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“Obstructionist-In-Chief”: It’s Past Time To Make Mitch McConnell Pay

There’s been no end to the grief Mitch McConnell’s taken for his declaration early in Barack Obama’s first term that his party’s top goal was to make Obama a one-term president. Ironically, though, the failure of McConnell and the GOP to realize their goal may be the best thing he has going for him as 2014 approaches.

McConnell has been the Senate minority leader since 2006, succeeding Bill Frist just as the party lost its majority in the chamber. Twice in his tenure – in 2010 and again in 2012 – Republicans have seemed poised to win back the majority only to fall short thanks to a combination of counterproductive primary results and a national image problem that turned off swing voters in key races. As ’14 approaches, Republicans are again looking at a favorable map, though it would take some big breaks for them to overcome the Democrats’ current 55-45 advantage. But McConnell himself has a much simpler concern: saving his own job.

The Kentuckian, who turns 71 on Wednesday, has never exactly been beloved in his home state, where voters have moved closer to the GOP in recent years but are still more than willing to vote Democratic. In his first campaign, back in 1984, McConnell scored an upset over incumbent Democrat Walter Huddleston by a fraction of a point, a victory owed entirely to Ronald Reagan’s formidable coattails. When McConnell last faced the voters, in 2008, he held on by 6 points against Democrat Bruce Lunsford – this on the same day that John McCain carried Kentucky by 16 points. And in early polling for ’14, he’s running under 50 percent and leading Ashley Judd, the Kentucky native and Hollywood actress who is edging closer to a candidacy, by a high single-digit margin.

Senate leaders have become irresistible targets for the rival party’s activists in recent years. The trend was kicked off in 2004, when Republicans made toppling Democratic leader Tom Daschle one of their top priorities. The GOP recruited a top-notch candidate, John Thune, poured millions into his coffers and even coaxed then-Majority Leader Bill Frist into coming to South Dakota on Thune’s behalf – a violation of a tradition of party leaders refraining from each other’s home state battles. The gambit worked and Daschle was defeated in a close race. Democrats then made a serious run at McConnell in ’08, although Majority Leader Harry Reid stayed away from Kentucky during the race, and Republicans made Reid their No. 1 Senate target in ’10; if GOP primary voters hadn’t insisted on nominating the erratic, self-destructive Sharron Angle, Reid would likely have been felled.

And now it’s McConnell’s turn to face a full-court press from the other party. Already, a liberal group has aired an anti-McConnell ad in Kentucky, criticizing the minority leader for his opposition to a new assault weapons ban. Under any circumstance, grass-roots Democrats would be excited over the prospect of giving McConnell a fight. But his emergence as the face of reflexive Republican opposition to Obama and his agenda has only ratcheted up the left’s resolve to make him pay.

The question is whether they can actually beat him. The good news for Democrats is that Kentucky isn’t quite the Republican bastion it’s often thought of as. Sure, it’s voted Republican by lopsided margins in the last four presidential elections, but Bill Clinton did manage to carry it twice in the 1990s. It also boasts an impressive run of Democratic governors. The state’s top job is now held by Steve Beshear, a second-term Democrat, and only three Republicans (Ernie Fletcher, Louie Nunn and Simeon Willis) have held it over the last 70 years. Democrats also control one of the state’s two legislative chambers, and while no Democrat has won a U.S. Senate race since Wendell Ford in 1992, the party has come close a few times: In addition to McConnell’s 6-point scare in ’08, Republican Jim Bunning only narrowly fended off Daniel Mongiardo in 2004 and Scotty Baesler in 1998.

So Kentucky is willing to vote Democratic, McConnell has never set the world on fire at the ballot box, and after 30 years of incumbency a change message could be a formidable weapon against him. Plus, as my colleague Alex Seitz-Wald wrote on Tuesday, Tea Party groups in Kentucky – which mobilized behind Rand Paul in 2010 to defeat McConnell’s protégé, Trey Grayson, in a Senate primary – are threatening to challenge McConnell in a primary, which could force him farther to the right and away from the general election mainstream.

And now the bad news for Democrats: There’s reason to believe that Kentucky has moved farther to the right – and grown more hostile to the national Democratic Party – since President Obama came to office. Nationally, Obama’s popular vote margin was down last November from its ’08 level, but Kentuckians turned against him particularly hard. In ’08, he lost the state by 16 points, but last November the margin was 22. To put that in some perspective, that’s even worse than Walter Mondale fared in Kentucky in 1984, when he lost the state by 21 points amid a 19-point national landslide defeat. Obama’s unpopularity in the state was driven home last spring, when a majority of the state’s counties voted for “uncommitted” over the president in the Democratic primary. Since Obama became president, Democrats have also lost one of their House seats in the state, leaving them with just one.

