The 2012 “invisible primary” is looking likely to end just how and where it began: with Republican ideologues anxiously looking to Iowa for signs of an electable “true conservative” alternative to Mitt Romney. Depending on whom you ask, they have found no such candidate, or have found too many of them. In either case, despite their fevered hopes the First-in-the-Nation Caucus is not likely to play its intended role as an all-important arbiter where ideological squishes are disciplined or destroyed and the faithful find their champion. Indeed, from the perspective of a conservative movement hoping to consolidate its control over the GOP once and for all and make 2012 the beginning of the end for the New Deal, Iowa has been a big failure.
The sad spectacle of the FAMiLY Leader organization—whose board, after administering a controversial pledge document and then holding a candidate forum, could not reach agreement on an endorsement—is something of a microcosm of the Right’s failure to separate the sheep from the goats throughout the invisible primary. While FAMiLY Leader chieftains Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley eventually supplied “personal” endorsements for Rick Santorum, Vander Plaats has been subsequently begging Santorum supporters to contribute money to enable him to actually campaign for his candidate—a sign of the gesture’s probable futility. Given the fact that they are appealing to largely the same constituencies and are hardly flush with cash, neither Santorum nor Michele Bachmann seem very likely to win a big “ticket out of Iowa.” And Rick Perry, once the favorite of the Christian Right, is still holding onto an impressive war chest that will likely sustain him, but he’s got precious little else going for him other than the hope that he, rather than Gingrich, will survive through New Hampshire to make a late appeal to southerners. For his part, Newt has not been haunting the highways and byways of Iowa all that obsessively either; the big news for his campaign this week has been its opening of an all-volunteer headquarters in Sioux City, just his second outpost in the entire state.
Meanwhile, neither Mitt Romney nor Ron Paul seems likely to be influenced by the results in Iowa at all. While it’s true that Romney has moved decisively to the right in order to make himself minimally acceptable to today’s conservatives, he’s done so out of deference to the primary process as a whole—not the glare of publicity and pressure on the Iowa campaign trail, which he has largely ignored until very, very recently. Indeed, the main Romney footprint in the state has been via the nasty attack ads on Newt Gingrich launched by the “Restore the Future” super-PAC backing Romney. And while Ron Paul has done well in the target-rich Iowa environment of a low-turnout caucus (lots of home-schoolers and lots of eager college students), it’s not as though he’s doing much of anything he hasn’t been doing for many years. Moreover, it is certain that Paul’s campaign will continue right up until the convention no matter how he does in Iowa.
So the caucuses themselves will probably only cull one candidate from the field, no more than the Iowa Straw Poll back in August that ended Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. As Jonathan Bernstein has recently explained, barring a real upset Iowa’s influence over the nominating contest may well be reduced to spin: Did this or that candidate beat expectations, or set the table for success down the road? That is not a meaningless role to play, but after absorbing so many months of candidate and media attention, it’s hardly ideal from the point of view of Iowa triumphalists who consider their strange contest the epitome of deliberative democracy.
And for the high-riding right wing of the Republican Party—be they denoted as Tea Partiers, the Christian Right, or “constitutional conservatives”—it’s been a long and arguably pointless trip. Unable to use the unique leverage of Iowa to elevate Tim or Michele or Rick or Herman or Newt or the other Rick, they are now looking at genuinely long odds for denying the nomination to the man they do not want, Mitt Romney, who is more and more looking like the Richard Nixon of the early twenty-first century: the lowest common denominator of a political party in which leadership is in painfully short supply.
By: Ed Kilgore, The New Republic, December 23, 2011
We haven’t even said goodbye to 2011, but I want to be first in line with my person of the year prediction for 2012: Ron Paul. I don’t think Paul is going to win the presidency, or even win the Republican nomination. But he’s going to come close enough to change the GOP forever.
Washington Republicans and political pundits keep depicting Paul as some kind of ideological mutation, the conservative equivalent of a black swan. They’re wrong.
Ask any historically-minded conservative who the most conservative president of the 20th Century was, and they’ll likely say Calvin Coolidge. No president tried as hard to make the federal government irrelevant. It’s said that Coolidge was so terrified of actually doing something as president that he tried his best not even to speak. But in 1925, Silent Cal did open his mouth long enough to spell out his foreign policy vision, and what he said could be emblazoned on a Ron Paul for President poster: “The people have had all the war, all the taxation, and all the military service they want.”
Small government conservatism, the kind to which today’s Republicans swear fealty, was born in the 1920s not only in reaction to the progressive movement’s efforts to use government to regulate business, but in reaction to World War I, which conservatives rightly saw as a crucial element of the government expansion they feared. To be a small government conservative in the 1920s and 1930s was, for the most part, to vehemently oppose military spending while insisting that the US never, ever get mired in another European war.
