"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
January 29, 2016
POLITICS: Last Night's Debate Underlines Why Congress Is a Problem for the "Establishment" Republicans
POLITICS: Michael Reagan to Donald Trump: You're No Ronald Reagan
One of the hazards of trying to claim the mantle of a great man who is only fairly recently departed from the scene is that he still has family and friends around to set you straight. Donald Trump should remember that the next time he tries to insinuate that he’s anything like Ronald Reagan or has anything like Reagan’s approach to politics, leadership or conservatism. Don’t take my word for it; listen to Reagan’s son Michael.
The younger Reagan, himself a popular conservative author and talk radio personality, took to the pages of that venerable New Hampshire institution, the Manchester Union-Leader, on Tuesday to remind New Hampshire voters that The Donald is nothing like the man they set on the path to the Presidency with his primary victory in 1980:
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There’s much more where that came from, but his point about judging actions rather than just words is crucial, and why Republican primary voters – even those inclined towards younger candidates like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – should look at the candidates’ records and not just listen to their rhetoric. When you do that, you see that far more than any experienced politician in the race, Trump is all talk, nothing but talk, having done nothing for any conservative cause or goal in his almost 70 years on this earth.
Ellen Carmichael sat down with Michael Reagan to talk further about the op-ed:
And the younger Reagan is deeply skeptical of those voices piping up for Trump, even the son of one of President Reagan’s old allies:
Of course, there’s always one way Trump could imitate Reagan. A week before the Iowa Caucuses, Reagan had a 9 point lead in the Iowa polls, and skipped the last debate before Iowa to move ahead to New Hampshire. He ended up losing Iowa to George H.W. Bush. Taking Iowa for granted was a lesson Reagan never forgot. Trump may yet need to be taught it.
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January 27, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part I: Presidential Primaries 1948-2012
One of the siren songs raised in favor of moderate and establishment-backed candidates every primary election season is that they are “electable” and their opponents are not. Sometimes, this is frankly code for “not like those conservatives.” But if the idea that conservatives are unelectable is a fallacy, so too is the reflexive assumption that any candidate described as “electable” is actually the opposite, or is not any sort of conservative. History reminds us that good candidates win and bad ones lose, and while ideology can matter more or less depending where and when the election is held, neither conservatives nor moderates have any monopoly on winning elections. And if you look at the history of failed GOP “electability” candidates, you will find that they were usually moderates who faced significantly weaker and/or non-conservative opponents.
Let’s take a two-part walk through the history of electability arguments, starting with a review of the GOP primaries from 1948 to 2012. In the second part, I’ll look at statewide swing-state races over the past decade to consider what kinds of Republican candidates actually do win contested elections.
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Electability in the GOP Presidential Primaries, 1948-2012
The Republican Party’s internal conservative/moderate divides go back to the era of William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, but we can first see them play out in something like public presidential nominating contests in the post World War II era, and they flowered much more dramatically after the primary system was handed over to 50-state popular vote campaigns in 1976.
1948: Dewey v. Taft
In 1948, the GOP faced a choice between two main candidates: moderate New York Governor Tom Dewey and conservative Ohio Senator Robert Taft. They were not actually the top two vote-getters in the primaries (those were liberal Republicans Harold Stassen of Minnesota and Earl Warren of California), but the process was different in those days (Warren ran only in California, where he was unopposed). Both had been jockeying for the nomination since 1940. Dewey, a 46 year old former Manhattan prosecutor, embodied the Eastern establishment of the day, and had been the nominee in 1944; he got 45.9% of the vote, not an impressive result to our eyes today but the best showing by a Republican since Hoover in 1928. Taft, a 59-year-old foe of the New Deal known for his anti-interventionist foreign policy, was known as “Mr. Conservative” and drove the legislative agenda of the Republican Congress elected in 1946.
Republicans picked Dewey, after a late charge from Stassen, with Warren as his running mate. On paper, this seemed like a savvy choice on electability grounds; Dewey had been the first candidate since 1892 to win Ohio without winning the election, he had just won re-election by a historic margin in New York, and with the New York-bred FDR gone and replaced with Harry Truman – a scrappy Missouri populist without a college education – it was rational to believe Dewey could finally break the Democrats’ hold on New York and the Northeast. It was a golden opportunity, given that the Democrats faced defections on their left (former Vice President Henry Wallace running third party as a Progressive) and right (Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond would carry four states in the Deep South).
