Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican Party

Paul Ryan’s Way Forward

In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea Representative Paul Ryan offers some candid assessments of his party and himself.

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In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea Representative Paul Ryan offers some candid assessments of his party and himself.

On the former, he writes about the lead up to the government shutdown in October 2013, which he believed would be a “calamity for our party.” Mr. Ryan explains why the strategy couldn’t work, including the fact that because the Affordable Care Act is an entitlement, shutting down the government wouldn’t defund or eliminate it.

“The strategy our colleagues had been promoting was flawed from beginning to end,” he writes. “It was a suicide mission. But a lot of members were more afraid of what would happen if they didn’t jump off the cliff… We couldn’t afford to take a hit like that again [referring to the 1995 government shutdown] – not for a strategy that had no hope of advancing our core principles.”

Chairman Ryan was right, but a group of House Republicans – urged on by Senator Ted Cruz in particular – held out for a shutdown. It came. No core principles were advanced. And the reputation of the GOP dropped to new lows.

As for Ryan himself, he admits that his past use of the phrase “makers and takers” – meant to describe in shorthand people who are and aren’t receiving government benefits – was a mistake.

What was a taker? My mom, who is on Medicare? Me at eighteen years old, using the Social Security survivor’s benefits we got after my father’s death to go to college? My buddy John Ramsdell, who had been unemployed and used job-training benefits to get back on his feet?

We’re just lumping people in this category without any regard for their personal stories, I thought. It sounds like we’re saying that people who are struggling are deadbeats, as if they haven’t made it already or aren’t trying hard enough. emphasis in the original]

A political memoir and policy book that’s both candid and self-reflective, and at times even self-critical: That alone makes it rare and worth reading. Yet the book is significant for other reasons, including this one: Ryan, a political and intellectual leader of the GOP, uses The Way Forward to help Republicans and conservatives recast their approach, at least just a bit.

Chairman Ryan’s purpose in writing the book, at least as I understand it, is to describe what government can do to advance a conservative vision of the good society. This involves more than simply cutting government — though Ryan, to his credit, has offered the most comprehensive and realistic plan of any Republican to re-limit government.

He wants to reform government in fundamental, structural ways, to move us away from centralized bureaucratic planning and control toward more competition and choice, greater efficiency and innovation. This needs to be done not for ideological reasons but for eminently practical ones: to improve the lives and increase the opportunities for Americans in every social and economic stratum.

Mr. Ryan, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, wants Republicans to focus not just on the size of government but its purposes. He wants the GOP to act in ways that refute rather than reinforce certain stereotypes. He understands, too, that the Republican Party has to do more than amp up the rhetoric in ways that bring true believers to their feet. Energizing base voters is a pre-condition for a party’s political success, but Republicans also need to persuade millions of people who are not now voting for them at the presidential level to do just that. “Preaching to the choir isn’t working,” is how he puts it, “and by the way, the choir is shrinking.”

How to expand the choir and add new voices to it; that is in part what The Way Forward attempts to do, and does quite well.

The Republican Party needs to be the party of the 21st century — the party of reform and modernization; of upward mobility and educational excellence; that rewards work and opposes corporate welfare; that cares for the weak and vulnerable while speaking for middle class concerns and to middle class aspirations. It needs to have a real agenda when it comes to health care, higher education, legal and illegal immigration and the long-term unemployed.

That’s one part of the equation; but there’s another part, too.

Political parties are also defined by tone and countenance, spirit and bearing, and by whether its most public figures come across as winsome or joyless, authentic or contrived, at ease with the world or raging against it. Right now the way many people see political parties in general, but the GOP in particular, as antipathetic, rigid, and out of touch.

Paul Ryan’s book, and Paul Ryan himself, are antidotes to those impressions. His fellow Republicans would be wise to once again follow his lead.

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Can the GOP Lower the Gender Gap?

Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus had a point when in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, he pushed back at the story published by Politico in which the publication spun two webs that showed the GOP continuing to trail the Democrats among female voters as proof that it was “stuck in the past.” Though Priebus is right to note that the generally negative view of the Democrats held by women is nearly as bad as that of Republicans, there’s no denying that a gender gap exists. More to the point, there’s little use denying that it’s bound to get worse in 2016.

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Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus had a point when in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, he pushed back at the story published by Politico in which the publication spun two webs that showed the GOP continuing to trail the Democrats among female voters as proof that it was “stuck in the past.” Though Priebus is right to note that the generally negative view of the Democrats held by women is nearly as bad as that of Republicans, there’s no denying that a gender gap exists. More to the point, there’s little use denying that it’s bound to get worse in 2016.

As Preibus noted, the internal polls conducted by two conservative PACs—Crossroads GPS and American Action Network—showed that 49 percent of women view Republicans negatively while 39 percent think the same of Democrats. That’s a clear gender gap and a big advantage for Democrats in any election. But the spin on the poll coming from Politico seemed to center on the notion that the GOP was hopelessly out of touch with most women who viewed them as insensitive to their issues. While carping about the characterization of his party, he acknowledged that the problem is serious and he also asserted that it was not insurmountable.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this situation.

The first is that although the Democrats’ charge that Republicans are waging a “war on women” is the lowest kind of specious partisan propaganda, it has worked. Though married women still support Republicans, the problem for the GOP is that the far more numerous unmarried women have bought into the Democrats’ tactics, especially in the Middle West and Northeast.

Why? Because many young, liberal women have accepted the notion that conservative positions on economic issues and the need for smaller government hurts them. Moreover, to a generation of women who have come to believe the unfettered right to abortion and free contraception from their employers is essential to their well being, GOP arguments are bound to fall flat.

The second is that if Hillary Clinton is, as is likely, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, nothing Preibus and the Republicans do is likely to narrow the gender gap.

So should the GOP give up? No. But its expectations must be tempered by a knowledge that the Democratic advantage with the mainstream media and in the world of popular culture are going to make it very hard to erase their deficit until they find national candidates who can appeal to more women.

The RNC’s proposed response to the problem makes sense. It advocates seeking to “neutralize” Democratic arguments about “fairness” by pointing out that the best way to deal with inequality is to reform liberal big government programs that encourage the dependency that hurts poor families and women. It also correctly advises that the only way for a pro-life party to deal with abortion is to acknowledge the disagreement and then move on to other issues and to rely on the fact that many women have concerns about abortion and that even most supporters of it don’t view it as a litmus test issue. Yet if a GOP consultant quoted by Politico is right to say that many women view Republicans as the “old, white, right, out of touch” party, then it is necessary for the GOP to put forward younger, diverse candidates who can appeal to more voters.

That’s easier said than done, but it’s also just as obvious that what Republicans need to do is to recruit more female candidates. That’s something the party has done better in recent years and it can cite successes such as New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers from Washington to prove it. But, as with the need to get more visible Hispanics on the GOP line, the need for more female GOP leaders must become a priority rather than an afterthought.

For all of the negative poll numbers about women voters, Republicans need not be afraid of waging a war of ideas against a Democratic Party that has staked its future on returning to the failed liberal patent nostrums of the 1960s. But, as Preibus rightly pointed out, it is not enough to have good ideas. You’ve got to take them to the voters and articulate them in a way that can be understood and supported. Politics is, above all, a test of personalities, and until the voters start associating the GOP more with the likes of Martinez, Ayotte, and Rogers than with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, they’re not likely to change their minds.

Which is why the impending lesson of 2016 ought to be concentrating the minds of Republicans on promoting conservative women to leadership positions in the years to come. Hillary Clinton’s presence at the top of the Democratic ticket is such a powerful symbol that it is bound to offset most of the GOP’s efforts to make headway with women. Yet that makes it all the more important for a party that already has a gender gap to ensure that Republican women aren’t tokens or outliers but equal partners in promoting conservative ideas.

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Why We’re Still Obsessing About Romney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP Must Exploit Cuomo’s Woes

There was good news and bad new for New York Republicans in a new Quinnipiac poll. On the one hand, it showed that New Yorkers think corruption is a problem and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is part of that problem. On the other hand, he still has a huge lead in his reelection race. Should that lead the national GOP to go on ignoring the Republican who is trying to upset the incumbent?

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There was good news and bad new for New York Republicans in a new Quinnipiac poll. On the one hand, it showed that New Yorkers think corruption is a problem and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is part of that problem. On the other hand, he still has a huge lead in his reelection race. Should that lead the national GOP to go on ignoring the Republican who is trying to upset the incumbent?

Apparently, the answer to that question is yes.

Most national GOP leaders believe the Empire State is a lost cause and it’s hard to blame them for thinking so. The state party is in a state of complete collapse and hasn’t run a credible candidate, let alone a winner, for governor or for the U.S. Senate since 2002 when George Pataki won the last of his three terms in Albany. The New York City suburbs that once were the backbone of the state GOP along with the upstate regions have gone from red to purple to deep blue in the last 20 years.

