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“The Fear Component”: Why The GOP’s Latest National Security Attacks Probably Won’t Work

With the American air campaign against ISIS now expanding into Syria, President Obama updated the nation this morning:

“We were joined in this action by our friends and partners: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments of the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.

“Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plan supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition, who are the best counterweight to ISIL and the Assad regime…

“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I am pleased there is bipartisan support for the action we’re taking. America’s stronger when we stand united and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”

Obama obviously wants to spread the responsibility around, not only to other countries — which is crucial to having people in the Middle East and the rest of the world see this as a legitimate common enterprise and not simply America imposing its will on the region yet again — but also to his domestic opponents. However, he won’t be getting too many pledges of bipartisanship in return. In fact, it’ll be just the opposite.

Yes, Republicans voted to support part of Obama’s plan for combating ISIL. But even if they make some positive statements about today’s operation (which some have) or future ones like it, for the most part, we’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the early 2000s: Democrats saying, “Hey, we’re all fighting this battle together,” while Republicans say, “Terrorists are coming to kill us all, and when they do it’ll be those weak Democrats’ fault!”

This morning, Greg noted a new ad from New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, saying that terrorists are “threatening to cause the collapse of our country,” and it just might happen because Obama and Brown’s opponent, Jeanne Shaheen, are “confused about the nature of the threat.” And if you want an attack with even less subtlety, check out this ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee:

Despite the surface similarity between political attacks like those and the ones we saw when George W. Bush was president, there’s a crucial difference. Back then, there was a Republican president taking actions against America’s enemies, while Democrats supposedly didn’t want to protect the country (even if, in reality, elected Democrats gave ample support to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other elements of the “War on Terror”).

Today, however, it’s a Democratic president who is taking action against terrorists. Even if you believe that action is inadequate, it still creates a fundamentally different impression with the public when they see Tomahawks launching and jets taking off from aircraft carriers on Barack Obama’s orders.

What the public is primarily witnessing right now is a war being waged by the head of the Democratic Party. Twelve years ago, Republicans successfully argued that they were the ones favoring action, while Democrats were a bunch of wimps who wanted to stand on the sidelines. And the Democratic party was deeply divided over Bush’s wars, its own internal arguments only lending credence to the GOP claim that only Republicans would stand up and protect America.

In contrast, no matter how hawkish some Republicans sound right now, they’re in the role of commenting on what the Obama administration is doing, while televisions play images of American military power — again, launched on Obama’s orders — on an endless loop.

So what Republicans are left with is the fear component: Terrorists are coming to kill your children, so vote GOP. That’s not nothing — fear can be effective, and research has shown that reminding people of terrorism and their own mortality can be enough to push some to support more conservative candidates. But it won’t have nearly the power it did in the days after September 11, when Democrats lived in desperate fear that Karl Rove might call them weak.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2014 Posted by | ISIS, National Security, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Converting A Phony Scandal Into Political Cash”: How Much Money Can Republicans Raise Off Benghazi? Ask Darrell Issa

House Republicans’ newly created Benghazi Select Committee has attracted attention to their penchant for using investigations of the Obama administration as a fundraising tool. Most of the criticism, thus far, has concerned the National Republican Campaign Committee’s effort to collect email addresses from those who want to “become a Benghazi watchdog” despite committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s plea that they not do so.

It is no surprise, though, that the NRCC would use Benghazi to the Republican Party’s financial advantage. To understand just how lucrative these scandals can be, look no further than Rep. Darrell Issa. He has offered Republicans a clinic in the science of converting phony scandal into political cash.

For most of his career, Issa was a lackluster fundraiser. But through the first five quarters of the 2014 election cycle, his campaign committee has raised $2,573,258. This is an impressive haul, considering he has not faced significant opposition in more than a decade. The two Democrats vying to challenge him this year together have raised less than $50,000 combined. If Issa’s fundraising continues at its current pace, he will raise more this cycle than in his first four terms in Congress combined.

To understand Issa’s success, you need to see how he has stealthily used his official position as chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee to build one of the most successful and impressive direct mail operations in the House of Representatives. As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Issa is outraising colleagues who occupy traditionally more lucrative posts including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarlin and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, whose committee is known as one of the easiest perches in Congress to attract campaign contributions from the fossil fuel and healthcare industries.