That part of the plan worked: Dewey won New York (47 electoral votes at the time), Pennsylvania (35), New Jersey (16), and 19 other electoral votes in Connecticut, Maryland and Delaware, plus Michigan (19) and Oregon (6). Added to his 1944 tally, that was enough to beat Truman – but Truman won back Ohio (25 electoral votes), Wisconsin (13), Iowa (10), Colorado (6) and Wyoming (3), all of them Dewey states in 1944, and won the election. Here’s the 1944 and 1948 maps, with Republicans in blue:
Would the GOP have been better off forgetting electability and going with Taft? It’s unknowable – on the one hand, the post-incumbent dynamic may have been blunted by the GOP re-running 1944’s loser, but on the other hand, Taft would probably have fared better in the Midwest, but may not have been able to compete with Dewey’s appeal to the Democrat-held Northeast. As it happened, Truman ran much of his campaign against the Republican Congress, and Taft was the architect of its agenda and out of step with much of the country on foreign affairs. Dewey and Taft were both serious and accomplished men with distinct appeals, but neither was that charismatic – Dewey was aloof and arrogant, Taft colorless and dull. The Republicans of 1948 lost with the “electable” moderate, but they would probably have exchanged one set of problems for another with the conservative purist.
1952: Ike v. Taft
Taft ran again in 1952, but he ran into the ultimate in “electability” candidates, Dwight Eisenhower. Like Hoover and Zachary Taylor before him, Ike was so popular and his views so unknown that both parties tried to recruit him to run (Republicans had been flirting in 1944 and 1948 with Douglas MacArthur, a more conservative war hero choice). After four straight losses with men in their 40s, the party was desperate for a win and ready for a more mature candidate to promise a resolution to the Korean War; Taft was 63, Ike 62. The party picked the national war hero Eisenhower – due in good part to the support of Warren at the convention – and he lived up to every promise of electability. He won every state outside Kentucky, West Virginia and the Deep South. He easily carried his birthplace of Texas, which Dewey had lost by 41 points; Hoover in 1928 was the only prior Republican to win Texas. He won Virginia, which had likewise been won only once (by Hoover) by a Republican since Reconstruction; Democrats would win it only once (LBJ in 1964) between 1952 and 2004. He similarly broke through in Tennessee, starting the process of eroding the Solid South from three directions. He expanded his reach to Kentucky and West Virginia in 1956. His Vice President would go on to be a two-term President. Sean Trende, in The Lost Majority, would rate Ike’s presidential coalition the most durable in American history, lasting through the last Cold War election in 1988. And while the party could not have known this in 1952, Taft would be diagnosed with cancer just 3 months after Eisenhower was inaugurated, and dead of it in July 1953.
At what cost? Eisenhower’s more internationalist view of the Cold War, mostly adopted by Nixon, Goldwater, Reagan and H.W. Bush, seems vindicated by history; even many conservatives who want a more Taft-like approach today would blanch at applying it to the Cold War. But in domestic policy, the moderate Eisenhower put Warren and William Brennan on the Supreme Court and validated much of the New Deal that Taft had battled.
1964: Goldwater v. Rockefeller
Aside from incumbents, the only post-WWII elections to feature no real contest for the nomination were the 1960 and 1968 Nixon nominations, as the Machiavellian Nixon ran to the party’s center and kept liberals like Nelson Rockefeller in 1960 and conservatives like Ronald Reagan in 1968 from gaining the oxygen to mount serious challenges (Reagan in ’68, like Warren in ’48, ran unopposed in California but was barely on the radar anywhere else).
In between was the contest that left party moderates scarred for decades (Bob Dole, then a Congressman, still hasn’t recovered): the nomination of 55 year old Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, over the 56 year old Rockefeller, the liberal Governor of New York.
