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“Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, And The Dreaded ‘M’ Word”: The Label Isn’t Related To Issue Positions, It’s More About Tone And Relationships

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has quietly run a very interesting presidential campaign. He hasn’t held the spotlight much, but he’s raised a lot of money, laid the groundwork for a credible ground game, positioned himself to benefit if/when the Amateur Duo falters, and held his fire, waiting to see who his real rivals are going to be.

Last night, however, Cruz offered a peek into his broader strategy.

“Historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary,” the Texas senator told CNN’s Jake Tapper last night. “There’s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane. And, in past cycles, there’s been a consensus moderate choice early on… Look, I think Marco is certainly formidable in that lane. I think the Jeb campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate lane. And so I think they’re going to slug it out for a while.

“But, when you look at the conservative lane, what I’m really encouraged by is that conservatives are consolidating behind our campaign… And once it gets down to a head-to-head contest between a conservative and a moderate … I think the conservative wins.”

Let’s strip away the spin for a minute: Marco Rubio is breathtakingly conservative. He’s a climate denier who desperately wants to give billionaires a massive tax break the country can’t afford. The Florida Republican believes Medicare and Social Security have weakened Americans; he thinks the war in Iraq, even in hindsight, was a fine idea; he still opposes marriage equality; he doesn’t think the federal minimum wage should exist; and Rubio’s so hostile towards reproductive rights that he believes the government has the authority to force impregnated rape victims to take that pregnancy to term, even against her wishes. The guy voted against a bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, even when he knew it would pass easily anyway.

If Marco Rubio prevails in the 2016 race, he would be the most right-wing major-party nominee in generations. If he wins a general election, he’d be the most extreme president in modern American history. There is nothing “moderate” about him.

But that’s not quite what Ted Cruz is talking about.

As the Texas senator sees it, in every race for the Republican presidential nomination, candidates invariably find themselves in “lanes.” And under this framework, there’s always an establishment favorite who’s friendly with party insiders, picks up a lot of endorsements, generates a lot of positive media buzz, etc. For Cruz, this is the “moderate” lane – the label isn’t necessarily related to issue positions, per se, but it’s more about tone and relationships.

In the current GOP fight, the assumption has long been this “lane” would be occupied by Rubio, Jeb Bush, or perhaps John Kasich. But with Kasich struggling, and Jeb faltering, it seems increasingly likely that Rubio will be this establishment “moderate.”

We know – because he’s said so repeatedly – exactly what Ted Cruz is going to tell Republican voters: “You could pick the establishment ‘moderate’ and media darling, or you could choose the unapologetic conservative. Remember, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney were establishment ‘moderates,’ too, and look how the election turned out for us in those cycles.”

A Cruz ally told the conservative Washington Examiner this week, “The difference is, who went to Washington and stood up, not just to Democrats, but to his own party, on issue after issue? The other fatal problem for Marco is ‘gang of eight’ support. People don’t trust him.”

Want to know what the Republican race is going to look and sound like in January? This strikes me as a pretty explicit hint.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 6, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Know Much About History”: Ben Carson’s Woefully False Claim About The Founding Fathers’ Elected Office Experience

Ben Carson is blundering through American history again.

I’ve written before about how Carson’s belief that the Founding Fathers were “citizens statesmen,” one of his favorite defenses of his own neophyte venture in politics, is woefully incorrect. Now the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has taken up the standard against Carson’s misreading of history.

Per the Journal (h/t Talking Points Memo’s Katherine Krueger), Carson posted on Facebook Wednesday night, “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.” The Journal goes on to quote two American historians to say that this is nonsense – “That’s just patently false,” Benjamin Carp, an associate professor of history at Brooklyn College who has written several books on the American Revolution, told the Journal. Carp estimates that most of the signers had held elective office.

Chastened, Carson went back and edited his original Facebook post, changing his assertion to read, “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no federal elected office experience.” (Emphasis mine.)

That’s too cute by half and, perhaps not surprisingly, still wrong.

Second point first. Here’s “American Eras” via regarding the first Continental Congress:

Choosing Delegates. Each colony had chosen its delegates to Congress in different ways. In four colonies, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, the assembly chose its delegates to Congress. The Massachusetts assembly made its choices behind locked doors; outside, Governor Gage’s secretary was proclaiming the legislature suspended. In Virginia, when the governor, Lord Dunmore, dissolved the assembly, it had reconvened in a nearby tavern to choose delegates; New York held a general election for delegates; and an open meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, chose that colony’s delegation. In other colonies delegates were selected at provincial conventions that had not been called by the established authorities.

