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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

“Uberize The Federal Government?”: Uber Isn’t A Model For Government, Despite What Republicans Argue

A couple of years ago, Republicans made no secret of their love for Uber – not just as a service, but as a model. “Republicans love Uber,” Politico noted. “The Republican Party is in love with Uber, and it wants to publicly display its affection all over the Internet,” National Journal added. Uber has become a “mascot” for Republicans “looking to promote a new brand of free market conservatism,” The Hill reported.

Vox noted late last week that John Kasich is making this affection for Uber a central rhetorical element of his struggling presidential campaign.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference [Friday], long-shot Republican presidential candidate John Kasich argued that we should “Uberize the federal government.”

Kasich didn’t go into much detail about what this means, but it’s a line that he’s been using for weeks on the campaign trail.

Much of this is symbolic, not substantive. Republican policymakers at the local level actually tend not to like Uber much at all, but at the national level, where presidential candidates tend to paint with broad brushes, the car-service technology has come to represent a breakthrough against regulations and against organized worker rights.

And with this in mind, when a presidential candidate like Kasich says he wants “Uberize the federal government,” it’s worth asking what in the world such a model might look like.

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman’s answer rings true.

Bear in mind that the federal government is best thought of as a giant insurance company with an army. Nondefense spending is dominated by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a few smaller social-insurance programs (now including the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.) How, exactly, is an Uber-like model supposed to do anything to make that work better?

And don’t say it would remove the vast armies of bureaucrats. Administrative costs for those federal programs are actually quite low compared with the private sector, mainly because they’re not trying to deny coverage and don’t engage in competitive advertising.

If Kasich means anything, he means “privatize”, not Uberize – convert Social Security into a giant 401(k) plan, replace Medicare with vouchers. But that wouldn’t poll very well, would it?

No, it wouldn’t. Uber is popular with voters Republicans are trying to reach, so it’s become a vehicle (no pun intended) for conservative policy goals the party has long wanted anyway – only now GOP candidates can wrap unpopular ideas in a tech-friendly package.

Of course, Kasich isn’t alone on this front: Marco Rubio has been eagerly touting the service for years, while Ted Cruz last year described himself as the Uber of Washington, D.C.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Federal Government, John Kasich, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can Newt Gingrich Save the GOP?”: He’s Trying To Play Peacemaker Between Republicans And The Trump Campaign

The Republican Party’s establishment is slowly coming to terms with a tough reality: Donald Trump will be the nominee, and resistance is futile.

Newt Gingrich is the latest party elder to try and normalize the ever-increasing possibility of a Trump presidency, visiting with top GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this week to pave the way for a future working relationship.

“The time is coming when you’ve got to put the party back together,” Gingrich told The Daily Beast.

Asked whether he was meeting with GOP leaders about Trump, Gingrich indicated it was more of a casual conversation—but confirmed that he has spoken with party leadership about starting the healing process—no matter which of the four candidates end up winning the nomination.

Behind the scenes, however, Gingrich’s outreach is more obvious. None of the other remaining Republican nominees would require the kind of healing that a Trump presidency would demand.

“Newt has been on the Hill sharing his views on how Congress could work with a Trump administration,” a Republican leadership aide told The Daily Beast. “Gingrich is trying to legitimize Trump while Mitt Romney and others are out there saying he’s terrible. Gingrich is saying that Trump’s positions are valid—he’s trying to add legitimacy to Trump while everyone else is doing the opposite.”

Gingrich visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to sit down with Speaker Ryan and hold a Facebook Q&A. Just the day before, Gingrich waxed poetic about Trump’s “seriousness” and “shift toward inclusiveness” following the Super Tuesday primaries.

Trump’s shift toward inclusiveness, team effort and unity was vitally important. He has to build a Reagan like inclusiveness to win this fall

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 2, 2016

Trump’s decision to hold a serious press conference instead of a campaign speech was masterful and a great contrast to Cruz and Rubio.

