Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican Party

Dems’ Texas Fantasies Don’t Add Up

Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

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Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

In today’s New York Times, we get a new version of Democratic optimism with an op-ed by liberal author Richard Parker who asserts that it’s not just the growing number of Hispanics that will transform Texas politics. According to Parker, the shift in the political balance of power has as much to do with the increasing influence of cities as it does to ethnicity. He argues that the growing dominance of urban voters will play just as decisive a role in bringing the Democrats back to power in Austin. He thinks the ability of President Obama to win all of Texas’s big urban counties and cities in 2012 should interest us just as much as the fact that a majority of Texans will likely be of Hispanic origin in 10-20 years. Since even in Texas people who live in cities tend to be more liberal on both economics and social issues, it stands to reason that the growth of these cities heralds the inevitable end of the GOP stranglehold on Texas politics. This leads him to think that not only does Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis—a national favorite of liberals but a heavy underdog in Texas—have a shot at winning this year but that she or a successor is likely to be victorious four years from now.

But like the assumptions about Hispanics paving the way for Texas turning purple, if not blue, this thesis may not be correct.

Ironically on the same day that Parker’s essay appeared, Politico published a piece by conservative author Wayne Thorburn that argues that liberal triumphalism about Texas is mostly wishful thinking.

Thorburn doesn’t dispute that the number of Hispanics is going up from the 37.6 percent of Texas residents reported by the 2010 census. But he points out that a lot of the assumptions about Texas Hispanics are not backed up by the facts.

The first big problem for Democrats is that a sizable percentage of the 10 million Texans classified as Hispanic are not eligible to vote. Parker writes that one million of them are “undocumented non-citizens”—a politically correct way of saying they are illegal immigrants. A large number of other Hispanics are either green card holders who may eventually become citizens or those who hold student visas. Of those who are entitled to vote, only 38.8 percent are registered as opposed to more than 61 percent of the white population.

If that doesn’t sober up Democrats, they should also take into account the fact that Texas Hispanics are less likely to vote for Democrats than those living in deep-blue states like California or New York. Mitt Romney may have only gotten 27 percent of the national Hispanic vote in 2012 but he got approximately ten percent more in Texas. Urban voters may be more likely to be more liberal on social issues but Hispanics, especially those in Texas, appear to be socially conservative and that has helped the GOP hold onto a bigger share of their vote than elsewhere.

All these factors should enable Republicans to go on winning in Texas even if their margins may be diminished.

But the main point here isn’t just about Hispanic voters. It’s that all formulas that assume that voters will behave in exactly the way they have previously are inherently suspect.

Liberals like Parker assume that being urban means being liberal just as others assume Hispanic identity means a vote for the Democrats. Those assumptions are based on past experience and are therefore sound. But what he and anyone else who makes blanket assumptions about Texas or any other state must take into account is the fact that candidates, parties, and ideas still matter more than ethnicity or where you live.

After all, Texas was once part of the solid Democratic south. It changed not because of any demographic shift but because the Democrats’ shift to the left in the 1960s and ’70s rendered them vulnerable to a GOP that had become more identified with support of a strong national defense and hostility to big government than their rivals. That’s why Ronald Reagan swept Texas and it’s the same reason why a Republican Hispanic by the name of Ted Cruz won election to the U.S. Senate there in a landslide (including 40 percent of the Hispanic vote) in 2012.

It is possible that Democrats could pull some future upsets if they nominate candidates who are more conservative than their national party. But the rise of Wendy Davis to national prominence on the back of her abortion filibuster in the state legislature illustrates the conundrum at the heart of Parker’s assumptions. Davis is exactly the kind of candidate who is likely to engender enthusiasm in liberal urban centers like Austin. But amid a multitude of problems that have plagued her gubernatorial run is the fact that she has little appeal to a Hispanic population that doesn’t view abortion as favorably as other Democrats. Nor is there any reason to assume that Hispanic Democrats like the Castro brothers are going to have the traction to flip moderate swing voters.

Demographic determinism may be heady stuff for political scientists but in real life politics isn’t science. Until Democrats learn that lesson and start trying to appeal to conservatives, their Texas scenarios will remain fantasies.

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Santorum and the Myths About 2012

If Republicans hold to past form, Rick Santorum, whose potential candidacy was profiled in Politico yesterday, ought to be their next presidential nominee. But the expectation that the runner up from the last race will win the next one—a pattern that applied in five out of the last six competitive GOP primary contests—is not one that will likely apply in 2016. The reasons why it won’t have less to do with Santorum’s shortcomings than with the very different composition of the likely field of candidates and the myths that have grown about the 2012 race in both the party’s establishment and its conservative grass roots.

