Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitt Romney

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 Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist.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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Learning from Obama’s Campaign Victory

Immediately following the election, a great deal of attention was paid to the incredibly inept Romney GOTV effort by this blog and many others. The failure of the program Orca was almost too complete, too shocking to be believed and it left many, including myself, wondering what might have been if the Romney campaign had an effective GOTV effort on Election Day. Obama’s margin of victory was such that if there had been a GOTV and organizational effort by the Romney campaign even close to his opponent, there might have been a clear chance at victory in several swing states for the Republican nominee. 

After the election, Romney’s digital campaign staff conducted a post-mortem with leading GOP and conservative strategists and, shockingly, reportedly came out feeling “cheerful” despite their walloping not only at the polls, but also in the digital realm. How could these experts have reached a conclusion so far from reality? Simply, many of these digital consultants have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo. RedState’s Erick Erickson named names shortly after the election and explained how and why a group of strategists linked to the RNC and other conservative groups rake in millions every election season, despite their continued failures. There is one notable exception to that group of consultants and digital strategists: Patrick Ruffini. 

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Immediately following the election, a great deal of attention was paid to the incredibly inept Romney GOTV effort by this blog and many others. The failure of the program Orca was almost too complete, too shocking to be believed and it left many, including myself, wondering what might have been if the Romney campaign had an effective GOTV effort on Election Day. Obama’s margin of victory was such that if there had been a GOTV and organizational effort by the Romney campaign even close to his opponent, there might have been a clear chance at victory in several swing states for the Republican nominee. 

After the election, Romney’s digital campaign staff conducted a post-mortem with leading GOP and conservative strategists and, shockingly, reportedly came out feeling “cheerful” despite their walloping not only at the polls, but also in the digital realm. How could these experts have reached a conclusion so far from reality? Simply, many of these digital consultants have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo. RedState’s Erick Erickson named names shortly after the election and explained how and why a group of strategists linked to the RNC and other conservative groups rake in millions every election season, despite their continued failures. There is one notable exception to that group of consultants and digital strategists: Patrick Ruffini. 

Since the election, while the attention of almost every other conservative strategist and activist was focused on the failure in the Romney campaign, Ruffini has spent a significant amount of time and effort deconstructing the incredibly successful Obama campaign. Ruffini, the founder and owner of the consulting firm EngageDC, sneaked into Obama For America (OFA) strategy sessions, live-tweeting and later collating his findings. He has also pored over information released by OFA about their organizational structure to learn how OFA operated so that a future GOP candidate wouldn’t find themselves so outgunned in future campaigns. In one large report, Going Inside the Cave, Ruffini’s team analyzed the organization, strategy and implementation of OFA’s digital efforts, explaining: 

OFA was, far and away, the most sophisticated political organization on the planet. And Republicans needed to learn from them. So we set about gathering insights, data, and anecdotes from hundreds of news articles, blog posts, interviews, podcasts, and presentations. 

The Cave is what OFA called the windowless room that housed their analytics team. Like digital in 2008, analytics came of age in the 2012 campaign. OFA’s analytics team had 50 staffers. By comparison, the Romney-Ryan campaign had a data team of 4 people.

Veterans of OFA have been surprisingly forthcoming in providing details on how they leveraged the latest in technology and digital strategy to make their campaign as effective and efficient as possible.

In 2016, Republicans can’t afford to fight the battles of 2012. We have to look forward to the future and start preparing now.

Last night Ruffini live-tweeted his analysis of the “OFA Legacy Report,” which he then compiled along with other digital strategists’s anecdotes. Why is Ruffini and his firm spending so much time deconstructing the reelection campaign of a second-term president? While this may be Obama’s last term in office, OFA isn’t going anywhere. Mother Jones reports:

Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign was the most technologically advanced political operation in American history. The campaign, led by Jim Messina, amassed and distilled vast quantities of voter data, built apps and networks to mobilize voters and enlist volunteers, and practically perfected the science of email fundraising. Post-election, Messina and his lieutenants weren’t about to let their data files, email lists, algorithms, and grassroots machine simply gather dust. Instead, they will soon launch Organizing for Action, a standalone advocacy group created to bolster Obama as he pursues his second-term agenda.