Goldwater proved unelectable, in the most emphatic terms: Lyndon Johnson, a man deeply mistrusted by liberal Democrats at the time and every bit as lacking in charisma or a reputation for honesty as Nixon, won 61% of the popular vote, the largest tally in the history of the American popular vote. Goldwater’s home state of Arizona was the only one of the 26 states carried by Nixon in 1960 to vote Republican in 1964, although a few Deep South states defected to his column. Almost a quarter of Nixon’s voters defected. The disaster spread far down ticket, with Democrats left with a commanding 68-32 majority in the Senate and 295-140 in the House, majorities they would use to pass long-lasting legislation, almost none of which has since been repealed; to sink the nation into the Vietnam War; and to put two liberals on the Supreme Court, one of whom (Thurgood Marshall) would be there until 1991.
In retrospect, 1964 was probably unwinnable with any candidate, much less the obnoxious, liberal, twice-married New York tycoon Rockefeller. LBJ was riding high on a good economy, the appearance of progress in Vietnam, improving relations with the Soviets, the Civil Rights Act, and the wave of goodwill that followed the JFK assassination. But Goldwater really was a bad candidate. That was partly due to being more conservative than the country was ready for and partly due to his principled but imprudent constitutional objections to the Civil Rights Act, but it was also his hard-edged temperament and personality. Goldwater’s crack about lobbing a nuke into the men’s room at the Kremlin helped convince many voters who had no love for LBJ that Goldwater would start a nuclear war. Nominating Goldwater in an inevitable losing cause had real tradeoffs: he helped lay the groundwork for the conservative resurgence, and Republicans would get a fair amount of ground back in Congress in the 1966 midterms, but the scale of the wipeout had real legislative consequences. The electability critics of Goldwater were right.
1976: Ford v Reagan
The very first popular-vote Republican presidential primary drew the battle lines over “electability” that the party’s conservatives and moderates have been rehashing ever since. Ronald Reagan, having left office in 1974 after eight years as California’s Governor, planned to run for President in 1976 at the end of Richard Nixon’s second term. 44 year old Ohio Congressman John Ashbrook had given voice to conservatives in a futile primary challenge (endorsed by National Review) to Nixon in 1972, but with no obvious moderate or liberal successor to Nixon, Reagan would offer conservatives a rare shot at running as a favorite.
Watergate changed all that, and by 1975, Gerald Ford could run in the primaries as an incumbent. But Reagan ran anyway. The Ford camp made, in public and private, the argument that Reagan was unelectable and a repeat of Goldwater ’64 – you can read some samples here, here and here for a flavor, including efforts at rebutting Reagan’s arguments that his appeal was broader than Ford’s. Ford – at 63, two years younger than Reagan – won after a close, bruising two-man 50-state race. After a bitter convention battle, Ford invited Reagan to the podium in the hopes of restoring party unity, and Reagan gave an electrifying impromptu address that left basically everyone watching convinced they had nominated the wrong man.
Ford started the general election in a huge hole against Jimmy Carter (down by 30+ points in one midsummer national Gallup poll), but ended up losing just 50-48 in the popular vote and 297-240 in the Electoral College, having seen a furious late charge stall out after a debate gaffe.
We can’t know if Reagan would have done better than Ford in 1976, and it’s true that Reagan moderated some of his positions between 1976 and 1980 for a general election appeal, but the fact that Reagan won 44 states (despite a liberal Republican running third party) in 1980 and 49 in 1984 testifies to the epic wrongness of the idea that Reagan was unelectable. If Reagan could not win in 1976, it’s only because no Republican could.
Ford ended up carrying most of the West of the country – Texas and Hawaii were the only states he lost west of the borders of the Mississippi River – and that was Reagan’s base, but he lost nine states in the general election that Reagan had carried in the primaries, including much of the South: Texas (26 electoral votes), North Carolina (13), Missouri (12), Georgia (12), Louisiana (10), Minnesota (10), Alabama (9), South Carolina (8), and Arkansas (6). Some of those, like Carter’s home state of Georgia, were beyond reach, but Reagan could have flipped the Electoral College just by capturing Texas, Missouri and Louisiana, in all of which Carter got less than 52% of the vote:
Of course, much like Dewey in 1948, Ford ran well in parts of New England and his home state of Michigan in ways that Reagan might not have, but then again Reagan in more favorable circumstances swept virtually the whole Northeast in 1980 and all of it in 1984.