Emphasis is again mine. Of course the Declaration of Independence was proffered by the second Continental Congress, but that session was largely a reconvening of the first after the British Parliament refused to remove the laws about which the first congress had complained.

And Carson is being too cute by half here because while the Continental Congress took on the powers of a federal government over time, it was not technically such when the Declaration of Independence was signed. So in that sense there were no federal elected offices from which the delegates could have gotten experience. But to argue that this validates Carson’s point would be like saying that Yuri Gagarin was an amateur because he had no previous experience in space; or like saying that Neil Armstrong was an amateur because he had never walked on the moon before. Of course the first delegates to the first national legislative assembly had no prior experience getting elected to a federal legislative body (though several had served as delegates to prior, lesser gathering like the Stamp Act Congress of 1765).

But as the Journal observed, they had plenty of elective experience of the variety available to them. So for example, a quick reading of some of the delegates to the Continental Congress shows that Delaware delegate Caesar Rodney continuously held some sort of legislative office from 1758, when he was 30, until his death in 1784; Thomas McKean, also from Delaware, “might just represent an ideal study of how far political engagement can be carried by one man. One can scarcely believe the number of concurrent offices and duties this man performed during the course of his long career,” according to; and Samuel Huntington of Connecticut devoted “nearly all of his life to public office” according to the same source. And so on.

Which only raises this point: If Carson wishes to compare himself in terms of political experience to the delegates of the first Continental Congress, shouldn’t he seek some sort of state legislative office before attempting the presidency?

Perhaps Carson should start playing “Wonderful World” at his rallies; that’s the classic Sam Cooke song which begins, “Don’t know much about history…”

I’ll give Carson one thing: Claiming precedent for one’s own beliefs or actions in those of the Founding Fathers is a classic political move; that Ben Carson is so bad at it just underscores that he is an amateur politician.


By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, November 6, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | American History, Ben Carson, Founding Fathers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Austerity’s Grim Legacy”: Deficit Fetishism Was Both Wrongheaded And Destructive

When economic crisis struck in 2008, policy makers by and large did the right thing. The Federal Reserve and other central banks realized that supporting the financial system took priority over conventional notions of monetary prudence. The Obama administration and its counterparts realized that in a slumping economy budget deficits were helpful, not harmful. And the money-printing and borrowing worked: A repeat of the Great Depression, which seemed all too possible at the time, was avoided.

Then it all went wrong. And the consequences of the wrong turn we took look worse now than the harshest critics of conventional wisdom ever imagined.

For those who don’t remember (it’s hard to believe how long this has gone on): In 2010, more or less suddenly, the policy elite on both sides of the Atlantic decided to stop worrying about unemployment and start worrying about budget deficits instead.

Some of us tried in vain to point out that deficit fetishism was both wrongheaded and destructive, that there was no good evidence that government debt was a problem for major economies, while there was plenty of evidence that cutting spending in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.

And we were vindicated by events. More than four and a half years have passed since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles warned of a fiscal crisis within two years; U.S. borrowing costs remain at historic lows. Meanwhile, the austerity policies that were put into place in 2010 and after had exactly the depressing effects textbook economics predicted; the confidence fairy never did put in an appearance.

Yet there’s growing evidence that we critics actually underestimated just how destructive the turn to austerity would be. Specifically, it now looks as if austerity policies didn’t just impose short-term losses of jobs and output, but they also crippled long-run growth.

The idea that policies that depress the economy in the short run also inflict lasting damage is generally referred to as “hysteresis.” It’s an idea with an impressive pedigree: The case for hysteresis was made in a well-known 1986 paper by Olivier Blanchard, who later became the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Lawrence Summers, who served as a top official in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. But I think everyone was hesitant to apply the idea to the Great Recession, for fear of seeming excessively alarmist.

At this point, however, the evidence practically screams hysteresis. Even countries that seem to have largely recovered from the crisis, like the United States, are far poorer than precrisis projections suggested they would be at this point. And a new paper by Mr. Summers and Antonio Fatás, in addition to supporting other economists’ conclusion that the crisis seems to have done enormous long-run damage, shows that the downgrading of nations’ long-run prospects is strongly correlated with the amount of austerity they imposed.

What this suggests is that the turn to austerity had truly catastrophic effects, going far beyond the jobs and income lost in the first few years. In fact, the long-run damage suggested by the Fatás-Summers estimates is easily big enough to make austerity a self-defeating policy even in purely fiscal terms: Governments that slashed spending in the face of depression hurt their economies, and hence their future tax receipts, so much that even their debt will end up higher than it would have been without the cuts.

