The Upshot’’s Nate Cohn is making the contrarian case for Mike Huckabee. I give him credit for seeing things that others might not, but—despite the optimistic headline: “Mike Huckabee Would Be a More Important Candidate Than You Might Think,” he actually underestimates Huck’s potential as a disruptive factor in this campaign.
It’s unclear what’s in the water in Hope, Arkansas, but that Bill Clinton and Huck are both from the same hamlet is nothing short of miraculous. Put aside the snake oil salesman stuff, and the numerous ridiculous things Huckabee has said to get attention, and you’re left with a man who is essentially the love child of Clinton and Ronald Reagan. I recently argued that only the great politicians like The Gipper and Bubba can oscillate between indignation and compassion. Well, guess what: Huckabee can do both, too. This is a guy who’s so compelling he actually got Jon Stewart to question his own abortion stance.
“I’m a conservative; I’m just not mad about it,” he often quips. Except he can be mad about it—or feign anger, at least. So he can play the reasonable conservative or he can hurl red meat. As they say in football, he can play both sides of the ball. In 2008, Huckabee came out of nowhere to wow us in the debates. The competition will be stiffer this time around, but he can do it again.
The fact that Huckabee is a good communicator—and that he can appeal to evangelical Christians, a hugely important constituency in Iowa—is not exactly the most novel observation. But I think there are two additional things Huckabee has going for him that are not as widely appreciated.
The first is that he spent the last several years as a Fox News host. Now, let’s be honest: It’s unlikely that many people reading this have ever watched Huckabee’s Saturday night show—except to see if he was going to announce for president (or for purely ironic purposes). And I’m not even suggesting you were watching Girls instead. A lot of us who watch Fox shows like Special Report wouldn’t think to turn on Huckabee.
But millions of Americans did watch his show—and guess what? Many of these same Americans will vote in Republican primaries. I think we probably underestimate the impact of hosting a weekly show on Fox News.
Lastly, though, I think there is a huge underserved constituency in the GOP—and that constituency is what might best be termed populist conservatives. These folks tend to be white and working-class and who feel they’ve been left behind in America. They are culturally conservative—but they also want to keep government out of their Medicare.
Mitt Romney was arguably the worst candidate Republicans could have ever nominated to appeal to this constituency. But while candidates like Huckabee and Rick Santorum flirted with going full populist, something always seemed to keep them from really doubling down on it.
One can only assume this is because there is a ceiling on how much populist demagoguery one is permitted to dole out—and still remain a Republican in good standing. There’s a fine line between attacking the “fat cats” and engaging in class warfare, and one doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of that line. But having cashed in, and now finding himself in his post-radio, and possibly post-TV phase, Huckabee might well decide it’s time to throw caution to the wind.
Don’t get me wrong: As a free market conservative, this brand of populism isn’t my cup of tea. Nor do I think Huckabee can win the nomination. He’s always lacked money and organization, and that won’t change. But as a political observer, I can’t help but suspect that there is a huge opening for a conservative candidate willing to be the working man’s conservative.
The last time someone really tried this was when “Pitchfork” Pat Buchanan, and then Ross Perot, ran in 1992. It resonated then, but that was before the “giant sucking sound” really kicked in. Whether it’s globalization or immigration—or whatever “-ation” might have taken your job—it stands to reason that the same grassroots phenomenon that helped Buchanan and Perot tap into an underserved constituency might be even more potent today.
Already known as a tax-and-spender, Mike Huckabee isn’t soon going to win over Steve Forbes or Larry Kudlow or The Club for Growth, so why try? There are tons of Americans out there listening to country radio, clinging to God and guns…and government.
The other day, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed some fairly modest reforms to save social security (means testing and raising the retirement age to 69), ostensibly conservative readers weighed in against it on the Facebook page of the Daily Caller, where I work.
“I’m entitled to social security because it’s MY money that I have given to the govt since I was 16 years old with the PROMISE I would get it back when I was older. FU Christie.” Yes, this is anecdotal—but this comment was also representative of a lot of comments on that particular post. A lot of conservatives appear to believe there is some lockbox where “their” money is being saved for their retirement.
A few days later came this headline from the Weekly Standard: “Huckabee Bashes Republican Plans to Reform Medicare and Social Security.” As Huckabee himself told The Daily Beast over the weekend, “I’m getting slammed by some in the GOP ruling class for thinking it wrong to involuntarily take money from people’s paychecks for 50 years and then not keep the promise government made.”