Republicans in New York are leaderless, broke, and have shown little fight in the last decade. Though they have, for once, put up a serious challenger to Cuomo in Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, his 56-28 deficit in the Quinnipiac poll leaves little hope of an upset despite the major ethical problems that have beset Cuomo recently. Indeed, Republican Governors Association chair Chris Christie made it clear to Astorino that while he wished him well, he wouldn’t get a penny of the RGA’s money in order to try a run at Cuomo even after the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York indicated that the governor was under suspicion of tampering with an ethics investigation of his donors, and perhaps even obstruction of justice.

Given the mess that is the New York GOP, Christie’s decision, which echoes that of many major GOP donors, seems wise. But it is actually a big mistake. While Astorino and the New York Republican Party both seem like lost causes, if the party is serious about winning presidential elections it needs to find a way to make the state at least marginally competitive. Looking forward to 2016, Republicans already know they can write off two of the nations biggest Electoral College prizes in California and New York. That starts them off with a huge deficit that means they must, as they had to in 2012, win most if not all of the battleground states.

Can that be changed?

New York looks like a one-party state now. But it wasn’t that long ago that Republicans were able to elect governors and senators there. Admittedly, New York’s demographic makeup and the overwhelmingly liberal electorate in the state with the communications capital of the nation makes it hard to imagine how any Republican will win it in the foreseeable future. But even those who accept how difficult that task will be need to understand you have to start somewhere. And Cuomo’s ethical problems are a perfect opportunity to begin the process of rebuilding.

Cynics about Astorino’s campaign need to also understand that the Quinnipiac numbers are in no small measure the result of the media’s ignoring Cuomo’s scandal. While the state’s press, like everyone else in the print and broadcast world, treated Christie’s Bridgegate woes as if it was Watergate and World War Three rolled into one, the far more serious charges that Cuomo may face didn’t get a fraction of the air time or space as the New Jersey scandal. If Astorino had the resources to start pounding Cuomo on his efforts to quash an ethics investigation and then cover it up, the governor’s margin might very well be far smaller. A serious investment in his campaign on the part of the national party might give him the ability to get Cuomo’s misbehavior back on the radar screen of voters or at least make them more aware of a scandal that was largely downplayed or ignored. Boosting Astorino, who is the kind of candidate who could stand up to the thin-skinned Cuomo, would also help Republicans running for the legislature and make it easier for the party to begin building for the future.

Ignoring Astorino and New York is a pennywise and pound-foolish decision. Cuomo’s wrongdoing is giving the GOP a chance to get back in the game. National Republicans are foolish to pass it up.

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Border Mess Won’t Help Democrats

Yesterday was a bad day for congressional Republicans. With the summer recess looming, both the House of Representatives and the Senate were working on bills relating to the crisis in which huge numbers of illegal immigrants have surged across our southern borders. But while both houses failed to pass a bill, the fiasco in the GOP-controlled House was particularly humiliating.

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Yesterday was a bad day for congressional Republicans. With the summer recess looming, both the House of Representatives and the Senate were working on bills relating to the crisis in which huge numbers of illegal immigrants have surged across our southern borders. But while both houses failed to pass a bill, the fiasco in the GOP-controlled House was particularly humiliating.

Speaker John Boehner wound up having to cancel a vote on a measure aimed at providing extra funding for the situation at the border due to a revolt from conservatives within his own caucus that was incited, according to some reports, by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Though the Democrat-controlled Senate also failed to pass its own bill about the crisis, the spectacle of Boehner being once again thwarted by a major revolt from within his own party had returned.

That was bad enough. But even worse, as Charles Krauthammer noted last night on Fox News’s Special Report, was the fact that Boehner compounded matters by then saying that President Obama taking unilateral action could address the lack of funding. As Krauthammer said:

“It is ridiculous to sue the president on a Wednesday because he oversteps the law, as he has done a dozen times illegally and unconstitutionally, and then on a Thursday say that he should overstep the law, contradict the law that passed in 2008 and deal with this [the border] himself.”

Krauthammer is right. Boehner’s stance was “ridiculous.” But no more ridiculous than the spectacle of a new GOP leadership team finding itself unable to manage its caucus even on an issue when Republicans should been eager to act so as to maintain the pressure on the administration over a situation that Republicans have aptly criticized as a man-made crisis largely the fault of President Obama.

This fiasco revived talk about the incompetence of congressional Republicans as well as the way their Tea Party faction still seems to call the tune on difficult issues such as immigration. It was enough to set liberal pundits and Democrats boasting that Boehner’s disaster could change the narrative of the midterm elections and help cost the GOP their chance to win control of the Senate this fall.

But while Boehner’s bad day won’t help Republicans, the claim that this will alter the course of the midterms is, at best, an exaggeration, and, at worst, a misperception that will lead the Democrats to misread the seriousness of the threat to their hold on the Senate.

First, it should be understood that as bad as Thursday was for the GOP, their ability to rebound from this confusion and craft a new compromise that will enable them to pass a bill today that will undo some of the damage. By passing a bill that will make it easier to deport illegal immigrants and fund the crisis on the Rio Grande, Republicans can at least depart Washington saying they have done no worse than the Democrats who weren’t even able to pass their own version of a bill on the issue.

But while President Obama railed at them for producing a bill that couldn’t pass the Senate, he is just as guilty of refusing to compromise as Boehner’s crew. The Democrats may have gained a bit of an advantage this week but if they think the border crisis is going to help them this fall, they are dreaming.

In the long run, a failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform will hurt the Republican Party with Hispanics and make their path to an Electoral College majority in 2016 even more steep than it already is. But in terms of the midterms, this is an issue that does enormous damage to the Democrats in many of this year’s battleground states. Support for a more lenient approach to the influx of illegal aliens may exist but the debacle at the border lends strength to the argument that security must precede any path to legal status for those who cross it without permission. If Democrats in red states think they can run by defending a failure to secure the border or to deport illegals, when that is something that has been encouraged by the president’s misjudgments and statements, they are mistaken.

As foolish as Boehner looked yesterday, Democrats must face up to the fact that the only national theme to this year’s elections will likely be the lack of confidence in the president. After all, no matter how incompetent the GOP House looks, the president is still the president. It will take more than a ridiculous day on Capitol Hill to erase that fact from the voters’ memory.

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palin, Impeachment, and Unserious Politics

Is impeachment the only remedy for President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs? Congress doesn’t seem likely to be able to restrain his attempt to rule by executive order by either legislation or lawsuits. But those, like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who advocate this course of action are saying more about themselves than they are about Obama’s misbehavior.

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Is impeachment the only remedy for President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs? Congress doesn’t seem likely to be able to restrain his attempt to rule by executive order by either legislation or lawsuits. But those, like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who advocate this course of action are saying more about themselves than they are about Obama’s misbehavior.

Palin makes the argument for impeachment in a Breitbart.com article in which she rightly set forth the president’s failures to enforce the laws he doesn’t like (such as those that govern U.S. immigration policy) and his predilection for making up new laws that allow him do as he pleases as he goes along. This lawlessness is deplorable, but I would assert that it also reflects a general distaste for a system of checks and balances and limited powers embedded in the Constitution that seems to inform all liberal thought these days. The president’s defeats at the Supreme Court on recess appointments (where even his appointees ruled against him) and religious freedom all reflect liberal impatience with the Constitution when it interferes with Obama’s policy ambitions.

But as frustrating as Obama’s defiant “so sue me” attitude may be, any talk of impeachment is an illustration of how some on the right have become divorced from political reality. By lending what’s left of her star power to an effort that is not only an obvious non-starter but also a proposition that is bound to hurt Republicans more than it could possibly help them, Palin is demonstrating how profoundly unserious her brand of politics has become.

Advocates of impeachment can say, as they do in every administration (leftists sang the same tune about George W. Bush), that impeachment is the recourse the founders gave Congress to restrain a president that had violated the law. But in the 225 years since the first president took the oath of office, it is a measure that has always rightly been considered not merely a last resort but a tactic that is associated with extremists who have abandoned the political process. Obama is, after all, not the first president to seek to expand the power of the executive at the expense of the Congress or even the Constitution. Even when a president has been caught violating the law in one manner or the other, the consensus has always been that the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard set forth in the Constitution cannot be used to settle what are essentially political disputes about policy and turf.

Nor, as Republicans learned in 1998 when they impeached Bill Clinton for committing perjury during the course of investigations of his pattern of sexual harassment of women, does the public care for attempts to undo by a hybrid legislative-judicial process the decision of the voters at the ballot box. Like efforts to demonstrate this president’s alleged ineligibility for his office, talk of impeachment is the last resort of people who can’t get their way by the normal political process.

To note this fact is not to defend Obama or to refute the arguments that Palin and others, such as myself, have made about the president’s lamentable distaste for the Constitution. But conservatives who embrace impeachment must come to terms with the fact that in doing so they are essentially branding themselves as having divorced themselves from the reality of government. Impeachment resolutions are not efforts to pressure the president to obey the law or to adopt more sensible policies. They are a declaration of war by a side that knows it is losing and can’t win by any other means. It is a sign of weakness and desperation.

