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“The GOP’s Worst Nightmare And A Pundit’s Dream”: A Brokered Convention In 2016

There are so many Republicans running for president, or thinking about running for president, that the Republican National Committee is having a hard time keeping track of them all. An official GOP online straw poll lists 36 potential candidates (and as Politico noted, that list actually missed at least two former governors who have said they’re mulling White House bids).

Regardless of the final tally, it’s becoming increasingly clear that debate planners will need to come up with creative ways to fit so many podiums on the stage when the candidates first face off in August.

But what makes this election so interesting isn’t just the sheer number of candidates. It’s that it could remain undecided until the GOP’s national convention in the summer of 2016. With so many candidates splitting the vote, it’s quite possible that no candidate gets a majority of delegates by the end of the primary season.

Now, it’s true that political junkies like me hope for a brokered convention every four years — one where backroom deals ultimately decide the eventual nominee. (Read more about brokered conventions here.) Each time, our dreams are ultimately foiled by one candidate who gains momentum through the primary season, causing the others to drop out.

But this year may be different for three unique reasons:

1. Look at the early polls. No Republican candidate can break even 20 percent support on a consistent basis in national surveys. In fact, the latest Real Clear Politics average finds just three possible candidates who register more than 10 percent. There’s really no frontrunner at all.

2. A winning coalition isn’t easy to put together. There are already several candidates who appeal mainly to evangelical Christians, a bunch who are attractive to national security hawks, and a handful who attract the Wall Street establishment crowd. There’s even a libertarian or two in the mix. With so many candidates on the menu, primary voters won’t necessarily have to pick the lesser of the evils. They’ll find a candidate who speaks to the issues they most care about.

3. Follow the money. Super PACs, which have become a pre-requisite for running for president this year, can raise unlimited sums from large donors. While they cannot legally coordinate their actions with the official campaigns, their war chests can ensure a candidate can stay in the race much longer than ever before. There’s little need to drop out if you have a billionaire or two committed to influencing the race with your candidacy.

Put this together and it’s very possible that no candidate will win two of the first four early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. If that happens, it’s impossible to predict what comes next.

RNC rules require states that hold nominating contests before March 15 to award delegates proportionally, meaning that the winner-take-all states that might decide the nomination come later in the process. Favorite-son candidates in delegate-rich states like Florida (Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) or Texas (Rick Perry and Ted Cruz) could further splinter the delegate counts.

The odds probably still favor the Republican nomination fight coming down to just a couple candidates. But at this point, it’s impossible to predict when so many candidates have a plausible path to the nomination.

In fact, a chaotic primary season – with more than a dozen candidates with plenty of money to spend — makes the most improbable outcome much more possible.

 

By: Taegan Goddard, The Week, May 18, 2015

May 20, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scott Walker And The Christian Right”: Seeing What They Can Extort From Walker In Exchange For Their Blessing

Yesterday Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt created a stir by reporting that Scott Walker was rushing to deal with misgivings among Christian Right leaders about his fidelity to the Cause. The less-than-subtle headline–“Scott Walker’s crisis of faith”–suggested that he was speeding to a summit meeting with said leaders, who held his fate in their hands.

But if you read the piece carefully, it’s not clear exactly who’s among the “50 influential leaders” Walker is meeting with at the Capitol Hill Club–the top Republican Beltway hangout, and an unlikely place for any faith-based summit–other than social-issues warhorse Tony Perkins. Isenstadt actually used the meeting to solicit skeptical comments from an array of old-school Christian Right types, including Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats (whose whole shtick is using his leverage in the first-in-the-nation Caucus state to intimidate Republican presidential candidates), Penny Nance of Concerned Women of America, a group that’s been closely associated with Mike Huckabee, and Liberty Counsel’s Matt Staver, co-author of a recent shrill anti-marriage equality manifesto.

On Twitter Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches quickly dismissed Walker’s DC “huddle” as a nothing-burger. Posner, as some of you may recall, wrote a piece recently suggesting that Walker may wind up being the favorite of rank-and-file conservative evangelicals, who aren’t necessarily following their old leaders these days.

As it happens, a rare early national poll with exceptionally detailed cross-tabs was released this week that casts some light on the question of conservative evangelical sympathies. The GWU/Battleground Poll showed Scott Walker with a 45/4 favorable/unfavorable rating among conservative white evangelicals, as compared to 54/34 for Jeb Bush, 69/15 for Mike Huckabee, 51/10 for Ted Cruz, 56/11 for Marco Rubio, and 50/26 for Ron Paul. So a lot of them don’t know Walker, but so far, those who do really like him. On the more revealing question of “would you consider voting for this candidate,” Walker paces the field with a yes/no ratio of 70/19, compared with 67/27 for Rubio, 67/28 for Huck, 65/24 for Cruz, 56/37 for Paul, and Jebbie bringing up the rear at 54/42.

