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“A Strangely Desultory Campaign”: The Great Lost Huckabee Constituency

Something I was vaguely aware of but hadn’t really focused on came very much to my attention yesterday while we were taping this week’s WaMo BloggingheadsTV/podcast with guest Matt Cooper of Newsweek. Matt wrote a column that actually got Trump’s personal attention (leading to a brief interview) pointing out that The Donald’s hostility to “entitlement reform” and trade agreements along with his better known rhetoric on immigration had positioned him well to appeal to a distinct segment of Republican voters: non-college educated white voters, a.k.a. the white working class:

In the 2014 midterms, 64 percent of noncollege-educated white voters favored Republicans. “You are talking about people who are deeply alienated from American life, both culturally and economically,” says Ronald Brownstein, a political analyst who has written extensively on the subject.

These new blue-collar Republicans are more skeptical of free trade than the right’s traditional base is. And that’s created a major shift in the party. A Pew Research Center study in May found that Republicans, more than Democrats, believe free trade agreements cost them jobs, which bodes well for Trump since the leading Republican candidates largely support free-trade agreements. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz voted for fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership—an essential step for ratifying the agreement—although on Tuesday, Cruz said he wouldn’t back fast-track, insisting he wanted, among other things, amendments that would limit immigration in future trade deals. And Jeb Bush and Scott Walker support it. Others oppose the deal, mainly due to the secrecy involved in the negotiations. But none are as vocally opposed as Trump.

His free trade position isn’t Trump’s only appeal to Republican voters; he’s also in line with most of the GOP’s base on entitlements. A majority of voters in both parties oppose reducing programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Not surprisingly, whites who haven’t gone to college tend to be adamantly opposed to slashing the safety net.

The flip side of all the talk about Democratic prospects to regain some of the white working class vote (see our most recent roundtable on the subject here at WaMo in conjunction with The Democratic Strategist, based on Stan Greenberg’s advice in the current issue of our magazine) is that this demographic has entered the Republican coalition without necessarily internalizing the economic views of GOP elites. So much as the “Reagan Democrats” represented a potentially rebellious segment of the Democratic coalition back in the day, today’s blue-collar Republicans are vulnerable not just to a “raid” from Democrats but from heretical Republicans who defect from party orthodoxy on hot-button issues like trade and entitlements. That’s probably an important part of Trump’s otherwise mysterious constituency.

But you know who was positioning himself to occupy this same ground? Mike Huckabee, as I observed back in May.

It will be interesting to see if he seeks and gains attention for being (most likely) the only candidate in a huge presidential field to take issue with the Republican congressional leadership’s push to win approval for Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. More importantly, the heavy, heavy investment of Republican politicians in budget schemes that depend on reductions in Social Security and Medicare spending will give Huckabee constant opportunities to tout his newly stated opposition to such cuts as a betrayal of promises made to middle-class workers who’ve been contributing payroll taxes their entire lives. Beyond that, two candidates — Chris Christie and Jeb Bush — are already on record favoring reductions in retirement benefits that go beyond the highly indirect voucher schemes associated with Paul Ryan.

Since then Huck has run a strangely desultory campaign, missing a lot of opportunities for earned media and making most of his noise competing with Bobby Jindal as to who can get most hysterical about imaginary threats to Christianity. He’s also showing his old incompetence in fundraising.

So Huck has languished in the polls even as Trump surged, and the final indignity had to be Trump getting all of the attention at an event–last weekend’s Family Leadership Summit in Iowa–that definitely should have been prime Huck Country.

I guess it’s possible that if Trump fades quickly Huckabee can batten on some of his supporters, though they seem to be a more secular crew than the God, Guns, Grits and Gravy folk. But more likely Huck will burnish his reputation for being a politician with more potential than performance.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 22, 2015

July 23, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee | , , , | 1 Comment

“A Stark Difference”: Republicans Fear Their Activist Base. Democrats Don’t

We’ve gotten so used to Republican infighting over the last few years that it would have been easy to forget that historically it’s the Democrats who have been the most consumed by internecine arguments. Over the weekend we got a reminder, as a group of protesters disrupted a forum at the Netroots Nation gathering of liberal activists where Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were speaking. By all accounts, neither Sanders nor O’Malley handled it particularly well.

But if we look at this event in combination with what’s happening on the Republican side, we can see the stark differences in the relationship of each side’s base, its activists, and its candidates.

If you want a moment-by-moment account of the event, I’d recommend this one from Eclectablog or Dara Lind’s insightful analysis of the different forces at play. If the protesters wanted to make the point that Sanders in particular is not spending enough time talking about racial injustice, then he did their work for them by reacting in a somewhat combative way and trying to forge ahead with what he wanted to say about economics. But it’s hard to avoid this question: Is Bernie Sanders the guy you want to be protesting? To what end?

I say that not because Sanders has a strong record on civil rights, though he does. And if the complaint is that Sanders isn’t talking about race as much as he could, well that’s true, too. The truth is that however good his intentions, Bernie Sanders is a longtime Democratic politician who has never really needed the support of the single most important Democratic constituency, African-Americans. He represents the whitest state in the union — only one percent of Vermonters are black. So he may not have the instinctive feel for what African-Americans care about that another politician who had of necessity spent years courting them and working with them would have developed.

But you know who does have that instinctive feel? Hillary Clinton. She spent her political life in Arkansas and New York, where there are plenty of African-Americans. She’s spent more Sundays in black churches than you can count. Toni Morrison famously called her husband the first black president. Yes, there was plenty of tension and ill feelings when black voters left her and got behind Barack Obama in 2008, but I promise you that they’ll be with her in 2016.