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If Republicans hold to past form, Rick Santorum, whose potential candidacy was profiled in Politico yesterday, ought to be their next presidential nominee. But the expectation that the runner up from the last race will win the next one—a pattern that applied in five out of the last six competitive GOP primary contests—is not one that will likely apply in 2016. The reasons why it won’t have less to do with Santorum’s shortcomings than with the very different composition of the likely field of candidates and the myths that have grown about the 2012 race in both the party’s establishment and its conservative grass roots.

Almost everyone outside of his inner circle thought Santorum’s candidacy was pure folly heading into the 2012 cycle. But a combination of hard work beating the bushes in Iowa and the fact that he was the one true social conservative in the race enabled Santorum to emerge as the chief challenger to frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though Romney’s ultimate victory was never in doubt, Santorum won a dozen primaries and caucuses and earned the right to call himself the second-place finisher. Though politics isn’t horseshoes, coming close did help Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Romney get the nomination the next time out after similar failures.

But this “rule” about runners up won’t apply this time. Unfortunately for Santorum, politics isn’t a quilt pattern. The prospective Republican field is very difference than it was four years ago, and that will dictate very different results.

First of all, there is no true front-runner as there usually is for GOP races. Indeed, the closest thing to a leading candidate once New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was laid low by Bridgegate is Senator Rand Paul. But renewed fears about terrorism mean that Paul is going to have a hard time expanding his appeal significantly beyond his libertarian base. No one, including Santorum, will be able to head into the first contests playing off the base’s resentment of the eventual candidate since no one will be in that role.

Second, though Republicans will have their share of outliers like Dr. Ben Carson, the lineup in their debates could include some genuine heavy hitters. A roster that could include the likes of Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Christie, Rick Perry (back for his own second go at the presidency), Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, and maybe even Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush will leave less room for a dark horse like Santorum to squeeze through to the front of the pack.

Santorum does have on thing that his potential rivals don’t possess: The ability to play to working-class voters. Santorum was right when he criticized the 2012 Republican National Convention for its emphasis on small business owners with its attempt to counter President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe to the exclusion of those who work for them. But though Santorum brings plenty of substance to the table on economics, social issues, and foreign policy (raising the alarm about the Iranian nuclear threat was a key issue for him during his disastrous 2006 race for reelection to his Pennsylvania Senate seat), it’s far from clear the formula that worked for a time for him last time will do the trick against opponents who don’t fit as neatly into the establishment category as Romney or even New Gingrich did in 2012.

But the discussion of Santorum’s potential candidacy should also cause Republicans to rethink some other myths about their last go round.

One is the idea that Santorum’s challenge was somehow to blame for Romney’s defeat in November.

It is true that it would have been easier on Romney and saved him a great deal of money that he could have employed against Obama had Santorum quit in February rather than pushing on for another couple of months. But it should be recalled that although John McCain’s chief opponents (the most prominent of which was Romney himself) did him that favor in 2008, it didn’t help him win the general election. The same could be said of the 2012 GOP nominee. Even if his grass-roots critics had shut up about his shortcomings sooner and given him an easy glide to the nomination, he was never going to beat Obama. Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate and the enduring, if puzzling, popularity of Barack Obama beat him, not Santorum.

The other prominent 2012 myth among Republicans is the idea that the nomination of a relative moderate depressed the base so much that millions of conservatives stayed home in November ensuring a Democratic victory. That’s a theme that will be sounded by conservatives in the 2016 primaries but there’s little proof that “silent majorities” of right-wingers stayed home in the fall. But unless the GOP establishment coalesces behind a resurgent but still damaged Christie or Jeb Bush decides to run or, as some hope, Romney tries again, there will be little for the base to complain about in a race that will largely be a competition between conservatives.

Santorum’s 2012 achievements should mean that his ambitions deserve more respect from pundits than he’s currently getting. But he is, if anything, an even bigger underdog today than he was four years ago. The bottom line is that in politics there are no real precedents. Nor will rules seeking to end the race earlier than it did last time necessarily work or help the nominee win in November. The coming free-for-all will be played by a different cast and produce different results with the one exception being that it is unlikely to end in a Santorum triumph.

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Dem Senate Comeback May Be Fool’s Gold

Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

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Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

The need to frame the midterms in terms of a wave is understandable. Journalists love a story that they can wrap up in a neat unifying package that explains everything. That’s why so many political pundits are so eager to try to interpret any national election—even a congressional midterm which is really dozens if not hundreds of separate races piled together—through a single lens. The problem is that even when such elections produce a big victory for either party, the reason for all these results often is more the product of a host of local factors rather than a national tide sweeping the nation.

