Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitch McConnell

Can Congress Wait to Act on Iran?

The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

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The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

McConnell is taking plenty of flak for deciding to use Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress about the threat from Iran to push forward the legislation proposed by Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez for a quick vote. That’s because weeks ago Menendez and other Democrats publicly told the White House they would hold off on their plans to push for any legislation on Iran until after the March 24 deadline for the end of the current round of talks expired. That concession came in the wake of the furor over the announcement of Netanyahu’s speech that was treated by Democrats as an insult to President Obama hatched by Republicans and the Israeli government.

However, this willingness to wait a few weeks was not a sign that Menendez was any less interested in opposing the president’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Menendez has been among the fiercest advocates of a tougher stance on Iran in the Congress. But McConnell’s move embarrassed him and other Democrats who were trying not to burn their bridges to the White House in spite of the disagreement. Indeed, even some Republican supporters of the anti-Iran bills worried that the majority leader was endangering the chances of maintaining the bipartisan coalition that backs these measures. As Senator Lindsey Graham noted, anything that lessened the chances that large numbers of Democrats will eventually vote for the two bills may be a mistake.

That’s the same reason so many in the pro-Israel community have worried about the way the administration has shamelessly manipulated a controversy over the Netanyahu speech that the White House did so much to promote and exacerbate. Until the announcement of the speech, The Corker-Menendez and the Kirk-Menendez bills seemed to have at least a fighting chance of veto-proof majorities. But the ability of the White House to manipulate the false issues of a breach of protocol and the supposed “insult” to President Obama from the speech, that enabled the administration to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions supporters.

The smart play would seem to be for McConnell to wait until March 24 and then bring both bills to the floor in the hope that a large number of Democrats will buck the president and give Congress the right to a say about an Iran deal.

But the urgency about stopping the rush to détente with Tehran isn’t just a function of McConnell’s desire to wrong-foot the president as the clock winds down until March 24. It is entirely possible that by then a deal or at least an “understanding” with Iran will be in place making it even easier for the president to persuade Democrats not to support measures intended to limit the impact of an agreement with Iran.

As Netanyahu rightly pointed out in his speech, the stakes here couldn’t be greater and have little or nothing to do with the feud between the prime minister and the president. A nuclear deal that leaves Iran in possession of all of its nuclear infrastructure including thousands of centrifuges and which hinges on a Western belief that a relatively short “breakout” period to a bomb is enough of a deterrent to prevent the Islamist regime from building a weapon is a disaster for the security of the West, moderate Arab states and Israel. If, as even President Obama hinted, the deal will include a sunset clause that will end sanctions and any restrictions at some point, then what is happening is not so much a Western seal of approval on Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state but a deferred acquiescence to it getting a bomb.

That makes it imperative that the terms of the deal be debated by Congress and subjected to an up or down vote. Passing such a bill after Iran signs will be harder so its easy to understand why McConnell wants one now. But that may be a terrible mistake.

Although time is a factor here, the only chance to do something to check the president or at least to hold him accountable is to get 67 votes in place in favor of the two Iran bills. That will require considerable Democratic support. Though some of the Democrats who made the promise to Obama may be wavering, Menendez deserves some deference from McConnell. Without his help, the bipartisan majority on Iran will collapse. After all, even if a deal is made with Iran, that won’t be the end of the debate. President Obama doesn’t need any help from Republicans that will make it easier for him to avoid being called to account.

Worries about diplomacy outstripping the ability of Congress to pass laws designed to impede the president’s reckless disregard for the truth about Iran are real. But rushing these bills won’t solve the problem. Counting on Iran doing what Obama wants it to do may not be a safe bet meaning that the need for action on March 24 may be just as if not greater than it is today. The American public is also likely to be supportive of any effort to restrain Obama on Iran. The bogus claims about the Netanyahu speech notwithstanding, Congressional leaders need to avoid taking actions that will make it harder for Democrats to back legislation seeking to slow the rush to appeasement.

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Issue is the Constitution, Not the Shutdown

With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

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With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

While many conservatives continue to call for the Republican leadership to stand their ground against the Democrats, both Boehner and McConnell understand that this is a losing fight. Even if, as many on the right have aptly pointed out, the DHS shutdown is more symbolic than actual since most of its employees will continue to show up for work, that symbolism is the last thing the GOP needs right now.

At a time when concern over terrorism is on the rise and the country is coming to grips with the president’s inept and halfhearted approach to fighting ISIS and its allies, any defunding measure aimed at any part of the country’s defenses is political poison. Unlike the sequester that continued in place for many months with few citizens noticing, a DHS shutdown is a nonstarter. That’s especially true since it will enable the president to change the topic from his own failures and put the spotlight on a fractious and dysfunctional Congress where both chambers have Republican majorities.

But as bad an idea as a shutdown might be, anyone tuning in to see Telemundo and MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart feeding questions to Obama in order to press him to even greater commitments to amnesty policies must realize that the drama in Congress is something of a diversion from the real problem: a president that believes he can legislate on his own without benefit of Congress.

Immigration isn’t the only issue on which Obama’s imperial presidency is flexing its muscles against the Constitution. The Iran nuclear talks seem to be heading toward an American agreement to a deal that would make the Islamist regime a threshold nuclear power now and give it a green light to create a bomb in at least ten years. But the president has no plans to present the most important foreign treaty the U.S. has signed in this generation to the Senate for approval, as the Constitution requires. By not calling it a treaty, he intends to circumvent the law so as to avoid the scrutiny and the judgment of the legislature.

But it is on immigration which the president has made the boldest move toward one-man rule in decades. By signing executive orders that amount to amnesty for up to five million illegal aliens, the president has with a stroke of the pen asserted a power that he previously had said 22 times was not his to exercise. Though a lawsuit brought by 26 states against this measure has had an initial success in a Texas federal court, Obama may be right to feel confident that eventually the courts will back him up on technicalities.

But by issuing orders to the relevant departments to stop enforcing the law mandating the deportation of illegals, the president is actually setting a dangerous precedent. A president who feels entitled to state what laws may or may not be enforced is one untrammeled by the normal constitutional constraints at the heart of American democracy.

While playing to a crowd of immigrants, the president says that the changing demography of the nation mandates a solution to the dilemma of up to 12 million illegals already in the country. But whether you think that Congress is wrong to fail to act on a plan to give them a path to citizenship or not, the notion that laws can still be annulled by presidential fiat is an untenable concept that would be swiftly condemned by Obama’s press cheering sections if it were a case of a Republican undoing some liberal project created by a predecessor.

More to the point, the continuing stream of illegals over the border, lured by promises of amnesty and confident that requests for asylum, whether justified or not, will keep them out of jail, will ensure that Obama’s approach will not solve the country’s problem at the border.

Obama may be right to think he’s won this news cycle as the Republicans seek a path, whether temporary or not, to retreat from their pledges to use the power of the purse to stop the executive orders from being implemented. But more surges of illegals in the future could change the political balance of power on this issue in ways that Democrats confident of Hispanic support don’t currently envision. The only enduring values here are the defense of the Constitution and the rule of law that Obama has trashed, not amnesty for illegals. Whatever happens this week in Washington, if Republicans are faithful to that principle, they won’t regret it in the long run.

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GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap

With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

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With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

Let’s specify that Tea Partiers and other GOP stalwarts are right to be outraged about the president’s end-run around the Constitution. The notion that a president has the right to legislate on his own simply because he says he gave Congress time to do what he wanted it to do and must now act since they failed to is absurd as well as reflecting contempt for the rule of law. Regardless of one’s views about the need for immigration reform, the president’s actions constitute an ominous precedent that presage a constitutional crisis as the executive branch runs roughshod over the normal order of government. Indeed, even many Democrats said as much last fall prior to the orders, especially those up for reelection.

But simply because something is wrong and should be stopped doesn’t necessarily mean there is a way to do it that is politically palatable. The orders were given in a way that there is no option for halting their implementation other than defunding the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which now falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The courts may rule in favor of the 26 states that have sued to halt Obama’s orders. The decision of one federal judge in Texas in favor of that suit has, at least temporarily, stopped Obama in his tracks. But unless that track works—and it is likely that it won’t—the only alternative is defunding DHS.

It is true that Republicans are attempting to keep the rest of Homeland Security operating while preventing INS from doing the president’s will with respect to amnesty. But with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.

While most Americans don’t like the idea of government shutdowns under any circumstances, furloughs for DHS employees right now is about the worst political idea anyone in Washington could come up with. The GOP could probably get away with shutting down the Department of Education or Housing or Health, Education, and Welfare or any number of other federal bureaucracies and not be hurt by it. But defunding DHS at a time of rising concern about terrorism is a political loser as well as arguably very bad policy. It not only creates another liberal narrative about Republican obstructionists trying to stop the government from operating. It also allows the president to change the subject from his lack of a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS to the old tried-and-true meme about Republicans blowing up the government.

Conservatives are right that this isn’t fair. A principled stand by the GOP against Obama’s executive orders isn’t anymore extremist than the Democrats’ refusal to compromise or step back from amnesty. The assumption that Republicans should be blamed for a shutdown is based on biased media reporting that reflects Democratic talking points. Unfortunately, the public seems to have bought it, in no small measure because the GOP’s small-government philosophy seems to make it more likely to act as if the government does deserve to be blown up.

But fair or unfair, it is a matter of political reality. As even Senator Marco Rubio noted today, shutting down DHS is simply unthinkable right now. Thus, the GOP should swallow hard and follow McConnell’s plan by passing a “clean” funding bill for DHS and then having a separate vote on a measure to stop the executive orders that will inevitably fail. If the House balks, it won’t matter that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for starting the fight with the orders and then filibustering a GOP bill to fund DHS.