The new group will be used to mobilize Obama supporters around the key issues of Obama’s second term in office.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi explained that the group “dwarfs any part of the Democratic coalition.” The LA Times was the first to report on the new group’s hypocritical tax status, given the Obama campaign’s demonization of “dark money” groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, a 501(c)4: 

The organization will be set up as a 501(c)4 social welfare group, according to top Democrats privy to the discussions. That structure allows it to accept unlimited contributions.

The Obama campaign’s data files — its most valuable assets — may be housed in a separate legal entity that would make them accessible to Democratic candidates and party committees, according to a source familiar with the plans.

If Republicans want to make this inauguration day the last of a Democratic president for quite some time, serious time and money needs to be invested in analyzing Obama’s efforts in order not to replicate them, but to best them. Ruffini’s work is a great first step, but instead of GOP consultants and strategists spending time meeting to pat each other on the back, it’s time finally admit how sweeping defeat was in 2012 in order to catch up enough to give the 2016 GOP nominee a chance at victory.  

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Scott Brown’s Choice

Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.

But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:

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Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.

But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:

Republicans close to the departing U.S. senator said he’s itching to go back to Washington to replace John Kerry, but Democrats are buzzing more about a potential Brown gubernatorial campaign in 2014. It may be tempting for Brown to run in a special election against a vulnerable Rep. Edward J. Markey, but he should reject the easy play and go for the job that really matters — running the state of Massachusetts….

But if you were Scott Brown, who would you rather run against, Ed Markey and the entire Democratic Party, or state Treasurer Steve Grossman or Attorney General Martha Coakley?

Markey already has the backing of Kerry, and as a congressman has acquired campaign experience and connections across the state. Coakley, meanwhile, was the Democrat Brown defeated in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy.

Additionally, the state is no stranger to Republican governors. Mitt Romney was governor of the state before running for president, and he was preceded by a Republican governor as well, Paul Cellucci, who himself was preceded by a Republican governor, Bill Weld. (Who is reportedly considering running for the Kerry seat as well.) That makes the current Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, the state’s first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis.

Brown would be considered a formidable candidate in either election. But his high-profile promise to be a vote against Obamacare in the special election in 2010 helped contribute to his victory and also helped rally the state’s Republican voters. And that issue is, obviously, off the table. The difficulty of winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts as a Republican was demonstrated by Brown’s loss to liberal class warfare icon Elizabeth Warren in November. Brown entered the race with high approval ratings and a moderate, bipartisan voting record to complement his blue-collar appeal and local roots. He lost anyway to Warren, an Oklahoma-born Harvard Law professor with scant knowledge of local issues and no experience running for office.

Democrats are far from confident they’d beat Brown again, even with Markey. As Slate’s Dave Weigel noted, this is a pessimistic, but not irrational, fear:

They beat Brown this year with a huge turnout, which allowed Elizabeth Warren to run 15 points behind Barack Obama and still win. Brown won 1.17 million votes in the 2010 special election. That rose to 1.45 million in 2012. Martha Coakley won 1.06 million in the special, and Warren won 1.68 million votes in the general. Republicans, somewhat cynically, hope that a special election with lower turnout will mean a proportionately bigger fall-off in Democratic votes. November’s exit polls found that the same electorate that was kicking Brown out gave him a 60 percent favorable rating.

That’s where the trauma comes in. Democrats remember a smooth, likeable Brown running over Martha Coakley, gathering momentum as she stumbled all over the place. The final polls before the 2010 special put Brown’s favorables in the high 50s. In the Senate, where he voted the Democrats’ way on some popular bills (DADT repeal, for example), he only got more popular. In June 2011, Brown led any potential Democratic opponent by nine to 25 points. He led Warren by 15 points.

