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“Since When Is Kelly Ayotte A “Moderate”?”: The Disappearance Of Actual Republican ‘Moderates’ Is A Problem

The New York Times reported yesterday on the electoral challenges facing Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire this year, given the factors in the 2016 race, some of which the incumbent senator can’t control. The headline read, “Tough Re-election for G.O.P. Moderate Is Getting Tougher.”

She may not always telegraph it, but Ms. Ayotte, a freshman senator, is locked in a herculean battle with the state’s popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. As one of five Senate Republicans running for re-election in states that supported President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, Ms. Ayotte is seen as particularly vulnerable this November. […]

Six years ago, Ms. Ayotte was part of a Republican wave…. For Ms. Ayotte and other Republicans from that class, 2016 was always going to be a difficult year to run for re-election because more Democrats vote in presidential years. But with the possibility that Donald J. Trump, the most divisive Republican presidential candidate in a generation, will be at the top of the ticket, the party’s task may be all the more arduous.

The broader assessment seems entirely right: the GOP incumbent faces a strong Democratic challenger in a year in which Republicans in competitive states are likely to struggle. Walking the electoral tightrope will pose challenges.

But it’s the wording of the headline that jumped out at me: since when is Kelly Ayotte a “moderate”?

It’s challenging because, by some measures, Republican moderates no longer exist in any meaningful sense. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver published an analysis last fall that noted, as a quantifiable matter, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”

As GOP politics have become increasingly radicalized, what passes for Republican moderation has no real connection to anything resembling mainstream American centrism. Indeed, by most measures, Kelly Ayotte may not have a reputation as a wild-eyed partisan bomb-thrower, but her actual record is one of a far-right conservative.

Ayotte co-sponsored Ted Cruz’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, without a replacement plan for the millions who’d lose their coverage. She filibustered a bipartisan bill to expand background checks before gun purchases. She’s voted, several times, to defund Planned Parenthood*. She joined the far-right in rejecting emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.

The list goes on. Ayotte rejected a clean debt-ceiling increase needed to prevent national default. She voted for Paul Ryan’s right-wing budget plan. She rejected a proposed increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Though she later regretted it, Ayotte even went along with her party’s government-shutdown scheme in 2013.

According to the most recent available information on the group’s website, the Club for Growth gives Ayotte a lifetime rating of 81% – and as of a few years ago, it was even higher. It’s partly why she’s been a featured guest at far-right gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Indeed, as I type, Ayotte has joined her party’s unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, rejecting a qualified nominee for reasons she and her party are still struggling to explain – a move even some of her GOP colleagues consider indefensible.

Sure, there are exceptions – Ayotte voted, for example, for the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform package – and the New Hampshire senator is hardly the most far-right member in the chamber, but the fact remains that there’s simply nothing about her record that says “moderate.”

My point is not to pick on the New York Times for the misplaced ideological label. Rather, what I think the Ayotte example offers is a reminder that the political world needs to rethink these assessments altogether, recognizing that actual Republican moderates are an endangered species, and being slightly less radical than extremists does not a moderate make.

When major news organizations start to think anyone to the left of Tom Cotton has credibility as a centrist, we lose sight of what matters: the Republican Party’s shift to the far-right has changed the nature of American politics in fundamental ways. Calling actual conservatives “moderates” only exacerbates the problem.

* Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 30, 2016

March 31, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Kelly Ayotte, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Strategic Rift In Anti-Trump Coalition”: The Two Republican Establishments Are Split On Their Anti-Trump Strategies

The day after Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney (as the immediate past nominee of a nongoverning party, he would have once been called the “titular head” of the GOP) laid out the Republican Establishment’s game plan for stopping Donald Trump.

If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.

Everybody outside TrumpWorld was onboard, right? Wrong. Especially following the March 5 caucuses and primaries, when he solidified his second-place position in delegates, Ted Cruz and his backers made it clear they believe the most efficient method of stopping Trump is for Republicans to unite behind his own candidacy. It’s Marco Rubio’s “anti-Trump consolidation” theory adopted by another candidate now that Rubio is struggling to survive. And thus with most of the Republican Establishment digging under the sofa cushions for funds to help Rubio beat Trump in Florida, Team Cruz was up in the air in the Sunshine State running anti-Rubio ads.

