“The Eve Of Destruction”: Behind The GOP Curtain, The Year That Has Been, The Year That Is About To Be
It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be. Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it.
Several influential Republicans told us the party is actually in a worse place than it was Nov. 7, the day after the disastrous election. This is their case:
The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.
The few Republicans who stood up and tried to move the party ahead were swatted into submission: Speaker John Boehner on fiscal matters and Sen. Marco Rubio on immigration are the poster boys for this.
Republicans are all flirting with a fall that could see influential party voices threatening to default on the debt or shut down the government — and therefore ending all hopes of proving they are not insane when it comes to governance.
These Republicans came into the year exceptionally hopeful the party would finally wise up and put immigration and irresponsible rhetoric and governing behind them. Instead, Republicans dug a deeper hole. This probably doesn’t matter for 2014, because off-year elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where older whites show up in disproportionate numbers. But elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak — unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast.
The blown opportunities and self-inflected wounds are adding up:
Hispanics. Nearly every Republican who stumbled away from 2012 promised to quit alienating the fastest-growing demographic in American politics. So what have they done since? Alienated Hispanic voters — again.
It is easy to dismiss as anomaly some of the nasty rhetoric — such as Rep. Don Young calling immigrants “wetbacks” or Rep. Steve King suggesting the children of illegal immigrants are being used as drug mules. But it’s impossible for most Hispanics not to walk away from the immigration debate believing the vast majority of elected Republicans are against a pathway to citizenship.
House Republicans are dragging their feet on immigration reform — a measure that most Republican leaders agree is essential to getting back in the game with Hispanic voters before the next presidential election. House leaders say there’s no chance they’ll bring up the broad measure that has passed the Senate. Instead, they plan a piecemeal, one-bill-a-month approach that is likely to suffocate comprehensive reform.
Some Republicans are praying that leaders will find a way to jam through something President Barack Obama can sign. But current signs point to failure. The House will be tied up all fall over fiscal issues — and there’s unlikely to be time to litigate immigration reform even if most members want to, which they don’t.
“If Republicans don’t pass immigration reform, it’ll be a black cloud that’ll follow the party around through the next presidential election and possibly through the decade,” warned Scott Reed, senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
African Americans. Republicans hurt themselves with other minorities by responding lamely — and, in some cases, offensively — to the Trayvon Martin case, and to the Supreme Court ruling that gutted Voting Rights Act protections.
“You can perform an autopsy until you’re blue in the face,” said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman, now with Purple Nation Solutions. “But if the people you’re trying to reach have no faith or trust in the words you are saying, it doesn’t matter.”
It would be easy to dismiss Steele as bitter because he was forced out of the RNC and has feuded with his successor, Reince Priebus, since. But he has done something few Republicans have: risen to the top of American politics as a black Republican. On voting rights, Steele said, the party needs to actively deal with African-American complaints about voter suppression and impediments to voters’ registration. “We need to be saying: ‘We respect, yes, the rule of law. But we also respect your constitutional right to vote,’” he said. “We just can’t sit back and rely on, ‘Oh, gee, you know, we freed the slaves.’”
Steele was even more incensed about Republican reaction to the Martin case. “What African-Americans heard was insensitive,” he said. “Republicans gave a very sterile or pro forma response. There was no sense of even expressing regret or remorse to Trayvon’s mother.”
Republicans tell us privately that pressure from conservative media only encourages their public voices to say things that offend black audiences.
Gays. Polls show the Republicans’ traditional view is rapidly becoming a minority view in politics, but the party has done nothing this year to make itself more appealing to persuadable gay voters.
“We come off like we’re angry and frustrated that more of our fellow Americans aren’t angry and frustrated,” said a senior Mitt Romney campaign official who asked not to be named.
Republicans did show progress in the form of restraint, with many leaders offering a muted reaction to a pair of Supreme Court rulings related to same-sex marriage. In the past, many would have taken to the airwaves to condemn what they see as the crumbling culture around them. A number of top Republicans are counseling a more libertarian approach, letting people live their lives and letting states, or better the church, set the rules for marriage at the local level.
Swing voters. Republicans are in jeopardy of convincing voters they simply cannot govern. Their favorable ratings are terrible and getting worse. But there is broad concern it could go from worse to an unmitigated disaster this fall. Most urgently, according to a slew of key Republicans we interviewed, conservative GOP senators have got to give up their insistence that the party allow the government to shut down after Sept. 30 if they don’t get their way on defunding Obamacare.
The quixotic drive — led by Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) — is part of Rubio’s effort to make up with the conservative base after he was stunned by the backlash over his deal-making on immigration. Pollsters say the funding fight makes Republicans look even more obstructionist and causes voters to worry about the effect a shutdown would have on their own finances.
Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research, who has been drilling down on this issue for the conservative public-opinion group Resurgent Republic, said: “Shutting down the government is the one way that Republicans can turn Obamacare from a political advantage to a political disadvantage in 2014.”
By: Jim Vandehi and Mike Allen, Politico, August 16, 2013
What is potentially the most dramatic of all electoral subplots seems to be building with virtually no public comment: even as Mitt Romney postures to swing voters as the newly re-emerged Moderate From Massachusetts, the shackles of a Republican congressional majority that once guaranteed the slippery Mitt couldn’t violate his various blood oaths to the conservative movement may not be so tight any more.
Richard Mourdock has taken another big step towards throwing away a safe Senate seat in Indiana. Todd Akin is showing no signs of recovery in Missouri. The latest polls are showing Tim Murphy beginning to overcome Linda McMahon’s money in Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren building a consistent lead in Massachusetts. Angus King again looks safe in Maine. Sure, GOPers could run the table of close races in Montana, North Dakota, Virginia and Nevada, but overall, prospects for Senate control are looking grim.
So the conservative game-plan, articulated many months ago by Grover Norquist, whereby a newly elected GOP congressional majority would pass the Ryan Budget via reconciliation procedures and present about a decade or two worth of demolition work to a newly elected President Romney, who had promised to sign it–doesn’t look quite so healthy. And this scenario hasn’t been discussed much because pretty much everybody figured an election in which Mitt won would surely produce a Republican Senate, given the GOP’s massive advantages in the landscape of that chamber in this particular cycle.
With Election Day just 13 days off, it’s far too late for conservatives to publicly demand fresh Vows of Total Submission from Romney–vows he’s already made, for one thing, but that most conservatives didn’t really think they’d need with a Republican Congress. They’ll have to grin and pretend to admire the Moderate Mitt talk, barren as it actually is. But you have to figure that behind the scenes there’s some serious don’t-you-dare-cross-us talk going on, whether or not Romney has any intention of using a Democratic Senate as an excuse to go back on his promises to let the conservative movement run wild in 2013 in exchange for tolerating his nomination.
It’s an interesting dynamic to watch, though one that is obviously of academic interest if Mitt loses and conservatives quickly consign him to the ashbin of failed RINOs.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 24, 2012
There’s a strong case against Mitt Romney’s candidacy that has nothing to do with ideology. Which is probably a good thing, because no one really knows where Romney fits on the ideological spectrum, and if he really has any deeply held policy views at all.
My own sense, as I’ve written before, is that Romney’s party label tells us pretty much all we need to know about how he’d govern. He’s the nominee of a party that has adopted a far-right platform, and if he were to win he’d have little choice but to stick to it. Conservatives have long viewed Romney’s ideological credentials with skepticism; under a Romney presidency, they’d be perpetually on-guard for any hint of betrayal. Failure to govern as the conservative he swore he was during the GOP primaries would open a rift in the party and threaten to destroy his presidency.
But part of Romney’s appeal to swing voters is an assumption that he’s faking it – that he said the words he needed to say to win the Republican nomination, but that as president he’d revert to Massachusetts Mitt, the middle-of-the-road pragmatist who shunned culture war politics and wasn’t averse to working with Democrats. I have a hard time seeing this, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it actually is his intent. Even then – and even if you think this would work out OK for the country from a policy standpoint – there’s still a compelling reason to fear a Romney win on November 6.
The basic problem has to do with the behavior of Romney’s party over the past four years – reflexive opposition and obstruction rooted in electoral strategy, not ideology – and the lesson that politicians from both parties would draw if it results in a one-term Obama presidency.
Essentially, Republicans looked around when Obama was sworn-in and saw political opportunity. They had lost the White House and faced steep Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. In a way, this made them weak; they had no power to advance their own agenda. But it also gave them strength; they had considerable power to stall Obama’s agenda, and with economic anxiety rampant, it seemed logical to assume voters would blame the ruling party if things didn’t turn around quickly.
The result is that Republicans devoted themselves not to constructively criticizing Democratic proposals, crafting feasible alternatives, and accepting olive branches from the administration but instead to cranking up the hysteria and treating virtually every Obama initiative as a step toward socialism. They matched this with legislative obstruction, tying up scores nominations, forcing a record number of filibusters, and forcing Democrats to pass their agenda on party-line votes.
The calculation was that Republican cooperation would signal to the public that progress was being made and that Obama was living up to his promise to change Washington. But if they railed against him and his agenda instead, Republicans would create an air of controversy around every Obama proposal and bring his approval rating down that much faster.