But Clinton didn’t attend Netroots Nation this year, and Sanders and O’Malley did, so they’re the ones who got protested, for little reason other than the fact that they were handy. And while they suffered some discomfort, one thing the protesters weren’t demanding was that Democrats vote against either one of them in the primaries. In fact, I’m sure that if you asked the protesters what primary voters should do, they’d say that it’s not their real concern — elections aren’t the point.

Which is where the contrast with Republicans couldn’t be more stark. The Tea Party started just as much as a movement of self-styled outsiders, but unlike activists on the left, they pursued an inside strategy from the outset, one focused clearly on elections. They saw the path to achieving their goals running through Congress and the White House, and they all but took over their party by mounting successful primary challenges to Republican incumbents. How many prominent Democratic incumbents have faced the same kind of strong grassroots challenge from the left in recent years? There was Joe Lieberman, who was beaten in the 2006 Democratic primary in Connecticut by Ned Lamont. But apart from a backbench House member here and there, that’s about it.

In contrast, Republican activists have gotten one prominent scalp after another, from incumbent senators like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett to important House members like Eric Cantor. The result is that Republican politicians regard their base with barely-disguised terror. You can see it in how they’ve approached Donald Trump, a spectacular buffoon who has tied the party in knots. Even when he was saying one bigoted thing after another about the demographic group the party desperately needs if it’s ever to win back the White House, his opponents stepped gingerly around him, lest they offend his supporters. It was only after Trump’s remarks about John McCain’s war record (which, frankly, he sort of got baited into making) gave them an excuse removed from any policy area that most of them finally started criticizing him.

Even if Trump pulled out of the race tomorrow (sorry, Republicans, no such luck), the rest of the candidates would still operate from fear of their base, which means that activist conservatives will be able to extract commitments from the candidates on the issues that they care about. You can argue that in the long run this hurts the GOP by radicalizing the party and making its presidential candidates unelectable, and you’d probably be right, but in the short run, it probably feels to those conservative activists like success.

The situation on the Democratic side isn’t the same at all. The activists involved in Black Lives Matter and similar efforts would say that they don’t want just to become players in the Democratic Party, because they’re looking to create change on entrenched issues with roots that go back centuries. And they might be right that an outside strategy will be more effective at achieving that change than a strategy focused on making gains within the party. After all, you can argue that while tea partiers have almost taken over the GOP, they’ve gotten very little of the substantive change they wanted — the Affordable Care Act lives, Barack Obama got reelected, and history keeps marching forward despite their efforts, even if they’ve managed to stop things like comprehensive immigration reform.

On the other hand, circumstances will eventually produce another Republican president, even if it isn’t next year or four years after that. And when that president gets elected, the conservative activists will come to collect on the commitments he made.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 20, 2015

July 23, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Netroots Nation, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“There But For The Grace Of God”: America Needs A Justice System Worthy Of The Name

The United States does not have a justice system.

If we define a justice system as a system designed for the production of justice, then it seems obvious that term cannot reasonably be applied to a system that countenances the mass incarceration by race and class of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders. Any system that vacuums in 1 out of every 3 African-American males while letting a banker who launders money for terrorist-connected organizations, Mexican drug cartels, and Russian mobsters off with a fine is not a justice system.

No, you call that an injustice system.

This is something I’ve been saying for years. Imagine my surprise when, last week, President Obama said it, too. “Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair,” he said in a speech before the NAACP in Philadelphia, “that’s not a justice system, that’s an injustice system.” He called for reforms, including the reduction or elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing and the repeal of laws that bar ex-felons from voting.

This was the day after Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, and two days before he became the first president to visit a prison, Federal Correctional Institution El Reno, near Oklahoma City. “There but for the grace of God,” he said, minutes after poking his head into an empty 9-by-10 cell that houses three inmates.

It was more than just an acknowledgment of his personal good fortune. Given that Obama, his two immediate predecessors, and such disparate luminaries as Sarah Palin, John Kerry, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, Jeb Bush, and Rick Santorum are known to have used illicit drugs when they were younger, it was also a tacit acknowledgment that fate takes hairpin turns. And that the veil separating drug offender from productive citizen is thinner than we sometimes like to admit.

Welcome to what may be a transformational moment: the end of an odious era of American jurisprudence. Meaning, the era of mass incarceration.

Apparently, the president has decided to make this a priority of his final 18 months in office. Even better, the call for reform enjoys bipartisan support. Republican senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, among others, have embraced the cause. And the very conservative Koch brothers have chosen to “ban the box” (i.e., stop requiring ex-offenders to disclose their prison records to prospective employers on their job applications).

All of which raises the promise that, just maybe, something will actually be done.

It is long past “about time.” Our color-coded, class-conscious, zero-tolerance, punishment-centric, mandatory minimum system of “justice” has made us the largest jailer on earth. One in four of the world’s prisoners is in an American lockup. This insane rate of imprisonment has strained resources and decimated communities.

It has also shattered families and impoverished children, particularly black ones. So many people bewail or condemn the fact that a disproportionate number of black children grow up without fathers, never connecting the dots to the fact that a disproportionate number of black fathers are locked up for the same nonviolent drug offenses for which white fathers routinely go free.

The “get tough on crime” wave that swept over this country in the ’80s and ’90s was born of the unfortunate American penchant for applying simplistic answers to complicated questions. But bumper-sticker solutions have a way of bringing unintended consequences.

We will be dealing with these unintended consequences for generations to come. But perhaps we are finally ready to take steps toward reversing that historic blunder.

And giving America a justice system worthy of the name.


By: Leonard Pitts,  Jr.,  Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 22, 2015

July 23, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Mass Incarceration, Racial Injustice | , , , , | 1 Comment


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