The Democrats’ “trauma,” as Weigel characterizes it, is quite the opposite for Brown, and it’s hard to imagine he’d rather run against Markey than Coakley. The national Republican Party would almost surely prefer the opposite. They don’t gain much with a moderate Republican governorship, but would love another Senate seat heading into the 2014 midterms. Brown, however, would give his career (and any national ambitions he might have) quite a boost by winning the governor’s seat. And he is only too aware of the temporary nature of Massachusetts voters’ desire to see a Republican represent their state in the Senate.

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How the Right Can Reclaim its Edge on Foreign Policy

Aside from the prospect of automatic cuts in near-term defense spending, the ongoing drama over the so-called fiscal cliff continues to sideline the issue of foreign policy. But as the Republican Party recovers from the November election and finds its issue compass going forward, foreign policy should never be far behind—not least because of what Dan Drezner writes in a new Foreign Affairs essay on the GOP: Republicans finally saw the end of their dominance of public opinion on foreign policy they have held since the era of the Vietnam War.

Conservatives may already be tired of what they perceive to be lectures on their party’s ills from those who don’t share their ideological preferences. I don’t blame them. But Drezner’s essay is worth reading because Drezner generally eschews ad hominem attacks and his writing is tonally free of partisan hostility. Additionally, conservatives reading the essay will find that in addition to what they are accused of getting wrong, they will discover that an honest assessment of the GOP’s recent foreign policy gets a fair amount right.

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Aside from the prospect of automatic cuts in near-term defense spending, the ongoing drama over the so-called fiscal cliff continues to sideline the issue of foreign policy. But as the Republican Party recovers from the November election and finds its issue compass going forward, foreign policy should never be far behind—not least because of what Dan Drezner writes in a new Foreign Affairs essay on the GOP: Republicans finally saw the end of their dominance of public opinion on foreign policy they have held since the era of the Vietnam War.

Conservatives may already be tired of what they perceive to be lectures on their party’s ills from those who don’t share their ideological preferences. I don’t blame them. But Drezner’s essay is worth reading because Drezner generally eschews ad hominem attacks and his writing is tonally free of partisan hostility. Additionally, conservatives reading the essay will find that in addition to what they are accused of getting wrong, they will discover that an honest assessment of the GOP’s recent foreign policy gets a fair amount right.

A great deal of Drezner’s criticism revolves around rhetoric. Thus, there were moments when Mitt Romney, for example, squandered opportunities with unforced errors. The most memorable instance was Romney’s decision to call Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney was guilty of the same mistake the Obama administration made with regard to Russia: They both overestimated Russia’s power. Obama thought Russia could and would deliver all sorts of cooperation on a range of issues. Yet Vladimir Putin had no intention and in many cases no ability do more than talk tough. Putin simply bluffed his way to more and more American concessions, and pocketed them.

Drezner expands his criticism to an issue directly relevant to the current budget debate. “Republicans continually attempt to justify extremely high levels of defense spending, for example, on the grounds that the United States supposedly faces greater threats now than during the Cold War,” he writes. It is essential that conservatives, and especially the Republican politicians taking part in the standoff over the fiscal cliff, understand how to advocate for defense spending.

It is true that the existence of foreign threats doesn’t necessitate, by itself, historic levels of defense spending. But those threats are far from the only justification for the defense budget. Republican officeholders would do well to turn to another essay in the same issue of Foreign Affairs that makes this case. The essay, by Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, explains how a fully engaged America abroad yields both security and financial benefits that make defense spending a bargain.

They note that American security guarantees around the globe prevent the rise of regional hegemons, military conflict, and the spread of destabilizing nuclear weapons more often than not; secure multilateral cooperation; and bring the U.S. economic benefits by both strengthening the dollar and giving America leverage when it comes to negotiating free trade agreements. Romney’s repeated exhortations that we’d want a military so powerful no one would dare “test us” is an inadequate justification for a highly justifiable policy.

