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“The Hypocrisy Is Really Just The Start”: Republicans Learn The Wrong Lessons From 2012

A few months ago, Politico published a piece about the Republican message machine settling on its preferred 2016 narrative. The headline said the GOP plan is to “turn Hillary into Mitt Romney.”

“A consensus is forming within the Republican Party that the plan of attack against Hillary Clinton should be of a more recent vintage, rooted in her accumulation of wealth and designed to frame her as removed from the concerns of average Americans,” the article explained.

Three months later, the New York Times reports that Republicans are spending “heavily” on focus groups, testing this message.

Inside an office park [in Orlando], about a dozen women gathered to watch a 30-second television spot that opened with Hillary Rodham Clinton looking well-coiffed and aristocratic, toasting champagne with her tuxedoed husband, the former president, against a golden-hued backdrop.

The ad then cut to Mrs. Clinton describing being “dead broke” when she and her husband left the White House, before a narrator intoned that Mrs. Clinton makes more money in a single speech, about $300,000, than an average family earns in five years.

The message hit a nerve. “She’s out of touch,” said one of the women, who works as a laundry attendant.

This gathering was organized by American Crossroads, a Republican super PAC created by Karl Rove, but the party broadly seems to have embraced this message.

And if Clinton is really lucky, they won’t change their minds.

As we talked about in April, there is a certain irony to the entire line of attack. In 2012, when Democrats rolled out the “out-of-touch plutocrat” message against Romney, Republicans spent months in fainting-couch apoplexy. Democrats are engaging in “class warfare,” they said. The divisive rhetoric was “un-American,” voters were told. How dare Democrats “condemn success”?

In 2015, those same Republicans have suddenly discovered they’re not so offended after all. Imagine that.

But the hypocrisy is really just the start. The real issue is the degree to which Republicans are confused about why the line of criticism against Romney was effective.

There’s an over-simplicity to the GOP’s thinking: Romney was rich; Democrats labeled him out of touch, voters believed it, so Romney lost. But that’s not what happened, at least not entirely. Once again, the problem was not that Romney was extremely wealthy; the problem was that Romney was extremely wealthy while pushing a policy agenda that would benefit people like him.

The Democratic pitch would have fallen flat if they’d simply mocked the candidate’s riches. It resonated, however, because Romney breathed life into the caricature – vowing to give tax breaks to the wealthy, promising to take health care and education benefits away from working families, and expressing contempt for the “47 percent” of Americans Romney saw as parasites.

When Democrats effectively told the American mainstream, “Romney isn’t on your side,” the GOP nominee made it easy for voters to believe it. The car elevators were simply gravy on top of an already effective narrative.

The point is, substance matters. Policy agendas matter. There’s a lengthy history of low-income voters in America voting for very wealthy candidates who are committed to fighting for those voters’ interests.  Names like Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Rockefeller are familiar additions to the roster of politicians who’ve championed the needs of families far from their income bracket. Struggling voters didn’t reject them as “out of touch” because they couldn’t personally relate to poverty – rather, these voters rallied behind the wealthy candidates, without regard for their status, because of their policy agenda.

Indeed, as I type, Hillary Clinton is delivering a speech on her economic vision, much of which is focused on investing in working families as a recipe for economic growth.

Republicans are convinced what really matters isn’t the scope of Clinton’s policies, but rather, the size of her bank account. That’s ridiculous.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent talked to David Axelrod, a former top aide to President Obama, who said, “The Republicans may try and make a lifestyle case, but lifestyle is the least of it. It’s what you believe and where you propose to lead.”

It’s baffling that the GOP doesn’t understand this obvious and basic dynamic.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 13, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Koch Brothers’ Humiliating Secret”: Why Even Their Billions Can’t Save The GOP From Self-Destruction

Faced with the nightmare of up to 20-something GOP presidential candidates in 2016, Fox News last week announced its bid for sanity: It would limit its debate to the top 10 candidates in national polls. Now David Koch tells Larry Kudlow that he and brother Charles are likely to distribute some of the $900 million they’ve socked away for 2016 to “several” contenders, not just one Republican candidate.

