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“To Hell With The Independents”: Ted Cruz’s Presidential Campaign Plan Is Terrible

Almost immediately after Senator Ted Cruz arrived in Washington in 2012, it became clear that he intended to run for president in 2016. Now, with primary season rapidly approaching, the details of how a Cruz campaign might look are coming into sharper focus.

In a Monday feature on National Review Online, Eliana Johnson reports that Cruz would run as far to the right as possible, while trying to win over some unlikely constituencies to put him over the top:

To hell with the independents. That’s not usually the animating principle of a presidential campaign, but for Ted Cruz’s, it just might be.

His strategists aren’t planning to make a big play for so-called independent voters in the general election if Cruz wins the Republican nomination. According to several of the senator’s top advisors, Cruz sees a path to victory that relies instead on increasing conservative turnout; attracting votes from groups — including Jews, Hispanics, and millennials — that have tended to favor Democrats; and, in the words of one Cruz strategist, “not getting killed with independents.”

Johnson goes on to explain that Cruz and his advisors see chasing moderate voters as a waste of time, and consider driving up turnout among the GOP’s conservative base as the party’s best path to victory. Along the way, they hope that Cruz’s “populist and pugnacious conservatism will persuade some millennials and traditionally Democratic voters, including Jews, Hispanics, blue-collar voters, and women.”

This is a tremendous miscalculation. If Cruz does follow this path on his White House bid, he is doomed to fail.

Despite what Cruz and his advisors appear to believe, the conservative base just isn’t big enough to carry a presidential election. It’s no coincidence that the most conservative candidates poll the worst in early surveys of the 2016 campaign; the “true conservatives” that Cruz is counting on are a minority in the U.S. Furthermore, they are clustered in states that Mitt Romney — whom Cruz believes to be so moderate that he “actually French-kissed Barack Obama” — won easily in the 2012 presidential election.

Republican presidential candidates have no path to 270 electoral votes without winning swing states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, or Wisconsin. Those states just don’t have enough Tea Partiers for Cruz to win them with base voters alone. And there’s no better way to push those states’ persuadable moderates into the Democratic column — and drive out the Democratic base — than by catering to the fringe.

That, of course, is why Cruz is going to pursue the other constituencies mentioned by National Review. But his odds of persuading those Democrats are long.

Although Republicans made some inroads with Jewish voters in the 2014 midterms, they still backed Democratic candidates 66 to 33 percent. And there are few signs that Cruz’s plan to run to the right would entice them to turn red. According to a post-election survey from the liberal nonprofit J Street, just 19 percent of Jewish voters identify as “conservative.” Furthermore, when asked what issues are most important to them, the economy, health care, and Social Security and Medicare took the top three spots. Israel — the issue on which Cruz has centered his outreach to the Jewish community — placed 10th. And while the poll didn’t ask Jewish voters for their opinion of Cruz, it did ask them about likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. With a 61 to 31 percent favorability rating, she is the most popular politician in the country among the constituency.

Like Jewish voters, Hispanic voters broadly support Democratic candidates and policies. And Cruz’s plan to win their support is ludicrously unrealistic for one specific reason: immigration.

Hispanic voters strongly support comprehensive immigration reform. Cruz vehemently opposes it. They also overwhelmingly back President Obama’s executive action shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. And they decisively oppose Cruz-championed plans to fight the move with a lawsuit or a government funding fight.

Mitt Romney managed to win just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election. After Cruz rallies the base by taking a position far to the right of Romney’s “self-deportation” disaster, he would struggle to match even that meager figure.

Female voters also seem unlikely to respond well to Cruz’s quest to win their support while driving up conservative turnout. The GOP did narrow the gender gap in 2014, cutting it to just 4 points (down from 11 percent in 2012). But the Republicans who rebutted Democratic “war on women” attacks best did so by changing or obfuscating their controversial opinions on women’s health issues. Does that really sound like Ted Cruz, the unapologetic conservative who shares a platform with Todd Akin, and fought the Violence Against Women Act to the bitter end?

