Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican Party

Why Republicans Are Sniping at Cruz

Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

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Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

If Cruz were proposing to his fellow Republicans a strategy that had a prayer of accomplishing the goal of stopping ObamaCare or in any way discomfiting their Democratic antagonists, their resentment of his lack of concern for their sensibilities would be laughable. The Senate is always in need of a few members who don’t fear to step on their colleagues’ toes and Cruz’s disdain for the clubby nature of the institution is laudable. Indeed, it is exactly why Texans sent him to the Senate instead of some other Republican willing to become a member of the D.C. establishment.

But the problem is that there is no discernible endgame to his demand to refuse to fund the government if it means allowing ObamaCare to go forward that would give the GOP a chance of success. ObamaCare should be stopped, but so long as the White House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats, that won’t happen. Republicans can’t make up for their failure to win the 2012 elections by a filibuster. The person who is really cheering for the GOP to be led by Cruz is President Obama. He knows that a government shutdown is the one way to save his presidency and doom the Republicans to defeat in 2014. A GOP-controlled Congress would have the leverage to start chipping away at the way the president’s signature health-care legislation erodes our liberties and expands the power of the government. But if Republicans listen to Cruz and make a Custer’s Last Stand on the issue now, they will lose that chance.

Moreover, the way Cruz has hogged the spotlight while denouncing everyone who doesn’t drink the suicide caucus’s Kool-Aid lends credence to the idea that what he is really about is making himself look good at the expense of more sensible conservatives. Playing the righteous prophet now might help bolster Cruz’s possible presidential candidacy in 2016 but it does nothing to really stop ObamaCare or to help the GOP take back the Senate.

Seen in that light, the desire of some Republicans to see Cruz taken down a notch or two must be seen as not only an act of spite but one aimed at averting their party’s destruction.

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ObamaCare Exemption Is GOP Landmine

Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

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Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

Much of the discussion about the Vitter amendment has focused on the personal attacks launched by Democrats against the Louisiana senator. In an effort to humiliate Vitter and/or to blackmail him into dropping his objections to the exemption, the Senate majority is considering including its own amendment to the bill preventing any member who is suspected of soliciting prostitutes from getting a subsidy. Since Vitter’s disgraceful role in the “D.C. Madam” scandal makes him the only senator that we know of that fits into that category, there is no doubt of its purpose. The public already holds Congress in low repute, but this sort of thing can only make things worse.

Vitter has largely escaped any accountability for his involvement in the scandal (and thanks to Louisiana’s ethically challenged political culture was reelected in 2010), but the use of his past against him in this manner is more of an ethical violation than his misdeeds. Though it’s hard to believe that the Senate would actually pass legislation that would be the moral equivalent of a bill of attainder, the willingness to play hardball with Vitter shows just how determined many in Congress are to keep their sweet health-care deals even as the rest of the country is forced into ObamaCare.

But as dangerous as such a double standard would be for the entire institution, it would be doubly so for Republicans, especially those facing reelection next year. Whatever anyone thinks of Vitter as an individual, he is dead right about opposing the exemption. He’s also right that the law should be extended to requiring White House officials and other federal political appointees to be forced into the exchanges along with the rest of the hoi polloi.

Should he fail and the exemption is preserved and if Republicans had a hand in such a crooked, self-interested deal, you can bet that everyone that supports it will face a primary opponent that will use such a vote as a cudgel to beat them.

While many Republicans rightly fear the consequences of such a bloodletting that might lead to the defeat of many GOP members and candidates who are far more electable than their Tea Party opponents, this is the sort of issue that will not go away or be explained.

Those who say that forcing Congress into ObamaCare will cost the institution many skilled and experienced staffers are right. That would be a shame. Any further financial hardships imposed on them and on members, most of whom labor under the burden of having to maintain two households on an inadequate salary (even though it is more than most voters make) would also be unfortunate. But like state legislatures that raise their pay on the assumption that the public understands that the measure is reasonable, Republicans who preserve the ObamaCare exemption will learn that there are some sins that the public just doesn’t forgive.

Instead of joining efforts to sandbag Vitter, GOP members need to stand with him. If they don’t, they will live to regret it.

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The South Carolina Test Case

South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

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South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

As the New York Times reports today, the GOP field for 2014 in South Carolina is already crowded. Though Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, would seem to be the perfect alternative to Graham, she is beset by her own problems relating to her connection with a political gossip website that gained notoriety in 2010 when it was part of an attack on Governor Nikki Haley. Neither of the other two, State Senator Lee Bright and Richard Cash, seems to have much on the ball, though it’s far too early to judge them.

But so long as Graham can find safety in numbers on the primary ballot, he may well be able to avoid the fate of other Republicans like Richard Lugar who were perceived as Washington institutions that lost touch with the sentiments of their local party.

That’s an interesting development in a year when we’re supposed to think that the GOP is trending so far to the right that anyone who can be accused of choosing realistic opposition to the Obama administration, rather than to join in the rush to take the party over the cliff, is supposed to be marked for extinction.

That said, Graham is far from safe. South Carolina is also the home state of former Senate colleague and current Heritage Foundation chief Jim DeMint, who has taken to promoting the idea that any Republican that won’t vote to defund the government over ObamaCare should be replaced. Should immigration reform and his internationalist stands become even more radioactive on the right than they are now, it will heighten his difficulties. Moreover, if a viable challenger like Mace emerges from the field, then Graham may be in more trouble than he seems to be in now.

However, a Graham victory in a South Carolina GOP primary, no matter what the circumstances, will be rightly seen as a sign that Republicans are not quite as far gone as the liberal mainstream media hopes them to be.

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McAuliffe’s Lead Should Worry GOP

Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

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Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

In a more GOP-friendly environment, McDonnell’s problems (which have put an end to any talk about him having a political future) might not be dragging Cuccinelli down. Nor would the attempts of the liberal mainstream media to tar the Republican candidate as an extremist be working quite as well if Republicans could still count on the more conservative southern and western parts of the state being able to turn out votes that could overwhelm the margins Democrats racked up in the northern districts close to Washington. But, as the last two presidential contests showed, that is no longer the case.

The Republicans may be working on the assumption that the off-year turnout for the Democrats in 2013 will resemble that of 2009 when McDonnell won rather than 2012 when large numbers of minority and young voters helped Obama hold Virginia. But the ability of a flawed and not terribly popular Democrat to stay ahead of Cuccinelli speaks not only to the Republicans’ problems but also to the fact that the state has to be seen as tilting to the left.

All politics is local, but if these numbers hold up in November, this is a very bad sign for the GOP. The conventional wisdom is that the national turnout in the 2014 midterms will be drastically down from that of 2012 and look more like the 2010 numbers when the Tea Party revolution helped generate a Republican landslide that took back the House of Representatives. That may well be the case, but the Virginia governor’s race could show that Democrats have the ability to turn out their voters in sufficient numbers to hold onto battleground states even in off-year elections.

Coming as it always does the year after the presidential election, the Virginia race is often seen as a bellwether. That will be even more the case this year since the only significant election this November—the New Jersey’s governor’s race—is a foregone conclusion with Chris Christie coasting to an easy win.

Despite the predictions of doom from the liberal press about the future of the Republican Party, 2014 looks to be a golden opportunity for the GOP to win back the Senate and set themselves up nicely for 2016. But Virginia presents an ominous indication that talk of changing demographics with larger numbers of minority voters is not merely liberal hype. Conservatives who believe their party shouldn’t worry about trying to attract Hispanics or blacks or independents need to look closely at Virginia this year and see that their assumptions about turnout may wind up being as misleading as they were last year when Romney lost. Complacence about changing demographics is a luxury Republicans can’t afford.

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Note to Media: GOP Isn’t Doomed

There was a clear disconnect this weekend between those attending the meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston and the mainstream media. While, by all accounts, the RNC was upbeat and fully behind Chairman Reince Preibus’s attempts to push back at the party’s liberal tormentors by threatening to boycott networks that produced puff pieces on Hillary Clinton, most of the commentary about the gathering focused on the idea that the GOP was hopelessly divided and drifting farther to the right. The best example of this genre was the piece published in Politico on Friday under the almost farcically biased headline “Eve of Destruction.”

The article claimed that every “establishment Republican” in Washington was convinced the party was in hopeless shape and that it was, if anything, in even worse condition than it had been the day after President Obama defeated Mitt Romney. With blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, and swing voters completely alienated and every effort to drag the party toward a realistic position on major issues thwarted, Republicans have, Politico seemed to argue, already lost the 2016 presidential election. If all this is true, you have to wonder why the RNC even bothered to meet.

But while the GOP definitely has its challenges, the exaggerated reports of its demise should be taken with a shovelful of salt. Far from being dead in the water, the fact that Republicans are debating key issues is a sign of health, not a terminal illness. With help from their cheering section in the media, Democrats may have gotten a leg up on characterizing Republicans as a band of extremists. But Obama’s party should be worrying more about the way the problems of the ObamaCare rollout and a steady diet of domestic scandals and foreign-policy disasters could sink them rather than chortling about the GOP’s problems. Liberals may hope that extremists will be dictating the Republican agenda in the next three years, but the party’s prospects in both 2014 and 2016 are actually quite bright.

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There was a clear disconnect this weekend between those attending the meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston and the mainstream media. While, by all accounts, the RNC was upbeat and fully behind Chairman Reince Preibus’s attempts to push back at the party’s liberal tormentors by threatening to boycott networks that produced puff pieces on Hillary Clinton, most of the commentary about the gathering focused on the idea that the GOP was hopelessly divided and drifting farther to the right. The best example of this genre was the piece published in Politico on Friday under the almost farcically biased headline “Eve of Destruction.”

The article claimed that every “establishment Republican” in Washington was convinced the party was in hopeless shape and that it was, if anything, in even worse condition than it had been the day after President Obama defeated Mitt Romney. With blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, and swing voters completely alienated and every effort to drag the party toward a realistic position on major issues thwarted, Republicans have, Politico seemed to argue, already lost the 2016 presidential election. If all this is true, you have to wonder why the RNC even bothered to meet.

But while the GOP definitely has its challenges, the exaggerated reports of its demise should be taken with a shovelful of salt. Far from being dead in the water, the fact that Republicans are debating key issues is a sign of health, not a terminal illness. With help from their cheering section in the media, Democrats may have gotten a leg up on characterizing Republicans as a band of extremists. But Obama’s party should be worrying more about the way the problems of the ObamaCare rollout and a steady diet of domestic scandals and foreign-policy disasters could sink them rather than chortling about the GOP’s problems. Liberals may hope that extremists will be dictating the Republican agenda in the next three years, but the party’s prospects in both 2014 and 2016 are actually quite bright.

