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“Pressed Against The Back Edge Of Their Own Sword”: When Will Republicans Start Recognizing How Screwed They Are?

For months and months, movement conservatives and elected Republicans—along with a non-trivial contingent of political commentators and data journalists—promoted as conventional wisdom an idea that was really much more akin to wishful thinking. That idea, boiled down to its essence, was that the very weirdness of the Donald Trump phenomenon—his undisguised bigotry, his total lack of governing experience, the unanimous (if not always vocal) opposition of Republican elites to his candidacy—would sooner or later doom him.

When Trump not only didn’t collapse, but built a commanding nationwide polling lead—which he is now converting into a substantial delegate lead—the conventional wisdom took a turn. Once the candidate field dwindled down to a two-or-three person race, the new thinking went, Trump would hit a ceiling. Even if he never exactly collapsed, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz could slug it out to the GOP convention and conspire to deny Trump the nomination. Alternatively, a single challenger might defeat Trump outright.

In this latter scenario, Trump is assumed to be vulnerable from both directions. In a head-to-head against Cruz, he would succumb to the consolidation of the religious and ideological right, along with a meaningful segment of the Republican mainstream. Alternatively (and preferably, as far as most Republicans are concerned), Rubio would emerge and defeat Trump in the blue and purple states of the Northeast, the Rust Belt, and the West.

For a moment after Rubio’s unexpected (but very narrow) second-place finish in the South Carolina primary Saturday night, you could mistake his shiny mien for a glimmer of hope that Trump’s reckoning was at hand. Or, if not at hand, clearly visible in the middle distance.

But after brief scrutiny, and for several reasons, this second-best fantasy falls apart. First, and most obviously, this is still at best a three-man race between Trump, Rubio, and Cruz. If it never dwindles into a two-man race, then the most Republicans can hope for is a contested convention this summer. After attempting but failing to destroy Cruz’s candidacy a month ago, establishment Republicans are now pressed up against the back edge of their own sword. The Texas senator is in the race, and has no incentive to drop out—especially not before Super Tuesday, when a number of Bible Belt states (and his own) will hold their nominating contests. Trump, it should be noted, just routed the field across almost every GOP demographic, including evangelicals, in South Carolina.

Second, John Kasich is still in the race, too, and has a much more natural appeal than Rubio with the nominally moderate, working-class white voters who will determine the winners of blue- and purple-state primaries in the coming month. Indeed, in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Massachusetts, Kasich is poised to rival or outperform Rubio in the race for second place. But that brings us to the most important point.

The very idea that Trump will encounter resistance outside the South is based on a simplistic and doubly inapt conception of “moderation.” The first premise is that, by promising to appeal outside of the Republican Party’s typical constituencies, Rubio is by definition more moderate than Trump; the second is that appealing to the center in a general election is no different than appealing to “moderate” Republicans in a GOP primary.

If this race is proving anything, though, it’s that what constitutes “moderation” to elite conservatives (relative dovishness on immigration aimed at swing voters in a general election) isn’t what constitutes moderation among Republican voters (restrictionist immigration policy paired with heterodox support for redistributive social policies). The big flaw in the assumption that Rubio (or anyone, really) can make up ground against Trump in blue states is that “moderate” voters are actually Trump’s ace in the hole.

This appeal very likely extends to nominally moderate Republican voters in the interior West and California, where Republicans will cotton to Trump’s anti-immigration absolutism.

Tuesday night’s Nevada caucus will be an important test of GOP faith. Does Trump have a ceiling? Can Rubio further consolidate the field? Is Cruz’s end beginning? The polling on all of these questions should chasten the right. And in a way, the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries already revealed how prohibitive Trump’s odds of becoming the GOP nominee have become. Trump lapped the field in a moderate state, and then he did almost as well in a state that should have been fairly hostile to his mix of feigned religiosity, anti-Bushism, and unflinching hawkishness.

If Trump prevails once again, perhaps the conservative establishment will set aside its contrived obsession with whose second- or third-place finish was the most inspiring, and accept that peering past the behemoth in front of them won’t make him disappear.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, February 23, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ohio’s Kasich Slashes Planned Parenthood Funding”: Eager To Curry Favor With His Party’s Far-Right Base

As the field of Republican presidential candidate shrinks to just five people, John Kasich has adopted a rather specific posture: he’s the grown-up in the room. The rest of the field includes two first-term senators and two political amateurs, leaving the Ohio governor as the only candidate stressing qualities such as executive experience, governing skills, and pragmatism.