Such an outcome is frustrating for party activists that turned out and elected a Republican Senate as well as a GOP-run House. But as infuriating as it may be, they need to realize that the only way to rescind those orders is going to mean electing a Republican president of the United States. And that is a prospect that will be less likely if they wind up shutting down DHS and further damaging their brand as a party at time when they should be gaining ground at the Democrats’ expense on foreign policy.

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Republicans Should Declare War on the Mainstream Media

On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
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On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
The Republican majority in the Senate has been trying to begin debate on this appropriations bill ever since. Unlike Harry Reid when he was majority leader, Mitch McConnell is willing to entertain amendments proposed by the minority and vote them up or down. The Democrats will have none of it. Three times the measure has been brought up and three times the Democratic minority has used the filibuster to prevent debate from even beginning. John Boehner, being interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, said that “… the House has done its job under the Constitution. It’s time for the Senate to do their job.”

But Wallace said:

I understand there’s two sides to the argument. Here’s the bottom line: the deadline is less than two weeks from now. And the fact is that you and Congress are going to be out on recess for the next week. Can you promise the American people with the terror threat only growing that you’re not going to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to run out?

Why is it up to Boehner to bend instead of the Democrats doing so? The answer is simple. As Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “So when GOP holds up things in Dem-run Senate, GOP is to blame. When Dems hold things up in GOP-run Senate, GOP is to blame. I see a trend.” Even Chris Wallace—the fairest and best of the Sunday morning talk show hosts—thinks that when push comes to shove on Capitol Hill, it is the Republicans who must yield, even when they hold majorities in both houses as they do now. Why? Because that is the way the mainstream media will always play the story.

What should Boehner do? I think he, and every Republican, should do what George H.W. Bush did to Dan Rather as the 1988 presidential race was heating up: eat the mainstream media alive. They are the enemies of the Republican Party and should be treated as such. Stop trying to curry favor because you won’t get it. Bush laid a trap for Rather, insisting on the interview being live so it couldn’t end up on the cutting room floor. It totally flustered Rather, greatly energized Bush’s campaign, put the kibosh on his too-much-a-nice-guy image, and helped mightily to propel him to the White House. Make mainstream media bias the issue. Throw loaded questions and those premised on liberal assumptions back in their faces. Accuse them of bias when they are biased. Don’t be Mr. Nice Guy.

Why have the Republicans been such wimps when dealing with the media? The reason, I think, is that the Republicans were the minority party in this country from 1932 to 1994. The Democrats held the House for all but four of those 62 years and the Senate for all but ten of those years. In far too many ways, the Republicans still act as the minority party, begging for crumbs from the media. But they now hold more political offices, at both the federal and state levels, than at any time since the glory days of Calvin Coolidge. Instead they should, in dealing with the media, emulate Joan Crawford, at least as depicted by Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, dealing with the board of Pepsi Cola (warning, she doesn’t use ladylike language).

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Want to Reverse Obama’s Amnesty Orders? Elect a GOP President.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.

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Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.

That’s not the answer Tea Party activists and other members of the GOP base want to hear. The idea that the ability of Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders to restrain the president is limited, even now that the Senate is in their hands, seem inexplicable to many who believe that the only thing lacking in the Republican caucus is the will to take on Obama. But the more you map out the possible scenarios facing Republicans seeking a legislative fix to the president’s executive orders, not even a shutdown of DHS will halt the amnesty project. If that is true, and unfortunately it is, then at some point the GOP will have to concede at least temporary defeat and move on to other issues even if that will leave at least part of the base damning them as RINO weaklings.

The congressional math on the immigration tangle isn’t hard to figure out. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would probably like to pass the House bill, he may not have the votes to prevent a filibuster by Democrats seeking to defend the president’s prerogatives even if he could count on all 54 Republicans to vote with him, which he can’t. Even if he could get cloture and pass the bill, neither McConnell nor Boehner can muster the supermajorities needed to override such a veto. At that point, the only alternatives involve actions that will lead the GOP into a government shutdown scenario that will only hurt them and help Obama. Even worse, since the agencies that will administer the president’s amnesty plans run on fees collected from the illegals and other immigrants, even that wouldn’t stop the orders from being carried out.

This is frustrating for Republicans and not just because it will leave some conservatives wondering what the point was of electing GOP majorities if they can’t get their way on an issue that hinges on protecting the regular constitutional order by which the legislature passes laws that the executive branch must then enforce.

The strength of the Republican position is that it is defensible regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the president’s policy goals. For a president to simply order a government agency to stop enforcing legally binding laws sets a dangerous precedent. So, too, does the spectacle of a president unilaterally declaring his right to make as well as enforce laws simply because Congress didn’t do as he asked.

But even if you think the broken immigration system must be reformed and a solution found for the 12 million illegals already here and who are unlikely to be all deported, the prospect of Homeland Security simply stopping enforcement is dismaying. Though many of those threatened with deportation are sympathetic, such as the illegals profiled today by the New York Times, the idea that laws can be ignored with impunity, either by immigrants or the president, undermines the notion that we are a nation of laws not men.

This is a battle worth fighting. But it must be acknowledged that picking fights, even righteous ones, that you can’t win isn’t smart.

To those who ask what was the point of electing a Republican Senate if Obama is to get his way, the only answer is that if you are going to eventually reverse the president’s orders, it will have to include electing a president as well as GOP congressional majorities. Only a Republican president, elected in part by the outrage many Americans will feel about their laws being trashed, can roll back the damage Obama is doing to the fabric of our democracy.

The groundwork for that reversal of fortune will also have to involve a Republican Congress behaving sensibly and showing that the party can govern constructively while seeking wherever possible to push back against Obama’s imperial instincts. That will not satisfy those who declare that the republic won’t survive another two years of the Obama presidency. But policy based on apocalyptic predictions is neither a sober party platform nor a strategy for victory. Republicans have made their statement about immigration. Once their gambit fails, like it or not, they will have to move on and prepare the groundwork for the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

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Senate Should Reject Power’s Lesson in Weak Iran Diplomacy

Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center in what was clearly intended as a shot fired over the bow of the new Republican Senate majority on the question of new sanctions on Iran. Any doubt about the purpose of the speech was reinforced by the presence of the majority leader after whom the public policy center is named. But Mitch McConnell and his Senate colleagues should ignore the ambassador’s attempt to pressure them to back off plans to toughen sanctions on the Islamist regime. In fact, rather than persuading them that the administration should be left to pursue détente with Tehran without congressional interference, her lecture should serve as a warning that they must act before President Obama’s foreign policy forfeits any chance of forestalling an Iranian bomb.

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Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center in what was clearly intended as a shot fired over the bow of the new Republican Senate majority on the question of new sanctions on Iran. Any doubt about the purpose of the speech was reinforced by the presence of the majority leader after whom the public policy center is named. But Mitch McConnell and his Senate colleagues should ignore the ambassador’s attempt to pressure them to back off plans to toughen sanctions on the Islamist regime. In fact, rather than persuading them that the administration should be left to pursue détente with Tehran without congressional interference, her lecture should serve as a warning that they must act before President Obama’s foreign policy forfeits any chance of forestalling an Iranian bomb.

Power’s case is the same one the administration has been making ever since it concluded a weak interim nuclear deal with Iran in November 2013. The administration threw away the considerable political, economic, and military leverage it held over Iran at the time in exchange for an agreement that tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium and granted legitimacy to the country’s nuclear program while loosening sanctions on the regime. In exchange, Iran supposedly froze its nuclear progress and converted its stockpile of fuel to a non-active state. This was to be followed by final-status talks that were supposed to be finite in length and therefore prevent Iran from drawing out negotiations in the same way they’ve been stalling the West on this issue for a decade.

Armed with what he termed a diplomatic success, President Obama successfully headed off an attempt by majorities in both houses of Congress last year to tighten the sanctions in such a way as to strengthen the hand of Western negotiators. The message then was that such help was not needed and would only scare off an Iranian government that was thought to be tempted to end its isolation by giving up their nuclear ambitions.

A year later Power was selling the same bill of goods to McConnell and his caucus telling them that more sanctions will not only spook the Iranians but isolate the U.S. from its Western coalition partners. Give us more time, she asked, and if we fail to get Iran to agree to a satisfactory agreement, then you could pass more sanctions.

Some in the Republican caucus may be inclined to heed her advice. Senator Bob Corker, the new Foreign Relations Committee chair, has been sounding as if the last thing he wants is a confrontation with the administration on Iran. This is in marked contrast to the statements of his Democratic counterpart, Senator Bob Menendez, who has been doing a slow burn over administration policy on Iran for years. With the GOP and the White House set to clash over a host of domestic issues like immigration and ObamaCare, some senators may think deferring to the president’s foreign-policy prerogative is the safest play.

But they’d be wrong both in terms of policy and politics.

That’s because ever since they managed to persuade Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to bend to their dictates and sign an interim accord that jettisoned the president’s previous pledges on the issue, the Iranians have been acting as if they had the whip hand over the Americans, not the other way around. Far from moving closer to giving up their nuclear goal, they have stood their ground in the talks and the two sides remain far apart. They continue to insist that they will not give up their centrifuges and have stonewalled on their plutonium plant and refuse to discuss their ballistic missile program or allow United Nations inspectors into facilities where their military research is going on. The question of their support for terrorism isn’t even being raised.

Predictably, the administration has inched closer to the Iranian position, proposing preposterous compromises such as disconnecting the pipes between the centrifuges that could easily be reversed.