And the bitter irony of the story is that this catastrophic policy was undertaken in the name of long-run responsibility, that those who protested against the wrong turn were dismissed as feckless.

There are a few obvious lessons from this debacle. “All the important people say so” is not, it turns out, a good way to decide on policy; groupthink is no substitute for clear analysis. Also, calling for sacrifice (by other people, of course) doesn’t mean you’re tough-minded.

But will these lessons sink in? Past economic troubles, like the stagflation of the 1970s, led to widespread reconsideration of economic orthodoxy. But one striking aspect of the past few years has been how few people are willing to admit having been wrong about anything. It seems all too possible that the Very Serious People who cheered on disastrous policies will learn nothing from the experience. And that is, in its own way, as scary as the economic outlook.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columist, The New York Times, November 6, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Recovery, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Chris Christie Ordered To The Kiddie Debate Table”: The ‘Happy Hour’ Debate, Where No Successful Candidate Has Gone Before

Chris Christie has officially been banished to where no successful candidate has gone before: the undercard debate.

Fox Business announced Thursday night that the New Jersey governor has been cut from the primetime debate stage due to low poll numbers.

The network, which is co-sponsoring the November 10th debate with the Wall Street Journal, required candidates to average at least 2.5% in the national polls through November 4 in order to qualify for the main stage. Christie is averaging 2% in the polls.

He’s not the only top tier candidate to be knocked down a peg. Mike Huckabee will join him in the so-called “happy hour” debate with nonentities Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal.

Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, who have been stuck at the kiddie table for all of the debates, were removed from the lineup altogether.

It’s possible that being onstage with fewer candidates who are far less popular than he is will provide Christie with an opportunity to stand out. But right now, this looks like a setback for a campaign that was just starting to get some momentum. After Christie gave a strong debate performance last month, his poll numbers in New Hampshire had just started to climb and this week, a video of his remarks on drug addiction and rehabilitation went viral.

Candidates have graduated from the undercard debate to primetime before. After Carly Fiorina introduced herself to the country during the first debate, in Cleveland, she surged in the polls and vaulted into the top tier for the next event. But Christie is the first candidate to be knocked out of the primetime debate. There’s no precedent to help us predict how Christie’s campaign will survive this blow, or if it will even turn out to matter much at all.

Christie was talking about drug addiction in Somersworth, New Hampshire on Thursday night. Just before Fox Business released the news to the public, he was ushered out of the room.

Moments later, his campaign responded on Twitter.


It doesn’t matter the stage, give me a podium and I’ll be there to talk about real issues like this:  #BringItOn

Fox Business’ announcement was a very unwelcome distraction from an otherwise good week for Christie.

After well-received performances during the last two GOP debates, Christie received a bump in the confidence of the pundit class (so much so that the liberal website Salon published an article bemoaning the “Christie comeback” narrative) and in the polls in New Hampshire, where he has focused much of his time during his campaign. In a WBUR poll released Wednesday, 8 percent of likely primary voters said they would support Christie, up from 6 percent in September.

And on Friday, The Huffington Post released a video of Christie talking about addiction. They called it his “emotional plea” and it certainly sounded like one. He talked about the compassion his mother, a smoker who had lung cancer, received when she sought treatment. He encouraged that same compassion for people who suffer from drug addiction.

The video slowly gained steam until it, in the words of a Christie campaign press release, went “viral.” As of Thursday night it has been viewed, on Facebook, over 6 million times.

The Washington Post wrote of the video, “In short, if elections are about moments, Christie is having one.”

But it’s hard to sustain a moment when no one is watching and it’s even harder when appearances suggest that you are no longer a competitive candidate, and that will likely be the case at the 7 p.m. debate Christie will take part in next week.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 5, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hey, Democrats; Relax Already”: Reports Of Liberalism’s Imminent Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The meme of the past week or two in my circles is that the Democrats are screwed. Not necessarily in terms of the presidential election, which, one year out, their front-runner is reasonably well-positioned to win. But everywhere else, from Congress on down to dogcatcher.

Matt Yglesias kicked this off over at Vox on October 19, arguing that while the presidency obviously matters, “there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republican hands.” Democrats, he wrote, have no plan to do anything about this.

People panicked, and the Twitter cyclone hit. Then came Tuesday’s elections, which from Kentucky to Houston seemed to confirm the thesis. Then Lee Drutman followed up in Vox agreeing with Yglesias  and citing research suggesting that all this was happening because—how to put this politely?—low-information voters toward the lower end of economic spectrum vote according to an ideology that doesn’t align with their economic status. He means white working-class people who vote Republican. And on the website of Democracy, the journal I edit, Nathan Pippinger responded to Drutman by writing that Democrats are in trouble not because of “false consciousness among working-class voters, but because conservatives’ state-level policies helped to undermine the paths through which those voters might become more involved in the political process.” He means mostly unions. But he basically buys the future of “liberal disappointment.”