And that makes perfect sense given the circumstances. Kasich can’t be as right-wing as his rivals; he can’t be as unhinged as his rivals; and he certainly can’t avoid the “career politician” label. Looking for an opening, the Republican governor has decided to present himself as a more mainstream, and more electable, conservative.

In the five-person GOP field, that leaves Kasich as the last option for the party’s remaining “moderate” voters. But let’s not mistake perceptions for reality. As we were reminded over the weekend, the Ohio Republican may be playing the role of 2016 pragmatist, but that doesn’t make him an actual moderate.

Republican presidential hopeful and Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Sunday signed a bill that aims to strip funding from Planned Parenthood in the state. […] After Kasich came in a strong second place in the New Hampshire primary, the Republican assembly in Ohio passed legislation that targets about $1.3 million in funding for Planned Parenthood in the state.

That money helps support screenings for breast cancer, STD testing, programs working to prevent violence against women, and more.

Remember, we’re not talking about public funding of abortions, which is already largely prohibited. Rather, state lawmakers passed a measure to block “any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions” from receiving funds for women’s health treatments that have nothing to do with terminating pregnancies.

And Kasich, eager to curry favor with his party’s far-right base, eagerly signed the bill into law.

The NBC affiliate in Columbus reported that Planned Parenthood’s work in Ohio will continue, “but its community health programs would be cut. The group says programs targeted in the bill helped Planned Parenthood in the last year to provide more than 47,000 STD tests and 3,600 HIV tests to Ohioans, serve nearly 2,800 new or expectant mothers, and inform young people and women about healthy relationships.”

In other words, in practical terms, John Kasich decided to slash services for thousands of Ohio women, for no substantive reason, with a simple stroke of his pen. The public will pay a steep price because the governor wants to advance his ambitions.

This is what passes for “moderation” among GOP presidential candidates in 2016.

Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece, and her work is unrelated to the organization’s affiliates in Ohio.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 23, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | GOP Primaries, John Kasich, Planned Parenthood, Women's Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doubling Down On W”: Determined To Take What Didn’t Work From 2001 To 2008 And Do It Again, In A More Extreme Form

2015 was, of course, the year of Donald Trump, whose rise has inspired horror among establishment Republicans and, let’s face it, glee — call it Trumpenfreude — among many Democrats. But Trumpism has in one way worked to the G.O.P. establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago.

After all, you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.

Big tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy were the Bush administration’s signature domestic policy. They were sold at the time as fiscally responsible, a matter of giving back part of the budget surplus America was running when W took office. (Alan Greenspan infamously argued that tax cuts were needed to avoid paying off federal debt too fast.) Since then, however, over-the-top warnings about the evils of debt and deficits have become a routine part of Republican rhetoric; and even conservatives occasionally admit that soaring inequality is a problem.

Moreover, it’s harder than ever to claim that tax cuts are the key to prosperity. At this point the private sector has added more than twice as many jobs under President Obama as it did over the corresponding period under W, a period that doesn’t include the Great Recession.

You might think, then, that Bush-style tax cuts would be out of favor. In fact, however, establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are proposing much bigger tax cuts than W ever did. And independent analysis of Jeb’s proposal shows that it’s even more tilted toward the wealthy than anything his brother did.

What about other economic policies? The Bush administration’s determination to dismantle any restraints on banks — at one staged event, a top official used a chain saw on stacks of regulations — looks remarkably bad in retrospect. But conservatives have bought into the thoroughly debunked narrative that government somehow caused the Great Recession, and all of the Republican candidates have declared their determination to repeal Dodd-Frank, the fairly modest set of regulations imposed after the financial crisis.

The only real move away from W-era economic ideology has been on monetary policy, and it has been a move toward right-wing fantasyland. True, Ted Cruz is alone among the top contenders in calling explicitly for a return to the gold standard — you could say that he wants to Cruzify mankind upon a cross of gold. (Sorry.) But where the Bush administration once endorsed “aggressive monetary policy” to fight recessions, these days hostility toward the Fed’s efforts to help the economy is G.O.P. orthodoxy, even though the right’s warnings about imminent inflation have been wrong again and again.

Last but not least, there’s foreign policy. You might have imagined that the story of the Iraq war, where we were not, in fact, welcomed as liberators, where a vast expenditure of blood and treasure left the Middle East less stable than before, would inspire some caution about military force as the policy of first resort. Yet swagger-and-bomb posturing is more or less universal among the leading candidates. And let’s not forget that back when Jeb Bush was considered the front-runner, he assembled a foreign-policy team literally dominated by the architects of debacle in Iraq.