Mostly cut out of this equation has been policy. Congressional Republicans bitterly deride the stimulus, even though it was loaded up with tax cuts and infrastructure spending that Republicans had traditionally supported. But where was their viable alternative? Healthcare is even more egregious. Obama spent months cultivating Republican support and adopted a basic framework – an individual mandate that would strengthen private insurers – that originated on the right. Not only did they unanimously oppose it; they’ve still failed to produce their own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act – despite promising to do so for more than two years. And while they did rally around Paul Ryan’s long-term budget blueprint, Republicans have had nothing to say on the country’s immediate jobs crisis, offering only tired rhetoric about high taxes and wasteful government. And, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, they’ve offered nothing substantive on foreign policy, settling instead for fake scandals and symbolism.
If Romney wins in two weeks, Republicans may well find themselves with complete control of Washington again. And they will have achieved it by doing nothing but opposing, attacking and obstructing Obama. As Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann explain in “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” this kind of conduct by an opposition party works in parliamentary democracies like Britain. But our system isn’t designed for it. If Republicans win back power with it, though, there’s no reason to think they won’t behave the same way again the next time Democrats claim power. For that matter, it’s possible Democrats will begin to behave the same way.
This last point is worth considering for a moment. There’s a school of thought that Democrats will always be open to entreaties from a Republican president, for the simple reason that they believe in an active and robust government. So, for instance, that George W. Bush found Democratic support – sometimes significant Democratic support – during his first term, even though Democrats were still furious over how he’d won the presidency. But if Republicans succeed in making Obama a one-termer, who’s to say how Democrats will react – and if their party base will even allow any cooperation with President Romney? (Again, this is accepting the idea that Romney would even try to reach out.)
Elections shape the behavior of political parties. Recall that Bill Clinton got more cooperation from Republicans as he beat them (first with the 1995 shutdown, then in the 1996 election), to the point that Republicans ultimately went looking for their own Clinton in 2000, keying in on the affable George W. Bush and his compassionate conservatism. The GOP’s post-2008 behavior has not been healthy for our system of government. It’s troubling to think what might happen if it’s rewarded.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, October 22, 2012
To a skeptic, the most remarkable aspect of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been how so flexible a politician can represent so dogmatic a party. Contemporary Republicanism is ideological to its core. Everybody who watched the GOP primary debates between Mitt and the Seven Dwarves (or were there nine? I forget) understands that there’s a black-and-white party line on almost every imaginable topic from tax policy to global warming.
Romney, on the other hand, appears to have no firm convictions at all. How anybody purports to know what the GOP candidate actually thinks about any issue other than the size of his own offshore bank accounts beggars my poor imagination. That most Republicans have temporarily persuaded themselves to trust him reflects mainly their fear and loathing of President Obama.
Equally remarkable, however, is the way the Obama campaign has let Romney get away with it. How can his evasiveness not be an issue? For that matter, how can it not be THE issue? Early on, a strategic decision was apparently made to depict the GOP candidate as the “severely conservative” politician he affected to be during the Republican primaries.
Well, it ain’t working. So many and so various are the GOP candidate’s self-contradictions and reinventions that the proverbial “low information” citizens who appear to constitute much of the swing vote are pretty much free to imagine any Mitt Romney that strikes their fancy.
Maybe it’s unpatriotic to say so, but an awful lot of people who manage their personal affairs competently enough simply refuse to understand the most elementary facts when they’re part of a political argument.
Sometimes you have to tell them a story. It helps if that story connects to something close to home; something they’ve had to think about realistically in their own lives.
Such as, what happens if you lose your health insurance and then get sick? Millions live in fear of this every day.
CBS News’ Scott Pelley recently asked Romney a simple question on 60 Minutes: “Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?”
“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” Romney allowed. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”
“That’s the most expensive way to do it,” Pelley observed. Indeed, government figures show the average emergency room visit costs $922, vs. $199 for a doctor’s office visit.
Nor is it free. People do know that. Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act signed by President Reagan, hospitals must treat sick and injured patients regardless of their ability to pay. A civilized society can do no less; much less one that hopes to head off deadly epidemics.
But the law doesn’t say the hospital can’t perform what’s cynically called a “wallet biopsy” and send you a bill. Indeed, many states allow hospitals to hire collection agencies, garnish wages and seize assets in pursuit of payment. For this reason, many people stay away until they’re at death’s door.
Others abuse the privilege and stick the rest of us with the bill.
Back in 2006, the politician Bill Clinton calls “Moderate Mitt” recognized the problem. Hewrote a Wall Street Journal column objecting to the way deadbeats game the system.