Finally, Drezner writes:

George W. Bush’s greatest foreign policy accomplishments came not in the military realm but in rethinking economic statecraft. He signed more free-trade agreements than any other president. Through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Bush administration devised innovative ways of advancing U.S. interests and values abroad. In developing the architecture for improved financial coercion, the administration paved the way for the sanctions that are now crippling Iran’s economy. Force can be an essential tool of statecraft, but it should rarely be the first tool used, and sometimes it can be most effective if never used at all. Republicans understand the power of the free market at home; they need to revive their enthusiasm for the power of the market abroad, as well.

There are two points to make here. First, Romney had no trouble grasping this, as evidenced by his concentration on economics-based statecraft in the foreign policy debate with President Obama. Republicans remain the party of free trade, and show no sign of abandoning that position. Second, on Iran, there isn’t a ton of daylight between Drezner and the right. Conservatives have pushed for tough sanctions backed up by the credible threat of force. Obama has opposed and weakened tough sanctions every step of the way, and his administration has worked to undermine any credible threat of force.

Drezner says bellicosity is hurting the GOP with a war-weary public. He’s right that the public is war-weary, but Iran is not the issue where this is hurting the GOP. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, public support for military action against Iran in the event sanctions fail is now at a high point. Even out of power, the GOP won that argument.

This is not to say that last year’s crop of GOP presidential candidates always had the policy right–far from it. From flirtations with a trade war with China to undue nostalgia for Hosni Mubarak to loyalty investigations into Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide, there were plenty of forgettable—and dangerous–suggestions. But the 2016 crop of candidates will likely be quite different from the 2012 cast of characters, which too often spoke as if the world wasn’t listening. It was–and is–and conservatives need to remember (or learn) how to reclaim what was a well-earned advantage over the left on foreign policy.

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Poll: Can the GOP Win Over Hispanics?

Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

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Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

Only 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Mitt Romney, a steep drop from 2004 when 44 percent voted to reelect George W. Bush. It’s still not the lowest of recent elections–in 1996, the GOP won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote–but as an increasing share of the electorate, the Hispanic vote is becoming ever more critical.

While there isn’t a lot of good news here, the Resurgent Republic poll (which can be read in full here) did find room for growth and common ground. One area that Republicans can work on is the tone of the immigration debate. Hispanic voters may not be monolithic when it comes to immigration policy, but there are sensitivities the GOP might want to keep in mind when discussing the issues:

The tone Republicans use to discuss immigration has an impact on Hispanics who are not directly affected by the issue. Some Republicans argue that harsh rhetoric and policies regarding illegal immigrants will not affect Hispanics who are American citizens. But this survey suggests otherwise. All Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Yet Mitt Romney lost Puerto Rican voters in Florida by 64 to 36 percent, one of the main reasons why Obama won the state. Many Hispanic Americans take attacks on undocumented Hispanics as an attack on the entire Hispanic community.

There is also room for outreach when it comes to federal spending, taxes and regulations:

While a majority of Hispanics in each state believes in increasing government investment, a significant minority believes in lower government spending, lower taxes, and fewer regulations: 42 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Colorado, 39 percent in New Mexico, and 40 percent in Nevada. All of those are higher percentages than Romney received in 2012, significantly higher in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Republicans probably won’t be able to win the majority of Hispanic voters. But it seems that  there is room for significant improvement–especially since many lean right on social and fiscal issues. And with the number of Hispanic voters growing, that could be enough to swing a future presidential race.

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Is the GOP Digital Team (Still) in Denial?

In this month’s issue of COMMENTARY, Benjamin Domenech has an excellent article on the Republicans’ broken technological machine. In it he explains why the Romney digital team was unable to catch up to Obama’s record-setting digital team that many have likened to “Big Brother” in its scope.