In that sense, impeachment is very much of a piece with the conservative effort to force a government shutdown last year. Doing so did nothing to stop ObamaCare or to advance the critique of the Obama presidency. Indeed, it only served to distract Americans from the disastrous rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act and did more to undermine the Republican case against Obama and his law than anything their opponents ever said. Though the GOP had right on its side in that debate, their decision to essentially hold the government hostage to their demands played right into Democratic hands. It was only once they abandoned that foolish tactic that conservatives began to gain ground in the polls and give their party a chance to win the 2014 midterms.

The shutdown reflected a lack of faith in the political process on the part of conservatives who seemed to think themselves doomed to perpetual defeat. The same can be said of impeachment.

The point isn’t just that it is politically impossible, though it is that and will be even if the Republicans take back the Senate next year since most in the GOP caucuses understand an impeachment vote would help the Democrats more than the shutdown. It’s Palin’s threat to urge conservatives to “vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment” that is the real problem.

Palin remains a genuine political talent and can, when she sticks to topics that she knows something about, be an effective advocate. But her brittle and often graceless approach to political discourse has cost her mainstream appeal and made her a polarizing figure with little hope of appealing to anyone outside her existing circle of admirers. Palin still has a following and though she knows it isn’t anywhere near big enough to justify her risking her reputation by running for national office, it is sufficient to have a potent influence in some GOP primaries. If she attempts to make support for impeachment a litmus test for Republican candidates she will not only be hurting her party but marginalizing herself. Her decision to go down this path is just one more sign that she has abandoned serious politics in favor of something that can only further diminish what’s left of her celebrity quotient.

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Will GOP Regret Torching Miss. Tea Party?

The conventional wisdom about Senator Thad Cochran’s victory in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff yesterday assures the GOP of retaining the seat in November. But the bitterness engendered by the establishment candidate’s using large numbers of liberal Democrat voters to win a narrow triumph may do just the opposite.

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The conventional wisdom about Senator Thad Cochran’s victory in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff yesterday assures the GOP of retaining the seat in November. But the bitterness engendered by the establishment candidate’s using large numbers of liberal Democrat voters to win a narrow triumph may do just the opposite.

Some in the party establishment feared a win for Tea Party insurgent Chris McDaniel would have sent the media rummaging through the archive of his radio shows finding absurd statements that would have alienated moderate voters and allowed a relatively conservative Democrat to make a race of it. But with the six-term incumbent safely nominated, the assumption is that the November election will be more or less a formality that will allow Republicans to concentrate on other states where they have a chance to pick up seats.

Cochran’s ability to turn out black Democrats in huge numbers to offset his unpopularity among members of his own party in an open primary state could also be interpreted as a triumph for GOP outreach. For a party that desperately needs more minority support, some may argue that Cochran’s tactic of paying black political organizers to persuade hard-core Democrats to vote in a Republican primary is a sign that African-Americans can be enticed to support a GOP candidate under some circumstances.

While that is a rather dubious assumption, the bottom line about the Mississippi primary is that the Tea Party got out-organized, out-spent and outflanked by an incumbent. Cochran was able to use support from the party establishment, business, and local constituencies who were influenced by the senator’s ability to manipulate the federal budget. That bought him a win in a primary that should have been dominated by the highly motivated conservative activists who wanted to retire him.

But the general satisfaction among establishment Republicans today needs to be tempered by the knowledge that what Cochran did in Mississippi may hurt the party in ways they may not quite understand.

The first problem is that by winning a GOP primary on the strength of black Democrat support, Cochran may have pushed his party opponents over the edge to the point where they may actively consider a suicidal effort to sabotage his chances in November. For all the talk of a McDaniel win giving the Democrats a small, if unlikely, chance of winning the seat, by denying him the nomination in a manner that left his supporters feeling more cheated than beaten, the party leadership may have actually increased their problems rather than eliminating them. A write-in campaign for McDaniel in the general election has no chance of winning him the seat. But, if he was able to mobilize the same Tea Party activists who brought him to the brink of a victory in the first round of voting, he could do serious damage to Cochran.

Why might Tea Partiers act in such a self-destructive manner?

Simply put, the worst problem for Republicans is not the prospect of nominating outlier candidates who will lose winnable seats in the general election. That has happened and it has cost the party dearly to be saddled with the likes of Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Todd Akin. But an even greater peril is the possibility that Tea Party activists will stop fighting to take control of the GOP and abandon it altogether as being merely a slightly different version of the same Democrat tax and spending machine they are pledged to defeat. Whatever promises Cochran made or didn’t make to persuade black power brokers to back him yesterday, his win exemplifies everything that Tea Partiers despise about members of the permanent governing class in both parties.

The short-term problems that a McDaniel revenge campaign might have this year might be mitigated by the fact that it is simply impossible for any Republican candidate—whether it was Cochran or McDaniel—to lose in this deep-red state. But as much as Republicans are right to worry about their party losing touch with the concerns of independents and minorities whose votes have tipped the last two presidential elections to Barack Obama, a GOP that loses its most motivated and hard-working voters is doomed.

A party establishment that doesn’t just outwork the Tea Party but also seeks to negate the will of the majority of Republican voters is one that is in danger of alienating the base. Whether or not Chris McDaniel seeks to play the spoiler in November, that’s the kind of thing that loses general elections as easily as extreme candidates.

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If Cochran Loses, It Isn’t a Revolution

Today’s Mississippi Republican senatorial primary is being billed as a potential revolution for Republicans in the state and the nation. The smackdown between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is seen in many quarters as nothing less than a clash of political civilizations as the establishment attempts to hold back the rising tide of Tea Party insurgents.

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Today’s Mississippi Republican senatorial primary is being billed as a potential revolution for Republicans in the state and the nation. The smackdown between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is seen in many quarters as nothing less than a clash of political civilizations as the establishment attempts to hold back the rising tide of Tea Party insurgents.

If you watch some of the ads being aired in the state as well as listen to the comments from many in the state’s party establishment, it’s easy to see why so many people are viewing it in this manner. The race turned ugly months ago and has gotten progressively nastier after McDaniel fell a hair short of a clear majority in the initial primary forcing today’s runoff with Cochran. Some of the Republican primaries that took place earlier in the year were seen as indicating that the Tea Party had run its course and that moderates were still in control of the GOP. But the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Virginia primary earlier this month and the prospect of McDaniel winning today has the party establishment back in panic mode talking about revolutions and worrying that a few more such defeats for their preferred candidates will doom the Republicans.

The talk about the death of the Tea Party was not so much premature as it was misleading since virtually all Republicans now subscribe—or at least pay lip service—to the cause of limited government and scaling back the nation’s addiction to taxes and spending. But as in the Cantor race, where a national figure found himself out of touch with his party’s grass roots, what’s going in Mississippi isn’t so much a revolution as it is the oldest story in politics. No one, not even longtime incumbents who act like university professors with tenure, is assured of victory when faced with a spirited challenger who is a fresh face.

This is a basic political truth that a lot of the so-called Republican establishment, especially in Mississippi, seem to have forgotten. Just because Thad Cochran has been in the Senate for 42 years doing more or less what he thought his constituents wanted him to do doesn’t mean that he hasn’t passed his political expiration date. Voters get tired of the same old thing in the same old package and sometimes prefer the younger, more dynamic voice. They also sometimes change their minds about what’s really important.

Cochrane has spent his career helping his state use the federal government as an ATM as Mississippi gets far more money from Washington than it pays into the system. But even in a state that has clearly benefitted from Congress’ out-of-control spending habits it is possible for voters to think this isn’t the way to run a railroad. Cochran still doesn’t seem to understand that bringing home the bacon isn’t a guarantee of reelection and even speaks at times as if he thinks its unfair that some in his party hold his role in the expansion of government power against him.

In short, what may be happening in Mississippi isn’t so much the Deep South version of the storming of the Bastille as it is the very American ritual of voters throwing out a politician who has lost touched with his base. Doing so doesn’t so much indicate that Republicans are getting extreme as it does that Cochran, as opposed to other longtime incumbents—like Wyoming’s Mike Enzi—who have maintained their grasp of local political realities, stayed too long in the fray. Like all last hurrahs, the leave taking may be painful for all involved but the end of the story is inevitable. McDaniel’s victory won’t mean his party has gone over the edge. Nor will it, despite Democratic hopes, necessarily put this ultra-red state in play this fall. But it will show that the establishment should have nudged Cochran out rather than going down fighting with him.

That said, there is one caveat to be mentioned in any discussion of this race and whether a McDaniel victory will hurt his party. Cochran has cynically attempted to get black Democrats to cross party lines and vote for him today. I doubt he will have much success in doing so, but the reports about the McDaniel camp setting up poll watchers to prevent voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary from taking part in the GOP runoff is potential political dynamite. If any of McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters are seen to be harassing blacks trying to vote today in Mississippi of all places, the Republican Party will never live it down. If McDaniel has any brains, he will tell his people to stand down and to avoid interfering with anyone trying to vote. If he doesn’t, the optics will be so bad that it will not only affect that state’s politics but that of the entire country.