Cruz’s run-to-the-right strategy has a very legitimate chance of carrying him through what appears to be a wide-open GOP primary. But Republicans who actually want to reclaim the White House should hope that he fails. Because Ted Cruz playing the role of a modern-day Barry Goldwater is Hillary Clinton’s dream matchup in the general election, and would almost guarantee four more years of a Democratic president.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, December 15, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Voters, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Elizabeth Warren’s Real And Imaginary Appeal”: The Trap Of The ‘Hidden Majority’ Is Too Often ‘Fools Gold’

Friday night on the floor of the U.S. Senate as part of a doomed effort no one is much paying attention to is not the ideal context for a Big, Memorable Speech. But the excerpts of Elizabeth Warren’s speech against the Wall Street derivatives swap language of the Cromnibus touted by Miles Mogulescu at HuffPost are indeed pretty powerful, though again, comparing them to Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention speech viewed live by a big chunk of the politically active population seems more than a bit of a stretch.

If, however, Warren keeps this up, she could very quickly make herself the kind of big public figure she has long been to smaller circles of progressive activists. What’s most interesting about her speech is that she placed as great an emphasis on Wall Street influence in the Obama administration Treasury Department as she did on the legislative provisions in the Cromnibus. She’s pulling no punches. And not only does this indicate she will go to the mats to stop the nomination of Antonio Weiss to a top position at Treasury–a fight she looks likely to win–but that she’s launching a broad challenge to the acceptability of any recent Wall Street vets in the ranks of Democratic executive branch officials or advisors. This represents a clear collision course with the administration, and with Hillary Rodham Clinton (Warren’s constant references to Citi in her speech–so closely identified with the key Clintonian advisory Robert Rubin–could not be a coincidence), even if Warren’s public disavowals of interest in a primary challenge to Clinton represent an unshakable private conviction. You could see, say, Bernie Sanders taking up the banner of a primary challenge with Warren playing a key role in the background whether or not she’s formally in the insurgent camp.

Mogolescu, however, probably reflects the views of a lot of Warren’s fans in thinking that she and only she can topple Clinton, but that she can also put together the transformative super-partisan coalition that progressives once thought Barack Obama might spearhead:

It [Warren’s speech] transformed the conventional wisdom about American politics that the main divide is between left, right, and center, when it is really between pro-corporate and anti-corporate. Her declaration that neither Democrats nor Republicans (meaning the voters, not the Washington politicians) don’t like bank bailouts rings loud and true. Tea party supporters don’t like bailouts and crony capitalism any more that progressives do.

I’m afraid we need to call B.S. on this idea of Elizabeth Warren (or any other “populist) becoming a pied piper to the Tea Folk, pulling them across the barricades to support The Good Fight against “crony capitalism.” Yes, many “constitutional conservatives” oppose corporate bailouts. But they also typically support eliminating not just subsidies but regulation of big banks and other corporations; oppose most if not all of the social safety net (and certainly its expansion); and also oppose legalized abortion and marriage equality, for that matter. It’s not even all that clear that Warren-style “populism” will improve Democratic prospects with the white working class, which harbors a host of grievances with the traditional liberalism that Warren embraces beyond her signature financial “issues.”

To most Democrats most of the time, Warren is raising important and legitimate concerns about Wall Street that must be addressed, not just dismissed as “class warfare.” To some Democrats some of the time, she represents a decisive break with the Clinton and Obama traditions that is morally necessary. But let’s don’t pretend there’s a slam-dunk “electability” case for this kind of politics. Yes, the “median voter theorem” of politics that dictates a perpetual “move to the center” by general election candidates has lost a lot of its power just in the last few years. But the countervailing “hidden majority” argument for more ideological politicians of the left and the right is hardly self-evident, and has in the past often been fool’s gold.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 15, 2014

December 16, 2014 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren, Politics, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Cheap Psychodrama Thrives”: Personality Politics And The Decline Of Political Journalism

Upon first venturing to write about politics 20 years ago, I held naïve views about political journalism. Specifically, I imagined that factual accuracy mattered as it did in the kinds of books and magazine pieces I’d written on non-political topics: opinionated, yes, but grounded in careful reporting.

Otherwise, why bother?

After 10 years, I became persuaded that the honor system supposedly governing journalists had broken down. “Claiming the moral authority of a code of professional ethics it idealizes in the abstract but repudiates in practice,” I wrote in Harper’s magazine, “today’s Washington press corps has grown as decadent and self-protective as any politician or interest group whose behavior it purports to monitor.”

