It’s been over a week since Eric Cantor got thumped in the Virginia GOP primary. In the time since, I’ve read pieces from dozens of pundits. They typically run along one of two themes:
- The Tea Party is killing any chance of Republicans returning to national power.
- Conservatism is at war with itself.
This is because the establishment GOP – who have taken to calling themselves “Movement Conservatives” or “Reform Conservatives” (the conservative part of the label is questionable, at the very least) – cannot imagine a political party that exists without the benefit of their favorite cronyist pals; Big Finance, Big Oil and military contractors. And they very much would like to pry away Big Tech from the Democrats. The idea of “their” party – which has been bought and paid for by those interests for two decades now – returning to the coalition built by Goldwater and Reagan and actually putting those ideals into action scares the living snot out of them.
That palpable fear was perfectly expressed by Greg Sargent:
“Almost all the internal preoccupations of the Republican Party — in primary battles, intra-movement arguments, conservative media tropes — have nothing to do with the party’s main external challenges: appealing to young people, to the middle class, to the working class and to rising demographic groups.”
For some reason, this argument is the establishment’s favorite: that a principled, conservative approach to governance can’t attract voters. The idea that those under 30, those in the middle class (or aspiring to the middle class) and legal immigrants can’t find common ground with a party that actually works towards reducing the size and scope of an overreaching government, or a party that actively works to strengthen national security is absurd on the face of it.
Don’t let anyone fool you. The GOP establishment, or movement wing, or reform wing, or whatever other hair-brained name they decide to call themselves, is not conservative. Oh, they all talk a great game about reducing the size of government, getting our debt and deficit under control, blah, blah, blah. But let’s not forget it was the Republican Party of GWB that shredded the Constitution by passing the Patriot Act, that exploded the size of the federal government by creating the Department of Homeland Security, that passed No Child Left Behind, that first proposed TARP. It was establishment figures like John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Boehner (and yes, Eric Cantor) who first proposed legislation that would legalize criminal border crossings, and establishment, “conservative” pundits from Ann Coulter to David Brooks who told us Mitt Romney was just a s conservative as, well, Ronald Reagan. Somehow, the fact that Romney had introduced a socialist medical care system in Massachusetts* didn’t matter. For all of the evils Barack Obama has visited on American liberty, he couldn’t have implemented them as quickly and with as little backlash as he has without the Republican Party of 1993-present first laying the groundwork to make it happen.
But having spent 20 years becoming, essentially, the Democrat Party, the party bigwigs are in a tizzy with a true conservative movement afoot. Yes, you read that right: establishment Republicans are no different from establishment Democrats. The only difference is who signs their paychecks. Dems are signed by Big Labor and Big Tech. Republicans are signed by the groups I mentioned above, along with Big Religion. Neither party actually stands for the groups Sargent outlines. The difference between 2012 and 2000 is simply that the Republicans let themselves be played in the last election. How? By running a candidate that exactly fit the narrative Dems created: that conservatives are nothing more than Big Business hacks out to screw the common man.
Yet, here’s the funny thing: the common man knows he’s getting screwed by the government AND Big Business AND Big Labor. And he’s getting tired of it. Doesn’t matter if he’s 18 or 72, black or white, rich or poor – he wakes up every morning knowing that somebody in “authority” is going to do their best to undermine his best efforts. He knows those forces arrayed against the common man are conspiring to make mere survival almost impossible, much less actually getting ahead. Those are the people that voted to turn Eric Cantor out of office.
And those are the same people that voted the last true conservative into the White House. In 1980, the political class – especially the entrenched Republican interests – thought the Reagan Revolution was suicide for the party. But Reagan captured the votes of the young. He got majorities of traditionally Democrat voting blocs, including Big Labor. He won a majority of the Latino vote, the last Republican Presidential candidate to do so. And he did so by campaigning on a platform of conservative values. Unfortunately for the nation, Reagan made one HUGE mistake in 1980 when he accepted George Herbert Walker Bush as his running mate. The establishment had their backdoor into the seat of power. By 1988, Bush was being touted as a conservative, and the label hasn’t meant what it did for Reagan since then.