The point is that while the mainstream contenders may have better manners than Mr. Trump or the widely loathed Mr. Cruz, when you get to substance it becomes clear that all of them are frighteningly radical, and that none of them seem to have learned anything from past disasters.

Why does this matter? Right now conventional wisdom, as captured by the bookies and the betting markets, suggests even or better-than-even odds that Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz will be the nominee, in which case everyone will be aware of the candidate’s extremism. But there’s still a substantial chance that the outsiders will falter and someone less obviously out there — probably Mr. Rubio — will end up on top.

And if this happens, it will be important to realize that not being Donald Trump doesn’t make someone a moderate, or even halfway reasonable. The truth is that there are no moderates in the Republican primary, and being reasonable appears to be a disqualifying characteristic for anyone seeking the party’s nod.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, George W Bush, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Angrier And More Toxic”: Donald Trump And The Revenge Of The Radical Center

The GOP may soon recover from the Donald Trump scare. Despite his maddeningly persistent lead in the polls, Trump isn’t building the normal campaign operations that are usually needed to win. He won’t get key endorsements. His voters may be the ones least likely to be active. It’s unclear how much, if any, of his fortune he’s willing to spend on advertising himself.

Nonetheless, Trump’s continued presence in the race is a danger to other viable candidates. Trump’s campaign may discredit the party in the eyes of many voters who are disgusted with Trump’s presence in the GOP, or other voters who are disgusted with the treatment of Trump’s supporters by the party apparatus.

And that brings us to the big lesson the GOP should take from the entire Trump affair: There is another side to the Republican Party, one that the GOP has tried to ignore, and can ignore no longer. It’s a side of the party that has learned to distrust its leaders on immigration, to be suspicious of a turbo-charged capitalism that threatens their way of life. And it may be a side of the party that is needed to return the GOP to presidential victories. It is the forgotten part of the Nixon-Reagan coalition. And by being ignored, it has turned angrier and more toxic.

The winning Republican coalition may still be the Nixon and Reagan coalition, old as it is. This is a coalition that includes conservatism, and is “anti-left,” certainly. But it also includes a huge number of people to whom the dogmas of conservatism are as foreign to their experience as Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville. The piece of the Nixon coalition that Trump has activated cares not for the ordered liberty of conservatism, nor the egalitarian project of progressivism. It cares about fairness, and just rewards for work and loyalty. There is nothing moderate about it. This is the radical center. And it explains why when Trump’s support is measured, it is almost always found to be strongest among “moderate” or “liberal” Republicans.

These are the voters who hate modern, tight-suited, Democratic-style liberalism not because it offends God, but because it is “killing” the America they knew. It threatens their jobs with globalization and immigration. They hate tassle-loafered right-wingers who flippantly tell them to get retrained in computers at age 58, and warn that Medicare might be cut. They built their lives around promises that have been broken and revoked over the past two decades. Trump looks like their savior. Someone who can’t be bought by the people who downsized them. Or at least, he is their revenge.

It is frustrating for most conservatives to take Trump seriously as a presidential candidate. He’s a ridiculous troll. He talks about renegotiating the global order with China based on “feel.” He also says he can “feel” terrorism about to strike, perhaps the way an arthritic can feel a storm coming. This is idiotic. But the Republican Party needs to learn a lesson from it. And learn it fast. Few have Trump’s resources, his can’t-look-away persona, or his absurdly high Q-rating among reality TV viewers. But many are watching him divide the GOP in twain, on issues like trade, jobs, and immigration. It would be surprising if no one tried to campaign on his mix of issues again after seeing his success.

This should have been obvious from the politics of the past two decades. Pat Buchanan’s challenge to the GOP in the mid-1990s focused on some of the same issues, though Buchanan was also a tub-thumping social conservative. Buchanan won four states in 1996, while suffering the same taunts about fascism that are now aimed at Trump. His race was premised on finding the “conservatives of the heart.” His 1992 convention speech begged Republicans to get in touch with “our people” who “don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke,” like the “hearty” mill worker of New Hampshire who told Buchanan, “Save our jobs.”

And it is not just populists. Even conservative wonks have been warning for years that the GOP was offering little of economic substance to their base of voters, save for the vain hope of transforming them into an ersatz investor class by privatizing Social Security, and making them manage health savings accounts. In the mid-2000s, there was the plea for a new Sam’s Club Republicanism, a harbinger of the so-called reform conservatism to come later. This was an attempt to connect with the middle American voter, really the Trump voter.