Race has clearly played a role in Kentucky’s Obama-phobia, as it has in other swaths of Appalachia. The Obama administration’s supposed “war on coal” is a big factor too. These attitudes aren’t likely to dull in the next 21 months, which will give McConnell a chance to survive simply by linking his opponent to the president. Already, an attack ad from a Karl Rove affiliated group is bashing Judd as “an Obama-following radical Hollywood liberal.” Judd was an active campaigner for Obama last year and was a delegate (from Tennessee) for him at the Democratic convention. She’s also spoken out against mountain top coal mining, which could play right into the GOP’s “war on coal” theme.

There’s also the matter of Judd herself. She has Kentucky roots, comes from a famous country music family, and is a visible and vocal presence at University of Kentucky basketball games. So she has some serious ammunition to fight charges of carpetbagging. And she’ll obviously be able to raise a ton of money. But Republicans have some ammunition of their own, to portray her as a cultural elite who’s too close to Obama. Judd’s candidacy would attract national attention and money, but it’s not clear she’s the best option for Democrats. If she runs, though, the nomination will probably be hers.

One look at his electoral history shows that McConnell has been ripe for a serious challenge for years. He’s going to get it next year. If he survives, ironically enough, he’ll have the president to thank for it. Without the Obama boogeyman to run against, he wouldn’t have much else going for him.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, February 20, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Taking McCarthyism Literally”: Ted Cruz’s Ruthless And Baseless Witch Hunts Against His Perceived Rivals

When his detractors talk about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the one word that seems to come up more than any other is “McCarthyism.” The point, of course, is to draw parallels between Cruz’s worst habits and those of former Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), who led ruthless and baseless witch hunts against his perceived rivals — while mastering the art of guilt by association — before being censured by the Senate in 1954, in an effort led by McCarthy’s own Republicans colleagues.

Though Cruz is nowhere near McCarthy’s level — give the Texan time, he only joined the Senate last month — the accusations are not without merit. We saw repeated examples of this during Cruz’s campaign against Chuck Hagel’s Defense Secretary nomination, which led Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to recently note, “It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times.”

It was a trick Cruz leaned on repeatedly to question Hagel’s loyalty and patriotism, going so far as to suggest, without evidence, the former Republican senator may have received unreported funds from foreign enemies of the United States.

But Jane Mayer reports today that it wasn’t too long ago that Cruz delivered a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally, sponsored by the Koch brothers’ political group, accusing Harvard Law School of harboring secret Communists on its faculty

Cruz greeted the [2010] audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)

He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

A Harvard Law spokesperson told Mayer the school is “puzzled” by Cruz’s accusations.

Of course, this shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Most Americans look at McCarthy’s record as a stain on our political history; Cruz seems to look at McCarthy’s record as how-to guide.

Postscript: Long-time readers may recall that I’ve been fascinated for several years with the right’s willingness to re-embrace Joe McCarthy and his brand of politics.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America”; and in Texas, right-wing activists rewriting the state’s curriculum have recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.

If I thought they’d appreciate it, I’d gladly chip in to buy copies of “Good Night, and Good Luck” for Cruz and his allies.


By: Steve Benen, The Mddow Blog, February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | McCarthyism, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ideology Over Sound Policy”: Republican Governors No Longer A Force For Moderation

Republican governors, who actually have to govern, used to be a moderating force on the most extreme aspects of Republican ideology. No longer. In major areas such as health care, taxes, and jobless benefits, ideology is trumping sound policy judgment in many gubernatorial mansions and state legislatures.


Antipathy toward “Obamacare,” not reasoned analysis, seems to be why many governors have expressed hesitation, if not outright opposition, to the Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government would pick up almost all of the costs. A similar antipathy (and probably a hope before the Supreme Court decision and 2012 election that the law would go away) led many governors to pass on the chance to use the flexibility that the it afforded them to design their own health insurance exchanges—new competitive marketplaces in which individuals and small businesses can choose among an array of affordable, comprehensive health insurance plans that the Affordable Care Act requires.

I’ve previously explained why Medicaid expansion is a good deal for the states. But as the map below from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ report on the healthcare law’s Medicaid expansions shows, many states remain undecided or are leaning against expansion:

The Center’s report on the state health insurance exchange implementation shows that 26 states, including most of the states leaning against Medicaid expansion, have declined to either operate a state-based exchange or partner with the Department of Health and Human Services in designing their exchange. Under the law, that means they default to a “Federally facilitated exchange” that HHS will establish.


