Yet if watching Mitt, Greg Wheatley’s documentary about the Republican nominee now appearing exclusively on Netflix, is not always easy viewing, it does provide a clear portrait of the man who was beaten by Barack Obama.

This is not a film about the issues that divided the country or the merits of the Obama presidency. ObamaCare is never mentioned nor is RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care bill that helped undermine the candidate’s critique of the president’s plan. Campaign strategy is mentioned only in passing and the strategists and aides who worked feverishly to put Romney in the White House are almost completely absent. Instead, the focus is solely on the candidate and his family, in footage shot in hotel rooms and on the campaign trail where Mitt is with the people closest to him: his wife Anne, their five sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. That means we don’t learn as much as we might wish about why the protagonist should have been president. But what we do learn what an extraordinarily decent man the GOP nominee is. That’s something a lot of Americans who saw Romney as a remote, rich guy who didn’t understand them should have learned while the issue was still in doubt.

The Mitt Romney of Mitt is funny, kind, and loving. He’s also skeptical about his prospects for success, introspective, aware that he is a “flawed candidate” and frustrated by the way his opponents smeared him. He has a sense of his limits as well as a healthy perspective on all the advantages he received from his father George, who remains his hero. Contrary to the narrative hammered home by the Democrats’ unprecedented barrage of negative advertising, this is not a privileged character who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

This Mitt seems nothing like the one who came across on television in two presidential campaigns (the film begins in 2006 and also includes his defeat by John McCain in the 2008 GOP primaries) as a plastic, almost robotic politician who seemed allergic to the business of retail politics. It’s difficult not to like or to care about the man at the heart of this movie, a verdict that should cause Romney’s 2012 brain trust to wonder how it is that they failed to bring these qualities across to the nation during the campaign.

But even if they had, it’s important to remember that the mission Mitt Romney accepted in 2012 was probably impossible. Republicans were immune to Barack Obama’s charms and largely ignored the way most Americans responded to his historic status as our first African-American president. Nothing short of a cataclysm could have convinced a majority not to reelect Obama. Protected as he was 24/7 by the fawning support of the mainstream media—a fact that is highlighted in the documentary in its footage of the second presidential debate when CNN’s Candy Crowley intervened to insert an erroneous correction of one of Romney’s statements during an exchange over the Benghazi terror attack—the president’s victory was probably never in doubt even at the moment when Romney hit his stride in their first debate.

At the beginning of the film we see Romney gathering his family to debate the pros and cons of a presidential run. Most seem skeptical and deeply aware of how a campaign and being elected would have a negative effect on their lives. But his oldest son Tagg reminds him that he had a duty to his country and to God to run and therefore try his best to make things better. Romney did just that, and if he failed it was not for lack of effort or a sincere desire to lead his nation back from the dangerous path on which Obama had placed it. As he says at one point in the movie, the candidate “left it all on the field” in 2012. Despite his shortcomings as a politician, it’s not likely that any other Republican could have done better. For all the recriminations about 2012 that have convulsed the Republican Party since the election, conservatives should watch this film and remind themselves that the person they nominated was a good man who would have been a good president.

Read Less

The New Paul Ryan Is the Old Paul Ryan

Following the release of the budget deal Paul Ryan agreed to with Patty Murray, there will be talk of a shift in Ryan’s political principles. The deal is being framed by its authors as a model of pragmatism, which is a good indication that it will conform to the belief that a fair deal is one from which both sides come away equally unhappy.

Policywise, it certainly deviates from Ryan’s past budgets, and in fact there is plenty in this deal for conservatives to dislike–so much, in fact, that it gives us a clue as to why a seemingly pointless deal would be struck by the right’s generally bold reformer. The Politico story on the deal, headlined “The new Paul Ryan,” offers an opening set of paragraphs that manage to get virtually everything wrong, aside from the one kernel of truth smothered by the confusion:

Read More

Following the release of the budget deal Paul Ryan agreed to with Patty Murray, there will be talk of a shift in Ryan’s political principles. The deal is being framed by its authors as a model of pragmatism, which is a good indication that it will conform to the belief that a fair deal is one from which both sides come away equally unhappy.

Policywise, it certainly deviates from Ryan’s past budgets, and in fact there is plenty in this deal for conservatives to dislike–so much, in fact, that it gives us a clue as to why a seemingly pointless deal would be struck by the right’s generally bold reformer. The Politico story on the deal, headlined “The new Paul Ryan,” offers an opening set of paragraphs that manage to get virtually everything wrong, aside from the one kernel of truth smothered by the confusion:

The new Paul Ryan emerged this week.

