On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.
These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.
You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?
Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.
At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.
But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.
On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.
I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.
As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?
And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.
As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.
And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.
Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.
By: Paul Krugman, Opinion Writer, The New York Times, June 15, 2015
Another day, another trio of new candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
A brain surgeon with no particular feel for politics. A business executive who lost the only election she ever entered. And the most famous graduate of Ouachita Bible College, who made a stop in the Arkansas’ governor’s house before becoming a talk-show host. Just throw Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee on the pile.
It’s already a big pile: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are official. Jeb Bush is officially unofficial, just as Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and George Pataki are. Lindsey Graham and John Kasich are unofficially unofficial. But they are thinking about it! A few of these would-be candidates are sure to find the likelihood of embarrassment too great, and will stop before they officially start. But I’m betting that the first debates will include 10 or more candidates.
So has the addition of this week’s candidates added to the ferment of ideas? No, not really.
In some ways, Fiorina understands the minds of many modern primary voters. She’s all but promised to be a paladin of the existing orthodoxy of her party’s conservative base. So she sells herself on her ability to sell. And she sells her identity. On day one of her campaign, she rattled off the talking points her nomination would cross off Hillary Clinton’s list. She told reporters: “Because I am a woman, there are many things she can’t say. She can’t play the gender card. She can’t talk about being the first woman president. She can’t talk about the war on women.” Mutually assured decorum, I guess.
In a lineup of politicians, the non-politician Ben Carson is easily the most impressive and accomplished person in the room. But his charm is almost entirely in being charmless. He speaks with great poise, which is refreshing. But his professed political views, and his manner of expressing them, are distinguishable only in volume and lack of spittle from the apocryphal “paranoid right-wing uncle” that is the foil of every annual Thanksgiving advice column.
Mike Huckabee is the most plausible of the three, actually having been elected to a statewide office. He also performed not-terribly when he ran for president in 2008. As a bonus, he offers some good and some bad populist critiques of the party’s establishment. Is the magic still there? I’m not sure. Ted Cruz has already soaked up so much of the “I hate the Establishment and they hate me” cred. And Cruz is going directly after Huckabee’s base of evangelical voters, while Huckabee himself has yet to prove he can win the middle-income Catholics and moderate voters of the Midwest. It’s Iowa or bust for Huck.
Is any of this good for the party or the nation? No, not really.
There is broad agreement among elite Republicans that the sheer number of serious and unserious candidates may hurt the party. It crams the debate stage, elicits shallow questions, and reduces the nationally televised answers to the tiniest sound-bites or hand-raises. It’s bad for the party, and the country. It’s also a can’t-lose deal for any would-be candidate willing to endure flights to Des Moines and house parties in Nashua.
A losing campaign can generate new interest in your career. It connects you with the wealthiest backers of your party. And it generates mailing lists and emailing lists of people who are not quite as wealthy but whose contacts can be useful for selling books, or filling up a local venue and making you seem like an important voice in the life of the Republic. Because the Republican Party has a para-party shadow in the institutions of the conservative movement and conservative-media complex, even a failed presidential campaign can be quite a successful life-proposition.
And hey, if worse comes to worst, and the bottom falls out of your “candidacy,” you can just rent or sell outright the names and whatever data you collected to the highest-bidding erection pill or diabetes-treatment interests. I see you voted for Ben Carson. Are you interested in seeds that will help you survive the collapse of our currency?
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, May 5, 2015
“Same Dynamics Of Polarization And Bad Ideology As Anybody Else”: No, Governors Are Not Inherently Superior Candidates For President
For a professional political writer, nothing’s more fun than identifying a cliche your less esteemed colleagues are using that never made sense or has stopped making sense and just blowing it up. One that’s overdue for an explosion is the trope about governors making inherently superior presidential candidates. So that was the subject of my latest TPMCafe column.
Once you start looking at the 2016 Republican presidential field from this perspective, the first thing that jumps out at you is how many governors and former governors are struggling with home-state unpopularity or mistakes they made in office or both. It’s entirely possible, for example, that the entire Scott Walker candidacy could be unraveled by his growing problems in Wisconsin, where a lot of people who either voted for him or stayed home are angry at him for his nasty state budget proposals or for his pattern of doing highly controversial things (e.g., making Wisconsin a Dixie-style Right-to-Work state) he disclaimed or didn’t mention when running for office. That’s because his whole electability argument is that he won over swing voters in Wisconsin three times without compromising with the godless liberals. That argument loses a lot of punch if poll after poll starts showing Walker losing his state–by 52/40 in the latest Marquette Law School survey–to Hillary Clinton.
