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“It May Be Democrats Who Gain The Most”: Why Fox Business Is The Perfect Venue For The Republican Debate

The most recent Republican primary debate, which aired two weeks ago on CNBC, was a well-choreographed pageant of pandering, evasion, and deceit. Confronted with moderators who questioned the feasibility, consistency, and wisdom of their issue positions, the candidates responded not with demonstrations of their substantive knowledge, but with fabrications and unfounded accusations of media bias.

Republicans registered their dissatisfaction with enough petulance that the host of Tuesday’s debate, Fox Business Network, is trying to set itself apart. To avoid a repeat of the CNBC mess, it is making its moderators “invisible” and thus unable to interject when the candidates say untrue things.

It stands to reason that the GOP and Fox Business will serve each other’s purposes perfectly. By renouncing confrontation and skepticism, Fox Business will give Republican candidates the obstacle-free forum they demand; and in return, for distinguishing itself from CNBC, Republicans will refrain from attacking the network’s moderators as limelight-seekers or agents of a media conspiracy. A symbiosis of cynicism and reciprocal gratification.

But that isn’t to say the debate will redound to the benefit of either Republicans or their inquisitors. Republicans and Fox Business may figure out how to get along with one another, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the candidates or the network will enjoy lasting boosts to either their reputations or their ultimate aims. In the end, the winners of such a delicate presentation might well be the very people Republicans have sought to demonize, at the expense of misled and frustrated Republican voters.

The conservative movement in the Obama era has been marked by leaders who hyperbolize and over-promise, simultaneously stoking latent paranoia and failing to adequately confront these imagined dangers. Recent convulsions on the right—like former Speaker John Boehner’s resignation from the House, and former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat last year at the hands of David Brat, a right-wing primary challenger—are widely characterized as self-defeating acts of conservative excess. But they can just as easily be characterized as the justified backlash of a disgruntled conservative rank and file. “[Cantor] wrote, ran on, and promised the Pledge to America,” Brat complained recently to reporters. “He is now name-calling, and making fun of—as ‘unrealistic’—those who are running on the pledges that he made on paper. So, Eric Cantor was the leader who put forward the Pledge to America, and we’re ‘unrealistic’ for following his logic. Run that by a college freshman in philosophy. That’s called a contradiction. Socrates would give him an F.”

Republican primary debates are venues for this kind of over-promising and underperforming on a grander, televised scale. The four leading Republican presidential candidates have promised to reform the tax code in equally, but uniquely unserious ways. Donald Trump would reduce revenues by $10 trillion over a decade, but he wishes away this immense calamity by claiming falsely and without any shame that his plan would generate 6 percent economic growth in perpetuity. Ben Carson proposes a tax plan based on the tithe. Ted Cruz’s combination of a flat income tax with a value-added tax would be less fiscally disastrous but much more regressive. Marco Rubio promises tax cuts so enormous that he’d have to eliminate the entire non-defense budget, save for Medicare and Social Security, to square away the rest of his promises. These ideas are the embers of the next right-on-right conflagration, which will erupt when the Repbulican nominee swings back to the center during the general election, or when the next Republican president fails to deliver what he promised.

CNBC’s fiasco proved that journalists who don’t enjoy the auspices of the conservative movement can’t successfully contest this kind of outlandishness in real time. Republicans will brush off outsider scrutiny as a symptom of media bias. Fox Business doesn’t have that problem. But if for the sake of coalition management its moderators decide they’re better off serving as enablers, it won’t be in the interest of the party or the candidates or GOP voters. They’ll be doing a favor to those who stand to gain from the right’s increasingly attenuated grip on reality.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, November 10, 2015

November 11, 2015 Posted by | Fox Business, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Southern GOP Politics”: Steve Scalise’s David Duke Scandal Says More About Republicans Than The Party Will Ever Admit

If you happen upon an end-of-the-year list of 2014’s biggest political bombshells, chances are Eric Cantor’s primary-election defeat to a right wing-backed neophyte named David Brat will make the cut. Because it took basically all of Washington by surprise, it has embedded itself in the psyche of the political establishment over the last six months as a seminal event. And for the last six months, I’ve been an evangelist for the theory that, while surprising, Cantor’s defeat ultimately proved to be pretty inconsequential.

In the end I was wrong, but not for the reasons everyone still reflecting on that story predicted back in June. Republican policy hasn’t moved substantially to the right since then. The hardline flank of the Republican Party is no more influential now than it was before. If anything, GOP leaders have become more willing and better equipped to tamp down rebellions than they were earlier this year.