That’s an important lesson for pundits to remember in 2014. Within the last couple of days, the New York Times’s Upshot, the Washington Post’s The Fix, and Nate Silver’s Five-Thirty-Eight all reversed their previous findings showing the GOP as the big favorite to take the Senate and now say it is a tossup. They didn’t agree as to the reason for this momentum swing. Silver believes the decisive factor is a Democratic edge in campaign fundraising with liberal and Democratic Super PACs outspending conservative and Republican ones. He may be right about that. Now that the campaign has begun in earnest, Democrats are using their considerable resources, with the aid of their reliable cheering section in the mainstream press, to paint GOP opponents as either extremists (as they are trying to do to Joni Ernst in Iowa) or sexist fools (as they seem to have done with Thom Tillis in North Carolina who is still dealing with the “mansplaining” charge lodged against him).

Moreover, the more you break down the 2014 races, the more apparent that national trends can be irrelevant to Senate races. That’s certainly true in deep-red Kansas where incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts finds himself in deep trouble because he is considered out of touch with a state that he doesn’t live in much anymore. The willingness of his Democratic opponent to pull out of the state in favor of a Democrat-leaning independent has transformed Kansas from a GOP lock to a possible loss.

Indeed, as much as money, political pragmatism seems to be the best weapon in the Democrat arsenal this year. Wherever Democrats are doing better or holding their own, it is largely because they are seeking to distance themselves from both President Obama and the national Democratic Party. Both North Carolina incumbent Kay Hagan and Georgia challenger Michelle Nunn have been adept in fleeing the president’s embrace. Viewed in isolation, these races not only confound any thought of a Republican midterm wave but also remind us that elections are principally decided on the basis of the ability of the candidates more than the party labels they wear.

But even if we concede that the last week has provided a great deal of comfort for Democrats, they shouldn’t get too cocky. As the party in charge of the White House, they are still laboring under tremendous disadvantages this fall that provide their GOP opponents with a safety net that could cushion the impact of any surge in Democrat fundraising as a result of these new more favorable predictions. National surveys, such as the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, show President Obama’s job approval ratings still heading south. Just as important, Republicans are gaining crucial advantages with the public on the economy, foreign policy, terrorism, and immigration.

While those who would extrapolate from these numbers the seeds of a genuine Republican wave are probably exaggerating the impact of national polls on local races, the Democrats are still dealing with some very unfavorable electoral math. In order to hold the Senate, they need to take one or two Republican seats (Kansas and Georgia representing their best chances), preserve the seats of one or two of their endangered red-state incumbents (North Carolina’s Hagan being their best chance of that), win some of the tossup states like Iowa, while also avoiding losing any of the seats that they thought were not endangered like that of New Hampshire’s Jean Shaheen.

Is that doable? Yes. Is it likely? The answer here is still no.

As much as the outlook has brightened for Democrats, Stuart Rothenberg’s prediction last week that Republicans will win at least 7 seats and possible more is still the more reasonable conclusion about an electoral map and a national political atmosphere that is heavily slanted toward the GOP. Democrats may be able to stop the bleeding and stay competitive by constantly reminding voters that their name isn’t Barack Obama. But doing so also reminds the electorate why midterms trend against the party in power.

Even more to the point, unlike in the past when Republicans came up short in efforts to win back the Senate, this time they don’t appear to be burdened with a roster of terrible candidates. Weak incumbents like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska, and Mark Prior in Arkansas might have survived against equally weak challengers but they didn’t get that lucky. And strong GOP candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire have put seats in play that many thought to be safe for the Democrats.

So while the pundits should forget about waves, the notion of a big Democrat comeback may be more a case of them finding fool’s gold than a real path to victory in November.

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Deep Bench? None in GOP Stand Out for ’16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and the End of the Isolationist Moment

Early in 2013 when Senator Rand Paul’s Senate filibuster catapulted him into the first tier of potential 2016 presidential candidates, the first of his colleagues to rush to the floor to support him was Ted Cruz. The freshman from Texas was then in the process of establishing his own reputation as a Senate firebrand but many wrongly assumed that his endorsement of Paul’s grandstanding about administration drone attacks meant that he shared the Kentuckian’s foreign-policy views. Flash forward to today and not only is Cruz staking out a position opposing Paul’s positions, but the libertarian is himself inching toward the center on the question of foreign interventions. In other words, the isolationist moment in both the Republican Party and the nation appears to be over.