From his post as chairman, Issa has incessantly beat the drum of Benghazi and other scandals. According to a search of Nexis, the terms “Issa” and “Benghazi” have appeared together in Fox News segments 221 times since September 11, 2012. On Sean Hannity’s show a year ago he proclaimed, “The administration has made a claim that for classified reasons they change the story. We believe right now that may be the biggest lie of all.” Encouraged by Hannity, Issa then stated, “Lying to Congress is a crime,” stoking the conservative fantasy of a lawless White House.

Issa’s campaign website does not contain the standard political pictures of constituents and community events. Instead it contains a panoply of press clippings primarily focused on the Congressman’s investigations of the White House and attacks on Obamacare.  Currently the top two stories on announce the subpoena of Secretary of State John Kerry and an article from by his former aide and current consultant Kurt Bardella headlined “They Knew and They Lied About Benghazi.” ( notes that Bardella is a “former” aide to Issa but does not disclose that his company Endeavor Strategic Communications was on his campaign committee’s payroll as of his latest FEC filing.)

As a reward, the Republican grassroots have padded Issa’s coffers: The key ingredient to his miraculous fundraising turnaround has not been high-dollar gifts from PACs and lobbyists, but ordinary Republican voters thanking him, through their contributions, for being the president’s number one antagonist. Issa has nurtured this relationship with the GOP base by cultivating an enormous direct-marketing operation. Four of his top six campaign expenditures so far this year were to direct mail firms and his third largest expense was $70,684 paid to the Post Office.

Issa’s FEC reports further demonstrate the success of the program. In the first quarter of 2014, nearly 56 percent of his contributors listed their occupation as “retired”an indicator, often, of a small donor reached through direct mailing. Previously, from the 2006 through 2010 cycle, the pharmaceutical industry was the largest source of donors to his campaigns. This change occurred only after Issa took over the Oversight Committee in 2011.

These donors are not simply responding to the letter they receive in the mail, but the image Issa has cultivated in the media. They see the congressman on Fox News portrayed as the leader in Congress investigating the scandals they feel have come to exemplify this White House and respond with open checkbooks.

Robert Spuhler, a retired community college president from Colorado, who gave $500 to Issa in 2013, explained to USA Today, “I contributed not so much because of him, but what the committee is working on. When you do things like that, you’re going to be targeted by the other party.”

A second donor, George Brandon, who also listed his occupation as retired on FEC forms, told the paper, “I want to see him survive and get to the truth on Benghazi, and I want to see the IRS destroyed.”

Pacific Political, a California firm contracted by Issa, brags on its website that it “has managed the growth of numerous direct mail campaigns, including that of Congressman Darrell Issa, whose house file… has grown from 2,600 donors to 26,000 donors.”

The front page of Pacific Political’s website features a sample direct mail piece whose visible text focuses on the purported attempts by “White House staff” to use “tax dollars to try and smear” Issa as a result of the scandals he is investigating.

Ultimately Issa’s small-dollar fundraising creates an incentive for him to make the wildest accusations possible and to continue investigations after their shelf lives have expired. The longer these inquisitions last, the more questions remain up in the air, the more time the media spend covering the alleged scandal, the more TV time Issa receives on Fox and the more money flows into his campaign coffers.

Accordingly after investigations by the Accountability Review Board, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republicans have not given up investigating Benghazi. If the hearings end and the coverage diminishes, the money will stop rolling in.


By: Ari Rabin-Havt, The New Republic, May 11, 2014

May 13, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Out Of Touch With Everyone”: The GOP’s Incredible Shrinking Big Tent

Most Republicans agree that the party needs a bigger tent. Earlier this year, the Republican National Committee released a whole report to that effect, and individual Republican lawmakers can’t stop talking about how their party is open to everyone. “We need to say we’re the party of the big tent,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn during an election event last month, to use one example.

It’s great that the GOP wants to be inclusive. The problem comes when it’s time to do something about it. Not only has the party rejected efforts to appeal to non-traditional voters—like Latinos—but it’s members and spokespeople continue to create the impression that the party is out-of-touch with everyone but a small (and shrinking) slice of the country.

On Wednesday, for instance, Politico revealed that Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes—a senior member of the Republican caucus—has waged a lengthy crusade to convince his colleagues and the National Republican Congressional Committee brass they shouldn’t back some gay candidates. Forbes doesn’t say why he has a problem with supporting gay Republicans, but he did tell Politico that he was “concerned” about members being asked to donate to their campaigns. Forbes, it seems, just isn’t comforting with giving his funds to a gay Republican.