Let’s acknowledge that the battle over immigration reform and the talk by some Republicans of risking another government shutdown present Democrats with a clear opportunity. Should opponents of any effort to fix a broken immigration system succeed in thwarting efforts to pass a legislative package on the issue, it will be a gift to the Democrats and one they will have little trouble in capitalizing upon. A government shutdown, even to stop the funding of a deeply unpopular and clearly unmanageable scheme like ObamaCare, will also play into the president’s hands.

But these threats are a function of a debate going on in the GOP as it copes with the inevitable problems that always pop up when a party doesn’t control the White House. Unlike the Democrats, who are as divided on many issues as the Republicans, the GOP lacks a clear leader and a party infrastructure that is oriented toward the goal of furthering that leader’s agenda. As with any opposition party, Republicans are at the mercy of the factions that are competing for pre-eminence, with libertarians who like Rand Paul’s vision of government bumping heads with so-called establishment types.

But the media’s picture of a party held captive by extremists on abortion and obstructionists who wish to destroy the federal government is misleading. What the doomsayers fail to understand is that with a weak economy and the albatross of ObamaCare, Democrats are carrying far heavier burdens into upcoming elections than their rivals. Even if we ignore 2014, which even Politico suggested is likely to be a highly successful year for Republicans as they have an even chance to win back the Senate, the notion that the upcoming presidential campaign will be a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton reflects mindless Democratic optimism.

First of all, the odds that Republicans will actually shut down the government this fall are slim. Though Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio may mean business, the vast majority of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate have little appetite for suicide. On immigration, the battle to get something passed in the House will be tough, but the ideal Democratic scenario of no bill in the lower chamber probably won’t be realized. The result probably won’t be satisfactory for reform advocates, but, as with the suicide caucus in the Senate on ObamaCare, many Republicans will be sufficiently turned off by anti-immigration extremists like Steve King to persuade them to get something through that can’t be represented as the shutout Democrats crave.

Nor will the Democrats be able to succeed as well as they did last year with another fake “war on women” as a result of abortion battles. Liberals would be well advised to avoid a national debate on late-term abortion. Most of those who favor legal abortion in the first trimester are opposed to a procedure that is closer to infanticide than “choice” after 20 weeks. This is an issue that is fought on conservative ground and Democrats would be foolish to engage in it.

Moreover, all the doomsayers about Republicans in 2016 are ignoring the GOP’s key asset and the Democrats’ greatest liability. Republicans have a strong lineup of possible candidates in the next cycle rather than the collection of marginal figures that dominated the field that Mitt Romney beat in 2012. In particular, successful GOP governors like Chris Christie and Scott Walker should scare Democrats.

Just as important, in 2016 Democrats will be without the main factor that won them the last two presidential elections: Barack Obama. Though the prospect of the first female president will be an edge for Clinton, she is the same politician who lost a race that was handed to her on a silver platter in 2008 and will carry the baggage from the last two Democratic administrations. Without Obama’s magical touch and ability to mobilize huge turnouts from their core constituencies, the playing field in 2016 will be considerably more level than it was in 2012.

Just as important is a factor that has garnered little attention: the erasing of the Democrats’ digital and technological edge. In 2012, Democrats had a far more sophisticated get-out-the-vote campaign while Republicans were hampered by a campaign machine that couldn’t compete and was highly inefficient. Priebus seems to have taken steps to correct this shortfall and it’s unlikely that Democrats will be able to count on that advantage again.

Republicans have their problems, and should extremist libertarians capture the party and government shutdown advocates win out, it won’t have much hope of winning a presidential election. But that is not something Democrats should be counting on. The GOP has work to do to win over swing voters in the next three years–but so do Democrats. If, as appears to be their preference, they rest on their laurels and count on ObamaCare to avoid damaging the economy, in January 2017 they will find themselves reading similar columns to the Politico piece about themselves.

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Has the GOP Surrendered to Obama?

It’s not exactly a secret that Senator Ted Cruz and his staff have gotten under the skin of many of his fellow Republicans. In the course of trying to rally more GOP senators to join his effort to stop ObamaCare by going to the brink with Democrats over funding the government, Cruz said most of his caucus was “scared” to challenge the president. He was probably right about that, since they think his proposal is a suicide mission. But the Texas senator’s aides have gone even further. As Politico reported, “Cruz’s chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the ‘surrender caucus.’ His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama.” But Cruz’s merry crew isn’t alone. Rush Limbaugh told Fox News yesterday that he thought the leadership of the Republican Party had “capitulated” to the Democrats and spent more time fighting the Tea Party than the president.

If this strikes objective observers as strange, it should. While Cruz and Limbaugh are speaking of the GOP leadership as a pack of quislings, the White House’s chief talking point for the past three years has been the accusation that the same group is a bunch of relentless partisans who have spared no effort in order to sabotage the president’s liberal agenda. Even if we concede that there is a fair amount of hyperbole in both points of view, there’s no question that the rebellion on the right represents a genuine threat to the party. With the GOP already split on immigration and national security issues such as the NSA metadata collection, the willingness of figures like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and even more significantly, Marco Rubio, to embrace a far more confrontational position than either House Speaker Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell creates the impression that this is growing into a serious problem for the party that could potentially impact its future ability to govern.

Those concerns are not without foundation, but those seeking to bury the GOP as hopelessly split are making a mistake. What’s going on this week may be troubling for Republicans, but it is as much a function of divided government as it is an ideological chasm between the so-called establishment and the firebrands. What the party of Lincoln is experiencing is nothing more than the usual headaches of the party whose opponents are in possession of the White House.

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It’s not exactly a secret that Senator Ted Cruz and his staff have gotten under the skin of many of his fellow Republicans. In the course of trying to rally more GOP senators to join his effort to stop ObamaCare by going to the brink with Democrats over funding the government, Cruz said most of his caucus was “scared” to challenge the president. He was probably right about that, since they think his proposal is a suicide mission. But the Texas senator’s aides have gone even further. As Politico reported, “Cruz’s chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the ‘surrender caucus.’ His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama.” But Cruz’s merry crew isn’t alone. Rush Limbaugh told Fox News yesterday that he thought the leadership of the Republican Party had “capitulated” to the Democrats and spent more time fighting the Tea Party than the president.

If this strikes objective observers as strange, it should. While Cruz and Limbaugh are speaking of the GOP leadership as a pack of quislings, the White House’s chief talking point for the past three years has been the accusation that the same group is a bunch of relentless partisans who have spared no effort in order to sabotage the president’s liberal agenda. Even if we concede that there is a fair amount of hyperbole in both points of view, there’s no question that the rebellion on the right represents a genuine threat to the party. With the GOP already split on immigration and national security issues such as the NSA metadata collection, the willingness of figures like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and even more significantly, Marco Rubio, to embrace a far more confrontational position than either House Speaker Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell creates the impression that this is growing into a serious problem for the party that could potentially impact its future ability to govern.

Those concerns are not without foundation, but those seeking to bury the GOP as hopelessly split are making a mistake. What’s going on this week may be troubling for Republicans, but it is as much a function of divided government as it is an ideological chasm between the so-called establishment and the firebrands. What the party of Lincoln is experiencing is nothing more than the usual headaches of the party whose opponents are in possession of the White House.

As much as the media is rightly covering Ted Cruz’s taunting campaign, it would be inaccurate to describe Republicans as being any more divided than are Democrats. On almost all of these issues, Democrats have their own splits, including some that are every bit as bitter as those that afflict the GOP. But the lack of interest in those arguments is not just a function of liberal media bias. It’s primarily due to the fact that, for better or worse, the Democratic Party has a single, preeminent leader while Republicans don’t. That’s what happens when you lose presidential elections.

The Republican problem is not a lack of courage. McConnell has done his best to harass the Democratic majority and the president. While Speaker Boehner can’t simply wage guerrilla warfare, he, too, has sought to thwart the White House’s agenda. But without a unified leadership (something that is only possible when you have a president and even then it is not a given) and single agenda, there will always be room for dissidents to accuse those in charge of not being tough enough.

As for the government shutdown, I agree with all of those, like our Pete Wehner, who say the strategy is a loser. Going to the brink won’t stop ObamaCare and claiming that those who understand this are chickens is juvenile. But what Cruz and Rush are tapping into is the frustration of the party faithful who wonder why the party’s leaders can’t just say no to Obama and shut the monster they hate down. In the absence of a sign that Republicans share this frustration, they look to create artificial and generally meaningless distinctions between a largely imaginary establishment and a cadre of true believers.

It would be far easier for Republicans to do as Cruz wishes if they didn’t control the House. Minorities can afford to be irresponsible and to vote their consciences without caring about its impact on the nation. While some in the grass roots really wouldn’t mind a government shutdown (neither would President Obama, who rightly thinks it would be a public-relations disaster for the GOP), what they really need is a sign their congressional leaders have an alternative and are willing to fall on their swords for the sake of principle. They want inspiration as much as they crave Democratic destruction.

Talk of Republicans surrendering to Obama is absurd. But instead of just getting mad at Cruz and fuming over Limbaugh’s statements, the Republican leaders need to be crafting a message to their own supporters that takes this frustration into account. Simply harrumphing at Cruz’s bumptiousness won’t address a problem that can, at best, be managed rather than solved until they win back the White House.

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Paul, Christie, and the Soul of the GOP

For a press corps that can’t wait to start covering the 2016 horse race, the exchanges this past week between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are a godsend. The back and forth between the two, which continued today, is unusual even for potential primary opponents since this is the sort of hatchet work left either to surrogates or the heat of battle during formal debates. But in this case it makes sense for both of them to be doing it and to start as early as possible for two reasons.

One is that these shots are not so much aimed at the target as to establish their bona fides as the leading proponent of their point of view. Paul is looking to ensure that he, and not Ted Cruz or any other potential dark horse, is the preeminent advocate of the libertarian position on foreign and defense policy. By the same token, Christie has stolen a march on Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan (both of whom also have mainstream pro-defense views and might be competing for the same donors) by taking on Paul. If the field is large in 2016, there will, in essence, be two Republican primaries in which each side of this divide will choose a candidate that will probably be the finalists for the GOP nomination.

But there is something else here at stake that explains why both think it worthwhile to start conducting this debate at least two years before even the preliminary period of the 2016 race begins. Though it appears to be a nasty quarrel between two arrogant and ambitious politicians who know the other is in his way, the harsh nature of the comments of the two directed at each other illustrate that what is going on here is nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

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For a press corps that can’t wait to start covering the 2016 horse race, the exchanges this past week between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are a godsend. The back and forth between the two, which continued today, is unusual even for potential primary opponents since this is the sort of hatchet work left either to surrogates or the heat of battle during formal debates. But in this case it makes sense for both of them to be doing it and to start as early as possible for two reasons.

