Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican Party

GOP Task: From Oppositional to Governing Conservatism

“Of a sudden,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” 

Senator Moynihan’s statement suggested two things: liberalism was exhausted and conservatives took advantage of the opening by offering an agenda that matched the challenges of that moment: high inflation and interest rates, a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, “stagflation,” a hollowed out military and Soviet advances all over the world.

Today, once again, liberalism is out of steam. As they watch their unwieldy health-care law sputter and disappoint, liberals don’t have much else to turn to. Their own top priorities tend to be unpopular, and both their ideology and their political coalition constrain them from speaking to the public’s main concerns—economic stagnation and the middle-class squeeze. The president ran for re-election on remarkably little policy substance, and now offers even less. Who could say what his governing vision consists of? 

Not surprisingly, he has witnessed a major collapse in his public support, especially among independents, which in most polls now disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a two-to-one margin. About two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Even more are angry about the way things are going in Washington. And public confidence in government is near historic lows. So the moment is ripe for the GOP, at the national level, to offer the public a real alternative.

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“Of a sudden,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” 

Senator Moynihan’s statement suggested two things: liberalism was exhausted and conservatives took advantage of the opening by offering an agenda that matched the challenges of that moment: high inflation and interest rates, a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, “stagflation,” a hollowed out military and Soviet advances all over the world.

Today, once again, liberalism is out of steam. As they watch their unwieldy health-care law sputter and disappoint, liberals don’t have much else to turn to. Their own top priorities tend to be unpopular, and both their ideology and their political coalition constrain them from speaking to the public’s main concerns—economic stagnation and the middle-class squeeze. The president ran for re-election on remarkably little policy substance, and now offers even less. Who could say what his governing vision consists of? 

Not surprisingly, he has witnessed a major collapse in his public support, especially among independents, which in most polls now disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a two-to-one margin. About two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Even more are angry about the way things are going in Washington. And public confidence in government is near historic lows. So the moment is ripe for the GOP, at the national level, to offer the public a real alternative.

Whether it will, of course, remains an open question. But recent months have offered some encouraging signs. Republicans already showed some real leadership in the president’s first term by offering a serious, market-oriented Medicare-reform proposal—produced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and backed by essentially every Republican in Congress.

Earlier this year, Senators Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, and Orrin Hatch followed up with a health-care proposal that would cover as many people as the Affordable Care Act without the taxes, mandates, and burdensome regulations and at a far lower cost by empowering consumers. Another ambitious health-reform bill is now co-sponsored by a majority of House Republicans.

Mr. Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio (among others) have proposed serious reforms to help sustain the safety net for the poor by re-orienting it toward work and opportunity. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Senator Mike Lee have each proposed a major tax reform plan—and a combination of the two could well make for a winning Republican tax agenda. Other prominent proposals have included reforms of higher-education policy to increase options and lower costs, and reforms of transportation policy, the criminal-justice system, unemployment assistance, and more.

It is still fashionable in some circles to call Republicans the “Party of No,” but when has there been such a flurry of concrete policy proposals from an opposition party in Congress?

Even these proposals, of course, are only a start. They have yet to gain broad support, or to be brought together into a coherent conservative agenda. But they are suitable for such an effort, and they offer plausible, targeted, market-friendly approaches in precisely the areas that most trouble voters, and where Democrats have been failing most decisively.

A party that controls one-half of one-third of the federal government can’t hope to see its agenda become law at this point, and high profile confrontations with the Obama administration – such as the government shutdown last October – have mostly ended disastrously. But what the Republican Party can do is gradually build a new internal consensus around a policy agenda of conservative reforms that appeal to a broad base of voters, and which Republican candidates and the party’s next presidential nominee can then run on.

To approach the success of Republicans of past eras, those of this generation must again show how their ideas will improve the lives of American families in concrete ways by applying timeless American principles to a new set of American challenges. Today’s GOP has not done nearly enough of that.

The Republican Party can be the party of the 21st century by showing itself able and willing to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century – many of which are now antiquated and out of touch not only with the needs of our time but the expectations of Americans in an age of constant innovation and endless choices.

It can own the future by showing the public how limited government can also be effective government. It can succeed, in other words, by embodying not just an oppositional conservatism but also a governing conservatism.

It’s not yet clear if the party is ready to follow this path. But it is worth noting even modest signs of hope.

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Senate Auguries Get Worse for the Dems

Charlie Cook, a greatly respected election analyst, has some very bad news for Democrats.

No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.

What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate are looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months.

Larry Sabato, equally respected, is not much more upbeat:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is where the action is this year in American politics. Right now all signs point to a near standoff in the U.S. House elections. Barring a major change in the political environment in the next few months, the 114th House is expected to closely resemble the 113th House with a slightly larger or slightly smaller Republican majority. In contrast, party control of the next Senate is definitely up for grabs this year.

Part of the reasons for the Democrats’ peril is the fact that President Obama is increasingly unpopular, that the economy is mediocre at best, and ObamaCare is deeply disliked. That’s bad enough. But also, midterm elections in a president’s sixth year are almost always bad news for the party of the president. Only in 1998 did the president’s party gain seats in the House in a sixth-year midterm.  But the Democrats did not gain any Senate seats that year.

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Charlie Cook, a greatly respected election analyst, has some very bad news for Democrats.

No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.

What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate are looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months.

Larry Sabato, equally respected, is not much more upbeat:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is where the action is this year in American politics. Right now all signs point to a near standoff in the U.S. House elections. Barring a major change in the political environment in the next few months, the 114th House is expected to closely resemble the 113th House with a slightly larger or slightly smaller Republican majority. In contrast, party control of the next Senate is definitely up for grabs this year.

Part of the reasons for the Democrats’ peril is the fact that President Obama is increasingly unpopular, that the economy is mediocre at best, and ObamaCare is deeply disliked. That’s bad enough. But also, midterm elections in a president’s sixth year are almost always bad news for the party of the president. Only in 1998 did the president’s party gain seats in the House in a sixth-year midterm.  But the Democrats did not gain any Senate seats that year.

Also, the Democrats did very well in the 2008 Senate elections, when Barack Obama had significant coattails. The Democrats won 20 of the 35 seats up for grabs that year. And whenever a party does exceptionally well in the Senate in one election, it tends to do very badly six years later. Partly that is because weak candidates who were carried on the wave usually lose as the electorate reverts to normal. In 1938, six years after FDR’s triumph in 1932, the Democrats lost 7 Senate seats. In 1986, six years after Reagan’s landslide, when the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years, the Republicans lost 5 seats (and control of the Senate).

It is, of course, way too early for the Republicans to be opening the champagne. Some dramatic event might change the electoral map. The Republicans, as they are all too often wont to do, might nominate unelectable candidates and throw away what now look like certain pickups, as they did in Indiana and Missouri in 2012.

But right now, the auguries are grim for the Democrats in the Senate.

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Ukraine, Isolationism and the Republicans

The Russian invasion of the Ukraine poses a tremendous challenge to President Obama as his feckless attempts at “resets” of relations with Russia and record of weakness abroad have put him a position where he is forced to respond to a crisis for which he clearly has no appetite but can’t ignore. But he isn’t the only one American politician who should be worrying about Vladimir Putin’s ability to overturn the applecart of Washington politics. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul should be just as concerned about how events abroad have a way of upsetting our assumptions about U.S. politics.

During the last year, Paul’s stock has risen within Republican circles as concerns over U.S. spying tactics, drone attacks and government scandals have propelled the libertarian into what might be considered the front runner’s spot for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. While Paul’s strong performance in his drone filibuster and clever distancing of himself from his father’s extremism has enabled him to expand his libertarian base, this was only made possible by the complete absence of a debate on foreign policy among Republicans. Where once support for a strong defense and a robust U.S. presence abroad was mainstream GOP thinking, war weariness after Iraq and Afghanistan and cynicism about President Obama has made Paul’s neo-isolationism to become acceptable and perhaps even popular on the right.

But Putin’s seizure of the Crimea is forcing Republicans as well as the administration to think seriously about foreign policy in a way they haven’t for years. In response, some on both the right and the left are responding by asking why the fate of the Ukraine should interest Americans. While they may sympathize with Putin’s victims, they say the question of sovereignty over Crimea or even the possible reconstruction of the old Soviet empire by the new Tsar in the Kremlin has nothing to do with American security or our interests. Though they self-consciously avoid echoing Neville Chamberlain’s characterization of Czechoslovakia in 1938 after Munich as a “faraway country” when distancing themselves from Ukraine’s peril, there’s little question that they are just as willing to have the West abandon it as it did the Czechs. But such thinking is not only callous; it is irresponsible. Ukraine can only be ignored at the cost of America’s credibility as a world power and to the detriment of the cause of liberty that people like Paul claim to support.

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The Russian invasion of the Ukraine poses a tremendous challenge to President Obama as his feckless attempts at “resets” of relations with Russia and record of weakness abroad have put him a position where he is forced to respond to a crisis for which he clearly has no appetite but can’t ignore. But he isn’t the only one American politician who should be worrying about Vladimir Putin’s ability to overturn the applecart of Washington politics. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul should be just as concerned about how events abroad have a way of upsetting our assumptions about U.S. politics.

During the last year, Paul’s stock has risen within Republican circles as concerns over U.S. spying tactics, drone attacks and government scandals have propelled the libertarian into what might be considered the front runner’s spot for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. While Paul’s strong performance in his drone filibuster and clever distancing of himself from his father’s extremism has enabled him to expand his libertarian base, this was only made possible by the complete absence of a debate on foreign policy among Republicans. Where once support for a strong defense and a robust U.S. presence abroad was mainstream GOP thinking, war weariness after Iraq and Afghanistan and cynicism about President Obama has made Paul’s neo-isolationism to become acceptable and perhaps even popular on the right.

