Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republicans

GOP Shift on Gay Marriage Opposition

Politico reports this morning on the internal shift within the Republican Party on the gay marriage opposition issue, which has been taking place quietly for the past few years. The change has mirrored polling numbers, which show that public opinion has moved sharply in favor of gay marriage since 2008. But it’s still noteworthy that the Republican leadership in Congress isn’t just being passive on this. It has even worked to kill amendments that oppose gay marriage:

Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told Politico.

It’s not like the GOP has become a bastion of progressiveness on gay rights, but there has been an evolution in the political approach — and an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the country. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted. There are more gay public figures — including politicians — and it’s likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers. Just as important — there’s also a libertarian streak of acceptance on people’s sexuality coursing through the House Republican Conference.

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Politico reports this morning on the internal shift within the Republican Party on the gay marriage opposition issue, which has been taking place quietly for the past few years. The change has mirrored polling numbers, which show that public opinion has moved sharply in favor of gay marriage since 2008. But it’s still noteworthy that the Republican leadership in Congress isn’t just being passive on this. It has even worked to kill amendments that oppose gay marriage:

Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told Politico.

It’s not like the GOP has become a bastion of progressiveness on gay rights, but there has been an evolution in the political approach — and an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the country. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted. There are more gay public figures — including politicians — and it’s likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers. Just as important — there’s also a libertarian streak of acceptance on people’s sexuality coursing through the House Republican Conference.

Part of this is about the current political atmosphere. Republicans want to keep the message focused on jobs, the deficit and the economy – issues that will actually get voters mobilized. Bringing up gay marriage at this point would have no benefit for the GOP.

But there’s also the sense that the long-term trend is moving toward acceptance of gay marriage, even within the conservative movement. And Republicans just don’t have the appetite to fight a battle that will be lost, if not next year, then five or 10 years down the line:

Then there are those Republicans who have been fighting for gay rights for decades — people like Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son named Rodrigo, was the first Republican to co-sponsor the repeal of DOMA.

“Also,” she wrote in an email to Politico, “the younger generation is not as fixated on many social issues, as important as they are to other folks. Marriage equality is an issue that is evolving in people’s minds and hearts. As with many controversial issues, the passage of time makes us more comfortable with change.”

If you want to get a sense of where the traditional marriage movement is heading, the recent controversy over the National Organization for Marriage’s leaked action plan – which called for driving a wedge between gay and black people after Proposition 8 – is a good place to start. As correct as NOM may have been from a tactical standpoint (the black community’s support for Prop. 8 helped kill gay marriage in California), the ick-factor here is incredibly high. Just look at the language: NOM said it was seeking to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks”; “provoke” gay marriage supporters into “denouncing these [African American] spokesmen and women as bigots”; and “fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop. 8.” This isn’t the language or the vision of a noble cause, and it certainly doesn’t sound like one that supporters can feel good about belonging to.

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House Set to Approve Ryan’s Budget

The House is set to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget this afternoon, and it’s expected to pass along party lines. Republicans are attempting to build a contrast to the president’s budget, which failed unanimously, 414-0, in the House yesterday – one display of bipartisan unity that the White House probably wasn’t pleased to see.

The L.A. Times reports:

Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House is set to approve a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.

Thursday’s vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting.

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The House is set to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget this afternoon, and it’s expected to pass along party lines. Republicans are attempting to build a contrast to the president’s budget, which failed unanimously, 414-0, in the House yesterday – one display of bipartisan unity that the White House probably wasn’t pleased to see.

The L.A. Times reports:

Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House is set to approve a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.

Thursday’s vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting.

Like last year, Ryan’s budget is unlikely to make it past the Senate. But that’s still one house of Congress more than the president will be able to get his own budget through. Senate Democrats say they won’t bring Obama’s budget to the floor this year, though Senate Republicans may attempt to force a vote on it. When this happened last year, the president’s proposal was defeated unanimously.

Democrats are now frantically trying to shake off the impression that this was a failure for the president. The White House claims the House Republicans brought Obama’s budget to a vote as a political tactic designed to embarrass the president:

“But let’s be very clear: A vote on Congressman Mulvaney’s resolution is not a vote on the president’s budget. This is just a gimmick the Republicans are putting forward to distract from what the Ryan budget does: protects massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while making the middle class and seniors pay,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

House Democrats were reluctant to vote for Obama’s budget because it had no chance of passing and would simply be used against them in election-year attacks. While the same is true of the Republicans and the Ryan budget, apparently they’re willing to take the risk.

But the unanimous rejection isn’t just an embarrassment for the White House, it also complicates Obama’s campaign pitch that he’s running against a “Do Nothing Republican Congress.” The GOP will now argue that it passed a budget in the House, while Democrats in both the House and Senate haven’t voted for a single proposal this year.

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Dems Spinning Possible Health Care Loss

These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.

“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”

“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”

“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.

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These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.

“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”

“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”

“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.

Carville’s probably correct to the extent that it will energize Democratic voters to get another liberal on the Supreme Court (though it’s not as if they weren’t already trying). But in terms of a general public campaign message, I’m not sure this is really very effective. Are we supposed to believe the average independent voter will suddenly be fired up to vote Democrat, based on the hope that there might be a chance to appoint a new justice in the next four years who will support the individual mandate? Considering the fact that the majority of Americans oppose the mandate, this seems highly unrealistic.

No matter how it’s spun, the Supreme Court striking down ObamaCare would be a major blow to the Democratic Party, just as it would be a blow to the Republican Party if the law was upheld in full. There are silver linings for both parties no matter what the outcome – for example, if ObamaCare is upheld, the only way for Americans to get rid of the unpopular law may be to vote Republican – but it’s a stretch to say that would be the best possible scenario for the GOP.

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Dem Tactic to Smear GOP as Anti-Women

After failing to make much headway with women voters by insisting the GOP wants to take away the right to birth control, the Democratic Party is moving onto its next attempt to make the contrived “Republican war on women” narrative stick. The new fight is about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation the GOP has previously supported.