One is that these shots are not so much aimed at the target as to establish their bona fides as the leading proponent of their point of view. Paul is looking to ensure that he, and not Ted Cruz or any other potential dark horse, is the preeminent advocate of the libertarian position on foreign and defense policy. By the same token, Christie has stolen a march on Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan (both of whom also have mainstream pro-defense views and might be competing for the same donors) by taking on Paul. If the field is large in 2016, there will, in essence, be two Republican primaries in which each side of this divide will choose a candidate that will probably be the finalists for the GOP nomination.

But there is something else here at stake that explains why both think it worthwhile to start conducting this debate at least two years before even the preliminary period of the 2016 race begins. Though it appears to be a nasty quarrel between two arrogant and ambitious politicians who know the other is in his way, the harsh nature of the comments of the two directed at each other illustrate that what is going on here is nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

To recap the hostilities, Christie kicked off the dustup by denouncing the way the Republican Party is drifting toward a libertarian approach to foreign policy that seems too willing to take the country back to a September 10th mentality and, when asked if that included Paul, he responded in the affirmative and said those politicians grandstanding on the issue should sit down with 9/11 victims’ families.

Paul shot back last night in vintage fashion by saying that Christie was tearing down the Republican Party and that it “was sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims” to carry on the dispute. He then went even further and said “If he cared about protecting this country, maybe he wouldn’t be in this give me, give me, give me all of the money that you have in Washington,” a clear reference to Christie’s tirade about the way some GOP conservatives held up Hurricane Sandy aid to the Northeast.

Christie fired back today by calling out Rand as complicit in the congressional pork system by pointing out that New Jersey gets only 60 cents back from Washington for every tax dollar it sends to the capital while Kentucky garners $1.50.

Clearly, as Christie observed, the argument has gotten personal between the two. In the context of the two virtual primaries that divide the Republican Party, it doesn’t do either man any harm to be perceived by his supporters as taking on the leader of the other side. Though we are literally years away from the first debates or votes cast in caucuses and primaries, the sooner any candidate establishes himself as the leading voice of one of the two main camps in the party, the better off he will be.

But the food fight aspect of these exchanges shouldn’t blind us to the deadly serious nature of this debate.

As last week’s House vote on the NSA metadata collection showed, a genuine schism on national defense is developing within the Republican Party. With nearly half of the GOP caucus prepared to embrace positions championed by Paul, Cruz, and Rep. Justin Amash in which the war on Islamist terrorism is essentially shelved, the GOP may be about to abandon its long-held position as a bastion of support for national defense and a forward American foreign policy that has carried them to victory in the past.

That this debate is being conducted largely on the basis of exaggerations and distortions of the truth makes it all the more frustrating for Republicans who see their party drifting toward a form of isolationism. As Walter Pincus pointed out in an op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post, Paul, Cruz, and Amash have been able to rally support for this so-called libertarian cause largely because they have helped confuse Americans into thinking the NSA is reading their emails and listening to their calls in violation of the Constitution. This isn’t true. What the NSA has done is not only constitutional and being conducted under the jurisdiction of the courts and with congressional oversight; it has also foiled numerous terrorist plots.

As I wrote last week, Christie’s decision to speak up on this issue in a pointed manner, especially when other potential GOP presidential contenders who share his views have been either distracted by other issues like Ryan or pointedly silent like Rubio, has already given him a leg up on them among mainstream Republicans and donors. Moreover, his ability to take a shot and then return it twofold in this manner shows that he will be a formidable primary opponent.

Paul may have thought his filibuster and the distrust of government that has been fed by Obama’s scandals and abuses of power would be enough to allow him to break through from his extremist libertarian base. If last week’s NSA vote is any indication, such a belief is not unfounded. But what Christie has done is shown that this conquest will not only not be unopposed but will generate fierce opposition from the party’s most articulate, popular and confrontational figure. That will not only encourage others who disagree with Paul to jump into the fray but begin the process of reaffirming the GOP as the party most associated with a strong national defense.

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Shutdown Would Be Crazy But Cruz Isn’t

The genius of Senator Ted Cruz’s push to have Republicans defund the implementation of ObamaCare is that even those members of his party who have denounced the idea as madness would probably like to do it. Cruz is saying Republican bigwigs who have rejected his effort are “scared.” He’s 100-percent right about that. They are scared out of their wits about the prospect of another confrontation with the Democrats in which they would be depicted as playing chicken with the health of the nation’s economy by taking a stand that, for all intents and purposes, would amount to a government shutdown if they didn’t get their way on spiking ObamaCare. But the question is whether they are right to be.

Cruz represents the issue here as one pitting career politicians (everybody who doesn’t agree with the junior senator from Texas) and those who have put principle above the desire to get along. If it were that simple, there would be no excuse for House Republicans not to pass a continuing resolution funding the entire government but excluding ObamaCare and for at least 41 Republican senators to line up to prevent any Democratic effort to pass a budget that included the president’s signature legislation. A last minute stand of this sort will only result in a standoff that will play right into Obama’s hands and do nothing to stop the implementation of the program. Indeed, it’s what the president has hoped Republicans would do in every fiscal impasse of the last two years. So what’s wrong with an attempt to rally the troops for a glorious last stand on the issue? The answer to that question tells us all we need to know about the divide in the Republican Party.

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The genius of Senator Ted Cruz’s push to have Republicans defund the implementation of ObamaCare is that even those members of his party who have denounced the idea as madness would probably like to do it. Cruz is saying Republican bigwigs who have rejected his effort are “scared.” He’s 100-percent right about that. They are scared out of their wits about the prospect of another confrontation with the Democrats in which they would be depicted as playing chicken with the health of the nation’s economy by taking a stand that, for all intents and purposes, would amount to a government shutdown if they didn’t get their way on spiking ObamaCare. But the question is whether they are right to be.

Cruz represents the issue here as one pitting career politicians (everybody who doesn’t agree with the junior senator from Texas) and those who have put principle above the desire to get along. If it were that simple, there would be no excuse for House Republicans not to pass a continuing resolution funding the entire government but excluding ObamaCare and for at least 41 Republican senators to line up to prevent any Democratic effort to pass a budget that included the president’s signature legislation. A last minute stand of this sort will only result in a standoff that will play right into Obama’s hands and do nothing to stop the implementation of the program. Indeed, it’s what the president has hoped Republicans would do in every fiscal impasse of the last two years. So what’s wrong with an attempt to rally the troops for a glorious last stand on the issue? The answer to that question tells us all we need to know about the divide in the Republican Party.

As a practical matter, Cruz’s tactic doesn’t have much chance of succeeding. Even if Republicans stand together on this—something that is almost certainly not going to happen—success would depend on President Obama blinking before House Speaker John Boehner in negotiations to resolve the standoff. Obama would not only have no problem with such an impasse, he would actively encourage it since it would validate all of his excuses for the failure of his administration to accomplish much since his first two years in office. The plain fact is that with control of only the House with the Democrats still in firm control of the Senate and the White House, there is only so much the GOP can do. The last chance to stop ObamaCare was lost when Chief Justice John Roberts inexplicably voted to affirm its constitutionality, and nothing can alter that fact.

But the problem with letting wiser heads prevail over Cruz’s idealistic fervor is that it is much easier, as well as more appealing, to–as he keeps saying over and over–take a stand that is based purely on principle.

So the argument here is not so much about the efficacy of the tactic as it is one about philosophy: is it the purpose of a political party to help government function properly or to stand up for its ideas?

The answer is obviously both. Republicans can’t pretend they have no responsibility to keep the engine of government functioning since its basic functions such as providing for the common defense or paying our debts is vital. Yet a party that is so immersed in the Washington power game that it is immune to the appeal of ideology is not one that serves its voters well either. That’s why those Republicans who oppose Cruz (who has been joined in this effort by Mike Lee and Marco Rubio) should actually be listening to him.

Cruz has been a bull in a china shop throughout his first seven months in office and many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle can’t stand him. The argument against him is that such a confrontational approach won’t allow anything to get done, and since the talking heads are always telling us Americans want politicians to compromise, Cruz is impeding the will of the people. But given the train wreck that ObamaCare has become, surely it makes sense for Republicans to do what any effective legislative minority has always done: wage a fierce guerrilla war to make it difficult if not impossible for the administration to have its way on the issue.

The problem with Cruz’s critics is not that they are wrong about the foolishness of a government shutdown, but that many of them really are scared of the administration. You don’t have to want another shutdown to understand that a lot of the reaction to him is more about his abhorrence of the close-knit establishment club that the Senate has become than it is about his particular ideas. While a quixotic charge at ObamaCare won’t work, the GOP is wrong to dismiss the spirit that is behind this impulse. Party leaders who wonder about his popularity among the rank and file should understand that for all of his faults, he has tapped into something that ordinary Americans want in their politicians: a willingness to take risks on behalf of the principles he campaigned on. 

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The GOP’s Deep Hole

I spent the last week in Washington State and had several conversations with people about the Republican Party. What I discovered wasn’t encouraging for the Grand Old Party.  

The people I spoke to are life-long Republican voters, but to a person they were deeply disappointed with the GOP. When I pressed them on why, I heard different, and even competing, explanations. Some thought the Republican Party was too beholden to the Tea Party and too rigid on social issues. They were concerned the GOP was coming across as obstructionist and taking a suicidal position on immigration (by coming across as anti-immigration). Others believed the GOP was too moderate and conciliatory, that they were not Tea Party enough, and that they were taking a suicidal position on immigration (by embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants). Their level of unhappiness with the Republican Party was roughly the same—but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s where things get interesting. I decided to do my best Reince Priebus imitation, addressing as specifically and carefully as I could each of the objections that were raised. My interlocutors were often willing to concede the points I made. Yet their negative attitude toward the GOP remained. 

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I spent the last week in Washington State and had several conversations with people about the Republican Party. What I discovered wasn’t encouraging for the Grand Old Party.  

The people I spoke to are life-long Republican voters, but to a person they were deeply disappointed with the GOP. When I pressed them on why, I heard different, and even competing, explanations. Some thought the Republican Party was too beholden to the Tea Party and too rigid on social issues. They were concerned the GOP was coming across as obstructionist and taking a suicidal position on immigration (by coming across as anti-immigration). Others believed the GOP was too moderate and conciliatory, that they were not Tea Party enough, and that they were taking a suicidal position on immigration (by embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants). Their level of unhappiness with the Republican Party was roughly the same—but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s where things get interesting. I decided to do my best Reince Priebus imitation, addressing as specifically and carefully as I could each of the objections that were raised. My interlocutors were often willing to concede the points I made. Yet their negative attitude toward the GOP remained. 

As one person pointed out to me after our conversation, the mood was based less on the policy stands of the Republican Party, less on substance, and more on emotion. What has happened, as best as I can tell, is that the reelection of Barack Obama, as well as Democratic gains in the Senate, had a shattering effect on the confidence many Republicans have in the GOP. Their view seems to be that if the Republican Party couldn’t defeat a failed president like Obama or make gains in the Senate in a year that should have favored Republicans, it is manifestly inept. The disappointment in Obama’s victory has turned people who were once highly engaged in politics away from it, even now, nine months after the election. Call it a long post-election hangover. 