But Putin’s seizure of the Crimea is forcing Republicans as well as the administration to think seriously about foreign policy in a way they haven’t for years. In response, some on both the right and the left are responding by asking why the fate of the Ukraine should interest Americans. While they may sympathize with Putin’s victims, they say the question of sovereignty over Crimea or even the possible reconstruction of the old Soviet empire by the new Tsar in the Kremlin has nothing to do with American security or our interests. Though they self-consciously avoid echoing Neville Chamberlain’s characterization of Czechoslovakia in 1938 after Munich as a “faraway country” when distancing themselves from Ukraine’s peril, there’s little question that they are just as willing to have the West abandon it as it did the Czechs. But such thinking is not only callous; it is irresponsible. Ukraine can only be ignored at the cost of America’s credibility as a world power and to the detriment of the cause of liberty that people like Paul claim to support.

Obama’s fecklessness on Syria, Iran and now Ukraine have made the world a much more dangerous place. Unless you are prepared to retreat back to fortress America, a planet where tyrants feel free to act against U.S. allies and friends is one in which the U.S. is reduced to a second-rate nation with no power to protect its interests or its friends. We’ve already started to see that happen in the Middle East where both Israelis and Arabs now have good reason to be afraid of Iran, and in Europe where Putin is demonstrating that Western-oriented democracies can now be subjected to aggression with impunity. If history teaches us anything it is that such a situation is one in which the U.S. must demonstrate strength or watch as thugs like Putin misinterpret American apathy for a license to do as they like. That often creates unintended consequences for those who think they can ignore the world. To allow the Russians to lie about the Ukrainian protesters who deposed Putin’s puppet regime and to call them Nazis is highly ironic when it is Moscow that is committing aggression in a manner that is highly reminiscent of Europe’s tragic past.

Ron Paul and the libertarian core never demonstrated much interest in pushing back against foreign tyrants because they share the far left’s belief that it is U.S. “imperialism” that is primarily to blame for foreign strife. Rand Paul has benefited from the support from such people but now seeks to have it both ways and convince mainstream Republicans that he can be trusted to defend U.S. security. But there’s no defending American interests or a stable international order while the U.S. full retreat. Just as George W. Bush’s less than robust response to Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia set the stage for today’s events in the Ukraine, a weak performance by President Obama could mean that Putin’s next victims could be NATO members in the Baltic republics.

Republicans who claim to value freedom above all values should be capable of understanding that isolationism means treating that word as irrelevant to U.S. foreign policy. Conservatives who remember that concern for the fate of the enslaved people of the Soviet empire was a core principle for Ronald Reagan’s GOP cannot abandon the same people now with a clean conscience. The United States isn’t France. It is the sole superpower democracy and when it abandons its principles abroad the world has a tendency to unravel. That not only hurts the U.S. economy. It will also involve us in conflicts that are not yet on our radar and we won’t be able to ignore no matter how much we’d like to. The return of foreign policy to the front burner of American politics should be the beginning of a process that returns Paul’s libertarians to the margins of American politics.

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Republicans Dodge Debt Ceiling Disaster

When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

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When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

Much as he did before to the shutdown fight, Boehner tried to enlist conservative House members in an approach to the debt ceiling rooted in Tea Party’s concern over more spending, but would have sought to conduct the fight from the high ground of a popular position. But any reluctance to pay for the debt and to allow it to continue to increase—no matter how reasonable the strings that would have been attached to a GOP plan—was a political loser. Americans don’t like debt or big government spending in principle, but they also know that any attempt to bring a halt to the spending binge in a partisan manner could do real damage to the country’s credit rating and ultimately the economy as a whole.

Just as they did during the shutdown battle, Democrats deserve a lot of the blame for the failure to act on the debt. Their refusal to negotiate in good faith on either ObamaCare or spending caused the shutdown as much as the kamikaze instincts of Tea Party Republicans. But shutting down the government, even over ObamaCare funding, was deeply unpopular. The same applies to debt ceiling negotiations in which Democrats have also refused to deal fairly or address the country’s long-term problems.

It may be unfair that the GOP is blamed more than the Democrats for shutdowns or debt fights, but that is irrelevant to a political reality in which liberal domination of the mainstream media creates a distorted playing field. If Republicans want to win elections, they have to stay away from situations in which the media can brand them as irrational extremists, which is exactly what happened with the shutdown. As bad as things look for Boehner and his dysfunctional crew today, avoiding a debt-ceiling showdown denies the president and his party another chance to portray Republicans as irresponsible obstructionists who can’t be trusted with the serious task of governing.

Letting Democrats pass the debt increase is a bitter pill for Boehner and the GOP to swallow. But by doing it, they have also set the stage for a 2014 campaign that can be fought on their terms rather than those of the Democrats. That gives them a good chance not only to win back control of the Senate but to gain House seats and set themselves up for a 2015 session in which the party can not only begin to reverse the damage Obama has done but also set the stage for a return to the White House in 2016. All that was made possible by Boehner’s surrender. Given the stakes involved, that’s the sort of exchange that conservatives should like.

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The GOP’s Immigration Dilemma

It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

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It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

As our Peter Wehner detailed in a sobering post yesterday, the Republican Party has a demographic problem that can’t be ignored or wished away. With minorities making up an increasingly large percentage of the American population, the GOP’s chances of winning back the presidency in 2016 or in subsequent elections hinge on its ability to appeal to non-whites and specifically the growing Hispanic population. While many conservatives are right to argue that passing immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet that will persuade predominantly liberal Hispanic voters to embrace the Republicans, it must be understood that as long as the party is viewed as implacably hostile to the interests of Hispanics, its chances of making even minor inroads in that group are minimal. As the numbers that Pete discussed illustrate, a failure to change this electoral equation seals the fate of the GOP in presidential politics for the foreseeable future.

But the damage isn’t limited to the resentment Hispanics feel about a party dominated by those who seem intent on clinging to the fantasy of deporting 11 million people. The implacable resistance to “amnesty” on the part of some conservatives seems rooted as much in hostility to growing ethnic diversity as it is to a reluctance to acknowledge that the illegals already here must be given a chance to get right with the law. That image hurts Republicans with more than just Hispanics. With some on the right saying they oppose immigration because they wish to prevent more Hispanics from becoming voters, this less attractive aspect of the immigration debate can’t be ignored. Republican leaders must confront and reject such views and the only effective way to do it is to pass a reform bill now and put this issue in their rear-view mirror.

Nor can we assume that reform can be put off until next January, when the GOP hopes it will control both houses of Congress. Even if Republicans are in charge of the Senate as well as the House next year, the same dynamic that pits conservative/Tea Party rebels against the so-called establishment will still be in play. If anything, the Republican caucus will be even less likely to listen to reason on immigration in 2015 than it is in 2014. Due to gerrymandering and the growing division between the parties, GOP representatives have grown more conservative in each new Congress. This year won’t reverse that trend. Thus, it will be even harder for Boehner or any Republican leader to keep his troops in line in order for the GOP to pass a bill that will soften the Democrats’ advantage with Hispanics prior to 2016.

It is true that President Obama deserves some of the blame here. By choosing to use his State of the Union address to justify a shift toward efforts to bypass Congress and rule by executive order, he played right into the hands of conservatives who accurately point out the president has already demonstrated that his administration will only enforce the laws he agrees with. That means the enforcement element of any immigration package may prove illusory even if Democrats agree to the tough measures Republicans have rightly demanded.

But Obama will not be president forever. Immigration reform is not just good politics but also good public policy. Fixing the system is an imperative, as is policing the border. But if Republicans succumb to the temptation to procrastinate or oppose reform for the sake of avoiding an intra-party squabble, they will not only be making a mistake on the merits of the issue but committing a long-term political error that will ensure their dissatisfaction with the occupant of the Oval Office for decades to come.

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Three GOPs? No. Just One Opposition Party

It doesn’t matter how uninspired President Obama’s State of the Union speech turned out to be. The contrast between the pomp and circumstance of what is accorded the American equivalent of Queen Elizabeth’s annual visit to Westminster to open Parliament makes any opposition responses seem pale by comparison. If the official response by Washington state’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wasn’t a flop like most of her predecessors, nor did it offer an in-depth refutation of the president, or anything more than a thumbnail sketch of what it is the GOP believes. The fact that the Republicans have in recent years produced more than one response, with the Tea Party offering up one last night by Senator Mike Lee separate from that of the traditional GOP, with Senator Rand Paul deciding to speak too, only serves to reinforce the impression of a Republican Party that is both divided and incoherent.

This feeds into the mainstream media narrative that the Republicans’ problems in the wake of their 2012 defeat as well as the beating they took (and largely deserved) for shutting down the government last fall. As New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal wrote in a humorous putdown of the GOP, the three parties represented last night could be labeled the “Stepford party” (a sexist reference to McMorris Rodgers speaking for the GOP establishment), “the storm the castle party” (Mike Lee speaking for the Tea Party), and “the non-threatening insurgent party” (Rand Paul speaking on behalf of the Rand Paul party). Rosenthal even took the opportunity to pile on by taking a cheap shot at Republicans by terming the ugly threat made to a reporter last night by New York’s Rep. Michael Grimm as the “class clown response” to the president.

But the idea that the GOP is hopelessly divided and would be unable to govern even if they were given the chance is a misreading of the situation or, as in the case of the liberal ideologue Rosenthal, mere partisan hyperventilating. What we saw last night was not a contrast between a united party and one rent by schisms. Rather, it was an illustration of the difference between being in power and not being in power.

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It doesn’t matter how uninspired President Obama’s State of the Union speech turned out to be. The contrast between the pomp and circumstance of what is accorded the American equivalent of Queen Elizabeth’s annual visit to Westminster to open Parliament makes any opposition responses seem pale by comparison. If the official response by Washington state’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wasn’t a flop like most of her predecessors, nor did it offer an in-depth refutation of the president, or anything more than a thumbnail sketch of what it is the GOP believes. The fact that the Republicans have in recent years produced more than one response, with the Tea Party offering up one last night by Senator Mike Lee separate from that of the traditional GOP, with Senator Rand Paul deciding to speak too, only serves to reinforce the impression of a Republican Party that is both divided and incoherent.