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Obama’s in Trouble, But This Isn’t 2010

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is proof that the Obama presidency is sliding into irrelevancy. The president’s numbers, which show his personal approval, job approval, and confidence in his ability to manage the economy and conduct foreign policy all sinking to new lows, are clear evidence that the 2008 messiah of hope and change is running out of steam. Moreover, the president’s ratings aren’t merely a standard case of second term-blues. After the last year and a half of scandals in which his absentee management style has exacerbated chronic government problems and the collapse of his “lead from behind” foreign strategies, the Obama presidency is in crisis.

Amid a plethora of negative stats that emerge from the poll is one that ought to send shivers down the spines of Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama’s predecessor was a disaster whose failures always provide a standing excuse for any of the president’s shortcomings. The fact that the public now rates Obama’s competence in managing the government as being lower than that of George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the war in Iraq was also spiraling out of control illustrates how low the president has sunk in the public’s esteem. That the same poll now shows that a majority of Americans believe the president is no longer capable of leading the country in the right direction shows that with more than two and a half years left in the White House, the tipping point has been reach at which it is possible to assert that Obama’s second-term problems cannot be reversed.

While this is very bad news for the president and the country, which, whether or not you like Obama, desperately needs him to lead both at home and abroad, it is pretty good news for a Republican Party which is heading into the midterm elections with reasonable hopes of winning control of both houses of Congress this fall. But conservatives and GOP operatives who may consider this poll–and the many others that have been published this year that provide similar results–as being definitive proof that they are on the way to a 2010-style landslide need to rethink their optimism. The president’s troubles are serious, but the Republicans have plenty of problems of their own. Though the GOP has a better than even chance of winning control of the Senate and are odds-on favorites to hold the House, the same poll provides data that should encourage Democrats to believe they have a chance in 2014 and are set up to win again in 2016.

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The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is proof that the Obama presidency is sliding into irrelevancy. The president’s numbers, which show his personal approval, job approval, and confidence in his ability to manage the economy and conduct foreign policy all sinking to new lows, are clear evidence that the 2008 messiah of hope and change is running out of steam. Moreover, the president’s ratings aren’t merely a standard case of second term-blues. After the last year and a half of scandals in which his absentee management style has exacerbated chronic government problems and the collapse of his “lead from behind” foreign strategies, the Obama presidency is in crisis.

Amid a plethora of negative stats that emerge from the poll is one that ought to send shivers down the spines of Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama’s predecessor was a disaster whose failures always provide a standing excuse for any of the president’s shortcomings. The fact that the public now rates Obama’s competence in managing the government as being lower than that of George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the war in Iraq was also spiraling out of control illustrates how low the president has sunk in the public’s esteem. That the same poll now shows that a majority of Americans believe the president is no longer capable of leading the country in the right direction shows that with more than two and a half years left in the White House, the tipping point has been reach at which it is possible to assert that Obama’s second-term problems cannot be reversed.

While this is very bad news for the president and the country, which, whether or not you like Obama, desperately needs him to lead both at home and abroad, it is pretty good news for a Republican Party which is heading into the midterm elections with reasonable hopes of winning control of both houses of Congress this fall. But conservatives and GOP operatives who may consider this poll–and the many others that have been published this year that provide similar results–as being definitive proof that they are on the way to a 2010-style landslide need to rethink their optimism. The president’s troubles are serious, but the Republicans have plenty of problems of their own. Though the GOP has a better than even chance of winning control of the Senate and are odds-on favorites to hold the House, the same poll provides data that should encourage Democrats to believe they have a chance in 2014 and are set up to win again in 2016.

The problem for Republicans is that as bad as the president’s numbers may be, theirs are just as bad. After years of sinking approval ratings, the party’s negative image is beginning to look like it is set in stone. Part of this is due to the hangover from its disastrous collisions with Obama such as the 2013 government shutdown, but more of it is due to the perception that it is essentially leaderless and being driven by Tea Party activists rather than pragmatic statesmen. Liberal dominance in popular culture has also created endemic problems on issues like the environment, climate change, and gay marriage in which the GOP generally finds itself on the less popular side of many divisive issues. Immigration reform, which pits most though not all conservatives against the wishes of the vast majority of Hispanics, also creates a powerful obstacle to winning national elections.

The Democrats’ ability to portray the GOP as waging a war on women may be more a function of a successful propaganda campaign than fact. But it is nonetheless having a major impact on American politics as women, especially white women, have become the Democrats’ chief bulwark.

When one compares today’s numbers to those of June 2010, you rapidly see that although the Democrats are burdened with a president who is seen as largely incompetent, they are helped by data that shows Republicans to be underwater in ways that they were not four years ago. In particular, the party’s declining support among women and Hispanics as well as the far more negative image of the Tea Party today has altered the political landscape in a way that makes another midterm landslide less likely.

These factors do not change the fact that 2014 will be largely decided in red states where the president’s unpopularity may prove lethal to centrist Democrats seeking reelection. But they may lessen the chances for a midterm avalanche that might otherwise be expected in the middle of such a disastrous second term for the incumbent. It also goes almost without saying that these numbers show the Democrats to be in good shape heading toward the 2016 presidential election.

Throughout 2012 most conservatives and Republicans took it as an article of faith that Obama’s incompetence would lead to a GOP victory in November. They underestimated the importance of the president’s historic status as the first African American in the White House as well as their party’s growing problems among minorities and women. Those same problems may not prevent Republicans from winning back control of Congress this year, but they are enough to doom even a highly competent presidential nominee in 2016 unless something happens to change the way the public regards Republicans. Instead of spending the rest of the year counting their chickens before they are hatched, conservatives would do well to return to the business of trying to expand their base that many rightly concentrated on in the wake of their 2012 defeat. The alternative to such an effort will only lead to a repeat of that disaster.

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Both Parties Face Traps on Benghazi, IRS

A year ago, as the news of the IRS scandal was breaking and the fallout from Benghazi was also becoming better known, Democrats were on the defensive about possible misconduct by the administration. A year later, their panic has subsided. By steadfastly denigrating the very idea that these scandals are, in fact, scandals, the administration, its political allies, and its cheerleaders in the media have begun to see issues like Benghazi as a battle cry for their base as much as it is for the Republicans. Far from worrying about the impact of investigations into the effort to target conservative groups by the IRS or what happened in Benghazi and its aftermath, liberals are cheered by the decision by the House GOP caucus to embrace these issues.

The conceit of the Democrats’ approach is one that is shared by many fearful conservatives. They think that what is being depicted as an obsessive pursuit of either minor wrongdoing or non-scandals will turn the Republican Party into a laughingstock in much the same manner that the government shutdown did. Since they take it as a given that there is no substance to the accusations of a cover up about government actions either before or after Benghazi or that the IRS controversy involved anything but overzealous bureaucrats, they believe the deeper the GOP dives into these investigations the more Democrats will benefit.

There is some substance to these concerns, since many in the GOP caucus have shown themselves to be incapable of conducting sober investigations or being able to avoid succumbing to grandstanding when they’d be better off at least trying to pretend to be on a bipartisan search for the truth. But, as we noted here last week, the reason these issues are still alive is that there are some serious questions still left answered about administration conduct and the lies that were told after Benghazi. The same goes for the IRS investigation. Though the creation of a select committee on Benghazi is a trip for Republicans, Democrats need to be wary of both underestimating its chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, a veteran prosecutor, and also of getting stuck in the position of defending what may turn out to be the indefensible.

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A year ago, as the news of the IRS scandal was breaking and the fallout from Benghazi was also becoming better known, Democrats were on the defensive about possible misconduct by the administration. A year later, their panic has subsided. By steadfastly denigrating the very idea that these scandals are, in fact, scandals, the administration, its political allies, and its cheerleaders in the media have begun to see issues like Benghazi as a battle cry for their base as much as it is for the Republicans. Far from worrying about the impact of investigations into the effort to target conservative groups by the IRS or what happened in Benghazi and its aftermath, liberals are cheered by the decision by the House GOP caucus to embrace these issues.

The conceit of the Democrats’ approach is one that is shared by many fearful conservatives. They think that what is being depicted as an obsessive pursuit of either minor wrongdoing or non-scandals will turn the Republican Party into a laughingstock in much the same manner that the government shutdown did. Since they take it as a given that there is no substance to the accusations of a cover up about government actions either before or after Benghazi or that the IRS controversy involved anything but overzealous bureaucrats, they believe the deeper the GOP dives into these investigations the more Democrats will benefit.

There is some substance to these concerns, since many in the GOP caucus have shown themselves to be incapable of conducting sober investigations or being able to avoid succumbing to grandstanding when they’d be better off at least trying to pretend to be on a bipartisan search for the truth. But, as we noted here last week, the reason these issues are still alive is that there are some serious questions still left answered about administration conduct and the lies that were told after Benghazi. The same goes for the IRS investigation. Though the creation of a select committee on Benghazi is a trip for Republicans, Democrats need to be wary of both underestimating its chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, a veteran prosecutor, and also of getting stuck in the position of defending what may turn out to be the indefensible.