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 2, 2016

During one meeting, a leadership aide said, Gingrich said he had been in quiet talks with the Trump campaign.

But Gingrich has stopped “short of endorsing Trump publicly because he knows it’s not the right way to win over conservatives who are alarmed by Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric,” said the aide.

Publicly Gingrich has walked a fine line: praising Trump without quite endorsing him.

“He is a man totally unique. He lives life at a 100 percent pace. I have never seen anything like it,” Gingrich cooed on Fox News Thursday evening. “If he becomes president, there is going to be a wall.”

The former House speaker added, “I don’t mind people saying, ‘I don’t want Trump.’ I mind people saying, ‘I’ll never vote for him.’ I think faced with Hillary [Clinton] as an alternative, that’s a very dangerous position.”

Trump was right to skip CPAC. The votes are in Kansas not Washington. Why give the anti-trump activists a target

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 4, 2016

Gingrich is hardly the only Republican leader, in recent weeks, to make peace with the idea of Donald Trump as the party’s nominee.

“There is so much at stake… however you disagree with Cruz or Rubio or Trump, the moderate Republican Party is going to coalesce against Hillary. She’s the uniter not a divider, she’s going to unite the Republican Party,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, told The Daily Beast. “There were a number of significant Republicans who came out against Goldwater, there were people that talked about doing this against Reagan, but I don’t know that anybody significant did it after the primary.”


By: Jackie Kucinich and Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, March 4, 2016

March 6, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Newt Gingrich | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Tragedy Of Ben Carson”: How A Brilliant Doctor Turned Into A Right-Wing Provocateur

The Ben Carson phenomenon is a case lesson in how some really smart, impressive figures in certain fields should never talk about politics.

Carson is now an official presidential candidate, representing a subset of grassroots conservatives who enjoy being played. This is not an insignificant number of people. He is, to the horror of the people who run the Republican party, polling viably. No would-be candidate has a more dedicated corps of volunteers supporting him. Whether it’s CPAC or the First in the Nation Summit in New Hampshire, the Carson people are everywhere, handing out stickers and buttons and t-shirts and assorted other tchochkes from dusk till dawn.

But why? What is it that they like about someone who’s quite obviously trying to separate conservative movementarians from their money?

Carson’s rise to prominence among Tea Party conservatives, or whatever we’re calling that element of the GOP now, should be bizarre to everyone. It’s especially baffling, though, to people like your trusty Salon writer, who grew up in the mid-Atlantic in the 1990s. Most elementary and middle school students from Maryland were at some point assigned to read Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands — typically ahead of a visit from the man himself. Carson was raised in Detroit, rising from abject poverty to Yale, eventually becoming the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, one of the best medical centers in the world. To children and adults alike, he was the reigning regional saint. (Along with Cal Ripken Jr., who didn’t pull off masterful feats of neurosurgery but did play in thousands of consecutive baseball games.)

Carson launched his second, lucrative career as a conservative movement celebrity at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. This is one of those grand annual Washington events, sponsored by a Northern Virginia cult, that merits a visit from the President of the United States. Carson made President Obama sit through a chaotic 27-minute political rant against political correctness, progressive taxation, the national debt, etc., and conservative media went nuts. He went on a vapid spiel to President Obama’s face! He should run for president??

Who knew Carson would actually take them up on this? But here we are, replete with a gospel choir singing Eminem.

It’s sad that such a brilliant surgeon and role model for children has committed himself to a path of spectacular humiliation. Because that same free-flowing style he showed at the National Prayer Breakfast has been subject to diminishing returns in the last two years. The novelty is wearing off, and now he’s in a position where he makes a fool of himself just about every time his mouth opens.

The trademark of Carson’s brief political career is an all-out assault on the common literary devices of metaphor and analogy. Obamacare is slavery, and the United States under President Obama is Nazi Germany. ”I want to be clear and set the record straight: I don’t think Obamacare is worse than 9/11,” Carson found himself compelled to say at one point. He has compared criticizing police to criticizing plumbers.

He knows not one thing about foreign policy but speaks about it anyway. This produces comedy.