But this time around, Democrats are pinning a provision to it that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain temporary visas as victims of domestic violence. In other words, it’s a transparent, politically-motivated attempt to provoke Republican opposition to VAWA and allow the left to claim the GOP supports violence against women:

Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women’s issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman — with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

“I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. “You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?”

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After failing to make much headway with women voters by insisting the GOP wants to take away the right to birth control, the Democratic Party is moving onto its next attempt to make the contrived “Republican war on women” narrative stick. The new fight is about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation the GOP has previously supported.

But this time around, Democrats are pinning a provision to it that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain temporary visas as victims of domestic violence. In other words, it’s a transparent, politically-motivated attempt to provoke Republican opposition to VAWA and allow the left to claim the GOP supports violence against women:

Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women’s issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman — with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

“I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. “You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?”

Senate Democratic women are jumping on this gimmick today by marching on the Senate floor to insist on the quick renewal of the legislation.

But the one positive for Republicans is that there’s strong public opposition to illegal immigration. If they want any hope of winning on this issue, they’ll need to emphasize that it’s the Democrats who are holding the reauthorization hostage by tying it to provisions that would encourage more fraud in the immigration system. To the Senate Democratic women marching today, the GOP might argue: We would be happy to extend VAWA in its current form. We would love to do it immediately. In fact, the only thing delaying its extension is the controversial measure you tacked onto it.

What conservatives should avoid is relitigating VAWA. Yes, there are legitimate arguments that could be made against the law, some of which have been pursued by civil rights groups like the ACLU. But it’s also been in place for almost two decades, and while it may not be perfect, it’s negligible compared to the real battles conservatives need to focus on. If there’s opposition to VAWA from prominent conservative pundits, there’s a good chance it’ll be cited as ironclad proof that the Right is anti-women and used to divert attention from the serious election issues.

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Democrats Mull Tax Hike on Oil Companies

President Obama has been arguing for the repeal of certain oil company tax breaks for years, and it looks like the current hike in gas prices may provide the White House with a convenient opening:

After coordinating with the White House, Senate Democrats expect to consider, likely before the end of the month, legislation that would repeal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Details of the bill are still being decided, but the revenues could be used for consumer relief or to fund alternative energy initiatives, the aide said.

The aide said there are no easy energy solutions and that Democrats will continue to pursue the “all-of-the-above” strategy advocated by the White House.

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President Obama has been arguing for the repeal of certain oil company tax breaks for years, and it looks like the current hike in gas prices may provide the White House with a convenient opening:

After coordinating with the White House, Senate Democrats expect to consider, likely before the end of the month, legislation that would repeal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Details of the bill are still being decided, but the revenues could be used for consumer relief or to fund alternative energy initiatives, the aide said.

The aide said there are no easy energy solutions and that Democrats will continue to pursue the “all-of-the-above” strategy advocated by the White House.

Republicans argue that increasing the tax burden on oil companies is the last thing we should be doing during a time of high gas prices. “If someone in the administration can show me that raising taxes on American energy production will lower gas prices and create jobs, then I will gladly discuss it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to Roll Call. “But since nobody can, and the president doesn’t, this is merely an attempt to deflect from his failed policies.”

While some Republicans maintain that repealing tax breaks for oil and gas companies will lead directly to higher gas at the pump, that claim is debatable. That said, higher taxes on oil and gas companies certainly don’t lead to lower gas prices or energy-sector job creation.

Which makes you wonder why the administration and Senate Democrats are touting this as a way of dealing with rising gas prices. According to Roll Call, Democrats are still considering whether the tax breaks would be used to pay for “consumer energy relief” or “alternative energy initiatives.” In other words, either flat-out election-year bribery with consumer energy rebates, or the subsidization of various Obama-approved “green energy” initiatives. None of which will address the underlying economic reasons behind the rising gas prices.

Republicans have had political success with the gas price debate so far, particularly by emphasizing the importance of pursuing domestic energy sources like the Keystone XL pipeline. But it sounds like Senate Democrats are preparing for another class warfare-tinged fight with the GOP, this time about tax breaks for mammoth oil companies. That could help Obama pivot back to the populist, tax-the-rich strategy that he was pursuing last fall.

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Team Obama’s Negative Ads Against Palin

The Obama campaign wishes so badly it could run against a divisive national figure like Sarah Palin that it’s decided to just pretend it actually is. Here’s Obama’s latest ad, which attacks Palin for calling him a radical (via HotAir):

The strategy of attacking Palin – who is still influential with the conservative base but increasingly marginal in the Republican Party – could be chalked up to Obama’s nostalgia for the 2008 campaign. But it also seems remarkably similar to a communications strategy the White House orchestrated back in 2009, when it tried to elevate another polarizing figure, Rush Limbaugh, to the position of “de facto” Republican leader, thus forcing congressional Republicans to respond to his inflammatory comments. Politico reported on the White House’s internal plan at the time:

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The Obama campaign wishes so badly it could run against a divisive national figure like Sarah Palin that it’s decided to just pretend it actually is. Here’s Obama’s latest ad, which attacks Palin for calling him a radical (via HotAir):

The strategy of attacking Palin – who is still influential with the conservative base but increasingly marginal in the Republican Party – could be chalked up to Obama’s nostalgia for the 2008 campaign. But it also seems remarkably similar to a communications strategy the White House orchestrated back in 2009, when it tried to elevate another polarizing figure, Rush Limbaugh, to the position of “de facto” Republican leader, thus forcing congressional Republicans to respond to his inflammatory comments. Politico reported on the White House’s internal plan at the time:

Top Democrats believe they have struck political gold by depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party, a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House.

