Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitt Romney

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hillary’s Rules of Engagement for 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The GOP and the Question of “Experience”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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The Hazards of Hillary Hagiography

As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

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As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

The chairman of the Republican National Committee says NBC and CNN are in the bag for Hillary Clinton, and he’s pledging to block the networks from sponsoring 2016 GOP primary debates unless they scratch their respective TV projects about the former secretary of state.

Reince Priebus accused the networks of promoting Clinton “ahead of her likely Democratic nomination for president in 2016” by airing the productions.

NBC is planning a miniseries about Clinton staring Diane Lane, and CNN has a documentary in the works about Clinton’s professional and personal life, expected to air in theaters before running on the cable network. In a letter to program executives, Priebus asserts that the networks’ plans will tip the scale toward Clinton in the next presidential election, providing unfair treatment not only to Republicans but also to other Democrats vying for the nomination. He called the networks “campaign operatives” for Clinton, and noted that Democrats protested when Citizens United tried to air a pay-per-view film about her before the 2008 election.

It’s possible this is just an easy way for Priebus and the RNC to reduce the number of debates, a prospect that was always easier said than done because the events brought revenue to local parties and gave candidates extra time in the spotlight. The debates were useful, without question, because the race was wide open and because it was important for Republican candidates–who won’t have the networks airing hagiographic propaganda on their behalf, unlike their opponents–need to be able to debate effectively. That was important in 2012 because although Obama isn’t a very good debater, the moderators intervened when they thought he was in trouble. It will be more important against Hillary Clinton, who is a far superior debater.

But 20 debates is excessive, and with few exceptions the last round of moderators didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. It should also be noted that while the debates may have played a central role in derailing Perry’s candidacy, the later revelations about his health problems at the time suggests he might not have made it to the finish line even with fewer debates.

There is also the matter of the content of the CNN and NBC documentaries on Hillary Clinton. I doubt anyone thinks the network once derided as the “Clinton News Network” and the network that hired Clinton’s daughter will take a terribly critical view of the former first lady. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is not how the Clintons will interpret the movies. Their standards for unadulterated worship are high. When Hillary Clinton spoke at the Saban Forum in late 2012 she permitted her event to be on the record–which included a film about Clinton preceding her speech whose tone was, wrote the New Yorker’s David Remnick, “so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology.”

Anything less will likely result in the expression of the typical Clinton suspicion that borders on paranoia (Clinton did, after all, introduce us to the “vast right-wing conspiracy”) and manifests in vicious public counter-attacks and character assassination. The networks are playing with fire: even the mere presumption of balance will set the Clintons fuming, and a replay of the Saban Forum’s Brezhnevite pomp will be a laughingstock.

Priebus is right to want to cut back on the debates and exert more discernment in choosing moderators and networks. He is also right to object to the hero-worship filmography of “news” networks covering the election. But the networks are probably asking for trouble, and Priebus and the RNC might end up enjoying not the films themselves, but the spectacle that follows.

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Didn’t Obama Already Save Detroit?

The news that the city of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy may not surprise many observers who were aware of how economic decline, shrinking population, the burden of huge public employee contracts and political corruption was leading inevitably to this outcome. But it might come as something of a shock to the vast majority of Americans whose only thoughts about the subject prior to today were framed by the demagoguery on the issue that came from President Obama’s reelection campaign. As we all recall, Democrats spent a good deal of 2012 telling us that “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead” and hounding Mitt Romney for saying that Detroit would be better off going bankrupt rather than being bailed out by the federal government. But yesterday we learned that all the sunny talk about what Obama had accomplished did nothing to save the city.

Of course, Democrats will say that when they were talking about “Detroit” last year, they were just using the word as shorthand for the automobile industry and not referring to the Motor City itself. But the memory of the way the president pounded Romney on the issue should do more than point out Obama’s hypocrisy. The collapse of what was once one of America’s great cities should also inform us about the way the liberal project is dooming municipal and state governments around the country as well as Washington to a sea of debt that cannot be sustained. Detroit isn’t just the most spectacular example of urban blight. It’s the poster child for the consequences of liberal governance.