This feeds into the mainstream media narrative that the Republicans’ problems in the wake of their 2012 defeat as well as the beating they took (and largely deserved) for shutting down the government last fall. As New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal wrote in a humorous putdown of the GOP, the three parties represented last night could be labeled the “Stepford party” (a sexist reference to McMorris Rodgers speaking for the GOP establishment), “the storm the castle party” (Mike Lee speaking for the Tea Party), and “the non-threatening insurgent party” (Rand Paul speaking on behalf of the Rand Paul party). Rosenthal even took the opportunity to pile on by taking a cheap shot at Republicans by terming the ugly threat made to a reporter last night by New York’s Rep. Michael Grimm as the “class clown response” to the president.

But the idea that the GOP is hopelessly divided and would be unable to govern even if they were given the chance is a misreading of the situation or, as in the case of the liberal ideologue Rosenthal, mere partisan hyperventilating. What we saw last night was not a contrast between a united party and one rent by schisms. Rather, it was an illustration of the difference between being in power and not being in power.

The problem here isn’t that Republicans are particularly querulous—though there’s no denying the divisions in the party—or inept at messaging. Rather the schisms we observe on the right are the natural product of lacking one unifying figure.

The contrast between Tea Party conservatives and the more mainstream conservatives in congressional leadership positions is only in part ideological. There are issues on which the two seem to part ways on matters of principle—immigration being one example. But for the most part, the establishment and the castle-burners don’t seriously disagree on basic issues. Indeed, on most fiscal and social issues there are few strong disagreements. The schisms stem not from any genuine disagreement about dislike of big-government measures, taxes, and spending but on the tactics best suited to combat the Democrats. The establishment rightly wishes to govern and to pick its fights with the liberals to lay the groundwork for future electoral victories. The castle-burners are frustrated by past defeats and want to lash out at the system. Indeed, it was just such despair about the GOP struggle against ObamaCare—an issue on which there is a remarkable consensus, if not unanimity among Republicans—that led to the government shutdown.

As was the case last night, the Republicans were unable to speak with one voice during the shutdown while Democrats were able to rally around the White House. The result, as with the State of the Union, is that a congressional Republican Party that actually has as little divergence of views on a host of important issues as their Democratic opponents comes across as a band of savages tearing one  another to pieces.

The remedy for this is simple. Win a presidential election. Once in opposition, the Democratic Party, whose divisions are today papered over by their deference to the president, will seem as angry and divided as the GOP does today. Its leaders will—as the Republicans do now—ruthlessly maneuver in order to put themselves in the strongest position for the next presidential election. Republicans will be forced, as Democrats are today, to bow to their president’s wishes and to play defense for an administration whose popularity will largely determine their own fates at the next midterm election.

Of course to get back to that position, Republicans will have to deal with the fallout from the shutdown and the misrepresentation, pounded home by the liberal media, that the GOP is aloof from the concerns of women and Hispanic voters. But, as Democrats learned in 2008, one good presidential candidate can make up for a multitude of political faults. Though no one who fits that description was on display last night for the Republicans, those members of the GOP nursing their wounds from another dispiriting beating in the Republican response to the State of the Union should remember that all they have to do to change places with the Democrats is to find someone who can beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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The Immigration Imperative

Once again, two of the leading voices of American conservatism have joined forces to try to thwart any chance of immigration reform. Last July, William Kristol, the publisher of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review co-wrote an article that appeared in both publications denouncing the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. Their arguments won favor with the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and the bill never saw the light of day in the House for the rest of 2013. Nor will it resurface in 2014, but House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he intends to heed some of Kristol’s and Lowry’s admonitions about the perils of all such large-scale bills that few completely understand. As the New York Times reports, the GOP leadership will consider the Senate bill’s separate components and allow the House to debate and vote on measures for securing the borders, as well as those dealing with the status of the 11 million illegal aliens already in the country and other reforms to deal with a woefully dysfunctional system.

But Kristol and Lowry are once again fiercely resisting the prospect of any debate in the House, let alone a vote on immigration reform. Echoing the dismay of some among the party’s grass roots, Kristol and Lowry have advised Boehner and his colleagues literally to “do nothing” on the issue. They believe that even allowing bills to come to the floor will provoke a bitter, internecine battle among Republicans, one that will hamstring the party in its efforts to hold the House and win back the Senate this fall. Both say that the Obama administration can’t be trusted to secure the border and fear that even an “innocuous” measure passed by the House that fails to deal with the dilemma of the illegals should be avoided lest it be transformed into something truly dangerous in a conference with the Senate. They say there is no urgency to act on immigration and the GOP should shelve the entire topic to await another day after they have won in November, or perhaps even after until a Republican is installed in the White House.

While their fears of an intra-party battle on immigration and their cynicism about a lawless Obama administration are far from unreasonable, this time around Boehner should not follow their counsel. Despite the dangers to the party of a debate or a vote on the issue, the House has a responsibility to act. To fail to do so for either partisan reasons or an understandably jaundiced view of how the Obama administration would execute the law will not only haunt the GOP for years to come, but is also bad public policy.

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Once again, two of the leading voices of American conservatism have joined forces to try to thwart any chance of immigration reform. Last July, William Kristol, the publisher of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review co-wrote an article that appeared in both publications denouncing the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. Their arguments won favor with the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and the bill never saw the light of day in the House for the rest of 2013. Nor will it resurface in 2014, but House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he intends to heed some of Kristol’s and Lowry’s admonitions about the perils of all such large-scale bills that few completely understand. As the New York Times reports, the GOP leadership will consider the Senate bill’s separate components and allow the House to debate and vote on measures for securing the borders, as well as those dealing with the status of the 11 million illegal aliens already in the country and other reforms to deal with a woefully dysfunctional system.

But Kristol and Lowry are once again fiercely resisting the prospect of any debate in the House, let alone a vote on immigration reform. Echoing the dismay of some among the party’s grass roots, Kristol and Lowry have advised Boehner and his colleagues literally to “do nothing” on the issue. They believe that even allowing bills to come to the floor will provoke a bitter, internecine battle among Republicans, one that will hamstring the party in its efforts to hold the House and win back the Senate this fall. Both say that the Obama administration can’t be trusted to secure the border and fear that even an “innocuous” measure passed by the House that fails to deal with the dilemma of the illegals should be avoided lest it be transformed into something truly dangerous in a conference with the Senate. They say there is no urgency to act on immigration and the GOP should shelve the entire topic to await another day after they have won in November, or perhaps even after until a Republican is installed in the White House.

While their fears of an intra-party battle on immigration and their cynicism about a lawless Obama administration are far from unreasonable, this time around Boehner should not follow their counsel. Despite the dangers to the party of a debate or a vote on the issue, the House has a responsibility to act. To fail to do so for either partisan reasons or an understandably jaundiced view of how the Obama administration would execute the law will not only haunt the GOP for years to come, but is also bad public policy.

Both Kristol and Lowry are on firm ground when they say the American people are not clamoring for immigration reform. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed immigration to be at the bottom of citizens’ priorities, well below more urgent concerns about the economy and a host of other issues. Indeed, only climate change ranked lower than immigration in terms of the urgency with which the issue judged by a majority of Americans.

They’re also right about the dangers of a GOP civil war over immigration. Many conservatives and Tea Partiers are adamant opponents of any legislation that would address the problem, even if it included, as did the Senate bill, tough new provisions for policing the border. Like National Review, they are appalled at the prospect of “amnesty” for the 11 million illegals even if they have no answer for resolving this dilemma other than impractical ideas such as more deportations. They are equally opposed to addressing the status of the children of illegals and treat DREAM act measures that seek to give these individuals—who, unlike their parents, have broken no law —a chance to attain citizenship.

Reform proponents rightly answer that de facto “amnesty” is in place already, with the government unable to force illegals to leave the country or to grant legal status to those who are honest, hard-working contributors to our society. Indeed, even a bill that stops short of a path to citizenship will face the unswerving opposition of many Republicans.

But just because it won’t be easy doesn’t mean immigration reform, even in a far more truncated form than the Senate bill, isn’t worth doing. Congress has an obligation to try to fix what is broken in our government and there is nothing more dysfunctional than an immigration system that doesn’t work well for those who obey our laws or those who came here illegally largely for economic reasons. Republicans have good reason not to trust the administration to secure the border. The responsible answer to those fears is to write a bill without loopholes and to use the power of the purse to ensure that the will of Congress is obeyed.

As for the political fallout from an immigration debate, Republicans will survive a dustup over the issue. The real fear here is not that anger over the discussion will tear Republicans apart in a manner that will prevent them from taking back the Senate but the fact that opponents of immigration reform know they will lose in the House just as they did in the Senate if a vote is held. As long as Republicans keep their promise to address border security first, there is no reason that Republicans should fear to act on the issue.

Of course, lurking behind this argument is the ongoing discussion about the Republican problems with Hispanic voters. Kristol and Lowry and other conservatives have rightly pointed out that any Republicans who believe passing immigration reform will attract large numbers of Hispanic voters are mistaken. There is no quid pro quo here and this largely liberal group is not going to be enticed into embracing the GOP because of this one issue.

But the problem here goes deeper than the Hispanic vote. As I’ve written before, Kristol and Lowry were wrong to assert last July that, in contrast to previous debates, this round has not been tarnished by anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic rhetoric by GOP foes of immigration reform. The danger is not just that Republicans may be writing off Hispanic voters for the foreseeable future by tabling reform, but that they are in peril of being seen by the electorate as intolerant.

Republicans have an obligation to oppose Barack Obama’s big-government agenda. But wherever possible, they must do all they can to govern responsibly. There are aspects of immigration on which common ground can be established between both parties. Just saying no to immigration is an option for Republicans, but it is not a responsible one. Nor is it a choice that enhances their chances to win in 2014 or beyond.