But by beating Cantor, Brat shook up the leadership hierarchy in the House, and spooked the remaining leaders into welcoming one of those hardliners into their ranks as a token. That token was Steve Scalise, the Louisiana conservative who copped this week to addressing a David Duke–founded neo-Nazi group in 2002, after a local blogger found evidence of his participation, which had gone unnoticed for a decade, lying in plain sight on a prominent white supremacist website.

Scalise may survive this revelation. But another shakeup could be in the offing, and there lies the potential for real conflict among House Republicans. As an emissary to conservatives, Scalise represented a compromise between figures with closer ties to the leadership and more rebellious backbench members. If he has to be removed for this reason, leadership will feel burned and so will the right.

But the more important issue is what happened back in 2002, and what it says about Republican politics, especially in the South.

If more details emerge, and it turns out Scalise was closer to white hate groups than he’s let onif he knew his audience and was speaking their languagehe’s finished. But on the whole, and in a strange way, that might be a better outcome for the party than if Scalise muddles through, claiming ignorance.

Let’s assume that Scalise is telling the truththat poor staffing explains his participation, and that he rushed in and out of the event too quickly to realize what was up, or that he was led into the hotel conference center blindfolded, ears plugged, and fled the scene the moment his remarks concluded.

There’s a problem with southern Republican politics if an up-and-coming star stumbles heedless into a white supremacist convention in the course of his constituent outreach, and then doesn’t notice the mistake for more than a decade.

Conservatives have compared the Scalise revelation unfavorably to Chris McDaniel’s neo-confederate sympathies, which establishment Republicans happily deployed against him when he was poised to topple an incumbent senator in Mississippi; and to the Klan-curious comments that got Trent Lott, another Mississippian, ousted from Senate leadership in 2001.

But whether Scalise’s transgressions are worse than McDaniel’s and Lott’s is a subjective and unnecessary question. The appropriate question, whether Scalise stays or goes, is, Why does this kind of thing happen at all? Conservatives are much less interested in that kind of introspection than in making tu quoque allusions to Robert Byrd and New Black Panthers. But that’s because they’re confusing a structural argument for an ad hominem attack, and responding in kind.

White identity has always driven politics in the South, but where it once propelled Democrats to power, it now, with less outward vitriol, helps elect Republicans. The Byrd reference is unintentionally appropriate for this reason. In the last years of his life, Byrd became the exception that proved the rule. Whites fled the Democratic Party hastily, and it is now virtually impossible for white Democratic candidates to win statewide elections in the deep South (or even in Byrd’s West Virginia). But whites didn’t abandon Democrats because white identity politics changed; they abandoned Democrats because Democrats stopped reflecting the interests of those politics. And white voters aligned with Republicans because Republicans took up their mantle.

Today, that is mostly reflected in conservative rhetoric and Republican social policy, less in visible allegiance between politicians and white supremacists. Things aren’t as bleak as they once were. Under fire, and with 12 years of separation, Scalise and his staff are unafraid to denounce Duke and his hate group. Back in 1999, when Duke was considering a run for Congress, Scalise wasn’t able to be so blunt. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

There’s a generous and an ungenerous way to read that statement. But the generous read isn’t particularly exculpatory. Presumably Scalise wasn’t offering voters a delicate assurance that he or another Republican would submerge their white supremacism more skillfully than Duke. But if in 1999 you said “the first and most important thing” about Duke wasn’t his despicable racism, but merely that he couldn’t get elected, it says something important about the voters you were trying not to offend. Many of those voters are still alive today.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, December 30, 2014

December 31, 2014 Posted by | Deep South, GOP, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, Eric Cantor Did Not Lose Because He’s Jewish”: There Were No Other Elephants In The Room

Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, sent the pundits scurrying. Shocked and bewildered, they searched around for theories to makes sense of what they had not anticipated happening. Hundreds of articles were written and dozens of explanations were offered.

One of the more fascinating threads that emerged from the cacophony of ideas put forward in the days following the primary was the effort to find a Jewish dimension to the story. Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was the highest ranking Jewish lawmaker in American history, with aspirations to be Speaker of the House. When one adds to that the fact that Brat is a religious Christian who speaks frequently of his faith, the temptation to uncover a Jewish angle became irresistible. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the leading Jewish weekly the Forward, and a variety of other publications duly turned out articles examining, from every perspective, the Jewish and religious sides of the election.

The problem was that there was no Jewish angle, at least not one of any consequence.

