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“A Stupid Poopy Head”: Is it Game Over For Grover Norquist?

Two meetings in Washington today tell the story of the decline of Grover Norquist, the conservative activist who is seeing his near-iron grip on GOP tax policy over the past two decades slipping. One is Norquist’s weekly “Wednesday Meeting,” a gathering of “more than 150 elected officials, political activists, and movement leaders” who plot strategy and coordinate messaging every week. After big losses at the polls in last week’s election and a fracturing conservative base just as Congress heads into its most important tax negotiations in years, it’s safe to assume that this morning’s meeting was tense.

There was a time when almost every single elected Republican in Washington and even state capitals would sign Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, which binds elected officials to a promise not to raise taxes under any circumstance. As recently as last year’s negotiations over the debt ceiling, Norquist had fealty from a majority in the House of Representatives, including Speaker John Boehner and the entire GOP leadership. “60 Minutes’” Steve Kroft labeled Norquist “the most powerful man in Washington.” Those who violate his pledge could long expect to face attack ads aimed at unseating them, bankrolled by Norquist’s massive war chest. Americans for Tax Reform spent almost $16 million on independent expenditure ads in 2012. Crossing the group has always increased the likelihood of a primary challenge.

But times are changing. Today’s second interesting meeting is taking place a few blocks away from Norquist’s downtown D.C. headquarters, at the White House, where President Obama is meeting with a dozen CEOs of the country’s biggest corporations. How did Norquist react to news of Obama reaching out to the business community, which he aims to represent in Washington? Not positively. Norquist told the Washington Post the CEOs were “acting like a group of trained seals” for Obama, posing for a “photo op” to give the president cover.

You’d think Norquist would be happy that Obama is giving an audience to the titans of the private sector, but no. That’s because the meeting, which gives the president a chance to win some business support for his agenda without any input from Norquist, represents a threat to his personal power. Is his petulant reaction — he invoked the term “poopy head” on national TV on Monday — a sign that he’s losing his once awesome power over the nation’s capital? Maybe.

Norquist faces an unprecedented rear-guard attack as the congressional GOP fractures on the tax issue. Last year, there were 238 members of the House and 41 members of the Senate who had signed Norquist’s pledge. This year, there are just 217 in the House — one shy from the 218 needed for a majority — and 39 in the Senate, an all-time low. As the Hill’s Russell Berman reports, while Norquist claims his army is 219 strong in the House, two of those members have since disavowed Norquist’s pledge.

Democrats are hoping to exploit GOP divisions to push for tax increases on the wealthy during the lame duck session of Congress. “More and more people on the hill are realizing that Norquist is a has-been, and the outcome of the fiscal cliff will probably consign him to the footnote status he’s always deserved,” a senior Democratic aide told Salon.

The true scale of the desertion from Norquist’s pledge is actually obscured by GOP losses in the House. At least a dozen of the House Republicans’ top recruits, touted as “Young Guns,” declined to sign the pledge this year. Norquist’s group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads explicitly defending candidates like California Republican Ricky Gill and Georgia Republican Lee Anderson against flak they were taking for signing the pledge. Both lost.

And back in Washington, where signing the pledge was once de rigueur, Republicans have been increasingly bold in rebuking Norquist. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has long been a sharp critic of the pledge’s inflexibility — “Grover, you’re stupid,” is just a sample — but now he’s being joined by a growing roster of colleagues. “Grover Norquist has no credibility, so I don’t respond to him. He doesn’t deserve being responded to,” said Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “Simply put, I believe Mr. Norquist is connected with and has profited from a number of unsavory people and groups out of the mainstream,” said longtime Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf on the House floor.

Several members have even retreated from the pledge, such as Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack, who was elected in 2010 and had one of the nation’s highest profile races this year. “I have learned, never sign a damn pledge,” he said this spring when asked about Norquist’s pledge. Cravaack still lost. Indeed, the pledge came up in a number of races and there’s some evidence that it proved to be a political liability.

And it’s not just in rhetoric. Norquist faced one of the biggest legislative tests of his power when a subsidy for ethanol production came up for renewal last year. He staunchly opposed it, saying eliminating the tax subsidy would be a de facto tax increase and thus a violation of the pledge. Republicans joined Democrats to kill the subsidy anyway.

Norquist has also been rebuked on looming military cuts that will automatically take effect at the end of the year if Congress and the president fail to reach a budget deal. Republican hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said they’re willing to raise taxes to preserve Pentagon funding. Asked about how this would conflict with the pledge this summer, Graham shrugged and said, “I’ve crossed the Rubicon on that.” Today, even Sen. John McCain said at the Washington Ideas Forum that “fewer and fewer people are signing this [Norquist] pledge.” He said this “somewhat triumphantly,” the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein noted.