The House Budget Committee chairman, who has spent years penning budgets fit for conservatives’ dreams, has morphed into a man willing to take modest steps.

The two-year budget agreement he rolled out with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Tuesday evening is striking for its simplicity: It cuts the deficits by $23 billion, sets new higher spending levels for the next two years and replaces automatic spending cuts set to take effect in 2014.

But in abandoning his years-long quest to re-imagine American society and settling for a bipartisan deal, the Wisconsin Republican took the first steps to emerge as a House power center — a Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts.

This is not a “new Paul Ryan,” but the kernel of truth is buried in that fourth paragraph in reference to Ryan emerging as a “House power center.” He is in fact far from the only “Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts”–a fact that explains why conservatives have been so frustrated with their congressional representatives.

More importantly, however, these were absolutely not the “first steps” Ryan is taking toward becoming an institution within an institution, rather than a prospective conservative candidate for president. Ryan may still run for president, of course; though if he wants to do so as a moderate from Wisconsin he’ll have to compete with Chris Christie and Scott Walker, the presumptive favorites of the centrists (Christie) and Wisconsinites (Walker)–who are both superior retail politicians.

The truth is, most of Ryan’s career suggests he wants the gavel, not the veto pen. Such a career path, by definition, requires staying put. So the clearest evidence of Ryan’s aspirations was when he passed on running for the open Senate seat from Wisconsin long before he was asked to join the Romney campaign as vice presidential nominee:

“What matters to me is not the title. It’s my ability to impact policy,” Ryan said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It would take me, you know, 12 to 16 years in the Senate to get where I am in the House. I don’t want to be in Congress for the rest of my life.”

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has gained national prominence in recent months as the budget has become a central issue in Washington. In the last few days, he was contacted by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn about a possible Senate run.

But Ryan told the Journal Sentinel that he was able to make a quick decision because he never wanted to run for Senate. He is in a strong position to become chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in 2013.

He is not chairman of Ways and Means, but he is quite obviously still the GOP’s point man on budgetary issues as chairman of the Budget Committee. His comment that he wants to impact policy and not be in Congress forever clearly left the door open to other jobs that fit that description–the presidency certainly among them. But Ryan was catapulted to the national stage in 2012 when he joined Romney’s ticket. He did not run for president himself that year, despite numerous entreaties from supporters on the right.

Yet his presence on that ticket did raise the prospect of having to make a choice. He was popular among conservative voters and donors, and had a certain claim to first-tier status as a presidential candidate if he wanted it since he served as the vice presidential nominee in the last cycle. Suddenly, he was presented with the opportunity to claim inheritance of the party’s “standard-bearer” designation, if not the next in line (which used to be an advantage in the GOP, but the very concept now raises suspicion on the right for its presumption of entitlement–and rightly so).

This budget deal was not negotiated by the New Paul Ryan. It was a natural step for the Old Paul Ryan to take because while it wasn’t in line with his other recent budgets, it follows his desire to shape the country’s fiscal course, which he likely considered the first casualty to the prevailing congressional stalemate. It was, however, his first such move since the 2012 presidential election. There is much consistency to Ryan’s compromise, which suggests his heart was with the gavel all along.

Read Less

Scott Brown, ObamaCare, and Regionalism

Scott Brown’s career on the national stage has been a study in contradictions. He is a Northeast Republican with a working class, rather than coastal elite, political identity. He won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat when the late senator passed away by running against the health-care reform effort that was associated with Kennedy perhaps more than any other politician aside from President Obama. He then accrued broad popularity and high approval ratings, yet lost his reelection bid anyway.

Out of office, the contradictions continued: he declined to run for Massachusetts’s other Senate seat when it opened up, and so he was a popular and skilled politician without office–a gifted campaigner without a campaign to run. Yet passing on the other Senate seat still made some sense, because he could run for governor of Massachusetts instead. That election would likely pit him against less formidable competition for an office to which Bay State Republicans get elected routinely, unlike the Senate. And it would offer him a chance to raise his national profile, in the event that he, like most politicians, was looking downfield.

But then he passed up the gubernatorial election as well. What gives? Perhaps, some wondered, he was actually considering running for the Senate from neighboring New Hampshire. The Granite State is more hospitable for Republicans than Massachusetts, and it would be a boon to any national aspirations he had because Republican support in New Hampshire is not the anomaly it is in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, Brown has taken another step in that direction:

Read More

Scott Brown’s career on the national stage has been a study in contradictions. He is a Northeast Republican with a working class, rather than coastal elite, political identity. He won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat when the late senator passed away by running against the health-care reform effort that was associated with Kennedy perhaps more than any other politician aside from President Obama. He then accrued broad popularity and high approval ratings, yet lost his reelection bid anyway.

