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“The GOP Is Not Trying To Change”: The Direction The Republican Party Is Headed Is Destined For Political Ruin

John Harwood has an article in today’s New York Times with the headline: Shut Out of White House, G.O.P. Looks to Democrats of 1992. What’s not clear is whom the headline writer means by G.O.P. As best as I can tell, the subject here isn’t any of the likely candidates or any kind of consensus from the party base. It’s these people:

“A lot of work to do,” said Kate O’Beirne, a veteran conservative commentator. Pete Wehner, who was an aide to President George W. Bush, fears that Republican gains expected in the midterm elections this fall will offer another “false dawn,” as they did in 2010.

Kate O’Beirne and Peter Wehner are not representative of the Republican Party. They are Washington insiders who are well paid to spin the party’s message. But they aren’t so much spinning at the moment as hoping for a miracle.

A nominee’s power to recast the party’s image on high-profile issues offers a safety valve for Republicans in 2016, whatever they do now on immigration or other issues. At least, they hope so.

As Ms. O’Beirne, the conservative commentator, observed hopefully, “A talented politician can turn things around pretty handily, right?”

Mr. Wehner and Ms. O’Beirne are in no way representative of their party, but they are both savvy political observers who realize that the direction the Republican Party is headed is destined for political ruin. Their salvation idea is that a candidate will win the nomination and then turn sharply to the middle, thereby bringing the party faithful back to positions that have national viability.

A parallel is offered by Harwood:

But Mr. Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, used discretion in targeting Democratic constituencies such as labor unions. He embraced ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, for instance — but not until he had secured the Democratic nomination.

So, what we are supposed to expect is a Republican nominee who embraces gay marriage and immigration reform, but not until they have secured the Republican nomination. The thing is, this is a seemingly impossible task. To pull it off, the GOP would need to find a candidate like Dwight D. Eisenhower who could be embraced for reasons entirely separated from political ideology. A consensus bipartisan national hero could conceivably win the Republican nomination and then feel free to forge a completely independent stance on the issues, resulting in a remolded party that isn’t wedded 100% to the conservative movement, particularly on social issues.

It’s a pleasant thought, even for Democrats, but there are no Eisenhowers in contemporary American culture. In 2012, we saw a version of what Wehner and O’Beirne are looking for in the candidacy of former Utah governor and ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. In the end, Huntsman earned two delegates to the Republican National Convention and .04 percent of the primary vote.

So far, the only evidence that any entity that can be termed the “GOP” is looking to emulate the 1992 Democrats led by Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council is the autopsy report that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus solicited after the 2012 election. That report said that Republicans must pass comprehensive immigration reform and embrace gay equality or they’ll be unable to even get a hearing from young voters or Latinos. Assuming that analysis was valid, and I think it was, there has been little progress so far and there are no reasons to think that a nominee running on those issues would have snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Republican nomination.

The only sign of heterodoxy I can detect is Rand Paul’s uneven willingness to buck the status quo on foreign policy, privacy rights, and voting rights. But let’s not forget that Rand Paul is on the record as believing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is unconstitutional because it forces private businessmen to serve blacks in their restaurants.

That’s not exactly a Sister Souljah moment. And I don’t think dissing Sister Souljah was key to Clinton’s success in any case.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 5, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Challenge Of Rebranding The GOP”: The Prescription For A Republican Comeback Outside The South Will Be Painful

The trendlines are bad for Republicans. They’re falling behind in the battleground states. Demographic and generational change are making matters worse over time. And outside of the South, they’re not even making gains among white voters. That latter point does create room for Republicans to do even better among white voters and win without big gains among Hispanics, at least for now. But conservatives take solace in the possibility of victory through whites on the assumption that it will be easier to improve among whites than Hispanics. In reality, the prescription for a GOP comeback outside of the South will be painful.

But what Republicans should do isn’t obvious. On its own, the observation that the GOP is doing worse among non-Southern whites doesn’t obviously lend itself to a solution. We might assume, for instance, that the GOP’s problems in northern Virginia, Columbus, and Denver are related to cultural issues, but do we know how many of those voters could be persuaded by any of the shifts suggested by pundits and analysts? What about middle class communities, like Appleton, Ft. Collins, or Lancaster? We might assume that the GOP’s problem is mainly economic, but probably part cultural as well—but in what proportions? And in the culturally Southern areas where the GOP hopes to improve further, like in western Pennsylvania or central Florida, it is highly unclear how much more the GOP can improve—especially if race was part of Obama’s problem.

And as a historical matter, it’s hard to predict how parties will rebound. Many DLC Democrats didn’t realize that the Democrats would eventually find a new base in the Northeast or California. The “Emerging Democratic Majority” characterizes West Virginia as “lean Democratic.” The fact is that the next Republican coalition will be built on dissatisfaction with Democrats, and we just don’t know who will revolt against the Democrats or when.