If all this exasperates Democrats, it’s understandable since they thought that they had already finished weathering the storm of Obama’s scandal-plagued 2013.

After ducking for cover in the wake of the revelations about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups, the confusing inconclusive narrative that House investigators were able elicit from witnesses diluted public outrage. And when Lois Lerner, the key figure in the scandal, invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination—but only after making a statement declaring her innocence and seemingly waving those rights—that led to a partisan squabble in the House Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa that allowed Democrats to portray the whole thing as a witch hunt led by an intemperate partisan. That most Democrats voted not to charge Lerner with contempt for refusing to testify shows that they believe not only that there is no scandal but that Republicans will pay a price for pursuing it.

As for Benghazi, the sheer volume of congressional investigations about Benghazi that performed little in the way of actual probing similarly fed the impression that the country was ready to move on rather than searching for more answers.

But the discovery of a smoking gun email from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes that seemed to speak of doctoring the talking points about Benghazi in order to downplay talk of terrorism and reinforce the false narrative about the attack being a case of film criticism run amok has reignited the controversy. House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to finally seat a select committee to investigate the matter may have come a year too late since the chaotic and largely incompetent hearings on the issue have done much to give former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration underlings cover. Democrats are divided as to what to do about the Benghazi committee because they are unsure whether taking part in the hearings will lend credence to the GOP probe or if staying away will make it easier for Gowdy to lead the probe toward dangerous territory for the administration.

But rather than solely focus on how much rope to give Republicans to hang themselves, Democrats shouldn’t blithely assume that Gowdy will not uncover more embarrassing revelations about the various aspects of the tragedy, including the failure to heed warnings about terrorism as well as the misleading talking points. Just as Republicans need to worry about playing their roles as dogged pursuers of the truth rather than a political attack squad, so, too, Democrats need to be careful not to overplay their hand.

Democrats acted this week as if they think they have nothing to lose in defending Lerner against contempt charges or stopping the GOP from forcing her to divulge whether anyone higher up in the government food chain had a role in the targeting of conservatives. By the same token, they seem to think that obstructing or mocking the Benghazi investigation will only help them in the midterms as well as protect Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects.

Yet if Republicans conduct a serious investigation of Benghazi—as Gowdy intends to do—Democrats would be wise to join the South Carolinian in pursuit of the truth. If the probe comes up with nothing embarrassing for the administration and Clinton, they will have lost nothing. But if the select committee—which will have subpoena power and legal counsels conducting a thorough legal process—does learn that the Rhodes email was just the tip of the iceberg, then they, and not the Republicans, will be the big losers if they continue to kibitz on the sidelines. 

The ability of the administration and the media to table these stories is finished, and the sooner Democrats realize that the better off they will be.

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Did North Carolina Finish the Tea Party?

This morning on MSNBC’s politics show The Daily Rundown, host Chuck Todd described the North Carolina U.S. Senate election as his “desert island” race for 2014. In doing so, Todd was speaking for many political junkies who view it as a bellwether contest that will tell us more about what the midterm elections mean than any other this year. Which is why Thom Tillis’s victory in the Republican primary yesterday is very good news for his party. Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, defeated Greg Brannon, a libertarian physician and Tea Party favorite who was the beneficiary of a last-minute campaign stop by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. But by getting more than 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race, Tillis avoided being dragged into a runoff with Brannon that would have helped Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.

Brannon’s flirtation with 9/11 truthers and other positions would have made him another Todd Akin, the Missouri GOP Senatorial candidate whose gaffes reelected Claire McCaskill and hurt Republicans around the country in 2012. That’s why Hagan spent campaign funds on ads seeking to portray Tillis as insufficiently conservative in the hopes that a Tea Party surge might provide her with an easy opponent. But this primary should scare Democrats not so much because Tillis, who is in a dead heat with Hagan in the polls, is a certain winner, but because it could be a harbinger of a national trend in which liberals can’t count on right-wing activists being able to sabotage the conservative cause. The North Carolina results leave us asking not just whether, as the liberal press keeps insisting, the Tea Party is dead but if Republicans have learned their lesson from 2010 and 2012 when Tea Party outliers like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for the party. North Carolina may be a bellwether of GOP sanity but with Senate primaries in several states yet to come, the answer to that query has yet to be answered.

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This morning on MSNBC’s politics show The Daily Rundown, host Chuck Todd described the North Carolina U.S. Senate election as his “desert island” race for 2014. In doing so, Todd was speaking for many political junkies who view it as a bellwether contest that will tell us more about what the midterm elections mean than any other this year. Which is why Thom Tillis’s victory in the Republican primary yesterday is very good news for his party. Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, defeated Greg Brannon, a libertarian physician and Tea Party favorite who was the beneficiary of a last-minute campaign stop by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. But by getting more than 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race, Tillis avoided being dragged into a runoff with Brannon that would have helped Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.

Brannon’s flirtation with 9/11 truthers and other positions would have made him another Todd Akin, the Missouri GOP Senatorial candidate whose gaffes reelected Claire McCaskill and hurt Republicans around the country in 2012. That’s why Hagan spent campaign funds on ads seeking to portray Tillis as insufficiently conservative in the hopes that a Tea Party surge might provide her with an easy opponent. But this primary should scare Democrats not so much because Tillis, who is in a dead heat with Hagan in the polls, is a certain winner, but because it could be a harbinger of a national trend in which liberals can’t count on right-wing activists being able to sabotage the conservative cause. The North Carolina results leave us asking not just whether, as the liberal press keeps insisting, the Tea Party is dead but if Republicans have learned their lesson from 2010 and 2012 when Tea Party outliers like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for the party. North Carolina may be a bellwether of GOP sanity but with Senate primaries in several states yet to come, the answer to that query has yet to be answered.

The first conclusion to be drawn from North Carolina is an obvious one, but still needs to be restated. Good candidates beat bad candidates while indifferent ones are always vulnerable to upset. In 2010 and 2012 those mainstream Republican candidates that got beaten by Tea Party challengers were either lackluster campaigners like Delaware’s Mike Castle or arrogant out-of-touch incumbents like Indiana’s Richard Lugar. Tea Party candidates also win when they are simply better than their opponents, as was the case with Ted Cruz in Texas. Tillis may not be the North Carolina GOP’s savior, but the veteran state house politician was not going to be outworked by the likes of Brannon, even if he had Rand Paul on his side. 

The second is that the obits about the Tea Party are premature. What many journalists fail to remember is that what happened in 2010 was a sea change in the Republican Party that caused virtually everyone in the party to join with more conservative or libertarian elements to oppose the stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare. The differences between the so-called establishment that rejoiced at Tillis’s victory and the Tea Party, which is supposedly mourning it, are for the most part tactical rather than ideological. The candidates that mainstream national GOP fundraisers like Karl Rove are backing in primaries are all conservatives, not moderates. What unites them is that they are savvy enough to be able to appeal to independents and conservative Democrats rather than only preaching to the right-wing choir. And where Republicans produce a candidate like Tillis who agrees with the Tea Party on most issues but also is smart enough not to say things that will hurt him in November, they can win primaries as well as have a shot in a general election.

The point is, the Tea Party’s influence is not so much in its ability to generate candidates whose sole purpose is to knock off established Republicans but in influencing the party to remain true to its principles on taxing and spending. After all, few Republicans disagreed about the need to stop ObamaCare prior to last fall’s government shutdown; the disagreement was over whether it was a wise tactic.

Nevertheless, primaries in Georgia, Iowa, and Kentucky will give Republicans other chances to decide whether their goal is ideological purity or a conservative majority in the Senate in January. If mainstream candidates win in these states we will be told the Tea Party is dead. That will be wrong. What will have died if North Carolina is a bellwether is a strain of politics that is bent on tearing the GOP apart. What will survive is a conservative message that has been largely shaped by the Tea Party that has a good chance of sweeping the country this fall, as it did in 2010.

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Palin’s New Style of Political Influence

In today’s Washington Post, the always-insightful Robert Costa reports on Sarah Palin’s latest foray into electoral politics. In Iowa to observe a Palin campaign appearance on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, Costa was surprised to note that Palin, who is still widely considered to be a rock star of the political right, spoke to a half-empty ballroom with only a few dozen hanging around afterward hoping to shake the hand of the former Alaska governor. That contrast between this event and the pandemonium that greeted Palin wherever she went in 2010 and 2011 led Costa and NBC’s Kasie Hunt to ponder just how much her stock had fallen since her heyday as the No. 1 attraction for the Tea Party crowd.

Some of this analysis is spot on. There’s no question that Palin has been superseded in the eyes of many on the right by the class of conservative notables like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul that was produced by the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Even though Palin can claim some credit for the victories of figures such as Cruz, when pollsters quiz Republicans about potential presidential candidates for 2016, Palin is usually not even mentioned. Though her supporters will point to the rain in Iowa as the reason for the low turnout, the fact is she is no longer as much of a draw as she once was. But in noting, as Costa did, the fact that she “soldiers on as a diminished figure in the Republican Party,” we should, however, not assume that this means she is bereft of influence or supporters. In accounting for this change in status, we must understand that what has happened is not so much a case of a former first-tier political personality declining to secondary status but that she has morphed into something entirely different than a conventional office-seeking politician. She is now a celebrity brand that, while it will never be as significant as any of the actual contenders for leadership of the Republican Party and the nation, will nonetheless remain in place for the foreseeable future as both a scourge and a source of inspiration for the right wing of the GOP.

