Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tea Party

The Real Reason Bill de Blasio Hasn’t Endorsed Hillary

Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

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Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

To recap, here’s what de Blasio said when asked directly about endorsing Hillary on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD:

Well, in the last quarter century, they’ll have had a Clinton as president for eight years of that last quarter century, so that’s going to be difficult. Let me ask you this, are you for her now, unequivocally? Or do you want to wait to see if she takes your advice on moving to a more progressive agenda?

BILL DE BLASIO:

I think like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear, bold vision for progressives–

CHUCK TODD:

But you’re technically not yet endorsing her?

BILL DE BLASIO:

No, not until I see, and again, I would say this about any candidate, until I see an actual vision of where they want to go. I think she’s a tremendous public servant. I think she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office. And by the way, thoroughly vetted, we can say that. But we need to see the substance.

The Clintons demand loyalty above all else, and de Blasio was Hillary’s campaign manager for the Senate in 2000. So this certainly looked to some in Clintonland like a betrayal. Clinton ally Hilary Rosen responded angrily on Twitter, with a classic Clintonian threat:

The whole thing was, I thought, blown way out of proportion. But reporters spent the next couple days asking de Blasio if perhaps he had reconsidered his comments about the Central Committee chairwoman. Politico reports this morning that he’s sticking to his story:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is standing by his remarks on “Meet the Press” that he is not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. …

“It’s the same things I’ve said publicly: progressive taxation, raising wages and benefits, investment in infrastructure and education, the willingness to tax the wealthy so we have the resources to actually change the dynamic in this country,” the progressive Democratic mayor said.

This obstinacy has inspired some quizzical looks. Who shrugs off the horse’s head in the bed? What’s de Blasio up to?

In fact, there is a very good reason for Bill de Blasio to keep his initial distance from Hillary: self-preservation. Hillary Clinton, and the crony capitalist aristocracy she represents, is a direct threat to de Blasio’s career.

Remember, de Blasio was swept into office on the combined power of one good television ad and the tide of left-wing populism that sought to turn the animating ideas behind Occupy Wall Street into something productive. The Tea Partiers didn’t just rage against the government (they also didn’t defecate on police cars, as their liberal counterparts did); they got involved, ran candidates for office, formed a congressional caucus, and shaped legislation.

So as terrible as the policy preferences of de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are, and as shallow as their understanding of basic economics continues to be, there was at least something healthy about their elections: it showed left-wingers re-engaging with the democratic process. Warren has secured a place for herself as a national figure. She occupies a safe Senate seat and sits on the banking committee, and even has a legion of fans who want her to run for president. She demonstrated her transformation into the Democrats’ Ted Cruz with her recent attempt to shut down the federal government over a policy dispute. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going anywhere.

The same is not necessarily true of de Blasio. That’s why he scheduled a trip to Iowa to talk about inequality, and why he continues to act as though he’s a single-issue activist instead of an influential political executive.

But far more of a danger to de Blasio is the looming success of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. As Ben Domenech wrote in the September issue of COMMENTARY, the populist base of the Democratic Party will be one casualty of Hillary’s coronation: “She is still the Hillary who spent six years on the Walmart board of directors; the Hillary at her most comfortable rubbing elbows in Aspen, the Hamptons, and Davos; the Hillary whose family foundation depends on the donations of big banks and held its annual donor briefing in the auditorium of Goldman Sachs, which reportedly paid her $400,000 for two speeches last year,” Domenech wrote, adding: “The past few years have been better for Wall Street than anybody, and when it comes to the battles over regulation, taxation, and trade policy, the progressive base seems ready to concede defeat.”

De Blasio isn’t, however. Elizabeth Warren could survive the receding tide of liberal populism because she has transitioned seamlessly into a progressive cog in the bureaucratic statist machine. Warren sold out the moment she was presented with the opportunity to wield state power to settle scores.

De Blasio, however, has no such job security and no obvious fallback plan. What de Blasio has instead is the great media megaphone of New York City. And he intends to use it.

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Is There a Realistic Ted Cruz Scenario?

A broad cross-section of Republican officeholders, major donors and conservative pundits are agreed on one thing: Ted Cruz has no chance to be elected president. The junior senator from Texas marked the fifth anniversary of the signing of ObamaCare by announcing his candidacy for the presidency today at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia and no one in the chattering classes thinks he has a prayer of being sworn into office as commander-in-chief in January 2017. Just about everyone thinks his positions on the issues are too extreme and that his advocacy of the 2013 government shutdown and the complete antipathy of the rest of the Senate and the party establishment make it impossible for him to win. Even those who sympathize with his politics tend to agree that he just isn’t likeable enough to gain his party’s nomination, let alone win a general election against a Democrat. But his detractors need to understand something. As his announcement this morning showed us, he is a fabulous speaker and a dynamic personality with a unique appeal. The scenario that Cruz is hoping will make him the GOP nominee may be a very shot indeed but it is not crazy.

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A broad cross-section of Republican officeholders, major donors and conservative pundits are agreed on one thing: Ted Cruz has no chance to be elected president. The junior senator from Texas marked the fifth anniversary of the signing of ObamaCare by announcing his candidacy for the presidency today at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia and no one in the chattering classes thinks he has a prayer of being sworn into office as commander-in-chief in January 2017. Just about everyone thinks his positions on the issues are too extreme and that his advocacy of the 2013 government shutdown and the complete antipathy of the rest of the Senate and the party establishment make it impossible for him to win. Even those who sympathize with his politics tend to agree that he just isn’t likeable enough to gain his party’s nomination, let alone win a general election against a Democrat. But his detractors need to understand something. As his announcement this morning showed us, he is a fabulous speaker and a dynamic personality with a unique appeal. The scenario that Cruz is hoping will make him the GOP nominee may be a very shot indeed but it is not crazy.

When stacked against those of his Republican competitors, it’s easy to see why few think the Texan has much of a chance. The party elites that are, as Nate Cohn rightly points out in his New York Times Upshot column about Cruz today, still important to winning nominations, are united in their opposition to him. He will raise money but nowhere near as much as Jeb Bush or even other conservatives like Scott Walker. Nor can he claim to be the sole candidate seeking to appeal to Tea Party conservatives, who tend to adore him, or even the evangelicals that he is courting by announcing at the school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Cruz is also widely hated by most of his Senate colleagues and tends not to come across as a guy most people would want to have a beer with. Last week’s viral story about Cruz supposedly scaring a little girl at a New Hampshire event was inaccurate and unfair. If anything, a look at the tape of the encounter showed him to be sensitive and actually quite caring about the child’s reaction to his rhetoric about President Obama setting the world on fire. But it resonated because that is how most adults, Republicans and Democrats alike, tend to think about him. Indeed, I think the likeability factor is a much more important obstacle for Cruz to overcome than his ideology. As a recent Wall Street Journal poll illustrated, the number of those who can envision supporting him barely outnumber those who say they can never back him.

But even if admit up front that Cruz’s path to victory is as steep as can be imagined, the party establishment and others that loathe him would still be foolish to underestimate him or his power to play a serious role in the GOP race.

If there is anything that we have learned about him in the two and a half years since he began throwing bombs in the Senate and upsetting his colleagues, it is that Cruz is utterly undaunted by criticism or long odds. In the view of more moderate conservatives, that makes him unwilling to listen to common sense. But it also gives him a certain power that more realistic figures lack. You may think Ted Cruz is over-the-top but he does not care.

He brings to the race certain strengths that his rivals lack. As I noted backed in December, “If you’re going to make comparisons to 2012 candidates, imagine someone with the folksiness of Rick Perry (albeit in a Cuban Texan version), the passion of Santorum on populist and social conservative issues, the debating skill of Newt Gingrich, and the wonkish grasp of details of a Mitt Romney and you have a fair idea of what Cruz brings to the table.”

Though debates will not be as ubiquitous this time as they were in 2012, they will still be crucial. Cruz’s ability to eviscerate opponents is something his opponents should fear. Nor is he, despite his embrace of suicidal tactics like the shutdown, someone who will embrace crackpot positions on vaccines or show ignorance about foreign policy.

Jeb Bush is the darling of the establishment. Scott Walker is in a sweet spot that can embrace the party establishment, Tea Partiers and evangelicals. Rand Paul has the libertarians. Marco Rubio is the strongest voice on foreign policy and can also appeal to both wings of the party. Mike Huckabee will compete with him for the populist vote and Rick Santorum for religious conservatives. Others will have their own strengths. But the sheer size and strength of this field (especially compared to 2012) makes is more likely that someone we now consider an outlier may break through. Cruz isn’t likely to be the one who will do so but neither is it insane to think that he might. Others also face long odds, but few have his potent political skills.

The problem for those writing off Cruz’s candidacy as absurd is that the very same factors that make him so unappealing to his Senate colleagues and the party establishment can endear him to grassroots voters. He may be inexperienced in office with only two years in the Senate on his resume but he is also untainted by the compromises that responsible officials must make because he has never compromised on any issue. If Cruz can tap into the Tea Party base and become its standard bearer, he will be a formidable candidate in the early primary states. After that, it will be anyone’s game. Right now, that’s about as realistic a scenario as any of his competitors can claim.

None of that changes the fact that it is hard to see how he could win a general election and Republicans who want to win are not only never going to consider him but will move heaven and earth to stop him if he does get close to the nomination. But they should not assume that this is a possibility they’ll never have to contemplate. The Ted Cruz scenario for Republicans is a very long shot but those chuckling about his early announcement are making assumptions that the party base may not back up.

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End the GOP’s Iowa Ethanol Panderfest

Wherever Iowa famers gather, presidential candidates are never in short supply. So if you’re planning on attending the annual Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines tomorrow, it may be difficult to avoid tripping over potential Republican contenders. But not all the GOP hopefuls will be there. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are skipping the event. Why? Both oppose the renewable fuel standard, a measure beloved by Iowa corn growers that requires blending corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply. Rubio and Jindal aren’t the ones who have crossed the Iowa agriculture industry. Other candidates have voted for measures seeking to eventually end ethanol subsidies. But the farm lobby has forced Republicans who believe in the free market to bend to their will before and is determined to punish those who don’t pledge allegiance to ethanol and make them pay at the Iowa Caucuses next year. The question is, will 2016 mark the moment when conservatives prefer their principles to corn-based votes?