Obviously, there are plenty of Republicans who have a problem with this attitude—otherwise, Politico wouldn’t have the story. Still, it’s this kind of thing that reinforces the view that the Republican Party is home to a remarkable amount of intolerance and insensitivity. And it’s not as if Forbes was alone in his willingness to alienate the broad public. That same day, Orlando Watson, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee and communications director for black outreach, took aim at President Obama’s record in helping the African American community.

“What I don’t find defensible is, after five years of, you know, living under President Obama, you know, he has little to show for what he’s done for the black community,” Watson said, in a segment with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts. “So while we’re focused on, you know, trying to create jobs, private-sector jobs, good-paying jobs, career-making jobs, I would ask, you know, what exactly has the president done for the black community?”

As an outreach director, Watson presumably has ties to activists, leaders, and media figures who could tell him what Obama has, and hasn’t, done for the black community (or at least, various black communities). If nothing else, he could look at public opinion polling, which shows wide African American support for the president, as well as policies like the Affordable Care Act. The wrong approach, however, is to dismiss Obama’s relationship with African Americans as unfruitful. Not only does it suggest that black people were somehow duped into supporting him, but it’s the kind of pointless rhetoric that alienates African Americans.

If these two instances aren’t enough to illustrate that the GOP hasn’t built the “big tent” it wants, there’s also the widely-cited revelation that the party holds seminars to train men on how to speak to women, especially during an election. Prompted by the controversies over Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdouk in Indiana, the NRCC is trying to keep its members from making similar, disastrous mistakes. But the mere fact that this is necessary highlights the party’s deep challenges.

The simple fact is that the GOP is nowhere close to making gains with any of the constituencies it needs to be a competitive national party. Indeed, it’s even moving forward with ideas that could alienate its existing supporters. In addition to opposing the president’s plan for a minimum wage hike and a Democratic push for new unemployment benefits—policies which would assist Republican voters and constituents—some GOP lawmakers have voiced their opposition to the idea of a minimum wage. “I think it’s outlived its usefulness,” said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, as quoted by National Journal. “It may have been of some value back in the Great Depression. I would vote to repeal the minimum wage.”

Republicans are free to alienate low income workers—it’s their prerogative—but as far as broadening the party’s appeal, I don’t think it will help.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, December 5, 2013

December 8, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Widening The Gender Gap”: Prioritizing Recruitment Over Policy, The Unfortunate Timing Of The GOP’s “Project Grow”

We talked last week about a new Republican project, designed to “advance the role of women within our party.” On Friday afternoon, the initiative, which will fall under the umbrella of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was formally launched, along with its new name.

With a stagnant number of women in its caucus, the House GOP’s campaign organization announced a new program Friday, Project Grow, to recruit, mentor and elect more female candidates in 2014.

“We need more women to run,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said. “Project Grow will plant that seed that will get them thinking of doing it.” […]

“Women are the majority, and we need to do a better job, and that’s what this is all about,” NRCC Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said of Project Grow at the event.

According to the project’s website, it’s actually an acronym: “Project GROW” stands for “Growing Republican Opportunities for Women.” (Yes, the “G” in “GROW” stands for “grow.”) Once the initiative was launched, the Republican National Committee touted the effort with an unfortunate choice of words: “We need to be a party that allows talented women to rise to the top.”

This, of course, led DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz to immediately respond to the use of the word “allow”, “Democratic women DO rise to the top. We don’t need permission.”

Stepping back, it’s worth noting that there’s nothing especially wrong with the idea behind “Project GROW,” and I think there’s value in major parties recruiting more women candidates to seek and hold public office. The Republican Party is currently dominated by men, especially in Congress — remember the House committee chairs? — and if the party is committed to making gender diversity a priority, more power to ’em.

The problem, however, is what Republican leaders think efforts like these will do for the party.

GOP officials seem to understand that the gender gap is large and getting larger. The party is not only alienating racial and ethnic minorities at an alarming pace, it’s also watching women become more Democratic with each passing year.

It makes sense that Republicans want to do something about this. It doesn’t make sense that Republicans have a diagnosis that has nothing to do with the underlying ailment.

I haven’t seen any polling on this lately, so I’ll concede that my assessment is based more on observation than quantitative analysis, but I have a strong hunch that if a pollster were to ask American women nationwide about why the GOP is struggling with women voters, “candidate recruitment” would not be near the top of the list.

Rather, the problem seems to be with the Republican Party’s policy agenda. If “Project GROW” brings a more diverse slate of candidates, that’s nice, but if the candidates are pushing the same proposals that drove women voters away in the first place, Republicans will probably be disappointed with the results.