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In today’s Washington Post, the always-insightful Robert Costa reports on Sarah Palin’s latest foray into electoral politics. In Iowa to observe a Palin campaign appearance on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, Costa was surprised to note that Palin, who is still widely considered to be a rock star of the political right, spoke to a half-empty ballroom with only a few dozen hanging around afterward hoping to shake the hand of the former Alaska governor. That contrast between this event and the pandemonium that greeted Palin wherever she went in 2010 and 2011 led Costa and NBC’s Kasie Hunt to ponder just how much her stock had fallen since her heyday as the No. 1 attraction for the Tea Party crowd.

Some of this analysis is spot on. There’s no question that Palin has been superseded in the eyes of many on the right by the class of conservative notables like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul that was produced by the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Even though Palin can claim some credit for the victories of figures such as Cruz, when pollsters quiz Republicans about potential presidential candidates for 2016, Palin is usually not even mentioned. Though her supporters will point to the rain in Iowa as the reason for the low turnout, the fact is she is no longer as much of a draw as she once was. But in noting, as Costa did, the fact that she “soldiers on as a diminished figure in the Republican Party,” we should, however, not assume that this means she is bereft of influence or supporters. In accounting for this change in status, we must understand that what has happened is not so much a case of a former first-tier political personality declining to secondary status but that she has morphed into something entirely different than a conventional office-seeking politician. She is now a celebrity brand that, while it will never be as significant as any of the actual contenders for leadership of the Republican Party and the nation, will nonetheless remain in place for the foreseeable future as both a scourge and a source of inspiration for the right wing of the GOP.

As Palin’s handlers and apologists are at pains to point out, she is right now far more interested in the production of her latest cable television effort than in beating the bushes on behalf of Republican candidates. By withdrawing first from her office as governor and then from what many once thought was an inevitable presidential run, Palin’s stature as a political star has, as a matter of course, declined. If the buzz and the accompanying throngs that greeted her every appearance in early 2011 made her appear to be a major force in American politics, the smaller crowds and attention now may convince some to write her off completely. But though I consider her influence on both the party and our public discourse to be not always productive or particularly insightful, her current position in our political life should not be judged solely by the standards of presidential hopefuls.

By downsizing her political ambitions and her reach, Palin has in a very real sense enhanced her ability to swoop into selected primary battles and have an outsized impact on races. Her intervention on behalf of the tough-talking Ernst, which appears to have been solely the product of that Senate candidate’s ad touting her experience castrating pigs, may turn out to be as decisive as her support for Cruz and Nebraska’s Deb Fischer in 2012, despite the talk about turnout for her appearance.

That doesn’t make her a Senate or congressional kingmaker in the guise of a Karl Rove, whose fundraising operations dwarf Palin’s now sporadic entries into primary battles. But she has managed to create a political space for herself in which expectations about her own ambitions are no longer the point. Her fan base remains numerous and utterly fanatic as anyone who dares to point out her manifest shortcomings as a political thinker and candidate knows all too well. If it is, as she knows all too well, nowhere near large enough to justify a try for national office that would result in a humiliating failure, it is sufficient to maintain her as a political player to be reckoned with on the right. If she has been eclipsed by the deep class of 2016 GOP contenders, it must also be understood that she is likely to remain a desirable backer for conservative primary candidates for the foreseeable future long after the current crop of Republican stars has been largely forgotten.

Palin is, at times, an infuriating and bitter reminder of the worst partisan excesses of the last few election cycles on the part of both parties. As such, she has no chance of ever gratifying the desire of her fan base to see her elected president and that is a good thing. But those who would like to see her go away completely are doomed to disappointment. By cleverly accepting a certain degree of detachment as well as diminishment, Sarah Palin has ensured that she will be around for a long time to come.

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Martinez and the War on GOP Women

One of the Obama administration’s favorite themes is the idea that Republicans have been waging a “war on women.” Though Democrats may overestimate the appeal of this canard, the notion that troglodyte conservatives seek to send American women back to the 19th century has become a form of conventional wisdom, especially in the liberal mainstream media. But though that war is a piece of fakery rooted in the confusion between political liberalism and gender equality, there is little doubt about the reality of another war on women: the one that is being waged by left-wing ideologues against any female Republican who dares to emerge on the national political stage. As Sarah Palin learned in 2008, the full-court press against GOP women is not for the faint of heart.

While I’m no fan of Palin’s, the former Alaska governor was subjected to the sort of attacks that would never have been tried against any man, liberal or conservative. That she did not weather this assault with the sort of grace or the wit that might have undermined the effort to brand her as unready for national office is to her discredit, and her subsequent career has been handicapped by her decision to resign her office as well as a bitter tone that has left her a strong fan base but no electoral future. But there’s no denying that the attacks on her were unfair. Unfortunately, Palin’s marginalization has encouraged the political left to think it can do the same to any other Republican woman, something that New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is just starting to learn.

Martinez, who emerged at the 2012 Republican National Convention as a new GOP star, is the subject of a profile in Mother Jones this week that deliberately encourages its leftist audience to believe that the governor is “the next Sarah Palin.” As such, it subjects her to the sort of dumpster dive for trivial faults or weaknesses that is recognizable to anyone who followed the assault on Palin. But while Martinez may not be quite ready to think about the White House, liberals who think she can be “Palinized” may be barking up the wrong tree. Though her position is, in some respects, similar to Palin’s in that she is a small-state governor who has yet to experience the rigors of a national press inquisition, the irony of the magazine piece is that it may show that she is exactly the kind of tough-minded pol who can’t be wrong-footed by this kind of smear. 

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One of the Obama administration’s favorite themes is the idea that Republicans have been waging a “war on women.” Though Democrats may overestimate the appeal of this canard, the notion that troglodyte conservatives seek to send American women back to the 19th century has become a form of conventional wisdom, especially in the liberal mainstream media. But though that war is a piece of fakery rooted in the confusion between political liberalism and gender equality, there is little doubt about the reality of another war on women: the one that is being waged by left-wing ideologues against any female Republican who dares to emerge on the national political stage. As Sarah Palin learned in 2008, the full-court press against GOP women is not for the faint of heart.

While I’m no fan of Palin’s, the former Alaska governor was subjected to the sort of attacks that would never have been tried against any man, liberal or conservative. That she did not weather this assault with the sort of grace or the wit that might have undermined the effort to brand her as unready for national office is to her discredit, and her subsequent career has been handicapped by her decision to resign her office as well as a bitter tone that has left her a strong fan base but no electoral future. But there’s no denying that the attacks on her were unfair. Unfortunately, Palin’s marginalization has encouraged the political left to think it can do the same to any other Republican woman, something that New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is just starting to learn.

Martinez, who emerged at the 2012 Republican National Convention as a new GOP star, is the subject of a profile in Mother Jones this week that deliberately encourages its leftist audience to believe that the governor is “the next Sarah Palin.” As such, it subjects her to the sort of dumpster dive for trivial faults or weaknesses that is recognizable to anyone who followed the assault on Palin. But while Martinez may not be quite ready to think about the White House, liberals who think she can be “Palinized” may be barking up the wrong tree. Though her position is, in some respects, similar to Palin’s in that she is a small-state governor who has yet to experience the rigors of a national press inquisition, the irony of the magazine piece is that it may show that she is exactly the kind of tough-minded pol who can’t be wrong-footed by this kind of smear. 

Martinez’s appeal to Republicans is obvious. Her identity as a Hispanic woman ideally positions her to appeal to two demographic groups the GOP has lost in recent reelections. Moreover, as a former Democrat who never tires of talking about the moment when she realized that her social conservative views and belief in the rule of law made her a national Republican, she embodies exactly the sort of non-ideological commonsense approach that can help the GOP win back the political center. She also has a strong resume as a longtime successful prosecutor turned popular governor that makes it difficult to depict her as a political fluke.

But that doesn’t stop Mother Jones from attempting to dig up every piece of dirt on her they can find. The results of that search were pitifully insignificant. Other than some backbiting from disgruntled Republicans who are outside her inner circle, the best they can do is to produce tapes of her using harsh language about opponents and rivals. In other words, there’s not much here to talk about. But what they do produce is the sort of mean-spirited sniping that would be labeled as sexist were it directed at a liberal Democrat.

