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“The Grand Old Party In Reverse”: Christie, Cuccinelli And What The GOP Didn’t Learn In 2012

Elections, the saying goes, have consequences. Of course, some have more consequences than others. Consider the 2012 election – and then ponder this week’s gubernatorial races. You’d imagine that the big nationwide election would do more to jar the GOP than a couple of off-year gubernatorial races. But given the right’s nonreaction to 2012, reality-based Republicans must hope otherwise.

Think back a year. Given the results of the 2012 elections – Barack Obama won re-election by 4 percentage points and 5 million votes; Senate Democrats gained seats, and House Democrats drew more votes (if not more seats) than House Republicans – you would not be faulted for thinking that the GOP was in for a course correction. And, for a brief while, it seemed likely. The Republican National Committee issued a postmortem with a slew of recommendations on how to turn the party around, with a focus on reaching out to female, minority and young voters. Washington pundits declared comprehensive immigration reform inevitable because Republicans had to do something to get on the right side of Hispanic voters. That was then. Now?

“At this point, we’ve gone backwards because of the government shutdown,” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be resurrected in time to do very well in the 2014 elections given the gift of Obamacare. But it’s hard to look at the state of the party today versus Election Day in 2012 and think we’ve made much progress.”

What happened? The party leaders who wanted to adjust to the facts of reality were rolled by the alliance of the tea party and the right wing’s media-industrial complex, which is more interested in whipping up the base (and then fundraising off of it) than what movement conservatives like Erick Erickson derisively refer to as the “‘governing’ trap.” The Republican reboot was lost in a miasma of conservative windmill-tilting that culminated in the ill-conceived, predictably disastrous shutdown.

“They don’t care [about polls], but they need to care,” says Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy. “When you need to pick up as many [Senate] seats as Republicans need right now, you can’t afford to have your brand hurt.” As former Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate Virginia Republican, said recently, “You’ve had the diagnosis, and now there’s the denial.”

When asked whether the GOP is better off a year later than immediately after getting trounced last November, one veteran Republican lobbyist offers that sometimes a party has to hit rock bottom. “At some point you have to cleanse your system,” the lobbyist says. “The question is how do you respond when you hit rock bottom?” The twin events of the dismal shutdown and this week’s contrasting gubernatorial elections give the GOP a fresh chance to hit the rock bottom reset button.

And there’s some hope that the 2013 elections will have the consequences that can finally penetrate the right’s bubble. Mitt Romney might have been challenging Obama in 2012, but he was also stalked by a phantasm of the right – a “true” conservative candidate that could set their hearts aflutter. The far right says “look, Romney wasn’t conservative enough … you need to shut the government down over Obamacare,” according to Davis. A true conservative, the theory goes, would have delivered the victory over Obama that the right wing fully expected right up until Fox News declared the president re-elected last year.

The 2013 elections, while more narrowly focused, present a starker contrast. You have conservative darling Ken Cuccinelli in the purple state of Virginia losing to Terry McAuliffe of all people; and you have New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican who literally embraced Obama last October after Superstorm Sandy, winning by a landslide in a true-blue state. As pollster Ayres said when asked about this scenario last week: “It certainly presents a pair of compelling case studies whose message is obvious to all who are willing to see.”

So where to from here? Two things to keep an eye on: First is the budget battle rerun due in January – to what extent is the Ted Cruz-led conservative cabal able to drive the party into another vain, self-destructive shutdown? Early signs give reason for skepticism. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, has ruled out another shutdown. “Ted Cruz went out and led a parade that he said would be a success … and then he walked down the alley like that character at the end of ‘Animal House,’ marched the whole band into the wall – and then he ran out and had a TV interview,” says conservative activist Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who adds that the next time Cruz has an idea, Republicans are either “going to throw something big at him” or otherwise politely dismiss him.

A second focus point will be the 2014 primaries. McConnell faces a serious challenge and a slew of other incumbents have primaries as well. “Rest well tonight, for soon we must focus on important House and Senate races,” former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote on Facebook recently. “Let’s start with Kentucky – which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi – from sea to shining sea we will not give up.” The latter references were to GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander and Thad Cochrane – all incumbents facing challengers. It’s early to say whether any are credible, says Duffy, “but for a collection of safe incumbents, that’s a lot of primaries.” If the primaries produce few or any upsets, it could mean the tea party’s influence has receded.