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Wherever Iowa famers gather, presidential candidates are never in short supply. So if you’re planning on attending the annual Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines tomorrow, it may be difficult to avoid tripping over potential Republican contenders. But not all the GOP hopefuls will be there. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are skipping the event. Why? Both oppose the renewable fuel standard, a measure beloved by Iowa corn growers that requires blending corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply. Rubio and Jindal aren’t the ones who have crossed the Iowa agriculture industry. Other candidates have voted for measures seeking to eventually end ethanol subsidies. But the farm lobby has forced Republicans who believe in the free market to bend to their will before and is determined to punish those who don’t pledge allegiance to ethanol and make them pay at the Iowa Caucuses next year. The question is, will 2016 mark the moment when conservatives prefer their principles to corn-based votes?

Ethanol and biofuels sound like a green dream that combines the needs of farmers with the nation’s desire for energy independence and less carbon-based pollution. The clout of the powerful farm lobby might have been enough to ensure that Congress subsidized the ethanol business. But the fact that Iowa becomes the center of the political universe once every four years with the campaign lasting longer every election has made corn king.

But even the outsized influence of the Hawkeye State has not been enough to suppress the growing realization that the massive federal subsidies lavished on corn growers was a boondoggle of epic proportions that has done little to help the environment and a lot for the bank accounts of those connected to this industry. After a long fight, Congress passed a sunset provision on the subsidies, but Iowans who are used to being Uncle Sam’s favored relations aren’t giving up. They are defending the renewable fuel standards against sensible criticisms and seek, as they always do, to use the first-in-the-nation caucuses to bend would-be presidents to their will.

Industry groups are prepared to invest millions in media blitzes backing candidates who conform to their wishes and oppose those who don’t. Given its past success, it’s hard to blame the corn/ethanol lobby for feeling confident that they can intimidate Republicans again.

After all, a free market supporter like Mitt Romney folded like a cheap suit in 2012 in his bid to win the caucus. As it turns out, Rick Santorum, another conservative who discovered how much he loved corn when running for president, edged him. They weren’t alone; that year Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party favorite candidate who won the Iowa Straw Poll before flopping in the caucus, also dropped her anti-government mantra long enough to embrace ethanol.

Going back to 2008, the caucus was won by Mike Huckabee, another politician who extolled the virtues of small government except when it came to federal largesse being doled out to Iowa farmers. Among the losers in Iowa that year was John McCain, the eventual nominee who largely stuck to his guns when it came to opposing ethanol subsidies.

Will a Republican Party whose mainstream as well as its Tea Party faction have spent the last several years lambasting the Obama administration for its green corruption schemes like Solyndra make an exception for Iowa again? To their credit, Rubio and Jindal say no. As the Journal notes, Jeb Bush has yet to say much about the issue but has in the past backed a Brazilian ethanol scheme that irked Iowans. Libertarian Rand Paul is in no position to genuflect to the corn growers. Tea Party stalwart Ted Cruz is risking the ire of the lobby by co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the renewable fuels standard.

But past Iowa winners Huckabee and Santorum are back to try again in 2016 and appear ready to pander to ethanol if that’s what it takes to get them into the first tier of a race with a huge field.

That leaves Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has an early but commanding lead in Iowa right now. Will Walker, a man who became a conservative folk hero by opposing big government and unions, decide that government handouts to farmers don’t offend his conscience? If not, then perhaps we will have really turned a corner. But until a candidate who spurns corn wins the caucus, Iowa will remain a quadrennial panderfest. Conservatives who are dismayed by the way their would-be standard-bearers check their principles at the state border when they enter Iowa hope 2016 is the year when this will happen.

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Who’s the Real Extremist? Obama or GOP?

The prevalent narrative of Washington politics over the last two years has been one in which Republican hardliners have consistently torpedoed efforts to reconcile the two parties. The Tea Party has been the scapegoat for D.C. gridlock as efforts to derail ObamaCare and other aspects of President Obama’s agenda have been highlighted as proof of this faction’s disdain for compromise and any notion of accommodation with those across the political aisle. Their suicidal charge into the government shutdown in the fall of 2013 was treated, perhaps not unfairly, as not only evidence of a lack of political judgment but also their disdain for the notion of governance itself. But by presenting a political agenda tonight in his State of the Union speech that is as ideological and divorced from political reality as anything cooked up by bitter-end Tea Partiers like Rep. Louis Gohmert, President Obama will demonstrate that it is not just the GOP that must cope with extremists. The Democrats’ obstructionists are not their House backbenchers. Rather, it is their leader who is most determined to widen the divide between the parties and make Washington ungovernable.

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The prevalent narrative of Washington politics over the last two years has been one in which Republican hardliners have consistently torpedoed efforts to reconcile the two parties. The Tea Party has been the scapegoat for D.C. gridlock as efforts to derail ObamaCare and other aspects of President Obama’s agenda have been highlighted as proof of this faction’s disdain for compromise and any notion of accommodation with those across the political aisle. Their suicidal charge into the government shutdown in the fall of 2013 was treated, perhaps not unfairly, as not only evidence of a lack of political judgment but also their disdain for the notion of governance itself. But by presenting a political agenda tonight in his State of the Union speech that is as ideological and divorced from political reality as anything cooked up by bitter-end Tea Partiers like Rep. Louis Gohmert, President Obama will demonstrate that it is not just the GOP that must cope with extremists. The Democrats’ obstructionists are not their House backbenchers. Rather, it is their leader who is most determined to widen the divide between the parties and make Washington ungovernable.

Much will be written today and tomorrow about the president’s “Robin Hood” tax plan in which the wealthy will be taxed to supposedly benefit the middle class, even though the details of his scheme reveals that many of those who are not rich will also bear the burden of this plan. Though couched in fresh rhetoric about inequality, the entire package must be understood as nothing more than recycled class warfare and big government tax and spend policies familiar to Americans from generations of failed liberal experiments.

Some see this new populism as an attempt by the president to invest his new and more favorable poll ratings so as to put the new GOP Congress on the defensive. This will transform him from a pure lame-duck president to one who will be able to thwart the legislative branch in any effort to put forth a Republican vision for the country. Others less convincingly see it as a trial run for the ideas that could help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, a theory that ignores Obama’s egoism, a characteristic that must be taken into account when discussing anything done by the White House.

But no matter what the reasons for this strategy or whether, as liberals hope, it will serve as the foundation for future debates in their efforts to turn back the page to the era of unabashed big government and income redistribution efforts, Obama’s decision to tack hard to the left must also be seen in the context of the ongoing discussion about how to make Washington less dysfunctional.

Let’s be frank. If Tea Partiers were bashed for prizing their ideological purity over the obligation to work for consensus and compromise, what then should we think about a president who is equally unconcerned with working with a Republican Congress?

Nobody expects Obama to present Congress with a conservative wish list or to bow down to GOP demands on issues where he disagrees. But by presenting his own wish list that is as ideologically extreme as anything uttered by Ted Cruz, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that he is as unconcerned with compromise as that firebrand. So why isn’t his agenda being viewed in the same light as that of the Tea Party?

First of all, he’s the president and there’s a big difference between presenting a set of proposals from the bully pulpit of the State of the Union address and one put forward by a mere representative or senator. The president is in a unique position to steer the debate and it is only natural that he be given a certain degree of deference to do that.

But the president’s proposals aren’t merely a statement of his vision for the country. They are a salvo fired in the direction of a Congress that was just elected to pursue a completely different vision. Better presidents than Barack Obama have been presented with similarly difficult positions and responded, as did Bill Clinton, with an attempt to find common ground rather than a slap in the face. Rather than laying the foundation for the election of a second President Clinton or bolstering a legacy that is mere ephemera, the only real purpose of this raft of tax and spend ideas is to win the current news cycle and discomfit his opponents. The one aspect of being president at which Barack Obama has always excelled is campaigning and pure partisan politics.

Obama made no effort to discuss his proposals with the leadership of the House or the Senate or to get their input because they are not being presented with the idea that they will get serious consideration. They are mere rhetorical aspirations, words that mean nothing.

If that is how the president wishes to spend the public’s time at the annual event, that is his privilege. But if the public disdains Republicans for being obstructionists who don’t care about working with their opponents, then the question arises as to why Obama’s speech is being presented as being any different from their efforts. The answer is that the same liberal media bias that has been an essential element to the president’s ability to survive scandal and failure is acting as his safety net again.

As much as the public blames Congress and dislikes the Republicans for their devotion to their principles, it is not unfair to ask the mainstream media that is heralding Obama’s proposals as another installment of the New Deal to ask themselves if there is any real difference between his ideological rigidity and that of his opponents. The honest answer, and one we’re not hearing or reading much about today, is that there is none. The obstructionist-in-chief’s “Robin Hood” plan for government will do as much to make compromise impossible as any Ted Cruz speech or the actions of House Tea Partiers and is as unlikely to become law as any Tea Party manifesto. The 2015 edition of the State of the Union speech is merely more evidence that Obama is guilty of the same sin for which his foes have been routinely denounced over the course of his presidency.

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An Obama-Gohmert Gridlock Alliance?