This kind of reaction isn’t unusual for a party that lost a presidential election it expected to win, though my sense is the unhappiness and despair runs deeper among Republicans than in the past. Some of this will fade away with time. The president is off to a very rough start in his second term, after all, and Republicans might be re-energized enough, and Democrats despondent enough, that the GOP makes significant gains in the 2014 mid-term elections. But I came away from my trip with a sense that the Republican Party has very deep problems with its own supporters, many of them based on perception more than reality, and it will require politicians with some fairly impressive political talents to revive the party to a dominant position in American politics. It’s a very long way from that right now.

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A GOP Senate? Don’t Bet Against It.

There has been a lot of triumphalism heard lately on the left—and even from some on the right—about Republicans allowing extremists to hijack their party and thereby dooming them to permanent minority status. The GOP has its problems and may ultimately rue the decision of so many House conservatives to put their heads in the sand about immigration and the impact their stand will have on Hispanics. But that controversy won’t stop them from taking the Senate next year if they manage to put together a slate of electable candidates in the midterm elections. The decision of Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana, to pass on a Senate run is a body blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat being vacated by Max Baucus in 2014. But what really ought to worry them is the fact that their party’s lucky charm in 2012 is officially labeling their chances of holding onto control of the Senate as less than likely. New York Times blogger and liberal pundit Nate Silver writes today to handicap the race for the Senate, and what he has to say should send a chill down the spines of Democrats:

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Considering that Silver’s prognostications proved to be perfect in the 2012 presidential election, that’s the sort of prediction that might leave some Democrats wondering about the wisdom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option” that diminishes the power of the minority in the Senate.

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There has been a lot of triumphalism heard lately on the left—and even from some on the right—about Republicans allowing extremists to hijack their party and thereby dooming them to permanent minority status. The GOP has its problems and may ultimately rue the decision of so many House conservatives to put their heads in the sand about immigration and the impact their stand will have on Hispanics. But that controversy won’t stop them from taking the Senate next year if they manage to put together a slate of electable candidates in the midterm elections. The decision of Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana, to pass on a Senate run is a body blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat being vacated by Max Baucus in 2014. But what really ought to worry them is the fact that their party’s lucky charm in 2012 is officially labeling their chances of holding onto control of the Senate as less than likely. New York Times blogger and liberal pundit Nate Silver writes today to handicap the race for the Senate, and what he has to say should send a chill down the spines of Democrats:

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Considering that Silver’s prognostications proved to be perfect in the 2012 presidential election, that’s the sort of prediction that might leave some Democrats wondering about the wisdom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option” that diminishes the power of the minority in the Senate.

As Silver breaks down the 2014 Senate races, it’s clear that Democrats are in trouble. Democrats will (after they win back the seat they lost in New Jersey when Frank Lautenberg died this October) be defending 21 seats next year while Republicans will only have 14 seats. That’s already a disadvantage, but that becomes even worse when you realize that none of those GOP incumbents face anything close to a formidable challenge. On the other hand, three of those Democratic seats are rated by Silver as either safe or likely GOP pickups: Montana (Baucus), West Virginia and South Dakota (where Jay Rockefeller and Tim Johnson are retiring). Add those three to the existing total of 45 Republican seats (again, discounting the New Jersey seat temporarily held by Jeffrey Chiesa) and you bring the GOP total to 48.

Silver also rates three other Democrats, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor as tossups at best in their reelection efforts. Throw in Alaska’s Mark Begich, who currently leads his potential opponents in the polls but must still cope with the difficulty of running in a deep red state, and you have an easy path for the GOP to 50, 51 or even 52 seats. Silver goes further to postulate that if 2014 turns out to be a good year for Republicans, a not unreasonable scenario for a midterm election during the sixth year of a Democratic president’s administration, the total of GOP pickups could go as high as nine as states like Michigan and Iowa, where incumbents are retiring, might fall prey to a downward trend for President Obama’s party.

The point here is that Democrats have almost no chance of picking up any seats in 2014 and a good chance of losing some. The question is how many, and Silver rightly points out that total will be defined as much by Republican primary voters as it is by the economy or any other issue or external factor.

The most obvious example of this may be in Alaska, a state that Democrats have no business winning except if they are faced with a GOP nominee who is terribly unpopular, as is the case with 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller or former Governor Sarah Palin. But it could also make the difference in more than half a dozen states where opportunities exist in 2014. If Republicans wind up putting forward implausible figures such as Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle (whose nominations transformed winnable GOP pickups into easy Democratic wins in 2010) or candidates who make astoundingly stupid gaffes like Todd Akin (who gift-wrapped Claire McCaskill’s reelection in a year where few thought she had a chance of surviving), then they’ll wind up tilting Silver’s evaluations back in the direction of the Democrats.

It’s true that seemingly safe establishment candidates can also fail, as was the case last year when drab GOP nominees wound up being dragged down in a Democratic year. But if, as was the case in 2010, Republicans are on the upswing next year as Americans grow tired of President Obama, ObamaCare and the assorted scandals attached to the administration, the need to avoid nominating politicians who are easily marginalized will be greater than ever.

For all of their problems, divisions and flaws, Republicans are in position to be in sole control of Congress in January 2015. That should chasten Democrats who foolishly think the 2012 results will be endlessly repeated in future elections and grass roots Republicans who should remember that it was their folly that has kept Harry Reid in the majority leader’s seat.

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The GOP’s Immigration Crackup

Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

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Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion about the need for Republicans to pass immigration reform has centered on the supposed political advantages that will accrue to them if they do it. Critics of the gang of eight bill are right when they say its passage won’t guarantee Republicans a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2016. But the problem is not so much whether Hispanics can be enticed to become GOP voters as it is the spectacle of a Republican Party that seems willing to fall over itself in order to pander to people who are openly hostile to immigration or any form of legalization for the 11 million people who are already here and aren’t going to be deported.

While Kristol and Lowry in their well argued manifesto against the reform bill claim that the current debate has been notable for the absence of “hostility to immigrants” that characterized so much of the arguments that shot down President Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, I think they are not listening much to talk radio or reading the comments sections of newspapers and magazines that report on the issue. Kristol and Lowry claim, “you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.” While I think that is undoubtedly true about that formidable pair of conservative editors, the same cannot be said for many of those who agree with them that “nothing” would be better than passing the legislation.

While they and other critics of the bill have attempted to pose the question as a no-confidence vote in the Obama administration’s trustworthiness, the idea that any fix to immigration must wait until a Republican is elected president doesn’t strike me as a particularly effective argument on policy. If the legalization-first element is what is really bothering some conservatives, then they can craft a bill that would reverse the order of some of its provisions. But what they seem to be saying is that any measure that cannot guarantee a hermetically sealed border or magically prevent those who come here legally but then overstay their visas from doing so is unacceptable. That, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” idea, is not a serious position.

Nor am I convinced that it is now a core conservative principle that any large compromise bill on any measure must be stopped. Liberals who have pointed out that conservatives were ready to make compromises of all sorts to defend policy measures that were important to them in the past, like tax cuts, are right. Unless we are to adopt a parliamentary style of government in which the majority can more or less pass anything they like so long as the whip is out without the constitutional checks and balances of our system, compromises on big issues are always going to be necessary. Any idea that passage of separate House bills that are not necessarily compatible with each other, let alone capable of Senate passage, is a rational plan is daft.

But those House members who appear determined to ignore the pleadings of Boehner and Ryan are not so much being influenced by the intellectual arguments mustered by Kristol and Lowry as they are the fear of offending those who think any solution to the 11 million illegals that offers legalization and/or citizenship is an offense to the rule of law or a threat to the future of the culture of the nation. Kristol and Lowry don’t use the word “amnesty” to characterize the gang’s bill, but most opponents of the bill do. The fixation on punishing or getting rid of the present population of illegals leaves the impression that malice is driving the discussion. So long as conservatives are heard to argue that the bill is a formula for the creation of more Democratic voters or a plot by the Obama administration to permanently marginalize the GOP, Hispanics and many other Americans are likely to interpret opposition to reform as an appeal to nativist sentiment, not a policy prescription.

I think Kristol and Lowry are wrong about the urgency of the matter not so much because we can’t live with a long-broken system for another few years but because the longer so many Republicans give the country the impression that they fear immigration—legal or illegal—they will be harming their image in a manner that will go beyond the putative impact on the Hispanic vote.

A lot of leading conservatives seem to think that they can’t survive if they oppose the net roots on this issue, and perhaps there is some truth to that. Boehner would probably lose his speakership if he allows a vote on the reform bill or anything like it that is produced in the House. It’s also possible that getting labeled as RINOs or establishment cat’s-paws will damage individuals and institutions that agree with conservatives like Ryan, George W. Bush and Marco Rubio that an immigration compromise is the right thing to do as well as good politics for the GOP. But the failure to deal with this issue will do conservatism far more harm in the long run than those who believe it can wait until a Republican president or Senate arrives in Washington think. If the GOP listens to the naysayers, it may be a long wait before either of those outcomes arrives.

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GOP Should Listen to Santorum

Rick Santorum has had a hard time getting in the discussion about 2016. The deep bench of Republican contenders for the next presidential election has moved the unofficial runner up in the 2012 GOP contest to the party’s back burner. Most of the media seems to think that with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan in the conversation, why bother listening to the guy who won 11 primaries and caucuses while giving Mitt Romney a run for his money a year ago? Santorum, who managed to overcome the same media indifference and skepticism throughout the winter and spring of 2012, is probably not going to do as well next time around. But he still has an important message for a party that has spent the last several months debating why Barack Obama beat them. Speaking yesterday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, Santorum returned to a favorite theme during the last campaign: don’t ignore the working class.

Most Republicans have already accepted the truth of the two conclusions that both conservative activists and mainstream establishment types agree are the primary lessons of 2012: a. don’t use abortion and rape in the same sentence (call it the “Todd Akin rule”); and b. parties that oppose the excesses of the liberal welfare state shouldn’t nominate millionaire Wall Street executives (the “Mitt Romney rule”). While some on the right are still having trouble with the Akin rule, fortunately for the GOP, all of their likely 2016 contenders are officeholders, not hedge fund operators. But Santorum’s message goes farther than mere biography and points out why the convention theme that delighted most Republicans fell flat with the rest of the country.

Amid all the back and forth about what went wrong in 2012, no other Republican has criticized the Tampa Convention’s emphasis on a critique of President Obama’s infamous “You didn’t build that” comment. But Santorum understands that as much as the GOP’s paean to capitalism and individual initiative was correct and highly satisfying for conservatives, it also reinforced the Democratic attempt to smear Republicans as tools of the rich and inimitable to the interests of the middle class and workers.