In the absence of great data on what the GOP should do, analysts and pundits are mainly resorting to what they do best: assuming that what they want is what the country wants. The more culturally liberal Republicans want the GOP to move left on social issues. The populists think populism would do the trick. The conservatives say they should go to the right. It’s all too predictable.

But there are limits to these targeted approaches. For one, parties can’t just excise parts of their base and win elections, especially when they’re the minority party. Moreover, any realistic solution won’t lead to massive gains: Republicans would still be vulnerable to Democratic attacks on their support for cutting entitlements or lower taxes for the rich, or opposition to abortion, gun control, and probably gay marriage. That limits how much they can gain among any particular group. Democrats also have the ideological flexibility to embrace good ideas and co-opt a strong Republican message, as they have done on energy. The Electoral College also makes it harder for a party to win with narrow, deep gains among any single group, like missing conservative white voters or Hispanics—there just aren’t enough them in the critical states. The GOP has a broad problem across a very diverse set of battleground states, and it will require an equally broad set of remedies.

So the best option is to spread the pain around. Don’t castrate the party, smooth out the many sharp edges of the GOP’s platform and message.  Keep supporting tax cuts and less regulation, but add an agenda and message aimed at the middle and working class. Remain pro-life, but don’t appear opposed to Planned Parenthood or contraceptives, and return to supporting exceptions in instances of rape or the health of the mother, as President Bush did. Stay committed to religion, but don’t reflexively doubt the science of evolution and global warming, or the promise of stem cell research or renewable energy. Oppose gun control, but why force yourself to oppose background checks? Oppose gay marriage if Republicans must, but could Republicans at least support civil unions? On all of these issues, the GOP need not compromise on its core policy objectives, but can’t afford to consistently stake out ground so far from the center. That allows Democrats to cast the party and their core beliefs outside of the mainstream, which has already happened on abortion.

This prescription is informed by Bill Clinton’s revitalization of the Democratic Party in 1992. He was ostensibly a “New Democrat,” even though he was pro-choice, supported higher taxes, a universal health care system, gun control, and expanded rights for gays in the military. Rather than abandon core elements of the Democratic agenda, Clinton softened the edges on unreformed welfare, crime, middle class taxes, and said abortion should be “rare,” even if it should remain legal.

The success of heterodox, but conservative Republicans suggests that this formula would be sufficient. Chris Christie is doing great in 2016 presidential polling, and he’s basically followed the approach listed above—although there’s a case that went further than I would advise on gun control. Similarly, Jon Huntsman earned quite a bit of support among moderates for merely saying that he believes in evolution and gay marriage, despite being very conservative on economic issues. Paradoxically, it seems that the GOP’s extremism will make a rebrand even easier, since a candidate can move to the center and still clearly stand on the right.

But Bill Clinton had the benefit of a relatively moderate Democratic primary electorate with a large conservative contingent in the South and Midwest. That allowed him to “soften the edges” and still win a Democratic primary, despite battling serious attacks on his character. In contrast, Jon Huntsman received 739 votes in Iowa and there are questions about whether a popular governor like Chris Christie could win the nomination.

If someone like Huntsman was way too moderate for GOP primary voters, then the GOP rebrand won’t be easy. That makes it even more important that immigration reform passes. Sometimes, allowing issues to disappear can be just as helpful as rebranding. Clinton benefited from the end of the Cold War, which he obviously had nothing to do with. Getting immigration reform off the table would dovetail well with a better economic message, which should appeal to persuadable Hispanic voters. But many of the same forces that couldn’t tolerate “smoothing the edges” seem poised to block immigration reform. And if the GOP can’t “smooth out the edges” and won’t allow Democrats to take issues off the table, like on background checks or immigration, the consequences for 2016 could be fatal.


By: Nate Cohn, The New Republic, July 9, 2013

July 10, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Their Cause Is Nonsense”: “No Labels”, A Rich Moderate Group Vows To Focus On Actual Reform Proposals, However Nonsensical

For two years, the nonprofit group “No Labels” has brought together some of the most respected and influential members of the New York and Washington political and business elite to publicly fight for a set of vague goals related to “civility” and “problem-solving.” They have, so far, failed to advance their cause, because their cause is nonsense. But they keep trying, bless their hearts. Their newest rerelaunch is underway, with some sort of conference in New York today, and their new mascots are figures hated by everyone besides people who reflexively think angering your own party is self-evidently virtuous: Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman and current Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va.

So, we have a conservative Republican whom Republicans hate and a conservative Democrat whom Democrats hate. Classic No Labels!

But No Labels says they’ve heard your complaints. They claim they’re finished with promoting “centrism.” Instead of imagining themselves the arbiters of the imaginary “middle,” they will fight for real reforms that will end congressional dysfunction.