Out of office, the contradictions continued: he declined to run for Massachusetts’s other Senate seat when it opened up, and so he was a popular and skilled politician without office–a gifted campaigner without a campaign to run. Yet passing on the other Senate seat still made some sense, because he could run for governor of Massachusetts instead. That election would likely pit him against less formidable competition for an office to which Bay State Republicans get elected routinely, unlike the Senate. And it would offer him a chance to raise his national profile, in the event that he, like most politicians, was looking downfield.

But then he passed up the gubernatorial election as well. What gives? Perhaps, some wondered, he was actually considering running for the Senate from neighboring New Hampshire. The Granite State is more hospitable for Republicans than Massachusetts, and it would be a boon to any national aspirations he had because Republican support in New Hampshire is not the anomaly it is in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, Brown has taken another step in that direction:

Former US senator Scott Brown will headline the New Hampshire GOP holiday dinner this month, furthering speculation that he is considering a run for the Senate in that state. …

Brown himself has remained coy about his plans. He has changed his Twitter handle from @ScottBrownMA to @SenScottBrown.

Would Brown be viewed too much as a carpetbagger to win in New Hampshire? It’s an interesting question, because it would test the extent to which regionalism can trump localism in Northeastern politics. By that I mean: we are constantly being told that Northeast Republican candidates for national office (usually the presidency) can offset their lack of ideological bona fides by competing for states Republicans don’t usually win during presidential elections.

Mitt Romney was an example of this. No, the thinking went, he can’t win Massachusetts, but maybe he can win New Hampshire. In the end, he could not win New Hampshire, but the idea was only on the table because he hailed from a nearby state. Rarely do we speak of regionalism this way for other areas of the country. It’s true that there is something to being a southerner, but much of that is tangled up in liberals’ evergreen amateurish smears that Republican success in the South means they must be racist. And anyway “the South” is a bit amorphous and far more diverse than it is given credit for, making regionalism a tough sell.

At other times, race and ethnicity do play into regional assessments, but in a more positive way. Republicans may speak of success in the Southwest, for example, in terms of outreach to Hispanic voters instead of, say, being from Phoenix. But the Northeast continues, against all odds, to play this siren song on a loop. In many ways, a Scott Brown Senate run from New Hampshire would be an even better test of this theory than a presidential contest, because it would put state issues front and center and really assess their portability.

But it turns out that were Brown to run in New Hampshire, he might preempt this test by injecting national issues into the race, indicating the limitations of Northeast regionalism. The issue Brown is most likely to raise would be the one that played a role in his initial Massachusetts win: ObamaCare. As the Washington Post reports:

In the FoxNews.com op-ed, Brown focuses on the effects of the federal health-care law in New Hampshire — not Massachusetts, notably — and appears to take a shot at his would-be opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“Many other Americans are experiencing fewer medical options as insurers restrict their choice of doctors and hospitals in order to keep costs low,” Brown writes, adding: “For example, in New Hampshire, only 16 of the state’s 26 hospitals are available on the federal exchange, meaning patients must either pay more to keep their current doctor or seek inferior care elsewhere.”

Brown then mentions New Hampshire a second time: “New Hampshire is not alone. Across the country, some of the best hospitals are not available on plans on the exchange, leaving patients with difficult choices and unwanted sometimes, life threatening decisions.”

The irony here is that nationalizing issues was something his Massachusetts opponent, Elizabeth Warren, used against him in her successful bid to turn him out of office. Warren herself was a transplant to Massachusetts, though she arrived in the state long before she had senatorial ambitions. If New Hampshire’s voters dislike ObamaCare enough, they’d probably be open to an out-of-stater who promises to help unburden them. That appears to be Brown’s bet–if he runs, something he has made a steady habit of avoiding so far.

Read Less

Paul Ryan’s Quiet Anti-Poverty Quest

What should be the goal of conservative anti-poverty programs? The obvious answer is: help those in poverty find their way to some measure of economic security. That, at least, is what the subjects of anti-poverty programs would expect. It is a challenge–more so than Republican politicians seem to appreciate–to convince someone in dire economic straits about the long-term value of the economic process of creative destruction that may have put them in near-term financial crisis. You can’t eat character or life lessons.

But to listen to Republican legislators, the goal of these programs seems to be to cut the budget, or to reduce dependency on the federal government, or create jobs–all important items on the GOP’s agenda, and all which can, certainly, help alleviate poverty in various ways. But that also means that when conservatives talk, they are often talking about those in poverty, not to them. That was part of the basis for Chris Christie’s reelection strategy, which saw him go into disadvantaged neighborhoods and show reliably liberal voters that Republicans weren’t afraid to be in the same room with them.