As a new Congress was sworn in today, the White House fired the first shot over the Republican leadership’s bow when spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that President Obama would veto a bill authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Considering that this is one of the first items the GOP-controlled House and Senate will consider in the coming days, the president’s warning that he will veto it no matter what it looks like when passed put a fork in any happy talk about cooperation or bipartisan problem solving. Though many Democrats are unhappy with Obama’s clear appetite for confrontation with Republicans even over a measure that is largely popular with the public, the president is not without some allies in his effort to prevent the House and the Senate from accomplishing anything in the next two years. The 25 Republican House dissidents who voted against John Boehner’s reelection as speaker of the House stand ready to assist the White House in an effort to continue the war to the death between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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As a new Congress was sworn in today, the White House fired the first shot over the Republican leadership’s bow when spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that President Obama would veto a bill authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Considering that this is one of the first items the GOP-controlled House and Senate will consider in the coming days, the president’s warning that he will veto it no matter what it looks like when passed put a fork in any happy talk about cooperation or bipartisan problem solving. Though many Democrats are unhappy with Obama’s clear appetite for confrontation with Republicans even over a measure that is largely popular with the public, the president is not without some allies in his effort to prevent the House and the Senate from accomplishing anything in the next two years. The 25 Republican House dissidents who voted against John Boehner’s reelection as speaker of the House stand ready to assist the White House in an effort to continue the war to the death between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of course, the 25 GOP dissenters led by Representatives Louie Gohmert of Texas and Dan Webster of Florida view themselves as the president’s most implacable foes. Their dissatisfaction with Boehner stems from what they view as his readiness to make deals with the Democrats when what they want from their leader is a scorched earth policy with respect to the White House. But despite their mutual hostility, Obama and the Gohmert Republicans have a common agenda. Just as the president has no intention of working with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on anything substantive, these Tea Partiers are intent on preventing anything that smacks of compromise. Indeed, these members may turn out to be the president’s last line of defense against a congressional leadership that hopes to put the onus for gridlock on Obama.

After all the huffing and puffing from some on the right, the effort to unseat Boehner as speaker today was written off by many as a flop. Though 25 Republican members failed to vote for their party’s leader, Boehner’s victory was never in doubt. Aided by the absence of a number of members from New York who were attending Mario Cuomo’s funeral and others who were kept away by bad weather, the final result left Boehner with a clear majority of those present (216 out of 408 there) if not of the entire House. But while the 25 anti-Boehner dissidents were a motley crew with no leader or anything remotely resembling a credible alternative candidate, the speaker was given a reminder that a not-insignificant faction of the House Republican conference sees anything other than efforts to defund offending government departments as weakness.

It can be argued that Boehner is actually in a stronger position today than he was two years ago when he was last sworn in. The increased majority won by Republicans has created a new GOP caucus that has a larger faction of reliable supporters of the speaker and his effort to govern rather than merely obstruct. Though the 25 dissenters outnumber those who voted against Boehner in January 2013, Boehner may well have more support now than he did then among Republicans.

But the ability of Gohmert, Webster, and others who lust only for combat with the White House to tie Boehner up in knots should not be underestimated and the speaker election illustrated the determination of his foes. Though there was never a chance that anyone other than Boehner would win, had so many members not been absent, the Tea Party might have been able to force a second ballot. That means that in the coming months there may be moments when obstructionists on the right will force Boehner to rely on Democratic votes to get things passed that he needs.

That creates the possibility of a perfect storm in which the right and a left led by the president will seek to forestall any genuine effort to compromise and pass tax bills or any of the other bills for which a bipartisan majority might be found.

Make no mistake about the president’s willingness to cut deals with Boehner and McConnell. The Keystone veto threat is just the tip of the iceberg of confrontation. If the president won’t compromise on an issue that he used to represent as not a particularly big deal, then there is no chance that will do so on other more important topics. With nothing to lose and imbued with the belief that the way to carve out a legacy is by executive orders and memoranda rather than compromise legislation, Obama isn’t looking for ways to accommodate Republicans. Instead, he is hoping that the Gohmert Republicans will hamstring any efforts to get majority support for bills long before legislation finds its way to his desk for him to veto.

Having spent the last Congress successfully branding the GOP leadership as a bunch of obstructionists, the truth is, Obama is actually hoping that his Tea Party allies will prevent Boehner from fulfilling his vow to pass legislation that a Senate controlled by his party won’t be burying as it did in the past four years. The real obstructionist here is a president who is so eager for confrontation that he can’t even wait until Keystone is passed to threaten a veto. The test for Boehner will be in whether he can sufficiently marginalize the gang of 25 and their sympathizers before they team up with Obama to replicate the last two years of gridlock.

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Jeb’s Strategy: Make Everything Old News

With the year drawing to a close, Jeb Bush found himself accused of being insufficiently conservative and having to defend himself against a fired-up conservative activist base leveling the charge. It’s a familiar story, but this particular case took place fifteen years ago, in December 1999. The email exchange with a pro-life activist was a reaction to Bush’s appointment of a judge while governor of Florida, and it’s part of a massive public-records release of electronic communication by the former governor, reported on in some detail today by the Washington Post. It also sheds some more light on Bush’s 2016 strategy.

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With the year drawing to a close, Jeb Bush found himself accused of being insufficiently conservative and having to defend himself against a fired-up conservative activist base leveling the charge. It’s a familiar story, but this particular case took place fifteen years ago, in December 1999. The email exchange with a pro-life activist was a reaction to Bush’s appointment of a judge while governor of Florida, and it’s part of a massive public-records release of electronic communication by the former governor, reported on in some detail today by the Washington Post. It also sheds some more light on Bush’s 2016 strategy.

For starters, the email exchange with the pro-life activist offers a glimpse into why Bush has been less than intimidated by grassroots opposition to his candidacy: he’s been dealing with this his whole career. Times have arguably changed in the Republican Party since then, and the presidential nomination fight is a different stage altogether. But for Bush, it’s easy to understand why he’s not willing to be deterred by something that’s never been able to stop him before. Here, for the record, is that 1999 exchange, as relayed by the Post:

He regularly sought to calm conservative activists who wanted him to take the government further to the right. In December 1999, Bush tangled over e-mail with an anti­abortion activist who blasted him for appointing a lawyer to a judgeship, because the lawyer had represented the owner of an abortion clinic.

Bush responded that he had not been told about the attorney’s history and, in any case, the lawyer had “received recommendations from many people who I respect.”

Nevertheless, Bush followed up and asked an aide to send the activist a list of all nominees currently before him. “We have no litmus test for judges — we are open to hearing from all Floridians,” he wrote. But he added that the woman “appears concerned about the perceived lack of opportunity to provide input.”

Bush welcomes the debate. That might further antagonize the right, or it might breed a new respect for him for not running from his decisions. But if the latter, it would almost surely be a grudging respect.

Bush has dealt with conservative dissent from his policies since well before there was a Tea Party, and he may think that precedent works in his favor. And maybe it does. But the reverse is just as likely. Conservative grassroots dissent was a different animal before the Tea Party and before new media’s influence on campaigns. Bush faced the low-calorie version of the modern conservative insurgency.

He’ll also face a roster of challengers that offers conservatives the flexibility to take their business elsewhere. But as far as Bush is concerned, conservative anger at him has not slowed him down much, and he seems determined to try to keep the streak alive.

The other aspect to the email archive is how Bush plans to use this transparency to his benefit in the 2016 race. There are two ways this could help him. The first is obvious: these are public records, so if there’s a story in there that portrays him in a negative light, it’s going to come out. He might as well get ahead of the story, spin it to suggest he has nothing to hide to minimize the story as much as possible, and get it out in public early in the race (or even before he’s technically in the race) so it’s old news by the time he’s in the middle of the nomination battle or even the general election.

Bush does not seem to be trying to hide this information in plain sight. To that end, the Post reports, “Bush’s team plans to post the e-mails on a searchable Web site early next year.”

The other way this could help Bush is by building a reputation for transparency. To be sure, what he’s doing is far from revolutionary in terms of what he’s releasing. But by getting it out there and making it easily accessible, he can at least play it as an alternative to the paranoiac secrecy of both the Clintons and President Obama. The Clintons not only famously enforce tribal loyalty but members of their inner circle aren’t above stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives to cover for the Clintons.

The Obama administration promised to be the most transparent administration ever, a phrase that has turned into a punchline. The president, in keeping with the unfortunate pattern of presidential discretion in an age of proliferating media, is more secretive than his predecessors, who were each, while in office, arguably more secretive than their own predecessors, and so forth.

It’s not a surprise, in other words, that the presidential comparison Obama evokes is Nixon. It’s just that the other presidents didn’t make such a big show of lying about their intentions to be transparent. That’s why Obama’s divisiveness is also so noticeable: he promised healing, and spent six years and counting turning Americans on each other. (Related: the Democratic Party wants you to harangue your family members with pro-Obama talking points over the holidays. Merry Christmas and happy Chanukah from the creepy statists running your government.)

The result of Obama’s Music Man routine will undoubtedly be increased cynicism toward politicians. So anyone making similar promises as Obama made during his campaign should beware the poisoned well. But if anyone can realistically promise a true transparency, it might be Bush, who could try to claim that you don’t have to wait for him to take office to test his commitment since he displayed transparency during the campaign.

Transparency is not now, and not ever going to be, an issue that catapults someone to the presidency. (You could argue “trust” is, but that’s not the same thing.) So the benefit to Bush of releasing these emails is almost surely about trying to waste news cycles on any revelation to inoculate his campaign from them later. As for his fifteen-year battle with conservatives, that too may be old news, but it’s precisely the kind of old news that feeds grudges and gains steam over time. Bush would be foolish to believe he can run like it’s 1999.

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Everybody Hates Ted? Cruz Doesn’t Care.