This, if anything, is the disconnect that the pundits and professional pols haven’t come to realize. The rise of the Tea Parties in 2009 was less about Republican voters who had decided to become activists. I was about conservative voters who were tired of being lied to and taken for granted becoming activists. Conservatives have found their voice. The genie is out of the bottle – and the phony conservatives populating the Republican Party are unhappy.
That’s a good thing.
*BTW, RomneyCare has turned into such a colossal failure the state has asked the feds to take it over.
So, despite an economy that’s in the toilet and a solid 40% of the nation never buying your policies, you’ve managed to ride your personal popularity to a slight lead in the polls. Just to make matters more scintillating, the opposition seems intent on NOT winning the upcoming election. After all, how else do you explain their choice for nominee, a man who epitomizes many of the things most Americans personally despise? On top of that, the nominee has all the personality of flat white paint and switches positions so often even he doesn’t know which side of the fence to sit on.
If you didn’t know better, though, you would swear that Barack Obama has looked aver these gifts and decided he just doesn’t want to be President next year. It’s the only thing that makes any sense at this point. Otherwise, why would he be doing his best Jimmy Carter routine with less than six weeks until election day?
I’ve been traveling quite a bit over the past 48 hours. In a way, it’s probably a good thing – otherwise this blog would’ve blown up form all the posts. But to recap the events (in case you were hiding under a rock)
- On the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, mobs attacked the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As it turns out, the attacks now look like the work of al-Quaeda (what a surprise) and it also looks like the CIA and Homeland Security tried to alert the administration and the State Department of the threat 48 hours in advance. The response? The administration ordered the Marine guards in Cairo disarmed and State relied on local security forces in Benghazi. The Embassy in Cairo was stormed and the American flag burned. In Benghazi, the US ambassador and three of his employees were murdered.
- It’s also come to light that President Obama hasn’t sat in on any of his security briefings since September 5th. I guess between campaigning, raising money, golfing and shooting hoops, he doesn’t have any time left for mundane things like, oh – doing his job?
- Yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced that the economy is booming along so well that it’s now launching QE3. Unlike QE1 and 2, this time it’s open ended. The Federal Reserve will print upwards of $85 billion a month (that’s roughly 6% of the total economy) until unemployment reaches some magical number, now assumed to be 7.5%. Of course, Ben Bernanke could change his mind and decide on some different number later. Regardless of how you feel about this latest round of quantitative easing (I’ll probably write more on it later), it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the President’s fiscal policies.
- Yesterday, before the ink was even dry on the court opinion that the NDAA is unconstitutional, the Justice Department had already filed an appeal. Apparently, although holding foreign nationals and countries accountable for their actions isn’t part of this administrations repertoire, detaining American citizens indefinitely without a writ of habeus corpus is perfectly acceptable.
- Since the original attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, US Embassies in Yemen, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Pakistan and even London have been scenes of mob violence, while riot police and demonstrators have had a running battle in Cairo.
- And today, the President’s spokesman said (I kid you not), “This is not a case of protests directed at the United States.”
That last bit was the final straw. The Obama administration is obviously intent on throwing in the towel (and to Hell if he throws in the American people along with it). The question is, is Mitt Romney enough of a candidate to pick it up and run with it? I’m still not convinced he is. Until then, I’ll continue to support the only candidate on the ballot I see supporting American principles, values and commitments: Gary Johnson
You may be familiar with Mike Rowe from his show on the Discovery Channel, Dirty Jobs. Even if you’ve never seen the show (in which case I suggest you catch an episode), you’ve probably seen him shilling cars and trucks for Ford or paper towels for Viva. And if you watch ABC’s World News then you hear his voice every night – he’s the announcer during the opening and commercial breaks.
What you may not realize is that he is also a serious advocate for vocational training. His foundation, mikeroweWORKS, is dedicated to making education in skilled trades something other than a remedial course of study. He understands a point I made several weeks back, that a four-year degree is not the best path for every student. Or for our nation’s future.
Before you say that of course our nation still values the skilled trades as highly as a college education, ask yourself how you would react if your son or daughter announced their intention of becoming a truck driver after high school. Or a plumber, electrician, farmer, or welder. Even thought they are among both the highest paying and most consistently sought after trades by employers, I doubt it would be greeted with the same enthusiasm as an announcement they wanted to become an astrophysicist or surgeon.
