Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.
Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:
There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.
One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.
Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.)
This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).
“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”
The electoral strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties contain an element of identity politics, though generally of very different kinds. Republican identity politics usually centers on faith and a middle America culture distinct from the coastal elitism of the Democrats. The Democratic Party bases its electoral strategy more and more on race to the exclusion of almost anything else, though this year the Obama White House has conjured a “war on women” to highlight gender as well.
Republicans and conservatives often complain that the Democrats’ race-obsessed political outlook has two major faults: one, that candidates and voters are judged to an overwhelming degree on the color of their skin, and two, that when a member of a racial or ethnic minority group that usually votes Democratic becomes a high-profile Republican, the left seeks to destroy their career with unusual ferocity. (Think Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas.) But at the Republican National Convention this week conservatives saw just why the left’s identity politics can be so effective, and why they try so hard to tear down any dissenters: biography matters.
Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.
However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.