In another disturbing development, numerous states are considering—or have already enacted—sweeping tax and budget proposals that follow recommendations of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. As this CBPP report explains, ALEC’s recommendations for deep tax cuts and limits on revenues and spending reflect extreme “supply side” and antitax arguments that mainstream economic research discredited long ago.

CBPP’s most recent assessment finds that at least five states (Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and both North and South Carolina) are considering eliminating income taxes. At least 11 others (Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) are considering deep tax cuts. And at least three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Kansas) are considering harsh revenue limits.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment Insurance is a joint federal-state program in which states have traditionally offered up to 26 weeks of benefits to qualified workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and the federal government typically provides additional weeks of emergency unemployment compensation when national unemployment is high. In the current jobs slump, by far the worst since the 1930s, seven states have cut back on the maximum number of weeks of regular benefits they offer. Because the maximum number of weeks of federal emergency benefits is proportional to the maximum number of weeks of state benefits, that means jobless workers in those states have seen a significant reduction in support while they look for work in what remains a tough labor market.

Research shows that Unemployment Insurance is valuable not only to unemployed workers and their families but also for the additional spending that it injects into the economy. States that have cut back on it are hurting struggling families and their own economic recovery.

The North Carolina Trifecta

North Carolina is the poster child for these disturbing trends in state governments.

The Tar Heel State is one of the five considering eliminating its income tax. The new Republican governor supports legislation that would prevent the state from expanding Medicaid or establishing a health insurance exchange. And, in July, the state will become the eighth to have reduced the maximum number of weeks of Unemployment Insurance it offers. Moreover, North Carolina also cut the maximum level of benefits which, under the “maintenance of effort” requirement for receiving emergency federal benefits, requires the federal government to cut off all emergency Unemployment Insurance to North Carolina.

Republican governors used to fight for Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance because they recognized how much their states benefited. Now, many are leading the effort to cut valuable programs in order to finance tax cuts for high-income households and businesses, while letting the chips fall where they may for those of more modest means.


By: Chad Stone, U. S. News and World Report, February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, States | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Try Not-Extremism’: Extremist Republicans Don’t Want To Be Attacked For Extremism

The National Review‘s Andrew Stiles is still upset with Democratic messaging on reproductive rights:

Welcome to the scorched-earth phase of the Democrats’ “war on women” campaign, and the beginning of a ruthless offensive to hold their Senate majority, and possibly to retake the House, in 2014.

Democrats have nearly perfected the following exercise in cynical electioneering: 1) introduce legislation; 2) title it something that appeals to the vast majority of Americans who have no interest in learning what is actually in the bill, e.g., the “Violence Against Women Act”; 3) make sure it is sufficiently noxious to the GOP that few Republicans will support it; 4) vote, and await headlines such as “[GOP Lawmaker] Votes No On Violence Against Women Act”; 5) clip and use headline in 30-second campaign ad; and 6) repeat.

I’m not sure if Stiles knows this, but the Violence Against Women Act predates the Democratic “war on women.” It was first passed in 1994 by a vote of 61-38 in the Senate and 235-195 in the House. It was reauthorized in 2000, and again in 2005—with little opposition from Republicans. And indeed, Senate Republicans joined Democrats last year to reauthorize the new VAWA, with the included protections for Native American women and other groups.

The problem, as it has been for the last two years, is a conservative minority of the House Republican conference. Indeed, it’s the same minority that has rejected equal pay laws, and pushed anti-abortion bills that sharply reduce the reproductive autonomy of women. If the “war on women” has had any traction as a rhetoric framework, it’s because those things are unpopular with voters.

Stiles is free to complain that a political party is being unfair by playing politics, but if he wants to solve the problem, he should push his allies to abandon their current drive to make life more difficult for women.

The more interesting tidbit in Stiles’ piece is this:

Republican aides are increasingly convinced that taking the House back in 2014 is going to be Obama’s sole focus over the next two years. “Democrats are not presenting a good-faith effort to get legislation passed,” a Senate GOP aide says. “They simply want to have Republicans on record voting for or against, and to use those votes in political campaigns next year. They’re going to label us as obstructionists and extremists, and try to win back the House and a 60-vote majority in the Senate so they can push their real agenda.”

