Over the weekend, some in the mainstream press began the job of trying to resurrect the original story put out by the IRS that the targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny was the act of isolated rogue employees. The massive story attempting to unravel the confusing story of the targeting published in the New York Times yesterday not only seemed to get us back to thinking the affair was simply the product of people at the Cincinnati regional office who were “alienated” from the agency’s broader culture. It also portrayed the agents who perpetrated what almost everyone on both sides of the aisle thinks is an outrage as an underfunded, overworked band of “low-level” hard working people coping with an impossible task made necessary by conservatives trying to evade the tax laws.
The details provided by the Times investigation are interesting in that they give us a sense of the timeline of the targeting and the inadequate nature of supervision of the unit tasked with giving approval for requests by organizations for nonprofit status. But what it admittedly doesn’t do is to answer the main question that looms over the entire story: who gave the order for the targeting and who or what inspired the IRS officials to adopt such a blatantly partisan policy. It also ignores a clue toward solving this problem that Dave Weigel helpfully pointed out in Slate on Friday in his reaction to the astoundingly tone deaf performance of outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller at a congressional hearing: most of the people who work at the IRS are liberal.
The initial revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups were shocking enough. The federal government’s tax collectors had singled out groups with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names and subjected them to special scrutiny about requests for nonprofit status. But it turns out that parts of what we were told on Friday morning were either incomplete or not true.
First of all, we were initially given the impression this was an isolated case of an obscure regional office gone rogue. We now know the reason why these requests originated from Ohio was because that is where the agency had concentrated all of their work on monitoring the granting of 501(c)4 status requests.
We were given the impression on Friday that Washington was cracking down on the problem when it was found out. But we now know the IRS leadership knew about the scandal as far back as 2010. Far worse than that, today the Washington Post reveals that it wasn’t just those Cincinnati-based employees who were thrown under the bus on Friday that were responsible for these outrages:
IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show.
IRS employees in Cincinnati told conservatives seeking the status of “social welfare” groups that a task force in Washington was overseeing their applications, according to interviews with the activists.
In other words, the decision to target conservatives was taken at a far higher level than one regional office. It has all the signs of being an agency-wide policy and it is reasonable to assume that someone close to the top of the IRS had a hand in it. The real question those who will be tasked with unraveling this mess is not just who gave the order at the IRS, but why.
For anyone wondering what liberal elites really think about the IRS scandal, the front page of today’s New York Times gave us the answer. After burying the story inside over the weekend, the headline on the front page screamed the fears of the media establishment: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” The story gives the latest updates on the controversy in which conservative groups were targeted for scrutiny, including the troubling time line about knowledge of the abuses by top leaders of the IRS which gives the lie to their assurances to Congress in 2012 that no such abuses were going on. It also points out that the special treatment was not limited to organizations with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names but extended to those who didn’t like the way the country was being run.
Virtually no one is defending the IRS this morning, but most mainstream commentary on it is stressing that to date there has been no link established between the White House or top Obama administration figures and this scandal. That is true, but as angry as citizens should be about what the tax agency has done, few are asking the crucial questions about it: why did it happen? How is it possible that what amounts to a political purge of conservatives from the roll of tax-exempt organizations was undertaken by what we are told was only a bunch of low-level civil servants in an office in Cincinnati? Can anyone truly believe that a decision to target conservatives and those who were unhappy with a government led by a liberal Democrat was simply a spontaneous event with no political guidance or input?
While almost all liberals and Democrats are still in denial about the implications of the Benghazi scandal, none of them is choosing to defend the IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups for investigations that would deny them tax-exempt status. Like the White House, the chattering classes are united in decrying the blatantly illegal actions by what we are told were just low-level IRS employees. But the universal condemnation of these acts doesn’t mean that this administration can shrug this story off as easily as that. The IRS investigations aren’t merely a chilling abuse of power. They go straight to the heart of conservative distrust of Barack Obama’s worldview.
Seven days ago, President Obama went to the Ohio State University to give a commencement address during which he heaped scorn on those who oppose his efforts to expand the power of government:
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.
But the problem here is not just that a branch of that government has been caught using their almost unlimited power to harass political opponents of the president. It is, as Ross Douthat points out today in the New York Times, that the president and his cheerleaders in the press have spent the last three years demonizing those targeted by the IRS. There was, of course, one element to his indictment of this mentality that he left out: That his own newspaper had actually editorialized in favor of this harassment in March of 2012.