Soon it clicked: Democrats realized they could roll out a new GOP bogeyman for the post-Bush era by turning to an old one in Limbaugh, a polarizing figure since he rose to prominence in the 1990s. …

The seeds were planted in October after Democracy Corps, the Democratic polling company run by Carville and Greenberg, included Limbaugh’s name in a survey and found that many Americans just don’t like him.

“His positives for voters under 40 was 11 percent,” Carville recalled with a degree of amazement, alluding to a question about whether voters had a positive or negative view of the talk show host.

Then came what Begala called “the tripwire.”

“I hope he fails,” Limbaugh said of Obama on his show four days before the president was sworn in. It was a time when Obama’s approval ratings were soaring, but more than that, polls showed even people who didn’t vote for him badly wanted him to succeed, coming to office at a time of economic meltdown.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the first to jump on the statement, sending the video to its membership to raise cash and stir a petition drive.

Come to think of it, this seems to bear a close resemblance to how the White House and Democrats manufactured the whole Susan Fluke/Rush Limbaugh controversy duringthe past few weeks. The strategy goes something like this:

1.)   Obama personally responds to inflammatory comments from a loose-cannon conservative figure, in an attempt to raise this person’s standing to the level of a serious Republican leader.

2.)   The media reports on the “controversy.”

3.)   Right-wing bloggers and Fox News pundits defend the loose-cannon conservative.

4.)  Democrats call on Republican candidates to repudiate the comments.

5.)   The media asks Republican candidates whether they agree with the polarizing conservative’s comments, which sets up a lose-lose scenario. If the candidate criticizes the comments too forcefully, he risks alienating the Fox News demographic. If the GOP candidate criticizes the comments too gently, Democrats slam him for pandering.

Maybe the anti-Sarah Palin campaign video really is just a sign the Obama team is in completely desperate straits and simply has nothing else to run on or against. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats start trying to emphasize Palin’s influence in the Republican Party, and call on Romney, Santorum, et al, to condemn her comments in the coming weeks.

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Are Women Really Ditching the GOP?

Are Republicans losing female supporters because of the Democratic Party’s incessant attempts to smear them as anti-women? Polls say no, but when do liberals ever let statistics get in the way of a good narrative? The truth vigilantes at the New York Times put seven reporters across the country on the case, and, after “dozens of interviews in recent weeks,” managed to track down five female Republicans and one independent who displayed varying degrees of disappointment at the GOP candidates’ recent comments on social issues. The result was this headline: “Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment with Republicans.”

The Times reports:

In Iowa, one of the crucial battlegrounds in the coming presidential election, and in other states, dozens of interviews in recent weeks have found that moderate Republican and independent women — one of the most important electoral swing groups — are disenchanted by the Republican focus on social issues like contraception and abortion in an election that, until recently, had been mostly dominated by the economy.

And in what appears to be an abrupt shift, some Republican-leaning women like Ms. Russell said they might switch sides and vote for Mr. Obama — if they turn out to vote at all.

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Are Republicans losing female supporters because of the Democratic Party’s incessant attempts to smear them as anti-women? Polls say no, but when do liberals ever let statistics get in the way of a good narrative? The truth vigilantes at the New York Times put seven reporters across the country on the case, and, after “dozens of interviews in recent weeks,” managed to track down five female Republicans and one independent who displayed varying degrees of disappointment at the GOP candidates’ recent comments on social issues. The result was this headline: “Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment with Republicans.”

The Times reports:

In Iowa, one of the crucial battlegrounds in the coming presidential election, and in other states, dozens of interviews in recent weeks have found that moderate Republican and independent women — one of the most important electoral swing groups — are disenchanted by the Republican focus on social issues like contraception and abortion in an election that, until recently, had been mostly dominated by the economy.

And in what appears to be an abrupt shift, some Republican-leaning women like Ms. Russell said they might switch sides and vote for Mr. Obama — if they turn out to vote at all.

The Times is careful to note that “[to] what extent women feel alienated remains unclear: most interviews for this article were conducted from a randomly generated list of voters who had been surveyed in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, and their responses are anecdotal, not conclusive.”

Fortunately, there have been actual polls conducted on whether women have become disenchanted with the Republican candidates. Today’s Washington Post/ABC poll found “no measurable effect at this point” showing that women are moving toward the Democratic Party. In fact, President Obama actually appears to have lost ground with women in a general election matchup against Mitt Romney:

Compared with last month, disapproval of Obama’s job performance is up slightly among men, and there’s no increase in approval among women. And on vote preference vs. Romney, Obama did better among men and women alike last month, and has lost ground slightly among both sexes this month. In the latest results Romney has a 12-point lead among men who are registered voters; among women, it’s Obama +6.

So the only evidence that Republicans have lost support among women at this point is in a few cherry-picked anecdotes from the New York Times.

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Obama Quietly Trying to Kill Keystone Bill

Just yesterday, President Obama promised he was going to do whatever he could to speed up pipeline construction, and now it turns out he’s quietly lobbying behind the scenes for the exact opposite:

President Barack Obama is intervening in a Senate fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline and personally lobbying Democrats to reject an amendment calling for its construction, according to several sources familiar with the talks.

The White House lobbying effort, including phone calls from the president to Democrats, signals that the vote could be close when it heads to the floor Thursday. The president is trying to defeat an amendment that would give election-year fodder to his Republican critics who have accused him of blocking a job-creating energy project at a time of high gas prices.

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Just yesterday, President Obama promised he was going to do whatever he could to speed up pipeline construction, and now it turns out he’s quietly lobbying behind the scenes for the exact opposite:

President Barack Obama is intervening in a Senate fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline and personally lobbying Democrats to reject an amendment calling for its construction, according to several sources familiar with the talks.

The White House lobbying effort, including phone calls from the president to Democrats, signals that the vote could be close when it heads to the floor Thursday. The president is trying to defeat an amendment that would give election-year fodder to his Republican critics who have accused him of blocking a job-creating energy project at a time of high gas prices.