But what to do beyond that? This is the question Paul Ryan is grappling with. Ryan’s anti-poverty drive is the subject of a lengthy profile in the Washington Post, which notes that the Wisconsin congressman, who ran as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee last year, was positively mortified by Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. “I think he was embarrassed,” Bob Woodson, a civil-rights activist who worked with Ryan’s mentor Jack Kemp on poverty issues, told the Post. “And it propelled him to deepen his own understanding of this.”

Read More

What should be the goal of conservative anti-poverty programs? The obvious answer is: help those in poverty find their way to some measure of economic security. That, at least, is what the subjects of anti-poverty programs would expect. It is a challenge–more so than Republican politicians seem to appreciate–to convince someone in dire economic straits about the long-term value of the economic process of creative destruction that may have put them in near-term financial crisis. You can’t eat character or life lessons.

But to listen to Republican legislators, the goal of these programs seems to be to cut the budget, or to reduce dependency on the federal government, or create jobs–all important items on the GOP’s agenda, and all which can, certainly, help alleviate poverty in various ways. But that also means that when conservatives talk, they are often talking about those in poverty, not to them. That was part of the basis for Chris Christie’s reelection strategy, which saw him go into disadvantaged neighborhoods and show reliably liberal voters that Republicans weren’t afraid to be in the same room with them.

But what to do beyond that? This is the question Paul Ryan is grappling with. Ryan’s anti-poverty drive is the subject of a lengthy profile in the Washington Post, which notes that the Wisconsin congressman, who ran as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee last year, was positively mortified by Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. “I think he was embarrassed,” Bob Woodson, a civil-rights activist who worked with Ryan’s mentor Jack Kemp on poverty issues, told the Post. “And it propelled him to deepen his own understanding of this.”

Ryan faces two obstacles. First, his placement on the ticket implicated him, even if once removed, from Romney’s comments. And second, he is the author of a budget reform plan that aims to shore up the social safety net before it goes bankrupt. Conservatives are virtually alone in their willingness to address the looming entitlements crisis. When Ryan proposed an earlier iteration of his budget, the Democrats ran lunatic murder-fantasy ads depicting a Ryan lookalike throwing an old lady off of a cliff.

Reforming entitlements isn’t the same as addressing poverty, but Ryan is pushing back against the stigma of the Democratic attack ads that emerge, like clockwork, any time the Democrats have an opportunity to scuttle attempts to put those programs on sound economic footing. The Post describes how the Ryan-Woodson collaboration has taken shape:

Ryan had sought Woodson’s help with his poverty speech. The two reconnected after the election and began traveling together in February — once a month, no reporters — to inner-city programs supported by Woodson’s Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. In Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Denver, Woodson said, Ryan asked questions about “the agents of transformation and how this differs from the professional approach” of government social workers.

Like Woodson, the programs share a disdain for handouts and a focus on helping people address their own problems. In Southeast Washington, Ryan met Bishop Shirley Holloway, who gave up a comfortable career in the U.S. Postal Service to minister to drug addicts, ex-offenders, the homeless — people for whom government benefits can serve only to hasten their downfall, Holloway said.

At City of Hope, they are given an apartment and taught life skills and encouraged to confront their psychological wounds. They can stay as long as they’re sober and working, often in a job Holloway has somehow created.

“Paul wants people to dream again,” Holloway said of Ryan. “You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.”

Trips to Newark and Texas are slated for later this month. Woodson said Ryan has also asked him to gather community leaders for an event next year, and to help him compare the results of their work with the 78 means-tested programs that have cost the federal government $15 trillion since 1964.

Ryan’s focus on the effectiveness of these programs vis-à-vis the federal government’s programs strikes me as the key to this experiment. The Democrats’ solution to poverty is to increase dependence on the federal government to bolster its expansion and give politicians ever more control over the public. As such, it cedes plenty of ground to anyone more concerned about helping the poor than about their own quest for power.

Yet the right cedes much of that ground right back by subsuming specific existing anti-poverty programs into the larger fights over the budget or more abstract battles over ideological principles. The ineffectiveness of government programs isn’t enough to discredit them in the minds of politicians looking for votes: otherwise, Medicaid–an expensive failure that is actually expanded under ObamaCare as a wealth transfer–would be a constant target of reform.

These programs often follow the rule that you can’t beat something with nothing. A bad government program easily persists when there is no alternative. If Ryan can prove there are workable alternatives, the Democrats will need more than disturbing attack ads to derail conservative attempts to save the social safety net.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.