Even worse, rather than keep his pledge to hold the Iranians to a finite period of talks, the president has allowed two extensions that have turned a six-month period into a year and counting. There’s no indication that he will ever deliver an ultimatum to the Iranians to yield or face the cut off of talks and the increased sanctions that Power says are still on the table for consideration.

In other words, the administration has spent the last year giving a public clinic in incompetent, weak diplomacy that has strengthened the Iranian position and left many in Europe waiting impatiently for the end of the farce so they can forget about the nuclear question and go back to doing business with Tehran.

But it doesn’t take much insight or imagination for senators or the rest of us to read between the lines of Power’s speech as well as recent statements by the president and to understand that the purpose of his process stopped being about the nuclear threat a long time ago. Rather than the negotiations being aimed at fulfilling the president’s 2012 campaign pledge to force the end of Iran’s nuclear program (a promise that was thrown down the administration memory hole a long time ago), it is now focused on fostering détente between the U.S. and the Islamist regime.

If forcing the Iranians to come to their senses and give up their nukes were the goal, the president wouldn’t have any hesitation about passing and enforcing tougher sanctions that would altogether shut down Iran’s sale of oil. If it were, he’d be calling for them himself, especially at a time when the decline in oil prices should be increasing the West’s economic leverage over Tehran. Instead, the administration is looking to coddle the Iranians and insulate them against the consequences of their actions. Sanctions might make a deal that would not allow Iran to become a threshold a nuclear power a possibility. But if your objective is making nice with the ayatollahs, then putting your foot on their throats is not what you want to do.

The point is, Congress must act on sanctions if there is to be any hope of convincing the administration to get serious about stopping the nuclear threat as well as to scaring the Iranians into thinking they have more to worry about than the paper tiger in the Oval Office they’ve been schooling for the last six years. Tougher sanctions might give the diplomacy that Obama and Power believe in with religious-like faith a chance. It would also be a good way to foster bipartisan agreement since Menendez and many other Senate Democrats will probably join them.

McConnell had nothing to say about Power’s speech, but let’s hope he tells Corker not to be fooled by this lesson in how not to conduct a negotiation. If appeasement of Iran is to be stopped, it will have to start in the Senate.

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Welcome to the NFL, Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric rise among Democrats has demonstrated one thing time and again: her real talent is in getting the mainstream media to act as her personal publicity agents. And today’s raft of stories, which focus on Warren claiming her first political scalp (sorry, couldn’t resist), are no different. In fact, Warren just outsmarted herself, got outmaneuvered by the White House, and further empowered Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate majority. But you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage, which hews obediently to the existing narrative of Warren’s influence.

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Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric rise among Democrats has demonstrated one thing time and again: her real talent is in getting the mainstream media to act as her personal publicity agents. And today’s raft of stories, which focus on Warren claiming her first political scalp (sorry, couldn’t resist), are no different. In fact, Warren just outsmarted herself, got outmaneuvered by the White House, and further empowered Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate majority. But you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage, which hews obediently to the existing narrative of Warren’s influence.

Last year, President Obama chose Antonio Weiss to be an under secretary at the Treasury Department. Warren vehemently opposed the nomination. Warren’s play was smart: no one outside of the Senate or Wall Street (Weiss works in investment banking) knew who he was, and no one really cared. And though Warren’s objections to Weiss were based on her ignorance of investment banking, tax law, and corporate economics, she had an advantage: her ignorance is shared by her political base.

She was striking a pose for her populist supporters, as I wrote in December, and they wouldn’t know that she was speaking gibberish. Warren is a demagogue in the classic mold: she distorts the truth to play on the fears of her followers in a bid to accrue political power–which she then has been known to abuse. True populists should be horrified by Senator Warren.

But it hasn’t caught up with her yet because the left doesn’t really have true populists. It has authoritarian mobs of conspiracy theorists with populist pretensions. So Warren’s influence grew, and we now learn that Weiss has withdrawn his name from consideration.

But why Weiss withdrew, and what he’ll do instead, are two crucial elements of the full picture, which doesn’t flatter Warren nearly as much as she thinks. First, from Bloomberg, here’s why he stepped back from the nomination:

Curiously, the Republican gains in the midterm election strengthened Warren’s personal power, even as they weakened her party. As one bitter Weiss ally pointed out, Harry Reid could have schedule a quick confirmation vote and likely prevailed if Democrats still controlled the Senate. The new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, would relish dragging out Weiss’s confirmation hearing for months as Democrats tore each other to shreds. That same dynamic will obtain for at least the next two years for any nominee that Warren cares to target.

Right: Warren’s power comes from the Republicans, who don’t mind seeing Democrats fight it out amongst themselves. A more powerful Democratic Party means a less powerful Elizabeth Warren, because Harry Reid would run circles around Warren if he were the majority leader and a nominee really needed to get through. Procedurally, Warren’s shenanigans are only possible because the Republicans are letting her get away with it. If Republicans didn’t want her to have this power, she wouldn’t have it. Bloomberg’s headline is “Queen Elizabeth,” but of course she’s merely a pawn in a Senate-White House procedural chess match.

But even more important is what Weiss will be doing instead. Here’s Politico:

But the Lazard banker will still join the administration in the position of counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, which does not require Senate confirmation. …

Instead, Weiss has accepted the position advising Lew on domestic and international issues, which “will allow me to begin serving immediately in support of the Administration’s efforts to foster broad-based economic growth and ensure financial reform that protects consumers and reduces the likelihood of future financial crises,” he wrote.

Weiss will join the Treasury anyway, and give the same advice, not be much undercut by whoever eventually fills the under secretary seat. It may take a while to get a new nominee through the process, and in the interim Weiss will be establishing his place advising Lew. Additionally, the person who takes the under secretary spot will have the title but will be undermined by the fact that not only is he or she the second choice, but that the first choice still works in the building and has Lew’s ear.

Warren’s victory is, then, entirely symbolic. It will have no effect on policy. All it will do is act as an implicit threat to future nominees, pour encourager les autres. But it also raises a point of great irony. Warren’s attempt at governance is being undone here by the very administrative state whose power she has dedicated her political career to increasing. The big-government Frankenstein’s monster is turning on its masters.

The left has gone to great lengths to ensure that their preferred policies can be carried out without much interference from the democratic process. They expend much effort in removing accountability by empowering bureaucracies whose liberal crusades can survive electoral defeats precisely because they don’t answer to the people. Warren herself was supposed to lead one such agency. Republicans blocked her nomination to it, but weren’t able to stop the actual bureaucracy from being created.

Warren opposed Antonio Weiss. The Obama administration will get to hire him anyway. And Warren will continue fighting for the administrative state, completely oblivious to the irony.

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After the GOP Wave

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

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Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

1. The majority of Republicans have reacted to their victories in an impressive fashion. Their rhetoric is restrained, serious, and mature. They know that while they did extremely well in races at every level, they still have a ways to go to earn the trust and loyalty of most Americans (that’s more true of congressional Republicans than those who are governors). Republicans in the Senate and House are signaling a willingness to work with the president if he’s willing to show some flexibility. (The president’s apparent commitment to go forward with an unconstitutional executive amnesty order will be all the evidence we need that Mr. Obama is determined to further polarize our politics and rip apart our political culture.) Speaker Boehner and the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have already put forward their to-do list; so have others. There’s evidence that Republicans–most of them, anyway–have internalized the need to show they’re more serious about putting forward a governing agenda and solving problems facing middle class Americans than “telegenic confrontations” and “volcanic effusions.”  The GOP’s detoxification effort is well under way.

2. What ought to encourage Republicans isn’t simply that their ranks have swollen, but the quality of many of the new arrivals, from Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse in the Senate to Elise Stefanik and Barbara Comstock in the House to many others. The GOP does best when it’s seen as the home of individuals with conservative principles and a governing temperament. A winsome personality doesn’t hurt, either.

3. The GOP’s victory was the result of many things, from President Obama’s unpopularity and the awful political environment Democrats faced to the superior quality of the Republican candidates, their disciplined, gaffe-free campaigns, successful fundraising, and the select intervention by various groups into Republican primaries (ensuring that the most electable conservative was nominated). But not to be overlooked is that Republicans did a much better job than in the past with their Get Out The Vote effort, including turnout of low-propensity voters. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it:

A review of the RNC’s targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.

A few Democrats saw this coming. “Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. “Their electorate doesn’t look like ours, so we don’t recognize or respect what they’re doing.”

4. The most surprising outcome of the evening may have been how well Republicans did in governor’s races around the nation. They were predicted to lose several seats; instead, they made a net gain of three. Among the most impressive was Ohio’s John Kasich, who won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key purple state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. Mr. Kasich has amassed an impressive record as governor–and a popular one, too. He’s one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. If he wants to run for president in 2016, he certainly helped his cause on Tuesday.

5. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to be buoyed. They have very impressive people, including people in their ’30s and ’40s, at every level. Of the two parties, the GOP seems to be the one of greater energy and ideas. The Democratic Party, and liberalism more broadly, seems stale, aging, and exhausted. And of course the GOP has now strung together massive, back-to-back midterm wins. But it’s still worth keeping in mind that Republicans had spectacular showings in 1994 and 2010–and they were defeated by rather large margins in the presidential races two years after those wins. The danger is that a victory like the one Republicans experienced on Tuesday creates a false dawn, a sense of false confidence. Winning midterms elections is important; but midterm elections are different than presidential elections. The GOP still has repair work to do and things to build on. But progress is being made–and the results of this week’s election are the best evidence of that fact.