Therein lies a major problem, both for the current economy and the economy of the future. Already the news is full of accounts of college graduates queuing up for job applications in the unskilled trades (think retail worker), simply because there isn’t demand for their skill set. At the same time, there is a desperate need for mechanics, welders, riggers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC techs – all you need to do is pick up the help wanted section of any metro newspaper.
Mr. Rowe understands this problem is a problem. To that end, he’s written an open letter to Mitt Romney. He wrote a similar one to Barack Obama during the least election cycle, but based on the President’s education initiatives it fell on deaf ears. You can read the full letter here, but I wanted to lift one line that I thought exemplified the problem:
“I always thought there something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.“
In a nutshell, THAT is the biggest problem with getting our nation back to work today. Many of my conservative friends are adamant about making welfare and unemployment recipients work for their benefit checks. I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment. But in a nation that no longer values physical or skilled labor, how likely is a program akin to Roosevelt’s CCC or WPA to succeed?
Last night, the GOP brought the curtain down on their quadrennial convention. It certainly was a spectacle, from Clint Eastwood’s oddly mesmerizing “interview” through Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. Although nobody would have ever bet that the stiff from Boston would outperform the Hollywood legend, he certainly seemed smoother, more polished and saner. Then again, Clint could have been allowing Romney to simply look more natural and less robotic – in which case he’s getting the last laugh.
The Republicans entered the week with seven principle goals in mind for this convention. By and large, they accomplished them all, a feat that is as unusual in political events as their candidate actually seeming likable. Those seven goals were:
- Make Mitt Romney more relatable
- Turn Barack Obama’s personal popularity into a liability
- Emphasize the fact that the economy sucks and has sucked throughout Obama’s first term
- Tell a story of how and why things improve under a Romney administration (and not coincidentally, a GOP led Congress)
- Dispel the idea that Republicans have no room in the Big Tent for women and minorities
- Demonstrate that conservative ideas are more about an optimistic future than a pessimistic past
- Create party unity behind the Romney/Ryan ticket and party platform
That they accomplished all this, despite having to deal with Hurricane Isaac’s interference with both schedule and coverage, is testament to Republican determination for a clean sweep in the Fall elections. It’s also quite a testament to the organizing ability of the party’s leadership, from Reince Priebus right through Mr. Romney, himself. That there was coordination between speechwriters, speakers, candidates and party elders is not unusual. That the coordination was as tight as it was is definitely not indicative of the fractured party that many in the liberal press were hoping to present to the world. From Chris Christie’s keynote address and Condoleeza Rice’s extolling Republican virtue in international affairs, through both the Presidential and Vice-Presidential acceptance speeches, the GOP continued to hammer away on those same seven themes. The speeches could be summed up this way:
“Barack Obama is a likable guy. But he is in over his head and rather than lead us into prosperity, he gives us the same arguments and cliches from 4 years ago. Instead of fixing what’s broken, he’s paying back his liberal cronies, be they businesses, unions or foreign powers. Instead of earning his Nobel Prize, he allows dangerous elements throughout the world to stockpile weapons that actually pose a threat to the US and our allies. Instead of providing us with hope, he dallies in the backroom brawl of divisive politics.
“Mitt Romney may not be as likable, but at least he is an honest, dependable guy like millions of you. And he has a plan; a solid plan based on 40+ years of business experience to get the economy moving again, get Americans working again and get the fiscal mess in order.
“In other words, Barack Obama is yesterday’s flavor-of-the-month. Face it, America – we’ve tried it and while it was exciting at first, we’ve come to realize the excitement has led to heartburn. It’s time to ditch the heartburn and get back to plain vanilla. Vanilla may never be the flavor-of-the-month, but it will also never let you down.”
It can be a powerful message. Powerful precisely because it is reassuring, not flashy. Can it be torn assunder? So far, the President’s team hasn’t been able to rip apart the individual components, each of which has been brought individually over the 8 weeks or so leading up to the convention. They get their biggest chance next week, during their own convention in Charlotte.
Regardless of how the Democrats perform, they better realize one thing if they hope to get their candidate reelected in 68 days. If they thought Team Romney was a featherweight to their heavyweight boxer, then they need to get their champ into the gym – quick. Or else, like the theme music playing at the end of Mr. Romney’s speech, they may just find their guy got knocked out by the better fighter.
