“When The Red Meat Gets Really Bloody”: A Reflection Of Actual Republican Priorities And Governing Philosophy
When I wrote about Rick Perry’s very well-received speech at CPAC representing the underlying radicalism that has become commonplace at conservative gatherings, I did so in part because we’ve all gotten too accustomed to the duplicitous game played by Republican pols who talk out of both sides of their mouths about very popular federal domestic programs like Medicare and federally guaranteed student loans. If they aren’t hinting they’d like to repeal them altogether, they’re often promising to defend them to the last ditch, like Paul Ryan so conspicuously did with respect to Medicare in 2012.
But to my surprise, at least one major Republican writer was disturbed by Perry’s rhetoric at CPAC: Commentary‘s Peter Wehner:
It is one thing – and I think very much the right thing – to argue for a more limited role for the federal government and conservative reforms of everything from entitlement programs to education, from our tax code to our immigration system to much else. It’s quite another when we have the kind of loose talk from the governor of the second most populous state in America.
I realize that some people will argue that what Perry is offering up is simply “red meat” for a conservative audience. It’s a (lazy) default language those on the right sometimes resort to in order to express their unhappiness with the size of the federal government. But words matter, Governor Perry is actually putting forth (albeit in a simplified version) a governing philosophy, and most Americans who hear it will be alarmed by it.
As a political matter, running under the banner of “Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!” hardly strikes me as the best way to rally people who are not now voting for the GOP in presidential elections. I’m reminded of the words of the distinguished political scientist James Q. Wilson: “Telling people who want clean air, a safe environment, fewer drug dealers, a decent retirement, and protection against catastrophic medical bills that the government ought not to do these things is wishful or suicidal politics.”
Wehner, of course, is not your typical conservative writer. In February of last year, he and WaPo columnist Michael Gerson penned one of the more serious post-2012 articles on the need for some serious rethinking of the GOP message and policy agenda, earning them a spot in Ryan Cooper’s list of “Reformish Conservatives” in the May/June 2013 issue of the Washington Monthly.
But still, with Republicans getting themselves all revved up for a big 2014 victory so long as they keep their message simple and stupid, it’s refreshing to hear at least one voice suggest there is long-term danger–or really short-term danger, since 2016 isn’t that far away–in Perry’s kind of rap. At some point, Democrats are going to figure out how to effectively make the case that the “red meat” speeches reflect actual Republican priorities far more than the “incremental reform” or even defense-of-the-status quo rhetoric GOPers aim at swing voters.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 13, 2014
Overshadowed amid Sarah Palin’s unique interpretation of Dr. Seuss, Wayne LaPierre’s overheated vision of America’s apocalyptic decline, and all of the other craziness at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Republican pollster Whit Ayres gave a fact-based presentation to the gathering of right-wing activists. What he said should terrify the GOP.
Ayres, whose firm counts the RNC, NRSC, NRCC, and several influential Republican politicians among its clients, appeared on a panel on Saturday to discuss electoral trends and the future of the GOP.
The slides from Ayres’ presentation, which are available on his firm’s website, reiterate something that many Republicans have long warned: America’s changing demographics leave the increasingly white GOP at risk of entering what Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) memorably described as a “demographic death spiral.”
In short, as the Republican pollster explained, the white proportion of the American electorate is declining at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, Republicans are performing much worse among non-white voter groups. If the party doesn’t change something — Ayres suggests immigration reform as a good place to start — it will cease to be viable in national elections.
One particular point in the presentation stood out, however. Turning to the midterm elections, Ayres declared to hearty applause that “we’ve got some good news: We’re going to have a great 2014. We’re going to hold the House, we’re going to pick up the Senate, it’s going to be a great 2014.”
“One of the reasons why,” he explained, “is that the percentage of whites in the electorate is about five points higher in the off-year elections.”