So one way to look at it is that Scott Walker’s doing okay with the Christian Right rank-and-file no matter what their alleged leaders are saying. And the other way to look at it is that said leaders figure they’d better get in front of this particular train and see what they can extort from Walker in exchange for their blessing, or at least their non-hostility.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 15, 2015

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Devil’s Bargain”: Jeb Bush Embraces The Narrative Of Christian Victimhood

While the rest of the Republican presidential candidates were at the South Carolina Freedom Summit this weekend, Jeb Bush traveled to Virginia to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. While a speech like that will of course be full of praise for God, Bush’s speech went farther than one might have expected, both in its blunt sectarianism and its embrace of a narrative of victimhood that has grown increasingly popular on the religious right.

This may be what the base of the Republican Party wants to hear. But it also shows how appealing to that base could create problems for whichever Republican becomes the presidential nominee next year.

While lots of people remember Jeb Bush’s brother as an evangelical Christian, he actually isn’t — George W. Bush is a Methodist, a non-evangelical denomination (Jeb himself is a convert to Catholicism). And throughout his presidency, despite some occasional (and probably unintentional) slips like referring to the war on terror as a “crusade,” Bush was carefully inclusive when he talked about religion. It would have been surprising to hear him extol the superiority of Christianity as his brother Jeb did on Saturday. “Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action,” Bush said. And then there was this:

“No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

That’s a far cry from what Mitt Romney said eight years ago when he gave his big speech on religion — at least in that case, Romney argued for the essential place of religion broadly, and not just his own. I should note that near the end of the speech, Bush did acknowledge that non-Christians can be good people, too. But if you aren’t a Christian, the idea that without Christianity life on earth would inevitably be a nightmare of oppression and meaninglessness is something you might find absurd, or even offensive.

And you might think Bush would step a little more carefully given the trends in religious affiliation in America. While Christians are of course the majority, that majority that is declining steadily. The groups that are increasing their proportion of the U.S. population include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and most importantly, the “unaffiliated,” people who don’t consider themselves part of any organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the unaffiliated were 16 percent of the population in 2010 and will be 26 percent by 2050; over the same period Christians will decline from 78 percent to 66 percent.

That’s a long-term trend; for the moment, Bush seems to think that the way to the hearts of the conservative Christians who make up such a large part of the Republican primary electorate (particularly in Iowa, where over half of GOP caucus-goers are evangelicals) is to embrace a narrative of victimhood that has become so prevalent on the right:

“Fashionable opinion – which these days can be a religion all by itself – has got a problem with Christians and their right of conscience. That makes it our problem, and the proper response is a forthright defense of the first freedom in our Constitution.

“It can be a touchy subject, and I am asked sometimes whether I would ever allow my decisions in government to be influenced by my Christian faith. Whenever I hear this, I know what they want me to say. The simple and safe reply is, ‘No. Never. Of course not.’ If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round. The endpoint is a certain kind of politician we’ve all heard before – the guy whose moral convictions are so private, so deeply personal, that he refuses even to impose them on himself.

“The mistake is to confuse points of theology with moral principles that are knowable to reason as well as by faith. And this confusion is all part of a false narrative that casts religious Americans as intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone. The stories vary, year after year, but the storyline is getting familiar: The progressive political agenda is ready for its next great leap forward, and religious people or churches are getting in the way. Our friends on the Left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas. And those dogmas can be hard to keep up with. So we find officials in a major city demanding that pastors turn over copies of their sermons. Or federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators, and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution. Or an agency dictating to a Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what has to go in their health plan – and never mind objections of conscience.”

Extra points to Bush for referring to progressives planning a “great leap forward” — so subtle. But this idea of Christianity as an embattled and encircled faith within the United States when it’s still held by three-quarters of the population has become essential to the right’s current identity politics. As Bill O’Reilly says: “If you’re a Christian or a white man in the U.S.A., it’s open season on you.” Indeed, when will white men finally get a fair shake?

The victimhood narrative has found its most recent expression in the plight of the nation’s legions of fundamentalist bakers who don’t want to sell cakes to gay weddings, and through the Hobby Lobby case, where a poor innocent corporation was supposedly forced by the heavy hand of government to defile its health insurance plan with contraception coverage.

But it’s been building for years, not only as gay rights have advanced but also as a result of the steady diversification of American society. If you grew up with your religious beliefs being the default setting for society at large — when it’s your prayers being said in public schools, when only people who share your religion are elected president, when your holidays are everyone’s holidays — then a growing inclusiveness can feel like an attack on you. It seems like you’ve lost something, even if you can’t admit that it was something only you and people like you were privileged to possess.