In a sign that President Obama has shifted tactics as he heads into the lame duck period of his administration, his audience was treated to an approving quotation of his predecessor during the course of his commencement address delivered yesterday at the Ohio State University. The quote was from Bush’s own OSU graduation speech in 2002 at which he said the country “needs full time citizens” rather than “spectators and occasional voters.” It’s a timeless message in any democracy, but while most of Obama’s remarks struck a similarly anodyne tone, within it was a full-throated defense of government that deserves some unpacking.
At the heart of his address was an attack on the idea that “government is the source of our problems.” In response to this stereotypical straw man, Obama said the answer to such sentiments is a defense of collective action. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the president’s agenda is to blame conservatives who are suspicious of big government for the dysfunction in Washington and to claim they are the obstacle to the grand liberal project of “rebuild[ing] a middle class, and reverse the rise of inequality, and repair the deteriorating climate that threatens everything we plan to leave for our kids and our grandkids.” But while any call for more participation in our democratic process is to be welcomed, calling his conservative critics “cynics” who are impeding progress misreads the intent of the Founders he cites. They created a system designed to place curbs on the ambitions of politicians like Barack Obama. If contemporary Americans are suspicious of his big government projects, they are acting in the spirit of those who wrote our Constitution, not as self-interested elites trying to harm the people.
With the help of a massive campaign contribution by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control advocate Robin Kelly won the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed Jesse Jackson Jr. The result is reason for Bloomberg to crow, but any attempt to interpret the victory of a liberal candidate in an Illinois Democratic congressional primary as a harbinger of a shift in American politics is obviously a stretch. The infusion of more than $2 million into a contest to win what amounts to an urban rotten borough was simply a matter of cash and carry. The fact that Kelly’s opponent once got an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association was motivation enough for Bloomberg to get involved–but even if he hadn’t stepped in, no one who hopes to represent that district was going to be anything but liberal.
As Seth wrote yesterday, figuring out exactly what Bloomberg is up to with his donations is no easy task. But whatever direction the mayor takes, the example of his decisive intervention in a primary battle could turn out to be more influential than it might seem on the surface. Just as conservatives and Tea Party activists have helped shift the Republican Party to the right with threats of primaries funded by outside activists with deep pockets, what Bloomberg has done is to illustrate that liberals can play the same game with similarly problematic consequences for the Democratic Party.
In the aftermath of their presidential election defeat, many Republicans took out their frustration on Mitt Romney and his staff. Their manifold shortcomings and mistakes, both in terms of judgment and technical gaffes, were raked over with consummate thoroughness by conservative commentators. But with Romney sensibly gone to ground (though he will break his silence this month at the annual CPAC conference) and his advisors making poor targets on their own, that got boring after a while. So with the people who determined the GOP fate in 2012 no longer such inviting targets, the spleen of some conservatives is now being vented on Karl Rove.
In the years since his masterful supervision of George W. Bush’s presidential victories, Rove has assumed a larger-than-life role in the imagination of those on both the left and the right. To the left, he was the evil genius behind every Republican victory whose fundraising prowess was the engine driving the conservative agenda. To many on the right, he became the symbol of an inside-the-Beltway GOP establishment seeking to stifle the Tea Party in order to perpetuate the go-along-to-get-along payola culture that betrayed conservative principles and empowered Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.
But lately Rove has been looking more like a consultant with feet of clay than a political prince of darkness. In the last month since Rove announced the creation of the Conservative Victory Project, conservative critics have been denouncing him and liberals have been crowing over his supposed demise. The right has seen his effort aimed at preventing GOP outliers from losing winnable Senate and House seats as an unconscionable establishment attempt to stifle the grass roots. The left views it as a sign of Republican weakness that can’t be masked by Rove’s tactics or fundraising skills. But the idea that Rove’s moment has passed, and that his virtual defenestration from the good graces of the same people whose votes he turned out in 2000 and 2004 marks the end of era, as today’s feature in Politico seems to indicate, is overblown at best. What’s wrong here is not so much the evaluation of the consultant and talking head’s current difficulties as it is the assumption that Rove is the giant bestriding American politics whose fortunes are in some way indistinguishable from that of his party.