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Cuomo’s Version of Liberal Tolerance

There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

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There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

Cuomo’s reference to abortion opponents is especially interesting in the way it seeks to declare them not only out of the political mainstream in New York (which is undoubtedly true) but also worthy of being driven out of the Empire State. As Kathryn Jean Lopez noted in National Review on Friday, the governor’s rant demonstrates the distance both the Democratic Party and the Cuomo family have traveled in the last 30 years. As Lopez writes, in 1984, one of Cuomo’s predecessors as governor of New York—his father Mario—famously articulated a nuanced position in which he restated his personal opposition to abortion while defending its legality and public funding.

This same intolerance is made manifest in the federal ObamaCare mandate that seeks to force Catholic charity groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor pay for abortion drugs and contraception for its employees. That is a far cry from Mario Cuomo’s attempt to build a wall between private opposition to abortion and a public right to it. The Democrats of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo will now brook no opposition to their dictates or, in Cuomo’s case, even allow opponents to reside in “his” state.

However, the spark for Cuomo’s anger—opposition to the gun bill he promulgated in his State of the State last year and then rammed through the legislature inside of a day as a sop to public anguish about Newtown—also demonstrates the incoherence of this new extreme liberalism. The SAFE act imposed new bans on assault weapons, gun magazines, and imposed even broader rules for background checks for legal gun purchases. But in the year since it was passed, it has gone largely unenforced since it has sown almost universal confusion among law-enforcement personnel and gun venders and owners who are unsure what is and what is not rendered illegal by the vague language in the sloppily-drafted legislation Cuomo championed.

One needn’t be an opponent of legalized abortion or a member of the National Rifle Association to understand the dangers of this sort of rhetoric and a legislative agenda driven by such sentiments. Liberals have spent the past few years posing as the champions of tolerance while denouncing the Tea Party and conservative Republicans as extremists. But now that the left wing of the Democratic Party has taken back the reins of the party from more centrist forces—or in Cuomo’s case, a former moderate has put his finger in the wind and changed his direction accordingly—the same dynamic could undermine their attempts to win national elections. Just as the GOP must worry about letting its most extreme elements dictate policy and candidates, Democrats should think twice about the spectacle of one of their leading lights going so far as to tell opponents of abortion and gun control to leave New York. If Clinton passes on the presidency and Cuomo makes a run for the White House, that intolerant line won’t be forgotten.

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Being More Than the Opposition Party

In Politico, Representative Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, is quoted saying this:

It’s incumbent upon us now, I think there’s a window opening, where we become not the opposition party, but the alternative party. Which means we have an obligation to come forward with agendas and plans for how we would govern if we were in the majority in Washington. It’s starting to open.

That is, I think, precisely the right attitude for Republicans to have. In saying this, I don’t mean to imply that Republicans can’t do well, even very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections simply by opposing the president’s agenda. Mr. Obama is, after all, highly unpopular these days. His signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is toxic. And if historical trends hold, Democrats will suffer significant losses (the mid-term elections for the party of a president in his second term are usually awful).

Still, Republicans need to be bolder in offering up a governing agenda, for several reasons. First, voters tend to be future-oriented and want to know that a political party has a program that will improve their lives in a practical way.

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In Politico, Representative Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, is quoted saying this:

It’s incumbent upon us now, I think there’s a window opening, where we become not the opposition party, but the alternative party. Which means we have an obligation to come forward with agendas and plans for how we would govern if we were in the majority in Washington. It’s starting to open.

That is, I think, precisely the right attitude for Republicans to have. In saying this, I don’t mean to imply that Republicans can’t do well, even very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections simply by opposing the president’s agenda. Mr. Obama is, after all, highly unpopular these days. His signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is toxic. And if historical trends hold, Democrats will suffer significant losses (the mid-term elections for the party of a president in his second term are usually awful).

Still, Republicans need to be bolder in offering up a governing agenda, for several reasons. First, voters tend to be future-oriented and want to know that a political party has a program that will improve their lives in a practical way.

Second, an oppositional mindset that may work in a mid-term might not work nearly as well in a presidential election (see the results of the 2010 mid-term elections v. the 2012 presidential election). If Republicans hope to reclaim the White House, then a lot of work needs to be done when it comes to winning the trust of the public on governing matters.

Third, the GOP, fairly or not, has a reputation as being too ideological, too reflexively anti-government, the Party of No. Presenting a compelling and intellectually serious agenda–one that deals with wage stagnation, the loss of blue-collar jobs and the lack of social mobility, rising poverty and exploding health-care and college costs, the collapse of the culture of marriage and reforms of the tax code, education, energy, and our immigration system–can help overcome that problem. (As a side note, and as I’ve pointed out before, it’s no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the party more than 30 years ago. For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.) 

Fourth, a great political party should be eager to offer a governing agenda. Not to sound too high-minded about it, but presumably the reason Republicans want to win elections is to govern; and the reason they want to govern is they believe their ideas are better; and the reason they believe their ideas are better is they will promote prosperity, human flourishing and what the Founders referred to as “the public good.”

In the 1980s, one of the Republican Party’s main sources of attraction to younger conservatives like myself was its growing reputation for intellectual seriousness. “Of a sudden,” wrote Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.”

As it was then, so it should be again.

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Obama Can’t Help Dems Keep Senate

President Obama understands the stakes in the midterm elections all too well. If Republicans take back the Senate in November that will give them a stranglehold on both Houses of Congress and ensure that the president will get nothing passed in his final two years in office. If the talk about the president being a lame duck hasn’t already begun, such a result would ensure him being consigned to irrelevance for the remainder of his term. While the GOP missed chances to win seats in the last two election cycles, 2014 offers them a golden opportunity with the Democrats defending 21 seats (including five in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012) to only 14 for their opponents.

But rather than sit back and wait to see if vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection can survive, the administration has decided to send in the cavalry. As Politico reports, the White House is consciously seeking to promote initiatives designed to help Democrats win over wavering moderates as well as mobilize the liberal base. But this plan, which reportedly includes more consultations with embattled Democratic incumbents, is a mistake. While the Democrats understand that they must somehow divert attention from problems with ObamaCare and focus voters on their income inequality agenda that polls far better than the president’s disastrously unpopular health-care law, their instincts here run counter to the best interests of some of their candidates. The last thing Democrats in places like North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, or Alaska need is an attempt to nationalize an election. If they have any hope of holding onto their majority in the Senate it lies in keeping the president and his agenda out of their states.

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President Obama understands the stakes in the midterm elections all too well. If Republicans take back the Senate in November that will give them a stranglehold on both Houses of Congress and ensure that the president will get nothing passed in his final two years in office. If the talk about the president being a lame duck hasn’t already begun, such a result would ensure him being consigned to irrelevance for the remainder of his term. While the GOP missed chances to win seats in the last two election cycles, 2014 offers them a golden opportunity with the Democrats defending 21 seats (including five in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012) to only 14 for their opponents.

But rather than sit back and wait to see if vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection can survive, the administration has decided to send in the cavalry. As Politico reports, the White House is consciously seeking to promote initiatives designed to help Democrats win over wavering moderates as well as mobilize the liberal base. But this plan, which reportedly includes more consultations with embattled Democratic incumbents, is a mistake. While the Democrats understand that they must somehow divert attention from problems with ObamaCare and focus voters on their income inequality agenda that polls far better than the president’s disastrously unpopular health-care law, their instincts here run counter to the best interests of some of their candidates. The last thing Democrats in places like North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, or Alaska need is an attempt to nationalize an election. If they have any hope of holding onto their majority in the Senate it lies in keeping the president and his agenda out of their states.

The White House is right that even in red states Democrats often prosper by playing the populist card on big business and abuse of the poor. Obama’s proposals for increasing the minimum wage and lengthening unemployment benefits may be economic snake oil, but they poll well everywhere. But the last thing Senators like North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, or Arkansas’s Mark Prior need is for Obama or his agenda to become part of this year’s election narrative. To the contrary, their main hope rests on keeping the president out of their states and putting the focus on divisions within the Republican Party.

The only reason Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader is that in 2010 and 2012, Republicans found themselves saddled with poor candidates in crucial races that turned almost certain victories into defeats. Democrats can’t count on the second coming of such godsends as Sharon Angle in Nevada (who let a vulnerable Reid off the hook), the wacky Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, or the unfortunate Todd Akin in Missouri (whose dreadful gaffe about abortion and rape tarnished every Republican in the country). But their goal has to be to keep the public’s attention on conflicts within the GOP and demonizing Tea Party activists who form a crucial part of the conservative base.

As Politico notes, the president is key to fundraising efforts for Democratic Senate candidates but some of those benefitting from his skill in bringing out liberal donors want to keep him at a distance. For instance, Hagan won’t be anywhere near Obama when he campaigns in North Carolina this week for his economic agenda. She understands, as do many other Democrats facing the voters this year, that sympathy for the working class and the poor doesn’t necessarily translate into affection for a president with negative poll ratings. As recent polls show, Hagen has her hands full in a race in which she currently trails every one of her possible Republican opponents.

With the president set to rally his troops behind his effort to revitalize a disastrous second term with a shift to the left, the temptation to try to nationalize the election this year may be irresistible to the White House’s political operation. But without a popular president on the ballot this year and with an off-year turnout likely to see many of his supporters staying home this November, they would be wise to avoid injecting Obama into the already difficult battles Democrats face in red states. Having largely ignored the needs of Democrats in both the House and the Senate during his first five years, the president may think more attention paid to their races will help keep him relevant in 2015 and 2016. But if he is to have any chance of holding onto the Senate, he should stay out of races where he is more of a burden to his party than an asset.

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Rubio’s Poverty Pitch What the GOP Needs

Marco Rubio’s 2013 was as bad as Chris Christie’s was good. The Florida senator’s annus horribillis began with his goofy water bottle problem as he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. It continued when a month later he appeared equally ridiculous rushing to the floor of the Senate to support Rand Paul’s drone filibuster in order to avoid letting a rival hog all the attention, even though he actually disagreed with the libertarian. But Rubio, who began the year at the top of everyone’s list of Republican presidential hopefuls, didn’t hit bottom until he became the target of widespread conservative animus for his high-minded decision to back a bipartisan immigration reform bill. By the summer, many of his erstwhile fans on the right had buried him as a RINO and talk about his candidacy in 2016 seemed to be on hold. Even the senator began backing away from his own bill.