Indeed, even the timing of “Project GROW” helps reinforce the larger issue — the national party is prioritizing candidate recruitment, while Republican policymakers at the state and federal level are pushing measures that severely undermine women’s rights.

Adding insult to injury, Republicans have chosen Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to play a leadership role in this project, despite the fact that she opposes pay-equity measures for women, and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Let’s make this plain for party leaders: recruitment matters, but policies matter more. If Republicans want to close the gender gap, they’ll need to reconsider their agenda, not just their slate of candidates.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 1, 2013

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Gender Gap, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republicans Ignored Warnings On Paul Ryan Plan

It might be a political time bomb — that’s what GOP pollsters warned as House  Republicans prepared for the April 15 vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, with its plan to dramatically remake Medicare.

No matter how favorably pollsters with the Tarrance Group or other firms spun  the bill in their pitch — casting it as the only path to saving the beloved  health entitlement for seniors — the Ryan budget’s approval rating barely budged above the  high 30s or its disapproval below 50 percent, according to a Republican  operative familiar with the presentation.

The poll numbers on the plan were so toxic — nearly as bad as  those of President Barack Obama’s health reform bill at the nadir of its  unpopularity — that staffers with the National Republican Congressional  Committee warned leadership, “You might not want to go there” in a series of  tense pre-vote meetings.

But go there Republicans did, en masse and with rhetorical gusto — transforming the political landscape for 2012, giving Democrats a new shot at  life and forcing the GOP to suddenly shift from offense to defense.

It’s been more than a month since Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his  lieutenant, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) boldly positioned their party as  a beacon of fiscal responsibility — a move many have praised as principled, if  risky. In the process, however, they raced through political red lights to pass  Ryan’s controversial measure in a deceptively unified 235-193 vote, with only  four GOP dissenters.

The story of how it passed so quickly — with a minimum of public  hand-wringing and a frenzy of backroom machinations — is a tale of colliding  principles and power politics set against the backdrop of a fickle and anxious  electorate.

The outward unity projected by House Republicans masked weeks of fierce  debate, even infighting, and doubt over a measure that stands virtually no  chance of becoming law. In a series of heated closed-door exchanges, dissenters,  led by Ryan’s main internal rival — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave  Camp (R-Mich.) — argued for a less radical, more bipartisan approach, GOP  staffers say.

At a fundraiser shortly after the vote, a frustrated Camp groused, “We  shouldn’t have done it” and that he was “overridden,” according to a person in  attendance.

A few days earlier, as most Republicans remained mute during a GOP conference  meeting on the Ryan plan, Camp rose and drily asserted, “People in my district like Medicare,” one lawmaker, who is now having his own  doubts about voting yes, told POLITICO.

At the same time, GOP pollsters, political consultants and House and NRCC  staffers vividly reminded leadership that their members were being forced to  walk the plank for a piece of quixotic legislation. They described for  leadership the horrors that might be visited on the party during the next  campaign, comparing it time and again with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s  decision to ram through a cap-and-trade bill despite the risks it posed to  Democratic incumbents.

“The tea party itch has definitely not been scratched, so the voices who were  saying, ‘Let’s do this in a way that’s politically survivable,’ got drowned out  by a kind of panic,” a top GOP consultant involved in the debate said, on  condition of anonymity.

“The feeling among leadership was, we have to be true to the people who put  us here. We don’t know what to do, but it has to be bold.”

Another GOP insider involved to the process was more morbid: “Jumping off a  bridge is bold, too.”

Time will tell whether the Medicare vote, the most politically  significant legislative act of the 112th Congress thus far, will be viewed by  2012 voters as a courageous act of fiscal responsibility — or as an unforced  error that puts dozens of marginal GOP seats and the party’s presidential  candidates at serious risk. That question might be answered, in part, this week  during a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District, in which  Republican Jane Corwin appears to be losing ground to Democrat Kathy Hochul.

The GOP message team is already scrambling to redefine the issue as a  Republican attempt to “save” Medicare, not kill it.

But the party’s stars remain stubbornly misaligned. Presidential hopeful Newt  Gingrich candidly described the Medicare plan as “right-wing social engineering”  — only to pull it back when Ryan and others griped. And Priorities USA Action,  an independent group started by two West Wing veterans of the Obama  administration, was out Friday with its first ad, a TV spot in South Carolina  using Gingrich’s words to savage Mitt Romney for saying he was on the “same  page” as Ryan.

“The impact of what the House Republicans have done is just enormous. It will  be a litmus test in the GOP [presidential] primary,” said former White House  deputy press secretary Bill Burton, one of the group’s founders.