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How Mitch McConnell Outsmarted Obama

Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

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Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

As Jonathan Tobin mentioned late last night, McConnell belongs at the top of the list of winners, while Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is second only to Obama in the losers column. Yet the efforts of both men to bring about that result are still widely–and in some cases, probably purposely–misunderstood. A perfect distillation of how to get the McConnell strategy exactly wrong comes via Vox, unsurprisingly. There, Matt Yglesias sums up the Democratic spin on how the Senate has been run by both Reid and McConnell. The spin is unambiguously false, but it does show the extent to which Reid’s mendacious propaganda actually convinced many liberals who don’t grasp the granular details of the Senate. Here’s Yglesias:

A Republican comeback of this scale was by no means guaranteed. In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition[.]

Yglesias then quotes McConnell as saying “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” and adds himself:

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s quite possible Yglesias actually believes this. Many on the left have been thoroughly confused by how the Senate works, and they are almost always eager to believe the most negative portrayal of Republicans out there. But rather than Obama being generously and genuinely bipartisan, what happened was that he took his election to be a mandate for his own plans–“I won,” as he famously said.

And so the Obama strategy, with Reid’s help in the Senate, was to get what Yglesias calls the “sheen” of bipartisanship: get a very liberal bill that consists mostly of handouts to liberal interest groups and greatly increases presidential power on an issue, and pretend it’s the work of both parties by offering token, vote-buying concessions to convince a few Republicans to put their names on the overall bill. McConnell wasn’t buying it, because he understood that Obama had no intention of actually crafting bills that would prominently feature conservative ideas–the two sides were too far apart anyway.

McConnell also understood that Obama’s ideas were terrible, and would be unpopular. In some cases, we knew the bills were unpopular before they even went up for vote. Obama wanted an insurance policy (no ObamaCare pun intended): to have his name on the “achievement” if it turned out to be popular but to have Republicans own its passage in case it wasn’t. It was cynical and dishonest, and it didn’t succeed because Obama fooled his fans in the media but not McConnell.

Additionally, as anyone who follows the Senate closely knows, Reid’s strategy was to put unprecedented limits on the minority (Republicans) in the legislating process. Republicans were shut out of the traditional bipartisan role and also shut out of the amendment process. Reid didn’t want Republican input at all and didn’t want debate either. The plain fact is that it was Reid who “decided to break” the Senate, since Republicans weren’t willing to simply add their names to Obama’s legislative wish lists. And in order to protect constitutionally suspect legislation in the courts, Reid tossed out the filibuster as well.

Last night was a resounding victory for McConnell not because he sabotaged the Senate but because it confirmed what he already knew: Obama’s ideas are naïve and destructive, and therefore unpopular. McConnell’s refusal to allow his GOP minority caucus to be a rubber stamp for the disastrous liberal agenda was what stopped the midterms from being a pox on both houses and instead a referendum on those responsible for the wreckage: the Democrats.

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Iran Appeasement at Stake in Midterms

American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

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American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

The administration’s zeal for a deal with the Iranians appears undiminished by Tehran’s decision to continue to impede the efforts of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discover what is going on at their nuclear plants. As the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, the IAEA has made public the fact that there has been no progress made in getting access for inspections despite a year of negotiations. The Iranians are, as is their wont, continuing to run out the clock on the West on those talks. At the same time they are stringing the U.S. along in its efforts to broker a deal despite reports of far-reaching concessions that would allow it to keep their nuclear infrastructure in any agreement.

Given the growing sentiment in Europe for ending economic sanctions on Iran, there is no guarantee that watering down the terms of an agreement even more will entice the Islamists to sign a deal ending the standoff. Yet given the administration’s signals about treating this issue as their top foreign-policy priority, it seems likely that Obama will get some kind of an accord that will enable him to say he has addressed the world’s concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran even if it does little to diminish that threat.

Obama’s ability to do as he likes on Iran stems in no small measure from the president’s ability to get the Democratic majority in the Senate—and in particular, Majority Leader Harry Reid—to do his bidding on the issue. Though a bipartisan proposal for toughening sanctions on Iran if the talks failed had overwhelming support in the Senate last winter, including the vocal advocacy of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, Reid was able to spike the effort. If, as the administration has indicated, it will seek to bypass congressional approval for any new Iran deal, the president knows he can count on Reid to perform the same service this year despite complaints from fellow Democrat Menendez. But with the GOP in control of the Senate, the administration will have a lot less leeway in their pursuit of appeasement.

If a deal is signed, the president and his cheering section in the media will, no doubt, go all out to label any skeptics of the agreement as warmongers in much the same manner as they did last year. In order to end sanctions on Iran, a key requirement for Tehran in any accord, the president will suspend enforcement of the laws. But getting rid of them will require congressional action that is unlikely to occur. More to the point, Congress will have an opportunity to respond to an end run around the Constitution that requires Senate approval of all treaties with new sanctions on Iran.

Interestingly, the International Business Times speculates today that a switch in control of the Foreign Relations Committee could work to Obama’s advantage. If, as expected, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker replaces Menendez and Democrat Dick Durbin becomes the ranking member instead of Republican Mark Kirk, the IBT thinks this pair is more likely to do Obama’s bidding on Iran than the current team.

But that underestimates support throughout the Senate and on the committee for tougher sanctions on Iran. More to the point, the “sanctions mongers,” as the IBT refers to opponents of Iran appeasement, will likely have the backing of the putative Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With or without a new weak deal with Iran, the odds are, Republicans in both the House and the Senate will pass a bill similar to the one proposed by Menendez and Kirk last year which sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire on Iran.

Those who think a GOP-run Senate will back Obama’s play on Iran are underestimating the skepticism about the president’s policy in Congress as well as the deep concern for Israel’s security in the GOP at a time when, as Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic column illustrated last week, the administration’s is seeking to chill relations with the Jewish state.

That’s why it won’t be just U.S. political junkies staying up tonight to see if Reid or McConnell is running the Senate next year. The ayatollahs understand their ability to manipulate a U.S. government that they have pegged as a weak negotiating partner may be dependent on the outcome.

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Midterm Sour Grapes, Tea Party Edition

Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling gloomy today. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party will retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House, some Tea Party conservatives look around the country at the GOP’s roster of candidates and say they’ve been cheated. Rather than win by nominating hard-core right-wingers wherever possible, the party has, instead, put forward a more mainstream electoral cast including many that have been labeled, whether fairly or unfairly, as establishment types. That leads people like Erick Erickson to label today’s results a “hollow victory” in a Politico Magazine article. But while many Tea Partiers may share some of his frustration about the GOP establishment, they should reject his reflexive disgust and embrace this opportunity to not only act as a break on the Obama administration’s liberal agenda but to actually govern.

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Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling gloomy today. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party will retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House, some Tea Party conservatives look around the country at the GOP’s roster of candidates and say they’ve been cheated. Rather than win by nominating hard-core right-wingers wherever possible, the party has, instead, put forward a more mainstream electoral cast including many that have been labeled, whether fairly or unfairly, as establishment types. That leads people like Erick Erickson to label today’s results a “hollow victory” in a Politico Magazine article. But while many Tea Partiers may share some of his frustration about the GOP establishment, they should reject his reflexive disgust and embrace this opportunity to not only act as a break on the Obama administration’s liberal agenda but to actually govern.

Let’s concede that Erickson and other Tea Partiers are not crazy to be suspicious about the Republican leadership. They remember what happened the last time the GOP had control of both houses of Congress. The reason there is a Tea Party movement is due to the fact that during the George W. Bush administration, the party was rightly perceived to have embraced a tax-and-spend mentality that helped dig the country a hole that it has not yet climbed out of. The pointless discussions about who is a RINO (Republican in name only) inevitably descend into tests of purity whose aim is to demonstrate which conservatives are holier than anyone else. Yet the question of who is a big-government Republican is a serious one that should influence the new freshman class of Senators and Representatives to avoid the mistakes made during the reign of error presided over by former Speaker Denny Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

But Erickson’s animus seems not to be so much focused on whether the next Republican majority will avoid the temptations of big government and resume spending like drunken sailors as it is on those that sought to avoid the kind of disasters that cost the party golden opportunities to win the Senate in 2010 and 2012. Erickson is still angry with national Republican political consultants such as Karl Rove and people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who worked hard to recruit Senate candidates based on whether they could win rather than on their conservative purity. The result was that Tea Party insurgents in states like Kansas and Mississippi were defeated and establishment Republicans won.

Not all of these decisions were wise. Certainly, the GOP must look back at the effort to ensure that Pat Roberts was given the party’s Senate nomination rather than a Tea Party rebel with some mixed feelings. Roberts is the poster child for out-of-touch incumbents who richly deserve to be retired rather than given a ticket for another six years in Washington. If Roberts loses his Kansas seat today—especially if the GOP falls one seat short of a majority—Tea Partiers will never let the establishment live that one down. Conservatives also still have hard feelings over the way the party leadership went all-out to save incumbent Thad Cochran in Mississippi even though he is another senator that grew roots in D.C. and replacing him as a nominee would not have cost the party the seat.

Erickson also takes a shot at Thom Tillis in North Carolina and David Perdue in Georgia. Both are not incumbents but still represent an establishment mentality that provides voters with unattractive choices rather than a fresh and principled conservative alternative.

This critique is consistent with the theme we’ve heard from many conservatives about the pitfalls of Republicans nominating so-called moderates for president like John McCain or Mitt Romney. This thesis holds that the party alienates its base and creates millions of missing Republican voters by putting forward certain losers without the passion of true conservatives. To that indictment, Erickson adds that this is largely the fault of consultants who profit handsomely from such losses.