And that was before Fox News.

Driven partly by cable TV celebrity, personality-based narratives rule. Politicians are depicted as heroes or villains in group melodramas as simplistic as any TV soap opera. Facts are fitted to the storyline. Cheap psychodrama thrives. The whole world’s a Maureen Dowd column.

Which brings us back to Harper’s and author Doug Henwood.  Because he finds her too close to Wall Street and too hawkish on foreign policy, Henwood evidently feels it his moral duty to blacken Hillary Clinton’s character. It’s not enough to say she voted for the Iraq War and favored bombing Syria. Henwood had to dig up “Whitewater” to prove her a liar and a cheat.

Then after I wrote a column pointing out that almost everything he’d written about that phony scandal was nonsense, Henwood began calling me bad names on social media. “Clinton towel boy,” was one.

So I posted the following on his Facebook page:

“I find it interesting that when confronted with several quite basic factual errors in his description of the great Whitewater scandal of legend and song, Doug Henwood’s response is name calling. That tells me pretty much all I need to know about him.

“However, it’s false to say that the late Jim McDougal’s savings and loan financed the Clintons’ Whitewater investment. He didn’t buy it until five years later. Another bank made the loan, for which both Clintons were jointly and severally responsible–meaning they’d have to pay it off regardless of what happened to McDougal or his other investments. Which they did. Whitewater cost the S&L nothing.

“It’s doubly false that ‘the Clintons, of course, were also investors in McDougal’s schemes.’ They had no other financial relationship whatsoever. That was the whole point of quoting the prosecutor’s closing argument in McDougal’s bank fraud trial: Convicting him depended upon convincing the jury that [he’d]…misled the Clintons about their investment and resorted to desperate measures to try to keep the bank afloat. In a word, they got conned.

“Regardless of one’s opinion about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy ideas, those are the facts, available for about 18 years now. Henwood simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Now if somebody took something of mine apart like that, I’d do my best to make them regret it. But Henwood can’t, because he was blowing smoke to begin with.

“What I don’t get,” he answered, “is why you’re so invested in doing PR for these [bleeps].”

Sorry, dude… not playing. Facts are facts.

Everybody makes mistakes. Professionals own them.

That wouldn’t be our Mr. Henwood. So let me add that almost everything he wrote about the Clintons in Arkansas reflects sheer incomprehension. Mostly, it’s what Joe Conason and I call “naïve cynicism,” in which a reporter innocent of basic political realities presumes corruption.

For example, he accuses Bill Clinton of a cynical ploy “aimed at distancing himself from traditional liberal politics” by not calling for a repeal of Arkansas’s right-to-work law. Shockingly, Clinton also failed to call for abolishing Razorback football and duck-hunting season.

Would it help to know that no Arkansas gubernatorial candidate has ever campaigned for union shops?

Henwood alleges that Clinton “went light on environmental enforcement,” covering the state in “chicken feces.” (Never mind that properly applied chicken litter is the best organic fertilizer on Earth, as my happy cows will attest.) Would it help to know that until Clinton wrestled the timber industry and Farm Bureau to the ground in 1985, Arkansas environmental agencies had virtually no enforcement powers?

Elsewhere, Henwood alleges that the Clintons schemed to earn the enmity of teacher unions. In vain, alas. But he left out town hall meetings Hillary held with educators and parents in all 75 Arkansas counties back in 1983 in support of her husband’s educational reforms.

No matter. Her efforts were pointless anyway, Henwood thinks, because real advances “would require a wholesale overhaul of the political economy…and the Clintons weren’t about to take that on.”

Ah, yes. Wholesale overhaul. If only Hillary had been willing to wave her magic wand, wiping away 200 years of history, abolishing the legislature and converting Arkansas into Connecticut.

But, you know, the witch is too selfish for that.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 29, 2014

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elizabeth Warren Makes A Powerful Case”: Who Does The Government Work For?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she isn’t running for president. At this rate, however, she may have to.

The Massachusetts Democrat has become the brightest ideological and rhetorical light in a party whose prospects are dimmed by — to use a word Jimmy Carter never uttered — malaise. Her weekend swing through Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa to rally the faithful displayed something no other potential contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, including Hillary Clinton, seems able to present: a message.