Yesterday at a lunch attended by members of the Senate’s Republican caucus, Ted Cruz reportedly made an unsolicited apology to his colleagues for ruining their weekend. It’s not clear whether most of his fellow GOP senators accepted the apology. As mad as some of them were for having to cancel their plans in order to stay in the Senate over the weekend, many were also furious about the way Cruz’s decision to oppose a deal that would have passed the Cromnibus on Friday led to weekend sessions that also gave Democratic leader Harry Reid the opening that he used to get some Obama administration appointees confirmed before the end of the lame duck session. But Cruz was unrepentant about forcing an up-or-down vote on immigration. Nor is he particularly upset about the way most members of the Senate seem to think about him. While we can debate the wisdom of his positions, no one should be in any doubt as to whether they are making him a stronger candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

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Yesterday at a lunch attended by members of the Senate’s Republican caucus, Ted Cruz reportedly made an unsolicited apology to his colleagues for ruining their weekend. It’s not clear whether most of his fellow GOP senators accepted the apology. As mad as some of them were for having to cancel their plans in order to stay in the Senate over the weekend, many were also furious about the way Cruz’s decision to oppose a deal that would have passed the Cromnibus on Friday led to weekend sessions that also gave Democratic leader Harry Reid the opening that he used to get some Obama administration appointees confirmed before the end of the lame duck session. But Cruz was unrepentant about forcing an up-or-down vote on immigration. Nor is he particularly upset about the way most members of the Senate seem to think about him. While we can debate the wisdom of his positions, no one should be in any doubt as to whether they are making him a stronger candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Cruz came into the Senate in January 2013 determined to oppose a business-as-usual attitude. But unlike most brash freshmen that eventually calm down and realize that the advantages that come from playing by the rules of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs generally outweigh the thrill of being a Capitol Hill bomb-thrower, Cruz hasn’t changed his tune. His is, as the invaluable Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News this week, a conservatism that revolves around making statements rather than “getting things done.” Most Republicans are rightly concerned about using their new majorities in Congress to show they can govern effectively. Thus, “statements” such as Cruz’s demand that every senator put themselves on record as opposing the president’s extralegal executive orders on immigration came at too high a price since it would have meant the possibility of another damaging government shutdown.

Most senators understand the shutdown Cruz helped engineer in 2013 was a bad mistake and want no part of a repeat performance. Even more to the point, they are outraged that Cruz has never acknowledged that his tactics were mistaken and furious about his belief that another attempt would be a good idea. After two years in his company, they like him even less than they did when he arrived, a sentiment shared by many pundits and party establishment figures. All of which seems to have made no impression on Cruz whatsoever. If everyone in Washington (except for a few fellow insurgents like Senator Mike Lee), hates him, that’s fine with Cruz.

Why doesn’t he care? The answer has less to do with his obviously thick skin than it does with his ambition and vision for his party. The whole point of his Senate career is to oppose getting things done in a system that he believes is set up to perpetuate liberal big-spending and taxing government. Cruz’s goal is to overturn all of that.

More to the point, his tactics are designed to establish him as the pre-eminent leader of the Tea Party movement and the conservative base. Standing on principle on every conceivable issue is a politics of statements rather than accomplishments, but it is potential electoral gold in terms of GOP presidential primary voters. Many Republicans believe with good reason that the key to winning in 2016 is in bringing in fresh voices and faces from outside of Washington, especially the party’s deep bench of successful Republican governors. But Cruz is running against the capitol from the inside and with more publicity than any of the governors has managed.

Indeed, the more hated he is by his Senate colleagues and the more opprobrium heaped upon him by party establishment figures or even wise pundits like Krauthammer, the better it may be for his potential presidential campaign. In a wide field of potential challengers, Cruz is still not taken seriously by many observers because they think him too inexperienced and, most of all, too extreme to win a general election.

Both assumptions may be true. Electing yet another freshman senator without executive experience (i.e. Barack Obama) may strike many people as an absurd idea, especially for Republicans who have spent the last six years lamenting Obama’s incompetence. But ideological purity is the sort of thing that will always play in a primary especially when someone as clever and relentless as Cruz articulates it. If Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and perhaps Mitt Romney are competing in a hidden establishment primary, Cruz is running to win the Tea Party/base primary. For those who hadn’t noticed, Cruz is winning that primary hands down right now. With every hate bomb tossed in his direction from offended fellow senators, his lead grows and his once laughable hope to win the nomination becomes a realistic if not necessarily likely scenario. Count on him spending 2015 reinforcing that image. Which means that fellow senators need to fasten their seatbelts and hang on for what should be an even bumpier ride over the course of the next 12 months.

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GOP Establishment Should Fear Cruz Run

Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz gave a major foreign-policy speech at the Heritage Foundation critiquing the disastrous nature of what he labeled as the “Obama-Clinton” approach to the subject. His desire to lay out his foreign-policy views in detail at such a venue as well as his focus on Clinton was a clear indication of something that is not exactly a secret: he’s planning on running for president in 2016. Members of his party’s establishment, which generally despises him as much as his fellow senators and the liberal media, do not take Cruz’s ambition too seriously. But as much as it seems unlikely that he will be taking the presidential oath at the Capitol in January 2017, that establishment should be a lot more afraid of Cruz than they seem to be. Anyone who thinks he will not be a formidable primary contender is paying more attention to the media caricature of Cruz than the facts.

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Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz gave a major foreign-policy speech at the Heritage Foundation critiquing the disastrous nature of what he labeled as the “Obama-Clinton” approach to the subject. His desire to lay out his foreign-policy views in detail at such a venue as well as his focus on Clinton was a clear indication of something that is not exactly a secret: he’s planning on running for president in 2016. Members of his party’s establishment, which generally despises him as much as his fellow senators and the liberal media, do not take Cruz’s ambition too seriously. But as much as it seems unlikely that he will be taking the presidential oath at the Capitol in January 2017, that establishment should be a lot more afraid of Cruz than they seem to be. Anyone who thinks he will not be a formidable primary contender is paying more attention to the media caricature of Cruz than the facts.

Let’s start by conceding that Cruz’s well-earned image as a Senate bomb-thrower and his truculent public personality makes him a poor bet as a general-election candidate. Being a true believer is an asset in a primary but his uncompromising style won’t win many independent or crossover voters. Just as important, Cruz not only sounds ornery much of the time, he generally looks it too–and in the television era it’s far from clear that Americans will ever again elect someone who doesn’t strike them as being nice or personable. But let’s put those issues aside for a moment and consider Cruz’s chances of winning the Republican nomination in a context in which liberal media bias as well as the imperative of winning the center won’t be as decisive as they would be in a general election.

It should be understood that while many in the media and among the partisans of the so-called moderates in the putative GOP presidential field think Cruz is just another version of past Republican candidates that were more gadflies than serious contenders, he is nothing of the sort. Cruz is no Michele Bachmann, a candidate who quickly imploded because of her penchant for embracing crackpot causes (like her opposition to a vaccine against cervical cancer) after enjoying a couple of months in the summer of 2011 during which it seemed as if she might get as far as Rick Santorum eventually did during the 2012 primaries. Cruz is good at playing up the down-home charm, a brilliant debater (a former college champion), and a savvy political tactician with a strong command of the issues and policy options on both domestic and foreign policy. If you’re going to make comparisons to 2012 candidates, imagine someone with the folksiness of Rick Perry (albeit in a Cuban Texan version), the passion of Santorum on populist and social conservative issues, the debating skill of Newt Gingrich, and the wonkish grasp of details of a Mitt Romney and you have a fair idea of what Cruz brings to the table.

Cruz’s ability to rouse the Tea Party base should also not be underestimated. While that constituency has been widely derided in the last couple of years as the GOP establishment managed to fend off challenges to many incumbents from Tea Party types, the grassroots conservatives have not disappeared and will turn out to support someone who can inspire passion. Cruz can do that for the exact same reasons that he appalls the establishment. The Texan can approach every key conservative issue, whether it is ObamaCare or immigration, with a laser-like precision that more easygoing or moderate candidates can’t match.

Cruz won’t win votes from those who don’t like Washington dysfunction. Republican governors are likely to win those votes. But having never given an inch or compromised on anything during his first two years in the Senate, neither will it be possible to accuse him of selling his soul to get ahead as is the usual rap on House or Senate veterans.

As for being able to organize a serious campaign, Cruz will be no latecomer to the party. He’s been working toward this goal for some time and it’s not likely that he will be caught short on organization. It remains to be seen whether the Tea Party faithful can give him enough money to fight to the end in the absence of him becoming the cause of a major donor the way Sheldon Adelson bankrolled Gingrich or Foster Friess subsidized Santorum. But Cruz is not the sort to be outworked so those who think he can’t raise enough cash are probably making a mistake.

Will that be enough to help him fend off a large number of other conservatives vying for the same voters? We don’t know, but the way he parachuted into Washington in January 2013 and quickly became the darling of the right indicates that he must be considered a serious threat to edge out others before they even get started. More to the point, Cruz is probably ideally positioned to win early primary and caucus states and then rake in the cash that will follow those victories before he tries to best the other first-tier candidates in the contests that follow. At worst, barring a mishap, I think he should be slotted in as likely to be part of a large field’s first tier.

Is he a lock to be able to carry out that scenario? Not necessarily. There will also not be as many debates in 2016 as there were in 2012, meaning that he won’t have as many opportunities to display his bulldog style or to eviscerate opponents in public. And the later primary schedule that year will make it easier for establishment types to wait before joining the race.

But the point here is that while Cruz may be considered an outlier in the Senate chamber, he’s likely to play better on the hustings in Iowa and other early states than establishment types think. Cruz may shoot himself in the foot in the next year and find others supplanting him among Tea Partiers and the rest of the party. But any assumptions on the part of the establishment that he will crash and burn is a huge mistake. Cruz may not be president but his path to the Republican nomination is no pipe dream.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Government Shutdown

The specter of a potential government shutdown is haunting Washington today. But it isn’t Ted Cruz and what the liberal mainstream media considers his gang of Tea Party obstructionists who are the principle threat to the passage of the so-called Cromnibus bill that will avert the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 standoff. Instead it is the darling of the liberal media, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking to derail the compromise forged by House Speaker John Boehner and Democrats. Warren is calling on liberals to vote against the deal because among its provisions are measures raising the limits on campaign contributions and scaling back some of the onerous regulations on banks and Wall Street firms in the Dodd-Frank bill that have caused such havoc. But don’t expect the same media that labeled Cruz an arsonist to speak ill of Warren’s efforts to thwart efforts to keep the government funded.

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The specter of a potential government shutdown is haunting Washington today. But it isn’t Ted Cruz and what the liberal mainstream media considers his gang of Tea Party obstructionists who are the principle threat to the passage of the so-called Cromnibus bill that will avert the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 standoff. Instead it is the darling of the liberal media, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking to derail the compromise forged by House Speaker John Boehner and Democrats. Warren is calling on liberals to vote against the deal because among its provisions are measures raising the limits on campaign contributions and scaling back some of the onerous regulations on banks and Wall Street firms in the Dodd-Frank bill that have caused such havoc. But don’t expect the same media that labeled Cruz an arsonist to speak ill of Warren’s efforts to thwart efforts to keep the government funded.