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Rick Santorum has had a hard time getting in the discussion about 2016. The deep bench of Republican contenders for the next presidential election has moved the unofficial runner up in the 2012 GOP contest to the party’s back burner. Most of the media seems to think that with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan in the conversation, why bother listening to the guy who won 11 primaries and caucuses while giving Mitt Romney a run for his money a year ago? Santorum, who managed to overcome the same media indifference and skepticism throughout the winter and spring of 2012, is probably not going to do as well next time around. But he still has an important message for a party that has spent the last several months debating why Barack Obama beat them. Speaking yesterday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, Santorum returned to a favorite theme during the last campaign: don’t ignore the working class.

Most Republicans have already accepted the truth of the two conclusions that both conservative activists and mainstream establishment types agree are the primary lessons of 2012: a. don’t use abortion and rape in the same sentence (call it the “Todd Akin rule”); and b. parties that oppose the excesses of the liberal welfare state shouldn’t nominate millionaire Wall Street executives (the “Mitt Romney rule”). While some on the right are still having trouble with the Akin rule, fortunately for the GOP, all of their likely 2016 contenders are officeholders, not hedge fund operators. But Santorum’s message goes farther than mere biography and points out why the convention theme that delighted most Republicans fell flat with the rest of the country.

Amid all the back and forth about what went wrong in 2012, no other Republican has criticized the Tampa Convention’s emphasis on a critique of President Obama’s infamous “You didn’t build that” comment. But Santorum understands that as much as the GOP’s paean to capitalism and individual initiative was correct and highly satisfying for conservatives, it also reinforced the Democratic attempt to smear Republicans as tools of the rich and inimitable to the interests of the middle class and workers.

As Politico notes:

“One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there,” Santorum told a few hundred conservative activists at an “after-hours session” of the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. “Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.”

When all you do is talk to people who are owners, talk to folks who are ‘Type As’ who want to succeed economically, we’re talking to a very small group of people,” he said. “No wonder they don’t think we care about them. No wonder they don’t think we understand them. Folks, if we’re going to win, you just need to think about who you talk to in your life.”

Trying to carve out a role as a leading populist in the 2016 field, Santorum insisted that Republicans must “talk to the folks who are worried about the next paycheck,” not the CEOs.

While Politico and most other observers see this as mainly an attempt to pile on Romney, Santorum actually has a broader point. In their haste to push back against the big government liberalism of Obama and his party, Republicans have sometimes seemed to forget that conservatives only succeed when they can appeal to rank-and-file Americans who are as suspicious of Wall Street as they are of the Internal Revenue Service and the rest of the governmental leviathan. A party that rightly venerates Ronald Reagan often forgets that even though his time as a spokesman for General Electric was pivotal in his political development, he ran against the elites, not as their spear-carrier.

The Tea Party movement protests helped win the 2010 midterms for Republicans because they were an expression of grass roots discontent about spending and taxing. But running for president requires more than just opposition to liberal plans. Candidates not only need to say what they are for but how their plans will affect the lives of working people. Much of the middle and working class embrace values of hard work and patriotism that might incline them to vote for Republicans so long as they feel GOP candidates care about their wellbeing.

There were a lot of reasons why Republicans failed in 2012. Perhaps even a perfect GOP candidate and campaign would not have been enough to persuade Americans to make the first African-American a one-term president. But the Republican failure to prevent the Democrats from seizing the mantle of the middle and working classes ensured their defeat.

The centrality of social conservatism in Santorum’s political personality will probably always make it impossible for him to win the Republican nomination, let alone actually be elected president. With a whole new class of attractive and dynamic GOP candidates set to run in 2016, it’s hard to imagine how he will be able to duplicate his unlikely surge in the last go round. But instead of ignoring him, Republicans should be listening to Santorum’s critique of their party. If they don’t, all of the non-millionaires lining up to be the nominee won’t get any closer to the Oval Office than Romney did.

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GOP Already Tried the Bob Dole Paradigm

Democrats are chortling about the latest round of grousing about the current Republican Party from those associated with its past. Bob Dole’s interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News this past weekend lent weight to one of the White House’s most important talking points about the GOP being in the hands of extremists. He said the Republican National Committee ought to put up a “closed for repairs” sign and blasted the current generation of the GOP as one that wouldn’t have accepted him or even conservative icon Ronald Reagan. But as much Dole deserves our respect for his sacrifice during World War Two and his lifelong service to his country, the idea that he is the sort of Republican politician that current members of Congress should emulate is ridiculous. There is a reason why you don’t see too many Dole-style types in the GOP these days: he was obsolete twenty years ago.

To say that Dole passed his best-used date is not to mock him for his age or infirmity. The fact that he is wheelchair-bound and losing his sight should grieve us all. He is the exemplar of the “greatest generation” veteran who nearly died as a result of his wounds and then spent nearly four decades in public life in the postwar era. He deserves every possible honor that his country can give him. But let’s get real. Dole was also an apt symbol of the failures of the self-proclaimed Eisenhower Republicans in Congress. His get-along-to-go-along style in which compromise always seemed to be the keynote was never going to fix the out-of-control growth of the federal government, it just managed it. As much as the abrasiveness of Ted Cruz makes many of us long for the more easygoing style of partisanship Dole practiced, there was a reason the GOP abandoned it: it didn’t work.

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Democrats are chortling about the latest round of grousing about the current Republican Party from those associated with its past. Bob Dole’s interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News this past weekend lent weight to one of the White House’s most important talking points about the GOP being in the hands of extremists. He said the Republican National Committee ought to put up a “closed for repairs” sign and blasted the current generation of the GOP as one that wouldn’t have accepted him or even conservative icon Ronald Reagan. But as much Dole deserves our respect for his sacrifice during World War Two and his lifelong service to his country, the idea that he is the sort of Republican politician that current members of Congress should emulate is ridiculous. There is a reason why you don’t see too many Dole-style types in the GOP these days: he was obsolete twenty years ago.

To say that Dole passed his best-used date is not to mock him for his age or infirmity. The fact that he is wheelchair-bound and losing his sight should grieve us all. He is the exemplar of the “greatest generation” veteran who nearly died as a result of his wounds and then spent nearly four decades in public life in the postwar era. He deserves every possible honor that his country can give him. But let’s get real. Dole was also an apt symbol of the failures of the self-proclaimed Eisenhower Republicans in Congress. His get-along-to-go-along style in which compromise always seemed to be the keynote was never going to fix the out-of-control growth of the federal government, it just managed it. As much as the abrasiveness of Ted Cruz makes many of us long for the more easygoing style of partisanship Dole practiced, there was a reason the GOP abandoned it: it didn’t work.

Republicans do need to spend time rethinking their strategies this year and as our Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson pointed out in their seminal COMMENTARY article on the subject earlier this year, there is plenty of room for change in the GOP. But whatever path the party ultimately chooses, the last thing they need to do is to channel the spirit Dole. That is, unless they want to repeat his legislative futility or his defeat in the 1996 presidential election.

Dole may still resent Newt Gingrich’s calling him the “tax collector for the welfare state” but the reason why that phrase stuck is that his generation of Republican leaders accepted the premise that their purpose was to work within the existing political structure rather than trying to tear it down and rebuild it. Dole was not the RINO some on the right thought and was, in his own way, as tart a partisan wag as any of his successors in the GOP caucus. But he also represented a spirit of accommodation that went beyond the schmoozing needed to pass legislation when both parties could agree. If the Republican Party moved in a different direction in the early 90’s with Gingrich’s Republican revolution and then later with the Tea Party that rejected the free-spending GOP of the George W. Bush era, it was because there are times when parties need people who will offer a genuine alternative rather than a willingness to compromise principles.

It is also foolish for Dole, or anyone else, to claim that Ronald Reagan would have been rejected by the current brand of Republicans. Reagan was the product of another era and was animated by different key issues such as the need to resist Communism. The paradigm of Cold war conservatism may be able to help today’s Republicans find their way in defending America against contemporary threats but, like it or not, foreign policy no longer defines most politicians. However, it needs to be understood that Reagan took his party as far to the right on domestic issues as he could in his day.

If today’s Republicans are able to articulate a more far-reaching critique of the government leviathan that Reagan despised, it is because they are standing on his shoulders. In Reagan’s days, the party was also divided between more ideological conservatives and the moderates, among whose number Dole was quite prominent. Dole was on the wrong side of that argument. If today’s Republicans reject his style of politics it is not a rejection of Reagan but a continuation of the spirit of conservatism that the 40th president embodied. To claim that he wouldn’t fit in among today’s Republicans makes as much sense as claiming John F. Kennedy or any other figure from the past wouldn’t fit in among today’s Democrats. It’s not so much wrong as it is a non sequitur.

For all of their faults, today’s Republicans, including the Tea Party and its firebrands like Cruz, are willing to articulate conservative principles in a way that can energize the party. If the GOP is ever to win back the White House it’s going to be under the leadership of someone who can tap into that enthusiasm, not a latter-day Eisenhower Republican. The party has already tried that course and failed several times. As much as we should venerate Dole as an elder statesman and war hero, the GOP needs to use his career as an example of what not to do more than anything else.

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Obama, Not GOP, Should Be Scandal Focus

Throughout a long week of scandal, the growing evidence of wrongdoing in the executive branch has buffeted Democrats. Like President Obama, who was slow to realize the danger to his presidency, his supporters were initially put back on their heels by the triple threat posed by the Benghazi investigation, the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records and, most damning of all, the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory practices. But also like the president, who took to the road today to resume his attempt to blame the interest in these issues on his opponents’ narrow partisanship, liberals are starting to speak out to minimize the importance of the scandals.

The left is working hard to classify Benghazi as a “political circus”; blame the AP for being subjected to an unprecedented phone records grab; or to say the real problem in the IRS affair is that right-wing groups attempt to gain nonprofit status. But while they are having mixed success with those efforts, they are gaining some traction with the notion that the real problem today is not the administration’s incompetence or malfeasance but overreaching on the part of Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans are already second-guessing themselves about how hard to hit the president on the scandals, with liberals using those doubts to help craft a narrative in which the real threat to the republic is an extremist GOP. There are good reasons to fear that Republican hotheads will distract the public from Obama’s troubles but it should be understood that this storyline is essentially bogus. However the president’s opposition plays their hand, any attempt to shift the focus from the administration and the president to those who are attempting to make him accountable for the government’s behavior is a yet another attempt to deceive the public.

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Throughout a long week of scandal, the growing evidence of wrongdoing in the executive branch has buffeted Democrats. Like President Obama, who was slow to realize the danger to his presidency, his supporters were initially put back on their heels by the triple threat posed by the Benghazi investigation, the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records and, most damning of all, the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory practices. But also like the president, who took to the road today to resume his attempt to blame the interest in these issues on his opponents’ narrow partisanship, liberals are starting to speak out to minimize the importance of the scandals.