Even former President George H.W. Bush and his son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an early 2016 favorite for the GOP nomination, have disowned Norquist publicly. “The rigidity of those pledges is something I don’t like. The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It’s — who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?” the senior Bush told Parade magazine in July. “The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge,” the younger Bush testified to Congress in June. “I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people.”

Of course, the tide has been turning against Norquist for some time, and his demise has been predicted before. But this crisis moment in Washington looks a lot like a breaking point for the anti-tax agenda. Speaker Boehner has already indicated willingness to increase revenues and the consensus among Washington power brokers is that taxes on the wealthy will go up one way or the other, even if rates stay the same. Indeed, President Obama has vowed to veto anything that doesn’t. And the problem with a hard-line pledge like Norquist’s is that it intentionally leaves no room for flexibility. So once the dam cracks, it can break wide open.


By: Alex Seitx-Wald, Salon, November 14, 2012

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Lingering Bitterness”: The McCain-Graham Blisteringly Stupid And Painfully Dishonest Arguments

As a top official in the Bush/Cheney administration, Condoleezza Rice said wildly untrue things about Iraq to the American people. Soon after, she received bipartisan support to become Secretary of State.

As a top official in the Obama/Biden administration, Susan Rice said entirely credible things about Benghazi based on the collective judgment of the intelligence community. Soon after, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham launched a smear campaign against Rice to prevent her from becoming Secretary of State.

Zeke Miller highlights the disconnect from Graham…

[I]n 2005, Graham was fiercely protective of Rice as she faced confirmation to take over the State Department, chaffing at terms used by Democratic lawmakers to describe her testimony. “The words like ‘misleading’ and ‘disingenuous,’ I think, were very unfair,” Graham said on Fox News.

Asked if then-Sen. Mark Dayton’s use of the word “liar” was justified, Graham pounced. “Yes, that’s even more unfair. Because it was all in terms of weapons of mass destruction and misleading us about the war and what was in Iraq. Well, every intelligence agency in the world was misled. And to connect those two to say that she’s a liar is very unfair, over the line.”

…and from McCain.

“So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,” he said [in 2005], adding that Rice is qualified for the job. “I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election.”

When Condoleezza Rice lied about WMD, McCain said she had unquestionable “integrity.” When Susan Rice told the truth about Benghazi, McCain said she’s guilty of “not being very bright.” The former received McCain’s support; the latter received McCain’s contempt.

It’s troublesome when partisan hacks launch smear campaigns against public officials who don’t deserve it, but it’s especially offensive when partisan hacks launch lazy smear campaigns based on blisteringly stupid, painfully dishonest arguments.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 14, 2012

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Big, Unpopular, Losing Ideas”: Paul Ryan’s Rapid Rewrite Of Election History

Paul Ryan, who famously suggested that the General Motors plant in his hometown closed because of Obama administration policies when it actually closed under President Bush, is now going for an even bigger rewrite of history.

He is claiming that his austerity agenda—at least the part that makes tax cuts for the rich the supreme imperative—remains popular. Indeed, to hear Ryan tell it, those ideas almost prevailed.

In an ABC News interview a week after the election, Ryan was asked whether President Obama has a mandate to call for raising taxes on the rich. “I don’t think so,” said Ryan, who argued that, “This is a very close election.”

Ryan rejects the notion that his ideas lost. Indeed, he still claims he’s promoting “popular ideas.” And he says of the Republican ticket: “It was a well-run campaign. We made this campaign about big ideas and big issues, which is the kind of campaign we wanted to run, so we ran the kind of campaign we wanted to run.”

But Barack Obama also ran on big ideas. On the morning before the election, Obama appeared just a few miles up the road from Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.

“If we’re serious about the deficit, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. We’ve also got to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the tax rates they paid when Bill Clinton was in office,” the Democratic president told a crowd that had just heard Bruce Springsteen sing and speak about the need to create a more equitable America. “And by the way, we can afford it. I haven’t talked to Bruce, but I know he can afford it. I can afford it. Mr. Romney can afford it.”

But Obama went further, in that speech in Madison, and in speeches in Columbus and Des Moines and communities across the country. He called, again and again, for raising taxes on the rich. “Because our budget reflects our values, it’s a reflection of our priorities, you know. And as long as I’m president, I’m not going to kick some poor kids off of Head Start to give me a tax cut,” said the president.

Ryan is claiming in his post-election interviews that: “I don’t think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare — we clearly didn’t lose it on those issues.”

Yes they did.

In his closing argument, Obama focused—as did other winning Democrats—on “those budget issues.” One of the president’s biggest applause lines was: “I’m not gonna turn Medicare into a voucher just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.”

Obama and Vice President Biden ran on big ideas, just as Romney and Ryan did.

Who got the mandate?

Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin and every swing state except North Carolina.

Ryan and Romney lost the Electoral College by an overwhelming 232-206 margin.