Perhaps Ayres — who, like most pollsters, does not have a spotless record when it comes to predicting elections — should remember what he said in 2012 before asserting that the whiteness of the midterm electorate will bring his party certain success in 2014. Back then, he explained his party’s failure to elect Mitt Romney as president by noting that “it is a mistake to place rosy assumptions on a likely electorate that are at variance — and substantial variance — with recent history.”
Democrats immediately called foul on the crowd’s warm reception to Ayres’ assertion.
“It says a lot that top Republicans believe that lower minority participation in the electoral process is something to celebrate. They know that when the electorate represents more Americans and more voices, they lose,” DNC Director of Voter Expansion Pratt Wiley said in a statement.
In fairness to Ayres, he made it perfectly clear that Republicans need to diversify their party, instead of relying on shrinking the electorate.
“Some people see it as a problem,” he said of America’s demographic shift. “I see it as a real opportunity.”
“Conservative values of free markets, and limited government, and low taxes, and good education, and reward for hard work appeal across all boundaries regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin,” Ayres argued. “Conservatives can be very successful in the new America if we reach out and adopt an inclusive tone, bring people into our coalition, and aggressively campaign in their communities.”
That theory sounds very good on paper — and very familiar. That’s because it’s almost identical to the RNC’s post-election “autopsy report,” which was released almost exactly one year ago. Back then, the RNC suggested that “if we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity.”
Indeed, one has to wonder whom Whit Ayres thought he could convince that America’s ascendant minority populations could be a positive development. Certainly not the white nationalist-led group manning an English-only booth at the conference. Or racial provocateur Ann Coulter, who used her CPAC speech to decry the “browning of America,” and warned that if immigration reform passes, “then we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America.” Or the CPAC attendees who delivered a resounding victory in the conference’s presidential straw poll to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has spoken out against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Ultimately, Ayres may be right, and the combination of a whiter electorate and a friendly electoral map could deliver a big win for the Republican Party in 2014. But it couldn’t be clearer that the GOP’s broader demographic problem hasn’t been solved — and in fact, it’s actually getting worse.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 11, 2014. Graph via Northstaropinion.com
For dozens of readers, our editorial this morning on the Democratic criticism of the Koch brothers left out something crucial: the big financial muscle of unions in backing liberal politcians.
“As the editors of The Times must know, unions in America far outspend the Kochs in their funding for Democratic candidates,” wrote Yitzhak Klein of Jerusalem wrote in the comments section. “What Harry Reid is doing is cheap demagoguery. Also this editorial.”
Mr. Klein, like many other commenters (some of whom are prominent) has his figures wrong. As the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics recently reported, unions poured about $400 million into the 2012 elections. That almost matched the $407 million raised and spent by the Koch network in that same election cycle.
But think about what those numbers mean. Two brothers, aided by a small and shadowy group of similarly wealthy donors, spent more than millions of union members. The fortunes of just a few people have allowed them an outsized voice, and they are openly trying to use it to turn control of the Senate to Republicans.
The Koch group Americans for Prosperity has also joined the right-wing drive to reduce union rights and membership around the country, with the goal — made explicit at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference — of muzzling the voice of union members in politics.
The Times has long deplored the vast amount of cash that is polluting politics, whether it comes from the right or left. (And we were critical of a Democratic donor who plans to spend $100 million this year against candidates who ignore climate change.) But for the most part, unions, unlike the Koch network, don’t try to disguise their contributions in a maze of interlocking “social welfare” groups. Their contributions on behalf of candidates or issues may be unlimited, thanks to Citizens United, but they are generally clearly marked as coming from one union or another. (They want Democrats to know which unions raised the money.)
Union members aren’t coerced into giving political money, either, despite the claims of several commenters. Thanks to a 1988 Supreme Court case, workers have the right not to pay for a union’s political activity, and can demand that their dues be restricted to collective bargaining expenses. The union members who contributed to that $400 million pot in 2012 opted into the system.
That’s still too much money. But there’s a world of difference between a small group of tycoons writing huge checks, and a huge group of workers writing small ones.