Cruz has been loudly and frequently criticized both by liberals and some conservatives for deciding that his efforts to thwart the implementation of ObamaCare took precedence over the need to keep the government funded. Even those who sympathized him on the substance of this issue thought he was unreasonable in his insistence that voting for a compromise-funding bill made Republicans complicit with measures they opposed. The notion that principle ought to trump political reality and the necessity to avoid a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown (for which President Obama and his supporters were just as responsible as anything Cruz and the Tea Partiers did) was viewed as a disruptive approach that interfered with the responsibility of both parties to govern rather than to merely expound their views.

But the question today is why are those who were so quick to tag Cruz as a scourge of good government for his opposition to often messy yet necessary compromises to bills that require bipartisan support not putting the same label on Warren.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Most of the press clearly sympathizes with Warren’s rabble rousing on behalf of ineffective campaign-finance laws as well as a regulatory regime that has caused as much trouble as the problems it was supposed to solve. Warren’s rhetoric denouncing the rich and Wall Street is catnip for a press corps that shares her political point of view. By contrast, few in the media sympathized with Cruz’s last stand against ObamaCare, something that most in the president’s press cheering section viewed as a reactionary position that deserved the opprobrium they hurled at it.

Yet Warren’s attacks on the spending bill are no less extreme than anything Cruz was saying in 2013 or even now as he has ineffectively sought to rally conservatives to oppose the Cromnibus. Her claim that the Dodd-Frank changes were slipped into the bill in the middle of the night are false since they were negotiated with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, who is every bit the liberal that Warren claims to be. So is the notion that they are the product of a right-wing conspiracy is flatly false since, as the Washington Post notes, Democrats like Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Nita Lowey voted for them in a stand-in alone vote last year.

But whatever one may think of these parts of the bill, the point about it is that getting something done in Washington requires both sides to hold their noses and accept that they can’t get their way on everything. The principle critique of conservative Republicans in recent years is that they are so besotted with ideology that they’ve forgotten that part of their duty as members of Congress is to ensure that the apparatus of government functions even if they are not getting their way on all issues. One can argue about whether there are times when such stands are required by the seriousness of the situation. But whether you agree with the Tea Party on ObamaCare or immigration or with Warren on Dodd-Frank, that critique applies just as easily to one as to the other.

Warren might not have the ability to rally enough liberals in the House to her side on this issue just as Cruz seems not to be able to stop Boehner’s deal. But if you think Cruz is an obstructionist, there is no distinction between him and Warren in this respect anymore. At least not unless you think it’s OK for liberals to shut down the government but not conservatives.

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Can Moveon Nudge Warren to Run?

While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

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While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

The Moveon.org effort may be nothing more than a stunt by a group that has struggled to maintain its once central role in pushing the liberal agenda in recent years. Once George W. Bush left the presidency and was replaced by Barack Obama, his administration, with its top-down culture that squelches disagreement and debate, has dominated the Democrats leaving left-wingers to kibitz impotently on the sidelines. But with Obama moving into the lame duck period of his presidency, the time may have come for the left to get into the fight again as they seek to emulate the success of their Tea Party antagonists on the right, as Politico noted in an article today.

Moveon does have a huge mailing list of what they claim are eight million left-wing activists that belong to their movement. But while that sounds impressive, it has yet to be seen whether Moveon still has the ability to mobilize these people in a coherent way so as to emulate the kind of local grassroots activity that made the Tea Party such a force in 2010 even if its national leadership was far more divided than that of Moveon.

Just as problematic is the question of whether Warren is even interested in running. She has, as her staff again said yesterday, repeatedly told those asking about the possibility that she won’t do it. Whether that was merely a case of a prudent politician not wishing to tilt against windmills by challenging the Clinton machine or a genuine lack of desire for the presidency, we don’t know.

Can Moveon start something that could lead to Warren changing her mind?

It cannot have escaped the Massachusetts senator that Clinton’s post-State Department public appearances have been less than successful. Most of the party is treating Clinton as if she is the presumptive nominee but as everyone remembers from 2008, she is not a brilliant politician. Her string of gaffes during her book tour and subsequent misstatements have not dented her poll numbers when matched up against the motley crew of other potential Democratic presidential candidates. But Warren is someone who, like Barack Obama, can capture the hearts of the party’s liberal base. Moreover, being opposed by an even more liberal woman would rob Clinton of the main narrative of her presidential juggernaut: the effort to elect the first female president.

Any challenge to Clinton would be politically perilous and a savvy operator like Warren is rightly shy about jumping into a fight with a family that plays for keeps. Warren may not be sure that her left-wing support will be enough to compensate for the money the Clintons can raise or their ability to cash in IOUs from politicians around the country. But while waiting her turn seems like the smart play, at 65, 2016 may actually be Warren’s best shot at the presidency, especially if Clinton does run and serve two terms.

In the coming months, Warren will concentrate on leading a liberal guerilla war against moderate Democrats in Congress and hope to become the face of resistance to the GOP majority. But at the same time she will probably stay out of the presidential fray and watch and wait to see if Clinton is still stumbling through 2015 as she prepares for an inevitable run. But if Moveon can provide a viable platform for left-wing resistance to Clinton’s nomination, a Warren candidacy will be made a bit more feasible. Though Moveon isn’t by itself enough to scare Clinton, she should be very afraid of Warren and the passion of an aroused left-wing base. If the senator runs, Hillary will be in for the fight of her life.

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Who Wins Boehner v. Cruz, Part II? Both.

In the fall of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he was not interested in setting off a confrontation that would lead to a government shutdown. But against his will and his better judgment, members of his caucus, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, dragged him into doing exactly that. The result was a political disaster that gave President Obama the one political triumph of an otherwise dreadful second term. The question today is whether the same cast of characters led by Cruz can force the speaker into another shutdown. Indications are that this time Boehner will resist the Tea Party caucus and a shutdown, at least in the short term, will be avoided. That will be a victory for Boehner and an indication that he will be more in control of the House in the next two years than he was in the current Congress. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz may also benefit from this scenario.

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In the fall of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he was not interested in setting off a confrontation that would lead to a government shutdown. But against his will and his better judgment, members of his caucus, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, dragged him into doing exactly that. The result was a political disaster that gave President Obama the one political triumph of an otherwise dreadful second term. The question today is whether the same cast of characters led by Cruz can force the speaker into another shutdown. Indications are that this time Boehner will resist the Tea Party caucus and a shutdown, at least in the short term, will be avoided. That will be a victory for Boehner and an indication that he will be more in control of the House in the next two years than he was in the current Congress. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz may also benefit from this scenario.

As Politico reported yesterday, Cruz and his Tea Party colleagues are running into stiff resistance even from fellow conservatives in both the House and the Senate who have no appetite for another drubbing at the hands of the president and his media cheerleaders even if all are sympathetic to the idea of some kind of congressional pushback in response to the president’s executive orders on illegal immigrants. As our Pete Wehner wrote earlier this week, polls still show that the GOP would be the loser in any such confrontation, just as it was in 2013 even if it could be argued that the president was just as much, if not more responsible for sending the government to the brink.

Cruz and his allies want an immediate response to President Obama’s lawless end-run around Congress’s refusal to do his bidding on amnesty for illegals in the form of a proposal that will defund the Department of Homeland Security’s carrying out of the president’s orders and set in motion a battle that would probably lead to a shutdown. But most Republicans prefer the compromise proposed by Boehner that would fund the government for the next year while allowing DHS to operate only for a few months as the GOP formulated a response to the orders.

The speaker will probably need some Democratic votes to pass his version of the continuing resolution to keep funding the government as well as the assurances of Senate Democrats and the president that they will not seek to obstruct the measure in the waning days of the lame duck Congress. That is an indignity that he was not either prepared or able to suffer in 2013 but he will do so now both because he wishes to avoid a shutdown and because he wishes to send a message to the House that it will be he who is running things in the next Congress as Republicans seek to show the country that they can govern responsibly once they have control of both the House and the Senate.

Both of these goals make sense. And on the heels of their midterm victory, it behooves Republicans to combat the obstructionist image that their liberal opponents have tarred them with, especially if they hope to win back the White House in 2016.

If, as it seems now, Boehner gets his way, it will be portrayed as a victory for the party establishment and a sign that the Tea Party’s sway over Capitol Hill is waning. It will also not unreasonably be thought of as a defeat for Cruz, whose first two years in the Senate have been highlighted by his ability to exercise an unusually powerful influence over both events and the nature of the debate on these issues for a freshman. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz’s interests are by no means hurt by Boehner’s victory.

Cruz’s goal here is not just to force congressional Republicans to, as he said yesterday, “do what you promised” when campaigning against the president’s executive orders. Even if Boehner gets his way this month and avoids a shutdown, Cruz will be able to come back and demand more than another mere symbolic vote against Obama’s orders in the spring. Indeed, with the Department of Homeland Security on a hiring spree in order to find enough staff in order to carry out Obama’s amnesty plan, support for a defunding proposal that will stop DHS in its tracks is likely to grow in the coming months, meaning that this won’t be the last time Cruz bedevils Boehner on a potential shutdown confrontation.

Yet just as important from Cruz’s perspective is the fact that these votes will demonstrate to the conservative base of the GOP that Cruz isn’t merely an annoyance to his Senate colleagues and Boehner. Win or lose, these votes and the battles on the floor of both the House and the Senate will allow Cruz to assume the mantle of the leader of conservative insurgents against the Washington establishment in a way that not even some of the popular Republican governors thinking about running for president will be able to do. Any result, be it victory or defeat, on the efforts to stop Obama’s immigration orders will burnish Cruz’s image as the one member of the Senate who isn’t afraid to challenge either party, a formula that he rightly thinks will be useful in presidential primaries in 2016.