Domenech contends, and I agree, that even taking the strength of Obama’s digital team into account, the Romney campaign didn’t scratch the surface of what they should have accomplished on the digital front. The issues of the Romney campaign were varied and are not only due to the failure of Project Orca. Domenech explains:

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In this month’s issue of COMMENTARY, Benjamin Domenech has an excellent article on the Republicans’ broken technological machine. In it he explains why the Romney digital team was unable to catch up to Obama’s record-setting digital team that many have likened to “Big Brother” in its scope.

Domenech contends, and I agree, that even taking the strength of Obama’s digital team into account, the Romney campaign didn’t scratch the surface of what they should have accomplished on the digital front. The issues of the Romney campaign were varied and are not only due to the failure of Project Orca. Domenech explains:

While digital efforts were the primary focus of the Obama campaign from the beginning, with data miners and tech gurus culled from Silicon Valley, they were a relatively late addition to the Romney effort. Its digital operation was staffed after the rest of the campaign, with an operation that seemed remarkably inefficient for a campaign that was supposed to do things with the rigor of Romney’s research-intensive firm, Bain Capital. There were plenty of people working on the digital side, but tasks were poorly assigned and hampered by restrictive approval processes. Romney’s staff was politically diverse and more used to the world of business than politics—some had never worked on a political campaign before. Frustration set in, then boredom, then Facebook-browsing. The quiet was deafening.

For digital staffers who recognized they were playing catch-up with the Obama machine that had never stopped building after 2008, the contrasts were infuriating. Where the Obama campaign’s content and emails were tailored to the interests of individually targeted demographic communities based on topics of interest and other data-mined priorities, Romney’s campaign didn’t even make distinctions between whether someone had given $5 or $500, or whether the name came to the database through a petition about health care or energy policy.

The campaign was also fiercely hierarchical, to the surprise of some longtime Romney staffers who found their ideas for innovation shunted aside by senior staff and consultants who were unapproachable and unresponsive.

Late last month RedState’s Erick Erickson had a stinging post on the incestuous and unproductive relationship between consultants and the Romney campaign, contending that a group of consultants were “the seeds of Mitt Romney’s ruin and the RNC’s get out the vote (GOTV) effort collapsed — bled to death by charlatan consultants making millions off the party, its donors, and the grassroots.” Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, it appears that his advice on the usefulness of these consultants has more or less fallen on deaf ears. 

Yesterday a “private” meeting (which was immediately reported on by sources present) took place between some members of Romney’s digital team and other major conservative digital strategists. It appears that many found it to be a positive and uplifting experience, and that discussing the enormous gap between the two sides didn’t overwhelm or discourage those present. Roll Call reported that “One source said the meeting was so positive that it was almost as if Romney had won.”

That attitude calls to mind the overconfidence that marked most of the Romney campaign, especially after the first debate. In Domenech’s piece he quotes Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, who announced boldly in a staff meeting, “We’re f—ing gonna win this thing.” The digital divide between the two sides is not insurmountable, but it should not be filling anyone in the conservative movement with anything resembling confidence either. The fact that this meeting left many leaving feeling positive is a worrisome indication that the consultants and strategists who underestimated their ability to compete with the Obama campaign are still living in an alternate reality. 

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Liberals Already Miss Mitt Romney

There is more than enough silly commentary on the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations to go around, but you can’t do much better than Dana Milbank’s column today for the Washington Post. Milbank’s column emerges out of the latest trend in liberal opinion writing: now that the election is over, they have made a conscious decision to consider being more honest in their political pronouncements.

Reason magazine flagged a prime example of this on Monday, when they picked up on a quote from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg: “[Obama] was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don’t have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing.” Milbank’s entry today isn’t quite at Hertzberg’s level, but it’s in the same vein. Now that the election is over, Milbank can admit it: the country really needs Mitt Romney.