The left is working hard to classify Benghazi as a “political circus”; blame the AP for being subjected to an unprecedented phone records grab; or to say the real problem in the IRS affair is that right-wing groups attempt to gain nonprofit status. But while they are having mixed success with those efforts, they are gaining some traction with the notion that the real problem today is not the administration’s incompetence or malfeasance but overreaching on the part of Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans are already second-guessing themselves about how hard to hit the president on the scandals, with liberals using those doubts to help craft a narrative in which the real threat to the republic is an extremist GOP. There are good reasons to fear that Republican hotheads will distract the public from Obama’s troubles but it should be understood that this storyline is essentially bogus. However the president’s opposition plays their hand, any attempt to shift the focus from the administration and the president to those who are attempting to make him accountable for the government’s behavior is a yet another attempt to deceive the public.

The main Democratic talking point this week has been an extension of the same keynote they’ve been sounding for the last three years with mixed success: Republicans are extremists and bent only on obstructing a popular president. The three scandals all point toward a general validation of Republican complaints about Obama’s obsessive belief in big government. But this was discounted by those who wrongly label Tea Partiers as foes of democracy rather than exemplars of how grassroots politics is so supposed to work.

To be fair, the Democratic task of shifting blame to the accusers is easier when Republicans get ahead of the investigations. For Senator Jim Inhofe or Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann to be talking about impeachment is a bad sign for Republicans. In fact, any time Bachmann moves back to center stage from the relative obscurity her poor showing as a presidential candidate had consigned her to is a not a favorable indicator for the GOP.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was right to admit today on NPR that he and other Republican leaders did go too far in 1998 when they impeached Bill Clinton, a move that transformed a president who had disgraced his office into a victim of the GOP. That Gingrich and fellow Republican House leader Bob Livingston were also later proved to be hypocrites when it came to sexual hijinks makes that misjudgment even worse. Gingrich’s advice to his successors to step back and let the administration’s bungling and lies speak for themselves is the sort of sage counsel he could have used when he was speaker.

But while it is fair to point out that Republicans need to be calm and factual as they begin the work of unraveling the administration’s misdeeds and mistakes, it is another thing entirely to frame the current situation as one in which the GOP is in jeopardy, as a feature in Politico did today.

Comparisons with past scandals, whether more serious or less, are almost by definition inexact. But no matter what you think about whether any of Obama’s troubles rank up there with those of his predecessors, the posture of Republicans at the hearings of investigative committees exploring these issues is no different from the Democratic interrogators of GOP figures during Watergate or Iran Contra. If some are grandstanding, that goes with the territory and Democrats who didn’t object to such antics when it was their opponents in the hot seat are in no position to complain when their people are put on the spot.

The only reason the media is treating the behavior of the Republicans as a big story in a week that has been dominated by Obama’s problems is the willingness of many in the media to buy into the Democratic belief that the GOP is a collection of crackpots. That’s essentially been the president’s main argument all along as he posed as the adult in the room in Washington even as he did his best to exacerbate the divisions in the capital and fell asleep at the wheel as his government went off course on a variety of issues.

But no matter how much you don’t like the Republicans, it’s impossible for a fair observer to read the Benghazi emails or White House spokesman Jay Carney’s lies about them and say the problem is GOP outrage about the deceptions. Nor could anyone listen to the arrogance and deceptions on display in outgoing IRS director Steven Miller’s performance today without understanding that his Republican tormentors were merely venting the feelings of most Americans about this rather than showing their extremism.

The GOP needs to be careful not to interfere with Obama’s fumbling and give the media an excuse to revert to their familiar pattern of demonizing the right. But right now the spotlight is on the president and the big government he believes in, not those who are rightly worried about expanding the power of this inefficient and often corrupt leviathan. Changing the subject from that all-too-real drama is an exercise in misdirection that responsible journalists should avoid.

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The Democrats’ Sanford Gift Package

With only one day left before the special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District, the race is still a virtual tossup between former Republican governor Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, though polls appear to be trending in the favor of the GOP standard-bearer. While still too close to call, the fact that Sanford appears to have gained ground even after more attention has been diverted to his personal failings demonstrates that it may be impossible for even a candidacy as troubled as that of Sanford to lose a seat in that red a district.

That may seem like good news to Republicans who dread the idea of allowing Nancy Pelosi to get one seat closer to regaining the speakership. But, as the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza pointed out today, a Sanford victory may well be even better news for the Democrats than a Busch victory. The thinking here is that he’s absolutely correct for three reasons.

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With only one day left before the special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District, the race is still a virtual tossup between former Republican governor Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, though polls appear to be trending in the favor of the GOP standard-bearer. While still too close to call, the fact that Sanford appears to have gained ground even after more attention has been diverted to his personal failings demonstrates that it may be impossible for even a candidacy as troubled as that of Sanford to lose a seat in that red a district.

That may seem like good news to Republicans who dread the idea of allowing Nancy Pelosi to get one seat closer to regaining the speakership. But, as the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza pointed out today, a Sanford victory may well be even better news for the Democrats than a Busch victory. The thinking here is that he’s absolutely correct for three reasons.

First and perhaps most obviously, Sanford’s regaining of his old seat in the House will mean that he will be going to Washington next week rather than sinking back into the political oblivion that he so richly deserves. Sanford’s return to the Capitol means that the liberal mainstream media would find a new focus for their ongoing campaign to demonize Republicans. Sanford’s Appalachian Trail hijinks and his dismaying behavior toward his children—displayed yet again in a Huffington Post story where the candidate actually called his oldest son in the midst of an interview in order to solicit a testimonial for his parental bona fides—would not only be re-hashed endlessly but would mean that his every move and utterance would be scrutinized in the way that is usually reserved for party leadership figures or presidential candidates. And given Sanford’s penchant for saying and doing stupid things, Democrats can’t be blamed for betting that he will soon provide some new fodder for the late night comedians.

That leads us to the second reason why the GOP shouldn’t be hoping for a Sanford win. A loss tomorrow is probably the only way a national Republican Party that wants nothing more than to never hear his name again can be rid of Sanford. Once re-elected to that seat it will be difficult to dislodge him from it, meaning that he will be a permanent embarrassment rather than just a nightmare they can wake up from. His defeat will mean the much desired end of his political career and allow the party to regain the seat next time around with someone who won’t hurt other Republicans by his mere presence on the House floor and in the studios of the cable news networks.

Democrats who are hoping for a rare House win in a majority-white district in the South should just imagine how they would feel about Anthony Weiner being sent back to Washington by his former constituency. Of course, the New York Democratic Party gerrymandered his old district out of existence, making that horrifying prospect an impossibility.

Third, as Cilizza notes, a Colbert Busch win on Tuesday will set up a difficult re-election campaign next year that will drain precious campaign dollars from other more viable Democratic candidates. Beating Sanford will make Colbert Busch the new idol of the Emily’s List crowd. While it is theoretically possible that she will wow her constituents in the time in the House a special election gains for her, it’s not exactly a secret that it is only Sanford’s presence on the ballot that gives her shot this time. Up against even a minimally acceptable Republican, no Democrat has much of a chance to win there even with a massive infusion of national contributions or celebrity endorsements. A win for her will not only deprive them of having Sanford to beat up and to portray as a second Todd Akin in order to destroy the GOP brand, it will commit them to a fight in 2014 they probably can’t win.

Sanford’s possible victory should refocus Republicans on the task of finding electable candidates for federal office. While bad candidates can be establishment figures as easily as Tea Partiers, the party has to ponder what it can do to avoid being saddled with people like Akin or Sanford who make it hard on everyone who identifies with the GOP. The sooner it can dispose of such cringe-inducing politicians the better off all Republicans will be.

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The GOP’s Real Hispanic Peril

The debate about immigration reform was already heating up on the right even before the revelation that the Boston Marathon bombing gave an excuse to some in Congress to put off consideration of the topic. As Seth noted, Senator Rand Paul’s decision to pull back on the issue makes it possible the topic could be used by the libertarian leader or some other conservative as an issue against gang-of-eight member Senator Marco Rubio. And with the influential Heritage Foundation’s new leader, former Senator Jim Demint, going all out to stop the bipartisan compromise that Rubio is fronting, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be easy.

Reform advocates did get a boost yesterday when Representative Paul Ryan indicated his support of the underlying principles of the bill even if he did not formally endorse it. Ryan has a great deal of influence with House Republicans as well as Speaker John Boehner, but his chances of rallying the GOP against DeMint’s push won’t be helped by a Politico feature that argues that the passage of the bill effectively ensures that the Democrats won’t be losing any national elections in the foreseeable future. The piece argues that if the 11 million illegal immigrants take advantage of the path to citizenship offered by the Senate bill, the reform will produce an “electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”

This is exactly the kind of talk designed to scare the GOP grass roots into insensibility, since many of them already believe that a biased liberal media, voter fraud and the generous federal patronage plums and benefits have created an uphill slog for any Republican in a national election. But while the logic of this assumption of a windfall of potential Democratic voters can’t be ignored, Republicans would be foolish to assume that it makes sense for them to stonewall immigration reform. If they truly wish to continue as a national political force and as a natural party of government they must reject the idea that keeping more Hispanics out of the United States is their only hope of survival.

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The debate about immigration reform was already heating up on the right even before the revelation that the Boston Marathon bombing gave an excuse to some in Congress to put off consideration of the topic. As Seth noted, Senator Rand Paul’s decision to pull back on the issue makes it possible the topic could be used by the libertarian leader or some other conservative as an issue against gang-of-eight member Senator Marco Rubio. And with the influential Heritage Foundation’s new leader, former Senator Jim Demint, going all out to stop the bipartisan compromise that Rubio is fronting, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be easy.

Reform advocates did get a boost yesterday when Representative Paul Ryan indicated his support of the underlying principles of the bill even if he did not formally endorse it. Ryan has a great deal of influence with House Republicans as well as Speaker John Boehner, but his chances of rallying the GOP against DeMint’s push won’t be helped by a Politico feature that argues that the passage of the bill effectively ensures that the Democrats won’t be losing any national elections in the foreseeable future. The piece argues that if the 11 million illegal immigrants take advantage of the path to citizenship offered by the Senate bill, the reform will produce an “electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”

This is exactly the kind of talk designed to scare the GOP grass roots into insensibility, since many of them already believe that a biased liberal media, voter fraud and the generous federal patronage plums and benefits have created an uphill slog for any Republican in a national election. But while the logic of this assumption of a windfall of potential Democratic voters can’t be ignored, Republicans would be foolish to assume that it makes sense for them to stonewall immigration reform. If they truly wish to continue as a national political force and as a natural party of government they must reject the idea that keeping more Hispanics out of the United States is their only hope of survival.