Some of the same underlying trends behind the excitement over Elizabeth Warren are present, if dormant, on the right. So how can Huckabee break away from the pack? Most free market conservatives I know agree that “crony capitalism” is a problem. This has become boilerplate language you can expect from everyone from Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz, and it’s a kind of flirting with populism.
But Huckabee appears poised to do what no other Republican will have the ability or the inclination to do—and that is to go full populist in a way that acknowledges the fact that a lot of folks need the government’s help, that resents the fact that the game has been rigged by the rich and the corporations, yet still embraces a culturally conservative lifestyle. This will provoke serious pushback from the libertarian and pro-business wings of the conservative coalition. But if he does it—if he sticks to it—out there in the hinterland, there’ll be a market for it.
Get your pitchforks ready.
By: Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, April 21, 2015; Editor’s note: Matt Lewis’s wife previously consulted for Ted Cruz’s senate campaign, and currently consults for RickPAC, the leadership PAC affiliated with Rick Perry.
“Long On Facade, Short On Bricks And Mortar”: Will The Ted Cruz Presidential Campaign Be All Hat, No Cattle?
A presidential campaign often poses the largest, toughest management challenge of a candidate’s life to date, and fairly or not, is often considered a proxy for whether a politician has what it takes to lead a country.
In order to be the first 2016 candidate to officially launch, Texas senator Ted Cruz skimped on a few hallmarks of a fully prepared, well-run campaign. He used stock footage of American landmarks in a midnight announcement video. He announced in a prefabricated setting before an attendance-required crowd at Liberty University. And his post-announcement tour was actually a media blitz that included Fox News, NBC, CBS, The Laura Ingraham Show and The Glenn Beck Radio Program.
Kentucky senator Rand Paul, by contrast, plans to enter the race April 7 in Louisville and spend the next four days at rallies and other events in the crucial early voting states of New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are laying even more extensive groundwork.
Cruz’s choice of an evangelical Christian university for his Monday announcement certainly reinforced his identity as a religious conservative. But it also raised inauspicious questions. Start with the fact that had he not slated his event for that day in that place, the 12,000 students Cruz described as “on fire” would have been listening (albeit perhaps less enthusiastically) to Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. A leading Democrat and Clinton family ally, he was the speaker originally scheduled for that slot.
Could Cruz have gotten his own crowd, one that did not show up under threat of university penalties, and that did not feature people wearing Rand Paul T-shirts? Does Cruz have infrastructure in early primary states? Can he raise sufficient money? In short, will the campaign be real? Or will it be an extension of Cruz’s Senate persona as a champion talker, more interested in making a point than moving the ball?
There have been many candidates who say they are running for president and even are included in primary-season debates. But their campaigns are Potemkin villages — long on facade, short on bricks and mortar.
Cruz would argue that he is all about substance. He bristled during several interviews when it was noted that both he and Obama chose to run for president at the same early point in their Senate careers. Cruz rightly pointed out that he spent more than five years as solicitor general of Texas and won big victories before the Supreme Court. “Unlike Barack Obama, I wasn’t a community organizer,” he said.
Obama was indeed a community organizer — after college for three years, two of them as director of the program. He then went to Harvard Law School, practiced law, taught law, and spent eight years in the Illinois Senate, where he was a leader in improving ethics and transparency, health and tax programs for the poor, and police practices affecting minorities.
As for the U.S. Senate, Cruz repeatedly called Obama an inconsequential backbencher. By contrast, Cruz said, he has personally led fights to uphold conservative principles “on issue after issue after issue,” including stopping Obamacare and stopping “amnesty” for immigrants in the country illegally.
Obama might well have made fewer headlines than Cruz in the U.S. Senate. He did, however, play a key role in the passage of laws and sections of laws on ethics, transparency, green energy, protecting veterans, securing nuclear materials, and prohibiting no-bid contracting in the aftermath of disasters. The fights Cruz led against Obama’s health and immigration policies, meanwhile, produced one government shutdown, one near-shutdown, and sinking GOP approval ratings. The policies he fought are still in effect.