The fact that Obama is personally inserting himself into this fight shows how worried the White House is. If the bill passes, Republicans will have a huge bludgeon to hit Obama with during the campaign. And if it fails, Republicans will still be able to blame Obama for blocking a pipeline that would create thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. dependency on OPEC. No wonder his campaign is panicking now that the national conversation is turning to rising gas prices.

But the longer Obama holds up Keystone XL construction, the more likely it becomes that Canada will take its oil exports elsewhere.  Alberta Premier Alison Redford said as much yesterday during a meeting with oil industry insiders in Washington, according to reports:

Meeting later Wednesday with Canadian diplomats and industry representatives, Redford again stressed Alberta’s plans to pursue exports to Asia rather than rely on the uncertainty in the U.S. market.

“We certainly want the United States to be our natural customers. But we are an exporting nation,” she said at a luncheon hosted by the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“We have resources that we must export and we will find ways to export those resources.”

Obama’s position on the Keystone XL issue has become so muddled that he’s ended up alienating all sides of the debate simultaneously. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because that’s the way he operates on most issues involving a foreign ally.

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Obama: GOP Candidates “Casual” About War

President Obama claims the GOP candidates are “casual” about war. Some might counter that President Obama is too casual about an Iranian nuclear bomb:

President Obama fired back at his Republican challengers who have accused him of being soft on Iran, saying at a White House press conference that the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program is “not a game.”

Suggesting that the criticism being lobbed at him is not anchored in substance, Obama accused his rivals — without mentioning their names — of being “casual” about starting a war.

“If some of these folks think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so,” he said. “Everything else is just talk.”

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President Obama claims the GOP candidates are “casual” about war. Some might counter that President Obama is too casual about an Iranian nuclear bomb:

President Obama fired back at his Republican challengers who have accused him of being soft on Iran, saying at a White House press conference that the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program is “not a game.”

Suggesting that the criticism being lobbed at him is not anchored in substance, Obama accused his rivals — without mentioning their names — of being “casual” about starting a war.

“If some of these folks think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so,” he said. “Everything else is just talk.”

According to Obama, there is still “a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically” with Iran – and when Republicans attack him for being too weak, that’s only because they don’t understand the gravity of war.

“I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make, in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impact that has on their lives, the impact that has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy – this is not a game,” he continued.

Obama’s comments disingenuously imply that Republicans are criticizing him for not bombing Iran, when in fact Republicans are criticizing him because it’s hard to believe he’d ever bomb Iran, even if the world depended on it. As Jonathan outlined earlier today, the Iranians have little reason to take Obama’s threats of force seriously.

And why should they? Obama hasn’t even been resolute when it comes to sanctions. He’s spent the last few days talking about how tough his latest round is, but the congressional deadline for the administration to begin the sanctions went by last week with no action. The Obama administration still hasn’t put them into effect, and there’s been no clear indication of when the Treasury Department will get around to it.

That alone is reason enough for the candidates to criticize Obama for being too weak. And the next time Obama blasts them for having a “casual” view on war, he should realize it’s not the Republicans who are moving us closer to a military confrontation–it’s Iran.

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Gallup’s Good News for the GOP

There are two interesting polls from Gallup today worth highlighting.

The first shows that by 53 percent to 45 percent, Republicans, including independents who lean Republican, are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they are “more enthusiastic than usual about voting” this year. The 53 percent of Republicans who feel more enthusiastic about voting today — as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are engaged in a pitched nomination battle — is greater than the 44 percent found in February 2008, when John McCain and Mike Huckabee were still facing off in the primaries.

Gallup points out that the enthusiasm question is important because, in the last several presidential and midterm elections, the party whose rank-and-file members showed the most enthusiasm about voting toward the end of the campaign either gained congressional seats or won the presidency. It’s important to note, too, that enthusiasm is down among key parts of Barack Obama’s 2008 coalition, including non-whites (down 26 percent compared to this time four years ago) and 18-29 year olds (down 28 percent compared to this time four years ago).

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There are two interesting polls from Gallup today worth highlighting.

The first shows that by 53 percent to 45 percent, Republicans, including independents who lean Republican, are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they are “more enthusiastic than usual about voting” this year. The 53 percent of Republicans who feel more enthusiastic about voting today — as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are engaged in a pitched nomination battle — is greater than the 44 percent found in February 2008, when John McCain and Mike Huckabee were still facing off in the primaries.

Gallup points out that the enthusiasm question is important because, in the last several presidential and midterm elections, the party whose rank-and-file members showed the most enthusiasm about voting toward the end of the campaign either gained congressional seats or won the presidency. It’s important to note, too, that enthusiasm is down among key parts of Barack Obama’s 2008 coalition, including non-whites (down 26 percent compared to this time four years ago) and 18-29 year olds (down 28 percent compared to this time four years ago).

The second poll shows that registered voters are currently split in their intentions to vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate in their congressional district, with 47 percent saying they would vote for each “if the elections for Congress were being held today.” Two previous polls, from December and August of last year, showed Democratic advantages of four and seven percentage points. Here’s why this is bad news for Democrats: At about this point in the 2010 election cycle, Democrats led by a three-point margin on the generic ballot. As Gallup points out, Republicans went on to gain a net total of 63 seats in the House in 2010, the largest such gain for the party since 1938.

This doesn’t mean the GOP nominee will win the presidency or the Republicans will re-take control of the Senate. It simply means that contrary to much of the Conventional Wisdom these days, the Republican Party is in fairly strong shape – and President Obama, while certainly in a better position than he was last fall, still faces a steep mountain to climb if he hopes to win a second term.

 

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Rubio and Media Double Standards

BuzzFeed wins the prize for one of the most unexpected political revelations of the campaign season:

[Sen. Marco] Rubio was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his family at around the age of eight, and remained active in the faith for a number of years during his early youth, family members told BuzzFeed.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant confirmed the story to BuzzFeed, and said Rubio returned to the Catholic church a few years later with his family, receiving his first communion on Christmas day in 1984 at the age of 13.