Given voter trends in recent elections, the addition of all the currently illegal immigrants in this country to the ranks of those legally entitled to vote gives Democrats a clear advantage. The already considerable Democratic edge among Hispanics has widened in recent years as Republicans increasingly focused on the danger posed to the United States by the presence of so many illegals. Mitt Romney’s decision to use immigration as the one issue on which he could out-flank his primary opponents on the right helped him win the GOP presidential nomination this year but hurt him in the general election. This meant that a demographic sector that a pro-immigrant Republican like George W. Bush had been able to put into play less than a decade ago became almost as Democratic in 2012 as African-Americans or Jews. If one assumes that this partisan divide will hold up, that means immigration reform will simply worsen the GOP’s chances in future elections and probably ensure that some competitive states like Florida or Colorado become deep blue.

But as much as these figures set off visions of doom among Republicans and inspire joy among Democrats, it isn’t as simple as that.

It should be pointed out that assumptions about future voting patterns on the part of those offered the citizenship track are pure speculation. As Politico acknowledged, voter turnout rates among Hispanic immigrants are already low. Those numbers will probably go even lower if some of the illegals become citizens.

Yet if George W. Bush could win 44 percent of Hispanics in 2004, it is not unreasonable to think a pro-immigrant Republican could do nearly as well in the future, even if he isn’t himself a Hispanic like Rubio.

Though immigrant communities have historically tended to back parties whose appeal is based on distribution of government benefits, any objective analysis of the last two presidential elections shows that it was the GOP’s predilection for rhetoric bashing the illegals that helped turn a natural Democratic edge among Hispanics to an overwhelming advantage. That means it stands to reason that if Republicans back immigration reform, that will help win them back some Hispanic votes. Even more importantly, it would mean that the issue would be taken off the table in 2016 and every subsequent election, effectively taking away the Democrats key talking point in rallying Hispanic support.

Democrats are right to think that Hispanics won’t forget the issue in the future even after their concerns have been allayed. But it will allow Republicans, especially those who fought for a more rational and fair immigration policy, to make their case to Hispanics with some hope of success.

It is true that Republicans can’t count on the innate social conservatism of many Hispanics to win them over. Nor can they afford to simply sit back and wait as Hispanic immigrants become assimilated into American society and evolve into a group that will see a party whose credo is defense of liberty and limited government as one that will suit their improved economic circumstances the way every white ethnic immigrant community, with the exception of European Jews, has done.

But any idea that stonewalling immigration reform and continuing to talk about deporting 11 million illegals is a coherent general election strategy for the future is the real GOP delusion. Whether or not those illegals—whom some conservative wags have dubbed “undocumented Democrats”—ever get the vote, legal Hispanics are going to make up an increasingly larger percentage of the national electorate. Though there are no guarantees that a pro-immigration stand will win their hearts or minds, there is one thing that is certain. A Republican Party that echoes the rhetoric of some on the right about immigration reform representing the “end of America” because of the influx of non-whites into the country will ensure that subsequent generations of Hispanics will never consider voting for the GOP.

If Republicans want to get Hispanic votes, they must start by realizing that talk about “amnesty” rather than opportunity is their party’s death knell. That’s something Rubio and Ryan seem to understand. But if the GOP simply regards immigration reform the way they do statehood for the District of Columbia (which would add two more Democrats to the Senate and another to the House), they will be denying themselves a chance to win elections in the future.

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Public Perceptions About Bush Matter

My colleague Peter Wehner picked up the rhetorical gauntlet flung in the face of George W. Bush by Walter Russell Mead and did much to vindicate the tarnished honor of the administration in which he served so honorably. Like Pete, I think the 43rd president has gotten a raw deal in most respects from the court of public opinion and will ultimately be vindicated by history, if not the mainstream media.

Pete went to some length to answer the charge that Bush’s eight years in office was “a political disaster for the president’s party” and that it generated a “headwind of well-merited public distrust” for Republicans. There is a strong case to make against Mead’s assertion that the public distrust he speaks of was “well merited.” But the idea that there is much point arguing about whether it was a “political disaster” in terms of the GOP’s current dilemma strikes me as a waste of time, if not utterly futile. The accumulated weight of a profligate GOP Congress, the bad optics of Katrina, the casualties in Iraq and the financial crisis that struck the country in the fall of 2008 created an image of the Bush administration that might be unfair but is nonetheless indelible. It may be never too early to correct the historical record on all of these issues, as Pete and the other writers he referenced have done, but the relevance of this exercise to the politics of 2013 or even 2016 is limited. It may be the duty of the historian to try and chip away at the narrative that Bush failed, but to argue that the perception of this record is not a heavy burden for Republicans to carry or that it can be undone by refighting the political battles of 2001 to 2008 is a mistake. Mead’s critics may be right about the history, but they can only be said to be correct about the politics if their argument is that deeply engrained public perceptions shouldn’t count. Unfortunately, they do.

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My colleague Peter Wehner picked up the rhetorical gauntlet flung in the face of George W. Bush by Walter Russell Mead and did much to vindicate the tarnished honor of the administration in which he served so honorably. Like Pete, I think the 43rd president has gotten a raw deal in most respects from the court of public opinion and will ultimately be vindicated by history, if not the mainstream media.

Pete went to some length to answer the charge that Bush’s eight years in office was “a political disaster for the president’s party” and that it generated a “headwind of well-merited public distrust” for Republicans. There is a strong case to make against Mead’s assertion that the public distrust he speaks of was “well merited.” But the idea that there is much point arguing about whether it was a “political disaster” in terms of the GOP’s current dilemma strikes me as a waste of time, if not utterly futile. The accumulated weight of a profligate GOP Congress, the bad optics of Katrina, the casualties in Iraq and the financial crisis that struck the country in the fall of 2008 created an image of the Bush administration that might be unfair but is nonetheless indelible. It may be never too early to correct the historical record on all of these issues, as Pete and the other writers he referenced have done, but the relevance of this exercise to the politics of 2013 or even 2016 is limited. It may be the duty of the historian to try and chip away at the narrative that Bush failed, but to argue that the perception of this record is not a heavy burden for Republicans to carry or that it can be undone by refighting the political battles of 2001 to 2008 is a mistake. Mead’s critics may be right about the history, but they can only be said to be correct about the politics if their argument is that deeply engrained public perceptions shouldn’t count. Unfortunately, they do.

Even if we concede that Pete is right about every single point he makes and I agree with just about all of them (the creation of the Medicare prescription drug plan is one point on which I think then-representative and now-Senator Pat Toomey’s principled conservative dissent from the administration’s idea was correct), the negative perceptions of Bush’s presidency is a fact. If far more Americans blamed Bush for the weak economy of 2012 than the man who had been running the country for four years then that is not the sort of thing that can be corrected with scholarly debate. Like the fallacious notions that Herbert Hoover and his Republican predecessors created the Great Depression and that Franklin Roosevelt’s policies solved the problem, it may take decades for the smears of Bush to fade from public consciousness. Yet even now I fear more Americans probably believe the depiction of the Depression and the New Deal found in the musical play “Annie” than the brilliant debunking of these myths in the books of Amity Shlaes.

Bush’s problem and those of his Republican successors remains that a liberal mainstream media and a popular culture dominated by the left tend to have more to say about the prevailing narrative about political issues than conservative thinkers. Complaining about this can be a satisfying occupation, but if Republicans want to win the 2014 midterms and take back the White House in 2016 they’d be well advised to avoid that trap.

My disagreement with Mead (who, to be fair, concedes that Bush has not been treated fairly and deserves more credit than he has received) is not so much with his evaluation of Bush as with his belief that Republicans need to spend much time critiquing the last GOP administration or defending it. They’d be well advised to avoid either of these endeavors except to point out that they represent a new generation of Republican leaders that shouldn’t be confused with the GOP-run Congress that was voted out in 2006 and facing different challenges than George W. Bush.

To argue in this fashion isn’t to claim the perception of Bush is correct, but to say that it is a fool’s errand for Republicans to go to the polls identifying themselves with him or nominating someone who cannot escape the association, such as his younger brother Jeb. The verdict of public opinion on Bush may not be accurate, but at this point it is not capable of being altered by further debate. If what Mead is really saying is that Republicans must move on from Bush and not repeat his political mistakes then even those who of us wish the 43rd president were given his due cannot really disagree.

The debate about the Bush administration belongs to the historians now and we can only hope that they will eventually get it right. But if Republicans are going to win elections anytime soon they need to move on and concentrate on defending their principles and pointing out Obama’s failures, rather than seek to vindicate their former leader.

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Sanford’s a Different Kind of Bad Candidate

One of the great clichés of literature is Leo Tolstoy’s assertion in Anna Karenina that all happy families are alike but all unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way. The same thing could be said of political candidates. All good candidates, be they conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, have many of the same personal qualities that make for effective retail politics in terms of personal appeal and even intelligence (though that appears at times to be optional rather than a requirement). But bad candidates come in all shapes and sizes.

That is a lesson that the Republican Party has learned to its regret in the last couple of election cycles and may well again in South Carolina this spring. While the months since the Democrats’ victory last November have been filled with non-stop recriminations from Republicans about the quality of their candidates as well as advice from liberals to junk conservative ideology, the idea that the Tea Party is the GOP’s main albatross is one that conservatives have stiffly and rightly resisted. That point has been reinforced by what happened last night in the Palmetto State. The decision of Republican primary voters to nominate former governor Mark Sanford to run in the special election to fill the vacancy in his old congressional district has sent a shiver down the spines of GOP operatives as they rightly fear he will lose a seat that their party shouldn’t even have to worry about.

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One of the great clichés of literature is Leo Tolstoy’s assertion in Anna Karenina that all happy families are alike but all unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way. The same thing could be said of political candidates. All good candidates, be they conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, have many of the same personal qualities that make for effective retail politics in terms of personal appeal and even intelligence (though that appears at times to be optional rather than a requirement). But bad candidates come in all shapes and sizes.

That is a lesson that the Republican Party has learned to its regret in the last couple of election cycles and may well again in South Carolina this spring. While the months since the Democrats’ victory last November have been filled with non-stop recriminations from Republicans about the quality of their candidates as well as advice from liberals to junk conservative ideology, the idea that the Tea Party is the GOP’s main albatross is one that conservatives have stiffly and rightly resisted. That point has been reinforced by what happened last night in the Palmetto State. The decision of Republican primary voters to nominate former governor Mark Sanford to run in the special election to fill the vacancy in his old congressional district has sent a shiver down the spines of GOP operatives as they rightly fear he will lose a seat that their party shouldn’t even have to worry about.

Sanford is running on a platform of personal redemption, in which his infamous mythical hike on the Appalachian Trail while actually visiting his mistress in Argentina has actually become a rationale for forgiving souls to return him to Congress rather than a reason to vote against him. Given the overwhelming advantage that Republicans hold in the district as well as the forgiving nature of the American people, it may work. One could certainly argue that Democrats who still venerate Bill Clinton as a great president are in no position to cast stones at Sanford and that his opponent Elizabeth Colbert Busch will not be aided by a moralistic and hypocritical critique of him.