“We can go through the list over and over, but at the end of every line is this: Republicans believe this country should work for those who are rich, those who are powerful, those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” she said Friday in Englewood, Colo. “I will tell you we can whimper about it, we can whine about it or we can fight back. I’m here with [Sen.] Mark Udall so we can fight back.”

Warren was making her second visit to the state in two months because Udall’s reelection race against Republican Cory Gardner is what Dan Rather used to call “tight as a tick.” If Democrats are to keep their majority in the Senate, the party’s base must break with form and turn out in large numbers for a midterm election. Voters won’t do this unless somebody gives them a reason.

Warren may be that somebody. Her grand theme is economic inequality and her critique, both populist and progressive, includes a searing indictment of Wall Street. Liberals eat it up.

The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it,” she said Saturday at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. The line drew a huge ovation — as did mention of legislation she has sponsored to allow students to refinance their student loans.

Later, Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) — a rare Democratic incumbent who is expected to cruise to reelection next month — gave a heartfelt, if less-than-original, assessment of Warren’s performance: “She’s a rock star.”

In these appearances, Warren talks about comprehensive immigration reform, support for same-sex marriage, the need to raise the minimum wage, abortion rights and contraception — a list of red-button issues at which she jabs and pokes with enthusiasm.

The centerpiece, though, is her progressive analysis of how bad decisions in Washington have allowed powerful interests to re-engineer the financial system so that it serves the wealthy and well-connected, not the middle class.

On Sunday, Warren was in Des Moines campaigning for Democrat Bruce Braley, who faces Republican Joni Ernst in another of those tick-tight Senate races. It may be sheer coincidence that Warren chose the first-in-the-nation nominating caucus state to deliver what the Des Moines Register called a “passion-filled liberal stemwinder.”

There once was consensus on the need for government investment in areas such as education and infrastructure that produced long-term dividends, she said. “Here’s the amazing thing: It worked. It absolutely, positively worked.”

But starting in the 1980s, she said, Republicans took the country in a different direction, beginning with the decision to “fire the cops on Wall Street.”

“They called it deregulation,” Warren said, “but what it really meant was: Have at ’em, boys. They were saying, in effect, to the biggest financial institutions, any way you can trick or trap or fool anybody into signing anything, man, you can just rake in the profits.”

She went on to say that “Republicans, man, they ought to be wearing a T-shirt. . . . The T-shirt should say, ‘I got mine. The rest of you are on your own.’ ”

The core issue in all the Senate races, she said, is this: “Who does the government work for? Does it work just for millionaires, just for the billionaires, just for those who have armies of lobbyists and lawyers, or does it work for the people?”

So far this year, Warren has published a memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” that tells of her working-class roots, her family’s economic struggles, her rise to become a Harvard Law School professor and a U.S. senator, and, yes, her distant Native American ancestry. She has emerged as her party’s go-to speaker for connecting with young voters. She has honed a stump speech with a clear and focused message, a host of applause lines and a stirring call to action.

She’s not running for president apparently because everyone assumes the nomination is Clinton’s. But everyone was making that same assumption eight years ago, and we know what happened. If the choice is between inspiration and inevitability, Warren may be forced to change her plans.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 20, 2014

October 23, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Elizabeth Warren, Financial Reform | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Just West Virginia!”: The State Where The Right Won The Culture War

This is not, I readily confess, the development that will dominate the headlines on November 5, but I couldn’t help but notice recently that there is a sporting chance that, after this election, my old home state might no longer be represented by a single Democrat in the United States House of Representatives. So what, you say—it’s just West Virginia. Okay, maybe. But trust me: This idea would have been beyond inconceivable only a decade or so ago, and there’s an interesting and much broader story behind the change that has to do with deep cultural and economic anxieties, and I can’t help but wonder whether the Democrats can tap into them and attempt to ameliorate their effects.