Paul Waldman reads this as an attempt to cull the GOP field, and so do I.  The Kochs can spread the wealth, at least among Republicans, because the entire 2016 roster supports their tax-slashing, regulation-gutting, climate-change accelerating policies. Their real interest is having a limited debate among the “grown-ups” of the party and sending a strong candidate off to face the Democratic nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton.

Charles Koch said something similar last month to USA Today, specifically mentioning Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.  ”Those are the ones we have talked to the most and who seem to be the possible leaders,” Koch said.

At the time, Charles’s comments were widely interpreted as cleaning up an earlier mess made by brother David, when he told New York GOP donors that the Kochs would only get involved “when the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination.” That was taken as a sign they backed the man who turned Wisconsin into an arm of Koch Industries.

When Charles Koch came out days later and said the brothers would in fact back “several” GOP candidates, I took it as evidence that they recognized that Walker had stumbled early and often in his first forays into national politics, and he shouldn’t be their only bet.

Now I think it’s a sign of many things, none of them good for the GOP.

First, even though the Democrats’ 2014 effort to raise awareness of the Kochs’ control of the GOP was widely perceived as a failure, it succeeded in making the Kochs edgy about their public image. They don’t want anybody IDed as the Kochs’ man.

It’s also a signal they don’t see anyone who’s a slam-dunk winner: Walker and Jeb Bush have matched each other for missteps all year, and the Kochs can’t afford to back a loser.

But it’s also a sign that for all their influence with the GOP field, the Kochs can’t force a change in the top candidates’ political platform.  Despite their claims that they’re still libertarian on abortion rights and marriage equality, and despite evidence they support comprehensive immigration reform, the brothers don’t even pretend to be searching for a candidate who’s moderate on any of those things.

Even the great and powerful Kochs can’t force GOP moderation on those issues — and they don’t really care that much, because their political commitments are all about their bottom line, anyway.

While the Kochs look for a way to prop up “the possible leaders” of the GOP field, Fox will try to stage-manage the clown show. Fox’s decision to use national polls, rather than polling in key primary-state races, has the benefit of wider inclusion. Biographic and demographic curiosities like neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, two “non-politicians” who don’t have a prayer of running serious, nationwide campaigns, will likely make the cut.

Thus the Fox debate stage will likely feature two Latinos (Cruz and Rubio), plus an African American and a woman, vying to lead a party in which white men make up the majority of voters.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Friday that the Kochs’ efforts were eclipsing Karl Rove and his American Crossroads empire, which failed spectacularly in the 2012 cycle. Rove is suffering for his ties to the last, spectacularly unsuccessful GOP president, George W. Bush – but he doesn’t particularly get along with Bush’s brother. Not to worry: Crossroads seems to be carving out a role in attacking Hillary Clinton.

But Rove, too, was supposed to be seeking the great GOP moderate after Tea Party extremists hijacked his party and made it unelectable in presidential races. Neither Rove nor the Kochs seem able to steer the field away from demographically destructive policies on gay rights or immigration. Money can’t buy moderation on social issues, at least not yet, so the GOP’s best hopes involve trashing the Democratic nominee in 2016.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 26, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Inmates Are Now In Charge”: In Arkansas, The House That Bubba Built Crumbles

The House that Bubba Built, namely the Arkansas Democratic Party, crumbled to the ground Tuesday night as freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton knocked off Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who helped lead the charge to impeach President Clinton, won the race to become Arkansas’ next governor.  Hutchinson defeated Mike Ross, a former congressman whose first job in politics was serving as Bill Clinton’s driver, to win the governor’s mansion where Bill and Hillary once lived.

Despite Clinton’s seven trips to the state to campaign for the 2014 Democratic ticket, nothing he did could hold off the Republican wave that swept the state. The Democratic ticket was ultimately drowned out by the tide of anti-Obama sentiment in Arkansas, where the president has a 30 percent approval rating.

The Associated Press declared Cotton the winner two minutes after the polls closed, as Cotton swamped Pryor 56 percent to 40 percent, while Ross lost to Hutchinson 55 percent to 42 percent.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Cotton declared, “The people of Arkansas have made their choice.”

The shift in political power completes the partisan realignment of the state that began in 2010, when Republicans defeated incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln by more than 20 points, took control of the state legislature in 2012 for the first time in more than 100 years, and eventually swept all four House seats.