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Early in 2013 when Senator Rand Paul’s Senate filibuster catapulted him into the first tier of potential 2016 presidential candidates, the first of his colleagues to rush to the floor to support him was Ted Cruz. The freshman from Texas was then in the process of establishing his own reputation as a Senate firebrand but many wrongly assumed that his endorsement of Paul’s grandstanding about administration drone attacks meant that he shared the Kentuckian’s foreign-policy views. Flash forward to today and not only is Cruz staking out a position opposing Paul’s positions, but the libertarian is himself inching toward the center on the question of foreign interventions. In other words, the isolationist moment in both the Republican Party and the nation appears to be over.

In recent weeks, Paul’s drift away from the views shared by his father and the legions of libertarian extremist supporters that he has inherited from him has escalated to the point where the senator has opened himself up to charges of flip-flopping.

Paul seemed to be riding the wave of revulsion against the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan last year when his filibuster helped make him the new darling of the GOP. While the senator has consistently maintained that he is a realist in the mode of James Baker rather than an isolationist, there was no doubt about his desire to pull back from engagement in the war on Islamist terror until recent developments made it obvious that such stands were not as popular as he thought.

For example, in his Wall Street Journal op-ed published in June he stated the case that “America shouldn’t choose sides in Iraq” and that there was, “no good case for U.S. intervention now.” But three months later, he’s singing a different tune. Last week in a TIME magazine article, he not only proclaimed that he “was not an isolationist” but went on to claim “if I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS.”

Paul’s apologists will, as is their job, attempt to spin the two pieces as somehow representing the same position. But for those of us who are not determined to rationalize every twist and turn that he must follow in his quest for the presidency, the contradiction is pretty obvious. Though he remains opposed to “nation building,” the Rand Paul of 2010, let alone 2013, would be scratching his head about his criticism of President Obama for “disengaging” in Iraq. Put it down to Paul putting his finger in the wind and rightly determining that sticking to his non-interventionist line after the ISIS beheading would be a problem for most conservatives.

All of which partly explains Cruz’s recent emphasis on his own, more mainstream foreign-policy views. On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Cruz not only enunciated positions critical of Obama and in favor of a more muscular U.S. foreign and defense policy that is consistent with traditional GOP stands that Paul has opposed. He also made it clear that he thinks the distance between Paul and himself on that issue is significant enough to create a real opening for him in 2016.

While more marginal (at least in terms of their chances of winning the nomination) Republicans such as John Bolton and Rep. Peter King have stated that they would run if there was no clear advocate of a strong foreign policy in the field to oppose Paul, Cruz is thinking the same thing. Since there is not much to differentiate him from Paul on domestic issues, the Texan thinks his consistent support of Israel and position in favor of re-asserting American power in the world gives him the chance to assume the Reaganite mantle in Republican primaries.

Is he right?

Cruz has some clear strengths, but also liabilities. He is the hero of Tea Partiers who love his willingness to confront Democrats on every issue, to refuse to play by the rules of the old Senate game about going along in order to get along. But what Tea Party activists see as a commitment to principle, other Republicans view as a mad commitment to suicidal tactics like last year’s government shutdown. Cruz’s unwillingness to acknowledge that mistake makes him anathema to the GOP establishment as well as others who see him as a loose cannon. But his mainstream foreign-policy views could give him an opening with these sectors of the party, including major donors even if he must be considered, at best, as an extreme long shot.

But whether Cruz’s 2016 hopes are realistic or not isn’t the point of recent developments. What we’ve seen in the last few months is the crackup of the libertarian alliance that looked to have a decent chance to take over the Republican Party last year as war weariness and suspicion of the Obama administration seemed to turn the Republican worldview upside down. With Paul retreating from not only his father’s extremism but also from some of his own “realist” stands and Cruz leading a faction of the Tea Party into what he hopes will be a foreign-policy debate in which he will champion the cause of a strong stand in the Middle East, it appears the isolationist moment in American politics is over.

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Democrats Are All About Power

Can you imagine a conservative or Tea Party Republican statewide candidate so determined to beat the Democrats that they would withdraw from a race in order to help an independent who might (or might not) switch to the GOP after the election? Neither can I. These days the political right in this country values ideology over mere political advantage. But not so their Democrat opponents. As this week’s news from Kansas and Alaska illustrates, one of our two major political parties is consistently playing to win and the other can’t necessarily be relied upon to do so.