First the facts. West Virginia has three congressional districts. The first, which contains the northern panhandle and my home town of Morgantown, is represented by Republican David McKinley, who first won in 2010 (by less than 1 percent) and was the first Republican to represent most of those areas since I was playing Little League. He is strongly favored to be reelected. The second district is an open seat, vacated by Republican Shelley Moore Capito to run for Senate. Tea Party Republican Alex Mooney is facing Democrat Nick Casey. They are basically tied (Casey’s in the hunt in part because Mooney is actually from Maryland; it’s complicated), but Mooney is getting lots of national money. In the third district, longtime Democratic incumbent Nick Joe Rahall, one of the few Lebanese-Americans roaming the halls of Congress, is facing a stiff challenge from a state senator named Evan Jenkins, who switched from D to R last year and can boast two important endorsements, from the Coal Association and the state’s right-to-life group, that don’t usually land in a non-incumbent’s lap.

Now, two of those races are close, and if the Democrats win them, the party would actually pick up a seat, so there goes my alarmism. But still, it could well be a GOP sweep, which is especially jarring when you throw in Capito, the Republican who’ll be taking over Jay Rockefeller’s seat (the state hasn’t had a Republican senator since 1958). That would leave Joe Manchin as the state’s only Democrat in Washington, and of course, on the coasts, lots of Democrats don’t think he’s much of a Democrat.

It’s really a stunning transformation. People don’t pay much attention to the state, but if they did, they’d know that West Virginia is the only—yes, only—state in the union that has gone in this century from deep blue to rock-ribbed red.

So what’s happened? No, it’s not as simple as the president is b-l-a-c-k. It’s the decline in union membership (a handful of men can now mine as much coal as hundreds used to). It’s the organizing strength of the NRA. It’s the less-discussed-but-pivotal inroads the Southern Baptist Convention has made into the state since the 1980s. It’s the fact that there are no real cities to speak of, not many people of color, only one large university, no hipsters (well, a few; I know some of them). I watched the transformation only as an occasional interloper on trips back home to see my folks, but even from that vantage point, things were pretty clear—the increasing proliferation of NASCAR paraphernalia in the stores next to the Mountaineer swag, the appearance in Morgantown of a Christian high school, and of course presidential vote totals (although Obama did carry my home county in 2008). We smart people in the big cities all agree that the right has lost the culture war. That may be so nationally. But West Virginia is the one place where the right won the culture war.

And so it’s a place of profound anxieties, cultural and economic. Being from Morgantown doesn’t give me much of a window on them. Morgantown is one of the nicest small cities in America (no, really) and has a diverse economy and diverse (by West Virginia standards) population.

The southern part of the state, which is really what outlanders think of when they bother to think of West Virginia, is where the anxieties run deeper. It’s a place in real trouble, and the people know it. Culturally, America has changed on them. The state is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Let’s just say that in some of those counties down there, I wouldn’t want to be the first guy to apply for one. And fossil fuels probably aren’t long for this world—there is still plenty of coal in them thar hills, as they say, but in 20 or 30 years, the way energy technologies are transforming, the world may not want it anymore.

I, you’ll be un-shocked to hear, do not think the Republican Party has any real answers for these people. The GOP will fight for coal, but at the same time its broader policies are all harmful to the state (aren’t many 2 percenters in West Virginia). What the state really needs is to figure out how to elbow its way into the tech economy. That requires investments, in schools and in infrastructure of both the physical and telecom varieties. And it means, yep, taxes.

I suppose there’s a chance that Hillary Clinton could win West Virginia, if Bill spends a lot of time there. But why would they bother? She won’t need its five measly electoral votes. I think it would be a grand thing if President Clinton, among her first acts, proposed something big and meaningful for precisely the people who didn’t vote for her (a Republican president should do the same). But that just isn’t likely, the way things are today. Politics is too expensive, and a new president has people to pay back.

No, we’re not sure it’s going to be President Clinton, but we are sure that the GOP is up against both the electoral college and demographic walls in a big way, and it may not win a presidential election for some time. Poor West Virginia: It stayed true to Democratic losers like Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis but is completing its insistent makeover to red just as the Republicans are in danger of being a quasi-permanent out party.

There’s a great scene in the lovely film October Sky where the residents of Coalwood gather to watch Sputnik race by in the sky. One person speculates about the Russians dropping a bomb on the town. Another retorts: “I own’t know why anybody’d drop a bomb on ’is place. Be a waste of a perfectly good bomb.” It captured a worldview and fate that I hope the people from the poorer parts of the state can one day escape.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 10, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics, West Virginia | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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