Perhaps Martinez is as “petty” and “vindictive” when it comes to dealing with foes and rivals as the magazine claims. But in another context, those same quotes might be seen as a sign of a strong, decisive personality who takes no prisoners. In other words, were she a man, she might be thought of as a tough customer rather than being depicted as one of the mean girls in a high school drama. You don’t have to buy in to every gender studies trope about prejudice to understand that what Mother Jones is doing to Martinez is exactly the sort of treatment that would be labeled sexist if it were a case of conservatives trashing a liberal woman. But whereas liberals treated evidence that Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis wasn’t truthful about her biography as the right bullying a woman who stood up for abortion rights, the left has no problem with smears of Martinez. Indeed, the tone of the article seems to be more an example of why the effort to stop calling women “bossy” may not be a bad idea than anything else.

Martinez is not diving into national politics willy-nilly. As Mother Jones acknowledged, she has largely avoided the national press and stuck to doing her job as governor, leaving her positioned to win reelection this year in what will probably be a romp. Yet if she does wind up as the 2016 GOP vice presidential pick, this story will be merely a taste of the abuse she is likely to get. The good news for Republicans is that this hard-as-nails prosecutor doesn’t look like someone who will get rattled if cornered by Katie Couric and appears to be smart enough to avoid some of the traps that Palin fell into.

But whether or not Martinez succeeds where Palin fell short, the point about this episode is that the political left remains ready to do anything necessary to cut down any conservative woman. When it comes to waging wars on women, liberals need no lessons from Republicans.

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Beware the False Dawn

By almost all accounts, 2014 is going to be a very good political year for Republicans. Even Democrats are conceding that at this point at least, the odds are better than not that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Neutral political observers say there are now roughly 12 Democratic-held seats in danger; Republicans need to pick up six of them. If that occurs, it would be the “tsunami” predicted by the RNC’s outstanding chairman, Reince Priebus, and the second disastrous mid-term for Democrats during the Obama presidency.

Here are two thoughts on this. It may be that Republicans are in relatively good shape these days to make substantial gains in House and Senate races – but the presidency is much more of an uphill climb, including for demographic reasons. (That was certainly true of Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s.) To put it another way: Mid-term elections are a good deal more favorable for Republicans than national presidential elections.

Presidential elections matter more.

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By almost all accounts, 2014 is going to be a very good political year for Republicans. Even Democrats are conceding that at this point at least, the odds are better than not that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Neutral political observers say there are now roughly 12 Democratic-held seats in danger; Republicans need to pick up six of them. If that occurs, it would be the “tsunami” predicted by the RNC’s outstanding chairman, Reince Priebus, and the second disastrous mid-term for Democrats during the Obama presidency.

Here are two thoughts on this. It may be that Republicans are in relatively good shape these days to make substantial gains in House and Senate races – but the presidency is much more of an uphill climb, including for demographic reasons. (That was certainly true of Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s.) To put it another way: Mid-term elections are a good deal more favorable for Republicans than national presidential elections.

Presidential elections matter more.

Second, beware the false dawn. That’s what happened in 2010, when Republicans wiped out Democrats in races for state legislatures, governorships, the House and the Senate. Republicans convinced themselves that the electorate had turned hard against President Obama and his agenda. In 2012, however, Mr. Obama became 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. 

What we have, then, is what Mr. Priebus calls “a tale of two parties.” Republicans are situated pretty well when it comes to mid-term elections – but they shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that even if they score an impressive victory in 2014 (and things could still change, of course), it means that Republicans are well-situated for 2016.

The truth is that even if Republicans sweep to victory in 2014 they still have significant repair work that needs to be done – in terms of its agenda and tone, in the mechanics of presidential campaigns and the quality of the candidates we field  – if they hope to win back the presidency.

In my estimation, the GOP is still facing a moment similar to what Democrats and the British Labour Party did in the early and mid-1990s. (It took Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to recast their parties in fairly significant ways, including optically and substantively, on issues like welfare and crime and in terms of a favorable disposition toward individual responsibility and democratic capitalism.)

The problems facing the Republican Party are not transitory or simply candidate-specific; they are more fundamental than that. And so for the GOP to once again become a consistently viable presidential party, Republicans need to put forward a considerably more compelling governing vision than it has, with particular focus on the concerns and challenges facing the middle class and in a way that will win over minority voters. There are some encouraging signs here and there, but it’s simply not nearly where it needs to be. And unless more Republicans accept that fact, and adjust to it, they’ll continue their presidential losing streak.

The 2014 mid-term elections are certainly important; but if Republicans do well and, having done well, once again draw the wrong lessons from them, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. 

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Could Republicans Govern in 2015?

This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

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This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

Let’s concede that the combative spirit of the House GOP caucus won’t be made any less confrontational by a victory in November. But the dynamic of Congress isn’t only defined by the institutional rivalries that Waldman discusses. By controlling the Senate, Democrats have exercised a pocket veto on everything the House produces, whether the product of centrist consensus or Tea Party fantasy. The unrealistic nature of much of the debate that has taken place on the House side is in no small measure the product of a situation in which nothing they do really matters so long as Harry Reid can frustrate them at will. If Reid is replaced by Mitch McConnell at the majority leader’s desk, that changes. At that point, the House caucus stops being a glorified debating society and becomes part of a governing majority. That won’t magically transform them or their Senate colleagues into a collection of legislative geniuses, but it will mean that suicidal gestures born in despair at their inability to pass bills will be a thing of the past.

Nor should Republicans fear—and Democrats anticipate with glee—the prospect of debates about fixes or alternatives to ObamaCare. Contrary to the liberal talking points echoed by many in the media, there are a number of realistic GOP proposals on health care out there that have been ignored because a Democratic Senate makes any new approaches to the misnamed Affordable Care Act impossible.

It is true that the continued presence of Barack Obama in the White House will mean the GOP will still not be governing the nation. He may well use his veto power more than before and frustrate Republican legislative initiatives. But by the same token, the ability of Republicans to hamstring Obama’s liberal agenda and subject his administration to probes will be enhanced.

The president may respond by accelerating his effort to bypass Congress and to govern by means of executive orders. But doing so as a lame duck will not only strike most voters as problematic from a constitutional point of view; it will also place a burden on Democrats in 2016 that they will be hard-pressed to cope with.

Most importantly, a Republican Senate would end any chance that Supreme Court retirements would allow the president to create a liberal court that could stand for decades or to continue his project of packing the appeals courts with like-minded jurists.

A Republican Congress won’t be able to undo everything Barack Obama has done or impose a Tea Party agenda on the nation. But it will act as a far more effective break on a liberal president than the current split Congress and also give Republicans more forums from which they can promote their ideas as they look to 2016. Any Democrat who doesn’t think that will materially damage his party or its leader will learn differently if the GOP vindicates the pundits and sweeps the board this November.

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Big Tents and Ideological Purity

The United States, like almost all English-speaking countries, has a two-party political system. That means we have big-tent parties, with a variety of competing political strains under each of the two tents. In other countries, such as Italy and Israel, they have small-tent parties, far more ideologically unified and, indeed, often based on a single political idea. Because the small-tent political system seldom if ever produces a parliamentary majority, the parties must broker a deal to become part of the governing coalition.

In other words, in English-speaking countries, political negotiation takes place before the election while in small-tent countries it takes place afterwards. The very names of the two mainstream American political parties—the Democrats and the Republicans—bespeak their big-tent nature. After all, all Americans not on the lunatic fringe advocate both democracy and a republican form of government. The two parties might just as well be called the Red and the Blue parties.

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The United States, like almost all English-speaking countries, has a two-party political system. That means we have big-tent parties, with a variety of competing political strains under each of the two tents. In other countries, such as Italy and Israel, they have small-tent parties, far more ideologically unified and, indeed, often based on a single political idea. Because the small-tent political system seldom if ever produces a parliamentary majority, the parties must broker a deal to become part of the governing coalition.

In other words, in English-speaking countries, political negotiation takes place before the election while in small-tent countries it takes place afterwards. The very names of the two mainstream American political parties—the Democrats and the Republicans—bespeak their big-tent nature. After all, all Americans not on the lunatic fringe advocate both democracy and a republican form of government. The two parties might just as well be called the Red and the Blue parties.

The recent CPAC conference certainly displayed a variety of political opinions under the Republican tent, from Rick Perry’s clarion call to unleash the genius of American enterprise, to Chris Christie’s moderate approach, to Rick Santorum’s down-the-line social conservatism, to Rand Paul’s libertarian concern with civil liberties and distaste for foreign entanglements.

They are all legitimate concerns for the right half of American politics. And it’s perfectly legitimate for the various factions to fight for their points of view. But it’s important for Republicans to remember that they belong to a big-tent party, not an ideologically pure one. To anathematize other Republicans in the name of one’s own view of “true conservatism” is, at best, politically stupid. You don’t win elections in this country by seeking to make your own tent smaller. To quote Lyndon Johnson’s famous reason for not firing J. Edgar Hoover—spoken with typical Johnsonian delicacy of phrase—it’s better to “have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.”

In their own self-interest, all Republicans should vow to obey Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican. They need the biggest possible tent to win in 2014 and, especially, in 2016.

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Perry’s Deconstructive Governing Agenda

In his speech at CPAC, Texas Governor Rick Perry brought the crowd to its feet by saying this:

Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms. Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care… It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and – what the heck – deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays. Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!