Was this a rogue action by a candidate not exactly known in the Senate as a team player? Perhaps. But more fundamentally, the strategic rift in the anti-Trump coalition is the product of two very different Republican Establishments: that of self-conscious movement conservatives, who find a Cruz nomination either congenial or acceptable, and the non-movement-party Establishment, which is as hostile to Cruz as it is to Trump.

The conservative-movement Establishment can be found in organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth and opinion vehicles like National Review magazine. Their basic mark of distinction is that they view the GOP as a vehicle for the promotion and implementation of conservative ideology and policy position rather than as an end in itself. They are virulently anti-Trump (as evidenced by National Review‘s recent special issue attacking the mogul) for all the reasons most Republicans (and for that matter, Democrats) evince, but with the additional and decisive consideration that Trump has violated conservative orthodoxy on a host of issues from trade policy to “entitlement reform” to the Middle East. Members of this Establishment do not uniformly support Ted Cruz; some are fine with the equally conservative (if far less disruptive) Marco Rubio, and others have electability concerns about the Texan even if they like his issue positions and his combative attitude toward the Republican congressional leadership. But suffice it to say they are not horrified by the idea of a Cruz presidency, and many have concluded his nomination is an easier bet than some panicky Anybody But Trump movement that at best will produce the unpredictable nightmare of a contested convention even as Democrats (more than likely) unite behind their nominee. RedState’s Leon Wolf neatly expressed their point of view yesterday:

Maybe you preferred someone who is a better communicator than Cruz or who stood a better chance of beating Hillary in the general. Sorry, but for whatever reason, your fellow voters have ruled each of those candidates out, and Rubio’s collapse this weekend pretty much put that nail in the coffin. It’s now a choice between guaranteed loser Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who might actually win.

From the movement-conservative perspective, it’s not Cruz who’s going rogue but instead elements of the party Establishment (including the members of Congress who conspicuously hate Ted Cruz) that cannot accept that it has lost control of the GOP this year and is insisting on a contested convention as a way to reassert its control behind closed doors in Cleveland. Party Establishmentarians are often conservative ideologically, too, but are dedicated to pragmatic strategies and tactics at sharp odds with Cruz’s philosophy of systematic partisan confrontation and maximalist rhetoric. And they are highly allergic to risky general-election candidates.

But there’s a fresh crisis in the party Establishment after the March 8 contests in four states, wherein Trump won Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii, Cruz won Idaho, and Marco Rubio won — maybe, it hasn’t been totally resolved yet — one delegate in Hawaii and absolutely nothing else. And new polls of Florida are beginning to come in that don’t look promising for Rubio. Even as party Establishment and even some conservative-movement Establishment folk pound Trump with negative ads, there are signs of panic. Most shocking, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, normally the most reliable of party Establishment mouthpieces and a big-time neoconservative booster of Rubio’s foreign-policy positions, publicly called on the Floridian to drop out of the race and endorse Cruz in order to stop Trump.

We’ll soon see if the divisions between the two Republican Establishments will quickly be resolved by the surrender of party types like Rubin. Some may instead try to reanimate Rubin or switch horses to Kasich, who has a better chance than Rubio to win his own home state next week. Still others may make their peace with Trump, or resolve to spend the rest of the cycle focused on down-ballot races. The confusion of the Republican Establishments now does not bode well for their unity or effectiveness if they do somehow manage to force Trump into a contested convention.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Clown Prince Of The 2016 Cycle”: Republican Nightmare; Donald Trump On The Debate Stage

Republicans are worried that Donald Trump will turn their first presidential debate into an embarrassing circus for the party and top candidates.

The celebrity real estate mogul’s Gatsby-esque entrance into the race on Tuesday has unleashed a torrent of anti-Trump tirades from influential Republicans, who are openly fretting that the bombastic, saber-rattling New Yorker with broad name recognition is in position to qualify for one of the 10 coveted debate slots under the rules set by Fox News.

The National Review called Trump a “ridiculous buffoon” and “an ass of exceptionally intense asininity.” Republican strategist Rick Wilson dubbed him “the clown prince of the 2016 cycle.” The conservative group Club For Growth said he “should not be taken seriously” and urged that he be excluded from the debates.

If Fox were making the cut today, Trump appears to be in.

The RealClearPolitics average of five recent national polls puts him in ninth place with 3.6 percent, just ahead of former Texas Governor Rick Perry — and 1.8 points ahead of John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, meaning the chief executive of the state where the debate is being held would not have a place on the stage. Candidates at the bottom of the list have seven weeks to displace Trump, but that’s a tall order, particularly if he gets a boost after announcing his presidential bid Tuesday and hitting the Sunday show circuit with a scheduled appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.

