Do House Republicans think voters are stupid? Why yes, yes they do, judging by the latest messaging the GOP is preparing to roll out in its big budget push. In the Republican view, simple voters find notions like “balance” confusing when it comes to issues of taxes, spending cuts, and the budget.
Politico has an article up raising the curtain on the Republican PR effort around the budget plan Rep. Paul Ryan will unveil next week. About halfway through, it contains this nugget on the Republican messaging strategy
“Democrats’ calls for a ‘balanced approach’ are clearly poll-tested, but it’s because people associate the word ‘balanced’ with a balanced budget — exactly the opposite of what Democrats’ budgets actually do,” the aide said. “Look for Republicans to go on offense on Democrats’ ‘balanced’ rhetoric by pointing out that there is nothing ‘balanced’ about Senate Democrats or the president’s budgets — in fact, they never balance at all.”
In short “balanced,” in the view emanating from Paul Ryan world, is some sort of magical word which simple voters are easily confused by. They hear “balanced” and—apparently incapable of absorbing the words around it in a given thought—just assume it means “balanced budget.” Now I get the concept of the low information voter—people who pay only passing attention to politics and so have details and often entire facts wrong—but this is an assumption of a low intelligence voter. You voters are too stupid to realize it, the messaging goes, but you really agree with us. You just need to understand that you’re easily confused by concepts like “balance.”
While we’re here let’s quickly reality-test the assertion, just for kicks. What do polls say about a balanced approach? Do voters really prefer Obama’s balanced way of dealing with deficits, and if so is it because they’re ensorcelled by the b-word, or do they get the substance? Conveniently, PolitiFact.com recently checked out the assertion that most voters agree with Obama’s approach. Their conclusion: “Obama said of a balanced approach to deficit reduction that ‘the majority of the American people agree with me and this approach, including, by the way, a majority of Republicans.’ … The majority of the polls we found support the president. We rate the president’s statement Mostly True.”
They didn’t check whether simpleton voters were just entranced by the “b-word,” but they did cite poll after poll after poll where the word wasn’t used but rather the concept—dealing with the budget deficit with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases—was explained, and majorities of voters favored it over a spending-cut-only approach. This is in line with the preponderance of polls which also show that most voters favor notions like compromise generally.
In short, “balance” polls well on the substance so Republicans are trying to neutralize the concept as a talking point by—in a Orwellian bit of redefinition—muddying the meaning of the word.
The rest of the Politico article does provide some insight into Ryan World. The budget won’t cut much more than last year’s, it says, even though it balances the federal books twice as fast as the last version (Ezra Klein explained why yesterday). And, reporters Jake Sherman and David Nather write, Ryan aides are unafraid of a backlash against the plan:
Politically, House Republicans think it carries next to no risk: Conservative truth-telling, they say, is in vogue. Two years after Ryan’s decision to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system, the party’s presidential ticket won seniors by 17 percentage points and House Republicans are still comfortably in the majority, even if Mitt Romney did lose the presidency with Ryan as his running mate.
What’s a presidential level thumping between friends? Especially when voters are such nimwits. What’s striking is what a hoary talking point this is. Has there been any point in the last, say, four years when House Republicans would have said that “conservative truth-telling” wasn’t in vogue? (And the notion of “conservative truth-telling” is especially funny when it comes to Paul Ryan and his budgets.)
A line much later in the Politico piece nicely sums things up: “All of this doesn’t mask a larger problem for Republicans: Their budget messaging stinks.”
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, March 7, 2013
As a new Congress convenes, it has become an unquestioned truth among Republicans that their party has as much of a mandate as President Obama because voters returned them to power in the House.
The mantra has been intoned by John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and many other party eminences, and there is a certain logic to saying that the voters, by giving Republicans the House, were asking for divided government.
But the claim to represent the voters’ will doesn’t add up.
The final results from the November election were completed Friday, and they show that Democratic candidates for the House outpolled Republicans nationwide by nearly 1.4 million votes and more than a full percentage point — a greater margin than the preliminary figures showed in November. And that’s just the beginning of it: A new analysis finds that even if Democratic congressional candidates won the popular vote by seven percentage points nationwide, they still would not have gained control of the House.
The analysis, by Ian Millhiser at the liberal Center for American Progress using data compiled by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, finds that even if Democrats were to win the popular vote by a whopping nine percentage points — a political advantage that can’t possibly be maintained year after year — they would have a tenuous eight-seat majority.
In a very real sense, the Republican House majority is impervious to the will of the electorate. Thanks in part to deft redistricting based on the 2010 Census, House Republicans may be protected from the vicissitudes of the voters for the next decade. For Obama and the Democrats, this is an ominous development: The House Republican majority is durable, and it isn’t necessarily sensitive to political pressure and public opinion.