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The news that the city of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy may not surprise many observers who were aware of how economic decline, shrinking population, the burden of huge public employee contracts and political corruption was leading inevitably to this outcome. But it might come as something of a shock to the vast majority of Americans whose only thoughts about the subject prior to today were framed by the demagoguery on the issue that came from President Obama’s reelection campaign. As we all recall, Democrats spent a good deal of 2012 telling us that “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead” and hounding Mitt Romney for saying that Detroit would be better off going bankrupt rather than being bailed out by the federal government. But yesterday we learned that all the sunny talk about what Obama had accomplished did nothing to save the city.

Of course, Democrats will say that when they were talking about “Detroit” last year, they were just using the word as shorthand for the automobile industry and not referring to the Motor City itself. But the memory of the way the president pounded Romney on the issue should do more than point out Obama’s hypocrisy. The collapse of what was once one of America’s great cities should also inform us about the way the liberal project is dooming municipal and state governments around the country as well as Washington to a sea of debt that cannot be sustained. Detroit isn’t just the most spectacular example of urban blight. It’s the poster child for the consequences of liberal governance.

Some liberals are telling us today that Detroit’s experience is so unique that what has happened there can’t be compared to any other city’s problems. It’s true that there is no more absolute example of urban collapse. But Detroit isn’t the only place where the decline of labor-intensive manufacturing and white flight caused a collapse. While other large cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, underwent crises that were met and overcome in the last generation before undergoing revivals, Detroit has been going downhill for more than 60 years. While Detroit had particular problems that may not have been faced elsewhere, the basic conundrum is not unique. But rather than face up to the need to change the old liberal formula of expanding government and letting corruption go unchecked, this bastion of liberalism refused to alter its course. Decades after leaders like Ed Rendell and Rudy Giuliani showed how it was possible to govern places that were thought ungovernable, Detroit continued acting as if the old boodle theory of politics could continue as mayors as well as other politicians were involved in criminal conspiracies rather than reform.

The lesson here is that a government that continued to overpromise and create unfunded liabilities to please political constituencies cannot survive indefinitely. And that goes straight to the glaring problem that was the foundation of President Obama’s false boasts about “saving Detroit” that caused Romney so much trouble last fall.

Detroit’s bankruptcy shows that federal bailouts for industries can’t solve all the country’s problems, especially when cities are sinking under the weight of generous municipal contracts for public employees. It’s true that many other cities that are facing shortfalls because of debts they’ve signed off on to pay off unions are working better than Detroit, where 40 percent of the street lights don’t work and it takes nearly an hour for police to arrive at an average high-priority emergency.

But unless the power of unions to bankrupt municipalities and state governments is cut back—much as Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have tried to do—everywhere, Detroit won’t be the last city to go bankrupt. The accumulation of debt to pay off the promises made by liberals is a problem that threatens cities all over the country, even some that are seemingly in much better shape than Detroit.

The Obama paradigm of building more entitlements like ObamaCare and throwing federal money at regional problems is based on the liberal assumption that the government piper will never have to be paid. Democrats have blasted their Republican counterparts as heartless Tea Party extremists and obstructionists for refusing to play along and let the system go on as it has for decades building debts that can’t ever be met. But unless someone or some group is able to enact real change, Detroit is America’s future, not, as some are telling us, an exception to the rule.

This week we got a wake up call that tells us that Obama didn’t save Detroit from bankruptcy. He is merely one more in a string of liberal enablers that helped create the situation there that may well be replicated elsewhere eventually, even in cities that are not in as dire straits today as Detroit is. It’s time for America to sober up and realize that without government reform based on the end of liberal illusions, Detroit will become a metaphor for how America became like Greece: bankrupt, corrupt, and a shadow of its past faded glories.

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Can Mitt Be Our Favorite Ex-Non-President?