There is something to be said for the argument that merely nominating respectable losers does nothing to advance the conservative cause or to stop the growth of the big-government monster that is devouring the U.S. economy and stealing more of our individual freedom every year. But the idea that the only choice before the GOP is between nominating fat cat losers and principled conservative winners is, like the straw men that President Obama likes to use as his favorite rhetorical device, a false choice. What Republicans need is not so much Tea Party fervor as it is political skill.

What Hastert and the K Street caucus that profited from past Republican majorities taught us is that Republicans need to be about more than just attempts to buy votes with government pork. But in 2010 and 2012, the right also taught it that putting forward candidates who can’t win the support of a majority of voters isn’t too smart either. Without the Tea Party insisting on nominating Sharron Angle for a Nevada race, Harry Reid would have been defeated in 2010. Nor should anyone on the right forget that putting forward Christine O’Donnell rather than a respectable GOP moderate ensured that the Democrats would win a seat in Delaware that they are likely to hold for a long time. The disdain for national leaders attempting to vet Senate candidates also seems absurd given what happened in Missouri when Rep. Todd Akin (an extreme social conservative rather than a Tea Partier) not only threw away a certain defeat of Democrat Claire McCaskill but also tarnished the Republican brand around the nation with his idiotic comments about rape and pregnancy.

These lessons should be remembered even when we look at what seem like reasonable criticisms of the establishment by Erickson. While re-nominating Roberts and even Cochran may be classified as unforced errors, what he’s leaving out of the discussion is the very real possibility that loose cannons such as Milton Wolf and Chris McDaniel might have sunk the party. In particular, it can be argued that keeping McDaniel, a former radio talker with a paper trail of wild comments a mile long, out of the general election might have been the smartest thing the GOP did all year since he might have been the 2014 version of Akin.

The question of what Republicans do with their majority if they win it is something we’ll find out in 2015. But you can’t govern without winning elections and that is something the Tea Party hasn’t always mastered. Too often, some of them seem more interested in fighting and destroying their slightly less conservative party opponents than in beating Democrats and then governing. Sour grapes from Tea Partiers about “hollow victories” strikes me as being just as absurd as the excuses already put forward by Democrats about why they are losing this election. If Rove, McConnell, and Co. have stopped them from blowing up another chance for a Republican majority, that is something that even the most dedicated conservatives should be celebrating tonight.

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Alison Grimes Can’t Hide From Obama

It is to be hoped that by the end of the day, Alison Lundergan Grimes will have, with the help of her political consultants, come up with a coherent answer to the question of whether she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2012. This evening’s debate with Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell is probably the last chance for the Democrat to end the jokes about her going mum about her vote and save what’s left of her chances to win a Kentucky Senate seat next month. But even if we set aside the justified criticisms of Grimes’s foolishness, the flap over this issue illustrates how the president’s boast about his policies being on the ballot in 2014 is very much to the point.

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It is to be hoped that by the end of the day, Alison Lundergan Grimes will have, with the help of her political consultants, come up with a coherent answer to the question of whether she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2012. This evening’s debate with Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell is probably the last chance for the Democrat to end the jokes about her going mum about her vote and save what’s left of her chances to win a Kentucky Senate seat next month. But even if we set aside the justified criticisms of Grimes’s foolishness, the flap over this issue illustrates how the president’s boast about his policies being on the ballot in 2014 is very much to the point.

Grimes raised eyebrows when she ignored a reporter’s question about whether she voted for the head of her party in 2012 a couple of weeks ago. But when she doggedly refused to answer the same simple question during a taped meeting with the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal, even liberals were left scratching their heads. It may be hyperbole to dub her efforts as “The Worst Senate Campaign of the Year,” as the New Republic did in their headline of a report about her, but it’s fair to say that she must be considered the biggest disappointment for Democrats.

As TNR’s Jason Zengerle put it, for a woman who was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2012 to talk about “the sanctity of the ballot box” when asked if she backed the president showed that she thought “voters were idiots.” While Zengerle wouldn’t go as far as NBC’s Chuck Todd, who said the answer “disqualified her” for the Senate, it’s clear that the enormous funds that Democratic donors from both coasts have poured into the effort to unseat the GOP minority leader have been wasted.

Zengerle puts most of the blame for this debacle on Grimes and her father, veteran politician Jerry Lundergan, who has been calling the shots on his daughter’s campaign. Having convinced themselves that McConnell would use anything she said, even the obvious observation that a Democrat voted for her party’s ticket, as fodder for attack ads, the candidate has spent the last year and a half in a “defensive crouch.” While Democratic operatives, including Bill Clinton, touted Grimes as a talented politician with a future when they were doing their best to steer actress Ashley Judd away from a possible run for the Kentucky seat last year, she hasn’t lived up to the billing.

The result of her caution is that she has come across to voters as being almost as unlikeable as the notoriously unpopular McConnell. Indeed, right now some Kentucky Democrats might be wondering if they made a mistake in rejecting Judd. McConnell would have skewered her as a “Hollywood liberal” but she would also have been less obviously scripted, more authentic, as well as more likeable than Grimes.

Nevertheless, some of the backbiting on the left about Grimes seems to stem from the natural instinct of both parties’ bases to criticize candidates that stray from their ideological biases. Grimes has tried, albeit with minimal success to run as a centrist, something for which liberals will never forgive her if she loses in the same way conservatives despise moderate Republicans.

But the focus on Grimes ignores the main problem Democrats are dealing with this fall: Barack Obama.

Two weeks ago, the president boasted that while his name wasn’t on the ballot this fall, his policies were. That was a terrible political error but also a truthful assessment of the situation. Though local issues and the strengths and weakness of Senate candidates are crucial factors in determining the outcome of the midterms, the one unifying theme of this election remains the record of the incumbent president. With growing chaos abroad, economic stagnation, and a myriad of scandals at home, the country is ready to give the president a vote of no confidence after six years. While it is disingenuous of someone like Grimes to pretend that she can avoid being tagged as an Obama supporter, there is good reason for her to fear being identified as someone who will loyally back the president’s agenda should she help the Democrats hold onto the Senate.

The problem for Grimes is the same for every other Democrat not running in a deep-blue state. She can run but she can’t hide from the president. Just as the messianic hopes that Obama engendered helped his party in 2008, dissatisfaction with a failed presidency is bound to doom many Democrats in 2014 whether or not they run terrible campaigns.

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Harry Reid: Still Crazy-Like-A-Fox After All These Years

There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

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There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

A couple of recent stories about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought this joke to mind. First, in mid-September, Politico published a story in which Reid was unusually frank about just how pleased he was with himself. He actually wanted–six weeks out from the election–to begin bragging, like a kid who can’t believe how many fireflies he caught in a single jar, that Republicans had begun making “fire Reid” an election-year mantra:

“I’m meaningless,” Reid, a three-decade Hill veteran and the most powerful Democrat in Congress, told POLITICO Thursday. “People in red states don’t even know who I am.”

So look who thinks he’s nothing! But he’s also right, in an important way. Harry Reid has never achieved the kind of name identification that makes him a strategically sound national target, and he knew it. If Republicans are talking about him, instead of, say, President Obama or actual policies, then he’s done his job.

And today’s story in The Hill on Senate Republicans’ grumbling over leadership concerns raises a similar point, only it reveals that Reid has inspired finger pointing among Republicans even though they have the momentum heading into the home stretch of the midterm campaign.

And reading The Hill’s story, it’s easy to feel some pity for the anonymous GOP senator on whom much of the story is based. The senator has basically had the political equivalent of his shoelaces tied together, and since he’s unnamed we can’t even warn him of the imminent meeting between his face and the Senate chamber floor. And the only sound louder than the impending thud will be bellowing laughter of Harry Reid.

Here’s The Hill setting the scene:

If Republicans fall short of expectations this fall, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) could face a leadership challenge.

Republican senators say there is much riding on the Nov. 4 elections for McConnell, who is gunning to become majority leader while also attempting to defeat a well-funded Democratic opponent.

“If we don’t win the majority then all bets are off,” one GOP senator told The Hill when asked whether McConnell could face a leadership race if Republicans remained in the minority in 2015.

The senator, who requested anonymity, said some members of the Senate Republican Conference would call for a re-evaluation of McConnell’s tactics, which the lawmaker described as maintaining total party unity in opposition to the Democratic agenda.

The very next paragraph, however, explains the absurdity of the complaint:

The senator acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is difficult to work with because he has severely limited the ability of Republicans to offer amendments.

“There’s no question Harry Reid is very tough to deal with, but some of us wonder whether we should have tried to go around him to work with other Democrats,” the senator said.

Conservative critics, on the other hand, argue that McConnell has been too accommodating and has not been fierce enough in waging the battle to repeal ObamaCare or slash federal spending.

Here’s what happened: Harry Reid set a trap, and some Senate Republicans are falling for it. That’s really the crux of the plot here. Between Reid’s reduction of the applicability of the filibuster and his obliteration of Senate norms intended to give the minority some limited role in the democratic process, Reid has made it impossible for Republicans to get what they want and nearly impossible for them to stop Democrats from getting what they want.

Is that unfair? Sure, but welcome to the NFL, kid.

The genius of Reid’s shenanigans is that they only feed the conservative narrative that the Republican leadership is out of step with the party’s grassroots. With midterm elections approaching in which Republicans may actually have a decent shot at reclaiming the upper chamber, this is Reid’s best chance to divide and conquer the Republican caucus so the infighting holds the party back from training all its fire on the other side. Republicans who fall for this–and there appear to be several–are getting played.