Even after World War II, Mr. Republican—Robert Taft—opposed the creation of NATO and called the Korean War unconstitutional. Dwight Eisenhower worked feverishly to scale back the Truman-era defense spending that he feared would bankrupt America and rob it of its civil liberties. Even conservative luminaries like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater who embraced the global anti-communist struggle made it clear that they were doing so with a heavy heart. Global military commitments, they explained, represented a tragic departure from small government conservatism, a departure justified only by the uniquely satanic nature of the Soviet threat.
The cold war lasted half a century, but isolationism never left the conservative DNA. And when the Soviet Union collapsed, some of America’s most prominent conservative intellectuals—people like Irving Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Pat Buchanan—argued that the GOP should become the party of Coolidge and Taft once again. The Republican Congress of the 1990s bitterly opposed Bill Clinton’s wars in the Balkans, and Buchanan, running on an isolationist platform, briefly led the GOP presidential field in 1996. Even the pre-9/11 Bush administration was so hostile to increased military spending that the Weekly Standard called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.
Given this history, it’s entirely predictable that in the wake of two disillusioning wars, a diminishing al Qaeda threat and mounting debt, someone like Ron Paul would come along. In Washington, Republican elites are enmeshed in a defense-industrial complex with a commercial interest in America’s global military footprint. But listen to Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh and see how often you hear them demanding that America keep fighting in Afghanistan, or even attack Iran. According to a November CBS News poll, as many Republicans said the U.S. should decrease its troop presence in Afghanistan as said America should increase it or keep it the same. In the same survey, only 22 percent of Republicans called Iran’s nuclear program “a threat that requires military action now” compared to more than fifty percent who said it “can be contained with diplomacy.” Almost three-quarters of Republicans said the U.S. should not try to change dictatorships to democracies.
There are certainly Republicans out there who support the Bush-Cheney neo-imperialist foreign policy vision. But they’re split among the top tier presidential candidates. Paul has the isolationists all to himself. Moreover, his two top opponents—Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich—not only back a big-government foreign policy agenda, but have periodically backed a big-government domestic agenda as well. In other words, they personify the argument at the heart of Paul’s campaign: that if you love a powerful Pentagon, you’ll end up loving other parts of the government bureaucracy as well.
Since the Iowa caucuses generally reward organization and passion, I suspect Paul will win them easily. That would likely propel him to a strong showing in libertarian New Hampshire. Somehow, I think Romney and the Republican establishment will find a way to defeat him in the vicious and expensive struggle that follows. But the dominant storyline at the Republican convention will be figuring out how to appease Paul sufficiently to ensure that he doesn’t launch a third party bid. And in so doing, the GOP will legitimize its isolationist wing in a way it hasn’t since 9/11.
In truth, the modern Republican Party has always been a house divided, pulled between its desire to crusade against evil abroad and its fear that that crusade will empower the evil of big government at home. In 2012, I suspect, Ron Paul will expose that division in a way it has not been exposed in a long time. And Republicans will not soon paper it over again.
By: Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2011
Virginia will hold its Republican presidential primary on Super Tuesday (March 6), it would appear to be one of the more important contests. But the state’s unwise ballot-access laws have ensured that Virginia will be largely ignored.
By late Thursday, it looked as if Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry had collected the necessary signatures and would join Mitt Romney and Ron Paul on the Virginia GOP ballot. On Saturday morning, we learned otherwise.
Newt Gingrich will not appear on the Virginia presidential primary ballot, state Republican Party officials announced Saturday, after he failed to submit the required number of valid signatures to qualify.
The announcement was made on the Virginia Republican Party’s Twitter account. On Friday evening, the Republican Party of Virginia made a similar announcement for Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum also came up short, which leaves Paul and Romney as the only GOP candidates whose names will appear on the primary ballot.
For Gingrich, this is a rather awkward setback. He expected to do very well in Virginia — Gingrich has, after all, lived in the state for many years — and assured supporters on Thursday that his name would be on the ballot. Complicating matters, the Gingrich campaign responded to the news by saying it would “pursue an aggressive write-in campaign,” not realizing that this is forbidden under Virginia election law.
Making matters slightly worse, Gingrich’s campaign director posted an item to Facebook that said, “Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941: We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action.”
Yes, after having been denied a ballot slot, Gingrich’s thoughts turned to Pearl Harbor. There’s a good reason I describe the disgraced former House Speaker as a lousy historian.
But this story is about more than just Gingrich’s failure. The larger point is that Virginia has ridiculous ballot-access laws, which will exclude five of the seven Republican presidential candidates from even appearing on the state’s ballot. If all seven had qualified, Virginia would have been home to a spirited contest — with candidates making many appearances, buying plenty of ads, and making lots of state-focused promises.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 26, 2011
From the WSJ’s use of the Internet comes a 2006 letter on the website of a former Newt Gingrich consulting company praising a then-new development in healthcare, the Massachusetts health care law – or, as it’s known today, Romneycare:
“The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system,” said an April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich’s former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation.
The two-page “Newt Notes” analysis, found online by The Wall Street Journal even though it no longer appears on the center’s website, continued: “We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans.”