Wow. Is it really as bad as all that? No, it’s not. And here are the two main reasons why.

First: The party that controls the presidency for eight years almost always gets killed at the state level over the course of those eight years. And it stands to reason—if people are unhappy with the way things are going, which they typically are about something or other, they’ll vote for the out-of-power party.

So political scientist Larry Sabato has studied this question going back to FDR’s time and found that every two-term presidency (he’s counting things like the Kennedy-Johnson period from 1960-68 as a single two-term presidency) except one has taken a huge beating at the congressional and state levels. You’ve perhaps read recently that during Barack Obama’s term, the Democrats have lost 913 state legislative seats. That’s a hell of a lot, but it’s not that crazily out of line with the average since FDR/Truman, which is 576. Only Ronald Reagan managed to avoid such losses—the GOP actually gained six state legislative seats during his years, which was the time when the Dixiecrats and some Northern white ethnics started becoming Republicans.

Sabato’s piece, which ran last December in Politico, is even headlined “Why Parties Should Hope They Lose the White House.” You win at 1600, you start losing everywhere else. Granted the Obama-era losses are unusual. I’d suppose they’re mostly explained by the lagging economy and stagnant wages. Race has to have something to do with it, too, and Tea Party rage, and of course the fact that Democrats don’t vote in off-year elections. Indeed this last factor may be the biggest one, because the Democratic Party has become more and more reliant in recent years on precisely the groups of voters who have long been known not to participate as much in off-year elections—minorities, young people, single women.

So sure, it blows to look at a map like the one embedded in Yglesias’s piece and see all that red indicating total Republican control in some state capitals where that shouldn’t really be the case: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio. And it blows harder for the people who live there, although obviously a majority of them don’t think so.

But I would make a couple quick arguments here. First, 2014 and especially 2010 were unique election years, with high unemployment in 2010 and high-octane right-wing fury in both. That flipped some state houses and executive mansions that will return to the blue column eventually, in more normal times.

Second, there are a lot of blue states that still elect Republican governors, whereas there aren’t many red states that will elect a Democrat. Three presidential-level red states have Democratic governors (Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia), and they’re about the only ones you could imagine doing so as you look down the list. Whereas nine blue states have Republican governors. Most of those governors are comparatively moderate, and it doesn’t really change the fundamental nature of Massachusetts that it elects a Republican governor some of the time.

But—the party affiliation of the man or woman in the White House does change the fundamental nature of the United States. And that brings us to my second reason why the Democrats aren’t yet finished. They have the presidency. What did Elvis Costello say—“don’t bury me cuz I’m not dead yet”? Well, you’re not doomed yet as long as you’re living in the White House.

Let me ask you this question. Assuming this Sabato correlation between White House control and losses at other levels holds up, how many of you Democrats reading this would take this deal: Democrats lose the White House next year and in 2020 in exchange for, say, 1) retaking control of the House of Representatives in 2022 and 2) picking up 576 state legislative seats over the next eight years?

I guess some Democrats would take that deal, but I think a small minority, and rightly so. Losing the White House means a 7-2 conservative Supreme Court majority for 30 more years. That could well mean, would likely mean, a decision in the next few years overturning same-sex marriage, and a dozen other horrors, from campaign finance to corporate power to religious issues to civil rights matters to a number of Fourteenth Amendment-related issues including Roe v. Wade. It means, combined with GOP majorities in both houses of Congress, God knows what legislatively; the end of the federal minimum wage? A flat tax, or at least a radically reduced top marginal rate? Entitlement “reform”? And don’t forget not just what they’d do, but what they’d undo. It means repeal of Obamacare, legislation that effectively rescinds Dodd-Frank, all of Obama’s work on immigration and carbon ripped to pieces, and on and on and on. And, you know, like, another war.

In the face of all that, I’m supposed to give a shit who the governor of Michigan is? Please.

The Democrats have only one problem in this realm. They have to get their people to vote in midterm elections. Period. That’s it. Now that isn’t easy to do; could take between 10 and 20 years. And it will cost a lot of money to do it right. But if it gets done and done right, then the red tide can be arrested, at least to the extent that Sabato’s numbers suggest. But anybody who’d rather give up the White House for control of eight more governors’ mansions and 11 more state legislatures needs his coconut examined. If bleeding at the state level is inevitable because of White House control, then let it bleed.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Liberals, State Legislatures, Voter Turnout | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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