Clearly, leading a fight is not the same as winning a fight. Winning in Congress often means laboring and sometimes compromising in obscurity — all to get your bill or provision or amendment wrapped into a huge piece of legislation with someone else’s name on it.
In his focus on battles as opposed to results, Cruz recalls former Rep. Michele Bachmann. Voters want “a fighter against the political establishment of Washington, D.C., and I have credentials there,” the Minnesota Republican said four years ago on Fox News, as she was gearing up for a 2012 presidential bid. She did express a lot of fighting views. But when she retired from Congress, her legislative record was characterized as thin.
Cruz raised a half-million dollars on his first official day as a candidate, a good start. Among his tests is whether he can sustain that pace and build a full-fledged campaign. To call on a cowboy cliché, Cruz has a lot of ground to make up if he wants to show he is not all hat, no cattle.
By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, March 26, 2015
“Image Conflicting With His Actual Personality”: The Real Ted Cruz; Country Music, Harvard Law, And Tea Party ‘Populism’
Nobody who knows Ted Cruz — the Texas freshman senator who became the first official contestant for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination this week – doubts that he is very, very smart. That includes Cruz himself, whose emphatic confidence in his own superior intelligence has not always endeared him to colleagues and acquaintances (whose opinions of his personality are often profanely negative).
Yet while Cruz cleverly seeks to highlight the Tea Party persona that appeals to many Republican primary voters, he exposes the fraudulence of his ultra-right brand of “populism.”
Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University, a religious-right institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell. No doubt he chose the misnamed Liberty to underscore his commitment to the political attitudes – “anti-elitist” and often opposed to scientific and intellectual inquiry – that the late reverend represented. To Falwell, secular education and the Enlightenment tradition of free thought always seemed suspiciously irreligious; at Liberty, creationism is a required course, the Young Democrats are outlawed, and both students and faculty are rigorously censored.
What could someone like Ted Cruz, a vocal advocate of First Amendment rights, honestly think about a place like Liberty? Falwell’s school languishes far below the standards of educational achievement – including an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School — that have always filled Cruz with pride. Sometimes with excessive pride, like when he reportedly told Harvard Law classmates that he intended to form a study group including only those who had attended Harvard, Yale, or Princeton as undergrads.
Josh Marshall, a journalist who attended college with Cruz, noted in Talking Points Memo that this bit of academic snobbery marked the future senator as a “pompous a**hole” at Harvard Law, “an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense [his emphasis].”
In a further attempt to portray himself as a right-wing populist, Cruz now claims to be a country music fan – having changed preferences after 9/11, when he abandoned “classic rock” for country, which he suggested is more patriotic:
“My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music — collectively — the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people. And ever since 2001, I listen to country music,” he told CBS News – without naming a single country artist or band.
Now every presidential candidate carefully cultivates a public personality by promoting and even adopting tastes that might resonate with desired constituencies. But there are few politicians whose image conflicts so sharply with his actual personality and real base of support.
Analyzing the Texan’s financial base as he entered the presidential arena, Bloomberg News revealed “surprising weakness when it comes to small donors.” Only 16 percent of Cruz donors gave less than $200, compared with 43 percent of the donors to his fellow Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. The funding that propelled him into the Senate came from groups like the billionaire-backed Club for Growth and the Washington-based Tea Party organizations underwritten by the Koch brothers with their oil billions. Having attended the same elite schools, the people writing those big checks must feel quite comfortable with Cruz.
Need anyone be reminded of the policies favored by such interests? They oppose raising the minimum wage, or even the existence of a minimum wage. They would gut Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment benefits, along with every other government program that supports the middle class. They would reduce their own taxes even more, while raising taxes on working families – all retrogressive ideas that even the average Republican rejects.
If that’s populism, Ted Cruz is truly a man of the people.
By: Joe Conason, Editor at Large, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog; The National Memo, March 27, 2015
“Almost Anything Passes For ‘Religion’ In This Country”: Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination
Religious conservatives have lost their battle over gay marriage. Most will even admit it. The clock is ticking down to April 28, when the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against it—and by the end of June, they will have ruled on the right of every American to a civil marriage to the person of their choosing, regardless of gender. Although a “no gay marriage” ruling is possible, almost no one believes the Supreme Court will rule against the civil right to marriage.