Regardless your personal feelings about Paul Ryan (R-WI), two things clearly came to the fore with his speech last night:
First, the man is a much more polished politician than his naysayers would have you believe.
Second, mainstream media analysts be damned, he’s perfectly comfortable being Mitt Romney’s pit bull.
The traditional roles for the Vice Presidential nominee are simple. They should deliver his home state’s electoral votes to the party’s nominee. And they should be able to attack the other party’s nominee, without seeming impossibly mean-spirited. Four years ago, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin got the nod in what was one of the most curious choices ever made by a Presidential candidate. Alaska is a solid Republican state, so Mrs. Palin wasn’t going to deliver an additional 3 electoral votes that John McCain likely didn’t already have. While she proved a willing attacker of all things Democrat (and that includes, to this day, Barack Obama), she always seemed…snarky is probably the best way to describe it.
Ryan, on the other hand, may prove to a much more capable VP pick. Even before his speech last night, his selection helped turn what has been a traditional bastion of Democrat electors into a battleground state. (Both CBS/NYT and PPP latest polling in Wisconsin has the Presidential race as statistical tie, where once the President had a commanding 11 point lead). But what may prove even more dire for Mr. Obama’s re-election chances is the way Mr. Ryan demonstrated that you can attack even a likable candidate on pure policy issues, and do so in a way that makes the target still seem likable – but hopelessly inept.
Time and again in his speech, Mr. Ryan pointed out the failures of the current administration in terms of policy: a ragged economy, a sense of hope lost and a looming fiscal crisis that has been worsened by profligate spending and partisanship. Yet at the same time, Mr. Ryan did not attack the President as person. Indeed, he praised Mr. Obama’s rhetoric and ability to connect with voters. In a line certain to get considerable airplay in a commercial near you, he said:
“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”
That one statement provides a stark contrast between Senator Barack Obama in 2008 and President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2008, those millions of college freshmen turned out in droves to vote for the senator. In 2012, they are now recent graduates – unable to put their degrees to work, living back home with their parents and thoroughly disillusioned with their former champion.
There were other great soundbites as well (imagine a political speech without a soundbite!). My personal favorite was this, just a few moments later in talking about his beginnings:
“When I was waiting tables, washing dishes, or mowing lawns for money, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own path, my own journey, an American journey where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself. That’s what we do in this country. That’s the American Dream. That’s freedom, and I’ll take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.”
For me, that statement IS what the subcontext of this election is about. What is the “American Dream?” Is it, as Mr. Ryan describes, the pursuit of one’s individual goals and the freedom to make them a reality? Or is it, as described by Mr. Obama, the assurance of an equal experience for all Americans, regardless of innate abilities, talents and desires?
If the Republicans succeed in framing the 2012 election in this context – and not Mr. Obama’s preferred context of blame the other guy, rich vs. poor – then I believe they will also win this election. In Mr. Ryan, they found a capable point man, one the Democrats should fear over the next 70 days.
First off, I’d like to welcome everyone back from their Fourth of July vacations. I know I enjoyed mine and I hope you enjoyed yours.
As we head into the languid, steamy summer months most of us aren’t paying particular attention to the Presidential campaign. Both candidates, as is typical for the 6 weeks or so leading up Labor Day, are concentrating on fundraising and polishing their message. Unless either commits a gaffe of historic proportions (something the Romney family is well acquainted with), don’t expect either to make much news.
This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Mitt Romney. Unlike his opponent, he is relatively unknown to the American voting public. If he uses these next few weeks wisely, he can create the underpinnings of a successful candidacy. If not, he will get crushed in November.
A little historical perspective is in order. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination and faced off against an incumbent with a high personal favorability rating. The incumbent, Jimmy Carter, presided over a nation seemingly in decline. The “stagflation” of the late 1970’s – marked by persistent underemployment, inflation and low economic growth rates – had taken its toll on the American labor force. Combined with what seemed like capitulation to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and an inability to deal with the rise of Islamic extremism in Iran, the 39th President had few policy successes to point to, other than the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. The future 40th President was known by the country primarily as a former “B” movie actor and Governor of California. That July, Carter made his now infamous “malaise” speech, in which he laid out his vision of an emaciated America, impotent in foreign relations and incapable of robust economic growth. “It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation,” said Carter in that speech.