The revelation adds a new dimension to Rubio’s already-nuanced religious history—and could complicate his political future at a time when many Republicans see him as the odds-on favorite for the 2012 vice presidential nod.

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BuzzFeed wins the prize for one of the most unexpected political revelations of the campaign season:

[Sen. Marco] Rubio was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his family at around the age of eight, and remained active in the faith for a number of years during his early youth, family members told BuzzFeed.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant confirmed the story to BuzzFeed, and said Rubio returned to the Catholic church a few years later with his family, receiving his first communion on Christmas day in 1984 at the age of 13.

The revelation adds a new dimension to Rubio’s already-nuanced religious history—and could complicate his political future at a time when many Republicans see him as the odds-on favorite for the 2012 vice presidential nod.

BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins speculates that Rubio’s religious history might knock him off Romney’s VP short list. As much as the bias against Mormons persists in some Republican circles, it’s hard to imagine spending a few years as a Mormon as a child would hurt his chances of getting the vice presidential nomination.

Though, oddly enough, Rubio’s office seems to be worried it might. It looks like they were concerned enough to preemptively pass the story to a friendly Miami Herald blogger, shortly after BuzzFeed contacted them for comment:

A sign that Rubio’s aides see the story as potentially damaging: BuzzFeed’s inquiries appear to have sent them into frantic damage-control mode, and after email inquiries from BuzzFeed — but minutes before Conant responded with a phone call this morning — a brief item appeared on the blog of the Miami Herald mentioning the senator’s religous past. Conant said Rubio planned to discuss his time as a Mormon in his forthcoming book.

Meanwhile, at HotAir, Tina Korbe sees a glaring double-standard in the Rubio story:

Meanwhile, the story calls to mind what the Media Research Center discovered some time ago: The media covers the religious views of Republican politicians in far greater detail than it ever covers the religious views of Democratic politicians. Then, after playing up those religious beliefs, the MSM accuses the Republican candidates themselves of making everything about religion.

Case in point: Obama’s childhood and adolescence received little coverage during the 2008 election, but apparently the brief childhood religion of Rubio is fair game today. Not only is it an example of how Republicans often receive more scrutiny, it also shows that prejudice against Mormons is still prevalent enough to actually make this an issue.

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Christie to NJ: Everyone Sacrificed, Everyone Benefits

Yesterday was a pretty good day for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. As the video of his put-up-or-shut-up comments about Warren Buffett made the rounds, Quinnipiac released a poll showing Christie to be the favorite of possible Republican “white knights,” beating out Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin. Then the Republican candidates debated (again)–almost always a boon for any Republican not up on that stage.

But there was more to his Buffett shaming than simple grandstanding, and it revealed something about Christie’s own political prospects. I’ve written before about how Christie’s primary challenge in New Jersey was to summon the political capital necessary to continue enacting his much-needed reform agenda and win reelection as the state’s Democrats began to pull away from him. Christie has benefited from the cooperation of Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the vocal support of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but they won’t be at his side when he runs for a second term.

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Yesterday was a pretty good day for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. As the video of his put-up-or-shut-up comments about Warren Buffett made the rounds, Quinnipiac released a poll showing Christie to be the favorite of possible Republican “white knights,” beating out Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin. Then the Republican candidates debated (again)–almost always a boon for any Republican not up on that stage.

But there was more to his Buffett shaming than simple grandstanding, and it revealed something about Christie’s own political prospects. I’ve written before about how Christie’s primary challenge in New Jersey was to summon the political capital necessary to continue enacting his much-needed reform agenda and win reelection as the state’s Democrats began to pull away from him. Christie has benefited from the cooperation of Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the vocal support of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but they won’t be at his side when he runs for a second term.

November, meanwhile, dashed Christie’s hopes of getting more help from Republicans, as the Democrats held steady their majority in the state Senate and gained one seat in the Assembly.

As Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told NJ Spotlight:

“It is a very disappointing night for Gov. Christie,” said Dworkin, adding the GOP should have gained as many as six seats. “He outraised the Democrats by millions of dollars. He put his high approval rating and his personal reputation on the line by going on network television in New York and Philadelphia. And in the end, he wasn’t able to even keep the status quo in the legislature, much less win the several seats that Republicans might have expected given his efforts.”

State Republicans were no more popular and the state legislature would move no closer to giving Christie an allied chamber. What’s more, the paradox of recovery threatened to sap Christie’s momentum further: as his reform measures began to work, the electorate’s appetite for sacrifice would diminish. So Christie had to make the argument that the state was not only moving in the right direction, but that the state’s residents are already beginning to reap the benefits of the first two years of Christie’s term. So on Tuesday, he announced his budget, and said this:

In this budget: I propose that we provide tax relief to every New Jersey citizen – through the first year of an across-the-board 10 percent cut in their income taxes; and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. The people of New Jersey have suffered for too long under the burden of high taxes, it is time for real relief.

I propose that we increase school aid, for the second year in a row, by over $200 million, to $8.8 billion, a record amount of state aid to education. There is no priority more important than educating our children, so let’s reform our schools and give them the tools to be great.

I propose that we more than double the state’s contribution to our pension system. Last year, we enacted landmark reform that showed the nation that we can come together on a bi-partisan basis to manage our long-term liabilities. In my budget, the state will make good on its obligation to fund our pension system….

So this package provides relief for every New Jerseyan, up and down the income scale. It recognizes that New Jersey’s tax situation had gotten out of control and begins to bring it back under our control. It recognizes that every New Jerseyan has shared in the sacrifice that was necessary to begin the New Jersey Comeback and that every New Jerseyan should share in the benefit we’re beginning to feel.

And that is really what his Buffett comment was about. Buffett has adopted the Democrats’ class warfare terminology, splitting the public into those who deserve government largesse and those who should pay even more to fund it. “Everyone deserves to have the government responsive to their concerns and needs,” Christie countered.