1980: Reagan v Bush
The same electability arguments were rehashed against Reagan in 1980, but with less vigor – he was no longer running against an incumbent Republican president, and while he had serious opponents (56 year old George H.W. Bush, 57 year old Bob Dole, 54 year old Howard Baker, 63 year old John Connally), Reagan had easily more endorsements from elected officials than any of them. Of course, after a few early hurdles (including Bush overcoming a 9-point last-week polling deficit in the Iowa Caucuses after an overconfident Reagan blew off the last Iowa debate), Reagan ran away with the primary and blew the doors off the general election.
1988: Bush v Dole
Reagan defeated for good the idea that conservatism could never be sold to a general electorate in the United States, although of course today we live with the question of whether our general electorate is irredeemably different from the ones that came before it. But starting in 1988, the once scrappy, unified conservative movement started splintering in presidential primary fields.
The conservatives in 1988 split between the 53 year old economic supply-side hero Congressman Jack Kemp, who went nowhere, and 58 year old Christian Coalition leader Rev. Pat Robertson, who won an odd-lot group of caucuses (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington). The main event was Vice President Bush against Dole. Dole had long been an antagonist of the Reagan Administration on fiscal issues, and given Reagan’s Iran-Contra doldrums in early/mid 1987, Dole may have banked on the argument that a more moderate candidate with distance from the White House would be more electable. But despite Bush’s moderate history, he embraced Reagan’s record, and GOP voters rallied around him, in the primaries and in a fall campaign dominated by cultural wedge issues. Bush fared less well than Reagan had, and would get destroyed in the 1992 election, but he was by no means too conservative to be electable.
1996: Dole v Buchanan & Forbes
1996, in retrospect, was probably not a winnable campaign by any Republican; Bill Clinton was at the peak of his powers, with peace and prosperity and the power of incumbency at his back, and Clinton ran so hard to the center in cutting deals with Newt Gingrich that conservatives probably got more out of Clinton in one year in 1996 than they would have gotten from four years of President Dole. That said, the 73 year old Dole was marketed as the most electable Republican in 1996, mostly on the basis of the weakness of his two major conservative opponents – 58 year old pundit and speechwriter Pat Buchanan, a lifelong creature of the Beltway, and 49 year old publishing heir Steve Forbes. The paleoconservative Buchanan and the supply-sider Forbes were both vigorous spokesmen for their factions, but neither has ever won an election, and there’s no reason to think either would have done much better than Dole. The “electable” moderate’s loss was likely unavoidable.
2000: Bush v McCain
After eight years of Clinton, electability was a paramount issue in 2000, but ideology played a fairly small role in that. Bush had the party establishment overwhelmingly on his side, and despite a fair amount of grumbling about “compassionate conservatism,” conservatives mostly backed him as well. 54-year-old Texas Governor George W. Bush ran to 64-year-old Arizona Senator John McCain’s right on taxes and judges and McCain ran to Bush’s right on education and entitlements, but their differences were more atmospheric than ideological, as Bush rallied Christian conservatives while McCain touted his crossover primary support by independents and Democrats. McCain attacked Bush’s electability on these grounds and grounds of being tongue-tied and under-experienced, but Bush’s whole campaign was geared towards electability due to his poll leads on Al Gore and huge 1998 re-election win.
Again, we can’t know if McCain would have won in 2000 – he lost in far more unfavorable circumstances in 2008, sinking under the weight of Bush’s political baggage – but Bush’s successes in 2000 and 2004 make it hard to credit arguments at the time that he was less electable than McCain.
2008: McCain v Romney v Huckabee
Much of the complaints about “electability” candidates comes from the last two elections, which unfortunately is a very small sample from which to generalize, especially since two candidates (Mitt Romney and Ron Paul) ran in both years’ primaries and both faced the same general election opponent. But 2008 was an election even a perfect GOP candidate might not have won, with the 1-2-3 punch of catastrophically low Bush approval ratings (which led to a massacre in the 2006 midterms), a “historic” first-black-president candidate, and a devastating September financial crisis. The “electability” theory for John McCain was – somewhat redolent of Dole ’96 & ’88 – less that he was a great candidate than that his distance from Bush would give the GOP an outside shot to win back voters disenchanted with Bush.