According to the Jan. 4 final tally by Cook’s David Wasserman after all states certified their votes, Democratic House candidates won 59,645,387 votes in November to the Republicans’ 58,283,036, a difference of 1,362,351. On a percentage basis, Democrats won, 49.15 percent to 48.03 percent.
This in itself is an extraordinary result: Only three or four other times in the past century has a party lost the popular vote but won control of the House. But computer-aided gerrymandering is helping to make such undemocratic results the norm — to the decided advantage of Republicans, who controlled state governments in 21 states after the 2010 Census, almost double the 11 for Democrats.
To be sure, Democrats tend to be just as flagrant as Republicans when they have the chance to gerrymander. And the Republican advantage isn’t entirely because of redistricting; Democrats have lopsided majorities in urban clusters, so the overall popular vote overstates their competitiveness in other districts. An analysis by FairVote found that nonpartisan redistricting would only partially close the gap, which comes also from the disappearance of ticket-splitting voters who elected centrist Democrats.
But the 2012 House results show the redrawing of districts to optimize Republican representation clearly had an impact. Consider three states won by Obama in 2012 where Republicans dominated the redistricting: In Pennsylvania, Democrats won just five of 18 House seats; in Virginia, Democrats won three of 11; and in Ohio, Democrats won four of 16.
Using Wasserman’s tally, Millhiser ranked districts by the Republican margin of victory and calculated that for Democrats to have won the 218 seats needed for a House majority they would have had to have added 6.13 percentage points to their popular-vote victory margin of 1.12 points.
To put the Republican advantage in perspective, Democrats could win the House only if they do significantly better than Republicans did in their landslide year of 2010 (when they had a 6.6-point advantage). That’s not impossible — Democrats did it in 2006 and 2008 — but it’s difficult. Republicans don’t have a permanent House majority, but they will go into the next several elections with an automatic head start. For many, the biggest political threat comes not from Democrats but from conservative primary challengers.
In theory, the Supreme Court could decide before then that this rigged system denies Americans fair and effective representation. But this won’t happen anytime soon. For now, Democrats need to recognize that the Republican House majority will respond only sluggishly to the usual levers of democracy.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012
Earlier this week, John Boehner opened his fiscal cliff counteroffer to President Obama by claiming that it had been a “status quo election in which both you and the Republican majority in the House were re-elected.” Democrats and progressives, who have spent the last month crowing about Republican’s self-marginalization as the party of aging white men, obviously beg to differ — both about who holds the leverage in the ongoing tax rate and debt ceiling standoffs and how the election plays into it. Are they being overconfident, or will the Obama coalition we saw turn out a month ago hold?
As the last of the post-election data sifts and behind-the-scenes campaign reveals trickle out and the political class tries to figure out the new normal, it’s a good time to take stock.
Liberals are thrilled to see a toughened Obama use his strengthened hand against Republican intransigence, which they see as bolstered by an election day mandate. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post put it this way: “The argument is straightforward: This isn’t 2011 anymore. Last time, Republicans had won an election; this time, Obama and Democrats won. Polls show the public increasingly sees Republicans as the intransigent party and the primary obstacle to compromise in Washington.” And Frank Rich was equally dismissive of the Republicans’ bargaining power: “Everyone knows the Republicans are going to fold — the Republicans know they are going to fold — and the only question to be resolved is when and on what terms. They have zero leverage. It’s not only that they lost the election; they continue to decline in national polls, with the latest Pew survey showing that 53 percent of Americans will blame the GOP (and only 27 percent will blame President Obama) if there’s no deal by January.” Even plenty of Republicans are pessimistic: “Now more than ever, Republicans should know better than to pretend polls aren’t telling them something,” wrote John Podhoretz glumly.
But House members aren’t elected by national polls, and thanks to gerrymandering into safe districts that helped Republicans hold the House last month, they still may have more to fear from their right flank in the event of a compromise. And the prior particulars of this current skirmish favor the Democrats: Taxes going up on everyone on January 1 over their desire to keep tax cuts for the rich looks bad just after you lost by running an out-of-touch rich guy for president. As Republican Rep. James Lankford admitted to the Times, “It’s a terrible position because by default, Democrats get what they want.” This is a crisis of Republicans’ making that they’ve boxed themselves into; future battles might not be so deliciously karmic.
Of course, the long-term demographic trends that, combined with a killer turnout game helped re-elect the president — despite Republicans’ innumerate overconfidence — still exist. Just how that created (or confirmed) an “Obama coalition” is elucidated in a just-released report by Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, who can justly claim to have called those trends long before Republicans had to remember that Latino voters exist.