Christie is so popular among conservatives in part for this reason. He has shown conservative reform works and is the best antidote to the overspending, cronyism, and political patronage that wrecked the state’s finances in the first place.

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Gingrich’s Transcendent Self-Regard

The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on an examination of papers collected over nearly three decades, documents compiled by a former Newt Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. What they reveal, according to the Post, is “a politician of moderate-to-liberal beginnings, a product of the civil rights era who moved to the right with an eye on political expediency — and privately savaged Republicans he was praising in public. Even as he gained a reputation as a conservative firebrand, the documents show Gingrich was viewed by his staff primarily as a tactician — the ‘tent evangelist’ of the conservative movement, one staffer said — with little ideological core.”

There’s a lot to sort through, but two things in particular stood out to me. One is that Gingrich’s chief of staff in 1983, Frank Gregorsky, said (according to a transcript of a staff meeting) that Gingrich “assumed that he’s the whole Republican Party. He knows more than the president [Ronald Reagan], the president’s people, [Robert H.] Michel, [James] Baker. He calls them stupid all the time, and I think that’s going to get him into big trouble someday.”

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The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on an examination of papers collected over nearly three decades, documents compiled by a former Newt Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. What they reveal, according to the Post, is “a politician of moderate-to-liberal beginnings, a product of the civil rights era who moved to the right with an eye on political expediency — and privately savaged Republicans he was praising in public. Even as he gained a reputation as a conservative firebrand, the documents show Gingrich was viewed by his staff primarily as a tactician — the ‘tent evangelist’ of the conservative movement, one staffer said — with little ideological core.”

There’s a lot to sort through, but two things in particular stood out to me. One is that Gingrich’s chief of staff in 1983, Frank Gregorsky, said (according to a transcript of a staff meeting) that Gingrich “assumed that he’s the whole Republican Party. He knows more than the president [Ronald Reagan], the president’s people, [Robert H.] Michel, [James] Baker. He calls them stupid all the time, and I think that’s going to get him into big trouble someday.”

And then there’s what Gingrich said in a 1979 address to his congressional staff: “When I say save the West, I mean that. That is my job. . . . It is not my job to win reelection. It is not my job to take care of passport problems. It is not my job to get a bill through Congress. My job description as I have defined it is to save Western civilization.”

None of this is surprising to many of those who have watched Gingrich during the years, especially those who have worked with him and for him. A man of transcendent self-regard, Gingrich views himself as a world-historical figure, our Horatius at the bridge, one of the few people standing between (in Gingrich’s words) “us and Auschwitz.”

The former House speaker possesses some considerable talents. But there is such a thing as presidential temperament. Gingrich doesn’t have it–not by a country mile–and therefore, he will never be president of the United States.

 

 

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Adelson’s New Goal: Take Down Santorum

Considering the attacks Sheldon Adelson funded against Mitt Romney – a candidate he reportedly likes – just imagine how he treats candidates he disagrees with:

In a bit of political chess, Mr. Adelson is ready to not only directly support the former House speaker in the Republican primary, but to use his cash to push Rick Santorum from his position atop the latest national polls, according to people who have discussed the matter with Mr. Adelson.

If Mr. Gingrich could afford to continue campaigning, one of those people said, he might be able to draw off conservative and evangelical voters from Mr. Santorum, improving the chances of Mitt Romney, who Mr. Adelson believes has a better chance to win November’s general election. …

Mr. Adelson doesn’t oppose Mr. Santorum, but he doesn’t share the former Pennsylvania senator’s socially conservative positions, including his strong anti-abortion views, associates said. Mr. Santorum was one of only two Republicans who didn’t meet with Mr. Adelson in October around the time of a candidates’ debate in Las Vegas, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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Considering the attacks Sheldon Adelson funded against Mitt Romney – a candidate he reportedly likes – just imagine how he treats candidates he disagrees with:

In a bit of political chess, Mr. Adelson is ready to not only directly support the former House speaker in the Republican primary, but to use his cash to push Rick Santorum from his position atop the latest national polls, according to people who have discussed the matter with Mr. Adelson.

If Mr. Gingrich could afford to continue campaigning, one of those people said, he might be able to draw off conservative and evangelical voters from Mr. Santorum, improving the chances of Mitt Romney, who Mr. Adelson believes has a better chance to win November’s general election. …

Mr. Adelson doesn’t oppose Mr. Santorum, but he doesn’t share the former Pennsylvania senator’s socially conservative positions, including his strong anti-abortion views, associates said. Mr. Santorum was one of only two Republicans who didn’t meet with Mr. Adelson in October around the time of a candidates’ debate in Las Vegas, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Adelson reportedly hasn’t shifted allegiances to Romney, but it’s basically implied if he pursues this strategy. The last thing Romney needs at this point is for Gingrich to drop out of the race. And from Romney’s perspective, Adelson’s cash could be put to much better use by funding Gingrich ads against Santorum. After all, Romney doesn’t really need the money at this point, and Newt has more credibility on the right to pull off harsh attacks on Santorum’s social positions.

This also shows that any hopes Republicans had of capturing a greater percentage of the Jewish vote may go out the window if Santorum’s the candidate. Moderate Jews who might consider voting Republican based on Israel will probably find it hard to support a candidate with far-right views on abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

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Partisan Divide About Israeli Strike on Iran

A Pew Research Center poll released today found the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, backing up previous polls that have found similar results. But there’s also a fairly large partisan divide when it comes to supporting Israeli military action against Iran:

About half of Americans (51 percent) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) say the U.S. should support Israel’s military action while just 5 percent say the U.S. should oppose military action. …

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71 percent of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

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A Pew Research Center poll released today found the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, backing up previous polls that have found similar results. But there’s also a fairly large partisan divide when it comes to supporting Israeli military action against Iran:

About half of Americans (51 percent) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) say the U.S. should support Israel’s military action while just 5 percent say the U.S. should oppose military action. …

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71 percent of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

First, two items to note: the percentage of Americans who would want the U.S. to oppose an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program is in the single-digits, which leaves groups like J Street far outside the mainstream. Also note that Republicans are far more likely to want the U.S. to support an Israeli strike, while Democrats and independents are more likely to want to stay neutral.