But it is just as likely that enough Republicans will be disgusted by the spectacle of Sanford’s return to electoral politics after personal disgrace that it will enable Busch to win a district that Mitt Romney carried by 18 percentage points over Barack Obama. If so, this will be one Republican defeat that wiseacres won’t be able to blame on the Tea Party, failed outreach to Hispanics or any of the other valid concerns that helped cost it control of the Senate and the White House.

The lesson here is that as unique as this story may be, it’s important to realize that the outcome of every political race in the country is the product of a host of factors that often have nothing to do with national trends or issues. It is only after the fact that pundits are able to impose a unifying narrative on such contests that allow them to fit it into an overriding concept that they claim explains everything.

While such narratives are not always misleading—there really were enough Tea Party outliers like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle to constitute a trend that explained why the GOP has lost winnable seats—they often encompass races that really have more to do with personal or local factors than subjects that provide the grist for condescending New York Times editorials about the problems of Republicans.

If Republicans are to do better in 2014 it will require a convergence of a number of factors that include some of the recommendations provided by our Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in their article in the March issue of COMMENTARY. But the main thing they’ll need is a collection of viable candidates. The puzzling embrace of the morally burdened Sanford by some of his former constituents could provide an object lesson in just how difficult it is for a national party to field a winning slate across the nation.

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GOP Shouldn’t Fear Standing Up to Obama

With the sequester all but certain to go into effect at the end of the month, the only suspense associated with the topic is whether the Democratic expectation that the public will blame it all on the Republicans will be vindicated in the coming weeks. So far, polls show them to be largely correct, and should the administration’s predictions of post-sequester doom and gloom come true it may not be possible for the GOP to resist the pressure to give in to the president’s demands for more tax increases.

This belief in Republican defeat on the sequester is based in part on the experience of the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling deadlines, when the House majority believed it had no choice but to fold or face the wrath of an outraged nation. It may be that sequester-related chaos at the airports and the border–to cite two particular departments whose secretaries took to the airwaves in recent days to play Chicken Little–will be enough to stamped the GOP again. Of course, many Republicans are also rightly worried about the impact of the draconian across-the-board cuts on national defense. But integral to the idea that the party give in is the thesis that this confrontation will lead inevitably to victory for the Democrats in the 2014 midterms. But as Stu Rothenberg points out in Roll Call, this is a rather weak argument for those urging Republican sequester surrender.

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With the sequester all but certain to go into effect at the end of the month, the only suspense associated with the topic is whether the Democratic expectation that the public will blame it all on the Republicans will be vindicated in the coming weeks. So far, polls show them to be largely correct, and should the administration’s predictions of post-sequester doom and gloom come true it may not be possible for the GOP to resist the pressure to give in to the president’s demands for more tax increases.

This belief in Republican defeat on the sequester is based in part on the experience of the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling deadlines, when the House majority believed it had no choice but to fold or face the wrath of an outraged nation. It may be that sequester-related chaos at the airports and the border–to cite two particular departments whose secretaries took to the airwaves in recent days to play Chicken Little–will be enough to stamped the GOP again. Of course, many Republicans are also rightly worried about the impact of the draconian across-the-board cuts on national defense. But integral to the idea that the party give in is the thesis that this confrontation will lead inevitably to victory for the Democrats in the 2014 midterms. But as Stu Rothenberg points out in Roll Call, this is a rather weak argument for those urging Republican sequester surrender.

Let’s concede that the sequester is a terrible idea (thank you Obama White House) and the consequences will be awful. The GOP, like the Democrats, was wrong to agree to it in order to get out of the 2011 debt ceiling impasse and they are paying a price for that mistake. But Republicans are right not to allow themselves to be bullied into submission only weeks after being bludgeoned into voting for tax increases with the idea that future deals would be about budget cuts, not more revenue being fed to the federal leviathan. Since President Obama has no credibility when it comes to promises about the entitlement reform that the country so desperately needs, or about making tough choices to reduce expenditures, GOP resistance to his pressure is justified.

But even if this means some bad poll numbers and public pressure, there is no reason to believe that this guarantees anything close to a Democratic takeover of the House next year.

First of all, whatever happens in the coming weeks isn’t likely to seriously impact what happens in November 2014. Twenty months is a lifetime in politics, and there’s no assurance that what seems like a matter of life and death today will motivate voters or even affect turnout then.

Like Rothenberg, I don’t think the GOP can count on historical trends, which almost always show the party that controls the White House losing seats in the midterms, bailing out House Speaker John Boehner and company, but there is also no clear path for the Democrats to give back the gavel to Nancy Pelosi. Partly, this is because there just aren’t many swing seats that present a reasonable hope for the Democrats. Having won almost every seat that was within reach last year, it’s hard to see how they better that showing by 17 seats in the next go-round.

Democrats are arguing that last year’s presidential election decided the question of which party was right on taxes and spending. But House Republicans can claim with justice that they were re-elected too, and their voters aren’t any more interested in increasing the size of government via more taxes and the president’s laundry list of new entitlements and programs to fund than they were a year ago.

The coming weeks may be rough sledding for Republicans, but any talk of the impact of the sequester on 2014 is, at best, premature. If they are inclined to stand their ground, as I think they should, the midterms ought not influence that decision. 

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Republicans Shouldn’t Be Too Reasonable

Our Peter Wehner and his colleague Michael Gerson have made a valuable contribution to the debate about the future of the Republican Party with their feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY. Their evaluation of the factors that led to the GOP defeat in 2012 seems to be unexceptionable. While there will be some who will disagree with some aspects of their five recommendations for steps to take to revive the party and help expand its appeal, this manifesto is an excellent starting point for a discussion that can and must be held.

While I concur with many of their conclusions, I would like to comment on another aspect of this conversation that ought to be taken into account as conservatives ponder how to adapt to changing circumstances. The cost of ignoring the need to reach out to a broader audience is obvious: electoral defeat. Yet while rebooting the party’s image and its focus is necessary, there is an inherent danger in the process that needs to be understood properly if Republicans are to avoid making a different mistake than that of being stuck in the political paradigms of the 1980s and 1990s. As bad as that might be, becoming the all too reasonable echoes of Democrats on major issues is just as much of a threat to their political future as anything else.

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Our Peter Wehner and his colleague Michael Gerson have made a valuable contribution to the debate about the future of the Republican Party with their feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY. Their evaluation of the factors that led to the GOP defeat in 2012 seems to be unexceptionable. While there will be some who will disagree with some aspects of their five recommendations for steps to take to revive the party and help expand its appeal, this manifesto is an excellent starting point for a discussion that can and must be held.

While I concur with many of their conclusions, I would like to comment on another aspect of this conversation that ought to be taken into account as conservatives ponder how to adapt to changing circumstances. The cost of ignoring the need to reach out to a broader audience is obvious: electoral defeat. Yet while rebooting the party’s image and its focus is necessary, there is an inherent danger in the process that needs to be understood properly if Republicans are to avoid making a different mistake than that of being stuck in the political paradigms of the 1980s and 1990s. As bad as that might be, becoming the all too reasonable echoes of Democrats on major issues is just as much of a threat to their political future as anything else.

In the midst of an ongoing bitter debate about the sequester budget cuts, the thought of Republicans being too nice may seem comical. The harsh partisan tone that seems to inject itself into virtually every issue makes the possibility of a new era of good feelings in our political world sound more like science fiction than analysis. But lurking behind much of the pushback against the conservative resistance to President Obama’s agenda as well as the anger in some quarters of the GOP about the influence of the Tea Party is an urge not so much to calm the waters as it is to water down the differences between the parties. And it is that instinct that can lead the party down a long path of futility.

While Wehner and Gerson are clear that their suggestions for change must be carried out within a context that keeps Republicans true to their core principles, to listen to some of the talking heads who opine about this subject as well as some of the marginal political figures who support groups like “No Labels,” their focus is not to refocus the party so much as it is to trash conservatism. Their goal seems more about fitting in among the liberal talking heads on CNN and MSNBC than speaking truth to power. Being a liberal’s idea of a conservative is smart strategy for being employed at a major daily or network, but it is not a plan that any party should follow.

Wehner and Gerson do well to recall how Bill Clinton changed the Democrats and Tony Blair transformed Britain’s Labor Party in the 1990s. These success stories may not bring much comfort to conservatives who fear what a centrist GOP would mean for their core issues. But the point here is that it is possible for parties to hold onto their basic identity while becoming more electable.

But there is a different model that is also possible for Republicans to follow that holds no such happy electoral endings.

Democrats dominated American politics from the 1930s to the 1970s. The Franklin Roosevelt coalition of northern liberals and southern bigots eventually collapsed as the public realized the welfare state they had constructed created as many problems as it solved. But until Ronald Reagan came along, the biggest problem for the GOP was not being associated with the legacy of Herbert Hoover. Instead, it was the instinct of so many in the party to try and recast Republicanism in the image of the victorious Democrats.

For far too long, mainstream Republicanism became a function of politicians who saw their task as being to offer the public the Democratic platform minus 10 or 15 percent to show their fiscal prudence. They didn’t so much provide an opposition as an echo that enabled liberals to believe the country’s course was irretrievably set to the left even if there were momentary electoral hiccups such as the election of war hero Dwight Eisenhower on the GOP ticket. These reasonable Republicans were both polite and housebroken in a way that some current conservatives are not. But they were also a party of losers who stood for little that was worth fighting for.

It is that era when liberal and moderate Republicans ruled the roost in the party and routinely cut deals with the seemingly permanent Democratic majorities in the House and Senate that the GOP sympathizers of the “No Labels” crowd seem to invoke when they call for a return to the good old days of bipartisanship. And it was precisely to oppose this spirit of timorous accommodation that William F. Buckley helped found the modern conservative moment. Many so-called moderates now invoke Buckley when they call for weeding out conservatives in order to win more elections. They are right to the extent that the party ought to avoid nominating fools and outliers for winnable Senate seats like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin. But the idea that winning, even if it means diluting or even discarding conservative principles, is the sole point of conservative politics is the fallacy.

A Republican Party that ceases to be a place where tough conservatives are willing to muss up the hair of their liberal antagonists is not going to win many elections. The “No Labels” bunch may think they know more about the mainstream than the likes of Ted Cruz, but a party that loses its base is no more likely to win than one that can’t appeal to the center. Reasonableness that functions as a curb against principled opposition is a trap that Republicans would do well to avoid.

Republicans became a majority party not by being better liberals than the Democrats but by tapping into the support of most Americans for the values and ideas they stood for. If they are to regain that status, it won’t, as Wehner and Gerson rightly note, be by living in the past or failing to adapt. But it also won’t happen if they forget to be conservatives.

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