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
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) covered a fair amount of ground in his speech this morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but there was one story in particular that stood out.
“This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch – one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
“That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand.”
I’ve read this a few times, hoping Ryan had some other subtle subtext, but I’m afraid the congressman really is as confused as his anecdote suggests.
The child may have wanted a lunch in a brown-paper bag, but – and I hope Ryan pauses to really think about this – his family is poor. The boy “didn’t want a free lunch,” but – and this is key – he didn’t want to be hungry, either.
It’s true that Republican policymakers could take away that free lunch the child received at the school, but that doesn’t mean the boy’s family will suddenly have more money to pack a healthy lunch in a brown-paper bag.
What’s more, it’s also true this kid may come from a struggling family, but it doesn’t mean he lacks “someone who cares for him”; it means he and his family lack the resources needed to send him to school with a good meal. Robert Schlesinger added, “A kid with a brown paper bag does have someone who loves them; but the kid without the brown paper bag, the one whose parent either won’t or can’t – because they’re working hard to get ahead and give themselves and their families better lives – deserves a society that loves and cares for them too.”
That’s what Paul Ryan just doesn’t understand.
In the same speech, the Wisconsin Republican added:
“The reason [Democrats[ keep talking about income inequality is because they can’t talk about economic growth. They have spent five, long years in power, and all they have to show for it is this lousy website.”
That’d be a good point, just so long as one overlooks the Recovery Act that ended the Great Recession, the millions of new jobs, health care reform that brought coverage to millions, the rescue of the auto industry, Wall Street reform, the end of the war in Iraq, counter-terrorism successes, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and student-loan reform, among other things.
Oh, and the health care website was fixed a few months ago.
Other that, though, Ryan’s on strong ground.
Update: In the school-lunch anecdote, I falsely assumed Ryan had the basic details of the story right. He didn’t: “Via Wonkette, the school lunch story appears to have been recycled from a story and altered beyond recognition in the process. The original story had nothing to do with a child turning down a free lunch. It’s about a kid, Maurice, who met a private benefactor, Laura, asking to literally have his lunch placed in a brown paper bag.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 6, 2014
“Conservatism Is Too Big For Its Own Good”: The Right No Longer Understands The Difference Between The Movement And The Party
There’s a moment every year at the Conservative Political Action Conference when some eminence from the 1970s talks about the good old days at CPAC, hearkening back to the time when Ronald Reagan would show up and speak to a a small room of only about 500 activists. Things have changed. Now there are about 500 journalists who get registered to report on CPAC, which has bloated to some 10,000 participants in the fat years.
Maybe conservatism is just too big for its own good.
The conservative movement has grown large because it aspired to be something greater than a part of the Republican coalition. It wanted to become the entirety of the GOP. Instead of splitting into different interest groups, the conservative movement devises ad-hoc philosophies to integrate single-issue advocates into a larger coalition. You’re not just for low taxes or against abortion, you’re a conservative!
In this sense, the conservative movement has become a kind of parallel institution that drains resources, attention, talent, and energy from the GOP’s own electoral and governing efforts. Conservative Inc. is an enterprise with enough resources and power to be an attractive alternative to America’s official institutions of electoral power.
If you are a Republican politician and don’t have the wherewithal to become president of the United States, perhaps you have enough talent to become president of Conservatism. It’s an unofficial position, but has plenty of benefits. You won’t have the psychic pleasures of representing the electoral will of the American public, but you also won’t be burdened by any real responsibilities either.
Naturally, the idea of being a player without responsibility provides more attractions for charlatans, rabble-rousers, and opportunists.
Shades of this phenomena began in the 1990s presidential primaries. Whereas Pat Buchanan picked a principled fight with his party over issues like trade and foreign policy, candidates like Alan Keyes ran less for president than for publicity: mailing lists filled out, speaking fees increased, and radio shows picked up on more networks.
By the 2012 Republican primaries, it was obvious that there were in fact two competitions happening on the same debate stages. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and even Newt Gingrich were not running for president in the same way that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were.
This seems not to happen in the Democratic primaries. Sure, 2004 saw Howard Dean emerge as the leader of “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” But there is no parallel universe called Liberalism where he and Mike Gravel could become well-paid industries unto themselves as think leaders, book hawkers, and distinguished dinner guests. Dean became chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a political job with actual responsibilities and geared toward winning elections, not just flame wars.
The composition of the Democratic coalition seems stronger precisely because it is more splintered and more issue driven. No one is afraid that Planned Parenthood or the teachers’ unions are going to impose a broad-ranging ideological revolution on the nation. The public assumes that they will simply lobby for their particular, limited interests and that the party to which they belong will have a moderating effect on them.
But the conservative movement really is large enough to exert a destabilizing gravitational force on the entire political culture. Its opponents fear that its size and strength make the GOP immoderate. And they may be right.
In any GOP presidential primary, the candidates who are running to be unofficial head of the conservative movement can do a great deal of damage to the GOP’s eventual nominee. They can pressure the eventual candidate to over-commit to the right in the primary race, essentially handing them more baggage to carry in the general election. Or they can cripple the eventual primary winner by highlighting the nominee’s deviations from the movement, dispiriting the GOP’s base of voters.
When the attendees of CPAC gather in Washington early next month and conduct their presidential straw poll with the self importance of a warning shot, it might profit them to consider whether they intend to elect a new president of their ideological ghetto or one for their nation.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, February 26, 2014