Next, there’s bit of a discrepancy here. While the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from going nuclear, the majority would also prefer to stay neutral if Israel is the country taking the action. It almost seems contradictory.

One reason could be because there’s no option for neutrality on the first question. You either support taking military action to prevent Iranian nukes, or you don’t. In contrast, the Israel question provides three response choices: support, oppose, or stay neutral.

Overall, the poll confirms what we’ve been seeing lately, which is that the public supports all options on the table when it comes to preventing a nuclear Iran. And the partisan gap on the Israel question highlights once again that Republicans tend to be the more reliable party when it comes to support for the Jewish state and seriousness about national security.

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Obama’s Budget a “Re-election Plan”

President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”

According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:

  • It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
  • It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
  • It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.
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President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”

According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:

  • It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
  • It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
  • It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.

On a conference call today, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan slammed the president’s plan as a purely political move that does nothing to address the country’s fiscal problems. “This is not a fiscal plan to save America from a debt crisis,” said Ryan. “It’s a political plan for the president’s re-election.”

According to Ryan, the plan will lead America to the point of painful forced austerity. Sessions, who was also on the call, said the idea that “next year the United States could be like Greece” may not be so far off.

Ryan promised that House Republicans will address the debt crisis in their budget plan, and said they will present the public with a clear choice between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.

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Gingrich on the “Age of Austerity”

Talking Points Memo flags this “austerity” criticism from Newt Gingrich as a sign the speaker is out of touch with the rest of the Republican Party:

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate was asked by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet The Press” whether his hopes for a U.S. colony on the moon fly in the face of the GOP’s fiscal responsibility mantra. Gingrich responded with some choice words about austerity itself before defending his lunar ambitions.

“First of all, David, I don’t think you’ll ever find me talking about an age of austerity. I don’t think that’s the right solution,” Gingrich said. “I am a pro-growth Republican. I’m a pro-growth conservative. I think the answer is to grow the economy, not to punish the American people with austerity.”

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Talking Points Memo flags this “austerity” criticism from Newt Gingrich as a sign the speaker is out of touch with the rest of the Republican Party:

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate was asked by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet The Press” whether his hopes for a U.S. colony on the moon fly in the face of the GOP’s fiscal responsibility mantra. Gingrich responded with some choice words about austerity itself before defending his lunar ambitions.

“First of all, David, I don’t think you’ll ever find me talking about an age of austerity. I don’t think that’s the right solution,” Gingrich said. “I am a pro-growth Republican. I’m a pro-growth conservative. I think the answer is to grow the economy, not to punish the American people with austerity.”

Writes TPM reporter Sahil Kapur:

His comments are remarkable in that they appear to contradict the core economic belief of the modern Republican Party that Gingrich hopes to lead. In this era of high deficits, austerity is routinely heralded by conservatives and GOP lawmakers as the path to economic prosperity, and the party was successful last year in keeping the issue atop the 2011 legislative agenda.

It’s a little simplistic to say austerity is the “core economic belief” of the Republican Party. Pro-growth policies should go hand-in-hand with necessary budget cuts. But that has little to do with Gingrich’s moon program, which comes off as wildly out-of-touch with what the conservative movement – and independent voters – think is necessary for the country’s future. In fact, according to a poll by The Hill today, just one out of five voters support Gingrich’s permanent moon colony proposal. As the public watches the default disaster unfolding in Greece, and our country’s own debt piles up, the appetite for a moon colony is understandably small.

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Did Obama Win the Battle and the War Against Entitlement Reform?

In late January, I noted that Senate Democrats were furious with a member of their own party, Ron Wyden, for attempting to negotiate bipartisan Medicare reform with Paul Ryan. The Democrats expressed frustration that Wyden was taking an election issue off the table for them, by getting Ryan to agree to leave traditional Medicare as an option in future reforms and by putting a bipartisan stamp on what could be a controversial plan.

The Democrats thought they had Ryan beat–but they didn’t want him to retreat just yet. An article in The Hill today buttresses the Democrats’ interpretation of the dustup over Ryan’s “roadmap,” though the issue may have spooked Ryan’s fellow Republicans more than Ryan himself:

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was bloodied in the first round after his proposal to revamp Medicare became a campaign poster for Democrats.

Obama, who skirted major proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security in his own budget last year, invited Ryan to a speech and then ripped him from the stage, saying the proposal would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Ryan’s plan soon became a campaign theme that Democrats credited with handing them a special election victory in upstate New York.

One year later, Ryan is showing he can adjust after taking a punch, which would be a good thing, as the president is going to present his fiscal 2013 budget next Monday.

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In late January, I noted that Senate Democrats were furious with a member of their own party, Ron Wyden, for attempting to negotiate bipartisan Medicare reform with Paul Ryan. The Democrats expressed frustration that Wyden was taking an election issue off the table for them, by getting Ryan to agree to leave traditional Medicare as an option in future reforms and by putting a bipartisan stamp on what could be a controversial plan.

The Democrats thought they had Ryan beat–but they didn’t want him to retreat just yet. An article in The Hill today buttresses the Democrats’ interpretation of the dustup over Ryan’s “roadmap,” though the issue may have spooked Ryan’s fellow Republicans more than Ryan himself:

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was bloodied in the first round after his proposal to revamp Medicare became a campaign poster for Democrats.

Obama, who skirted major proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security in his own budget last year, invited Ryan to a speech and then ripped him from the stage, saying the proposal would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Ryan’s plan soon became a campaign theme that Democrats credited with handing them a special election victory in upstate New York.