There is no better job in the world than being an ex-president. We build museums and libraries to honor them like ancient Egyptians built pyramids for dead pharaohs and they live on the government tab for the rest of their lives, free to play golf as well as doing good works that burnish their reputations and make occasional side trips into partisan activity to help friends and allies.

There is no worse job than being a failed presidential candidate. While your opponent gets to hear “Hail to the Chief” every time he walks into a room, November’s loser must slink off into obscurity, generally despised even more by members of his own party (who will never forgive their candidate for losing) than even their opponents.

But judging from the latest reports about Mitt Romney’s plans, he sounds as if he’s trying to combine the two jobs. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, Romney’s plans to “rejoin the national dialogue” seem to be based on the idea that he still has the potential to do his country and his party some good. While Republicans desperately need to turn the page from his failed 2012 campaign and put new faces in front of the voters, Romney may be on to something.

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There is no better job in the world than being an ex-president. We build museums and libraries to honor them like ancient Egyptians built pyramids for dead pharaohs and they live on the government tab for the rest of their lives, free to play golf as well as doing good works that burnish their reputations and make occasional side trips into partisan activity to help friends and allies.

There is no worse job than being a failed presidential candidate. While your opponent gets to hear “Hail to the Chief” every time he walks into a room, November’s loser must slink off into obscurity, generally despised even more by members of his own party (who will never forgive their candidate for losing) than even their opponents.

But judging from the latest reports about Mitt Romney’s plans, he sounds as if he’s trying to combine the two jobs. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, Romney’s plans to “rejoin the national dialogue” seem to be based on the idea that he still has the potential to do his country and his party some good. While Republicans desperately need to turn the page from his failed 2012 campaign and put new faces in front of the voters, Romney may be on to something.

According to the Journal:

As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort. He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates.

The “Experts and Enthusiasts” summit is apparently more than just a GOP gabfest. It will center on philanthropic and business issues as well as political ones and even includes an appearance from former top Democratic strategist David Axelrod. Which makes it sound like something that we’d expect to be run by a popular ex-president like Bill Clinton, who has helped build his brand by combining advocacy with charity work in his foundation.

The point is Romney doesn’t want to go away and hide, though that is precisely what a lot of conservative Republicans may want him to do. In his characteristic technocratic can-do style, he still wants to help brainstorm solutions to the country’s problems while also keeping his hand in politics and doing good works.

There are good reasons for him to worry about becoming too prominent, and according to the Journal he’s sensitive to those concerns. Romney is a favorite whipping boy of the left and liberal media outlets and there’s little doubt they will take every opportunity to pour on the abuse. The deep bench of GOP presidential prospects for 2016 also provides a variety of views that makes it unnecessary for Romney to become too visible. The party needs to avoid doing anything that makes it seem as if a rejected politician like Romney is its de facto leader. His image as a plutocrat that was reinforced by a year’s worth of Democratic attack ads, gaffes as well as his views on issues like immigration are not the sort of things that can help Republicans win in 2014 or 2016.

But there is plenty of room for Romney to play a role as an elder statesman who is no longer out for his own personal advancement while still seeking to help America. That’s the sort of perch usually reserved for ex-presidents, not mere failed politicians who either return to the political fray in some other guise (like John Kerry or John McCain) or just fade from view other than the occasional television commercial like Bob Dole.

Republicans need a completely different style of candidate in 2016. One more in touch with common concerns—something the remote Romney never could master—as well as someone who isn’t filthy rich would be a good place to start. But there is a place in our national discussion for a figure that can be both a political voice and a wealthy do-gooder with the stature to bring out attention to issues when he deems it vital to do so.

Mitt Romney might have made a good president, but he was a terrible politician, so we’ll never get to know just how well he might have done if he had been given the chance to sit in the Oval Office. But he can skip the four- or eight-year waiting period and jump right into the business of being an ex-president, using his prestige, wealth and ability to speak out to do as much to aid needy causes or highlight issues as the two Bushes or Clinton can while also avoiding the vitriol and ill will toward Israel that has ruined Jimmy Carter’s ex-presidency.