And while I don’t know who the anonymous senator is, this strikes me as the kind of mistake common for inexperienced legislators. It reads like a hazing ritual of the Senate, and Reid is taking particular delight in it. Conservatives who truly want to advance a conservative agenda in Congress ought to stop stepping on the rake.

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McConnell: Obstructionist or a Dealmaker?

Politico made quite a stir last week when it published an interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he suggested that his main priority if Republicans win a majority this November will be to stop President Obama from governing without consent of Congress. McConnell’s talk about challenging the White House through the “funding process” struck some observers as reminiscent of Tea Party rhetoric that led to last year’s disastrous government shutdown and give the senator’s Democratic challenger a new talking point in a tough reelection race. But, as a profile of McConnell in the New York Times Magazine to be published next Sunday shows, a GOP-run Senate may actually be one where bipartisan deals are possible.

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Politico made quite a stir last week when it published an interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he suggested that his main priority if Republicans win a majority this November will be to stop President Obama from governing without consent of Congress. McConnell’s talk about challenging the White House through the “funding process” struck some observers as reminiscent of Tea Party rhetoric that led to last year’s disastrous government shutdown and give the senator’s Democratic challenger a new talking point in a tough reelection race. But, as a profile of McConnell in the New York Times Magazine to be published next Sunday shows, a GOP-run Senate may actually be one where bipartisan deals are possible.

The Politico interview brought out the fact that McConnell’s focus in his reelection race is on fighting President Obama. The only person in Kentucky who seems to have lower favorability ratings than McConnell is the president and the minority leader has rightly determined to run against him and concentrate on linking opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes to the White House.

However, McConnell’s plans to stymie the president’s plans to spend his last years in power trying to govern on his own via executive orders or sleight of hand maneuvers, like his attempt to sign a climate change treaty without bringing it to the Senate for a vote, were interpreted (not without some justice) as a not-so-veiled threat of another government shutdown. If so, that gave Grimes more ammunition to pursue her campaign strategy painting the personally unpopular McConnell as the epitome of everything voters hate about Washington.

That sounds like a winning strategy for Grimes who has been virtually tied in the polls with McConnell for most of the year. But Grimes, whose momentum seems to have slowed recently as polls show McConnell building on his slim lead, may not necessarily profit from positioning herself as Obama’s defender in future confrontations with the GOP. That’s especially true since many of the issues on which Republicans will confront Obama’s government by executive order policy will be on environmental issues.

Grimes’s biggest burden in this race, aside, that is, from McConnell’s legendary political skills and scorched earth tactics against opponents, are Obama’s anti-coal environmental policies. If McConnell can portray his boasts of obstructionism as merely the only way to protect one of his state’s industries, that would be a huge handicap for the Democrat.

Even more interestingly, the New York Times profile seemed to undermine any notion of McConnell as a Tea Party warrior bent on confrontation. As the profile makes clear, McConnell is at his core a moderate who is more interested in governance and political tactics than in grand gestures or shutting down the government to make an ideological point. As anyone who has followed events on Capitol Hill in recent years closely knows, of all the party leaders in either body, McConnell is a dealmaker who enjoys striking bargains for their own sake. That’s why a real Tea Partier—Matt Bevin—thought him vulnerable to a primary challenge that eventually fizzled. McConnell’s elevation to majority leader next year in the event of a GOP takeover would actually probably improve the chances of bipartisanship in a Senate where relations between the parties have been at an all-time low due to Reid’s highly confrontational tactics.

As Jonathan Martin writes in the Times Magazine, McConnell’s lack of personal appeal seemingly makes him a ripe target for defeat. But so long as Grimes is linked to Obama, even talk about government shutdowns may not be enough to end McConnell’s tenure in the Senate. As Martin writes in his concluding paragraph:

In the end, however, it seemed as though McConnell had found a way to make the race about Obama rather than himself. Somehow, he had yet again become the outsider. Maybe the guy still had it.

Indeed, he does.

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Is Hillary Rooting for a GOP Senate?

For Democrats looking for some early consolation heading into a midterm election in which their party seems fated to suffer the loss of the Senate, the New York Times provides some comfort. A piece by John Harwood in today’s paper claims that while a Republican Senate would blight the last two years of the Obama presidency, it might well guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But while there is a superficial logic to his thesis the notion that the former secretary of state should be rooting for Mitch McConnell to become majority leader next January is a bit of a stretch.

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For Democrats looking for some early consolation heading into a midterm election in which their party seems fated to suffer the loss of the Senate, the New York Times provides some comfort. A piece by John Harwood in today’s paper claims that while a Republican Senate would blight the last two years of the Obama presidency, it might well guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But while there is a superficial logic to his thesis the notion that the former secretary of state should be rooting for Mitch McConnell to become majority leader next January is a bit of a stretch.

The argument that a Republican Senate would help Clinton’s presidential hopes is simple. If the GOP controls both the House and the Senate heading into the 2016 election, that will make it even easier for Democrats to run against what they will undoubtedly label a “do-nothing” or “obstructionist” Congress. The confrontations between the Republicans and the White House would escalate in 2015 with the president seeking to govern on his own via executive orders. At the same time, as Politico notes in an interesting preview of 2015, McConnell is planning a series of actions meant to stymie Obama’s attempts to circumvent constitutional checks and balances that could lead to a veto battle and Republicans daring Obama to shut down the government in order to force them to fund his pet projects. These struggles will feed into the media’s favorite meme about dysfunctional government in which both parties will, not without some justification, be damned as part of the problem rather than the solution.

But the notion Harwood advances that this will allow Clinton to present herself as an outside-the-Beltway figure who is not tied to this fracas is hard to swallow.

The longer an unpopular president and his more-unpopular partisan adversaries battle to a standstill, the easier it is to offer herself as a fresh start.

“It would be bad for the country,” said Stanley B. Greenberg, President Bill Clinton’s former pollster, but “total gridlock would allow Hillary to be the change.”

Mrs. Clinton has had as many political personality changes as she’s had hairdos in her decades in the public eye, but the idea that this grizzled veteran of Washington could present herself as “the change” that voters want is laughable.

Clinton’s in a strong position to win the presidency no matter what happens in November 2014. As the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination, unless a credible left-wing alternative emerges to force her to abandon her criticisms of Obama’s foreign-policy failures, she has already begun the pivot to the center that most candidates can’t attempt until after they’ve won their party’s nod. More than that, as the potential first woman to be elected to the presidency, she has a compelling narrative as well as the loyalty of most party activists even if they are to her left on many issues. And with so many Republicans defending Senate seats in 2016 as the class of 2010 seeks reelection, Democrats will, with the help of their traditionally large presidential-year turnouts, have a chance to take the Senate back.

But after hanging around the capital in one guise or another and engaging in some of the nastiest gutter fights there for more than 20 years, Clinton can’t pretend to be a breath of fresh air in hyper-partisan Washington. Nor, after serving as secretary of state for four years, can she completely evade the tag of running for a third term for the Obama administration.

Just as important, if, as is likely, the next two years are marked by more bitter partisan warfare, the likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 won’t be able to stand aloof from Obama’s struggles with Congress. While the GOP House and Senate will undoubtedly make for attractive targets for Clinton’s scorn, that will tie her even more closely to Obama’s autocratic governing style rather than allowing her to distance herself from his troubled presidency. Republicans will be able to point out that Clinton’s own positions on the environment and immigration will make her just as likely to try to override the will of Congress as Obama has been.

As Harwood points out, President Obama will likely see a Clinton victory as the best chance to solidify his legacy. So will the voters. Moreover, Clinton’s opponent in 2016 won’t be McConnell or House Speaker John Boehner, much though she would love to run against either of them. In contrast to Clinton, the Republican nominee may turn out to be someone who actually is from outside the Beltway or one of those members of the Senate who are seeking to stop the business-as-usual approach to politics that Clinton embodies.

It may be that Clinton’s strengths will enable her to overcome the handicap of being tied to an unpopular and unsuccessful incumbent. But a Republican Senate won’t make that any easier. The loss of the Senate will be a body blow to liberal plans to expand government even more than Obama has already done. Doing so may not stop Clinton from winning in 2016, but it won’t make it any easier for her either.

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Obama Is Killing Dems’ Senate Hopes

Heading into the 2014 campaign, most analysts agreed that control of the U.S. Senate hinged on the survival of a few key red state Democrats and the one vulnerable Republican incumbent: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the latest poll out of Kentucky provides some very bad news for Democrats for which they can blame one person: Barack Obama.

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Heading into the 2014 campaign, most analysts agreed that control of the U.S. Senate hinged on the survival of a few key red state Democrats and the one vulnerable Republican incumbent: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the latest poll out of Kentucky provides some very bad news for Democrats for which they can blame one person: Barack Obama.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling issued the first survey of the contest between McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes published in the last month. It shows the GOP leader with a 5-point lead. That still leaves Grimes within reach of the Republican. But it also represents a gain for McConnell over previous polls issued over the summer. That’s a disappointing result for Grimes after what supporters saw as a strong launch to her campaign as anti-McConnell broadsides began to fill the airwaves in the Bluegrass State. Just at the moment when she might have been expected to eliminate the razor-thin lead McConnell has been nursing throughout the year, it appears the Democrat is starting to lose ground.