“Republicans are only one election and one candidate away from resurrection in 2016,” says Ayres. Time will tell.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, November 8, 2013

November 9, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elections Don’t Have Consequences”: In His Warped Mind, Jim DeMint Is Essentially Declaring A Mistrial

Remember the 2012 elections? The one in which Republicans ran on a platform of repealing the Affordable Care Act, and then lost?

If you’re Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, helping lead the anti-healthcare crusade, the apparent answer is no.

DeMint thinks the election results don’t accurately reflect national sentiment and therefore can’t be used to argue against his desire to move the party to the right. True conservatism never got a hearing — particularly not in regard to Obamacare, which was, after all, modeled after a Massachusetts law signed by Romney. “Because of Romney and Romneycare, we did not litigate the Obamacare issue,” he says. Essentially, DeMint is declaring a mistrial.

So while John McCain and I — there’s a pairing I didn’t expect to write about — agree that elections have consequences, we nevertheless have Jim DeMint sticking up for the “these elections don’t really count” contingent.

And they don’t count, he argues, because that darned Republican presidential candidate just didn’t push the health care issue. Sure, if you have the memory of a fruit fly, you might not recall Romney promising in every speech for a year and a half to repeal the health care law, the ads promising to destroy the law on Romney’s first day in office, or the central role the anti-Obamacare message played in the Republican pitch in 2012.

But for the rest of us, it’s getting increasingly difficult not to just laugh out loud when Jim DeMint starts talking.

In fact, the closer one looks at this, the more hilarious DeMint appears.

I suspect he’d prefer that we forget, but in 2007, DeMint, then a U.S. senator, endorsed Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy, citing — you guessed it — Romney’s successful health care reform law in Massachusetts.

And yet, at this point, DeMint no longer remembers his affinity for Romney, his support for Romney’s health care plan, or Romney’s platform from last year’s campaign.

This guy’s the head of a once-relevant think tank?

On a related note, Molly Ball has a great new piece in The Atlantic on Heritage’s dwindling credibility under DeMint’s leadership.

[T]here is more at stake in Heritage’s transformation from august policy shop to political hit squad than the reputation of a D.C. think tank or even the careers of a few squishy GOP politicians. It is the intellectual project of the conservative movement itself. Without Heritage, the GOP’s intellectual backbone is severely weakened, and the party’s chance to retake its place as a substantive voice in American policy is in jeopardy.

As the right embraces a post-policy role in American politics, Republicans can thank DeMint for helping lead the way.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Back By Unpopular Demand”: No One Really Cares What One Term Governor Mitt Romney Has To Say

Remember Mitt Romney? That national candidate who saw 47% of the country as lazy parasites? The one who assumed all the polls were “skewed” and that he was poised for victory? Apparently, he misses you.

More than half a year after his election loss, Mitt Romney is putting a tentative foot back onto the public stage.

Restless, a little wistful and sharply critical of President Barack Obama’s second term, Mr. Romney said in an interview that he plans to re-emerge in ways that will “help shape national priorities.” As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort.

He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates.

Traditionally, failed presidential candidates, unless they hold office and/or plan to run again, quietly fade from public view, content with the knowledge that they had their say, made their pitch, and came up short.

But Mitt Romney is apparently feeling restless. “By and large,” he told the Wall Street Journal, losing candidates “aren’t very much in the public view.” Romney then added, “But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

In fairness, I should note that he’s not completely oblivious to the circumstances. He also told the WSJ, “In our country, the guy who loses the presidential election isn’t expected to jump on the airwaves and try and promote himself. We will speak out from time to time, but I’m not going to be bothering the airwaves with a constant series of speeches.”

Romney won’t stay on the sidelines, either. There won’t be a “constant series” of speeches, but there will be some speeches. And op-eds. And campaign appearances. And a closed-door summit. And maybe a book.