Cotton, a lanky Harvard-educated lawyer and Army combat veteran, burst onto the political scene in 2012 when he easily won his Arkansas House seat and became the “anti-Rand,” vocally defending the Iraq War as “just and noble” and rejecting his party’s growing libertarian inclinations on global affairs.

That unapologetically hawkish posture won over the likes of former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain, GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, former Rep. Allen West, and the John Bolton PAC, all of whom donated generously to Cotton’s Senate bid

Cotton was also heavily bankrolled by the securities industry, the largest sector to donate to Cotton’s campaign, and Elliott Management Corp., the hedge fund run by Paul Singer, a neocon defense hawk.

Although Sen. Pryor committed a number of unforced errors during the campaign, including stumbling when asked whether he believed President Obama had properly responded to the Ebola outbreak, the president’s unpopularity in Arkansas seemed to doom Pryor from the start.

At one debate, Cotton tied Pryor to Obama by saying the latter’s name more than 70 times.  American Crossroads, another big funder for the pro-Cotton effort, plowed more than $500,000 into ads portraying the Pryor and the president as essentially the same person. In an ad called “Spelling Bee,” a young child spells “Pryor” as “O-B-A-M-A,” to which the judge says, “Close enough.”

On Tuesday night, Arkansas voters agreed that even sharing a party affiliation with President Obama, as Pryor and Ross did, was close enough for them, and officially completed Arkansas’ shift from blue to purple to — for now — solidly red.


By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, November 4, 2014

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Arkansas, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gray Matter”: ‘Bush’s Brain’ Short-Circuits

Karl Rove, the most brilliant political strategist of his generation, the man George W. Bush called “the Architect,” the man Stephen Colbert immortalized as “Ham Rove,” the pundit to whom Fox News viewers turn to give them the low-down, stuck his foot in it again. Should anyone really be surprised?

In case you’ve been in the desert on a vision quest, last week Rove implied, with some mangled facts, that Hillary Clinton might have lingering brain damage from the incident in 2012 when she suffered a concussion and had a blood clot removed. Democrats and even some Republicans got really mad, even as all agreed that the health of presidential candidates is a legitimate topic for discussion. Then over the weekend on Fox News Sunday, Rove was on the defensive but refused to back down.

“Look, I’m not questioning her health,” he said, right after questioning her health. “What I’m questioning is, is whether or not it’s a done deal that she’s running. And she would not be human if she were not—if she did not take this into consideration.” Everyone on the panel then agreed that Rove had done harm to the Republican cause, because this attack on Clinton made Rove look cruel and made her look like a victim.

Make no mistake, Karl Rove was an excellent political strategist back in the day, even if he was a particularly diabolical one (if you haven’t read Joshua Green’s great piece on Rove’s early career in Texas, which featured things like spreading rumors that one client’s opponent was a pedophile, do it now). But as a pundit, he’s awful and always has been.

It’s particularly problematic for Republicans, because Rove’s punditry has always been crafted with the purpose of advancing GOP electoral fortunes, even more so than your average “strategist” who goes on TV to spout talking points. Rove always claims to have access to secret information or more insightful analysis than anyone else, yet time after time, he’s just wrong. That’s partly because his supposedly informed assessment is usually that things are going to turn out great for Republicans and terrible for Democrats. And because he holds such an exalted place on the right that when he says something stupid it generates a lot of negative attention. So while listening to Rove makes Fox’s viewers feel informed, in the end he does the right far more harm than good.

Let’s just take a quick review of some highlights:

Just before the 2006 midterm elections, Rove was confident Republicans would retain control of Congress, because he had analyzed all the races. “You may end up with a different math,” he told NPR, “but you are entitled to your math and I’m entitled to THE math.” Democrats took both houses in a historic sweep.

In late 2011 he predicted that Sarah Palin would enter the presidential race. Four years earlier he predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the Democrats’ 2008 nominee.

He predicted that Mitt Romney would win the 2012 election by 3 percentage points while taking Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado, all states Obama won. And of course, there was the dramatic on-air meltdown on election night 2012, when he refused to accept the network’s call that Ohio had gone to Obama.