Once Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson faded, the 72 year old McCain faced off against 61 year old former one-term Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and 53 year old former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and while Romney tried to whitewash his entire record in order to run as an ideological conservative, really all three were less than orthodox conservatives, with McCain running hardest-right on foreign policy, Huckabee on social issues. Again, McCain was not a great candidate and made some fateful errors, but given the disastrous events of Fall 2008, it’s hard to imagine Romney or Huckabee doing better.
2012: Romney v Santorum v Gingrich
2012, unlike 2008, was an election Republicans could at least conceivably have won, and looked at the time like a close affair, just as 2004 did. The potentially strongest conservative in the race, Rick Perry, flamed out early for a variety of reasons not worth rehashing here, so that when the voting started, the 64 year old Romney was leaning heavily on “electability” arguments against two opponents, 54 year old former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and 69 year old former House Speaker and Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich. There were valid reasons to think Romney was a bad general election candidate, which I argued extensively at the time, and while his final showing was a good deal deeper and stronger than McCain (he won independents and ran ahead of many GOP Senate candidates, ranging from liberals to moderates to establishment conservatives to Tea Party conservatives), his failure to grow the party base hurt him badly and downticket Republicans as well, especially in the contested Senate races in states like Virginia and Wisconsin.
But if the prophets of electability overrated Romney, it’s hard to buy the argument that Santorum or Gingrich was the answer. Santorum was part of the Bush-era Senate leadership and was and is a hard-edged, unlikeable social conservative who got destroyed in his last Senate race in 2006 and is barely a blip now in the 2016 primaries. Newt was on balance an excellent Speaker and a brilliant debater and expositor of conservative theory and populist politics, but his messy personal life and high fixed negatives with the public would have been a brutal barrier to overcome.
The moderates’ “electability” arguments were ubdoubtedly right about Eisenhower and Goldwater, and just as undoubtedly wrong about Reagan. Otherwise, the record shows mainly a series of (1) weak moderates nominated against weak fields in bad years and (2) contests where none of the contenders was a serious conservative. 1976 is the only election since 1948 – and arguably including 1948 – in which conservatives clearly had a good candidate who was defeated by a moderate who then went on to lose a possibly winnable race, while 1964 is the only election in that period in which the moderates’ warnings were disregarded and a conservative went down to defeat. So both factions’ prevailing myths are based on very little evidence.
In Part II, I will look at the broader array of swing-state elections (presidential, Senate and Governor’s races) to consider what kind of candidates are and are not “electable” in the major states on the 2016 map.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:14 PM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll and Election Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
January 25, 2016
POLITICS: The Case For Marco Rubio Part II: The Salesman
Why vote to nominate Marco Rubio? My guiding star in choosing candidates is winning: winning elections, winning domestic policy and foreign policy battles, winning victory, peace and prosperity for America, winning advancement for the cause of conservative ideas - not in that order of priority, but in that order of how each kind of winning contributes to the next. In the first installment of this series, I argued that Rubio has important and useful political leadership experience, more than the other remaining major Republican alternatives. But that’s just a foot in the door. Why Rubio specifically? Some would say he’s the “most electable” Republican running - I agree, and I’ll talk more about electability and its discontents in a later installment, but that’s not the only reason why I’m supporting him. Rather, I think Rubio brings to the table a crucial gift that has been in painfully short supply since Ronald Reagan departed the scene: the willingness and ability to sell conservative ideas to the unconverted. And like it or not, 27 years after Reagan left office, Republicans in general and conservatives in particular are in need of a good salesman.
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Persuasion and the Rise of Reagan
Like all candidates, Rubio is a mix of strengths and weaknesses. But to understand why Rubio's strengths as a salesman are so valuable at this moment in history, it is worth reviewing briefly how we got here.