He recently opined that being gay is a choice and people become gay when they go to prison.

Carson says that he’s learned over the past couple of years not to “wander off into those extraneous areas that can be exploited” by the gotcha media. The problem here, as with so many other complaints about the gotcha media, is that the media simply transcribes the crazy things that he says. He might think that he has an off switch, but that’s doubtful. People who become conservative media stars become conservative media stars by saying crazy things. It’s part of their nature.

Carson’s legacy will not include a stint as President of the United States. It’s a shame that he’s decided to risk his real legacy, as a brilliant world-renowned doctor who came from nothing, by playing right-wing also-ran in a presidential contest.


By: Jim Newell, Salon, May 4, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Straight To ‘Hell No'”: The Rapid Radicalization Of The Republican Party By The Hard Right

This is a blog, not a history lesson. But I can’t resist trying to make some sense of the current Republican desire for self-immolation.

Where has this so-called “Hell No Caucus” come from? Whether it is refusing to pass bills to fund the government, approve increases in the debt ceiling or provide money for the Department of Homeland Security, the Republican Party has an increasingly apparent and growing antagonism to pragmatic solutions. It has drifted so far right that it is truly in danger of self-destruction. As New York Republican Rep. Peter King, put it on CBS’ “This Week,” “[T]here’s a wing within the Congress which is absolutely irresponsible – they have no concept of reality.” Speaking with MSNBC’s Luke Russert on Friday, he added, “I’ve had it with this self-righteous, delusional wing of the party.”

The GOP has become more and more extreme, to a point where it is barely recognizable from what it was in the 20th century. Even Ronald Reagan, and certainly Barry Goldwater, would not understand their party today.

I remember producing a pamphlet on the rise of the “New Right” in the early 1980s with an analysis of groups like the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, the Conservative Victory Fund and many others. We argued how destructive the extreme right wing views were at the time but little did we realize how nihilistic they would become.

Here is the history lesson.

A very conservative group formed in 1973 called the Republican Study Committee. They were small, but they were opposed to both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as too liberal and decided to organize against their policies. Then-Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois and congressional staffers Paul Weyrich, who went on to found the Heritage Foundation, and Ed Feulner, who later headed Heritage, were driving forces, along with several other members of Congress. When Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1995, he didn’t want a separate group on his flank causing trouble, despite the fact that his conservative views were not too far from theirs. So he abolished it; but it came back.

A National Journal article last year discussed in detail the evolution and rapid growth of this far right caucus.The growth of the Republican Study Committee since 1995 has been truly dramatic – 15 members out of 218 in 1995, up to 72 members out of 220 in 2001 and skyrocketing to 171 members in 2013. The percentage of Republicans who joined this very conservative group went from 7 percent in 1995 to over 70 percent last year.

It is not too difficult to understand why House Speaker John Boehner, or any speaker, might have trouble with his or her Republican caucus.

Of course, there are other groups. Michele Bachmann helped organize the Tea Party Caucus several years ago, a group more extreme than the Study Committee. And, now, an initial nine members of the Study Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have begun to assemble the House Freedom Caucus. More trouble is afoot than Republicans may realize.

The vote last Friday where 52 Republicans bucked the speaker on his effort to move forward on funding for DHS says a lot about the GOP’s direction. The numbers don’t add up for Boehner to move much of anything forward, and the Senate won’t buy what the Study Committee or the Freedom Caucus are selling.

The rapid radicalization of the Republican Party is playing out in the presidential sweepstakes as well. The Conservative Political Action Conference has gone from a fringe gathering to a primary litmus test for most candidates.

There is no such thing as a moderate voice in the leadership of the Republican Party any longer; there is barely a Main Street conservative voice that will get traction within the party that now finds itself in control of the House and Senate. Even the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells live in fear of the new suicide caucus.

The problem, as many Republicans know, is that this crowd is ungovernable and ultimately, nationally, unelectable.


By: Peter Fenn, U.S. News and World Report, March 3, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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