Although initial polling indicated the speech gave Carter an 11% boost in approval and most operatives thought he was crazy to do it, Reagan sensed the opening Carter’s opinion of the American People presented. He countered with an approach that said the problems the nation faced were not from ordinary people, but rather from an intrusive government that seeked to micromanage the American Dream. When he unleashed “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” during the October 28 debate, the nation responded with a heartfelt “NO!” Reagan, of course, went on to win the Presidency with an overwhelming mandate, carrying 44 states and besting Carter by 10 points in the popular vote. Reagan, despite national polls showing him trailing by as much as 8 points a mere week before the election, had stayed on message, trusting in his instincts. His aplomb – and characteristic belief in the American people and their belief in him – had carried the day, the same as it would for the next eight years.
Fast forward 32 years: President Obama could just as easily have delivered the speech Carter gave in July 1980. (In fact, Obama has delivered at least three similarly-themed speeches in the past year). Consider these talking points – can you guess which President delivered them?
“What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends…All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values.”*
Like Carter two generations ago, Obama is preaching a gospel of government dependence, of sacrifice and demonization of “special Interests.” Of course, we know from our history that when Reagan forced a Democratic Congress to accept much of his program, unleashing the private sector to grow and innovate in ways it hadn’t been able to since the 1950’s, growth exploded and America went back to work. “Morning in America” became the central theme of Reagan’s reelection campaign in 1984, and a proud President was able to speak to a proud nation about the accomplishments we achieved over the previous four years. He did not have to fear anyone asking if the nation was better off. We were, and we knew it.
The central question of the 2012 campaign is not whether the economy will rebound in time for President Obama to win reelection, or if PPACA will fire up a coalition of conservatives and libertarians that leads to his ouster. No, the biggest question in this election is whether Mitt Romney can emulate the Gipper. Like Reagan, Romney faces off against an incumbent that’s generally well liked as a person, but whose executive ability is met with ambivalence. In terms of policy positions, Romney is as far from Obama as Reagan was from Carter. But as anyone who has followed politics knows, personality matters. If Romney wants to win, he needs to do more than hammer the President on his failings. He needs to demonstrate some of the same optimism about the USA’s future that exemplified Reagan’s campaign style. He needs to show that he can and will lead. He needs to ditch the handlers and speak from the heart about his vision for what America looks like in four years.
Can he overcome what has been a wooden personality and achieve a similar result? Certainly, the opportunity is ripe. Despite his personal favorability ratings, President Obama consistently polls under 50% on policy – in fact, his poll numbers mirror those of Carter at similar points in their respective Presidencies (actually, Gallup had Carter with a bigger lead over Reagan than the one enjoyed by the current incumbent). The American People, much as they were in 1980, are looking for a real leader; someone who believes in the future as much (if not more) than they do. If Romney can project the same confidence as Reagan, Obama will suffer a similar electoral fate as Carter. If not…well, that is the end of the American Dream, isn’t it?
*Delivered by Jimmy Carter during National Address, July 15, 1980.
If you’re a political wonk (or wannabe wonk), odds are you are already intimately aware of the mythical Julia. For the rest of you, “Julia” is an Obama campaign creation; a mythical middle-class woman who cannot survive without the government largesse championed by the President and the modern Democratic Party. (You can catch her life story here).
It’s a good bit of salesmanship. In one tidy slideshow, the President and his minions manage to tie together the themes of his candidacy. It defends the classic socialist cradle-to-grave view of patriarchal government as the only answer to the nation’s ills not by explaining how such policies work, but by fear-mongering. And it frames the defense by portraying Republicans as determined to wage war on (liberal) women.
That fully half of the show is dedicated to defending Obamacare is purely inconsequential, I suppose. That the Supreme Court now seems certain to rule the PPACA unconstitutional in June will undoubtedly have major political ramifications, not the least of which is that attacking Republicans for wanting to repeal it will simply be a moot point. I mean, the President and his henchmen could try to mount some sort of defense of an unconstitutional law – but that would certainly seem to point up Republican claims that the President is willing to take extra-constitutional measures, if that’s what it takes to pass his agenda.