Political writers have come in for some not-unjustified criticism in the past few months for jumping the gun on the 2016 presidential race. With three years to go before the voters start voting and caucusing to choose the next Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, there is something to be said for keeping the horse race reporting about that long distant contest to a minimum. But on Tuesday night, it will be difficult to blame pundits for thinking ahead when two of the leading contenders for the GOP nod in 2016 will both be issuing official responses to the president’s State of the Union address. Florida Senator Marco Rubio will be delivering the official Republican response to President Obama immediately following the SOTU that will be carried by all the networks. But right after that, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will give the Tea Party response to the president in a talk that will be streamed on the website of the Tea Party Express group.
The idea of a Tea Party response to both the president and the Republican Party is a relatively recent addition to the ritual of the SOTU. But whatever the virtues of offering a third perspective to an American public that barely has the patience to sit through one speech, the only rationale for having Rand Paul respond to both Obama and Rubio is that he is hoping to exploit the opportunity to burnish his reputation as the true standard-bearer for the party’s base. Since both Rubio and Paul are products of the Tea Party and have stayed true to the movement’s principles on fiscal issues, the competition for the dwindling audience interested in Republican views late on Tuesday night must be considered the first debate of the 2016 primary season.
Some on the right are unhappy about the news that a group of major Republican donors led by former Bush strategist Karl Rove is organizing an effort called the Conservative Victory Project to fund mainstream candidates running against extremists in GOP primaries. According to Politico, leaders of the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund weren’t impressed by the prospect of party heavy-hitters parachuting into local races and preventing right-wing outliers from losing winnable elections against vulnerable Democrats:
Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller essentially responded by pointing to the scoreboard in recent primaries in which conservative insurgents have prevailed and emerged as influential GOP leaders.
“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”
The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.
That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:
The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and is currently stuck in what may be a losing fight with Barack Obama over the budget and the debt ceiling. It also failed to take back the United States Senate in the past two election cycles because GOP primary voters chose poor candidates who were easily branded as extremists by vulnerable Democrats. This sorry situation has led to an orgy of soul searching by Republicans that has produced a raft of suggestions for how to do better in 2014 and 2016. Some of the ideas put forward for a GOP re-launch, such as a shift on immigration, are worth debating. So, too, is the notion that the party should do a better job recruiting and marketing candidates. But anyone who is trying to push the party to become a bland, and more moderate, alternative to the Democrats is selling a bill of goods.
That’s exactly what Joe Scarborough is doing in a piece published today by Politico in which he has the gall to invoke the shade of William F. Buckley on behalf of a campaign to make the GOP the sort of mushy moderate party that would embrace the 2013 version of Colin Powell. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman who has made a good living playing the cranky partner to Mika Brzezinski on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC where he spends most mornings agreeing with a roster of mostly liberal guests about how bad conservatives have become. In that guise he gives cover to liberal slanders about the Tea Party and neoconservatives while embracing the likes of Powell and Chuck Hagel. That Powell and Hagel are his kind of Republicans in spite of the fact that between the two of them they’ve cast four votes for Obama for president tells you a lot about his idea of where the party should be heading. But his attempt to dragoon the late National Review editor into this argument is particularly misleading. Far from following Buckley’s example, what Scarborough does every day on TV is a classic example of the kind of Republican that Buckley despised and fought against.
It almost goes without saying that even if a deal is somehow reached today that would prevent a massive tax increase and defense cuts, the disgust of the public at the fiscal cliff hijinks that have gone on in Washington the last few weeks will outweigh the relief they feel. If the last-second talks between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell succeed in crafting a short-term compromise that enough Democrats and Republicans can live with, the country will be spared the disaster that would ensue should the scheduled across-the-board tax increases and devastating sequestration of funds for national defense be implemented. But as much as both sides have spent more time casting aspersions at each other’s motives than negotiating in good faith, there needs to be a full accounting of why this happened in the way that it did.
To say that both Republicans and Democrats have failed in this episode is stating the obvious. But each failed in different ways and an analysis of their shortcomings tells us a lot about the direction in which the country is heading.
In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups.
While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts.
This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:
Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy. Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:
Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”
Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:
Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.
It isn’t exactly a secret that the best if not the only way for a conservative or Republican to get published in the New York Times is to attack their own party (the same formula applies to Jews who know the surest path to a byline on the op-ed page is to condemn Israel). So it is hardly surprising that David Welch, a former Republican National Committee research director and campaign adviser to John McCain, got his moment in the sun today by echoing the newspaper’s liberal editorial line about the sheer awfulness of the Tea Party. Of course, Welch tried to write the piece from the perspective of a conservative, but in doing so he reverted to another standard from the liberal playbook: using dead conservatives to criticize the current ones.