Mr. Gingrich’s rise to the top of the field has come in part from his bashing Mr. Romney for engineering a state health-care expansion that became a model for President Barack Obama’s 2010 health law. “Your plan essentially is one more big-government, bureaucratic, high-cost system,” Mr. Gingrich told Mr. Romney during an October debate in Las Vegas. He said Mr. Romney was trying to solve Massachusetts’ health-care problems “from the top down.”
R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, said the April 2006 essay shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of Mr. Romney’s health plan. He noted that it raised several questions about the Massachusetts effort, including whether the plan would work in the state. “Being critical…isn’t endorsing it,” he said.
Mr. Hammond said the Newt Notes essay wasn’t written by Mr. Gingrich himself.
It is true that the “Newt notes” wasn’t totally sanguine about the Romney health care plan, and Gingrich – or whoever the author was – warned its success depended on how it played out. However, there were other interesting bits in the “Newt notes,” such as this, per the original letter, flagged by Andrew Kaczynski:
The Romney plan attempts to bring everyone into the system. The individual mandate requires those who earn enough to afford insurance to purchase coverage, and subsidies will be made available to those individuals who cannot afford insurance on their own. We agree strongly with this principle, but the details are crucial when it comes to the structure of this plan…While the Commonwealth’s plan will naturally endure tremendous scrutiny from those who assert that the law will not work as intended, Massachusetts leaders are to be commended for this bipartisan proposal to tackle the enormous challenge of finding real solutions for creating a sustainable health system.
By: Maggie Haberman, Politico, December 26, 2011
The House GOP’s initial decision to reject the extension of the payroll tax cut was a bone-headed move. Indeed, it was impressively masochistic in the way it brazenly violated not only public opinion, but also the will of Republicans in the Senate, the vast majority of whom voted for the bill. But while Congressional Republicans were violating all manner of political common sense, that’s not to say that they weren’t following any sort of political logic at all. It just happens to be a logic of a particularly twisted sort.
One of the dominant factors motivating the decisions of rank-and-file right-wing House Republicans—and not just freshmen—is their lack of trust in Speaker John Boehner. They like him, but they just don’t believe he’s a dependable defender of their interests and beliefs. Those suspicions aren’t entirely groundless. Yes, Boehner has gone out of his way to cultivate the most conservative members of his caucus—every time he has hit an impasse, his first move is to the right, to accommodate them, not to the middle to replace some of them with willing Democrats. But the Speaker has also shown a penchant for compromise that right-wing House members can’t abide.
The first negotiation he conducted with President Obama was over the fiscal 2011 Continuing Resolution, which he billed as a sweeping reduction in spending with nearly $40 billion cut from the year’s collective appropriations. But it turned out in the cold light of day to be something else entirely, with only a fraction of a fraction of the cuts occurring in the remainder of that fiscal year. Next came the Speaker’s negotiations with Obama over a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction as the debt limit approached. No matter that Boehner extracted a range of concessions from the president, including cuts in discretionary spending and on Medicare—the package included a tax increase which conservative Congressmen deemed unacceptable. So when the Speaker appeared to again sign onto a deal laden with compromise—this time over the payroll tax cut that extended it for only two months, while including the main concession conservatives had demanded, action on the Keystone pipeline—those conservatives noisily rebelled.
Boehner’s trust gap is exacerbated by the fact that the rest of the GOP House leadership has been undermining his credibility as a negotiator. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor noisily dropped out of the debt limit negotiations the minute the tax issue was raised, saying it was above his pay grade and had to be carried out by the Speaker and the President—only to immediately disavow the agreement that Boehner and Obama reached. On the payroll tax negotiation, Boehner had no choice but to cave to aggrieved Tea Party members, lest he risk again having Cantor abandon him, leaving him exposed to right-wing attacks.
Ultimately, the root of the problem may lie in the stark lessons that the Republicans elected to Congress in 2010 seem to have drawn from an earlier cohort of conservative Congressmen—those that Newt Gingrich lead into the majority in 1994. Today’s Tea Partiers recognize that they share a similar governing philosophy with their forebears, but they believe almost uniformly that the Gingrichites sold out too quickly, blinking unnecessarily when the political heat got turned up. The conclusion many have drawn is that Gingrich made a huge mistake when he gave in after the disastrous government shutdown at the end of 1995—if Republicans had held out, lashed themselves to the collective mast and weathered the storm of public disapproval, Clinton would have caved and they would have succeeded at rolling back the welfare state.
There is, of course, zero evidence for this thesis, but that doesn’t matter. Some of this group will come back to DC in January believing that Boehner and sellouts like Mitch McConnell and John McCain have just repeated the error of 1995. That will make John Boehner’s task even more difficult as he moves to negotiate a new deal on the year-long extension of the payroll tax cut, and will compound his difficulties as he considers other key decisions, including the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts. For Boehner, the nightmare will not only continue, but deepen.
By: Norman Ornstein, Roll Call December 24, 2011