Majority support for gay marriage is to be found in virtually every demographic in society. But the minority who still opposes it does so with vigor and conviction. The Roman Catholic hierarchy (not the people in the pews) and conservative Evangelicals continue to look for ways to express their disdain and condemnation for gay or lesbian couples who want to be married or who have been married. The new strategy is to do state-by-state what has been impossible nationally. With the help of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council), bills are popping up all over the country in state legislatures with what conservatives hope will be their effective (and legal) defense against the rising tide of acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Indiana is a good case in point. On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would exempt individuals and companies from non-discrimination rulings by the courts—based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill was passed earlier by the Indiana Senate, and once the two are reconciled, Republican Governor Mike Pence has indicated he will sign it. This legislation, like its sister bills in other state legislatures, is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. Many states have their own RFRAs, which, like the federal one, prevent any law which substantially burdens a person’s free expression of religion. (This legislation figured heavily into the Hobby Lobby case.)
If this legislation becomes law, anyone who disagrees with any non-discrimination legislation or court rulings would be allowed, based on their religious beliefs, to disregard the provisions of that non-discrimination protection.
The multiple ways in which such legislation is problematic are stunning. First, this would open the floodgates for citizens/corporations to exempt themselves from all kinds of laws, merely by claiming that it violates their religious beliefs. Now, we are presumably not just talking about your common, everyday, vanilla, mainstream religions (think Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Reform and Conservative Jews). Such a law would, presumably, also protect members of the Westboro Baptist Church with its “God hates Fags” approach; the crazy, renegade Mormon man and his 25 wives; Satan worshippers; and Scientologists. Almost anything passes for “religion” in this country, and there would be no end to the appeals for exemption following certain laws based on the tenets of one’s religion, no matter how small and no matter how outside the mainstream that religion.
However, religionists don’t have to be crazy or on the fringes of society to wreak havoc on those they disdain. In debating the bill, Representative Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) cited an anesthesiologist who refused to anesthetize a patient because the procedure for which his services were needed was an abortion—all due to his religious beliefs about the sinfulness of that procedure. A Roman Catholic pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for physician-prescribed birth control, citing her church’s objection to any kind of artificial birth control. A Southern Baptist pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for Truvada, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug used by gay men (and others) to lessen their risk for being infected with HIV, claiming his church condemns the “gay lifestyle,” by which he means, apparently, promiscuous and profligate sex.
It is difficult for me to understand how this is not akin to the fervently held religious beliefs that the races should not “mix” in marriage, and the anti-miscegenation laws that emanated from those beliefs. Of course, in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those laws as unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. How is this any different from a 1960s lunch counter owner denying service to African Americans because of his religious beliefs (widely held at the time) that “Negroes” were lesser human beings and citizens than white folks?
Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”
But these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.
Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.
By: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; The Daily Beast, March 25, 2015
Oh happy day—freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz is set to announce that he’s running for president. And he’s not going to announce at the Alamo or any other defiant Texas-type monument. He’s making a pilgrimage straight to the birthplace of the Moral Majority, the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University. The setting makes sense for a man who believes that God has called him to politics. After all, the only way to top shutting down the government is to try to run the government into the ground himself.
This month, Cruz released a short video that’s the best evidence yet for what a Cruz presidential campaign might be like. It’s called “A Time for Truth,” and the title has to be intentional irony.
Cruz’s Politifact track record for publicly-asserted falsehoods is the second-highest among front-runners, totaling 56 percent of all statements they’ve looked at. The only other leading contender with a higher rating is Ben Carson, who has a 100 percent “pants on fire” history, the result mainly of his brief time in the national spotlight and only having given Politifact one assertion to check—that people choose to be gay. (The investigative process on verifying that claim could have been entertaining, had Carson taken up Dan Savage’s invitation to take a very personal version of the Pepsi Challenge. Politifact chose a less experiential approach.)
It’s not just Cruz’s habit of embellishment that makes the video’s title more wish-fulfillment than description. One would expect a video entitled “A Time for Truth” to contain, you know, truth. Or calls to speak the truth, at the very least. Cruz’s infomercial, on the other hand, is simply a collection of Cruz clips wherein he apparently confuses speaking the truth with speaking very dramatically and forcefully. It is the Ugly American approach to foreign language in moral form.