“We started off thinking there was a broad group in the middle, but quickly realized that wasn’t productive. People have very different notions of what the middle is,” said Mark McKinnon, a longtime adviser to former President George W. Bush and a No Labels founder. “So we grew beyond that, and now have strong conservative and strong liberal partisans who want to participate.”

That perspective is shared by the group’s new co-chairs — West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and former Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who gave their first joint interview to Yahoo News since taking their new roles.

“It’s not about centrism, it’s about a new attitude toward the realities we face. It’s about finding Democrats and Republicans who will check their egos at the door,” said Huntsman, whose decidedly centrist run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination flamed out early in the primary process.

That is actually refreshing to hear, from these people. No Labels is learning! I have argued before that rich self-declared “moderates” should focus on specific procedural reforms instead of spending all their time crying about Tip O’Neill and begging for civility. Of course, instead of starting big money-wasting nonprofits, they could contribute to the various existing nonpartisan think tanks and advocacy organizations already fighting for electoral and congressional reform — whoo, FairVote! — but I guess there is always room at the party.

So what’s first on the agenda? Nonpartisan redistricting? An end to the secret hold? Oh, no, it’s this gimmicky budget thing again:

Both lawmakers acknowledged that the Problem Solvers’ group wasn’t ready to bridge the partisan divide over looming crises like the coming battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, not to mention longer-term challenges like the solvency of Medicare and Social Security.

But they’ve coalesced around issues pertaining to the way Congress functions, like “No Budget, No Pay” legislation pushed by No Labels that would bar lawmakers from receiving a salary without passing a federal budget.

This proposal to cut off congressional pay if they don’t pass a budget has long been a cornerstone of the No Labels policy agenda. It neatly illustrates the ignorance that drives the entire campaign. “Passing a budget” is the goal, not “passing a good budget.” A budget that increased military spending while cutting anti-poverty programs would, then, be preferable to a continuing resolution maintaining current spending levels. Furthermore, the penalty is mostly symbolic and arguably destructive: Congress is full of very rich people, and cutting off their salaries only harms the members of Congress with net worths closer to those of the average Americans they ostensibly represent. This is the sort of “reform” proposal that sounds very good when a caller proposes it on talk radio, until you think about it for 10 additional minutes.

No Labels simply can’t bring themselves to end their love affair with deeply silly symbolic proposals that have nothing to do with the forces preventing Congress from “solving” real “problems.” They are pushing for filibuster reform and straight up-and-down votes on appointments — good! — but they pair those goals with incredibly silly proposals like mandatory bipartisan seating. As long as the people who can command media attention waste their time on gimmicks, actually constructive reform campaigns will continue to be sidelined and dismissed.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 14, 2013

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Centrisim Is Style And Tone”: There’s Absolutely No Reason For The GOP (Or Anyone) To Listen To Jon Huntsman

Former Utah governor, U.S. ambassador to China and failed presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has been making the media rounds recently, sitting down with the Huffington Post and CNN, sharing his big ideas about How to Save the Republican Party From Itself.*

Before we get into those ideas, and their merit, something should be made very clear: It doesn’t matter what Jon Huntsman thinks, at all. Conservatives should feel no obligation to listen to him, because he has no constituency in the Republican Party — no allies, supporters or acolytes. Liberals shouldn’t listen to him because for all his “the GOP must remake itself in my image” talk, he always conveniently forgets to mention that he’s precisely as conservative — on all the same issues — as Mitt Romney is. (Or as Mitt Romney became, as the case may be.) His “centrism” is entirely a matter of style and tone.

For the current budget showdown, he proposes … “entitlement reform,” along with a rhetorical openness to the possibility of maybe allowing the top marginal tax rate to rise, which is what makes him a big pinko now, apparently:

“You will have to have some compromise built in, and perhaps even on the marginal rates going up for a certain income category. My going-in position would be: Let’s work on phasing out all the deductions and loopholes. There is a trillion dollars there. Let’s see where that leaves us and move forward before you start willy-nilly raising taxes.”

Is this appreciably to the left of Mitt Romney’s position?

Jon Huntsman supported the Ryan Plan. During the campaign, Huntsman proposed what was probably the single most regressive, pro-rich tax plan of any Republican candidate. He called for the elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit — which benefits poor people — along with the abolition of all taxes on capital gains and dividends, which would amount to a massive redistribution of wealth from poor and working people to rich people. This is the guy we’re looking to for serious soul-searching about how the Republicans can make themselves appeal to Americans outside the conservative bubble?

