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“The Inevitable Questions”: Jeb Bush And The Two Types Of Electability Arguments

Not that it matters much now, with all the fascinating campaigning still to come, but I still think that Jeb Bush is the most likely Republican nominee, for reasons I outlined here. Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal, however, says that one of the cornerstones of Jeb’s appeal to Republican primary voters—that he’s the electable candidate—isn’t something they’re buying, partly because there isn’t a whole lot of evidence for it, other than the fact that Jeb is the kind of candidate who would seem to be more able to appeal to a general electorate. Ed Kilgore follows up:

Electability is supposed to be the Republican Establishment’s ace-in-the-hole, the argument carefully conveyed over time that wears down “the base’s” natural desire for a True Conservative fire-breather. In your head you know he’s right is the not-so-subtle message. But Jeb’s electability credentials are as baffling to regular GOP voters as they are obvious and unimpeachable to elites. And unless Jeb’s backers can supply some more convincing evidence than “trust [us] on this,” these doubts may never be quelled, particularly when you’ve got somebody in the field like Scott Walker who can boast of three wins in four years in a state carried twice by Obama—and without compromising with the godless liberals like Jeb wants to do.

Looking at it more generally, the jury is out as to whether the appropriate precedent for Jeb is somebody like Mitt Romney, who gradually won over intraparty skeptics by dint of money, opportunism, and a ruthless ability to exploit rivals’ vulnerability, or somebody like Rudy Giuliani, a guy who looked great until actual voters weighed in. And even that contrast may not capture Jeb’s problem: Rudy did well in early polls.

To the extent that Jeb does ultimately rely on an electability argument, he’s in danger of resembling a much earlier precedent: Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, whose late push to displace Richard Nixon was instantly destroyed by polls showing him performing more weakly than Tricky Dick in a general election. That’s actually where Jeb is right now. Unless and until his general election numbers turn around, and he’s running better against Clinton than anybody else, it’s going to be tough for him. All the money and opinion-leader endorsements and MSM adulation in the world cannot win the nomination for a candidate unless these resources at some point begin to translate into actual votes by actual voters. If they don’t like Jeb to begin with and think he’s a loser to boot, that may never happen.

Here’s the thing about electability: If you’re making an electability argument based on type, it’s probably full of holes, whereas if you’re making the argument based on this particular individual, it stands a better chance of being true. To take just one example, in 2008 there would have been a lot of good arguments for why a candidate like Barack Obama was unelectable. A senator hadn’t become president since John F. Kennedy, Obama only had a few years in office, he was young, and, oh yeah, he was black. But all of those were reasons why a candidate like Barack Obama wasn’t electable. That particular Barack Obama, however, turned out to be extremely electable.

There’s an anti-Jeb electability argument based on someone like Jeb, which says that when the GOP has nominated moderates it has lost, but when it has nominated conservatives it has won. This is basically Ted Cruz’s argument, and it’s true in some ways but very wrong in others. The anti-Jeb electability arguments based on this particular Jeb, especially the fact that his last name creates problems that Walker or Rubio wouldn’t have, are much more persuasive.

The electability debate figures into every primary campaign at some point, and there may be other ways in which Jeb can argue that he’s really the electable one. I still think that he’s more Romney than Giuliani, but this is obviously something he’s going to have to spend some time thinking about so he’s ready to answer the inevitable questions he’ll get from voters about it.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 25, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time To Come Up With A Better Plan”: The Second Coming Of Ronald Reagan Isn’t Going To Save The GOP

This weekend’s New York Times included an interesting take on what has become a well-trod and almost perfunctory topic: The GOP’s so-called Civil War.

It was a wide-ranging article, but let’s focus on the notion that what Republicans are going through right now is exactly like the reordering Republicans went through 50 years ago. Here’s an excerpt:

The moment draws comparisons to some of the biggest fights of recent Republican Party history — the 1976 clash between the insurgent faction of activists who supported Ronald Reagan for president that year and the moderate party leaders who stuck by President Gerald R. Ford, and the split between the conservative Goldwater and moderate Rockefeller factions in 1964.

Some optimistic Republicans note that both of those campaigns planted the seeds for the conservative movement’s greatest success: Reagan’s 1980 election and two terms as president.

“The business community thought the supply-siders were nuts, and the country club Republicans thought the social conservatives scary,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said of those squabbles. “That all worked out O.K.” [The New York Times]

Is this an appropriate analogy for what’s going on today, or just wishful thinking?

Here’s what I like about it: This theory recognizes that politics is often cyclical. You’re rarely as good as you look when you’re winning — and never as bad as you look when you’re losing. It wasn’t that long ago that some Republicans boasted that they were on the cusp of achieving a permanent governing majority.

Consider a non-political example. The Kansas City Chiefs — who were a dismal 2-14 last year — are now the only undefeated team left in the National Football League at 7-0. No one would have predicted this at the end of last season.

Of course, it required new leadership — coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith were huge acquisitions. And while such a worst-to-first story might be difficult to replicate in politics, it’s certainly not impossible. That’s why it’s so easy to understand why disciples of Ronald Reagan — who wrote “I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead” — would gravitate to such an optimistic theory.

Unfortunately, it might not work out that way.