If Mitt sticks with it, he may turn out to be our best and most beloved ex-non-president in history. While it’s not as good as being president, it’s nothing to snicker at either.

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Axelrod’s Disciples

Humorlessness and self-seriousness can be a difficult combination of traits for a national politician to overcome. But Barack Obama managed to do so in part because when he stayed on script he was eloquent and measured. Those who work for him, however, seem to possess all of his thin-skinned defensiveness with none of the charm.

So it was no surprise that eventually those employees would become ex-employees and saturate the Twittersphere with what Dylan Byers today calls “their frat-house banter” of social media aggression. Byers writes that the angry, score-settling aides shine a light on the mindset of those still toiling away in the West Wing:

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Humorlessness and self-seriousness can be a difficult combination of traits for a national politician to overcome. But Barack Obama managed to do so in part because when he stayed on script he was eloquent and measured. Those who work for him, however, seem to possess all of his thin-skinned defensiveness with none of the charm.

So it was no surprise that eventually those employees would become ex-employees and saturate the Twittersphere with what Dylan Byers today calls “their frat-house banter” of social media aggression. Byers writes that the angry, score-settling aides shine a light on the mindset of those still toiling away in the West Wing:

“Twitter offers a window into the internal frustrations of an administration and the arguments people make on the inside. So it’s not surprising that people coming out of this White House are skeptical of Washington, Congress and the media,” Lovett, a former White House speechwriter, told POLITICO. “If there was Twitter when John Adams was president, ex-John Adams staffers would probably have let loose on Thomas Jefferson.”

But of course, there wasn’t Twitter when John Adams was president, nor was Twitter an influential medium during the tenure of President George W. Bush. President Obama’s aides are the first to leave a White House in the age of social media. Where former administration staffers took their newfound freedom to cable news or the pages of an inside-the-White-House tell-all, Obama staffers are voicing their grievances — and building their post-White House brands — through social media.

It’s interesting that Lovett admits that the media would be a natural target. The political press, after all, consider themselves a kind of informational Secret Service for this president. But I suppose if most of the coverage you get is positive, that one Woodward op-ed and the occasional Washington Post editorial that goes the other way stand out that much more. Obama is also famously obsessed with his own press clips.

Social media is relatively young and a minefield, and you tend to want to have a bit of compassion for the occasional slip-up. But much of this group’s activity is by design, not mistake. And it predates their free agency. As I wrote back in January of 2012, even the New York Times was put-off by David Axelrod’s Twitter obsession with his counterparts on the Romney campaign. The attention was unrequited, so Axelrod beefed up his taunting until the Times had to step in. “Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney,” the Times wrote, highlighting several examples of when Axelrod surely should have known better than to be on his phone taunting Republicans. Sample tweet: “At Bulls game with my daughter, Lauren, thinking about how turnovers late in game can kill you. Must be thinking same over at Romney HQ!”

It’s doubtful they were thinking the same thing over at Romney headquarters, and it’s doubly doubtful they were thinking at all about Axelrod while with their children at a basketball game. But silly season gets its name for a reason. There were also times Axelrod drifted into offensive waters, for example sending anti-Mormon tweets while working for a campaign that branded Romney in its ads “not one of us.”

Axelrod led by example and set a certain tone for the entire Obama campaign apparatus. Thus when the younger staffers who followed Axelrod into Twitter battle left the White House, they went looking for a fight anywhere they could get it, as they tell Byers:

“For the first couple weeks there was a feeling of being unleashed,” Favreau told POLITICO. “Tommy and I were at an airport waiting for a flight, and we were both in a Twitter fight with someone. After about an hour, we looked up from ours phones and said, ‘We have to stop.’”

Fights and potshots take up a fair amount of former staffers’ time on Twitter, and though the group has shared targets — Republican intransigence, the media’s obsession with minutiae, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin — each individual has his favorite areas of combat.