That has to be particularly frustrating for Grimes and the Democrats because the secondary polling data still shows McConnell to be extremely vulnerable. The same poll shows McConnell to have a 54-37 negative favorability rating, the kind of figures that normally spell doom for any incumbent. But though Grimes is a relatively fresh face with a good political pedigree, she isn’t particularly well liked either. Her 45-41 negative favorability isn’t as bad as McConnell’s but it shows that despite the hype about her in the liberal mainstream media, she hasn’t favorably impressed Kentuckians. Though there is still plenty of time for her to recover and overtake McConnell, skepticism is growing even on the left that this is possible.

These numbers show that even liberal prognosticators are starting to write Grimes off. Statistical guru and 2012 presidential election pundit superstar Nate Silver had already rated McConnell’s chances of winning reelection at 80 percent last week. That’s bound to go up even higher now. The New York Times Upshot blog (which replaced Silver’s “Five Thirty-Eight” when he went independent updated their prediction today about Kentucky to an 85 percent chance of a McConnell victory.

That means the Democrats’ margin for error in holding onto their Senate majority may now be so small as to make it highly unlikely that they can prevail in November. Silver rates the GOP as having a 60 percent chance of running the Senate next year. Upshot rates it at 55 percent.

The explanation for this trend isn’t hard to discern. Everyone seems to agree that unlike 2010, this year’s midterms won’t be a “wave” election in which a tidal wave of support for one party will lift all boats and create a landslide. But with the one vulnerable GOP senator looking like a likely winner and a number of red state Democrats fighting for their lives the Republicans don’t need a wave. All they do need is to remind voters in GOP-leaning states which candidates are supportive of President Obama. After all, the only person more unpopular in Kentucky than McConnell is the president. Obama has a staggering 63-32 percent negative approval rating there.

Republicans may have counted on anger about ObamaCare or some of the administration’s other scandals to lift them to a nationwide victory. That hasn’t quite materialized but general dissatisfaction with the president looks to be sufficient to drag Democrats down in red states and keep even McConnell safe. With the world in chaos and the president showing no leadership abroad and only a desire to whip up partisan anger at home, there is little reason to believe that Democrats can reverse historic trends that show the incumbent party losing big in a second term midterm. While Grimes will be blamed if she fails to take down one of the least liked (though most effective) members of the Senate, rather than focusing on her shortcomings and lack of preparation for the big stage, Democrats would do better to realize that Obama has gone from being their greatest asset to their biggest problem.

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Smash the Regulatory State from Within

The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

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The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

With all the talk of reform conservatism, this is a more limited variant of the ambitious reform efforts gaining momentum. There are two categories of such reform, and the abuse-of-power scandals proliferating throughout the Obama administration’s bureaucratic power agencies make it all the more necessary to realize the opportunity they present to conservatives seeking to protect the public from big government.

The first has to do with regulations, and Texas presents a good example. Because so much of the Obama-era Democratic regulations are poorly thought-out and destructive, it’s easy to get the impression that when the government regulates something, it will do so in a deeply stupid way. But it doesn’t have to.

In April 2010, the Washington Post ran an interesting article investigating the following question: Why did Texas escape the real-estate bust? As the Post explained:

Texas’s 3.1 million mortgage borrowers are a breed of their own among big states with big cities. Fewer than 6 percent of them are in or near foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association; the national average is nearly 10 percent. …

Texan subprime borrowers do especially well compared with their counterparts elsewhere. The foreclosure rate among subprime borrowers in Texas, at less than 19 percent, is the lowest of any state except Alaska.

Part of the answer seemed to be restrictions on refinancing and home-equity lending:

A cash-out refinance is a mortgage taken out for a higher balance than the one on an existing loan, net of fees. Across the nation, cash-outs became ubiquitous during the mortgage boom, as skyrocketing house prices made it possible for homeowners, even those with bad credit, to use their home equity like an ATM. But not in Texas. There, cash-outs and home-equity loans cannot total more than 80 percent of a home’s appraised value. There’s a 12-day cooling-off period after an application, during which the borrower can pull out. And when a borrower refinances a mortgage, it’s illegal to get even a dollar back. Texas really means it: All these protections, and more, are in the state constitution. The Texas restrictions on mortgage borrowing date from the first days of statehood in 1845, when the constitution banned home loans.

It turns out such restrictions went a long way toward preventing homeowners from taking out the kind of loans and refinancing that increased the chances of default when the bubble burst, protecting many in Texas from suffering the same fate. It’s the kind of “smart” regulation that not only benefits the private sector but also can prevent future “dumb” regulations: the less prone to such crises states (and especially the federal government) are, the less demand there will be for the kind of “do-something” regulatory pile-ons and bailouts that follow those crises.

Texas is also, of course, a testament to the benefits of limited regulations in other areas of ownership and private property. Another part of the state’s insulation from the real-estate bubble was, as Wendell Cox explained, “the state’s liberal, market oriented land use policies. This served to help keep the price of land low while profligate lending increased demand.” Overregulated housing markets inflated prices and restricted supply. Texas got the balance just right.

So there’s “smart” regulations vs. “dumb” regulations. But the other category of this kind of reform has to do with the bureaucracy. Especially in the Obama era, policy is being made more and more by unelected bureaucrats. As the IRS scandal (and others) showed, the power and insulation from the public eye is a dangerous combination.

Conservatives have generally approached this by concentrating on the need to eliminate either bureaucratic agencies or the powers of those agencies. They should also, however, keep in mind that as long as those agencies exist, personnel is policy. Perhaps no one on the right has internalized this message more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a piece for National Review last year (still paywalled, alas), Daniel Foster wrote about McConnell’s attitude toward staffing decisions made by each party. When bureaucratic commission openings must be filled, it generally falls to the leadership. That means President Obama for the Democrats and McConnell for the Republicans. The Democrats still tend to view such job appointments as patronage positions. But McConnell has rejected the cronyism in favor of competence:

To translate his instincts into names, he brought in GOP veteran Dan Schneider. To look at Schneider’s government rap sheet — stints at the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Labor Department — you’d think he was a die-cast liberal. But when I spoke with him for this story, he said he likes to think of himself as a loyal conservative sent behind enemy lines “to monitor the radicals.”

Schneider came onto McConnell’s radar via the senator’s wife, Elaine Chao. When George W. Bush appointed Chao to head his Department of Labor, Schneider became her first White House liaison, and she gave him free rein to find conservatives to fill more than 200 slots inside the department. He impressed, and, after the Obama transition, migrated into McConnell’s office, where he oversees a sort of national conservative talent search with the title “Policy Advisor and Counsel for Nominations.”

Schneider operates according to a set of five criteria for screening potential nominees first developed by E. Pendleton “Pen” James, Ronald Reagan’s director of personnel management. First, were the nominees competent in the subject matter? Second, were they philosophically compatible with Senator McConnell? Third, did they possess high character and integrity? Fourth, were they tough? Fifth, were they team players?

The result, two or three hundred appointees later, is measurable.

Of course the ultimate aim for such bureaucracies should be to get rid of them or limit their power–something McConnell also engages in, as when he spearheaded the challenge to Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments, which resulted recently in a unanimous Supreme Court rejection of Obama’s power grab.

But conservatives can fight those fights while engaging in limited reform from within the regulatory state. They don’t have to cede ground just because they wish that ground didn’t exist.

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The Casualties of Obama’s War on Coal

This week President Obama is expected to announce new regulations on carbon emissions that will have a potentially devastating impact on America’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. The move was made possible by Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the right to regulate such emissions, giving the president virtual carte blanche to remake this sector of our economy without requiring congressional consent. As the New York Times reports today, this decision is being closely watched abroad as governments look to see whether the U.S. is setting a good example for other nations, such as China, whose economies are driven by coal and which do far more polluting of the atmosphere than America does.

Yet the Chinese aren’t the only ones following this issue. The president has already signaled that addressing climate change was one of the priorities of his second term as well as making it clear that he was eager to move ahead and govern by executive order rather than via the normal constitutional process that involves the legislative branch. As such, the White House rightly anticipates that this broadside aimed at the coal industry will be intensely popular with Obama’s core constituencies on the left as well as the liberal mainstream media. But while leading Democratic donors such as Tom Steyer will be cheering a measure that fits his ideological agenda, not everybody in the Democratic Party is going to be happy with what amounts to a new Obama war on coal. In particular, the Democrats’ brightest hope for stealing a Republican-controlled Senate seat this fall—Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—may wind up paying a fearful price for Obama’s decision.

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This week President Obama is expected to announce new regulations on carbon emissions that will have a potentially devastating impact on America’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. The move was made possible by Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the right to regulate such emissions, giving the president virtual carte blanche to remake this sector of our economy without requiring congressional consent. As the New York Times reports today, this decision is being closely watched abroad as governments look to see whether the U.S. is setting a good example for other nations, such as China, whose economies are driven by coal and which do far more polluting of the atmosphere than America does.

Yet the Chinese aren’t the only ones following this issue. The president has already signaled that addressing climate change was one of the priorities of his second term as well as making it clear that he was eager to move ahead and govern by executive order rather than via the normal constitutional process that involves the legislative branch. As such, the White House rightly anticipates that this broadside aimed at the coal industry will be intensely popular with Obama’s core constituencies on the left as well as the liberal mainstream media. But while leading Democratic donors such as Tom Steyer will be cheering a measure that fits his ideological agenda, not everybody in the Democratic Party is going to be happy with what amounts to a new Obama war on coal. In particular, the Democrats’ brightest hope for stealing a Republican-controlled Senate seat this fall—Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—may wind up paying a fearful price for Obama’s decision.