The temptation is to lionize the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, but it’s important to remember he received just 38 percent of the vote. He was trounced. It would be 16 years before Ronald Reagan was elected, and during that time, America would undergo all sorts of turmoil, including Vietnam, Civil Rights protests, the Great Society, Watergate, gas lines, the Iranian hostage crisis — you name it. Conservatives who subscribe to this analogy had better hope we are closer to 1976 than to 1964. They would probably be the first to argue America cannot sustain 16 years of liberal rule. (And yes, Nixon and Ford were Republicans — but they were not Reagan conservatives, and they presided over an era in which liberalism dominated U.S. politics.)

To be sure, Reagan’s victory in 1980 was predicated on this turmoil. They took a chance on him when nothing else seemed to work, and it certainly paid huge dividends. At the risk of embracing the “great man” theory of history, let’s also not forget the fact that Reagan was sui generis. Try finding a two-term governor of California with movie star looks and inspirational ideas and rhetoric. These guys certainly don’t grow on trees.

The danger is that, instead of doing the spade work, conservatives waste their summers praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets. Between 1964 and 1980, conservatives invested a lot of time and energy into building public policy think tanks and training conservative activists how to win. In fairness to Goldwater, Reagan was greatly aided by this infrastructure (which was created by a lot of veterans of the Goldwater campaign) when he rain in 1980.

Today’s conservatives ought to embrace a similar “work as if it all depends on you/pray as if it all depends on God” mentality. But they should also accept the fact that today’s challenges are different than they were 50 years ago.

Technology is vastly different — and so are the nation’s demographics. Don’t forget, Mitt Romney won white voters by the same margins that Reagan did in 1980.

There’s another problem with this analogy. The “Civil War” taking place during the Goldwater era pitted conservatives against moderate Rockefeller Republicans. Today’s battle is different. The moderates are almost all gone. You’d be hard pressed to find a Republican who isn’t pro-life, much less one who supports ObamaCare. And so the recent internecine fight over the government shutdown was mostly about strategy and tactics. How much more ideological cleansing is possible for a movement that wants to be a governing majority?

So what should we make of the Goldwater-Reagan analogy? Conservatives ought to extract as many lessons as they can from history, but also understand the danger in assuming the world is static. It isn’t.

It’s tempting to try and fight the last war, especially if you won it. But it’s treacherous, too.

Another sports analogy: In what became a famous rant, then-Boston Celtics Coach Rick Pitino challenged fans to look to the future. “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans,” he said. “Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old. … And as soon as they realize that those three guys are not coming through the door, the better this town will be for all of us…”

Similarly, it might be good for conservatives to realize this: Barry Goldwater is not walking through that door. Ronald Reagan is not walking through that door…


By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, October 23, 2013

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Argument That Has Veered Off Course”: How “Government” Became A Dirty Word

The message at the GOP convention this week was clear: Government is too big, too expensive, and it can’t fix our economic problems.

“The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government. And we choose to limit government,” said Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

There’s nothing new about the message. Anti-big government sentiment is practically part of the American DNA, and it has deep roots in the Republican Party.

“Republicans, dating back to the New Deal, had always voiced their opposition to the expansion of government,” says Julian Zelizer, who teaches history and public policy at Princeton. “It was always part of the party the idea that centralization was bad, bureaucracy was dangerous, taxes were bad.”

But before the 1960s, the Republican Party also had a liberal wing, Zelizer tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

“They had New York Republicans, they had a lot of Midwestern progressives, who still said government is good for a lot of things,” he says.

Extremism ‘Is No Vice’

At the 1964 Republican convention, the party showed a shift away from that liberal wing. Then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller warned that the GOP was becoming too conservative. He called extremism a “danger” to the party and the nation. He was booed.

Barry Goldwater became the face of Republicanism when he accepted the Republican presidential nomination at that same convention, moving to the right and embracing extremism.

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” Goldwater said. “And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Extremism with regard to conservative values became something for Republicans to be proud of, Zelizer says.

Goldwater’s ideas were further solidified in the ’70s and ’80s, Zelizer says. And in 1981, in his inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan said: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.”

Zelizer says Reagan wanted to upend the liberal argument that had existed since the New Deal.

“He said that the only way to really revive economic growth, to really restore faith in the country after the dismal 1970s was to do things like cutting taxes, to deregulate as much of the economy as possible,” Zelizer says. “And he really had this intense animosity, rhetorically, toward what government did on the domestic front.”

‘A Disconnect’ Emerges

Since then, the position that government is the problem has garnered many supporters. But the argument is most successful, Zelizer says, in abstract terms.

Voters may say they don’t like government or bureaucracy in general, but when questioned more narrowly, they tend to like specific programs. What you ask, Zelizer says, “has a big impact on public attitudes” about government.

Daniel McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative magazine, tells Raz the “government is bad” argument has veered somewhat off course.

“It’s become unhinged from a relationship with the public and it’s been gained by a lot of interests — both ideological and financial,” he says. “As a result, you have policies that are crafted by lobbyists and by ideologues rather than by … sincere representatives of the public interest.”

While conservatives may emphasize government as problematic in speeches, McCarthy says, they practice something different.

“I think there’s a bit of a disconnect where the Republican Party is able to cash in on the fears that Americans have about big government, even though the Republican Party actually is practicing a form of big government itself,” he says.

One example McCarthy points to is military funding.

“Any kind of increase to the military budget is seen as necessarily a good thing,” he says, “whereas they would never say that simply adding more money to the Education Department makes for better education across the country.”

Still, the party branding is going strong. Democrats continue to be tied to the identity established under former Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, McCarthy says.

“That leaves the field open to Republicans to be the party that cashes in on pretty much all anti-government sentiment.”


By: NPR, NPR Staff, September 1, 2012

September 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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