The real question is how the Republicans in general, and Mitt Romney in particular, will respond to Julia. The Democrats have opened with the classic, neo-progressive view of a patriarchal cradle-to-grave government. Not pure socialism, but close enough. They haven’t mentioned how, in an era of runaway deficits and national debt figures that exceed the total wealth of the nation, this vision of government-centric society is paid for. And they’ve laid any alternative view as the bogeyman. A smart strategist would explain how a government that’s large enough to decide when and where you go to school, when you can marry, when (and how many) children you can have, when you can go to the doctor, what food you eat, what professions you can pursue – even when you’re too sick to live, is essentially the Chinese model of democracy.
The problem for the Republicans is their view isn’t terribly different than the President’s. And the chosen standard-bearer is as much a statist as Obama. Remember, this is the guy who created RomneyCare. The only real difference between the two candidates is not whether they favor government power over liberty or even whether they favor Wall Street and K Street over Main Street. Their only point of contention, really, is which side of Wall Street they prefer to walk down, the left or the right.
And America, that’s just not a good enough choice.
Super Tuesday came and went, only it wasn’t quite so super. If anything, the results only served to muddle the outcome further in what was an already muddled Republican primary. If you listen to the MSM, Mitt Romney solidified his role as front-runner after expanding his lead in delegates.
Ah, if only it were so simple. But nothing about this primary season has been simple. The principle reason for quagmire is that the Republicans decided this year to change things up and award delegates proportionally, but left it to the individual states to decide how the apportionment would work. State party bosses, being state party bosses, largely decided that the popular votes wouldn’t matter and state political conventions would ultimately decide how many delegates each candidate would receive. Craziest of all these is Missouri, which held a non-binding primary last month and will hold non-binding caucuses next week. It’s a system only Boss Hogg would appreciate.
The net result of all this inside horse-trading (aside from having only a relative few delegates actually apportioned) is the current morass. If, as in the ancient past (read: 2008) delegates were awarded on a winner take all basis, Romney would have commitments from 513 delegates, Rick Santorum 197 and Newt Gingrich 101. Instead, we have estimated delegate counts. Depending on the source, Romney has between 379 (CBS News’ count) and 430 (Fox News) delegates. My own personal count gives Romney 386 delegates. Regardless of which count you take, there are only two I’ve seen that give the front-runner more than 50% of the delegates contested thus far.
And that brings us to the current problem for the GOP. It is becoming increasingly possible that they will arrive at their convention without a candidate who has amassed 50% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. Not necessarily probable, but possible. After all, there are three winner-take-all states (New York, California and New Jersey) that profile favorably for Romney and they combine for 317 delegates. If combined with his current total, that would mean he would need to win about 40% of the remaining delegates in the other states not yet voted, in order to reach the 1,144 required. It should be a doable task for establishment’s preferred choice.
Only, therein lies the problem for Romney and the establishment. They want the primary season over so they can focus on the general election. New Jersey doesn’t vote until June 5th – and if Romney hasn’t secured the nomination by then, it will mean enough of the party isn’t supporting the eventual nominee to signal significant weakness to the nation. A comparison can be drawn to 1948, the year Harry Truman became the original “comeback kid” (sorry, Bill Clinton). By all normal election standards, Truman should have been walloped that year: unemployment was rising, the economy faltering, the Soviets detonated their first atomic weapon and Winston Churchill’s infamous “Iron Curtain” was now a reality Americans faced with fear and trepidation. But the Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, was about as inspiring as dry toast and succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Not unlike Romney, Dewey was perceived by many fellow Republicans as aloof and calculating – a politician’s politician. Also not unlike Romney, Dewey was disliked by the conservative wing of his party (who preferred Ohio Senator Robert Taft). The intra-party fight lasted into the convention, where it took three ballots to nominate Dewey.
Some 64 years later, the Republican Party seems to be repeating history. Certainly, the political calendar isn’t favorable to Romney. What he needs is a convincing win outside of New England to demonstrate he can bring the party together and he seems to be pouring money into Kansas, in the hope he can get it there. But after Kansas comes Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri, three states that do not favor Romney. Since it’s also highly likely that Santorum and Gingrich will split the lion’s share of delegates from these four states, one or both will probably close the gap with the Romney. The GOP nightmare scenario gets that much closer at that point. If the voting holds as it has thus far, with southern and evangelical voters opting for anyone but Romney, the current front-runner can’t cross the 1,144 threshold before New Jersey’s June 5th primary.