But if Christie has gone from GOP frontrunner to possible has-been in the wake of his Bridgegate scandal, Rubio has a chance to start over in 2014. Though it’s unlikely that many anti-immigration die-hards will forgive him for speaking common sense about the issue, Rubio’s address at the Capitol last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” gave his year a promising beginning. As James Pethokoukis rightly noted at the AEI Ideas blog, his “new anti-poverty plan offers a dramatic, even radical revamp of the American welfare state” that attempts to raise the incomes of the poor without falling into the trap of big government.

It’s not clear whether his fine speech and Christie’s downfall will boost his presidential stock, but Rubio may have done more than advance a personal agenda. By calling on Republicans to address how to help Americans mired in poverty, Rubio may have started an important conversation on the right that could help make the GOP the party of ideas again.

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Marco Rubio’s 2013 was as bad as Chris Christie’s was good. The Florida senator’s annus horribillis began with his goofy water bottle problem as he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. It continued when a month later he appeared equally ridiculous rushing to the floor of the Senate to support Rand Paul’s drone filibuster in order to avoid letting a rival hog all the attention, even though he actually disagreed with the libertarian. But Rubio, who began the year at the top of everyone’s list of Republican presidential hopefuls, didn’t hit bottom until he became the target of widespread conservative animus for his high-minded decision to back a bipartisan immigration reform bill. By the summer, many of his erstwhile fans on the right had buried him as a RINO and talk about his candidacy in 2016 seemed to be on hold. Even the senator began backing away from his own bill.

But if Christie has gone from GOP frontrunner to possible has-been in the wake of his Bridgegate scandal, Rubio has a chance to start over in 2014. Though it’s unlikely that many anti-immigration die-hards will forgive him for speaking common sense about the issue, Rubio’s address at the Capitol last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” gave his year a promising beginning. As James Pethokoukis rightly noted at the AEI Ideas blog, his “new anti-poverty plan offers a dramatic, even radical revamp of the American welfare state” that attempts to raise the incomes of the poor without falling into the trap of big government.

It’s not clear whether his fine speech and Christie’s downfall will boost his presidential stock, but Rubio may have done more than advance a personal agenda. By calling on Republicans to address how to help Americans mired in poverty, Rubio may have started an important conversation on the right that could help make the GOP the party of ideas again.

Rubio’s approach is based on two accurate assumptions. One is that Republicans cannot hope to win national elections by playing the role of the mean party that likes the rich and considers the poor to be an incorrigible “47 percent” of takers, to quote Mitt Romney’s unfortunate gaffe. Conservatives must demonstrate that they care about people who aren’t rich or well off lest they be written off as the party of ruthless plutocrats who want to take away benefits from the poor. Though the Tea Party movement has raised important points about the dangers of uncontrolled tax and spend policies, the results of the 2012 election should have reminded Republicans that they must do more than say “no” to Democratic ideas; they must offer voters their own plans for helping the disadvantaged.

But there is more at stake here than merely a rhetorical pivot. As Rubio also makes clear, the GOP must offer an alternative to the failed liberal policies that are associated with the War on Poverty. The senator states what generations of liberals have worked hard to ignore when he says the problem with the big-government liberalism that Johnson helped unleash was not its desire to help the poor. The problem was that rather than freeing the poor from poverty, these policies, albeit unintentionally, created a new permanent underclass trapped in misery with little hope of escape. Dismantling it, or at least stripping the federal government of much of its role in anti-poverty efforts and devolving power to the states, as Rubio advocates, offers the country an opportunity to reform a failed system.

As Pethokoukis notes, the basic principles that form the foundation of this approach are irrefutable: the need to create more of the social mobility that the welfare state discourages; to increase the gap between the income of those who work and those who don’t; and to build a more efficient safety net that isn’t run by a federal bureaucracy from Washington, D.C.

These are the key talking points that every Republican should be discussing, especially as Democrats attempt to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare disaster to a new one about income inequality. The difference between the two parties is that Rubio is proposing a genuine alternative to the status quo while all Democrats are offering is more of the same failed ideas that have done so much damage to the poor in the last half-century.

In the 1980s, Republicans assumed the mantle of the “thinking party,” as they sought to reform the welfare state under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. It’s time they started thinking again. It’s not clear whether Rubio will run in 2016 but no matter what his plans, if he can help promote this sea change away from knee-jerk opposition to all government action to a new era of GOP reform of government, he will do his party—and the country—an inestimable service.

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Democrats Sacrifice Unemployed Pawns

On yesterday’s Sunday news shows, Democrats doubled down on their preferred issue of the new year: income inequality and unemployment insurance. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and senior Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer railed at Republican opponents of extending unemployment benefits and sought to portray the GOP as a conclave of heartless Scrooge McDucks chuckling while the jobless suffer. This is good politics for liberals, whose New Year’s resolution was to do everything in their power to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare debacle, as well as good television. Given the popularity of these proposals, the discussion about the course of the debate has largely followed the lines Democrats like. Thus, the reluctance of most congressional Republicans, especially the leadership of the House of Representatives, to act on President Obama’s proposal to again extend unemployment insurance plays into themes that work well for Democrats such as fairness, conservative apathy about the “47 percent” who get federal benefits (to use Mitt Romney’s infamous and foolish formulation), and a “do-nothing Congress” led by a dysfunctional Republican Party.

It’s debatable whether Republicans are doing themselves a favor by opposing the president on issues where he and his allies can appear to claim the high moral ground. But there are two main problems with this strategy for the Democrats. One has to do with how much traction these liberal talking points really have with the electorate in a midterm election year in which Democrats are defending far more competitive House and Senate seats than their opponents. The other goes to whether Democrats are actually serious about helping the unemployed or anyone else disadvantaged by the income inequality they’ve been talking about. If their genuine goal were to really extend the benefits, all they would have to what their media cheerleaders keep telling the GOP they must do in every other context: compromise. If they were to agree to some spending cuts in order to pay for the benefits, it’s likely that even the House GOP would go along with the idea. Yet since they won’t, it is evident that their purpose is not so much to alleviate the travails of the unemployed as it is to outmaneuver the Republicans. As such, any tactical advantage the Democrats may gain may be fleeting.

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On yesterday’s Sunday news shows, Democrats doubled down on their preferred issue of the new year: income inequality and unemployment insurance. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and senior Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer railed at Republican opponents of extending unemployment benefits and sought to portray the GOP as a conclave of heartless Scrooge McDucks chuckling while the jobless suffer. This is good politics for liberals, whose New Year’s resolution was to do everything in their power to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare debacle, as well as good television. Given the popularity of these proposals, the discussion about the course of the debate has largely followed the lines Democrats like. Thus, the reluctance of most congressional Republicans, especially the leadership of the House of Representatives, to act on President Obama’s proposal to again extend unemployment insurance plays into themes that work well for Democrats such as fairness, conservative apathy about the “47 percent” who get federal benefits (to use Mitt Romney’s infamous and foolish formulation), and a “do-nothing Congress” led by a dysfunctional Republican Party.

It’s debatable whether Republicans are doing themselves a favor by opposing the president on issues where he and his allies can appear to claim the high moral ground. But there are two main problems with this strategy for the Democrats. One has to do with how much traction these liberal talking points really have with the electorate in a midterm election year in which Democrats are defending far more competitive House and Senate seats than their opponents. The other goes to whether Democrats are actually serious about helping the unemployed or anyone else disadvantaged by the income inequality they’ve been talking about. If their genuine goal were to really extend the benefits, all they would have to what their media cheerleaders keep telling the GOP they must do in every other context: compromise. If they were to agree to some spending cuts in order to pay for the benefits, it’s likely that even the House GOP would go along with the idea. Yet since they won’t, it is evident that their purpose is not so much to alleviate the travails of the unemployed as it is to outmaneuver the Republicans. As such, any tactical advantage the Democrats may gain may be fleeting.

Conservatives who are urging GOP leaders to stand firm on both the unemployment issue and other “inequality” wedge issues are right. Endless extensions of benefits as well as hiking the federal minimum wage are both economic snake oil. As I wrote last month, such a measure is good for neither the nation’s fiscal health nor, as many serious economists have pointed out, for the long-term prospects of the unemployed since it irresponsibly produces two grim results: it discourages searches for work and transforms what was designed as a stopgap measure into something that is well on its way to becoming a permanent unfunded entitlement. But it is also true that opposing anything that can be portrayed as helping the unemployed is a certain political loser. The more Republicans take the Democrats’ bait and engage in debates about these issues, the more they are merely helping their opponents change the subject from the growing costs and dysfunction of ObamaCare as well as the fact that this administration is a lot better at politics than it is at governing.

But, as even the New York Times’s analysis of this argument noted, although Schumer claimed yesterday on ABC’s This Week that these inequality wedge issues would come back to haunt Republicans in theoretical swing seats in the midterms this coming November, there’s no evidence whatsoever that any of this will have a discernible impact on the results.

More importantly, Obama’s and Reid’s grandstanding on the unemployment issue highlights yet again the major difference between the current Democratic team and Bill Clinton’s far more successful presidency. Clinton was able to beat up Republicans on issues like this almost at will. But at the same time, his keen political instincts and natural governing ability enabled him to cut deals with his GOP opponents to get things done. This is exactly the kind of moment when Clinton would have compromised with his House Republican rivals in order to get something like an unemployment benefits extension and then taken all the credit for it even though the other side would have done as much if not more to make the deal. By contrast, though Obama may score a few points at the Republicans’ expense by refusing to move in their direction, it won’t change a wretched political narrative that is likely to be far more influenced by the more far-reaching impact of the rising costs of health care and insurance over the course of the year.