I doubt that Democrats can take back the House in 2014. It wouldn’t just run against the general pattern—where the president’s party loses seats in the midterm—but Democrats would have to fight an uphill battle against a large number of incumbent legislators, with all the benefits that come from incumbency. Then again, the public is unhappy with the Republican Party, and if the GOP’s position continues to deteriorate, a 2014 sweep is definitely on the table for Democrats.

Again, however, it’s worth noting the odd complaint behind Stiles’ observation. If Democrats are planning to label Republicans “obstructionists and extremists,” it’s because Republicans have been acting as obstructionists and extremists. In just the three months since the election, Republicans have:

  • Held the economy hostage to massive spending cuts (the fiscal cliff).
  • Launched a crusade against the administration on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, with the clear goal of generating a scandal.
  • Filibustered a Cabinet nominee over aforementioned pseudo-scandal.
  • Threatened to allow a huge round of austerity (the sequester), if the president doesn’t agree to another round of spending cuts (which would also harm the economy).

In between, Republicans have continued to endorse the right-wing policies of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and the newest star in the GOP—Ted Cruz—is a far-right ideologue.

Are Democrats exaggerating the extremism of congressional Republicans? Probably. But it’s easy to do when the GOP is so eager to help.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, February 21, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reagan Has Left The Premises”: The Republican Party Needs A Reality Check

In the summer of 1999, George W. Bush chose the first major policy speech of his presidential campaign to pick a fight with Grover Norquist. Bush flatly rejected the “destructive” view “that if government would only get out of our way, all our problems would be solved” — a vision the Texas governor dismissed as having “no higher goal, no nobler purpose, than leave us alone.”

Norquist had proposed to define conservatism as the “leave us alone” coalition — a movement united by a desire to get government off our backs. Bush countered that “the American government is not the enemy of the American people.”

Ed Crane, then the president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said the speech sounded as if it had been written by someone “moonlighting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I can formally deny that charge. But the Bush campaign was purposely attempting to alter the image of the Republican Party. And the party — rendered more open to change by eight years in the presidential wilderness — gave Bush the leeway to make necessary ideological adjustments.

It is the nature of resilient institutions to take stock of new realities and adjust accordingly. In a new cover essay for Commentary magazine, Peter Wehner and I detail the examples of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Clinton broke a long Democratic presidential losing streak by emphasizing middle-class values, advocating the end of “welfare as we know it” and standing up to extreme elements within his coalition (thereby creating the “Sister Souljah moment”). In Britain, Blair went after the “moral chaos” that led to youth crime, abandoned his party’s official commitment to public ownership of the means of production and launched New Labor.

The Republican Party now needs similar transformation. Out of the past six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 211 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to Democrats’ 113.

This stunning reversal of electoral fortunes has taken place for a variety of reasons: changing demographics; the end of a GOP foreign policy advantage during the Cold War; a serious gap in candidate quality; the declining relevance of economic policies that seem better suited to the 1980s; and an occasionally deserved reputation for being judgmental and censorious.

A full Republican appreciation of these disturbing fundamentals was delayed by the 2010 midterms, in which an unreconstructed anti-government message seemed to be riding a wave. Just two years later came that wave’s withdrawing roar. The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, lost by 5 million votes to a beatable incumbent presiding over an anemic economy. The explanation is not purely technical or personality oriented. At the national level, Republicans have a winning message for a nation that no longer exists.

In retrospect, last year’s Republican primary process was entirely disconnected from the actual needs of the party. One candidate pledged to build a 20-foot-high electrical fence at the border crowned with the sign, in English and Spanish, “It will kill you — Warning.” Another promised, as president, to speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception. Another warned that vaccinations may cause “mental retardation.” In the course of 20 debates and in tens of millions of dollars of ads, issues such as upward mobility, education, poverty, safer communities and the environment were rarely mentioned.

A Republican recovery in presidential politics will depend on two factors. First, candidates will need to do more than rebrand existing policy approaches or translate them into Spanish. Some serious rethinking is necessary, particularly on economic matters. In our Commentary essay, we raise ideas such as ending corporate welfare, breaking up the mega-banks, improving the treatment of families in the tax code, and encouraging economic mobility through education reform and improved job training. Whatever form Republican proposals eventually take, they must move beyond Reagan-era nostalgia.

Second, Republican primary voters, party activists and party leaders have a choice to make, ruthlessly clarified by recent events. They can take the path of Democrats in 1988, doubling down on a faltering ideology. Or they can follow the model of Democrats in 1992 and their own party in 2000, giving their nominee the leeway needed to oppose outworn or extreme ideas and to produce an agenda relevant to our time.


By: Michael Gerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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