By: David Firestone, Taking Note, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, March 11, 2014
While the Republican presidential contenders were kumbaya-ing at CPAC, evidence continued to mount over which of them gets to suffer the embarrassment of winning 180 electoral votes. A USA Today poll found that 59 percent of respondents said they will or might vote for Clinton. It showed enormous improvements in personal qualities (Is she likeable? Is she honest?, etc.) since the first time she ran for president. Respondents even thought that she was six years younger than she actually is!
What the CPAC goings on tell us, combined with a burst of polls showing Clinton wiping out Chris Christie and just mopping the floor with Jeb Bush, is that as they face 2016, the Republicans are in a situation that has almost no precedent in the party’s modern history. In practically every nomination battle going back to Tom Dewey—I’m not even going to tell you the year, but trust me, that’s going back!—the Republicans have had a chalk candidate. The establishment guy, the early front-runner.
Dewey, Dewey, Eisenhower, Eisenhower, Nixon, Rockefeller, Nixon, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Sr., Dole, Bush Jr., Bush Jr., McCain, Romney. These were the establishment nominees. You could make a case for William Scranton instead of Rocky in ’64, and you might argue, I guess, that at the start of the 1968 cycle, it wasn’t Nixon but George Romney, although he imploded in the pretty early innings. And anyway, I’m not sure Romney ever led Nixon in the polls. So these were the GOP establishment choices. You’ll have noted that only one of the whole bunch of them, Nelson Rockefeller, failed to capture the nomination.
Today? No chalk horse. Wide open. Christie was, but clearly isn’t anymore (by the way, Clinton leads him by 10 points—in New Jersey). Those who think Jeb Bush can step in and play this role are going on name and history, but they obviously aren’t looking at the numbers—Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee do just about as well against Clinton as Bush does. Establishment money might chase Bush if he got in, but there’s no evidence that votes would.
So this time it really could be almost anyone. The CPAC straw poll results suggest as much. It doesn’t mean much that Rand Paul won going away with 31 percent. He’s engineered to win CPAC straw polls. They’ll always overstate his support, although he is certainly among the front rank of aspirants right now. But look at the other numbers: Cruz, 11; Christie, 8; Rick Santorum, 7; Scott Walker, 7; Marco Rubio, 6. It’s a good bet that the nominee is going to be one of these people (counting Paul), and they’re packed in there pretty tight. That’s not a bad number for Rubio, whom the chattering classes have spent the last few weeks writing off (except Ross Douthat, who just yesterday suggested that a Rubio nomination was a distinct possibility.) I remember telling people in 2006 that I thought there was no way the GOP would nominate McCain in 2008, although I also said the opposite the following week.
It’s fascinating that this is happening at the precise time that the GOP establishment looks to be asserting control over the party at the congressional level. After two congressional election cycles during which the insurgent radicals started to take over, the establishment conservatives have said enough and started their own organizations to beat back Tea Party challenges to incumbents (the Times ran a good summary on this Sunday). The early sense is that for the most part, the establishment will succeed at this task. No more Christine O’Donnells on ballots. Most of the GOP incumbent senators being challenged from the right are probably going to end up winning their primaries. All those senators needed to see was what happened in Indiana in 2012, when the Tea Party wingnut beat the establishment Republican and then lost in the general, giving the state a Democratic senator even as Mitt Romney was beating Barack Obama there by 10 points, to conclude finally that they’d better clamp down on can’t-win-in-November extremism.
But it turns out they can’t contain it completely. It’s whack-a-mole, GOP style: They move to solve the problem at the congressional level, but lo and behold the mole pops up out of the presidential hole. If Christie is cleared, maybe matters will revert to normal. But even if he is cleared, he can’t turn back time; his image just isn’t what it was and never will be. He is already not quite Dole/McCain/Romney, the troika calumniated as sellouts by Cruz at his CPAC speech last week.