What’s less clear is whether anyone will care what the former one-term governor has to say.

It’s easy to forget, but in the immediate wake of Election Day 2012, Romney wasn’t an especially popular figure with, well, much of anyone. When he spoke to donors about American voters being effectively bought off with “big gifts” such as affordable health care and public education, Romney’s standing managed to deteriorate further.

By mid-November, Romney was something of a pariah, with a variety of Republican leaders eager to denounce him, his rhetoric, and his campaign style. Remember this?

Mitt Romney, who just two weeks ago was the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, seen by many as the all-but-elected president of the United States, has turned into a punching bag for fellow Republicans looking to distance themselves from his controversial “gifts” remark. […]

Whether it’s an instance of politicians smelling blood in the water as the party, following Romney’s defeat, finds itself without a figurehead, or genuine outrage, a number of Republicans have eagerly castigated their former nominee.

Josh Marshall said at the time the GOP pushback amounted to “Lord of the Flies” treatment, which seemed like an apt comparison.

And now Romney wants to “help shape national priorities” and “campaign for 2014 candidates”? I’m trying to imagine a list of Republicans who would welcome him and choose to campaign alongside him. I can’t think of any.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 31, 2013

June 2, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012, Politics | , , , | 2 Comments

“Slick And Slicker: A Gingrich-Santorum Unity Ticket Was Still A Loser

Mitt Romney’s financial and organization advantages in the 2012 Republican primaries were commanding, but conservatives who opposed him had faint cause for hope: Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich combined for more support than Romney for most of the primary season. If one of them conceded, then the other could consolidate Romney’s conservative opposition.

These hopes were far-fetched. Polls showed that Romney would have maintained his lead if either Santorum or Gingrich departed the race, since Romney was actually the second choice of many of their voters. Still, the theory was nearly put to the test. On Friday, Business Week reported that Santorum and Gingrich apparently discussed an unprecedented “unity ticket” to block Romney from winning the nomination. A Santorum-Gingrich ticket could have won critical primaries and led the national polls, but it still probably wouldn’t have won the nomination—a fact that should alarm conservatives heading into 2016.

The plan failed, not surprisingly, because Gingrich and Santorum couldn’t agree which one of them should be on top of the ticket. But let’s assume that they had. A unity ticket would have presumably done better than either candidate would have on his own, since a Gingrich voter who preferred Romney to Santorum might still support the combination of Santorum and Gingrich. But even if the unity ticket didn’t immediately consolidate the Gingrich-Santorum vote, the formation of an unprecedented primary alliance would have received tremendous media attention, potentially generating momentum. Indeed, polls can’t really predict how candidate dropouts will affect a race: In 2008, polls said that Hillary Clinton would maintain a clear lead over Barack Obama if John Edwards dropped out. Yet Obama surged in late January, after his win in the South Carolina primary, Edwards’ departure, and a wave of high profile endorsements.

The combination of a unity ticket and a few big primary wins could have given Santorum-Gingrich the lead in national polls. According to the article, Gingrich and Santorum mulled a unity ticket before three critical primaries in Florida, Michigan, and Ohio. Realistically, a Gingrich-Santorum ticket would have struggled to win Florida, since Romney’s 46 percent of the vote actually exceeded Santorum and Gingrich’s combined 45 percent. But a unity ticket would have done better in Michigan or Ohio.