It’s not just opinion writers or reporters; current White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer used his interview with Politico today to complain about the online news aggregator Drudge: “It hurts what we’re trying to do,” Pfeiffer said–which is: control the news cycle.

And that really gets to what is driving the relentless combat. When the Obama campaign put out ads accusing Romney of giving people cancer or of not being “one of us” or of wanting to kill Big Bird, there were two main concerns: first, whether someone else on the campaign was prepared to grab the wheel and steer it out of the gutter (there wasn’t), and second, that the Obama campaign might win the election and believe that their strategy was vindicated. Clearly, both concerns were right on the mark.

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The MSM Is Disappointed in Itself

In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

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In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

“Campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans,” according to the report. “Only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans.” …

When news organizations are pushed out of the information pipeline, voters alone are left to sort through messages that are tested in focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. And on the heels of a presidential campaign in which one candidate’s pollster said he refused to let the campaign be dictated by fact-checkers, such a strategy is growing easier to execute.

The facts are these: Campaigns and candidates have more power than ever before to frame both their positive narrative and their opponents’ negative one.  And, if the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending much more time on the negative side of the ledger — at least in 2012.

Think of those numbers the next time you run down the role of the political media.

Yes, you think about that the next time you feel like complaining about front-page stories in papers like the Post. In fact, you’ll probably have that opportunity again soon, because like clockwork the Post identifies the Republican it deems most dangerous to the liberal agenda and fires off a gobsmackingly absurd–and often factually incorrect–story about them. The Post usually follows that story with an article about its previous story, in which it drums up a fake controversy and then drums up fake outrage about it.

The truth is, if the Post is unhappy about the press acting “as megaphones, rather than investigators,” it only has itself to blame. Before Romney was the target, Democrats felt threatened by Texas Governor Rick Perry. So the Post published a story meant to be damning toward Perry’s character, in which it breathlessly reported the existence of a hunting property leased by Perry’s family that once had a rock with a racial epithet painted on it but which no one can find today. Before the Post went after Perry, the paper decided to weigh in on the 2009 Virginia governor’s race by attacking Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old college thesis and publishing about a story a day on it for the first week or so. McDonnell won the election easily, needless to say. And the Post tried to dig up dirt on Marco Rubio, found nothing, and pretended it found something anyway. The Post story was quickly debunked.

None of this is to suggest that modern newspapers publish only nonsense. They do plenty of good work. And the fading of investigative journalism–a function of tightening budgets and lack of resources, mainly–is to be mourned. But too often investigative journalism as currently practiced discredits just this kind of reporting–especially when election season rolls around.

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Ryan Has Options, But Has He Already Made His Choice?

Paul Ryan’s role in the 2012 presidential election was, from the standpoint of some congressional Republicans, perfect. Because Ryan is the author of budget-cutting legislation that seeks to reform entitlements, especially Medicare, his proposals are controversial. Republicans in Congress may be supportive of such legislation, and indeed voted for it in large numbers, but it opens up an easy line of attack for their opponents. But they also want to rein in debt, support their fellow (popular) conservative reformer, and stay in the good graces of the party’s grassroots–as Newt Gingrich found out when he criticized Ryan’s plan in harsh terms and earned the ire of conservative voters when he ran for the GOP nomination.

Gingrich backtracked, but he was in an unenviable position: he wanted to appeal to both the center and the base; he didn’t want to appear timid by backtracking and deferring to Ryan, who wasn’t running. But he also couldn’t embrace a plan he had genuine concerns about, both philosophically and with regard to electoral politics. This is where many in the party found themselves on the issue of trying to win local and national elections–caught between prudence and their reformist instincts. Ryan chose not to run for president, which prevented the party’s candidates from having to spend an entire election season defending that one proposal. And because he was picked up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, his own plans were overshadowed by those of Romney–the top of the ticket. Thus, had the GOP ousted President Obama in November, Republicans would have arrived on the cusp of major conservative reform in a relatively quiet way.