Boehner and the establishment may fend off Cruz’s insurgency both now and in March. But this won’t be the last word on the senator. Quite the contrary: Cruz now believes with good reason that he is in a no-lose situation on both immigration and the future of Congress. Even if the speaker wins Boehner v. Cruz Part Two, Cruz isn’t coming out of the situation as the loser, no matter who wins.

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How the Midterms Vindicated Both the Establishment and the Grassroots

On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

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On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

Surely the Times had such a story ready to go; it always has such a story ready to go. Perhaps the paper’s editors wanted to wait for the Sunday edition to really make a splash by republishing essentially the same story they write about four thousand times a year. In any event, there it was, the crystallization of the unthinking man’s midterms narrative: Republicans lose when they lose, and they lose when they win.

Such reporting has become more interesting since the Times embraced data journalism first with Nate Silver and now with its post-Silver Upshot blog. Since the Times’s reporting is usually heavy on wishful thinking and light on facts, the paper would be at risk of its data journalists undoing the narratives the Times’s political reporters and editors work so hard to establish. Such is the case with the Upshot’s latest, “G.O.P. Is Making Progress Toward Presidency but Is Still Playing Catch-Up.”

Not only does the piece debunk the notion that there is some fixed demographic state that will hold true from now on and lock Republicans out of the popular vote, but it also makes clear that there will only be a civil war on the right if Republicans foolishly invent one. In fact, the most notable takeaway from the Upshot piece is that in the battle over whether the colossal rout the Republicans achieved last week proved the “establishment” or the “Tea Party” (a term that has probably just about outlived its usefulness) right, the answer is: both.

First, the debunking of the Democrats’ exceedingly silly argument that they lost so badly simply because of non-presidential year turnout:

The Democratic losses were not simply because of low turnout. Republicans often made significant gains among rural, white voters. Some candidates made inroads among young and Hispanic voters, as well, according to exit polls and county and precinct-level results.

Precisely. Some of the Democrats’ woes had to do with lower-than-2012 turnout and some had to do with the fact that conservatives were expanding their coalition while liberals weren’t. I imagine conservatives wouldn’t mind if Democrats persist in their emphatic denial of reality, though even President Obama–who made a point of trying to delegitimize midterm voters in a typical bout of petulant foot stomping–seems to be coming around to the absurdity of the White House’s initial spin. (Though he is still not quite approaching reality.)

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn continues:

On Tuesday, Joni Ernst, now a Republican senator-elect, won a decisive nine-point victory. She swept much of traditionally Democratic eastern Iowa, where Democrats have long fared well with rural voters.

In Colorado, Cory Gardner, now a senator-elect, also made significant gains among rural white voters. He also outperformed past Republicans in traditionally Democratic, heavily Hispanic counties.

These gains suggest that demographic trends have not doomed Republicans to minority-party status, as some political analysts predicted. Those predictions hinged in part on the assumption that Democrats could fare no worse among white voters than Mr. Obama. That assumption ignored Mr. Obama’s strengths among white voters outside the South.

It’s important to note that the trends haven’t been completely reversed, either. Republicans aren’t doomed but neither are Democrats; indeed, Democrats still have a strong presidential-year coalition. The risk they run is in ignoring the plain fact that Republicans appear to be better capable of making inroads into that Democratic coalition than political prognosticators thought. And since the Democratic electoral coalition is sustained through identity politics and not ideas, if Republicans can negate those identity-politics appeals the Democrats would be in trouble.

But the other lesson here is that the establishment and the grassroots made a superb team in this year’s midterms. The ability of Ernst in Iowa and Gardner in Colorado, among others, to win competitive races in states Obama carried twice showed that the candidate mattered, as the establishment has been emphasizing, and that conservative ideas were winners even in blue states, as the grassroots have been insisting.

Ernst, in fact, was conservative enough to cause Super-Civil Centrist Norm Ornstein to have a breakdown on social media, calling Ernst a “lunatic.” But an important element in allowing those conservative ideas to be heard was the nominations of better candidates, the GOP’s efforts in media training those candidates, and in some cases ensuring the nominations of establishment-friendly candidates who would win quietly. As Chuck Todd accidentally admitted after the election, had one conservative candidate uttered a controversial remark, the press would have forced that remark into every single race throughout the country.

This is not to say the GOP was mistake-free. Indeed, the establishment clearly erred in not intervening to encourage Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas to retire–Roberts being an extremely dangerous play since his race turned out to be competitive. But it wasn’t about either the establishment or the grassroots being perfect, it was about not making the kinds of mistakes that change the narrative and toughen the terrain for other candidates around the country. That was a test they passed, and in doing so proved the attractiveness of conservatism even in places it was assumed to be unwelcome.

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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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Democrats Are All About Power

Can you imagine a conservative or Tea Party Republican statewide candidate so determined to beat the Democrats that they would withdraw from a race in order to help an independent who might (or might not) switch to the GOP after the election? Neither can I. These days the political right in this country values ideology over mere political advantage. But not so their Democrat opponents. As this week’s news from Kansas and Alaska illustrates, one of our two major political parties is consistently playing to win and the other can’t necessarily be relied upon to do so.

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Can you imagine a conservative or Tea Party Republican statewide candidate so determined to beat the Democrats that they would withdraw from a race in order to help an independent who might (or might not) switch to the GOP after the election? Neither can I. These days the political right in this country values ideology over mere political advantage. But not so their Democrat opponents. As this week’s news from Kansas and Alaska illustrates, one of our two major political parties is consistently playing to win and the other can’t necessarily be relied upon to do so.

In Kansas, Chad Taylor, the Democratic Senate candidate withdrew from the race. Taylor was trailing badly in the polls in a contest in which embattled Republican incumbent Pat Roberts faced his most significant competition from independent Greg Orman. This will clear the field for the former Republican turned Democrat turned independent to mount a serious challenge to Roberts who survived a tough primary fight in which his lack of a home in Kansas was a major issue.

In Alaska, something similar happened when Byron Mallott, the Democratic candidate for governor agreed to merge forces with independent Bill Walker in order to better compete against GOP incumbent Sean Parnell. The Democratic state central committee endorsed a new ticket on which Mallott will be their candidate for lieutenant governor under Walker, who dropped his membership in the Alaska Republican Party in order to facilitate this unusual marriage of convenience.

In both cases, regular liberal Democrats swallowed hard and bowed to their party’s best interests by endorsing a less ideological candidate. If that wasn’t enough, also in Alaska, incumbent Senator Mark Begich demonstrated his commitment to winning at all costs by running a television advertisement that falsely accused his GOP opponent, a former state attorney general, of responsibility for the freeing of a convict who subsequently murdered two senior citizens and raping their granddaughter. Protests from the outraged family of the victims forced Begich to take the ad off the air but his willingness to broadcast what Politico calls a “Willie Horton ad” in his quest for reelection amply illustrated a fight-to-the-death spirit that seems to be animating Democrats this year.

What’s going on?

What we’re observing in these races is the way Democrats have become a party solely devoted to power. Whereas Democrats were once even more fractious and as prone to ideological squabbles as Republicans, in recent years they have changed. The Obama era is one in which the party of Jefferson and Jackson has finally realized that the only way to enact their liberal big-government agenda is to win elections. In service to that cause they have embraced unprincipled opportunists like Charlie Crist in Florida, Orman in Kansas, and Walker in Alaska. Where liberals might have once preferred to fight centrist Democrats in a quest for purity, they understand the election of political chameleons fighting under their banner will do more to advance their cause than sticking with a principled liberal who will lose honorably.

This is in marked contrast to Republicans who have in recent years made a specialty of tearing each other apart in bitter and often pointless civil wars that have resulted in their losing Senate seats they might have won. Indeed, the whole point of the Tea Party is a reaction to the way the Republican Party seemed to lose its soul during the George W. Bush administration with GOP majorities in the House and the Senate spending like drunken sailors just like Democrats in a futile effort to win the loyalty of voters. Indeed, the ire of most Tea Partiers has always seemed to be mostly reserved for moderate Republicans—dubbed RINOs—whose defeat is considered a greater victory for true conservatism than unseating any Democrat. Purging the GOP of such heretics has been their goal and they have largely succeeded.

Contrary to the myth propagated by the liberal mainstream media, Republicans are, as a rule, no more extreme in their conservatism than the average Democrat officeholder is in their liberalism. But the Jacobin spirit demonstrated by the Tea Party—which initially represented a healthy revolt of the taxpayers against an establishment determined to ignore the wishes of the voters and feather their own nests—which has largely acted as if it is better to have a liberal win a congressional or Senate seat rather than a nominal non-conservative Republican, has done more than hurt the GOP’s electoral prospects in some cases. It has also given it the aura of a Robespierre-style junta determined to root out any ideological diversity or dissent. This fealty to principle at all costs can be more attractive in some ways than the cynicism of the Democrats. But it also seems to be rooted in an indifference to governance that ill befits any great party that seeks to rule rather than merely posture.

So while opportunistic turncoats like Crist as well as the shady maneuvers of Kansas and Alaska Democrats rightly disgust Republicans, they can also take a lesson from them. Winning isn’t the only thing in politics and dishonorable flip-flopping is a disgrace, but the only way to really stop liberal big government is to ensure that the advocates of those policies lose elections. The moral of the story is that it’s no good complaining about ObamaCare if your activists are actually doing more to elect Democrats than Republicans who might vote to repeal it.

Democrats have figured out that they are better off taking half a loaf than none at all. It remains to be seen if Republicans are mature enough to learn the same lesson before they throw away another chance to control Congress.

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McCarthy Learning from Cantor’s Mistakes?

After Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to Dave Brat, it appeared as though we wouldn’t really understand what happened for some time. But it turned out that one of the earliest pieces on the upset was so on-target as to eventually become the conventional wisdom. Robert Tracinski’s reaction piece at the Federalist had an advantage over many others seeking to weigh in: Tracinski lives in Cantor’s district, and so had a front-row seat.