Then you look at Bobby Jindal, who is obviously miserable being, and miserable at being, governor of Louisiana. As a legendary whiz kid, diversity symbol, and rising star in the House, he was probably on the brink of being regarded as presidential timber before he became governor back in 2007. You think it might cross his mind now and then how much better positioned he’d be if he were now a Senator, or even still in the House, where he could pander to the conservative constituencies he is pursuing all day long without having to worry about Louisiana’s budget problems, which he is only making worse?
I won’t go through the whole column, but you get the idea. Perhaps governors aren’t afflicted with Washington Cooties, but they are actually required to do things that people notice, and are subject to the same dynamics of partisan polarization and bad ideology as anybody else. Republicans in Congress can go on and on and on about education vouchers or supply-side economics or privatizing government benefits without any risk of being held accountable for their “vision” being implemented. Governors are living much more unavoidably in the real world.
You can still make the case, I guess, that for this very reason governors make better presidents than, say, senators. But that’s not entirely clear, either. Sometimes governors get a good reputation simply for being in the right place at the right time, like a certain Texas governor who took office just as a national economic boom was gaining steam, and just as a decades-long realignment was pushing the last of his state’s conservative Democratic aristocracy in his direction. So he got to be a “reformer with results,” and his fellow governors had a lot to do with lifting him to a presidential nomination. Was he prepared to be president? Is his brother prepared now? Even though both men have benefited from their father’s vast network of moneyed elites, and from gubernatorial service, that’s really not so clear.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2015
For the last several weeks, the more congressional Republicans talked about suing, and possibly impeaching, President Obama, the more Democrats smiled. Aaron Blake explained why: the Republican antics are “killing the GOP among swing voters.”
The McClatchy-Marist College poll shows political moderates oppose the impeachment of Obama 79 percent to 15 percent. That’s a stunning margin. And not only that, if the House GOP did initiate impeachment proceedings, moderates say it would turn them off so much that they would be pulled toward the Democrats. By 49-27, moderates say impeachment would make them more likely to vote Democratic than Republican in 2014.
But it’s not just impeachment. As we’ve noted before, the House GOP’s lawsuit against Obama’s use of executive orders is turning out to be a political loser too. In fact, it’s not much more popular than impeachment.
Americans say 58 percent to 34 percent that the GOP should not sue Obama, and moderates agree 67-22. Moderates also say by a 50-25 margin that the lawsuit makes them more likely to back Democrats in 2014.
Congressional Republicans, by targeting the president so aggressively, probably assumed this would motivate the GOP base, if nothing else, but even that isn’t entirely going according to plan. Greg Sargent, looking at the same data, explained this morning, “The poll also finds that 88 percent of Democrats say the lawsuit would make them more likely to vote for their side, while 78 percent of Republicans say the same.it…. [T]his effort may scratch the hard-right GOP base’s impeachment itch, but it could end up motivating Democrats more.”
And yet, GOP officeholders and candidates still can’t help themselves.
Even as Republican leaders try to downplay their anti-Obama schemes, and dismiss impeachment rhetoric as a Democratic “scam,” the message doesn’t seem to have reached everyone in the party. Just yesterday, we heard more impeachment talk from a House GOP candidate…
Matthew Corey, the Republican challenging Rep. John Larson (D-CT) in Connecticut, said Saturday that he believes President Obama should be impeached, according to the Bristol Press. Corey said that Obama has violated the constitutional provision that gives Congress “all legislative powers” and said the president has been “breaking the oath of office.” He also said he supported the House’s efforts to sue Obama for choosing “what parts of a law he wants to enforce.”
… and a current House GOP lawmaker.
Rep. Steve King called into Glenn Beck’s radio program this morning to discuss his confrontation last week with advocates of immigration reform. During the interview, King told Beck that it is vitally important for House Republicans to rein in President Obama for the remainder of his term so that he cannot destroy America before this nation can elect a new president “whom God will use to restore the soul of America.”