As the Times notes, the conundrum of America’s extremist environmentalist lobby lies in the fact that the U.S. is actually doing relatively little of the carbon damage that they believe is fueling global warming. The vast majority of the increase in emissions comes from developing economies around the globe, especially in places like China. While resistance to the sort of tough restrictions on carbon that environmentalists lust for is strong in nations that produce fossil-based fuels, the Chinese believe that the West should pay the steep economic price involved in such schemes while they and other developing nations are allowed to burn all the coal they want. By making his ruling, Obama won’t just be harming the U.S. economy. By setting a good example, Washington thinks their going first will somehow persuade the Chinese to follow suit.

This is highly unlikely. Though it pays lip service to global warming theories, China’s top priority is building their economy. Meanwhile, nations such as Russia are not shy about stating their unwillingness to stop burning coal. But by taking what he believes is the high road with respect to the environment, the president will be fulfilling not only the promises made to his domestic liberal constituencies but also behaving in a manner that is consistent with his belief in multilateral foreign policy.

But back at home this high-minded environmentalism may not play as well as he thinks. Many Americans fear that Obama will damage their economy while doing nothing to alter the warming equation that is being decided elsewhere. Though the media has followed the White House playbook in emphasizing any report that hypes the threat from global warming while downplaying any development that undermines this thesis, the public has demonstrated repeatedly that this issue is not a priority, especially when compared to their concerns about the economy and jobs. And this is exactly what the president’s orders will affect most grievously.

Among the biggest losers will be regions where the coal industry is a mainstay of the economy. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the best example of such a state is Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remains the country’s most endangered Republican in an election cycle that should otherwise be quite favorable to the GOP. McConnell has been working hard to tie Grimes to Obama, a charge that she has steadfastly rejected. But the president’s regulatory war on coal will be a body blow to Grimes’s attempt to argue that it will be her and not Obama who will be on the ballot this November. Grimes smartly opposes the administration’s environmentalist stands with respect to coal, but the new orders will escalate the struggle to a point where it could play a crucial role in the midterms. Grimes has sought to make McConnell the main issue in the contest, something that is not to the advantage of the dour minority leader and longtime incumbent. But if the key issue is defense of Kentucky’s coal industry against the White House, it will be difficult for the Democrat to assert that she will be in a better position to resist this assault than the man who may be the majority leader of the upper body next January. In a contest to see who can be most hostile to Obama, the GOP has the edge over even the most independent Democrat.

The war on coal is exactly the ticket to fire up the president’s coastal elite base as well as very much what the international community wants. But it could be the death knell for Grimes’s Senate hopes. If that race makes the difference in deciding control of the Senate, it could be that global warming will be the issue that pushes Obama from a weak-second term incumbent to dead-in-the-water lame duck.

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The “War on Women” and the Democrats’ Kentucky Cheap Shots

Alison Lundergan Grimes is running for the Senate in an attempt to unseat the upper chamber’s Republican leader, and she has a message for the voters: she’s a she. As the Washington Post reports:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and, as she did Tuesday night, describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” …

“This is a Kentucky woman through and through, who proudly wears a dress,” she said at one of her final stops along a statewide bus tour that culminated with Tuesday’s primary.…

She wasn’t done talking about what she was wearing.

“I have stood strong in these heels,” she said shortly after her speech in a brief interview inside her bus. “I’ve run circles around [McConnell] in this state in my heels, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

This is an interesting tactic to highlight the Democrats’ invented and condescending “war on women.” But there are good reasons for it–most notably, she would prefer not to talk policy or the issues, since her party is so hostile to Kentucky voters’ concerns.

As the Associated Press reports, Grimes is trying desperately to avoid taking a position on whether she’d have supported ObamaCare. The president’s health-care reform law is unpopular, and Grimes no doubt would like to benefit from the fact that she was not in Congress when Democrats voted for a terrible bill they hadn’t read out of blind loyalty to their dear leader.

At the same time, Grimes doesn’t want to take a stand against it, not least because demonstrating the consensus against ObamaCare would only highlight the fact that her election would further enable ObamaCare’s destructive consequences.

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Alison Lundergan Grimes is running for the Senate in an attempt to unseat the upper chamber’s Republican leader, and she has a message for the voters: she’s a she. As the Washington Post reports:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and, as she did Tuesday night, describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” …

“This is a Kentucky woman through and through, who proudly wears a dress,” she said at one of her final stops along a statewide bus tour that culminated with Tuesday’s primary.…

She wasn’t done talking about what she was wearing.

“I have stood strong in these heels,” she said shortly after her speech in a brief interview inside her bus. “I’ve run circles around [McConnell] in this state in my heels, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

This is an interesting tactic to highlight the Democrats’ invented and condescending “war on women.” But there are good reasons for it–most notably, she would prefer not to talk policy or the issues, since her party is so hostile to Kentucky voters’ concerns.

As the Associated Press reports, Grimes is trying desperately to avoid taking a position on whether she’d have supported ObamaCare. The president’s health-care reform law is unpopular, and Grimes no doubt would like to benefit from the fact that she was not in Congress when Democrats voted for a terrible bill they hadn’t read out of blind loyalty to their dear leader.

At the same time, Grimes doesn’t want to take a stand against it, not least because demonstrating the consensus against ObamaCare would only highlight the fact that her election would further enable ObamaCare’s destructive consequences.

So she’s simply repeating over and over again that she’s wearing a dress–“She paused, looked down at her strawberry-red outfit, and let the crowd of a few dozen supporters whoop and holler at the inside joke,” the Post explains after Grimes told the crowd she “proudly wears a dress.”

There are pitfalls to this strategy as well. Grimes is a seasoned partisan, but she seems to have made a classic rookie mistake along the lines of Christine O’Donnell:

Alison Lundergan Grimes says it everywhere she goes. She said it at dozens of stops in Kentucky over the past week. She said it at her victory speech here Tuesday night after securing the Democratic nomination for Senate. And she plans to say it again all the way to November. She’s not an “empty dress.”

Ever since a Republican strategist used the insult months ago to belittle the 35-year-old Grimes, she has made it a rallying point in her quest to dislodge the Senate’s GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, from the Kentucky seat he has held for three decades.

Everywhere she goes she proclaims she’s not an empty dress? Not only does that come across as defensive, it reminds the crowds of the accusation. This is where the “war on women” rhetoric poses a challenge. Democrats don’t think women are smart enough or capable enough to out-debate and out-campaign their opponents on the issues, so they’ve instructed them to play the victim. But that requires Democratic women to consistently raise the idea that they can’t win on the merits.

If Grimes has already internalized the Democratic Party’s belief that women are inferior candidates, she’s going to have an uphill climb in a Senate election. Additionally, the “war on women” claims open the left up to accusations of hypocrisy. A notable example this election season was when Oregon Democrats spurred overly personal attacks on a Republican victim of domestic violence. The creepy attacks were meant to help Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.

It’s too soon to tell whether that will backfire on Merkley, but Grimes is now under fire for a bizarre false attack on McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao. Specifically, Grimes attacked the family’s wealth after Chao’s mother passed away and left her daughter an inheritance. Grimes suggested Chao’s inheritance money was actually ill-gotten gains McConnell accrued in the Senate.

This is just the beginning of the campaign, so it’s possible Grimes will get her footing. Hopefully the attack on Chao over her deceased mother represents a low point for Grimes’s campaign and it’ll be uphill from here. Perhaps she’ll also find a communications team smart enough to tell her to stop announcing she’s not an empty dress. Either way, the Grimes campaign thus far is a good indication of the damage the Democrats’ “war on women” is doing to political discourse.

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Dems Won’t Be Saved Again by the Tea Party

Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

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Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

It bears repeating that those in the media who are treating this as an ideological shift in which moderates have triumphed over conservatives are mistaken. Though individual groups that claimed the Tea Party banner have attempted to transform a broad grassroots movement into something with a specific address and card-carrying members (while liberals have falsely imagined it to be the function of a few large conservative donors like the Koch brothers pulling the puppet strings of political operatives), the Tea Party movement was always something far more amorphous. It began as an inchoate push across the board from conservatives who were angry about the betrayal of what they felt were the party’s principles from big government Republicans in Congress as well as about the Obama administration’s billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare.

In its first bloom in 2010 and to a lesser degree in 2012 that rise led to the nomination of people like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who had no business getting major party nods. That happened because of the perception that their opponents were somehow part of the permanent governing class that had no compunction about increasing the debt in order to keep funding a government with no limits. But what has happened in recent years is that virtually the entire Republican Party has embraced Tea Party ideology when it comes to the big issues of taxing and spending. While the liberal mainstream media has always labeled Tea Partiers as being a bunch of wild-eyed extremists who were liable to be racists as well as at war with the federal government, the reality is that most of the voters and candidates who identify with the term are simply conservatives who are tired of business as usual Republicans.

What happened on Tuesday is not a situation where mainstream Republicans bested Tea Partiers and beat them on the issues. Rather, it was that voters were faced with candidates that largely shared the same views but understandably preferred more electable Republicans to those who were unlikely to prevail in November.

Indeed, this ideological shift is noticeable even among the Democrats who are being nominated to oppose these conservatives. Candidates like Grimes and Nunn are doing everything to distance themselves from President Obama and seeking to appeal to mainstream voters. While Democrats in blue states are veering to the left, those in the rest of the country understand that they must come across as being comfortable with the basic conservatism of most Americans. That’s good politics, and if the GOP lets them get away with obscuring their dedication to failed liberal policies, the Democrats will prevail.

But after years of the media echo chamber flaying the Republicans for being in thrall to extremists, GOP primary voters have taken that issue off the table. Without it, Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold the Senate.

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