One year later, Ryan is showing he can adjust after taking a punch, which would be a good thing, as the president is going to present his fiscal 2013 budget next Monday.

It should be interesting to see if the president is at all willing to submit a budget that has any chance of actually becoming law. His budget proposal in May 2011 received not a single vote–even from Democrats–and went down 0-97. A Democratic budget that scares every single Democrat into voting against it is not a particularly serious offer, and we’ll learn next week whether we’ll see a repeat of that.

But we’ll also see how serious congressional Republicans are about entitlement reform. Mitt Romney has shown some hesitation on the issue, though The Hill story notes that Romney’s own plan is very similar to Ryan’s new plan. But Republicans may have even less appetite for reform than Romney does.

“I would hope that it’s a thoughtful budget that focuses on the numbers for the next fiscal year rather than being some ‘roadmap’ for the next 10 years that invites criticism,” Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette told The Hill.

If that’s the attitude among congressional Republicans–that the party should not seek to reform institutions or pass forward-thinking budgets, but rather try to survive year to year until insolvency swallows the country whole–Ryan and Romney will be leaders with no followers. And Obama will have won a larger victory for himself and for the welfare state than even he thought.

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Obama’s Israel Problem Cause of Democrat Losses Among Jews

As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.

Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.

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As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.

Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.

Because Republicans have gained only four points nationwide, it isn’t possible to argue the Democratic loss among the Jews is nothing special. Israel is the likely reason for the Democrats’ Jewish problem, because the GOP gain among Jews is higher than among any other religious group except for Mormons. The Mormon figures are certainly due to anticipation that Mitt Romney might become the first Latter-day Saint to ascend to the White House. But there is no reason to think Jews are unhappier than Catholics, Protestants, atheists or agnostics about the economy. The friction between Obama and Israel about the status of Jerusalem, the 1967 boundaries and settlements is the only possible explanation for Jews to be more disillusioned with the Democrats than other voters.

Many Democrats have spent the last two years publicly denying Obama would suffer politically for his slights of Israel and its leaders, but the White House’s Jewish charm offensive in the last several months belied this optimism. Obama’s exaggerated claim he has done more to enhance Israel’s security than any president in history is aimed at persuading Jews to forget his administration came into office bragging about how distancing itself from Israel was a change from George W. Bush’s policies. The nasty spats with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that followed have clearly taken their toll on his party’s ability to count on the loyalty of many Jews.

While this shift toward the GOP is significant, it is not a harbinger of a full realignment of Jewish voters. Most Jews are ideologically liberal and partisan Democrats and unlikely to vote Republican under almost any circumstance. Liberal Jews remain far more afraid of conservative Christians than Hamas terrorists and will always judge any Democratic candidate, even one like Obama who has demonstrated little real affinity for Israel, on a curve.

But that doesn’t mean Jewish swing voters don’t exist. It may not be realistic for Republicans to expect they will match Ronald Reagan’s record 39 percent of the vote in 1980 this year. But in Barack Obama they have a Democratic opponent who, like Jimmy Carter 32 years ago, is distinctly vulnerable on the issue of Israel. Were a Republican candidate able to gain the same nine points over the 22 percent share of the Jewish vote John McCain got in 2008 that could be enough to make the difference in a few crucial battleground states. If the two parties are closely matched in Pennsylvania and New Jersey but especially in Florida, a large Jewish turnout for the GOP could sink the president’s hopes for re-election.

Though Democrats already knew they were in trouble in the Jewish community, this poll will undoubtedly lead them to redouble their efforts this year to spin Obama’s record on Israel and to do everything they can to scare Jews away from the GOP. It will also give Republicans good reason to fight harder for the votes of a group that remains, after African-Americans, the second most Democratic sector of the electorate.

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Poll: Independents at Record Levels

According to a Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011 by two points to 40 percent, the highest Gallup has ever measured. What’s interesting to note is that Gallup records from 1951-1988 indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30 percent range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years.

In addition, more Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31 percent to 27 percent. (Republican identification dropped from 29 percent to 27 percent while Democratic identification held steady at 31 percent). Gallup points out that more Americans have identified as Democrats than Republicans in all but a few years since 1988 and the four-point gap between the two parties remains below the eight-point (36 percent to 28 percent) and seven-point (34 percent to 27 percent) Democratic advantages in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

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According to a Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011 by two points to 40 percent, the highest Gallup has ever measured. What’s interesting to note is that Gallup records from 1951-1988 indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30 percent range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years.

In addition, more Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31 percent to 27 percent. (Republican identification dropped from 29 percent to 27 percent while Democratic identification held steady at 31 percent). Gallup points out that more Americans have identified as Democrats than Republicans in all but a few years since 1988 and the four-point gap between the two parties remains below the eight-point (36 percent to 28 percent) and seven-point (34 percent to 27 percent) Democratic advantages in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

In addition, when independents’ party leanings are taken into account and combined with the party’s core identifiers, the parties end up tied. In 2011, 45 percent of Americans identified as Republicans or leaned to the Republican Party and 45 percent identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic. This is similar to 2010, when the Democrats had a 1-point advantage in leaned party identification yet suffered massive losses in the mid-term election. (Democrats have held an advantage for leaned party identification for most of the 21 years Gallup has tracked this measure.)

The increased independent identification is consistent with what one would expect, given the record levels of distrust in government and the unfavorable views of both parties. What’s interesting is that while the GOP’s rating is relatively low, the number of people who self-identify as conservative is at the highest number (41 percent) since the early 1990s. Thirty-six percent self-identify as moderates, while only 21 percent self-identify as liberals.

The bottom line, then, is conservatism is viewed much more favorably than the Republican Party. The number of independents is at a record level and will (as always) be key to winning the presidency. And the GOP, although it saw its support drop in 2011, is still in fairly good shape vis-à-vis the Democratic Party, especially when you take into the party leanings of independents.

 

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