While many pollsters erroneously believed that the share of the white vote, for example, would remain stable, their 2011 report, “The Path to 270” projected that in 2012, the following math would favor Obama: an increase of 2 percent in the share of voters of color, fewer white working-class voters, and a small uptick in white college graduate voters. “According to the 2012 exit polls, that is exactly what happened,” they write in the new report. “With the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012, this progressive coalition has clearly emerged, albeit in an early and tenuous stage.”
That last qualifier also matters in figuring out just what that progressive coalition can do and how it can be harnessed, especially with coming state-level and local races and in future legislative battles that may divide those disparate constituencies — or leave them disengaged. For example, much was rightly made of the gender gap, but specificity matters: As Teixeira and Halpin note, President Obama actually lost white college-graduate women after winning them in 2008: “Among women in this demographic, his margin declined from 52 percent to 47 percent in 2008, to 46 percent to 52 percent in 2012.” (Romney also won the white working class, where he gained men compared to McCain, but not enough working class white women were in his ranks to make a difference from 2008.) As John Cassidy pointed out just after the election, white women overall have broken with the overall “gender gap” dynamic: Bush won 55 percent of white women in 2004.
The most reliable Obama voters turned not to be all women, but young women and women of color, in part because young people and people of color in general turned out and voted for the president. (Younger people and people of color are also generally less likely to be married, which partly explains how Obama won single women by 36 points; unmarried women also made up a larger share of voters in the election, 23 percent versus 21 percent in 2008.)
Unfortunately, those are the same demographics who largely stayed home in 2010, when we got many of the looniest members of the Republican caucus. They’re the same ones that brought the debt ceiling debate to the brink, after they held the government hostage over defunding Planned Parenthood. By the way, those positions on women’s health also proved politically toxic last month, at least according to the organization’s own action fund, which just released polling showing that it had managed to make 64 percent of all voters aware that Romney planned to defund it, which 62 percent of them disagreed with. Their research also found that Latinos and African Americans were more likely to side with Obama after hearing his views on “affordable birth control,” abortion, and Planned Parenthood funding. Republicans may have lost their appetites on that kind of fight, except that they still have right-to-life absolutists to appease in their coalition and in their districts.
Soon after the election, Michael Tomasky proposed that some rich liberal donor throw cash at this perennial problem: In off-year elections, “The 20 percent who leave the system are almost entirely Democrats. This has been true all my life. It’s basically because old people always vote, and I guess old white people vote more than other old people, and old white people tend to be Republican. So even when white America isn’t enraged as it was in 2010, midterms often benefit Republicans.” Meanwhile, according to Politico, it’s looking like the vaunted Obama database is going to be kept in the president’s hands mainly to channel support for legislation, despite the desperate entreaties of Democratic candidates up for election in 2013 and 2014, though it might also be used for an entirely new organization that could support candidates. (It’s also up for debate whether that database is already obsolete, anyway.)
None of this means that Democrats should be folding to a compromise which well could include draconian cuts to programs like Medicaid and Social Security that are crucial to that coalition. In fact, it probably means the opposite: Those voters need to be reminded why it matters for them to come back to the polls and to stand up for the policies that motivated them on November 6, from social insurance to ensuring access to reproductive health to comprehensive immigration reform, even without Obama’s name on the ballot.
By: Irin Carmon, Salon, December 6, 2012
The Nile is not a river in Egypt; it’s the post-election operating principle for Republicans and conservatives. Rather than face reality many Republicans would rather stick their heads in the sand and complain about the voters. In his political thriller Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wrote “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.” If Republicans want to get on track, they need to take a hard look at themselves and not blame everything on Mitt Romney.
Many conservatives and Republicans share Romney’s disdain for voters. I like to watch the Fox News Channel when things go badly for Republicans, so I’ve been watching the Fox News Channel a lot lately. I enjoy hearing the excuses that their commentators make for the GOP. The spin out of GOP-TV is that President Barack Obama won because voters are stupid, selfish, or sinful. Now, there’s a winning campaign message for you. Conservative columnist George Will said Sunday on ABC that the Republican Party must “quit despising the American people.” I knew that if I waited long enough, I would agree with Will on something.
The national GOP candidates have also put their heads deep into the sand.
Mitt Romney jumped in immediately after Election Day to remind the public of just how clueless he is. He blamed Barack Obama for his loss. Romney told big money donors that he lost because of the president’s “gifts” to young people, blacks, and Hispanics. Most people think that the things that Romney described as gifts are just basic human rights. One of these “gifts” was ending deportation for people who came to the United States as children with undocumented parents. President Obama ended the deportation because he believed the U.S. government should not punish children for their parents’ mistakes. Voters do not share the GOP’s hostility to immigrants. Data from the national Election Day exit survey indicated that two thirds (65 percent) of the voters want to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants while only a quarter (28 percent) of the voters felt that the government should deport them.