I don’t doubt that there are Christians who are sincerely affronted when they walk into a department store in December and see a sign reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” even if I might find their taking offense unjustified. It’s the people who find in “Happy Holidays” the evidence of their oppression that Bush is reaching out to, saying that he’s every bit with them as are the likes of Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum.

And just as on immigration and many other issues, saying to the Republican primary electorate that the candidate is one of you and thinks like you do sends precisely the opposite message to lots of the voters whom he’ll need when the general election comes. It’s a devil’s bargain, but one that Jeb Bush and many of his competitors, with their eyes on the nomination, seem only too eager to make.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 11, 2015

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Jeb Bush, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mike Huckabee Is Prepared To Blow Up Republicans’ Big Ruse”: Pulling Back The Curtain On The Party’s Double Dealing

By the time the sixth or seventh candidate enters a Republican presidential primary, it’s usually tough to identify a unique quality that distinguishes him from those who came before. Most of the predictable niches—the Establishment candidate, the Religious Right candidate, the Conservative Absolutist candidate, the non-white/non-male outreach/token candidates, the outsider candidate, etc.—have already been filled.

With that pattern in mind, you might imagine Mike Huckabee missed his moment. At the time of his announcement last week, the GOP race already included a Religious Right tribune (Ted Cruz), an Evangelical Christian (Scott Walker), a fair-weather libertarian (Rand Paul), an outreacher (Marco Rubio), an outsider (Ben Carson), and a woman (Carly Fiorina). And in a purely electoral sense, Huckabee did miss his moment.

Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, had a better opportunity to consolidate the religious conservative vote against the donor candidate in 2008 than he does now, and even then he came up short. Eight years ago, as Nate Cohn wrote recently at the New York Times, “religious conservatives had serious reservations about the two main candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney.” This year things are different.

But this isn’t just a simple story about a hopeless underdog deluding himself about his odds, or a retread of so many GOP primaries where too many conservatives vie for the right wing vote and clear a path for the money guy.

Huckabee appears to be aware of his liabilities, and is thus angling not only for the evangelical vote, but for the old person vote in general. He’s adopted the view, unfathomable in modern Republican politics, that support programs for the elderly shouldn’t be tampered with, and not just for today’s seniors, but for at least a generation. By doing so he’s violated the GOP’s implicit pact that discourages members from accentuating the tensions between the party’s fiscal priorities and its aging political base. If he makes good on this cynical strategy, he will probably still lose, but his candidacy will have served a valuable and revealing purpose.

Let’s be clear up front that Huckabee’s positioning here is 100 percent cynical. As John McCormack of the neoconservative Weekly Standard reminded us last month, Huckabee was a proponent of the Republican consensus as recently as August 2012, when he wrote on his Facebook page that “Paul Ryan is being demonized for his suggested Medicare reforms. But the alternatives may be scarier.”

Today, Huckabee says he wouldn’t sign legislation codifying Ryan’s Medicare reforms if he were president, and lambasted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s proposal to further raise the Social Security retirement age over time. In Iowa this week, Huckabee told a crowd of supporters, “It is a foolish thing for the government to involuntarily confiscate money from your pockets and paychecks for 50 years, and then suddenly tell you, oh, we were just kidding.”

What he didn’t mention is that his proposed “Fair Tax”—a hefty tax on consumption—would disproportionately increase costs for fixed-income seniors, who spend most of their money, and thus operate in effect much like a Social Security benefit cut.

But for political purposes, it doesn’t really matter that Huckabee isn’t acting out of compassion for the elderly or the poor. What matters is that he’s motivated enough to pull back the curtain on the party’s double dealing.

For the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans have taken an awkward, cynical, schizophrenic view of entitlements. They have voted with near unanimity for a budget that would radically overhaul Medicare, but have promised (unworkably) to isolate the old and nearly old from any disruptions. They have largely sidelined their preferred Social Security reforms, but salivated over the prospect of voting for a cut to Social Security benefits when they thought Obama might sign it. They have railed against the Affordable Care Act for reducing spending on Medicare while voting for budgets that preserve those very cuts.

The only way to make sense of this mishmash is to remember that the GOP owes its political livelihood to the elderly. To pursue conservative goals, without obliterating their coalition, Republicans must twist themselves into pretzels. They must detest spending, but only on those other people. Their rhetorical commitments are impossible to square with their ideological and substantive ones, though, and the agenda they’ve promised to pursue when they control the government again would not exempt retirees and near retirees in any meaningful way. At the end of the day they can only keep their promises to one interest group, and it’s not going to be the elderly.

