Phil Mattingly has an excellent profile of retired surgeon Ben Carson on Bloomberg Politics today. Carson’s overt forays into Republican presidential politics are compelling for several reasons, not least that he’s another in a string of utterly implausible candidates who generate great enthusiasm among the Republican base. Carson leads Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in the Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Iowa poll.
What exactly does the right find so appealing about Carson?
The familiar tropes are evident, including reluctant patriotism (running for high political office is “about the last thing I ever wanted to do,” Carson told Mattingly) and a double-barreled shot of crazy (“People hate each other and I am not 100% sure that it’s not planned,” he explained).
“One Nation” is the title of Carson’s autobiography. In case that’s too subtle a signal of political ambition, the subhead forges ahead: “What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.”
No doubt, some Americans can best save the future by running for president. Carson casts himself not only as a brave truth teller but as a wise man above the partisan fray. “I refuse to engage in the grade-school-yard tactics of name-calling and mean-spirited comments when we have so many important issues to solve,” he wrote.
Of course, it can be tough to maintain such high-minded equanimity in the face of “secular progressives” who have no regard for fundamental principles such as freedom of speech and “distort words and meanings, and then cling to the created lies in an attempt to destroy enemies.” (Not that anybody is calling anybody names.)
Should Carson run for president, his candidacy promises to be a (traditional) marriage of Michele Bachmann’s personal loopiness and Herman Cain’s professional ignorance of public policy. In his book, Carson called the Affordable Care Act “the biggest governmental program in the history of the United States.” (So much for Social Security, Medicare, the Pentagon.) And if he can’t be bothered to learn much about government, he has an all-purpose rationale: “I would choose common sense over knowledge in almost every circumstance,” he wrote. It’s just too much to ask for both.
Carson, who is poised to be 2016’s premier novelty act, is already following the script from Cain’s 2012 Republican presidential run. He is a successful black man who tells conservative white audiences that there are no meaningful structural impediments to success: There are only character failings. That should be enough to keep him on the stage, at least until the Iowa caucuses.
By: Francis Wilkinson, Ten Miles Square, Washington Monthly, October 15, 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
As a notable Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain was able to pull together an email list of several hundred thousand people. His campaign obviously didn’t turn out well, but Cain eventually created an online media venture called Best of Cain, which continues to send out messages to former supporters on a wide range of topics.
How wide a range? Those on Cain’s mailing list recently received an alert with an all-caps subject line about a “breakthrough remedy” for erectile dysfunction. It was, of course, an ad – and a rather clumsy one at that. Cain supporters were told they were at risk of losing their loved one unless they got their “manhood mojo back.”
For many of us, it would appear as if Herman Cain has begun spamming Americans who supported his presidential campaign. But as Ben Adler reports in a fascinating piece, Cain and other Republicans believe they’ve come up with a lucrative business plan.
While [Cain] has been particularly unabashed in his embrace of the practice, he is not the only past presidential candidate hawking sketchy products. Newt Gingrich now pings the e-mail subscribers to his Gingrich Productions with messages from an investment firm formed by a conspiracy theorist successfully sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mike Huckabee uses his own production company’s list to blast out links to heart-disease fixes and can’t-miss annuities.
The joke about Cain and Gingrich during the 2012 campaign was that they weren’t at all serious about their pursuits of the presidency but instead just lining up future paydays. After Huckabee, who’d parlayed a strong showing in 2008 into publishing deals and his own Fox News show, declined to run again, some wags snickered that his new livelihood must have been too hard to give up. Now all three seem to be proving the cynics right…. Collectively, Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee are pioneering a new, more direct method for post-campaign buckraking. All it requires is some digitally savvy accomplices – and a total immunity to shame.
There’s a reason I love this Chris Hayes comment from a while back: “Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”
One of the striking things about the ventures launched by Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee is the odd incentive dynamic they’ve helped create: political activities that used to be based on partisanship, ideology, and/or ego are now profit-making opportunities.
A Republican may not have any interest in actually becoming president, but he or she now knows that a presidential campaign can create a lucrative mailing list. So why not run anyway for the sake of future paychecks?
It’s not just elections, either. Last summer, for example, as conservatives prepared for their government shutdown, Brian Walsh, a former spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, “[T]his is about political cash, not political principle.” Far-right groups were getting the base riled up, collecting contributions and email addresses, and weren’t especially concerned with the policy outcome.
More recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made the rounds on conservative media, talking up a possible lawsuit he might file against the NSA. In practice, the senator was encouraging interested Americans to visit his campaign website, submit their contact information, and chip in a donation while they were there. (The lawsuit he vowed to file hasn’t materialized.)