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After Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to Dave Brat, it appeared as though we wouldn’t really understand what happened for some time. But it turned out that one of the earliest pieces on the upset was so on-target as to eventually become the conventional wisdom. Robert Tracinski’s reaction piece at the Federalist had an advantage over many others seeking to weigh in: Tracinski lives in Cantor’s district, and so had a front-row seat.

As Tracinski explained at the time:

For almost as long as I’ve lived here, which is coming up on 20 years now, the purpose of the seventh district has been to re-elect Eric Cantor every two years. It’s a strongly Republican district that spans across a very conservative stretch of rural Central Virginia, from the Richmond suburbs to Culpeper. So what were we going to do, vote for a Democrat? No, we were going to vote for Cantor.

And Cantor knew it. Because he didn’t have to worry too much about getting re-elected every two years, his political ambition was channeled into rising through the hierarchy of the House leadership. Rise he did, all the way up to the #2 spot, and he was waiting in the wings to become Speaker of the House.

The result was that Cantor’s real constituency wasn’t the folks back home.

Cantor was replaced in that leadership slot by California Republican Kevin McCarthy, who seemed to follow the old adage about learning from the mistakes of others–though he doesn’t need much of a reminder. The Wall Street Journal reports that McCarthy is intent on staying close to his constituents. A congressman should represent his district in Washington, not represent Washington to his district. If that’s one lesson to come out of the grassroots’ insurgent campaigns against establishment candidates, the Tea Party and other conservative groups will have brought back a measure of accountability sorely needed in the nation’s capital.

Yet to be fair to McCarthy, he was aware of this before Cantor’s defeat. As the Journal notes, McCarthy was instrumental in helping the GOP gain its House majority by strategically targeting Democrats he considered vulnerable–not because they were poor candidates or beset by scandals, but because they had been in office long enough to drift from their home district:

Anyone in search of Mr. McCarthy on weekends needs to look no further than Luigi’s, one of this city’s oldest family-run businesses. As the man who orchestrated a 2010 Republican takeover of Congress by targeting Democrats who, in his estimation, were out of touch with their districts, Mr. McCarthy is keenly aware that forsaking home for power in Washington can spell defeat.

“In your fifth term, I felt you were most vulnerable,” Mr. McCarthy said, after ordering a round of Butterfinger pies for the table. “So I would target those to go after.”

McCarthy’s district is, however, in many ways a cross-section of the competing interest groups that follow the congressman to Washington and back. The Journal explains that McCarthy is under pressure from the United Farm Workers, which is based in his district, over immigration.

McCarthy also hears from the Bakersfield Tea Party, which aims to push McCarthy to the right by showing him “some tough love,” in the words of one of its leaders. And he must add “oil and agricultural industries” to the mix as well. But even if McCarthy has been no stranger around his district, he still seems to be consciously employing the lessons of Cantor’s defeat:

Mr. McCarthy is doing what he can to ensure he doesn’t suffer the fate of the man he replaces as majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, whose Virginia primary loss last month came at the hands of a virtually unknown tea-party candidate who successfully attacked Mr. Cantor as having become too much part of the Washington establishment.

Despite facing only a write-in opponent this fall, Mr. McCarthy already has aired a campaign commercial here. “Being elected majority leader was an honor,” Mr. McCarthy said in the spot. “But the highest honor is serving our community and you.”

During a recent visit home, Mr. McCarthy served his constituents—literally.

Donning a Sequoia Sandwich Company T-shirt, Mr. McCarthy hustled through lunchtime crowds, sweating and bellowing out order numbers. The sandwich shop marked the day by offering “The McCarthy” special: cracked-pepper turkey on a ciabatta roll with cream cheese.

Some of this is cosmetic, and some of it is nearly universal to members of the House who must run for reelection every two years and, even in a safe district, at least make a show of it. But that show is reassuring: as American politics has become increasingly nationalized, the public stands to lose a great deal at the steady erosion of local governance. The Tea Party often talks about getting back to first principles, and this is a good way to do so.

The Tea Party has put up some poor candidates, but on balance it has been a net positive for the conservative movement. Cantor’s loss may have been surprising, and it also may not really change anything. But if it serves to remind members of Congress who their constituents are, it’ll have another, even if modest, benefit.

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The Idealism and Realism of the American Founders

During an engaging, wide-ranging interview with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New York Times columnist David Brooks was asked this: “How do you feel about the Tea Party? The notion of compromise is a dirty word more than ever on Capitol Hill. So how do you see us getting us to a place where there can be a moderate middle? Do you think it’s possible to return to those days?” To which Brooks replied this way:

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During an engaging, wide-ranging interview with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New York Times columnist David Brooks was asked this: “How do you feel about the Tea Party? The notion of compromise is a dirty word more than ever on Capitol Hill. So how do you see us getting us to a place where there can be a moderate middle? Do you think it’s possible to return to those days?” To which Brooks replied this way:

Let me quibble with one phrase in your question, which would be “moderate middle.” So I’m a moderate but I’m not in the middle. And what I mean by that, I think being moderate is seeing politics as a competition between partial truths. And like in this era we have competition between security and freedom, between achievement and equality, between mobility and cohesion. And both sides have a piece of the truth. And often you want to be radical on both ends and try to balance. So it’s all about balance. So you can really value things that are on each end as long as you try to balance these opposing things and as long as you understand that politics is a messy, slow … boring through hard boards–it’s just messy and slow and you take one step at a time.

Brooks went on to say this:

My problem with the Tea Party is partly what they believe, but partly it’s just their [methods]–they’re anti-political. I believe in politics, that you pass a piece of legislation and you get half a loaf and you make a slow step and you make a compromise and you try to go a little forward every day. Politics is not, it’s not show business. It’s just messy compromises because you’re always caught in contradictions and filled with paradoxes. And my problem with the Tea Party is they don’t like politics. They want it to be pure, and they often punish people who they call RINOs–who are Republican in Name Only–because they’re not pure. But I think impurity is what leaders do. They take impurity upon themselves. They take the sins of the situation on themselves. They take the complexity of the situation on themselves and they try to muddle through. And so I think people who are unwilling to muddle through are not being political; they’re being self-indulgent. And so I have a problem with that style of politics.

I would add some elaborations to what David says, ones I think he might agree with, such as: No one in politics sees the truth in full, but some people are within much closer striking distance than others. And the Tea Party movement has produced some of the most impressive politicians now on the right, including Marco Rubio (who defeated Charlie Crist in their primary) and Mike Lee (who defeated Bob Bennett in their primary).

With that said, Brooks is zeroing in on something quite important, which is that politics is an inherently messy business. Moreover, the American founders–who developed the concepts of checks and balances, separation of powers, and all the rest–wanted politics to be messy. That is, our constitutional order requires give and take, adaptation and collaboration, the balancing of competing interests, and compromise itself. As Jonathan Rauch has written in National Affairs, “In our constitutional system, compromise is not merely a necessary evil but a positive good: an indispensable source of political discipline, competition, and stability — which are all conservative values.”

Too often these days, zealous people who are in a hurry don’t appreciate that the process and methods of politics–the “messy,” muddling through side of politics–is a moral achievement of sorts. But this, too, is only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that justice is often advanced by people who are seized with a moral vision. They don’t much care about the prosaic side of governing; they simply want society to be better, more decent, and more respectful of human dignity. So yes, it’s important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. But it’s also the case that politics requires us to strive for certain (unattainable) ideals.

There’s a distinction, then, between motivating ideals and the methods and processes of politics. Think of Martin Luther King’s dream and Lyndon Johnson’s civil-rights legislation. Or think of Lincoln, who was both the greatest exponent of principles of the Declaration of Independence in American history and a supremely great politician.

What happens all too often in our politics is that people who are drawn to one tend to look with disdain on those who are drawn to the other. What we need, I think, is greater recognition that both are necessary, that each one alone is insufficient. Visionaries have to find a way to give their vision concrete expression, which requires deal-making, compromise, and accepting something less than the ideal. Legislators need to govern with some commitment to philosophical and moral ideals; otherwise, they’re just passing laws and cutting deals for their own sake.

What David Brooks is saying, I think–and where I agree with him–is that some recalibration needs to occur in some quarters on the right, away from those seeking purification and excommunication (RINO-hunters) and toward a fuller, more authentic conservatism. Call it the conservatism of the founders.

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Will GOP Regret Torching Miss. Tea Party?

The conventional wisdom about Senator Thad Cochran’s victory in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff yesterday assures the GOP of retaining the seat in November. But the bitterness engendered by the establishment candidate’s using large numbers of liberal Democrat voters to win a narrow triumph may do just the opposite.

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The conventional wisdom about Senator Thad Cochran’s victory in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff yesterday assures the GOP of retaining the seat in November. But the bitterness engendered by the establishment candidate’s using large numbers of liberal Democrat voters to win a narrow triumph may do just the opposite.

Some in the party establishment feared a win for Tea Party insurgent Chris McDaniel would have sent the media rummaging through the archive of his radio shows finding absurd statements that would have alienated moderate voters and allowed a relatively conservative Democrat to make a race of it. But with the six-term incumbent safely nominated, the assumption is that the November election will be more or less a formality that will allow Republicans to concentrate on other states where they have a chance to pick up seats.

Cochran’s ability to turn out black Democrats in huge numbers to offset his unpopularity among members of his own party in an open primary state could also be interpreted as a triumph for GOP outreach. For a party that desperately needs more minority support, some may argue that Cochran’s tactic of paying black political organizers to persuade hard-core Democrats to vote in a Republican primary is a sign that African-Americans can be enticed to support a GOP candidate under some circumstances.

While that is a rather dubious assumption, the bottom line about the Mississippi primary is that the Tea Party got out-organized, out-spent and outflanked by an incumbent. Cochran was able to use support from the party establishment, business, and local constituencies who were influenced by the senator’s ability to manipulate the federal budget. That bought him a win in a primary that should have been dominated by the highly motivated conservative activists who wanted to retire him.

But the general satisfaction among establishment Republicans today needs to be tempered by the knowledge that what Cochran did in Mississippi may hurt the party in ways they may not quite understand.