But there are two other pitfalls Romney will need to avoid if he wants to secure the nomination, even at that late date. First, he’ll need to ensure that those party conventions are stoked to vote for him (far from a sure thing at this point). Second, he needs to wrap up as many of the uncommitted delegates as possible. There are currently 93 of them; current projections indicate there may be as many 255 by the convention. That will be a powerful voting bloc, one as capable of tying up the 2012 Republican Convention as those of Earl Warren (yes, the man who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and Harold Stassen in 1948.
So, Romney still seems best positioned to become the Republican nominee. But party fratricide seems even more certain to deliver him as weak and badly wounded nominee. In 1948, the Republicans thought they could take on an unpopular incumbent presiding over a moribund economy and uncertainty on the world stage with an unpopular candidate and win. Will 2012 prove to be a repeat of that disastrous strategy?
Webster’s defines a “dilemma” as
“a situation involving an undesirable or unpleasant choice.”
Given that definition, the GOP may want to reconsider changing its name to the “Grand Dilemma Party.” The reasons can be found in what can only be described as the tepid response the party’s rank-and-file have demonstrated towards the party’s Presidential aspirants.
Much column space has been devoted to the vagaries of the Republican Presidential Primary season. The topsy-turvy nature of polls; the fact no candidate can seem to muster more than 40% of the electorate for longer than a week; the inability of any candidate to sustain momentum. The commentariat is busy trying to fit round pegs into square holes, though. They’ve completely missed the boat on what’s actually happening this year, having spent the majority of their professional lives ensconced in the daily trivialities of DC politics.
The narrative thus far runs something like this: there is a natural back-lash against establishment candidates, as represented most wholly by Mitt Romney. Each time a new “anti-Romney” rises (currently, that’s back to Rick Santorum) the electorate looks more closely at said candidate and decides he’s a bit too establishment for their tastes. The anti-Romney of the moment fades back, allowing Romney to capture a few states. The cycle then renews, but in the end the establishment candidate (Romney) wins because he will have the backing of the party machinery. The general GOP membership is resigned to this outcome, even if they aren’t happy about it, and so they’re largely staying home this cycle.
I think something more fundamental is at work within the party. To understand it, you have to return to 1980 and Ronald Reagan’s shock win over Jimmy Carter. (Yes, despite Carter’s bungling of the job, nobody really gave Reagan a legitimate chance of winning that November). Reagan’s magic was in forging a new Republican coalition. He began with the limited government Goldwater wing, mixed in the once strongly Democratic constituency of social conservatives from the Bible Belt, added in the anti-communist/strong defense types (who had fled the Republicans after Nixon’s pursuit of détente) and completed the soup with the Rockefeller Republicans. Most seem to forget now, but Reagan spoke often about his pursuit of a Republican Party “Big Tent” approach – the idea of bringing disparate groups together to work towards a common goal. In 1980, that goal was reinvigorating the American economy through (then radical) changes to monetary and fiscal policy, reducing the size of government while increasing America’s defense capabilities, reasserting American dominance in foreign affairs and direct confrontation with Communism and bringing back the traditional American themes of faith, family and hard work. The new groups in his coalition were referred to as “Reagan Democrats.” These were the people, generally blue-collar types from the South and Midwest, who President Obama derided during the 2008 election as “clinging to their guns and Bibles.”
The dilemma facing the Republican Party is that coalition is fracturing. The former Reagan Democrats and Goldwater Republicans that formed the backbone of that coalition are looking at their choices and felling less than satisfied. Moreover, they sense the Party has moved past them. There are either Rockefeller types (Romney and Gingrich) or aspirants to Jerry Falwell’s throne (Santorum), while the one candidate who hews closest Goldwater’s federalist view is also the one who is the antithesis of a strong US on the world stage (Paul). This leaves those two groups, who desperately want a return to the type of leadership exhibited by President Reagan, without a horse in the race. The result is each candidate has partially captured one constituency, but their individual flaws prevent them from fully claiming it. Romney has the Rockefeller wing for the most part, but it is a small part of the party base (in terms of numbers, not money). Santorum has the inside edge among Reagan Democrats (note his success in the Midwest); although his extreme views on using government to coerce, or even force, his moral code leaves many cold. Paul has captured perhaps half of the Goldwater wing, but his personal character issues and documented degradation of minorities limits his success there.