By acting in this manner, Obama and the Democrats are doing more than failing to achieve their stated objectives; they are also effectively sacrificing the unemployed as expendable pawns in a losing game of political chess. Like the vast population of middle class, younger voters, as well as the elderly all of whom stand to lose as ObamaCare continues its downward spiral, it’s unlikely that the unemployed will thank the Democrats for serving as cannon fodder in their war with the GOP. Taken as a whole, this strategy may turn out to be an even bigger political loser than a Republican decision to stick to conservative principles and to refuse to budge on unemployment or the minimum wage.

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New Hampshire Won’t Be Easy for Brown

After months of speculation, it looks like Scott Brown is finally pulling up stakes and moving to New Hampshire. Once the former senator announced that he would forgo a run for governor of Massachusetts, the smart money has been on Brown leaving the Bay State and heading north. With Senator Jeanne Shaheen up for reelection in 2014, the prospect of Brown unseating the Democratic incumbent has Republican fundraisers salivating. But before he can take on Shaheen, Brown has a very important obstacle to overcome: a conservative-leaning Republican Party in the Granite State that may not be as enthusiastic about the GOP star as his fans in Washington.

Not even high popularity ratings were enough to reelect Brown last year after he shot to fame in 2011 by winning a special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Deep-blue Massachusetts may have a soft spot for moderate Republicans like Brown and men like Mitt Romney and William Weld, who have won the governorship. But Brown’s decisive defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Warren last year made it clear that a change of address was the only way he was going back to the Senate. But now that a New Hampshire Senate campaign is becoming more likely, Brown and his many fans in the GOP are coming to grips with the same problem faced by Romney once he left liberal Massachusetts and sought the approval of Republicans elsewhere. New Hampshire may be part of the Boston television market and most of its citizens may root for the Red Sox, but its Republican Party is a lot more conservative than the one in Massachusetts. That means the pro-choice and anti-gun candidate who had cross-party appeal in Massachusetts must now convince Republicans who view such stands with disgust that he speaks for them.

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After months of speculation, it looks like Scott Brown is finally pulling up stakes and moving to New Hampshire. Once the former senator announced that he would forgo a run for governor of Massachusetts, the smart money has been on Brown leaving the Bay State and heading north. With Senator Jeanne Shaheen up for reelection in 2014, the prospect of Brown unseating the Democratic incumbent has Republican fundraisers salivating. But before he can take on Shaheen, Brown has a very important obstacle to overcome: a conservative-leaning Republican Party in the Granite State that may not be as enthusiastic about the GOP star as his fans in Washington.

Not even high popularity ratings were enough to reelect Brown last year after he shot to fame in 2011 by winning a special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Deep-blue Massachusetts may have a soft spot for moderate Republicans like Brown and men like Mitt Romney and William Weld, who have won the governorship. But Brown’s decisive defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Warren last year made it clear that a change of address was the only way he was going back to the Senate. But now that a New Hampshire Senate campaign is becoming more likely, Brown and his many fans in the GOP are coming to grips with the same problem faced by Romney once he left liberal Massachusetts and sought the approval of Republicans elsewhere. New Hampshire may be part of the Boston television market and most of its citizens may root for the Red Sox, but its Republican Party is a lot more conservative than the one in Massachusetts. That means the pro-choice and anti-gun candidate who had cross-party appeal in Massachusetts must now convince Republicans who view such stands with disgust that he speaks for them.

Brown’s dilemma is the same as many other Republicans who have come to grief in primaries in the last few years, as grass roots conservatives and Tea Party activists have mobilized in support of more conservative Senate candidates. Seemingly sure Republican wins turned into agonizing losses in Delaware and Nevada in 2010 as Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle knocked off more electable candidates in primaries. That wasn’t a factor in Brown’s 2011 and 2012 campaigns for the Senate but in New Hampshire, a state where Republicans have traditionally taken their cues from the conservative editorial page of the Manchester-based Union Leader, Brown seems more like a dread example of a mainstream moderate than the ObamaCare-bashing Tea Party favorite that he was in Massachusetts. His stands on abortion and guns could prove to be a serious impediment to gaining Republican support in New Hampshire.

Of course, those issues aren’t the only problems Brown faces. Owning a vacation home in New Hampshire for many years won’t be enough to convince some voters that he isn’t a carpetbagger driven to their state only by political opportunism. Moreover, as some political pundits have noted, Brown’s move has been more of a whim than a long-term plan. Earlier this year he was flirting with a presidential candidacy by hanging out in Iowa. And so far his campaign in New Hampshire is more a matter of celebrity freelancing than an effort being driven by a clearly thought-out strategic plan.

But that said, Brown’s celebrity as well as his charisma make him a clear favorite in any GOP primary. Former Senator Bob Smith, who has been toying with a return to New Hampshire, wouldn’t present a viable alternative and the other possibilities are unknowns. But conservative unknowns have a way of knocking off GOP celebrities who are moderates. Especially moderates who deviate from consensus conservative positions like abortion and guns. He should also realize that while ObamaCare may make Shaheen vulnerable, she is no Martha Coakley. Even if he wins his party’s nomination, he’ll have the fight of his life on his hands to unseat her.

New Hampshire seems like the solution to Brown’s political problems, but winning a Senate seat there will be a lot harder than just changing the address on his driver’s license.

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Impeachment Talk Is Shutdown Rerun

Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

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Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

That conservatives would head down the same troublesome road so soon after the political disaster of the shutdown is an indication that some on the right simply aren’t thinking straight about their struggle against Obama’s liberal agenda. We were told by Senator Ted Cruz and others that any tactic, even contemplating a shutdown or a default, was worth it because if ObamaCare was implemented it would mean the end of liberty. Two months later that kind of rhetoric looks pretty silly, not just because it was over the top but because they were wrong about ObamaCare. Far from it being untouchable, the fiasco of the bill’s rollout has made it entirely possible to imagine its collapse, if not its eventual repeal. Lacking confidence in the system and the ability of Republicans to go on fighting for their principles, some conservatives considered a kamikaze charge over the cliff as the only honorable response to the fact that a Democratic Senate and a reelected Democratic president would not repeal or delay ObamaCare.

So, too, does McCarthy seem to argue that impeachment is the only way to stop Obama from transgressing legal norms in implementing the health-care bill or enforcing immigration laws. His reaction to the frustrations of working within the system is to try and build support for the most extreme remedy afforded by the Constitution.

But, just like the meltdown, this is not only a misreading of the political mood of the nation but bad political advice for an opposition that has gained back crucial ground in the weeks since the shutdown ended and the public’s attention has shifted from GOP foolishness to Obama’s follies.

McCarthy makes some strong arguments about the legitimacy of impeachment as a response to political misdeeds by a president, especially when he quotes Alexander Hamilton’s definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as abuses of the “public trust,” violations of a “political” nature in the sense that “they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” But impeachment is not an appropriate answer to political disagreements, even if they involve the way laws are enforced. I agree with McCarthy the president is wrong to attempt to selectively enforce provisions of laws. Yet most Americans rightly see impeachment as an abandonment of democratic politics. They believe an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election held just last year via impeachment in the absence of genuine crimes is a political trick and will make those who try it pay a high price.

Is accepting this widespread view an act of weakness by a feckless GOP establishment, as McCarthy seems to indicate? To the contrary, it is an act of maturity to understand that, as with the shutdown, transgressing political norms in this manner is viewed by most Americans as far worse than anything Obama might be doing. Criminalizing political differences, something Democrats have often resorted to when Republicans are in power, isn’t just a political mistake. It undermines the very system conservatives are seeking to preserve. 

As bitter as it may be for Republicans to accept, the proper remedy to Obama’s policies is to win the next midterm elections and then the presidency in 2016 if they can. As the last few weeks have shown, those preaching that extreme remedies are required to avert the imminent demise of our liberties have lost faith in our system as well as in the power of conservative ideas to win back the majority of Americans.

Talk of impeachment, like the shutdown, is a gift to the president and the Democrats since it illustrates a lack of seriousness on the part of some Republicans. If any of them go down this road, they will be doing conservatism a great disservice and helping, as the shutdown briefly did, the president keep his head above water in an otherwise disastrous second term.

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Democrats Want to Win. Does the GOP?

In the classic Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film State of the Union one of the characters, a veteran Republican politician played by Adolf Menjou, defined the difference between the country’s two major parties thusly, “They’re in and we’re out.” That cynical view summed up the way party hacks viewed the electoral process. The only goal was to win; ideology, principle and policies were secondary considerations at best. American politics has come a long way since the era of bosses and smoke-filled rooms that were essential to that story, loosely based on the rise of 1940 GOP presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Pundits routinely tell us that we now live in an era when pure partisanship disconnected from ideology is on the wane. The civil war that threatens to tear apart contemporary Republicans, as Tea Party activists seek to slay the dragon of the GOP “establishment,” is an example of just how different things are today.

But not, apparently, in the Democratic Party. As today’s Politico story about Kentucky Democrats plotting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell illustrates, some of the most liberal groups and donors in the country are putting aside any scruples about their most closely held principles in pursuit of winning nothing more than an election. As they have in more instances than you can count in the last decade, liberals are playing by the old rules of politics while their opponents are doing something entirely different. While they are opening themselves up for criticism from their base, it appears that a party once known as the epitome of anarchy is focused on one thing and one thing only: holding onto Congress.

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In the classic Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film State of the Union one of the characters, a veteran Republican politician played by Adolf Menjou, defined the difference between the country’s two major parties thusly, “They’re in and we’re out.” That cynical view summed up the way party hacks viewed the electoral process. The only goal was to win; ideology, principle and policies were secondary considerations at best. American politics has come a long way since the era of bosses and smoke-filled rooms that were essential to that story, loosely based on the rise of 1940 GOP presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Pundits routinely tell us that we now live in an era when pure partisanship disconnected from ideology is on the wane. The civil war that threatens to tear apart contemporary Republicans, as Tea Party activists seek to slay the dragon of the GOP “establishment,” is an example of just how different things are today.