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There is more than enough silly commentary on the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations to go around, but you can’t do much better than Dana Milbank’s column today for the Washington Post. Milbank’s column emerges out of the latest trend in liberal opinion writing: now that the election is over, they have made a conscious decision to consider being more honest in their political pronouncements.

Reason magazine flagged a prime example of this on Monday, when they picked up on a quote from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg: “[Obama] was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don’t have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing.” Milbank’s entry today isn’t quite at Hertzberg’s level, but it’s in the same vein. Now that the election is over, Milbank can admit it: the country really needs Mitt Romney.

You might think that liberals would appreciate Romney’s decision to step out of the spotlight and accept his loss to Obama with grace and dignity. After all, even though John McCain is still a senator, nearly every time he criticizes President Obama it is chalked up to an apparent case of sour grapes over the election. Romney isn’t even in office. But no matter. Milbank wants Romney back in the arena, and he’s going to taunt him out of hiding:

Never again, likely, will his voice and influence be as powerful as they are now. Yet rather than stepping forward to help find a way out of the fiscal standoff, or to help his party rebuild itself, he delivered a perfunctory concession speech, told wealthy donors that Obama won by giving “gifts” to minorities, then avoided the press at a private lunch with President Obama.

Though keeping nominal residence in Massachusetts, the state he led as governor, he moved out to his California home and has been spotted at Disneyland, at the new “Twilight” movie, at a pizza place, pumping gas and going to the gym. In warm weather, he plans to live at his lakefront manse in New Hampshire. The man who spoke passionately about his love for the American auto industry has been driving around in a new Audi Q7.

A former adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, told Rucker that Romney will “be involved in some fashion” in public service. And nobody can begrudge Romney some downtime. But his failure to engage now, at a time when he could have the most clout, reinforces the impression that his candidacy was less about principle and patriotism than about him.

That’s what you get for bowing out gracefully and spending time with your family, if you’re a Republican. But put aside the fact that Republicans are trying to move on from much of Romney’s problematic messaging during the election and rebuild their brand around some of their more popular elected officials. Did Milbank always think of Romney as a man whose involvement in public life was so important to the country? No.

In a sarcastic response to conservative complaints that the media was being unfairly critical of Romney, Milbank suggested in September that the press back off. Romney, he said, was a gaffe machine, and simply for the entertainment value the press should help him get elected. “Admittedly, this may not be the best outcome for the country, or for the world,” Milbank snickered, adding that “he could bring transatlantic relations back to War of 1812 levels.”

But the fiscal cliff is about economics, and that’s where Romney’s business experience could come in handy, right? What did pre-election Milbank think of Romney’s business experience? He summed it up in an August column in which he said that a business-oriented video game his young daughter played functioned “strikingly like Bain Capital did under Mitt Romney.” And how is that? “The game is devoid of business ethics,” he wrote.

Romney was a liar, Milbank said in the week of the election. But that might be because he’s a brainwashed zombie, as Milbank had proposed a month earlier. By the time the election was over, Milbank said, the Romney campaign had “abandoned any pretense of being a campaign for the common man.”

In some ways, Milbank’s column is actually a breakthrough in bipartisanship. It took Democrats quite some time to decide that Ronald Reagan wasn’t purely evil through and through. It only took them a few years to reconsider George W. Bush in light of contemporary Republican officeholders. And now it has taken only a matter of weeks for the left to admit that the Republican presidential candidate isn’t who they said he was; he’s not so bad after all, and their guy isn’t so great, it turns out. At this rate, it won’t be long before liberals come to grips with reality before, instead of after, a presidential election.

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In Christie’s World, It’s All About Chris

Who would have ever thought it? Underneath it all, the tough-guy governor and former prosecutor who doesn’t scruple at angrily lecturing teachers, parents, taxpayers, reporters and anyone else who dares to question his policies or motives is a sensitive soul who is as needy of love and understanding as a guest on “Oprah.” After years in the public eye spent flipping off his detractors and daring them to try and do something about it, Chris Christie now needs a hug.