At the intersection of politics and profit is a Republican machine in search of email addresses, clicks, and cash. It’s not that conservative causes are irrelevant; it’s just that they’re hardly the only motivation for GOP players as interested in list-building as coalition-building.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 28, 2014
Let there be no cheers for Rob Portman.
The Ohio senator is, pardon the tautology, a conservative Republican and last week, he did something conservative Republicans do not do. He came out for same-sex marriage. This is a man whose anti-gay bona fides were so pronounced that his 2011 selection as commencement speaker at the University of Michigan law school prompted an uproar among the graduates, many of whom signed a letter protesting his appearance as an insult to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Yet, there he was, telling CNN he’s had “a change of heart.” And what prompted this? Well, as it turns out, the senator made his U-turn because of Will.
That would be Will Portman, 21, who came out to his parents two years ago. His son, the senator said, explained to them that his sexuality “was not a choice and that that’s just part of who he is.” As a result, said Portman, “I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years.”
It was, make no mistake, an act of paternal love and empathy and deserves to be celebrated on that basis. He did the only thing a good father could have done. And yet, if Portman’s change of mind warms the heart, it also, paradoxically, illustrates the moral cowardice so often found at the heart of social conservatism.
Look, the senator’s son is doubtless a fine and admirable young man. But with all due respect to his son, to heck with his son. This is not about Will Portman. It’s far bigger than that.
So one can’t help but be frustrated and vexed by the senator’s inability to “get it” until “it” included his son. Will explained to him that his sexuality “was not a choice”? Lovely. But was the senator not listening when all those other gay men and lesbians tried to tell him the exact same thing?
Apparently not. Like Dick Cheney, father of a lesbian daughter, Portman changed his view because the issue became personal. Which suggests a glaring lack of the courage and vision needed to put oneself into someone else’s shoes, imagine one’s way inside someone else’s life. These are capabilities that often seem to elude social conservatives.
Small wonder: If you allow yourself to see the world from someone else’s vantage point, there is a chance it will change your own. Can’t have that.
So instead we have this. And by extension of the “logic”: Here, we must wait on Herman Cain to adopt a Mexican child before he sees how offensive it is to suggest electrocuting Mexicans at the border. And if Michele Bachmann would only have an affair with a Muslim, she might stop seeing terrorists on every street corner.
Tellingly, Portman’s change of heart elicited mainly an embarrassed silence from his ideological soulmates who, 10 years ago, would have been on him like paparazzi on a Kardashian. But then, 10 years ago, gay rights was still an open question. Ten years later, that question is closing with startling speed, as in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds support for same-sex marriage at a record high. Change is coming, gathering momentum like an avalanche.
And once again, conservatives will stand rebuked by history, be left on the platform by progress. Or else, split the difference, do the right thing for the wrong reasons like Rob Portman.
No, you cannot condemn a man for loving his child.
But true compassion and leadership require the ability to look beyond the narrow confines of one’s own life, to project into someone else’s situation and to want for them what you’d want for your own. Portman’s inability to do that created hardship for an untold number of gay men and lesbians.
Each of them was also someone’s child.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, March 20,2013
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is so dull that he could benefit from an eye-popping scandal because it would help tear down his plastic image and make him look more normal, according to national pollster John Zogby.
“This is the one instance where a groping incident could help a candidate,” said Zogby, in a reference to the scandal that torpedoed former GOP candidate Herman Cain’s campaign.
He said it could be the missing “leveling experience” for Romney that would make him look more human. Zogby explained that many stiff, rich men have run for office and won, but they typically had a humbling moment that made them more likeable. He gave former President George W. Bush’s alcoholism as an example of that leveling experience.
“His problem is an authenticity problem,” said Zogby of Romney, who today released his New Hampshire tracking poll that has Romney far in front. “He’s the kid who never colored outside the lines,” said the pollster.
Zogby said Romney needs to find a way to connect with an unethusiastic party that wants to vote with its brain and heart. But, he warned, he shouldn’t try to do that with a policy speech or new position. “Likability,” he said, “is a lot more than an issue.”
He echoed charges from competing campaigns and President Obama’s advisor David Axelrod that Romney’s 25 percent finish in the Iowa caucuses was an example of how he’s failed to expand his personal base of voters from the amount he received in the 2008 caucuses.
Romney, Zogby said, spent “a lot of time, money and energy to get where he was already.”
By: Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 5, 2012