After sweeping Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado, Santorum actually led the national polls until he lost the Michigan primary by a narrow 3 point margin. But Santorum held a lead in Michigan polls until just 5 days before the primary and Gingrich won 6.5 percent of the vote—the combination of Gingrich voters and momentum from a unity ticket announcement could have easily given Santorum a narrow win. Regardless of whether Santorum carried Michigan, a unity ticket probably would have won Ohio, where Romney won by just 1 point and Gingrich, who won nearly 15 percent of the vote, probably played the spoiler—especially since Gingrich excelled in the socially conservative southwestern part of the state. Either way, Santorum-Gingrich would have exited Super Tuesday with plenty of momentum and a lead in the national polls heading into a wave of favorable primaries and caucuses in Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Whether momentum would have allowed Santorum-Gingrich to breakthrough a Romney firewall like Illinois is hard to say. And it would have still struggled to actually win the nomination, even in the best case scenarios: The delegate math was stacked in favor of Romney. Romney would still have been favored to win a disproportionate share of the winner-take-all states, like Florida, Arizona, and New Jersey. The same was true for the big states using modified or conditional winner-take-all systems, like California and New York. In contrast, Santorum-Gingrich’s biggest wins would have been diluted by various methods of proportional delegate allocation in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (footnote: Tennessee is actually a conditional winner-take-all, but it’s condition is far more difficult than the other conditional winner-take-all states, since a candidate would need 66 percent of the popular vote). Neither Gingrich nor Santorum made the ballot in Virginia, giving all but 3 of Virginia’s 46 delegates to Romney. Unless Romney’s national support completely collapsed, Santorum-Gingrich would have been hard pressed to overcome the GOP primary system’s bias toward Romney’s coalition.

Conservatives should take note. The RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project report’s proposal to end conservative caucuses for the purpose of allocating convention delegates has been panned as an attempt to help establishment candidates win the GOP nomination. But the RNC explicitly took “no position” on whether contests should be winner-take-all or proportionate, since “both methods can delay or speed up the likelihood of a nominee being chosen [depending] on who is winning and by what margins.” That’s technically true: A uniformly winner-take-all or proportionate system wouldn’t necessarily favor any type of candidate. But 2012’s mix of winner-take-all and proportionate states favored an establishment candidate. The same delegate allocation rules that would have doomed a hypothetical Santorum-Gingrich unity ticket could again doom a competitive conservative candidate.


By: Nate Cohn, The New Republic, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reality Check”: Hey Republicans, There Was An Election And You Lost

On Thursday, the top Democrat in the House made what amounted to a major concession, pronouncing herself open to the idea of reducing Social Security benefits. This moved Nancy Pelosi closer to the position that President Barack Obama, who has already put out a plan that includes chained-CPI, has staked out in pursuit of a deficit reduction “grand bargain” with Republicans. This could make it easier for Obama to convince Senate Republicans, whom he’s begun courting in recent weeks, that he can deliver on a deal that includes real sacrifices on Democratic priorities.

And how does the top Republican in the House fit into this mix? Well, he doesn’t.

In a Thursday interview with the New York Times, Speaker John Boehner said he’s not currently engaged in budget conversations with the White House and suggested the onus is on Obama to move closer to the blueprint that Paul Ryan staked out this week — a 10-year balanced budget plan that the GOP-controlled House will probably adopt in the next week. That Ryan budget offers absolutely nothing in the way of concessions. But for a few cynical accounting tricks, it’s the same plan Ryan presented in 2012 and 2011, one that would turn Medicare into a voucher program, slash taxes on corporations and the wealthy, gut the Affordable Care Act and turn federal programs targeted for the poor into block grants for states to manage. It was this radical rethinking of the size and scope of the federal safety net that played a major role in last year’s election, with Democrats warning voters that the Ryan plan would be implemented if Republicans gained control of the executive and legislative branches.

In other words, House Republicans — and their leader — haven’t budged at all on fiscal issues since the election, even though the results were humbling for their party. Sure, they provided a scattering of votes for the New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff deal that raised income tax rates on high-end earners, but a) that was because they were up against a Jan. 1 deadline that would have triggered across-the-board tax hikes for all earners if no deal was reached; and b) the majority of House Republicans still voted against that package. And since that deal was enacted, the determination of House Republicans to stop any further revenue increases — even those involving loopholes and deductions, not income tax rates — has only intensified. The president already got his tax hikes, the GOP talking point goes, and now he wants more?

The reason Obama wants more, of course, is that he and most of his party (and, truth be told, a number of Republicans) would like to turn off the sequester, which went into effect on March 1 when the two parties failed to reach agreement on a replacement plan. The stumbling block was simple: Republicans were adamant in opposing a “balanced” deal with a revenue component. Many of them also claimed that Obama wasn’t serious about cutting entitlement spending, even though the president produced the above-referenced plan, which included Social Security benefits cuts. It’s clear that, for the time being anyway, House Republicans are completely uninterested in striking a fiscal deal with Obama, unless the deal is that he goes along with everything they want.