“I couldn’t believe these idiots — I don’t know what else to call them — they’re idiots. … They actually made their members vote on it. It was  completely stunning to me,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat  who worked hard to win over the western part of his state, which has among the  highest concentration of elderly voters in the country.

It was also the site of some of the Democrats’ worst losses in 2010 — three  swing House seats Democrats hope to recapture next year, largely on the strength  of the Medicare argument.

“Look at [freshman House members in the Pittsburgh-Scranton area], they make  them vote on this when they’re representing one of the oldest districts in the  country?” Rendell asked.

“We have a message challenge, a big one, and that’s what the polling is  showing,” conceded Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a former Karl Rove protégé who  enthusiastically backed the Ryan plan. “There’s no way you attack the deficit in  my lifetime without dealing with the growth of Medicare. Do we get a political  benefit from proposing a legitimate solution to a major policy problem? That’s  an open question.”

The House Republican leadership had hinted at an emerging plan to tackle  entitlement reform on Feb. 14 — the day Obama released his budget without  reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Cantor caught Hill reporters by surprise when he said, nonchalantly, that the  Republican budget would be a “serious document that will reflect the type of  path we feel we should be taking to address the fiscal situation, including  addressing entitlement reforms.”

But there were also internal motivations in the decision to go big on  Medicare, rooted in Boehner’s still tenuous grasp of the leadership reins,  according to a dozen party operatives and Hill staffers interviewed by  POLITICO.

Republican sources said Boehner, who has struggled to control his  rambunctious new majority, needed to send a message to conservative upstarts  that he was serious about bold fiscal reform — especially after some of the 63  freshmen rebelled against his 2011 budget deal that averted a government  shutdown.

Then there’s the ever-present friction between Boehner and Cantor, who, along  with Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has positioned himself as the next  generation of GOP leadership and champion of the conservative freshman class.

Boehner’s camp said the speaker has always supported the Ryan  approach — which would offer vouchers to future Medicare recipients currently  younger than 55 in lieu of direct federal subsidies — and proved his support by  voting for a similar measure in 2009.

“Boehner has said for years, including leading up to the 2010 election, that  we would honestly deal with the big challenges facing our country,” said his  spokesman, Michael Steel. “With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, it is  clear to everyone that Medicare will not be there for future generations unless  it is reformed. The status quo means bankruptcy and deep benefit cuts for  seniors. It’s clear who the real grown-ups in the room are. We’ve told the truth  and led, while the Democrats who run Washington have cravenly scrambled and lied  for partisan gain.”

But that message hasn’t always been quite that clear. On several occasions,  Boehner has seemed squishy on the Ryan budget. In talking to ABC News, Boehner  said he was “not wedded” to the plan and that it was “worthy of consideration.”

Still, even if Boehner had opposed the plan — and his top aide, Barry  Jackson, expressed concerns about the political fallout to other staffers — he  probably couldn’t have stopped the Ryan Express anyway, so great was the push  from freshmen and conservatives.

That’s not to say some of the speaker’s allies from the Midwest didn’t try.  Camp and Ryan hashed out their differences in a series of private meetings that,  on occasion, turned testy, according to several GOP aides. Camp argued that the  Ryan plan, which he backed in principle — and eventually voted for — was a  nonstarter that would only make it harder to reach a bipartisan framework on  real entitlement reform.

A few weeks later, Camp told a health care conference that, from a pragmatic  legislative perspective, he considered the Ryan budget history. “Frankly, I’m  not interested in talking about whether the House is going to pass a bill that  the Senate shows no interest in. I’m not interested in laying down more  markers,” he said.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) also made  the case for a more moderate approach — but his principal concern was the  Medicaid portion of Ryan’s plan, an approach he believed wouldn’t do enough to  reduce burdens of indigent care on states.

But even as Democrats high-five over the possibility of Medicare-fueled  political gains, Republicans are trying to muster a unified defense. Cantor, for  his part, stumbled by suggesting to a Washington Post reporter that the Ryan  Medicare provisions might be ditched during bipartisan debt negotiations being  led by Vice President Joe Biden.

Cantor later clarified his remarks and claimed he still backed the Ryan  principles, but no GOP staffer interviewed for this article believed the  Medicare overhaul has any realistic chance of passage.

By: Glenn Thrush and Jake Sherman, Politico, May 23, 2011

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Deficits, GOP, Government, Health Reform, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Journalists, Lawmakers, Media, Politics, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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