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Can you imagine a conservative or Tea Party Republican statewide candidate so determined to beat the Democrats that they would withdraw from a race in order to help an independent who might (or might not) switch to the GOP after the election? Neither can I. These days the political right in this country values ideology over mere political advantage. But not so their Democrat opponents. As this week’s news from Kansas and Alaska illustrates, one of our two major political parties is consistently playing to win and the other can’t necessarily be relied upon to do so.

In Kansas, Chad Taylor, the Democratic Senate candidate withdrew from the race. Taylor was trailing badly in the polls in a contest in which embattled Republican incumbent Pat Roberts faced his most significant competition from independent Greg Orman. This will clear the field for the former Republican turned Democrat turned independent to mount a serious challenge to Roberts who survived a tough primary fight in which his lack of a home in Kansas was a major issue.

In Alaska, something similar happened when Byron Mallott, the Democratic candidate for governor agreed to merge forces with independent Bill Walker in order to better compete against GOP incumbent Sean Parnell. The Democratic state central committee endorsed a new ticket on which Mallott will be their candidate for lieutenant governor under Walker, who dropped his membership in the Alaska Republican Party in order to facilitate this unusual marriage of convenience.

In both cases, regular liberal Democrats swallowed hard and bowed to their party’s best interests by endorsing a less ideological candidate. If that wasn’t enough, also in Alaska, incumbent Senator Mark Begich demonstrated his commitment to winning at all costs by running a television advertisement that falsely accused his GOP opponent, a former state attorney general, of responsibility for the freeing of a convict who subsequently murdered two senior citizens and raping their granddaughter. Protests from the outraged family of the victims forced Begich to take the ad off the air but his willingness to broadcast what Politico calls a “Willie Horton ad” in his quest for reelection amply illustrated a fight-to-the-death spirit that seems to be animating Democrats this year.

What’s going on?

What we’re observing in these races is the way Democrats have become a party solely devoted to power. Whereas Democrats were once even more fractious and as prone to ideological squabbles as Republicans, in recent years they have changed. The Obama era is one in which the party of Jefferson and Jackson has finally realized that the only way to enact their liberal big-government agenda is to win elections. In service to that cause they have embraced unprincipled opportunists like Charlie Crist in Florida, Orman in Kansas, and Walker in Alaska. Where liberals might have once preferred to fight centrist Democrats in a quest for purity, they understand the election of political chameleons fighting under their banner will do more to advance their cause than sticking with a principled liberal who will lose honorably.

This is in marked contrast to Republicans who have in recent years made a specialty of tearing each other apart in bitter and often pointless civil wars that have resulted in their losing Senate seats they might have won. Indeed, the whole point of the Tea Party is a reaction to the way the Republican Party seemed to lose its soul during the George W. Bush administration with GOP majorities in the House and the Senate spending like drunken sailors just like Democrats in a futile effort to win the loyalty of voters. Indeed, the ire of most Tea Partiers has always seemed to be mostly reserved for moderate Republicans—dubbed RINOs—whose defeat is considered a greater victory for true conservatism than unseating any Democrat. Purging the GOP of such heretics has been their goal and they have largely succeeded.

Contrary to the myth propagated by the liberal mainstream media, Republicans are, as a rule, no more extreme in their conservatism than the average Democrat officeholder is in their liberalism. But the Jacobin spirit demonstrated by the Tea Party—which initially represented a healthy revolt of the taxpayers against an establishment determined to ignore the wishes of the voters and feather their own nests—which has largely acted as if it is better to have a liberal win a congressional or Senate seat rather than a nominal non-conservative Republican, has done more than hurt the GOP’s electoral prospects in some cases. It has also given it the aura of a Robespierre-style junta determined to root out any ideological diversity or dissent. This fealty to principle at all costs can be more attractive in some ways than the cynicism of the Democrats. But it also seems to be rooted in an indifference to governance that ill befits any great party that seeks to rule rather than merely posture.

So while opportunistic turncoats like Crist as well as the shady maneuvers of Kansas and Alaska Democrats rightly disgust Republicans, they can also take a lesson from them. Winning isn’t the only thing in politics and dishonorable flip-flopping is a disgrace, but the only way to really stop liberal big government is to ensure that the advocates of those policies lose elections. The moral of the story is that it’s no good complaining about ObamaCare if your activists are actually doing more to elect Democrats than Republicans who might vote to repeal it.

Democrats have figured out that they are better off taking half a loaf than none at all. It remains to be seen if Republicans are mature enough to learn the same lesson before they throw away another chance to control Congress.

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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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