Watch as Cruz loudly proclaims he will stand up for various things! He also asks for others to stand up for things! It’s a tic in the vernacular of the evangelical subculture Cruz hails from to think of extravagantly passionate sincerity as evidence of honesty and probity. So perhaps Cruz’s substitution of one for the other is not an intentional bait-and-switch.
Let’s indulge a thought experiment: What if, in all those cases where Cruz’s passionate sincerity has been found to be trustworthy, he meant what he said at the time?
We take it for granted that politicians lie to gain votes, to make themselves more appealing, or to make someone else look bad. But what if Cruz wasn’t craven, but instead as sincere as he sounds. What would that mean?
There are objective falsehoods that show Cruz could just be looking at a different set of data. Other, more telling whoppers show that Cruz isn’t just looking at different data, he’s living in a different universe.
The former category contains his insistence that there’s no such thing as global warming. The latter kind of lie is why Cruz can look a child in the eye and tell her the world is on fire.
Multiple news organizations have found fault with this standard refrain from his stump speech: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” There are not 110,000 agents at the IRS. There aren’t even that many employees. There are about 82,000, of whom about 14,000 are agents.
But that’s just a fact-check of the first sentence; what about the underlying notion that there’s some kind of equivalence between what accountants do and the kind of peacekeeping one might need at the border?
The most generous interpretation might be that Cruz thinks we’re not keeping track of our immigrants; more paperwork is in order. (True enough!) The spookier option is that he thinks IRS agents are as militarized as your local police force, and they would be the group to finally wrest “100 percent operational control” (an Orwellian-sounding metric Cruz often invokes but never explains) in the region.
Cruz’s fantasy life, understandably, gets warmer and fuzzier closer to home. Take his version of the aw-shucks, I-don’t-deserve-her, backhandedly condescending marital anecdote that male candidates are required to have. It casts his decision to run for Senate as a moment of unexpected validation:
He recalled saying to his wife in the weeks before his Senate primary, when he was still behind in the polls, “Sweetheart, I’d like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign.”
“What astonished me, then and now, was Heidi within 60 seconds said, ‘Absolutely,’ with no hesitation,” said Mr. Cruz, who invested about $1.2 million—“which is all we had saved,” he added—into his campaign.
Heidi Cruz herself recalls the conversation differently. There was no movie-friendly smash cut “absolutely,” or even assent. Rather, she told Politico, she “wanted him to raise money from elsewhere first, to show that the support was out there.” And even then, “She proposed that they not put their own cash into the campaign unless it made the difference between winning and losing.” That’s sort of the opposite of an instantaneous absolutely: a hesitant and conditional maybe.
Maybe Ted’s version is just the kind of face-saving white lie we tell ourselves to preserve harmony in a relationship. After all, it’s easier and healthier than nursing a grudge. Or, in Cruz’s mind, a hesitant and conditional maybe, if it relates to something he wants bad enough, is enthusiastic agreement.
This delusion would explain almost everything Ted Cruz does.
That would explain Cruz’s misguided belief that a wide swath of Americans want to repeal Obamacare. It would explain his quixotic crusade against the country’s growing support for marriage equality. It would make sense, even, of his run for the presidency.
Cruz, after all, is a “top-tier” candidate mostly in terms of name recognition. While he’s an extremely popular speaker at base-flaming events such as CPAC (where he finished third in the easily gamed Straw Poll), wider swaths of GOP voters are not as kind. Even among the notoriously conservative Republican Iowa caucus-goers he’s in single digits. In the even narrower category of self-identified Iowa Tea Partiers, he has only 10 percent of the vote, trailing Ben Carson (11 percent), Rand Paul (15 percent) and flavor of the month Scott Walker (33 percent).
To be fair, most politicians who run for president have some strain of the megalomania that seems to infect Cruz. Almost every politician who runs for president needs to have that curious mental twist, an ego like a funhouse mirror. Otherwise, no one except those already likely to win would run. Ask some liberal Democrats how they feel about that scenario.
But the most successful politicians seem to leaven self-importance with data. Obama’s 2008 victory over the inevitable Hillary Clinton is often painted in terms of pure marketing, but it was number-crunching that made the difference in the nitty-gritty days of the final states. Bill Clinton often looks like an example of sentiment prevailing over smarts, but his career’s lows reflect the times when he didn’t turn off the charm.
Tell the truth, Ted Cruz says. Just don’t try to get him to be honest with himself.
By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015