Can they recapture the coalition? They managed to pull things together enough to get George W. Bush elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. They lost a fair number of the small –government types, as was represented by the suppressed turn-out numbers in both years: neither party was putting forward a candidate that met that constituency’s desired goal, although both have been paying lip-service to that goal for 15 years now. The fact that constituency voted en masse for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 undoubtedly cost the Republican Party the Presidency in both of those elections. But unlike 1992 or 1996, there isn’t a strong 3rd Party candidate who is advocating both a federalist view of government and strong foreign policy, and unlike 1980, there isn’t a defining vision of the future allocuted by any of the candidates to rally the disparate groups within the tent. That would seem to kick in the Republican electoral formula from 2000 – run a social conservative/Rockefeller hybrid and allow suppressed turn-out to allow him to win. The problem is this year, that ploy may not work. For starters, the Goldwater wing is particularly resurgent this cycle. Consider how the TEA Party, which is largely comprised of Goldwater types, pushed the Party into power in the 112th Congress and that Paul is polling at better than twice his career norms (this is his third try for the Republican nomination).
While the Rockefeller and social conservatives will likely unite behind either Romney or Santorum come the convention, they currently run the risk of alienating as much as 40% of the party’s base with such a decision. If they do, President Obama will win a tough election in November – and the Republican Party as we’ve known it for 32 years will cease to exist. What will be interesting to watch is what takes it place. Will there be three major political parties, the Democrats (absorbing what’s left of the Rockefeller wing), the Social Conservatives and the Fiscal Conservatives? Or will the big-spending social conservative and Rockefeller wing end up absorbed in the current Democratic Party, while the Republicans re-align around federalists principles? And can the current Democratic constituency accept the social conservatives again? After all, the reason Reagan was able to capture them in the first place was that the Democratic Party began purging them during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency. Regardless, the outcome of this year’s Presidential election promises more change than perhaps anyone bargained for.
With apologies to the Walt Disney Corporation, Nevada has always been America’s “Land of Make-Believe.” After all, the state’s economy depends on making ordinarily sane Americans think they can show up with $500 in their pocket and leave with a cool million. But after yesterday’s Republican Presidential Caucus, it seems seems as if the state (and national) party sprinkled fairy dust on the nation’s journalists. Why? Because they’re all pretending as if yesterday’s vote is actually significant.
Ssshhh. Don’t wake the sleeping beauties in Las Vegas, but what they’re full of is usually found in a septic tank. But if you’re not afraid of being turned into a toad, here are three things to keep in mind before following the national media in their hallucination…
Point One: It looks as if only 35,000 or so people bothered to vote in the caucus. That’s roughly 1.5% of the state’s population. You could also, for comparison’s sake, note that this is about the same number of people as live in my hometown of Manahawkin. To pretend that Mitt Romney won a “resounding” or “decisive” or even “big” with minscule turnout like that is being more than a bit disingenuous.
Point Two: Of course Mitt won. Everyone expected him to win the state easily, given the inherent advantages he enjoyed. He won in 2008, one of the few states he did win that year. Then there’s the large number of Mormons that inhabit Nevada (I know, it seems incongruous that Sin City and the LDS co-habitate), giving Mitt a natural organizing advantage. It’s hardly surprising that Mitt won the percentage of the vote he did. It might be more surprising if he doesn’t capture 50% of the final tally. (Point 2A – people in Nevada might be able to count cards, but they have hard time counting votes. As of 2pm today, only 71% of the votes were counted.)
Point Three: Ron Paul seems equally caught up in the fairy tale being spun off the Vegas strip. The only candidate other than Romney to actively compete for Nevada, Paul’s third-place finish and fewer than 5,000 votes wouldn’t seem to be something anyone could put a positive spin on. But there was Paul this morning on ABC’s “This Week” program, doing his best to pretend his campaign is actually viable. The reality is that at best he’ll garner 4 of Nevada’s delegates, which would run his total to 8. If he wants to pretend having a campaign that rivals Rick Santorum’s for futility is viable, that’s fine. But he shouldn’t expect those of who aren’t insane to join him in his fantasies.