What’s so striking — and, some might say, galling — about this is that Republicans lost pretty badly in the most recent election. No, it wasn’t en epic LBJ ’64-style wipeout, but the party spent 2011 and 2012 convinced that the rotten economy would compel voters to fire Obama, restore Republican control of the Senate and boost the GOP’s House majority. But none of that happened. As I wrote last week, it can sometimes feel like Republicans actually won the election. The problem is mainly centered in the House, although the Senate has more than its share of problems, and can be explained by two main factors:

1. Geography

The average House Republican represents a district that is older, whiter and more Republican-friendly than the country as a whole. Gerrymandering is typically cited as the reason for this, but it’s a red herring. The real problem is that the core Democratic vote — a rising majority of nonwhites, millennials, single women and college-educated professionals — is tightly bunched in metropolitan areas. They account for massive majorities in a relatively small number of congressional districts. Suburban, exurban and rural areas, by contrast, tend to be populated by more Republican-friendly voters, who are more widely dispersed. Thus, it’s not uncommon in big states for Democrats to enjoy clear majorities in statewide elections even as Republicans gobble up the majority of House seats. Barring the kind of anti-Republican wave elections we saw in 2006 and 2008, this dynamic should persist through the next decade, ensuring Republican control of the House. The Republicans in these districts are mostly immune to the cultural and demographic changes that hurt their party at the national level in 2012; thus, the same reflexively anti-tax/anti-government/anti-Obama hysteria that sold in these areas before November 2012 still sells today — making it likely that these districts will send to Washington either a) true believer Tea Party-type congressmen and -women, who win their seats simply by running far to the right in the GOP primary; or b) secretly pragmatic Republicans who adopt the rhetoric and voting habits of the Tea Party crowd for the sake of their own political survival.

2. The powerless speaker

A case can be made that Boehner’s skills as a House leader are underappreciated. There’s something to this, but it’s an argument that amounts to a backhanded compliment — that Boehner, by routinely looking the other way as his party worsens its public image and subjecting himself to the occasional high-profile indignity, is able to build just enough clout to steer the House GOP away from complete catastrophe when he absolutely has to. There’s an art to this, all right, and I guess you could say Boehner is good at it. But that’s really the limit of his power as speaker. The problem is that the conservative movement has never trusted him and has been looking for the moment he sells them out from the second he claimed the speaker’s gavel in 2011. This has imposed some humiliating limits on him — forcing Boehner, for instance, to walk away at the 11th hour from grand bargain negotiations with Obama in the summer of ’11 and compelling him to promise Republicans a few months ago that he wouldn’t attempt any more one-on-one negotiations with the president.

So when it comes to Obama’s current quest for a grand bargain, there’s really nothing for Boehner to do but repeat the right’s familiar attacks on Obama for always wanting to raise taxes and never wanting to cut spending. Never mind, of course, that Obama has already signed off on $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction and is seeking $1.2 trillion more with his grand bargain crusade, and that most of that money is from spending cuts. Acknowledging that would destroy whatever credibility Boehner now has with the conservative base, and make it impossible for him to push any kind of deal through the House without being dethroned. So he bashes away, pretends the problem is Obama’s inflexible liberalism and waits. What the endgame is is unclear. It may just be that Boehner is hoping to keep the GOP conference from pursuing a debt ceiling showdown in May. Or maybe he’s hoping that after a few more months of bashing Obama, he just might have clearance to put a Senate-passed grand bargain on the House floor and to allow it to pass mainly with Democratic votes. Or he may think none of this is possible — and may mainly be interested in patching up the damage the fiscal cliff deal did to his standing with the right.

The key here is that Boehner oversees a Republican conference whose members do not, generally speaking, feel any personal pressure to respond to the Democrats’ big national victory last November. In the America where they leave, Obama and the national Democratic Party are as reviled now as they were before Election Day.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, March 15, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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