And thus the odds are strong that the GOP, for only the second time since 1944, is going to nominate an anti-establishment insurgent. Because, you know, they only lost in 2008 and 2012 because they failed to offer voters “a real choice.” Or so some of them say. So let them offer voters that choice. As they did in 1964, the voters will know what choice to make, and she’ll be a fine president.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 10, 2014
Whatever else it has done, the Ukraine crisis has served as a major tonic for American conservative foreign policy hawks, who have recently been losing ground not only with the general public but inside the Republican Party, where hatred of Barack Obama has sometimes trumped the desire for an interventionist foreign policy.
Now hoary old voices of blood lust are heard again, even at the young-libertarian-skewing CPAC, per this account from Dave Weigel:
Twenty-five years since Oliver North was convicted for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. Twenty-three years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And yet here he is, the ever-more grizzled “host of ‘War Stories’ with Oliver North,” standing between American flags and issuing warnings about the Russian bear.
“The people of Ukraine are this very minute paying the terrible price for America’s leadership deficit disorder and the Obama organization’s utopian rush to unilateral disarmament,” says North. “That’s where we’re headed. We don’t need a head of state who guts our defenses and draws phony red lines with a pink crayon.” North pauses for the guffaws. “Yeah, I did say that.”
Conservatives had been hating the Russians long before they had been Standing With Rand. All day Thursday, the thousands who packed into CPAC’s main ballroom heard their movement’s icons cry out against isolationism. They’d known foreign adventurism and intervention as Obama policies, blights on both parties, not part of the Republican Party they were rebuilding. They were being tested, and by people who claimed to know much more about how the party should defend America.
“Can you just imagine Ronald Reagan dealing with Vladimir Putin?” asks onetime UN Ambassador John Bolton, one of the only representatives of the George W. Bush administration to show at CPAC. “Reagan called a strong defense budget the ‘vital margin of safety.’ We are losing that vital margin all around the world. … Putin has a growing defense budget and ours is shrinking.”
If you’re Standing With Rand, that’s never worried you. The senator had supported the forced cuts of sequestration, encouraging his colleagues to “jettison some of the crap” in the defense budget and live with lower spending levels. If you’re, say, a 21-year-old CPAC attendee, you were born after the Soviet Union dissolved. You were 8 years old on Sept. 11, and maybe 10 for the start of the war in Iraq. You’ve never been a hawk.
But the average rank-and-file member of the Republican “base” isn’t a 21-year-old college student wearing a “Stand With Rand” t-shirt, is it? More typical is a 65-year-old white man whose first political memory was the Goldwater campaign, in which the desire to “lob one into the men’s room of the Kremlin” was as strong a mobilizing sentiment as hostility to such unconstitutional domestic measures as Medicare or the Civil Rights Act. On the long path from then to now, some of conservative activists’ most thrilling moments, in fact, involved smiting college students opposed to overseas military adventures, from the “effect corps of impudent snobs” denounced by Spiro Agnew during the Vietnam War to the sniveling appeasers willing to let Saddam Hussein run amok. So of course it is second nature for older conservatives to take the rhetorical uniform of the Cold War, dry-cleaned recently for the occasional march for war with Iran, out of the closet for its original purpose. And the return of the war party was notable at CPAC:
[A]t CPAC, you’re seeing the hawks sprint back into the spotlight. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio uses his Thursday speech to rally conservatives in a global fight against “totalitarianism.” Afterward, he tells the New York Times that “there are forces within our party, there have always been in American politics, that basically say, ‘Who cares what happens everywhere else? Just mind our own business.’”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ventures from the main conference to an alternative all-day meeting of hawks—itself, a sign of how much ground has been lost to the libertarians—and explains how he differs with Paul. Sure, the Kentucky senator was right about Syria, but the hawks were right about Iran.
It will be fascinating to watch this, the one real ideological “split” within a right-wing dominated Republican Party, work its way out during the 2016 presidential cycle.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 10, 2014