The first problem is that by winning a GOP primary on the strength of black Democrat support, Cochran may have pushed his party opponents over the edge to the point where they may actively consider a suicidal effort to sabotage his chances in November. For all the talk of a McDaniel win giving the Democrats a small, if unlikely, chance of winning the seat, by denying him the nomination in a manner that left his supporters feeling more cheated than beaten, the party leadership may have actually increased their problems rather than eliminating them. A write-in campaign for McDaniel in the general election has no chance of winning him the seat. But, if he was able to mobilize the same Tea Party activists who brought him to the brink of a victory in the first round of voting, he could do serious damage to Cochran.

Why might Tea Partiers act in such a self-destructive manner?

Simply put, the worst problem for Republicans is not the prospect of nominating outlier candidates who will lose winnable seats in the general election. That has happened and it has cost the party dearly to be saddled with the likes of Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Todd Akin. But an even greater peril is the possibility that Tea Party activists will stop fighting to take control of the GOP and abandon it altogether as being merely a slightly different version of the same Democrat tax and spending machine they are pledged to defeat. Whatever promises Cochran made or didn’t make to persuade black power brokers to back him yesterday, his win exemplifies everything that Tea Partiers despise about members of the permanent governing class in both parties.

The short-term problems that a McDaniel revenge campaign might have this year might be mitigated by the fact that it is simply impossible for any Republican candidate—whether it was Cochran or McDaniel—to lose in this deep-red state. But as much as Republicans are right to worry about their party losing touch with the concerns of independents and minorities whose votes have tipped the last two presidential elections to Barack Obama, a GOP that loses its most motivated and hard-working voters is doomed.

A party establishment that doesn’t just outwork the Tea Party but also seeks to negate the will of the majority of Republican voters is one that is in danger of alienating the base. Whether or not Chris McDaniel seeks to play the spoiler in November, that’s the kind of thing that loses general elections as easily as extreme candidates.

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If Cochran Loses, It Isn’t a Revolution

Today’s Mississippi Republican senatorial primary is being billed as a potential revolution for Republicans in the state and the nation. The smackdown between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is seen in many quarters as nothing less than a clash of political civilizations as the establishment attempts to hold back the rising tide of Tea Party insurgents.

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Today’s Mississippi Republican senatorial primary is being billed as a potential revolution for Republicans in the state and the nation. The smackdown between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is seen in many quarters as nothing less than a clash of political civilizations as the establishment attempts to hold back the rising tide of Tea Party insurgents.

If you watch some of the ads being aired in the state as well as listen to the comments from many in the state’s party establishment, it’s easy to see why so many people are viewing it in this manner. The race turned ugly months ago and has gotten progressively nastier after McDaniel fell a hair short of a clear majority in the initial primary forcing today’s runoff with Cochran. Some of the Republican primaries that took place earlier in the year were seen as indicating that the Tea Party had run its course and that moderates were still in control of the GOP. But the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Virginia primary earlier this month and the prospect of McDaniel winning today has the party establishment back in panic mode talking about revolutions and worrying that a few more such defeats for their preferred candidates will doom the Republicans.

The talk about the death of the Tea Party was not so much premature as it was misleading since virtually all Republicans now subscribe—or at least pay lip service—to the cause of limited government and scaling back the nation’s addiction to taxes and spending. But as in the Cantor race, where a national figure found himself out of touch with his party’s grass roots, what’s going in Mississippi isn’t so much a revolution as it is the oldest story in politics. No one, not even longtime incumbents who act like university professors with tenure, is assured of victory when faced with a spirited challenger who is a fresh face.

This is a basic political truth that a lot of the so-called Republican establishment, especially in Mississippi, seem to have forgotten. Just because Thad Cochran has been in the Senate for 42 years doing more or less what he thought his constituents wanted him to do doesn’t mean that he hasn’t passed his political expiration date. Voters get tired of the same old thing in the same old package and sometimes prefer the younger, more dynamic voice. They also sometimes change their minds about what’s really important.

Cochrane has spent his career helping his state use the federal government as an ATM as Mississippi gets far more money from Washington than it pays into the system. But even in a state that has clearly benefitted from Congress’ out-of-control spending habits it is possible for voters to think this isn’t the way to run a railroad. Cochran still doesn’t seem to understand that bringing home the bacon isn’t a guarantee of reelection and even speaks at times as if he thinks its unfair that some in his party hold his role in the expansion of government power against him.

In short, what may be happening in Mississippi isn’t so much the Deep South version of the storming of the Bastille as it is the very American ritual of voters throwing out a politician who has lost touched with his base. Doing so doesn’t so much indicate that Republicans are getting extreme as it does that Cochran, as opposed to other longtime incumbents—like Wyoming’s Mike Enzi—who have maintained their grasp of local political realities, stayed too long in the fray. Like all last hurrahs, the leave taking may be painful for all involved but the end of the story is inevitable. McDaniel’s victory won’t mean his party has gone over the edge. Nor will it, despite Democratic hopes, necessarily put this ultra-red state in play this fall. But it will show that the establishment should have nudged Cochran out rather than going down fighting with him.

That said, there is one caveat to be mentioned in any discussion of this race and whether a McDaniel victory will hurt his party. Cochran has cynically attempted to get black Democrats to cross party lines and vote for him today. I doubt he will have much success in doing so, but the reports about the McDaniel camp setting up poll watchers to prevent voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary from taking part in the GOP runoff is potential political dynamite. If any of McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters are seen to be harassing blacks trying to vote today in Mississippi of all places, the Republican Party will never live it down. If McDaniel has any brains, he will tell his people to stand down and to avoid interfering with anyone trying to vote. If he doesn’t, the optics will be so bad that it will not only affect that state’s politics but that of the entire country.

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Phony Scandal? Courts Open Window on the IRS’s Political Litmus Tests

Interest in the Internal Revenue Service’s outrageous practice of subjecting politically conservative groups to discriminatory treatment has died down a bit since the revelations about this scandal first hit the news a year ago. But a court decision that was handed down earlier this week about a similar instance of potential government misconduct may shed more light on the way the Tea Party and other right-wing organizations were given the business by Lois Lerner and the rest of what appears to be a highly politicized bureaucracy at the heart of our tax collection system.

On Tuesday, Federal Judge Ketanje Brown Jackson issued the first substantive ruling in any suit that challenged the IRS’s pose of political neutrality under the Obama administration. The case concerns Z Street, a Philadelphia area-based pro-Israel organization that filed for tax-exempt status in December 2009 because of its role in educating the public about Israel and the Middle East conflict. The group’s founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote in the Jewish Press this week about what followed:

On July 19, 2010, when counsel for Z STREET spoke with the IRS agent to whom the organization’s application had been assigned, that agent said that a determination on Z STREET’s application may be further delayed because the IRS gave “special scrutiny” to organizations connected to Israel and especially to those whose views “contradict those of the administration’s.”

Z Street subsequently sued the government and rightly argued that its constitutional rights had been violated because of the “viewpoint discrimination” that the IRS agent had openly displayed. Now after years of delays, Judge Jackson has ruled that by asserting that Z Street had no right to sue, the government had tried to “transform a lawsuit that clearly challenges the constitutionality of the process … into a dispute over tax liability.” She similarly dismissed the government’s claims of sovereign immunity.

What has this got to do with the Tea Party and its complaints? Plenty.

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Interest in the Internal Revenue Service’s outrageous practice of subjecting politically conservative groups to discriminatory treatment has died down a bit since the revelations about this scandal first hit the news a year ago. But a court decision that was handed down earlier this week about a similar instance of potential government misconduct may shed more light on the way the Tea Party and other right-wing organizations were given the business by Lois Lerner and the rest of what appears to be a highly politicized bureaucracy at the heart of our tax collection system.

On Tuesday, Federal Judge Ketanje Brown Jackson issued the first substantive ruling in any suit that challenged the IRS’s pose of political neutrality under the Obama administration. The case concerns Z Street, a Philadelphia area-based pro-Israel organization that filed for tax-exempt status in December 2009 because of its role in educating the public about Israel and the Middle East conflict. The group’s founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote in the Jewish Press this week about what followed:

On July 19, 2010, when counsel for Z STREET spoke with the IRS agent to whom the organization’s application had been assigned, that agent said that a determination on Z STREET’s application may be further delayed because the IRS gave “special scrutiny” to organizations connected to Israel and especially to those whose views “contradict those of the administration’s.”

Z Street subsequently sued the government and rightly argued that its constitutional rights had been violated because of the “viewpoint discrimination” that the IRS agent had openly displayed. Now after years of delays, Judge Jackson has ruled that by asserting that Z Street had no right to sue, the government had tried to “transform a lawsuit that clearly challenges the constitutionality of the process … into a dispute over tax liability.” She similarly dismissed the government’s claims of sovereign immunity.

What has this got to do with the Tea Party and its complaints? Plenty.

As the Wall Street Journal editorial page noted yesterday:

This ruling will force the IRS to open its books on the procedures it used and decisions it made reviewing Z Street’s tax-exempt application, procedures it has tried to keep shrouded. As the case proceeds, Z Street’s attorneys can seek depositions from many who have been part of the larger attempt to sit on similar applications by other conservative groups.

In other words, this case may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of the IRS’s politically prejudicial policies. If an IRS agent can reject or stall a pro-Israel group’s application on the grounds that “these cases are being sent to a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies,” then no group, no matter what its political orientation or cause is safe from being subjected to a political litmus test designed by any administration of either political party.

Z Street’s Marcus deserves praise for having the guts to persist in her challenge to the government for years even though the media had little interest in publicizing what appeared to be an outrageous example of how the IRS had become politicized under the Obama presidency. Last year Marcus learned she wasn’t alone when the news about the Tea Party broke. Now, as her legal process unfolds, Americans may get a better idea about how broken the system has become.

Using the IRS to punish political foes is blatantly illegal. If, as we suspect, the Z Street case reveals the sort of internal email traffic that will reveal how widespread this practice has become in the last five years, perhaps even a liberal mainstream press that still thinks the problems at the IRS are a “phony scandal” will start to pay attention.

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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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