This points to a concern of mine and which Michael Gerson and I wrote about recently in an essay for National Affairs. For starters, Governor Perry’s interpretation of enumerated powers is more restrictive than what many of the Federalist Founders believed. (See the essay and here  for more.) As for Governor Perry’s line of argument: He says the Constitution doesn’t give “primary” responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm and the water we drink. But in fact, the Constitution doesn’t affirm even a secondary role for the areas mentioned by Perry. Is it really his position, then, that the federal government should have no role in education, health care, and clean air and water? What about child immunization? Support for the National Institutes of Health? Pell grants? The GI Bill? All of the New Deal? Bans on child labor? The Second National Bank (signed into law by the “father” of the Constitution, James Madison)? After all, the Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank.

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In his speech at CPAC, Texas Governor Rick Perry brought the crowd to its feet by saying this:

Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms. Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care… It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and – what the heck – deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays. Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!

This points to a concern of mine and which Michael Gerson and I wrote about recently in an essay for National Affairs. For starters, Governor Perry’s interpretation of enumerated powers is more restrictive than what many of the Federalist Founders believed. (See the essay and here  for more.) As for Governor Perry’s line of argument: He says the Constitution doesn’t give “primary” responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm and the water we drink. But in fact, the Constitution doesn’t affirm even a secondary role for the areas mentioned by Perry. Is it really his position, then, that the federal government should have no role in education, health care, and clean air and water? What about child immunization? Support for the National Institutes of Health? Pell grants? The GI Bill? All of the New Deal? Bans on child labor? The Second National Bank (signed into law by the “father” of the Constitution, James Madison)? After all, the Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank.

It’s worth quoting here, as I have before, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who made this observation:

Perhaps the most important act of the Continental Congress was the Northwest Ordinance which provided a direct federal subsidy for education. Almost the first act of the Congress established by the present Constitution was to reaffirm this grant. A plaque on the Sub-Treasury on Wall Street commemorates both actions. This does not invalidate the view that the federal government ought not to exercise any responsibility, but it does make nonsense of the view that the Constitution – presumably because it does not mention the subject – somehow bars such an exercise.

It is one thing – and I think very much the right thing – to argue for a more limited role for the federal government and conservative reforms of everything from entitlement programs to education, from our tax code to our immigration system to much else. It’s quite another when we have the kind of loose talk from the governor of the second most populous state in America.

I realize that some people will argue that what Perry is offering up is simply “red meat” for a conservative audience. It’s a (lazy) default language those on the right sometimes resort to in order to express their unhappiness with the size of the federal government. But words matter, Governor Perry is actually putting forth (albeit in a simplified version) a governing philosophy, and most Americans who hear it will be alarmed by it.

As a political matter, running under the banner of “Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!” hardly strikes me as the best way to rally people who are not now voting for the GOP in presidential elections. I’m reminded of the words of the distinguished political scientist James Q. Wilson: “Telling people who want clean air, a safe environment, fewer drug dealers, a decent retirement, and protection against catastrophic medical bills that the government ought not to do these things is wishful or suicidal politics.”

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, only 33 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the Republican Party while 61 percent had an unfavorable view. Having a prominent GOP figure give a speech in which he insists that virtually the entire modern state is unconstitutional and therefore illegitimate probably won’t help matters. Then again, neither does having the 2008 vice presidential nominee give a speech in which she takes great delight in re-writing Dr. Seuss.

This is not what the Republican Party or the conservative cause needs just now.

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The GOP’s Unpopularity Is…Complicated.

An eye-opening observation from Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call about the relative popularity and unpopularity of the Democrats and the Republicans: “Independent voters had almost identical feelings about both parties,” despite the fact that Democrats have a 9-point advantage when those polled by the New York Times/CBS News were asked if they view the parties favorably or unfavorably.

“I assumed most of the Democratic brand advantage stemmed from the GOP’s terrible reputation among independents,” Rothenberg writes. “But the survey showed that while 31 percent of independents had a favorable view of the GOP, 30 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party. And while 60 percent of independents had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, 61 percent had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.”

What this means, he says, is that the problem with Republican numbers is that Republicans told pollster they have an unfavorable view of the GOP. This makes sense. Tea Partiers dislike the Republican “establishment”; more mainline Republican voters do not think highly of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Each side thinks the force they dislike defines the GOP at present, so they say they don’t like the GOP much.

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An eye-opening observation from Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call about the relative popularity and unpopularity of the Democrats and the Republicans: “Independent voters had almost identical feelings about both parties,” despite the fact that Democrats have a 9-point advantage when those polled by the New York Times/CBS News were asked if they view the parties favorably or unfavorably.

“I assumed most of the Democratic brand advantage stemmed from the GOP’s terrible reputation among independents,” Rothenberg writes. “But the survey showed that while 31 percent of independents had a favorable view of the GOP, 30 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party. And while 60 percent of independents had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, 61 percent had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.”

What this means, he says, is that the problem with Republican numbers is that Republicans told pollster they have an unfavorable view of the GOP. This makes sense. Tea Partiers dislike the Republican “establishment”; more mainline Republican voters do not think highly of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Each side thinks the force they dislike defines the GOP at present, so they say they don’t like the GOP much.

This is actually startlingly good news for the GOP in the upcoming elections, because despite this supposed antipathy, when push comes to shove and it’s time to go to the polling booth, self-identified partisan votes almost always show up and vote for the party to which they belong.

Despite silly claims to the contrary, both John McCain and Mitt Romney received record numbers of votes among self-described Republicans, and with the exception of some numbers in Ohio, there’s little evidence to support the claim that millions of Republican voters “stayed home” in 2012 and helped swing the election to Barack Obama. In fact, in the end, Romney received 1 million more votes than McCain did, while Obama’s vote total declined by nearly 4 million.

The Democrats are going to work hard to try and make the electorate act as it did in 2012, but the president will not be on the ticket and they will be lucky to have a third of the money they had to spend in 2012 in getting out the vote. If the GOP base turns out in November—and there’s little reason to think it won’t, with ObamaCare on the line and with this final opportunity to send a message to the White House while Obama is in office—and independents aren’t feeling especially antipathetic toward Republicans, it could be a very significant Election Day indeed.

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Cruz to Rand: Tea Party ≠ Isolationist

Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

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Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

The assumption that all those who sympathize with the Tea Party agree with Paul on foreign policy is as much a product of liberal mainstream media manipulation as is the canard that they are racists. Those who identify with or view the movement favorably share a common mindset about the need to push back against the expansion of big government and the tax and spend policies that are its foundation. But many of those who call themselves Tea Partiers want nothing to do with Paul’s antipathy for a strong defense and unwillingness to maintain a stalwart U.S. presence abroad to stand up for our allies and our values.

Cruz has carved out a niche for himself among those most antagonistic to the party establishment as well as the liberal big government machine. But today he outlined a point on which he, and many other grass roots conservatives part company with Paul:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul,” Cruz said in an interview aired Sunday.” “We are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. U.S. leadership is critical in the world. I agree we should be reluctant to deploy military force aboard, but there’s a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire, when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said ‘Tear down this wall.’ Those words changed the course of history. The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

In doing so, Cruz drew a clear distinction between his beliefs and a Paulite view of America’s place in the world that is for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from Obama’s predilection for retreat from confrontations with aggressors such as Iran or Russia.

Paul sought to align himself with Reagan’s foreign policy views on Fox News Sunday by declaring that his “reluctance for war” shouldn’t be confused with a “lack of resolve.” But to defend that position he cited an op-ed published in the Washington Post on the crisis in the Ukraine by Henry Kissinger as something he agreed with.

While no one doubts Dr. Kissinger’s deep store of knowledge about foreign policy, his piece combined common sense about the limits of America’s ability to undo Russia’s seizure of the Crimea with a sorry rationalization for Vladimir Putin’s aggression. The former secretary of state’s citation of Russian claims to the Ukraine and attempt to argue against strong Western outrage about this crime was exactly the wrong message to send to Russia at a time when it is trying to subvert the independence of that country in order to reassemble in one form or another the late and unlamented Tsarist/Soviet Empire.

The article was a cri de Coeur for a revival not of Reaganite foreign policy but of Kissinger’s own amoral détente with the Soviets that treated human rights (including the fate of a persecuted Soviet Jewry) as an unimportant detail. This sort of “realism” has always had its advocates within the GOP but it was exactly the sort of Republican establishment mindset that Reagan bitterly opposed in the 1976 and 1980 GOP primaries.

For the last generation, the Republican mainstream has, with some notable exceptions, united behind policies that emphasized a strong defense and a foreign policy that rejected retreat in the face of aggression while also upholding American values. It is interesting as well as gratifying to see that for all of his desire to torch the establishment on every other issue, Ted Cruz is very much part of this consensus. Paul can pretend he was more influenced by Reagan than his extremist father (whose views on foreign policy would make him more at home on the far left than the right). But as long as he remains an outlier on this crucial element of presidential politics, he shouldn’t be thought of as representing all Tea Partiers, let alone most Republicans.

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