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Paul Ryan’s role in the 2012 presidential election was, from the standpoint of some congressional Republicans, perfect. Because Ryan is the author of budget-cutting legislation that seeks to reform entitlements, especially Medicare, his proposals are controversial. Republicans in Congress may be supportive of such legislation, and indeed voted for it in large numbers, but it opens up an easy line of attack for their opponents. But they also want to rein in debt, support their fellow (popular) conservative reformer, and stay in the good graces of the party’s grassroots–as Newt Gingrich found out when he criticized Ryan’s plan in harsh terms and earned the ire of conservative voters when he ran for the GOP nomination.

Gingrich backtracked, but he was in an unenviable position: he wanted to appeal to both the center and the base; he didn’t want to appear timid by backtracking and deferring to Ryan, who wasn’t running. But he also couldn’t embrace a plan he had genuine concerns about, both philosophically and with regard to electoral politics. This is where many in the party found themselves on the issue of trying to win local and national elections–caught between prudence and their reformist instincts. Ryan chose not to run for president, which prevented the party’s candidates from having to spend an entire election season defending that one proposal. And because he was picked up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, his own plans were overshadowed by those of Romney–the top of the ticket. Thus, had the GOP ousted President Obama in November, Republicans would have arrived on the cusp of major conservative reform in a relatively quiet way.

But they didn’t win. And that meant the party faced the prospect of a new cycle of political fights over Ryan’s reforms, since he is the House budget leader. But he could also not be easily overlooked, since he returned as the party’s (unsuccessful) vice presidential hopeful. That’s why in today’s Politico story analyzing Paul Ryan’s competing paths to power, this particular segment stands out as possibly the best harbinger of what to expect from the rising conservative star:

Ryan associates say he has been surprised at how central his governing role has been among House Republicans since returning from his failed run for vice president. He was instrumental in cooking up the GOP’s new debt ceiling strategy and will craft a budget plan that sets the direction for the GOP caucus on virtually every consequential issue. With this in mind, he now calculates that naked national ambitions would only dilute his growing power as Speaker John Boehner’s unofficial wing man.

At the same time, Ryan continues to cultivate a national political and financial network that would serve him in any role. A top GOP source said Ryan recently huddled with Spencer Zwick, Mitt Romney’s fundraising guru, who made plain much of the 2012 donor base stands ready to back him if he were to ever warm again to a White House run. Ryan also made a fundraising trip to Texas last month for his Prosperity PAC. He was hosted by top Romney donors who urged him to run, convinced he has been totally vetted and passed the readiness test.

There are three nuggets of information in those two paragraphs, and they basically summarize Ryan’s current predicament. First, major party donors like him and want him to run for president; second, his instinct is not to run, and instead stick to policy; and third, that the GOP House caucus’s embrace of Ryan when he returned from the campaign played a fairly important role in all this.

Ryan understood that although he is young, losing a national race can halt anyone’s career momentum, and it can leave the impression that the losing candidate is an also-ran. Those perceptions are difficult, though far from impossible, to reverse. And Ryan would have one advantage: no one blames him for the election result, since he was not at the top of the ticket. His selection, in fact, energized grassroots conservatives. Nonetheless, as a candidate for the White House in a close election Ryan had one foot out the door of the House chamber. The fact that House Republicans welcomed his return as a congressional leader says a lot about the value House Republicans place in Ryan, and the confidence he instills in them that they can win with his agenda.

Though Ryan is a fine public speaker and a solid debater, he was always more at home writing policy than on the campaign trail. If he wanted to compete for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he surely could, and he would have something of a head start on his rivals with both the base and party donors. But the lesson of Bob Dole’s run for president in 1996 looms large: it is difficult–Dole found it impossible, actually–to be a congressional leader and presidential candidate at the same time. Ryan may very well be the most influential Republican in the House already. Though he could certainly make a play for being even more, he appears to be relieved to have his old role back, for the time being. The party’s base has reason to be relieved, as well, that Ryan’s colleagues didn’t lose their resolve to fight for real reform in his brief absence.

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