Ryan and Romney lost the popular vote by more than 3.4 million votes.

Obama and Biden won a mandate in a battle of ideas where the lines were clearly drawn.

Despite what Paul Ryan says, Obama won a mandate—a bigger mandate, in fact, than Presidents Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Carter in 1976 or Bush in 2000 and 2004.

To say otherwise is to deny what just happened.

Paul Ryan can try if he wants.

But he should remember what happened when he tried to peddle a fantasy about the closing of that Janesville General Motors plant.

Well, Ryan lost his home precinct in Janesville—not just as a vice presidential candidate but as a candidate for reelection to his House seat.

Ryan lost Janesville, as a vice presidential candidate and a congressional candidate.

Ryan lost surrounding Rock County, as a vice presidential and a congressional candidate.

Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin—by such a resounding margin that Saturday Night Live was mocking the result on the weekend after the election.

When the rejection is so glaring that it becomes a punchline, it’s a stretch to talk about a “close election.”

And it’s absurd to suggest that your ideas are popular.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, November 14, 2012

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Line-Drawers’ Art”: The GOP’s Gerrymandered Advantages

When Republicans claim that this was a status quo election, they point to their continued hold on the House. The 2012 congressional vote, some have said, didn’t undo the party’s 2010 successes.

True enough, but that’s not because Americans didn’t vote to undo them. It’s because Republicans have so gerrymandered congressional districts in states where they controlled redistricting the past two years that they were able to elude a popular vote that went the Democrats’ way last week.

As The Post’s Aaron Blake reported, Democrats narrowly outpolled Republicans in the total number of votes cast for congressional candidates. The margin varies depending on whether you count the races in which candidates ran unopposed and those in which members of the same party faced off (as happened in several California districts). But any way you count it, the Democrats came out ahead — in everything but the number of House seats they won.

Consider Pennsylvania, where President Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey defeated his Republican rival, 53 percent to 45 percent. Yet Democrats won just five of that state’s 18 U.S. House seats. They carried both districts in the Philadelphia area — by 85 percent and 89 percent, respectively — and three other districts, by 77, 69 and 61 percent. Of the 13 districts where Republicans prevailed, GOP candidates won seven with less than 60 percent of the vote; in only one district did the Republican candidate’s total exceed 65 percent of the votes cast.

Why such lopsided numbers? Because Republican-controlled redistricting after the 2010 Census packed Democratic voters into a handful of imaginatively shaped districts around Pennsylvania’s urban centers and created a slew of GOP districts in the rest of the state. The overwhelming Democratic margins in the two heavily African American Philadelphia districts didn’t require constructing oddly shaped districts, but carving up the rest of the state to minimize districts that Democrats might win required politically driven line-drawing of the highest order.

So it went in several other swing states. Obama won Ohio by two points, and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won by five, but Democrats emerged with just four of Ohio’s 16 House seats.

In Wisconsin, Obama prevailed by seven points, and Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin by five, but their party finished with just three of the state’s eight House seats.

In Virginia, Obama and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine were clear victors, but Democrats won just three of the commonwealth’s 11 House seats. In Florida, Obama eked out a victory and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson won by 13 points, but Democrats will hold only 10 of the Sunshine State’s 27 House seats.

In these five states, where both Obama and Democratic Senate candidates won, Democrats will hold 25 House seats in the next Congress to the Republicans’ 55. If the control of these House seats reflected the Democrats’ statewide margins in presidential and Senate contests, the Democrats would likely be at parity or in the majority in the new House.

Now, this isn’t to say Democrats don’t play similar games. On Election Day, they picked up five House seats in Illinois after a Democratic-controlled redistricting in 2011, so they will hold 12 of the 18 Illinois House seats come January. But Obama carried his home state by a 16-point margin, and the Democratic pick-ups help create a delegation that fairly reflects the state’s partisan balance.

A model for a fairer war to carve congressional districts — so that they more closely reflect actual voter sentiment — exists in California. Years ago Golden State voters entrusted redistricting to a nonpartisan commission. Last week’s election was the first conducted using the new boundaries. Some longtime incumbents (among them Democrat Howard Berman and Republican David Dreier) were displaced, and some rising constituencies were empowered; California’s new congressional delegation will include five Asian Americans, nine Latinos and 18 women — all Democrats. But no one is arguing that the new members don’t reflect the state’s balance of power. Obama carried California by 21 points; Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein won by 23; and Democrats are likely to hold 38 of the state’s 53 seats when the counting concludes (two races are still out).

Republicans love to proclaim their affinity for the marketplace and the genius of competition. But it’s precisely by suppressing competition, and crafting uncompetitive districts, that they maintained their hold on the House last week. Any notion that House Republicans have a mandate of their own that they can bring to a fight with the president is spurious. Their grasp on the House derives not from voter sentiment but almost entirely from the line-drawers’ art.


By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 13, 2012

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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