Lots of pundits get things wrong, but Rove manages to combine wrongness with a contempt for those who disagree with him, and a tendency to get bombastic when subtlety is called for. For instance, in that Fox News Sunday discussion, he noted that Bill Clinton’s campaign made some digs at Bob Dole’s age in 1996. Clinton “ran for re-election by savaging Bob Dole. He ran television ad that said, the old ways don’t work…Bob Dole looked like Methuselah in the Clinton TV ads.” That’s fair enough, but when Clinton’s team did that, they at least made an effort to be circumspect about it. Unless I’m forgetting something, no Clinton adviser went on television and said, “You know what Bob Dole’s problem is? The guy’s too old!” If you want to get people talking about a sensitive topic, you don’t bash them over the head with it (so to speak), as Rove did by talking about Clinton’s “traumatic brain injury.” A more clever strategist would realize that just invites a backlash.

I suppose one could argue that Rove’s ham-handed approach to attacking Clinton is refreshingly forthright. But there’s no doubt that he was trying to implement a strategy, and he didn’t want the criticism that ensued, which shifted attention away from Clinton and on to him. Oh, and don’t forget that American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the groups he co-founded to take down Barack Obama and other Democrats, flushed $174 million of their donors’ money down the toilet in 2012. So maybe we can stop considering him such a political genius.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 20, 2014

May 22, 2014 Posted by | Karl Rove, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rove’s Republican Rivals Step Up”: With The Bloom Off The Rose, Struggle Over Money And Influence Is Roiling The Republican Party

About a year ago at this time, Karl Rove found himself in a fairly awkward position. While maintaining a prominent media role as a campaign analyst, the Republican strategist was also raising truckloads full of cash for his Crossroads operation, which was trying to buy victories for the candidates Rove was covering.

The result was a rather striking fiasco. Rove burned through several hundred million dollars, but lost nearly every race he targeted, culminating in an unfortunate on-air tantrum. Conservative activist Richard Viguerie said at the time that “in any logical universe,” Rove “would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again.”

Indeed, a Republican operative told the Huffington Post, “The billionaire donors I hear are livid…. There is some holy hell to pay.”

A year later, on a superficial level, much of the landscape appears similar – Rove still enjoys his media perches, still leads the Crossroads attack operation, and still hopes wealthy far-right donors will finance his election plans. But Nick Confessore reports that there’s one important difference: Rove has more intra-party rivals, hoping to take advantage of his record of failure.

A quiet but intense struggle over money and influence is roiling the Republican Party just as the 2014 election season is getting underway.

At least a dozen “super PACs” are setting up to back individual Republican candidates for the United States Senate, challenging the strategic and financial dominance that Karl Rove and the group he co-founded, American Crossroads, have enjoyed ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 cleared the way for unlimited independent spending.

In wooing donors, the new groups – in states like Texas, Iowa, West Virginia and Louisiana – are exploiting Crossroads’ poor showing in 2012, when $300 million spent by the super PAC and a sister nonprofit group yielded few victories. Some are suggesting that Crossroads’ deep ties to the Republican establishment and recent clashes with conservative activists are a potential liability for Republican incumbents facing Tea Party challengers.

It wasn’t too long ago that Rove’s name carried almost mythical weight in Republican circles, which no doubt made a difference when Crossroads approached donors for checks. But after 2012, the bloom is off the rose. Rove’s reputation took a hit and it hasn’t recovered.

In some respects, this is overdue. In 2000, it was Rove’s idea to keep George W. Bush in California in the campaign’s waning days, instead of stumping in key battleground states. Bush lost California by a wide margin, and Rove’s strategy practically cost his candidate the election.

In 2006, after nearly getting indicted, Rove’s sole responsibility was overseeing the Republican Party’s 2006 election strategy. At the time, he told NPR in late October that he’d found a secret math that gave him insights that mere mortals can’t comprehend, and soon after, Democrats won back both the House and Senate in a historic victory.

And then in 2012, Rove managed to strike out in ignominious fashion with other people’s money, raising questions anew about whether his reputation was ever fully deserved.

The result is skeptical GOP donors who not only see Rove as someone who can’t deliver victories, but also part of a tired Republican Beltway establishment that’s lost perspective. With the proliferation of groups similar to Crossroads, Rove has to worry about competition within his own party in ways he’s not accustomed to.


By: Steve Benen, the Maddow Blog, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Karl Rove | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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