David Wasserman, a normally sensible political analyst, got things going with a much-quoted statement to the Times suggesting that anti-Semitism was at play in Cantor’s defeat. Cantor was culturally out of step with his redrawn district, according to Wasserman, “and part of this plays into his religion. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Sensationalist headlines soon followed. The Week, a news magazine, ran a story entitled “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish?” And the Forward ran an opinion column with the headline “Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He’s Jewish? You Betcha.”

But there was no elephant in the room. There wasn’t even a mosquito in the room. Nobody could turn up a single statement or piece of literature coming from the Brat campaign or anyone else that was even remotely anti-Semitic. And sensationalism aside, the ultimate consensus of virtually everyone was that anti-Semitism was not a factor of any kind in Cantor’s loss.

Conservatives, including Jewish conservatives, cried foul, charging that the point of the coverage was a deliberate attempt by liberals to smear Republican voters as bigots. Perhaps, although my own view is that it reflected media sloppiness and obsessiveness more than political conspiracy.

Another claim was that even in the absence of explicit anti-Semitism, the Brat victory represented a victory for evangelicalism and Christian politics and therefore a long-term threat to Jews and all non-Christian minorities. Vigilance about church-state separation is always appropriate, of course, but it is hard to see the threat here. Brat is often described as aligned with the Tea Party, which is a motley collection of organizations and activists; it has ill-defined religious positions not at all identical with those of evangelical groups, which are diverse themselves. Most important, there is much evidence that Americans are becoming less religious and not more so, and, as the gay marriage issue demonstrates, more tolerant in their religious outlooks.

Mr. Brat, of course, likes to talk publicly of his belief in God, and that is distressing to some people, both Jews and Christians. But God talk is acceptable in America, and people with liberal religious outlooks, President Obama included, also make reference to their religious beliefs from time to time. The key for politicians is to be sure that they ground their statements in a language of morality that is accessible to everyone; Americans need a common political discourse not dominated by exclusivist theology. As long as Brat—and others—stay on the right side of that political line, there is no reason to see this election as a religious watershed for Jews or anyone else, or a victory for religious coercion.

A third claim is that the Cantor defeat represents a disastrous decline of Jewish political fortunes. In this view, Cantor’s defeat is seen as part of a broader pattern: There are 33 Jews in the current Congress, both the House and the Senate, as compared with 39 in the previous one. But here again, this seems like an altogether arbitrary and unfounded assumption. Jews are well represented in all areas of America’s educational, business, and political life, and that is not changed in any way by the defeat of a Jewish Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.

Eric Cantor’s fall from political power is interesting and in some ways important. For decades to come, politicians and professors will study it as an example of what happens when a serious but self-referential politician loses touch with the things that ordinary Americans care about and gets caught up in the big-dollar culture of Washington. But they will say very little about the Jewish dimension of this affair—and that is for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist.


By: Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a Writer and Lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012; Time, June 16, 2014



June 17, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Eaten By The Tiger”: Eric Cantor And The Tea Party Purge

In 1961, John F. Kennedy said: “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

In November of 2010, Eric Cantor said: “The Tea Party are … an organic movement that played a tremendously positive role in this election. I mean, certainly, it produced an outcome beneficial to our party when you’re picking up at least 60-some seats.”

Yes, Republican leaders happily rode the Tea Party tiger when doing so was convenient. Now, Cantor has fallen to the very forces he and his colleagues unleashed and encouraged. After an electoral earthquake that shocked the party’s system, the GOP’s top brass will be scrambling to figure out what lessons they should draw.

Unfortunately, they’ll probably absorb the wrong ones. Rather than taking on the Tea Party and battling for a more moderate and popular form of conservatism, they are likely to cower and accommodate even more.

Because immigration was a central issue used against Cantor by David Brat, the insurgent professor who defeated him by 11 points, the immediate betting is that House leaders will once and for all declare immigration reform dead for this session of Congress. Governing is likely to become even less important, if that’s possible, to House Speaker John Boehner. Just holding a fearful and fractious GOP caucus together will become an even greater preoccupation.

It might usefully occur to some Republicans that Cantor was not their party’s only incumbent challenged by the Tea Party in a primary on Tuesday. In South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham overwhelmed six Tea Party challengers, securing 57 percent of the vote and avoiding a runoff.

While it’s true that Graham did what he could to satisfy his party’s ultras — for long stretches, it seemed that not a day went by when he didn’t use the word “Benghazi” — he did not, as Cantor did, twist this way and that on the immigration question. On the contrary, Graham defended his support of immigration reform and his vote for a bipartisan Senate bill.