Saying that Republicans cannot “unilaterally disarm” by taking the threat of impeachment off the table, King declared that the GOP must work to “restrain this president so that he doesn’t do serious destructive damage to our constitution” in order to allow this nation to “limp our way through his terms of office.”
This sort of talk has practically become a daily occurrence. If the McClatchy-Marist data is correct, Democrats are likely hoping it doesn’t stop anytime soon.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 13, 2014
“This Isn’t Complicated, People”: Joe Scarborough Will Never Be President For Many Very Obvious Reasons
I guess we’re doing this again? Morning show host and coffee chain pitchman Joe Scarborough has a book out, about how the Republican Party can save itself by being less angry and extreme, and trying to do more to appeal to “swing voters” and “moderates.” Scarborough has been giving lots of interviews about his book and its very original thesis. Ronald Reagan is on the cover of the book. Now people are asking Joe Scarborough if he is going to run for president, and he “won’t rule anything out.” He should. He definitely should rule it out, as soon as possible.
Now TPM says that Scarborough will be among the potential candidates in a survey taken at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire. That doesn’t really mean a whole lot. It’s not “proof” that Scarborough is dumb enough to actually run for president. He is, hopefully, just indulging the 2016 speculation to promote his book. But if he does even slightly well in this poll — and Northeast Republican Leaders are probably the closest thing to Scarborough’s “crowd” in the modern GOP, so it’s not impossible — there will be a lot of very insufferable words written, by the sort of people who appear or want desperately to appear on “Morning Joe,” about how Scarborough could make a serious run for the presidency. Mike Allen and Dylan Byers will say that “insiders” are “buzzing” about Scarborough 2016.
OK. Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Joe Scarborough is not a serious potential presidential candidate. That is nonsense.
The people who write credulously about candidate Scarborough tend to imply that because Scarborough is a television host, that he has built-in national name recognition and popularity. That is not actually true. Scarborough’s show is popular among people who follow politics closely. Most Americans don’t. And so, most Americans are watching something else most weekday mornings. Among Beltway (and New York) political journalists and media people, it is not a huge stretch to say that “everyone” watches “Morning Joe.” But in the real world, only a couple hundred thousand people watch it. That’s (a lot) fewer people than watch “Community.” I’m not trying to be harsh on Scarborough’s ratings, I am just trying to explain that the man is not, by normal standards, a huge television talk show star. He is more like the most popular local news guy for the Acela corridor.
Meanwhile, a million people watch Fox’s brain-dead morning program. Based on popularity as measured by ratings — a decent measure of popularity, I think — Joe Scarborough would be a less successful political candidate than Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and the Rev. Al Sharpton. In a Republican primary, in any state, for any office, nearly any Fox News host — probably even that old rascal Shep Smith — would almost certainly beat Joe Scarborough.
Suggesting that Scarborough run for president because political junkies like his show is like saying a “Crossfire” panelist should have run for president in 1992. Except that when that actually happened, it wasn’t a total disaster. Pat Buchanan, a former speechwriter turned TV pundit, ran for president three times. The second time, in 1996, he actually won New Hampshire, and came in close in Iowa. Still, he didn’t win. What can Scarborough learn from Buchanan’s campaigns? What made Buchanan a popular enough figure to actually win Republican primaries, beating the more experienced choice of the party elite?
Well, he was not a moderate pragmatist. Just not at all. The key to Buchanan’s almost-victory was that he was an outspoken white populist (and, in certain respects, white supremacist) who ran as the true conservative, opposed to the Washington establishment. He expressed anti-free trade beliefs that white working-class voters weren’t hearing from any other candidate in either party. He went big on the culture wars. His campaign semi-jokingly referred to its supporters as “the peasants with pitchforks.” It was, essentially, a proto-Tea Party campaign. That’s how Buchanan came close (though never that close) to winning the GOP nomination for the presidency: by doing exactly the opposite of what Joe Scarborough believes Republicans ought to do to win.
It is hard to believe that Joe Scarborough, coastal pro-business “moderate” who works for MSNBC, would do as well as Pat Buchanan, populist anti-corporate member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, in a GOP primary campaign, even in 2016. A third-party or independent run would be a colossal waste of time and money. Please, stop suggesting that this could actually happen.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 13, 2013