One of the candidates likely to be left out, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, appeared to be anticipating the Trump phenomenon days before the New Yorker jumped into the race. Talking to reporters Saturday at a Utah gathering of Republican candidates and donors sponsored by Mitt Romney, Graham complained that the rules for determining participants in the first debate “reward people who have run before and celebrity.”

“I think there’s going to be a big pushback against this,” he predicted.

Reality TV show

At least one of  Trump’s critics, Wilson, already is resigned to the prospect. “[I]t’s time for Republican candidates for President to face a simple fact; Trump will be on that stage. He’ll make the cut, based on name ID alone,” wrote party strategist Rick Wilson in a post for the conservative website IJReview. Wilson advised other candidates on state to refuse to engage. “Don’t agree with him. Don’t disagree with him. Don’t argue with him.”

The very thought is a nightmare scenario for the Republican establishment, which risks having its presidential field look more like an unwieldy circus of a reality TV show than the self-styled embarrassment of riches.

“This is the greatest gift to the media and the Democrats that could imagine,” Wilson wrote.

The Democratic National Committee was so gleeful about Trump jumping into the race that it issued a statement holding him up a “major candidate” who brings “much-needed seriousness” to the Republican field. The Republican National Committee welcomed him to the race in a tweet.

Trump’s announcement speech did nothing to assuage concerns about what his presence might mean for some of the party’s top contenders, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

“You looked at Bush, it took him five days to answer the question on Iraq. He couldn’t answer the question. He didn’t know. I said, ‘Is he intelligent?’ Then I looked at Rubio. He was unable to answer the question, is Iraq a good thing or bad thing,” Trump said. “How are these people gonna lead us? …They don’t have a clue. They can’t lead us. They can’t. They can’t even answer simple questions. It was terrible.”

But whether Trump manages to get the free media promised by the debate, he’s unlikely to lack for a platform.  The self-described billionaire promises to fund his own campaign. “I don’t care,” he boasted. “I’m really rich.”


By: Sahil Kapur; Kendall Breitman contributed reporting; Bloomberg Politics, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Working Man’s Wingnut”: Huckabee Laid Down Two Markers Directly Across The Class Lines That Divide Rank-And-File Republicans

So Mike Huckabee is “formally announcing his second presidential candidacy this morning from his rather famous home town of Hope, Arkansas. He’s not generally thought to be a threat to win the nomination, partly because his poll ratings in an incredibly crowded field aren’t that impressive, partly because he’s notoriously poor at fundraising, and partly because he has pre-alienated important elements of the Republican Establishment (Grover Norquist) and the conservative movement (the Club for Growth). His other problem is that having won Iowa in 2008, his expectations there are so high that if he fails to win again he may get written off before he reaches the Deep South primaries where he might be able to live off the fat of the land.

More fundamentally (pun intended), Huck’s natural base among white conservative evangelicals is no longer where it was in 2008, when it all but belonged to him after he disposed of Sam Brownback at the Ames Straw Poll. As they recently showed at Ralph Reed’s Iowa cattle call, nearly the entire gigantic 2016 field knows how to pitch the Christian Right, and many of the candidates–viz. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and potentially even Jeb Bush–have credentials for appealing to that constituency which rival Huck’s.

What he could bring to the table, however, is sort of a full-spectrum conservative white working class message that transcends the usual cultural issues and spits fire at Republican as well as Democratic elites. He tried that to some extent in 2008, though his “populism” was more rhetorical than substantive. This time around, though, Huck’s laid down two markers directly across the class lines that divide rank-and-file Republicans on the rare occasions their leaders are challenged on them: trade and “entitlement reform.”

Last month in Iowa, Huck attacked free trade agreements with China for depressing U.S. wages, and argued “globalists” had too much power in the GOP. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership drawing a lot of attention right now, it will be interesting to see if Huckabee mentions this topic again in his campaign launch.

Huck got more attention earlier this month for letting it be known he opposed any “entitlement reform” plans that modified Social Security or Medicare for people already paying payroll taxes into the systems for those two programs–in other words, grandfathering current retirees or those very close to retirement, as Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals do, isn’t enough in Huck’s view. This was taken as an attack on Chris Christie, who had made means-testing of Social Security and Medicare a signature initiative for his doomed proto-candidacy. But Jeb Bush came out about the same time for an increase in the retirement age, and nearly all the GOP candidates have embraced “entitlement reform” in one form or another, if only via serial endorsements of serial Ryan Budgets.