Republicans need to understand this not just to repair their coalition, but to head off Trump in the here and now. Flying banners over his rallies that say, “Trump will raise your taxes” is counterproductive. His supporters correctly perceive the burden of higher taxes will likely fall on those who already have more than they do. Similarly, all the attacks on Trump’s cronyism, or his relationships with Democrats, will fail as well. His supporters are weakly attached to the Republican Party. They won’t blame him for being the same way.

Trump’s candidacy is teaching the GOP that it has to deliver for voters who feel economic insecurity. If they don’t, the radical middle will rise not just to embarrass them, but to wound them as well.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty; The Week, November 30, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Conservatism, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Jeb Bush’s Minimum Wage Radicalism”: The Abolition Of A Federal Minimum Wage Of Any Sort Is Now A Mainstream Republican Position

Every so often I feel the need to write the column that says: The one thing our political system needs more than any other single feature is a strengthened moderate wing of the Republican Party. I say this of course as a liberal, whose party registration is Democratic, which means you might think I’d say we need more liberals; and while I think that, I believe without question that having a strong moderate faction within the GOP would do far more to change our politics for the better than—yes—even having more Americans who think exactly as I do!

Having more liberals would if anything merely deepen the intensity of our civil war and produce more stalemate. The presence of a more muscular moderate Republican wing, however, would change everything. Then, there would be pressure on Republicans to adopt some sensible moderate positions, instead of what we have today, which is unceasing pressure to play this game of one-upmanship to see who can take the most reactionary, ignorant, and borderline racist position imaginable. Then, you’d have some Republicans from blue districts and states who would find it to be in their electoral self-interest to compromise with Democrats and vote for a Democratic president’s bill once in a while. Then, our political culture really would change.

And, then, people like Jeb Bush, the alleged moderate in the GOP presidential field, wouldn’t say jaw-dropping things like this, about the minimum wage, which he said Tuesday in (where else, somehow) South Carolina:

“We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure—I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it, people say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s wages should be up.’ And in the case of Wal-Mart, they have raised wages because of supply and demand and that’s good.

“But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education.”

Now it’s great that Wal-Mart and McDonald’s and Target and the others are voluntarily raising their minimum wages. One might argue that we’ve come to a particularly sad pass when the Walton family is doing more for its beleaguered workers than Congress can rouse itself to, but however you want to spin it, good for Wal-Mart.

But to take this little boomlet from what is still a small number of employers (although of course they do employ millions of people) and say that’s it, we should now have no federal minimum wage, is logical sleight of hand, and it’s a very radical position. A little background.

We first got a minimum wage in 1935. Then the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (which could happen again, with this lot). Then it was passed again in 1938. We’ve had it ever since, although, as you probably know, it hasn’t gone up since 2009. That rise was the third and final phase of a 2007 law that raised the wage in increments. We haven’t had a new law to that effect in those eight years since.

It is true that in the 1980s, economists debated whether a federal minimum wage was desirable. Even The New York Times once editorialized against it, in 1987. At the time, economists thought it had deleterious effects on low-wage employment. Then, in the mid-1990s, the economists David Card and Alan Krueger studied this question  in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (the former had increase its minimum wage, while the latter had not), and they found no employment impact.

That changed the academic consensus. An increase was passed in 1996. Some conservative economists continued to spoon out the “job-killer” Kool-Aid, as indeed they still do, but evidence continues to support the idea that there is no serious job-killing effect.

The parties disagreed strongly about how much the wage should be increased, but at least they agreed on increasing it—the 2007 increase, for example, passed the Senate 94-3, and the House by 233-82. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 standard bearer, voted for the 2007 increase. And Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, ran on supporting a modest increase and even indexing the minimum wage to inflation, which Barack Obama also supported and which would prevent Congress from having to pass legislation on the question ever again—a pretty progressive position, really.

So the last two mainstream, establishment GOP candidates—the last three, counting George W. Bush—supported an increase. But now, the mainstream, establishment candidate is against it. And if the mainstream, establishment candidate is against it, where are the others going to line up?

And so, one more hard-right pirouette by a party that keeps finding new ways to radicalize itself. But this one is particularly shocking coming from Bush, because it means that the abolition of a federal minimum wage of any sort is now a mainstream Republican position. And remember: The minimum wage, if it had kept pace with inflation, would be around $13 today, so it’s already insanely low at $7.25.

Which brings me back to how I opened this column. If there were a moderate wing of the GOP, this is most certainly an issue on which we’d have bipartisan agreement. The position Bush has just embraced would be seen across party lines for exactly the radical pandering that it is. Indeed he would not have taken it. That would be a nice world, but the world we have is the one we have. And if Bush can take this position, completely out of step with his party’s conservative mainstream in recent history, then what else will he prove himself capable of?


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2015

March 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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