But not, apparently, in the Democratic Party. As today’s Politico story about Kentucky Democrats plotting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell illustrates, some of the most liberal groups and donors in the country are putting aside any scruples about their most closely held principles in pursuit of winning nothing more than an election. As they have in more instances than you can count in the last decade, liberals are playing by the old rules of politics while their opponents are doing something entirely different. While they are opening themselves up for criticism from their base, it appears that a party once known as the epitome of anarchy is focused on one thing and one thing only: holding onto Congress.

As Politico notes, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is no favorite of environmentalists. The Democrat’s likely candidate against McConnell is a supporter of the coal industry and a critic of the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate the fossil fuel industry out of existence. But that isn’t stopping leading “climate change activists” and Democratic donors from lining up to help her with their wallets open.

“It is far better to win the Senate than have every senator on the same page,” [Susie Tompkins] Buell said in an email after an October fundraiser she and her husband, Mark, held for Grimes at their California home. “We can’t always be idealistic. Practicality is the political reality.”

Adolf Menjou couldn’t have put it any better.

For decades, the Democratic Party was wracked by dissension as liberal ideologues sought to purge conservatives from their ranks. Their efforts were largely successful, as the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats have now left the Senate and the ranks of the Blue Dogs in the House have been thinned to a precious few. While Republicans were eliminating their liberal wing too, the left’s ascendency on one side of the aisle helped pave the way for the GOP revival that ended a half-century of unchallenged Democratic control of Congress. But when faced with a choice between winning an election and purifying their party of any remnants of centrism, liberals seemed to have learned their lesson. As they did in Pennsylvania when they backed a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat in Bob Casey in order to unseat Rick Santorum, liberal donors have their eye on the big prize and are resisting the impulse to nominate more ideologically compatible candidates in favor of someone who can help increase the size of the Democratic caucus in the Capitol.

This wouldn’t be important except for the fact that conservatives are heading in the opposite direction. Across the nation, Tea Partiers are more focused on ending the careers of Republicans that are insufficiently conservative than they are on defeating Democrats and say, making Harry Reid the minority leader rather than the man in charge of the majority. It’s hard not to sympathize with those who are tired of politics as usual and those who waffle rather than take strong stands on the issues. The choice between principle and winning is also not always so clear-cut, as some Tea Party challengers are good candidates and some establishment favorites are duds. But the main point here is that if one of the parties is only concerned with winning and much of their opposition is more interested in something else, you don’t need to be a master prognosticator to know which side is more likely to win.

In real life, politics is not a Frank Capra film where the honest good guys always triumph in the end. Assembling a congressional majority requires compromises and living with candidates that don’t always meet ideological litmus tests but give parties a better chance to win. It may be that in 2013, the answer to the question about the difference between the parties isn’t who’s out and who’s in but which one understands that basic fact of political life.

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Candidates, Not Process, Is the Key for GOP

A year ago, their defeat in the presidential election set off an understandable bout of introspection in many Republicans. This week’s defeat of GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race has set off another round of arguments about how the party can avoid the same fate in the future. However, some of the advice Republicans are getting is not likely to help them much. In particular, the recriminations about Cuccinelli’s campaign and the way he won his party’s nomination ignore the real problems of the GOP both in Virginia and elsewhere. One example of this is the New York Times’s front-page story today titled “GOP Weighs Limiting Clout of Right Wing.” The conceit of the story is that Cuccinelli’s winning the Republican nod for governor was primarily due to the party’s decision to choose its candidate via a convention rather than an open primary. Since conventions are, by definition, less representative of the general public, that allows “fringe” candidates (i.e. Tea Partiers) to emerge. Establishment figures that have been tearing down Cuccinelli all year are thus cited to blame all the GOP’s woes on such “fringe” characters and their supporters dragging it down to defeat.

To say that this is an oversimplification of the matter is an understatement. As I’ve written previously, Cuccinelli’s big problem wasn’t that he was an extremist. Nor was he foisted on an unwilling Republican party by a tiny band of outliers. If Republicans are to fix what is wrong with their party, it will not be by procedural tricks to ensure that Tea Partiers don’t get nominated. Rather, it will be because they recruit and run better candidates and more professional campaigns on issues that resonate with voters. Everything else is inside baseball and more about factional score settling than advancing the cause of conservatism.

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A year ago, their defeat in the presidential election set off an understandable bout of introspection in many Republicans. This week’s defeat of GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race has set off another round of arguments about how the party can avoid the same fate in the future. However, some of the advice Republicans are getting is not likely to help them much. In particular, the recriminations about Cuccinelli’s campaign and the way he won his party’s nomination ignore the real problems of the GOP both in Virginia and elsewhere. One example of this is the New York Times’s front-page story today titled “GOP Weighs Limiting Clout of Right Wing.” The conceit of the story is that Cuccinelli’s winning the Republican nod for governor was primarily due to the party’s decision to choose its candidate via a convention rather than an open primary. Since conventions are, by definition, less representative of the general public, that allows “fringe” candidates (i.e. Tea Partiers) to emerge. Establishment figures that have been tearing down Cuccinelli all year are thus cited to blame all the GOP’s woes on such “fringe” characters and their supporters dragging it down to defeat.

To say that this is an oversimplification of the matter is an understatement. As I’ve written previously, Cuccinelli’s big problem wasn’t that he was an extremist. Nor was he foisted on an unwilling Republican party by a tiny band of outliers. If Republicans are to fix what is wrong with their party, it will not be by procedural tricks to ensure that Tea Partiers don’t get nominated. Rather, it will be because they recruit and run better candidates and more professional campaigns on issues that resonate with voters. Everything else is inside baseball and more about factional score settling than advancing the cause of conservatism.

Let’s specify that those who complain about state parties relying on conventions rather than primaries are absolutely right. The idea of reviving the proverbial smoke-filled rooms where party bosses dickered and chose candidates without bothering to gain the consent of the rank and file, let alone the voters, is absurd. It is, in general, a way for small unrepresentative groups—such as Ron Paul’s libertarian foot soldiers—to gain control of party structures that they could not obtain if they were forced to win primaries.

However, the state convention method used to pick Cuccinelli is not to blame for the ultimate Democratic victory. There’s every reason to believe the state attorney general would have beaten Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling in a Republican primary, just as he did in the convention. The problem was that Bolling and his backers feared that he would lose a GOP primary so they sought to change the rules to turn such an election into an open vote in which independents and Democrats would also have a say in the Republican candidate rather than just members of the party. In response, Cuccinelli’s people reversed the decision and sought a convention that in addition to nominating him also gave him a genuine extremist as a running mate in the form of Minister E. W. Jackson, who did hurt the Republican campaign.

But the focus on process here is beside the point. As I wrote Tuesday night, had Cuccinelli’s Tea Party allies in Congress not shut down the government on October 1, that may have allowed the country more time to focus on the ObamaCare rollout disaster, a factor that might have allowed him to do better. But, Cuccinelli’s main problem in Virginia was the same faced by the more moderate Mitt Romney: the changing demographics in a state that has shifted from red to purple, if not blue, in the last generation.

Moreover, the narrative that the Tea Party is destroying the Republicans is a flimsy structure by which to explain everything that happens throughout the country. Not all Tea Partiers are bad electoral bets. In Utah, where Mike Lee upset incumbent Republican Bob Bennett in a 2012 state convention, that move had no impact on the GOP’s ability to hold a safe seat in a deep-red state. The same is true of Ted Cruz’s Texas primary victory in 2012 over a slightly less conservative Republican. The most flagrant instances where terrible Tea Party candidates have cost the GOP Senate seats—Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware—happened when both won primaries over more electable Republicans.

Instead of grousing about conventions, Republicans need to focus on recruiting able people to run for office in the future. What Republicans need is the same thing that Democrats want: good candidates. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and political hues. Smart, able people will always be able to beat fringe figures if properly vetted and backed with money and organization. Any diversion from that simple truth will only lead the Republicans back to the same circular firing squad that they seem to trot out every time they lose an election. 

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Can ObamaCare Fiasco Save the GOP?

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. In the wake of a disastrous decision to let Tea Party stalwarts muscle them into agreeing to a government shutdown, the Republican Party looked lost. Polls showed them bleeding support at levels that could conceivably hurt their hold on the House of Representatives next year as well as killing any hope they could take back control of the Senate. In doing so, it appeared as if this turn of events had saved the Obama administration from slipping into lame-duck status and irrelevancy. Democrats had good reason to crow about this and milked the general disgust about the shutdown as much as they could. But once the dust settled from that fiasco, it allowed both the media and the public to focus on what should have been the top story since October 1 but which had been obscured by the attention devoted to the shutdown: the farcical rollout of ObamaCare.

With each passing day since the president’s signature health-care legislation was launched it’s now obvious that the administration has lost control of the story. At first it was just a matter of a dysfunctional website. Then it became one in which the incompetence of the Department of Heath and Human Services was compounded by the arrogance of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the denials of the White House. But once it became apparent that President Obama had been lying for the last three years when he repeatedly promised that Americans would be able to keep their insurance if they liked it rather than being forced onto the ObamaCare exchanges, a tipping point was reached. That more details are leaking out every day that reinforces the negative impression of ObamaCare is adding to the administration’s problems.

So it’s little surprise that the New York Times led its front-page with a story about how Democrats are “feeling anxious” about the future tied to the ObamaCare boondoggle. While some in the party are claiming, as Senator Chuck Schumer did, that the anger at the Tea Party over the shutdown will be more of a “long-term” liability for the GOP, most Democrats know better. The ObamaCare disaster not only changed the political narrative that worked so well for them. It goes straight to the heart of an underlying liberal weakness: the belief that big government is not only incompetent but also a threat to the wellbeing and the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.