The thing is, “entitlement reform” is very unpopular, not least among white working class voters. So it is the perfect subject for a would-be “populist” conservative.

Huckabee may have competition for this working man’s wingnut approach, notably from the man who inherited a lot of Huck’s 2008 supporters in 2012: Rick Santorum. Santo’s angle seems to be focused on immigration policy rather than trade and entitlements, however. If Huck continues to cover his flanks on immigration by repudiating his earlier openness to comprehensive reform, I think he’s got the broader and more evocative pitch. Even if it doesn’t elevate him into the top tier along with Bush, Walker and Rubio, it will get their attention, and may very well have an impact on Republican fiscal and economic policy.

I said in a piece in the latest issue of WaMo that Huck had more or less appropriated the savage appeal of Sarah Palin, at least in his pre-campaign book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. That book is chock full of anti-elite resentment, and implicitly offers Huck’s campaign as an instrument of vengeance for the same kind of working-class conservative activists who lick envelopes for the anti-choice movement, pay attention to Glenn Beck, laugh at the tired jokes about God not creating “Adam and Steve”–and have to worry about their own jobs and retirements and health care.

I don’t know that there’s enough distinctive appeal there to offset Huck’s other handicaps, and other candidates will poach on the same turf. But I wouldn’t write him off just yet.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 5, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Image Conflicting With His Actual Personality”: The Real Ted Cruz; Country Music, Harvard Law, And Tea Party ‘Populism’

Nobody who knows Ted Cruz — the Texas freshman senator who became the first official contestant for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination this week – doubts that he is very, very smart. That includes Cruz himself, whose emphatic confidence in his own superior intelligence has not always endeared him to colleagues and acquaintances (whose opinions of his personality are often profanely negative).

Yet while Cruz cleverly seeks to highlight the Tea Party persona that appeals to many Republican primary voters, he exposes the fraudulence of his ultra-right brand of “populism.”

Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University, a religious-right institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell. No doubt he chose the misnamed Liberty to underscore his commitment to the political attitudes – “anti-elitist” and often opposed to scientific and intellectual inquiry – that the late reverend represented. To Falwell, secular education and the Enlightenment tradition of free thought always seemed suspiciously irreligious; at Liberty, creationism is a required course, the Young Democrats are outlawed, and both students and faculty are rigorously censored.

What could someone like Ted Cruz, a vocal advocate of First Amendment rights, honestly think about a place like Liberty? Falwell’s school languishes far below the standards of educational achievement – including an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School — that have always filled Cruz with pride. Sometimes with excessive pride, like when he reportedly told Harvard Law classmates that he intended to form a study group including only those who had attended Harvard, Yale, or Princeton as undergrads.

Josh Marshall, a journalist who attended college with Cruz, noted in Talking Points Memo that this bit of academic snobbery marked the future senator as a “pompous a**hole” at Harvard Law, “an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense [his emphasis].”

In a further attempt to portray himself as a right-wing populist, Cruz now claims to be a country music fan – having changed preferences after 9/11, when he abandoned “classic rock” for country, which he suggested is more patriotic:

“My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music — collectively — the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people. And ever since 2001, I listen to country music,” he told CBS News – without naming a single country artist or band.

Now every presidential candidate carefully cultivates a public personality by promoting and even adopting tastes that might resonate with desired constituencies. But there are few politicians whose image conflicts so sharply with his actual personality and real base of support.

Analyzing the Texan’s financial base as he entered the presidential arena, Bloomberg News revealed “surprising weakness when it comes to small donors.” Only 16 percent of Cruz donors gave less than $200, compared with 43 percent of the donors to his fellow Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. The funding that propelled him into the Senate came from groups like the billionaire-backed Club for Growth and the Washington-based Tea Party organizations underwritten by the Koch brothers with their oil billions. Having attended the same elite schools, the people writing those big checks must feel quite comfortable with Cruz.

Need anyone be reminded of the policies favored by such interests? They oppose raising the minimum wage, or even the existence of a minimum wage. They would gut Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment benefits, along with every other government program that supports the middle class. They would reduce their own taxes even more, while raising taxes on working families – all retrogressive ideas that even the average Republican rejects.

If that’s populism, Ted Cruz is truly a man of the people.


By: Joe Conason, Editor at Large, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog; The National Memo, March 27, 2015

March 28, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Populism, Tea Party, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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