In effect, Huckabee is promising to lay this all out for Republican primary (i.e. older) voters, and place his rivals in the exquisitely awkward position of having to explain themselves. Normally the way things work in Republican primaries is that candidates seek advantage by drawing attention to their opponents’ insufficient commitment to conservatism. Huckabee’s big bet is that—in this one substantive realm, where conservatism and voter self-interest point in opposite directions—he can do the same by running to the left. Watching him test this theory, even in defeat, will be fascinating.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 11, 2015

May 12, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee, Republican Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mike Huckabee Is A Raging Hypocrite”: Inside The Religious Right’s Incoherent Faux-Morality

In recent decades, American politics have been dominated by a series of escalating ideological conflicts that have come to be known as “the culture wars.” And, with Christian moralizers like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal entering the 2016 fray, this is unlikely to change any time soon. So, as we brace ourselves for another GOP primary defined by “traditional values,” one question it’s worth asking is: Do these conservatives (and their supporters) have any right to claim the high ground?

Republicans such as Huckabee and Jindal love to use their religion as a prop: They judge and preach and condemn under the cover of Christianity. And they assume this grants them a kind of moral superiority. Well, it doesn’t. Huckabee and Jindal are political hucksters. They fancy themselves Christians, but their preachments are foul and their values are un-Christlike. They are exactly what many other current GOP candidates are as well: political entrepreneurs. If they climb atop the Christian cross, it’s because they want to be seen by more people. They’re chasing votes, not salvation.

As the presidential race kicks into gear, Democrats would do well to remember this. For too long the GOP has controlled the moral narrative in this country. Conservatives have wisely appropriated the language of values, but they’re rarely challenged on this front. When Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Rick Santorum bloviate about family values, someone should ask: What, precisely, are your values? And what are their effects in the real world?

Most conservatives (in today’s GOP, at least) exalt life in the abstract, but they don’t defend it in practice. Whether it’s abortion or capital punishment or contraception or civil rights, they consistently advocate policies that degrade life and run counter to their own values. Despite their avowed humanitarianism, they’ve little regard for human suffering. And that’s because they’re not interested in serving life or other people; they’re dogmatists masquerading as moralizers.

Conservatives, for instance, admonish liberals for not protecting the sanctity of life.

But these same conservatives are often indifferent to the struggles of real people living real lives here and now. They’re not particularly concerned with poverty or inequality or torture or war crimes or a hundred other ethical issues. And they’re never compelled to explain the widening gap between their rhetoric and the political reality they’ve helped create.

Take the GOP’s position on abortion. We know, for example, that banning abortions doesn’t decrease the number of abortions. Sex education, contraception, and access to proper health care — these are the policies that reduce abortions. And yet pro-life conservatives oppose them at every turn. And they insist on fighting wars they’ve already lost. The Supreme Court, after all, has spoken: abortion is legal in this country. (Although they’re doing everything in their power to turn the clocks back.) But rather than pursue policies that might actually reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, something that virtually everyone could get behind, conservatives instead push for policies that actually lead to more, not fewer, abortions. That’s incoherent, and positively stupid, running counter to the ostensible goals of social conservatives.

The GOP, in its current manifestation, is incapable of dealing with its disjointedness. The religious wing of the party thinks only in terms of doctrine. Whether it’s abortion or climate change or marriage equality, reality always gives way to dogma. Because so much of conservative discourse is tinged with fundamentalist rhetoric, compromise or change is virtually impossible. This is terrible for the Republican Party, and even worse for the country.

The corporate wing of the GOP is partly to blame for this predicament. People like the Koch brothers have artfully hijacked social conservatism in order to peddle a particular brand of libertarianism. As a result, we see Christian politicians (like Paul Ryan) professing their love of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy could not possibly be more antithetical to Christianity. Many of the “value voters” (most of whom are Christian and Republican) similarly conflate economic libertarianism with Christianity, as though one follows from the other. This is an absurd contradiction, and it shouldn’t go unchallenged.

These inconsistencies will be on full view at the upcoming Value Voters Summit, where the religious right gathers each year to promote social conservatism. According to the organizers of this event, the “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

This event, which is sponsored by the Family Research Council (a recognized hate group) and funded by various PACs and front organizations, offers a snapshot of contemporary conservatism. And who are the moral luminaries invited to speak at this summit? In addition to all of the Republican presidential candidates, people like Phil Robertson, Tony Perkins, and the thrice-married Rush Limbaugh will all take the podium. These men are hardly paragons of moral wisdom, and while they may be Christian, their values are anything but. Robertson, for instance, has been a fountain of ignorance over the last year or so, spewing hateful bile in several interviews and speeches.

Amazingly, these are the people who speak for “value voters.” These are the representatives of the religious right. Not a single one of them has the right to lecture anyone (especially liberals) about morality or faith. Christians are called to uphold the living love of Christ, not the blind bigotry of people like Perkins and Robertson. Republicans too easily forget that, and liberals ought to say so. Besides, there’s a much better case to be made that alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, and promoting social justice are Christian causes rooted in fundamentally Christian values.

It’s time for liberal Democrats to make that case.

 

By: Sean Illing, Salon, May 8, 2015

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Culture Wars, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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