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What a difference a couple of weeks can make. In the wake of a disastrous decision to let Tea Party stalwarts muscle them into agreeing to a government shutdown, the Republican Party looked lost. Polls showed them bleeding support at levels that could conceivably hurt their hold on the House of Representatives next year as well as killing any hope they could take back control of the Senate. In doing so, it appeared as if this turn of events had saved the Obama administration from slipping into lame-duck status and irrelevancy. Democrats had good reason to crow about this and milked the general disgust about the shutdown as much as they could. But once the dust settled from that fiasco, it allowed both the media and the public to focus on what should have been the top story since October 1 but which had been obscured by the attention devoted to the shutdown: the farcical rollout of ObamaCare.

With each passing day since the president’s signature health-care legislation was launched it’s now obvious that the administration has lost control of the story. At first it was just a matter of a dysfunctional website. Then it became one in which the incompetence of the Department of Heath and Human Services was compounded by the arrogance of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the denials of the White House. But once it became apparent that President Obama had been lying for the last three years when he repeatedly promised that Americans would be able to keep their insurance if they liked it rather than being forced onto the ObamaCare exchanges, a tipping point was reached. That more details are leaking out every day that reinforces the negative impression of ObamaCare is adding to the administration’s problems.

So it’s little surprise that the New York Times led its front-page with a story about how Democrats are “feeling anxious” about the future tied to the ObamaCare boondoggle. While some in the party are claiming, as Senator Chuck Schumer did, that the anger at the Tea Party over the shutdown will be more of a “long-term” liability for the GOP, most Democrats know better. The ObamaCare disaster not only changed the political narrative that worked so well for them. It goes straight to the heart of an underlying liberal weakness: the belief that big government is not only incompetent but also a threat to the wellbeing and the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.

After a week spent dealing with Sebelius saying “whatever” to a question at a congressional hearing on the website disaster and a tortured denial and explanation from the White House about the fact that millions are losing their coverage in spite of the promises and guarantees from the president and other Democrats, the White House hoped they had hit bottom. But in the last day, we’ve gotten the first hard figures about ObamaCare enrollment that is subjecting the president to more derision as we now know that only six people in the entire country were able to enroll via the dysfunctional website on its first day and only a hundred or so the day after. Even worse, it now appears that some of the country’s top hospitals are opting out of ObamaCare. That means those forced into the exchanges won’t have access to some of the best medical institutions.

All this has created a political momentum shift that is startling in the swiftness with which it has undone the advantage the Democrats had recently enjoyed. In particular, the Virginia governor’s race, in which Democrat Terry McAuliffe seemed to have received a major boost from the shutdown fallout, has lost ground in the last week. While a week ago he looked to be pulling away with margins in some polls that were as high as 12 to 17 points, the focus on ObamaCare has pulled him back into single digits. While Democrats will focus on the polls that still show him leading by seven points, one is now measuring his advantage at only two points over Ken Cuccinelli. Though a last-minute comeback for the GOP seems unlikely given the changes in Virginia’s demographics, the shift in the polls still shows how badly the attention devoted to ObamaCare has impacted the president’s party.

This doesn’t mean the Republicans’ problems have gone away completely. The schism between Tea Party zealots and more mainstream Republicans still has the capacity to hurt the party badly. But what has happened with ObamaCare is not a two-week story. The more the public learns about its details and its impact on individuals and the economy, the less they are going to like it. Disingenuous explanations for the lies told while the White House was selling it are not going to help.

In order for the Tea Party theme to work for the Democrats, they are going to have to depend on a GOP civil war that will cripple the most electable Republicans. That could happen. But ObamaCare is a gift that will keep on giving for the GOP long after its website is made functional, assuming that ever happens.

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Make ObamaCare’s Failure the Story

Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

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Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

For the past few months, the main story in American politics was what seemed to be the obsessive determination on the part of Republicans to obstruct ObamaCare. Now, thanks to a website that demonstrated anew the incapacity of Democrats and the government they worship to run a complicated sector of the economy, the GOP is getting a second chance to show the country what they were up in arms about. But if the confrontation with Sebelius turns into a circus that will allow the media to claim the Republicans are playing games, it will allow the architects of this disaster to slither out of peril.

The best indicator of the administration’s vulnerability is that for the first time it looks like Democrats may be abandoning the president’s sinking ship. Whereas congressional Democrats have heretofore loyally stuck with the health-care legislation in the past, the fact that ten Senate Democrats signed onto New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s letter calling for a delay in the deadline for open enrollment demonstrates that we may be almost at the tipping point for this issue. While we can expect many congressional Democrats to stick to their “fix it, don’t nix it” mantra, the GOP has to leave some room for some fair-minded members of Obama’s party to chime in on the outrage over incompetence and possible corruption. But if Republicans flub their bout with Sebelius, that chance may be wasted.

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

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Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

Just a year and a half ago Santorum was leading the opposition to the establishment in the Republican presidential primaries. Though he failed to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut, the long-shot candidate won Iowa and several other primaries and caucuses on his way to being the runner-up in the GOP race. Santorum clearly hopes to try again in 2016 and that explains, at least in part, his willingness to criticize a potential opponent like Cruz.

But in doing so, he illustrated that there are more than just two factions within the GOP. Cruz may be the leading spokesman for the Tea Party critique of Washington Republicans’ inability to defeat ObamaCare and the rest of the liberal project. But Santorum’s ability to tap into working-class resentments of a party that seems at times to be dominated by big business as well as his ability to speak for social conservatives should remind us that there are elements in the party outside of Capitol Hill or K Street that are not solely motivated by Cruz’s concerns about small government.

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between Santorum’s core constituency and those who are attracted to Cruz. The same can also be said of many of the Republicans who supposedly fall into the category of establishment supporters because of their disdain for the shutdown strategy. Almost all Republicans these days want smaller government and oppose ObamaCare. But it needs to be understood that many of those who were appalled at the party’s embrace of a big-business establishment-type figure like Romney are not necessarily going to jump on Cruz’s bandwagon or accept his single-minded tactics that brand anyone who isn’t ready to follow him into every fight, no matter how quixotic, as a closet liberal.

Santorum’s dogged social conservatism seems the antithesis of the belief of a RINO, but even he understood that the gap between what he conceded was Cruz’s “laudable” goal of eliminating ObamaCare and a coherent plan to accomplish it was huge.

Moreover, Santorum reminded Republicans that the notion that Cruz is the face of the Republican Party today is laughable.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which has the president, there isn’t a leader in the Republican Party right now. That’s part of the reason for the mess and the confusion in the party. But that’s always the way it is with a party out of power. You have lots of different faces and those faces, as we’ve seen, they come and they go.

Santorum is hoping that his time as a leading Republican isn’t in the past tense, but we won’t know that for sure until we see whether his brand of religious conservatism can hold its own against that of Cruz, Rand Paul, or even Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But while the latter may be the stand-in for Romney for GOP voters, the others will be battling each other for a share of the conservative vote.

The point here is not that Santorum or any of the other potential candidates can beat Cruz. Rather, the point to be gleaned from this exchange is that for all of Cruz’s recent notoriety, he is just one man in a party full of potential presidents with a variety of conservative constituencies rather than a mere standoff between Cruz’s rebels and the establishment. Those who think the only real story about the Republicans in the coming years is whether Cruz will lead a successful purge of all who opposed him are missing that.

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Can John McCain Win a GOP Primary?

The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

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The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

It should be recalled that the last time he faced the voters, McCain had to tack considerably to the right in order to win another term. After long being identified as a supporter of immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, McCain sang a slightly different tune in 2010, memorably demanding that the government build a wall along the border with Mexico. The shift, combined with a weaker than expected challenge from former congressman and talk show host J.D. Hayworth, worked nicely and the veteran senator won his primary in a walk and coasted to victory in the general election. But it isn’t likely that he can play the same game again or that he would even want to.

After antagonizing right-wingers by being the leading Republican sponsor of the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate (though it will die in the House), McCain’s open contempt for Rand Paul’s filibuster about drone attacks, and his even greater disdain for those like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who urged Republicans to threaten a government shutdown to de-fund ObamaCare, his relations with the Tea Party can best be described as open warfare.

With the core of the party tilting further to the right there are those who assume there’s no way that McCain could survive a primary. After having antagonized conservatives on issues like campaign finance reform for decades, the dispute over the shutdown may be the final straw. Should a credible conservative, or at least one more credible than the likes of Hayworth, emerge against him, McCain will be in for the political fight of his life. Given his penchant for reaching across the aisle and an internationalist attitude on foreign policy that seems out of touch with many on the right these days, McCain is now routinely described by even as normally sober a politician as Liz Cheney as a “liberal Republican.” Though the label is more than a bit unfair, it means he will have a hard time winning a primary in such a conservative state.

That said, those who are inclined to write McCain’s reelection off as a lost cause should understand that the rules have always been slightly different for McCain. As a bona fide legendary war hero, McCain’s career has always been based as much on biography as it has a willingness to stick to conservative positions. Five years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War earned McCain a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card as far as many Republicans have been concerned.

It should also be said that branding McCain as “liberal” is a bit of a misnomer. On most issues of concern to conservatives, McCain is with the base of his party. Indeed, the desire of many on the right to exact revenge on him over the perception that he betrayed them on the shutdown is undermined by the fact that, as he said this week, he fought the adoption of the president’s health-care program tooth and nail before Cruz and Lee were even elected to the Senate.

Though there are issues on which he has disagreed with many Republicans, his image as a moderate is based as much on his negative views of Cruz and company and a desire to work with Democrats as much as possible. As such, no shift to the right on any issue such as immigration will win over his conservative critics the way it did in 2010. If he is to win another term, it will have to be by proving that a centrist, or what passes for one in the GOP these days, can still win a primary in a red state. That’s the sort of a challenge the always-combative McCain may relish. Indeed, given the fact that he has talked about retirement, a desire to smack down the Tea Partiers might be the only reason he is thinking about running again. But it flies in the face of everything we know about the changing face of the base of the Republican Party. While it is always a mistake to underestimate the Navy veteran turned Washington institution, the odds against him sitting in the Senate in 2017 are very long.

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