That’s the upshot of an unintentionally hilarious analysis published today in the New York Times, in which we are told the New Jersey governor is “deeply misunderstood and wounded” by the lingering hostility he continues to face from Republicans who think he threw Mitt Romney under the bus in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when he went out of his way to embrace and endorse President Obama. The accusations that Christie lost the election for the Republicans are preposterous since Romney’s problems were bigger than the hurricane. But it is hardly surprising that Christie doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. As he demonstrated during the Republican National Convention and the subsequent presidential campaign, in Chris Christie’s world, it’s all about Chris. The governor’s tolerance for any other frame of reference is nonexistent. What is so telling about the subsequent controversy is not the resentment of many Republicans around the nation, but Christie being hurt by it.

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Who would have ever thought it? Underneath it all, the tough-guy governor and former prosecutor who doesn’t scruple at angrily lecturing teachers, parents, taxpayers, reporters and anyone else who dares to question his policies or motives is a sensitive soul who is as needy of love and understanding as a guest on “Oprah.” After years in the public eye spent flipping off his detractors and daring them to try and do something about it, Chris Christie now needs a hug.

That’s the upshot of an unintentionally hilarious analysis published today in the New York Times, in which we are told the New Jersey governor is “deeply misunderstood and wounded” by the lingering hostility he continues to face from Republicans who think he threw Mitt Romney under the bus in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when he went out of his way to embrace and endorse President Obama. The accusations that Christie lost the election for the Republicans are preposterous since Romney’s problems were bigger than the hurricane. But it is hardly surprising that Christie doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. As he demonstrated during the Republican National Convention and the subsequent presidential campaign, in Chris Christie’s world, it’s all about Chris. The governor’s tolerance for any other frame of reference is nonexistent. What is so telling about the subsequent controversy is not the resentment of many Republicans around the nation, but Christie being hurt by it.

Let’s specify that Christie may well have been completely sincere in his actions during the hurricane and that he felt genuine gratitude to the president for his response to the crisis, even if in retrospect the performance of FEMA during Sandy may not have been much more effective than it was during the Katrina disaster in 2005. He may have been “just doing his job,” but his shock at the reaction of Republicans who thought he overdid his thank you to Obama was hardly surprising given the context of a heated campaign.

I don’t think Christie was consciously undermining Romney, but I do believe his nod to the president was not unconnected to the needs of his own re-election campaign. He may or may not run for president in 2016, but he needs to win re-election in blue New Jersey next year, and giving Obama that much love didn’t hurt his standing among voters in the Garden State.

That is just common-sense politics and, as was the case with Mitt Romney’s experience in Massachusetts, the things a Republican who wants to be elected governor of a Democrat-dominated state must do and say are not going to be the same things he will say when running for president. But it says a lot about Christie that he is so bewildered by the fact that conservatives around the country are not happy with him right now.

Those same conservatives cheered Christie as they watched the YouTube videos where he brusquely trashed his opponents and dismissed their point of view. But now they are getting a taste of the same treatment from him and understanding the sense of entitlement that pervades his public persona. He is a politician who is not inclined to try to view the world from any one else’s perspective.

By the same token, that same character trait is responsible for Christie’s own lack of understanding of why so many Republicans are mad at him. Expecting to be cheered at the recent annual Republican Governor’s Conference in Las Vegas, he wound up getting the cold shoulder from many in the party. But rather than trying to understand their feelings, Christie is not backing down. That some in his camp feel the need to whine about it to the New York Times, of all papers, tells us a lot about how self-involved the governor and his entourage come across.

Christie has bigger problems than the grudge many Republicans are holding against him. He has a state that still must deal with the impact of the hurricane and a re-election race in which he may have to face off against a tough opponent like Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But if he survives that test and decides to run for president, as most people expect him to do, he may have to find a way to reach out to those Republicans he has offended. Unless his personality changes in the next few years, that’s not going to be easy.

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