Romney’s running mate is just as clueless. Rep. Paul Ryan said that the election was not rejection of GOP tax policies. He was wrong. The former GOP vice presidential candidate apparently didn’t read the national exit poll that showed that almost half (47 percent) of the voters want to raise taxes on Americans who live in households where the total annual income is over $250,000. A small group (13 percent) of voters want to raise everyone’s taxes and only a third (35 percent) of the electorate oppose any tax increase.
If all else fails, blame the weather. I have seen or heard a few GOP pundits say that Hurricane Sandy blew Mitt Romney off course. If Republicans believe that it was Sandy that took the wind out of Romney’s sails, they face a long winding road back to the White House.
To be fair some conservatives got it. Both Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer endorsed amnesty for undocumented workers after the election results rolled in. Good for them, they are realistic enough to fear the impact that a growing Latino population will have on the future of the GOP.
But some of the solutions that conservatives have offered aren’t particularly constructive. One of our readers @MaltaSiege suggested that “all liberals should hang themselves.” I assume that includes me. Just to be sure I got the message, Mal was kind enough to include a picture of a noose. Even if we had enough rope to hang ourselves, I don’t think the 62 million Americans who voted for Barack Obama want to leave this earthly coil now that they re-elected a president who wants to eliminate tax breaks for billionaires and who will fight to allow people to marry anyone they choose without government interference.
Not all our readers appreciate my thoughts on the condition of the GOP and the conservative movement. Years ago, I told a female friend that I had finally figured out what makes women tick. My friend replied in horror, “What do you know about women, you’re a man?” I replied “We’re all people, aren’t we?” Well, some of you may resent my comments about Republicans, since I’m a Democrat. But we’re all Americans, aren’t we?
By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, November 19, 2012
Thank goodness that’s over.
The presidential campaign of 2012 did not in fact last long enough to be measured in geologic time, but poll-scarred and ad-weary voters can, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling as if it did.
Barack Obama and his supporters will, understandably, be jubilant that his lease on that Pennsylvania Avenue mansion has been extended for four more years. But Tuesday night’s vote is also noteworthy for a reason only tangentially related to the fortunes of the incumbent president. One can argue — or maybe the better word is “hope” — that voters did more than re-elect Obama on Tuesday night. They also repudiated the scorched-earth extremism and acute cognitive dissonance that have come to characterize the Republican Party in recent years.
Rush Limbaugh recently said something interesting (will wonders never cease?) on his radio show. As reported by Politico, he told listeners, “There’s not a whole lot of love for conservatives in the Republican Party. Except now, where the party will take anything they can get to win.” As he sees it, the GOP prefers to woo independents to prove “that they win without the base of the party. Now, the Democrats are not embarrassed of their base. The Republicans, in large part, are.”
The GOP is embarrassed by its base? One is by no means sanguine that this is true, but one can’t help but hope, fervently, that it is. It would be a welcome sign that Republicans are not, in fact, committed to a policy of electoral suicide and a future of ballot box irrelevance.
It is hard not to believe they are, given the way the party has stubbornly relied on an ever-narrowing slice of the American demographic for victory. They have either lost, or are at significant disadvantage with, a wide array of Americans: blacks, women, gays, Muslims, Hispanics and more. The people whose votes the party commands tend to be older, white, evangelical, and male. And as that cohort of the electorate fades in prominence, the danger is that it will take the GOP with it.
And yet, rather than seeking to expand its outreach and broaden its appeal, the party has inexplicably chosen to double down on its shrinking base. Worse, it has chosen to appeal to that base with a platform of fearmongering, xenophobia, demagoguery and inchoate anger so extreme as to make Ronald Reagan seem almost a hippie by comparison.
It has embraced the politics of pitchforks and bomb-throwing wherein candidates must compete with one another to see who can say the most bizarre and outrageous thing — and where moderation is a sin against orthodoxy.
It should have told us something when the previously moderate Mitt Romney pronounced himself “severely conservative” on the way to winning the GOP primary. One does not use that word to modify things one approves or is comfortable with. When have you ever heard someone describe themselves as “severely happy” or “severely content”?
His use of that word strongly suggests Romney’s discomfort with the pose he was required to take, and the fact that he was required to take it. Now as Romney fades into the rearview mirror, one can only hope his party takes the right lesson from this defeat, that it transforms itself into a party with some appeal to the rest of us as opposed to one that demonizes the rest of us to appeal to a very few.
Tuesday night, the nation did not just choose a president. It chose a future. And “severe” conservatism does not seem to be a part of it.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, November 7, 2012