Huntsman’s actual prescription for the party is to make it more palatable to … Northeastern Elites. He wants to drop the “crazy talk” in order to focus more on the hardcore economic conservatism. Sure, he’s not going to be a Norquistian fanatic on the top marginal tax rate, but his plan is still austerity for most. The thing is, that sort of conservatism doesn’t appeal to anyone without money. Race-baiting, immigrant-hating, and war-mongering nationalism are what make the GOP’s economic agenda marketable to the masses. The best-case scenario for a Huntsman-led Republican Party is that they pick off some Dem-supporting “socially liberal” rich people in Maryland and Manhattan and maybe Silicon Valley. Enough to harm Democratic fundraising, but not to win national elections.

Since the end of the Reagan era we’ve essentially had two parties that pursue an economic agenda designed to benefit the rich people, as the poor survive on subsistence benefits and the middle class find themselves joining the poor. The rich people each party represents are generally in different (though often overlapping) industries and sectors — entertainment and finance for Democrats, energy and finance for Republicans — but they are the wealthiest all the same. The differentiating factor was that one party also supported welfare state policies that benefited the very poor and the other party also supported “social issues” that appealed to the religious white middle class. A party that did the opposite of Huntsman’s prescription — one that combined real economic populism with conservative religious appeals, as many pre-civil rights Democrats and populists once did — would almost certainly be much more popular than the current Republican Party. (The enduring popularity of Mike Huckabee, who used to frequently adopt the rhetoric of an economic populist, is evidence enough.) There’s a huge “soak the rich and burn the banks down” constituency out there, and the Democrats — who are terrified of soaking the rich — currently win it largely by default.

Unfortunately for the GOP (but probably fortunately for us secular social liberals), as Josh Barro pointed out last week, the money guys are going to push the “more secular but still pro-rich” brand makeover. And the money people have been in charge for so long that they’ve remade most of the Moral Majority people in their image.

Jon Huntsman, though, is not the man to save the party. Nor is his brother in rebranding hucksterism Bobby Jindal, unless he stops talking like a Rhodes scholar and starts acting more like the Kingfish.

*It bears mentioning that at no point does the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein disclose that his interviewee is the father of a fairly prominent Huffington Post employee.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, December 3, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lying For Jesus”: Is Romney Now Lying When He Admits His 47% Comments Were A Lie?

Mitt Romney has stood by and defended his infamous comments, that he believes 47% of Americans “are dependent upon government,” and “believe that they are victims.” The viral video’s release last month by Mother Jones was a game-changing moment for an already-rocked campaign that was fraught with internal turmoil. But now, after lying during the presidential debate 27 times — and not even being forced to defend his “47 percent” comments, Mitt Romney is claiming that those comments just “didn’t come out right,” and were “completely wrong.”

“Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right,” Romney last night told Tea party conservative Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. “In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.”

In the leaked video from a May $50,000 a plate fundraiser, Romney had told supporters:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

“Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax,” Romney had added, and it was his role “to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Last month, when the video surfaced, Romney did not for one minute deny he made those comments, and he and his campaign stood by and defended them:

“I am talking about a political process of drawing people in my campaign… My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility,” Romney said, and infamously added, merely that his comments were not elegantly stated.. I am sure I can state it more clearly and effectively than I did in a setting like that.” (An exceptionally elegant setting, mind you.)

Joh Aravosis at AmericaBlog put together this compelling report:

So Romney lied to his top donors. Why? Why did he lie to them? Has he lied to other top donors? Is he lying to us now?

Why didn’t Romney realize his comments were completely wrong a month ago? Why did he defend them if he knew they were “completely wrong”? So you mean, Romney lied to the American people for the past month when he said his comments were accurate (albeit inelegant)?

And what happened to cause Romney to only now realize that his comments are wrong?

I’ll tell you what happened. Romney’s son Tagg is busy “reinventing” his dad for the 100th time, and one of the things he told poppy is that he has to come clean on the 47% remarks.

This man is incredibly disingenuous. He will say anything to anyone to get elected President. He used to claim that he was better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy. Now he panders to the farthest of the gay-hating far-right, while his wife campaigns at conferences sponsored by officially-designated hate groups. Ted Kennedy, he ain’t.

But then what is Mitt Romney? What does he actually believe on anything? He’s flip-flopped on gay rights. He flip-flopped on health care reform again and again and again and again and again and again. He’s flipped onimmigration a few times, on gay adoption, the auto bailout, on guns, on his own college, on SuperPACs, on Solyndra, on carbon pollution, on stem cells, on abortion, on contraception, on Iraq, on climate change, on taxes, on the recession a lot.

He flip-flopped on catfish.

He even flip-flopped on flip-flopping.

That’s why fellow Republican, fellow Mormon, John Huntsman called Romney “a perfectly lubricated weathervane on the important issues of the day.”

That’s a nice way of saying that Mitt Romney is a congenital liar.


By: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, October 5, 2012

October 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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