To that end, Welch dragged William F. Buckley from his grave in order to cite the National Review editor’s purge of the John Birch Society from the conservative movement in the 1960s as a precedent that Republicans should now apply to the Tea Party. One can debate whether the Tea Partiers have too much influence in the GOP or whether some of the candidates they have foisted on the party were ill-advised choices, but Welch’s “Where Have You Gone, Bill Buckley?” couldn’t be more off target. The Tea Party has its cranks, but the notion that it is in any way comparable to a hate group like the Birchers isn’t merely a figment of the liberal imagination; it’s sheer slander. That he would make such an outrageous analogy says a lot more about the liberal agenda to brand most Republicans as extremists than it does about the smart way to oppose President Obama’s agenda.
Jonathan wrote last week about Rand Paul’s 2016 ambitions, and what this means for the pro-Israel GOP. Now get ready for what Politico dubs the “Rand Paul evolution,” the younger Paul’s effort to steer the GOP in the direction championed by his father:
In an interview with POLITICO, Paul said he’ll return to Congress this week pushing measures long avoided by his party. He wants to work with liberal Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republicans to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for pot possession. He wants to carve a compromise immigration plan with an “eventual path” to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a proposal he believes could be palatable to conservatives. And he believes his ideas — along with pushing for less U.S. military intervention in conflicts overseas — could help the GOP broaden its tent and appeal to crucial voting blocs that handed Democrats big wins in the West Coast, the Northeast and along the Great Lakes.
“We have three big regions where we’re not competitive,” Paul said. “And we have to be competitive in those regions.” ….
Now, Paul appears to want a more influential role in his party than simply the bomb-throwing back-bencher with a penchant for grabbing headlines. Unlike his father, retiring Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who toiled on the GOP fringes for years and battled with the party establishment, the younger Paul seems to have developed political savvy in dealing with GOP leaders.
As Politico notes, Paul hasn’t had much legislative luck with the “tea party agenda” he campaigned on in 2010. But Paul is trying to take a leading role Congress’s illegal immigration debate. His proposal calls for coupling a long-term “path to citizenship” with a concurrent total lockdown on legal immigration. In other words, a plan that rewards illegal immigrants while punishing foreigners who want to come to the U.S. legally.
As I mentioned earlier, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is facing some changes after last night’s defeats. RealClearPolitics reports that Senator Marco Rubio — who was considered a top prospect to replace outgoing NRSC chair John Cornyn — has turned down the spot:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been courted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2014 midterm season, but the freshman lawmaker declined the entreaty, sources told RCP.
It might seem early to think about the next campaign cycle, but Senate leadership elections will take place in short order. And given the GOP’s losses in Senate races Tuesday night, the party is looking to make some changes.
The sources, who are familiar with Rubio’s decision, said the junior senator had mulled the leadership role for some time. As he often points out, however, being the father of four young children sometimes keeps him away from the campaign trail.
Here come the inevitable arguments that the Republican Party’s problem was not nominating a True Conservative for president. U.S. News reports:
The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent organizations within the fiscally conservative tea party movement, says Mitt Romney lost the election because he was a “weak moderate” candidate that was “hand-picked” by the establishment GOP.
“For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin wrote in an e-mail, quoting 40th president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles… What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment.”
When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.
The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
The “legitimate rape” comment is hardly the first controversial thing rogue Senate candidate Todd Akin has said in his career. So why did national Republican leadership stand by silently as he shot to victory — with the help of $1.5 million in Democratic money — in such a critical Republican Senate primary? You would think the fact that Claire McCaskill was running pro-Akin ads should have been enough of a red flag.
One reason could be that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has declined to endorse and fund candidates in open seat primaries, after the blowback it received from the conservative grassroots in 2009 and 2010. Back then; NRSC came under massive fire from the Tea Party for backing “RINO” Republicans like Charlie Crist (over Rubio in Florida), Lisa Murkowski (over Joe Miller in Alaska) and Arlen Specter (over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania). Conservatives inundated the phone lines of the NRSC and its chair Sen. John Cornyn’s office, demanding support for Tea Party-approved candidates.