“By law, emergency care cannot be withheld,” he wrote. “Why pay for something you can get free? Of course, while it may be free for them, everyone else ends up paying the bill, either in higher insurance premiums or taxes.”
Writing in Time, Kate Pickert catches Moderate Mitt as recently as 2008, explaining the conservative origins of “Romneycare” in Massachusetts.
“They shouldn’t be allowed just to show up at the hospital and say somebody else should pay for me, so we said no more free riders… We said if you can afford insurance, then either have the insurance or get a health savings account, pay your own way, but no more free ride… I think it’s the conservative approach—to make sure that people who can afford insurance are getting it at their expense, not at the expense of the taxpayers or the government. That, I consider a step towards socialism.”
Ah, but then came “Obamacare,” basically Romneycare with a less expensive per capita price tag. Yesterday’s conservative solution turned into today’s Bolshevism. Severely Conservative Mitt played along.
So what would Romney do if elected?
Who knows? To paraphrase the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: You can never encounter the same Mitt Romney twice. Whatever he says today, he’ll say something different tomorrow.
Here’s the question President Obama should be asking: Would you buy a used health insurance policy from this man?
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 17, 2012
As he tries to engineer a comeback in this week’s presidential debate, President Obama needs to recognize two things. First, when it comes to politics, Mitt Romney treats himself as a product, not a person. Second, Republicans cannot defend their proposals in terms that are acceptable to a majority of voters.
You can imagine Romney someday saying: “Politicians are products, my friend.” There’s no other way to explain why a candidate would seem to believe he can alter what he stands for at will. His campaign has been an exercise in identifying which piece of the electorate he needs at any given moment and adjusting his views, sometimes radically, to suit this requirement.
In that respect, Romney does Richard Nixon one better. When Nixon was looking to revive his career in the 1968 campaign, the terribly scarred veteran of so many political wars realized his old persona wouldn’t sell. And so he created what came to be known as the “New Nixon” — thoughtful, statesmanlike and tempered. The operation worked until Nixon’s old self got him into trouble.
But manufacturing the New Nixon took years of painstaking effort. New Romneys appear on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis. Thus did Romney move far to the right on immigration last year because he needed to dispatch nomination rival Rick Perry, a moderate on that one issue. Since then, Romney has been trying to backtrack to appease Latino voters.
During the same nomination battle, Romney abruptly changed his tax policy to placate the supply-side-Wall-Street-Journal-Grover-Norquist axis in the GOP. Romney’s initial tax proposal was relatively modest. The right wasn’t happy. No problem, said Romney, and out came his new tax plan that included a 20 percent cut in income tax rates, “rate cuts” being a term of near-religious significance to supply-siders.
Romney pointedly asserted (again, in the primaries) that he wanted the tax cut to go to everyone, “including the top 1 percent.” But this doesn’t sell to swing voters now, especially after the leaked video in which Romney wrote off 47 percent of Americans as incorrigibly dependent. So in the first debate, Romney tried to pretend that he didn’t want to cut rich people’s taxes. He reassured us that “I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.” (By the way, he could cut taxes for the rich a lot and still keep their “share” of the government’s overall tax take the same.)
And then there’s abortion, an issue about which you have to wonder if Romney cares at all. Without much effort, you can find video online in which Romney declares with passion and conviction that he is absolutely committed to a woman’s right to choose — and video in which he declares with equal passion and conviction that he is absolutely opposed to abortion and committed to the right to life. Just recently, Romney moved again, offering this shameless gem of obfuscation to the Des Moines Register editorial board: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” There is no candidate I am familiar with who has tried to have as many positions on abortion in one lifetime as Mitt Romney.
But there’s an underlying reason for Romney’s shape-shifting. It’s the same reason Rep. Paul Ryan always resorts to impressive-sounding budget speak and mathematical gobbledygook to evade explaining the impact of his budgets on actual human beings.
Romney, Ryan and the entire right know that their most deeply held belief — the one on which they won’t compromise — is rejected by the vast majority of Americans. That’s their faith that every problem in the economy and in society can be solved by throwing more money at rich people through tax cuts.
Vice President Biden kept Ryan on the defensive during most of Thursday night’s debate precisely because he refused to let anything distract him from driving this central point home. Without pause and without mercy, Biden kept bringing viewers back to the obsession of the current Republican Party with “taking care of only the very wealthy.”
Obama doesn’t have to look angry or agitated in this week’s debate. He simply needs to invite voters to see that Romney, the product, will give them no clue as to what Romney, the person, might do as president. Romney keeps changing the packaging because he knows that the policies inside the box are not what voters are looking for.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 14, 2012