We’ll never know if Cantor would have done better if he had held steady on the subject. What we do know is that sending out campaign literature bragging about a news story that declared him “the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform” did nothing to placate or persuade those who were out to defeat him.

Republicans who simply want to keep tacking right to maintain their power should also note that if the Tea Party helped mobilize support for them in 2010, it now threatens to reduce the party to a right-wing sect.

The movement is very good at organizing its own, but it is doing little to attract new voters the GOP’s way. If anything, the party’s rightward drift is pushing people out. In December 2010, 33 percent of Americans told Gallup’s pollsters they considered themselves Republicans. Last month only 24 percent did. Although the turnout was up in the Brat-Cantor race, participation has been low in most of this year’s Republican primaries.

Appeasing the Tea Party could create a vicious cycle: the more the party is defined by a hard core, the easier it will be for the most conservative voters to dominate it in primaries involving only the most ardent.

Cantor actually showed signs of understanding this. He gave speeches, including his “Making Life Work” address in February 2013, that at least acknowledged the need to address the practical worries of Americans who are not particularly ideological and don’t wave “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.

Politicians, he said, needed to respond to citizens’ “real-life concerns.” These included such basics as “where can you find an affordable home in a good neighborhood to raise your kids?” and “which health care plan can I afford?” and “will the children make it through high school and get into a college of their choice, and if so, can you afford it?”

Yet Cantor may have been most comfortable on safe conservative ground. He tried to start a practical policy conversation but did not take bold next steps to modify the direction the party took in 2010.

What the Tea Party giveth, the Tea Party taketh away. Its energy in 2010 was directed against President Obama and helped Cantor become House majority leader. Now its sights are set on purifying and purging the Republican Party. But purges, as Cantor has learned, are painful. They can also be dangerous to a party’s long-term well-being.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 11, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Feeling A Bit Of Anxiety”: Cantor’s Cause For Concern In The Commonwealth

The idea that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would worry at all about his re-election seems hard to believe. The conservative Republican has fared quite well in all of his campaigns; he’s already quite powerful by Capitol Hill standards; and in the not-too-distant future, Cantor might even be well positioned to be Speaker of the House.

And yet, the Majority Leader appears to be feeling quite a bit of anxiety about his future.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is boasting in a new campaign mailer of shutting down a plan to give “amnesty” to “illegal aliens,” a strongly worded statement from a Republican leader who’s spoken favorably about acting on immigration.

The flier sent by his re-election campaign comes as Cantor is under pressure ahead of his June 10 GOP primary in Virginia – and as the narrow window for action on immigration legislation in the House is closing fast. Cantor’s flier underscores how vexing the issue is for the GOP.

In the larger context, it’s not helpful for Republicans when the Majority Leader brags about killing a bill that gives “amnesty” to “illegal aliens,” while his party tries to maintain a half-hearted pretense that blames President Obama for the demise of immigration reform.

But at this point, Cantor doesn’t appear to care too much about the larger context or message coherence. He’s worried about losing – the rest can be worked out later.

In fact, the degree of Cantor’s anxiety is pretty remarkable. The Majority Leader is up against David Brat, a conservative economist at Randolph-Macon College, who’s eagerly telling primary voters that Cantor isn’t right-wing enough. What was once seen as token opposition, however, has clearly gotten the incumbent’s attention.

Cantor was concerned enough last month to launch a television attack ad, which was followed by Cantor’s anti-immigrant mailing, which culminated in yet another television attack ad that the congressman’s campaign unveiled yesterday.

These are not the actions of a confident incumbent.

As best as I can tell, there are no publicly available polls out of this Virginia district (though it’s safe to say Cantor has invested in some surveys of his own). With that in mind, it’s hard to say with any confidence whether the Majority Leader is overreacting to a pesky annoyance or a credible challenger.

But Jenna Portnoy and Robert Costa reported recently that it’s probably the former, not the latter.

Most Republicans continue to believe Cantor is safe; he won a primary challenge two years ago with nearly 80 percent of the vote. But the prospect of a competitive and bruising challenge to the second-ranking Republican in Congress is embarrassing to Cantor – and is rattling GOP leaders at a time when the party is trying to unify its divided ranks.

We’ll know soon enough just how serious the threat is – the primary is in 13 days – but as the election draws closer, let’s not forget that Cantor was booed and heckled by Republican activists in his own district just two weeks ago.

No wonder he seems so nervous.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 28, 2014

May 30, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Immigration Reform | , , , , , | 1 Comment


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