One of the most misleading things that gets said about Ronald Reagan every four years by the supporters of conservative candidates is that Reagan’s landslide successes in 1980 and 1984 prove that conservative ideas, when articulated, will command a majority. Now, I agree that Reagan-style conservatism has three basic advantages: it’s simple to explain, it accords with common human experience, and it works. That’s a powerful combination, with the capacity to command a lot of popular loyalty. But even in Reagan’s day, conservatism wasn’t always an easy sell - Republicans never did capture the House of Representatives (although they had a working bipartisan conservative majority in 1981-82 containing many Southern Democrats) or much in the way of Governorships and state legislatures, they lost the Senate in 1986, and at every level the GOP of that era contained a lot more liberal Republicans than we see today.
More to the point, Reagan did not just show up, announce his philosophy as if it had been handed down on stone tablets from Mount Sinai, and sweep to victory. Barry Goldwater tried something like that in 1964, and lost 44 states and the popular vote by 22 points. Goldwater got 27 million votes, compared to the 34-35 million who voted for Eisenhower and Nixon in 1952, 1956, and 1960, and the GOP got routed disastrously downticket, leaving the Democrats with a 68-32 majority in the Senate and 295-140 in the House, the consequences of which are still with us. (More below on 1964). When LBJ failed, the voters soured on liberals and gave moderate Republicans a try; when Nixon and Ford failed, they gave moderate Democrats a try (Jimmy Carter had campaigned as one); only when Carter failed, out of all other options, did they turn to Reagan. A similar story could be told of the road to the prior two conservative Republican Administrations, McKinley and Harding/Coolidge.
Reagan had spent long years making his case to the public before he got there - making it with humor and charm and savvy as well as with his record as a two-term Governor of California. Even in 1980, he inherited a country ready for the conservative message - not a country already sold on that message. He moved the country and the voters to the right by presenting conservatism in kitchen-table and shared-values terms that every American could understand. But the accomplishments of conservatism at home are no longer so self-evident. The last great domestic policy accomplishments of the conservative wing of the GOP - at least the last ones widely enough known to be seen outside of a particular state - came in the law enforcement revolution of the 1990s, when the nation's Republican mayors, led by Rudy Giuliani, drastically reduced street crime across the country. And given the Newt-induced centrism of the Clinton years, by 2009, it had been a generation since the country experienced the enervating slow bleed of liberalism ascendant, so young voters never learned the lessons my generation (and Rubio's, and Cruz's) learned watching the wreckage of the Carter era.
Sadly, but maybe inevitably, the Republican Party for the past 27 years has mostly coasted on Reagan's achievements, assuming that an electorate once persuaded will stay that way. George H.W. Bush, a good man but never really a believer in Reagan's message, got elected in 1988 by essentially promising a third Reagan term, and shattered his coalition by not delivering one. George W. Bush was sometimes 'misunderestimated' as a communicator, but while W was very good at communicating what he intended to do, he was deficient at explaining why. W did not teach or even ably defend conservative values, ideas, or policies, did not persuade - he simply appealed to shared values that already existed.
W's two election wins came when the voters were 12 and 16 years removed from the end of the Reagan years, which meant that every single voter age 30 and up in 2000 was old enough to vote for Bush's dad in 1988 - the last year when Republicans won a majority of voters age 18-29. The Baby Boomers, young and liberal when they voted in Jimmy Carter in 1976 (the last election until 2012 when the winner of the age 30+ vote lost the election) were between the ages of 36 and 54 in 2000, 40 and 58 in 2004, prime ages for being responsible, working, taxpaying adults and voting Republican. Bush didn't need to persuade those voters that Reagan was right, only that he would be faithful to Reagan's principles as his father had not been. Still, it's worth remembering that Bush's most popular promise was his across-the-board tax cut on everyone who paid federal income taxes - a tangible, understood-at-the-kitchen-table promise that people could actually measure and see happen for themselves.
Time moved on, and the composition of the electorate changed. By 2012, someone who was 35 was too young to vote when Reagan left office; by 2016, a 40 year old was 4 when the Gipper was elected, 12 when he departed the scene, 18 when Newt Gingrich swept to power behind the Contract with America. A voter who is 25 in 2016 was 10 on 9/11. Too many Republicans over 40, who watched as the world learned the lessons of Reagan's era, cannot seem to understand that a whole generation has arisen that was never taught those lessons by experience, and needs to learn them anew. Just asserting them was no longer enough. Bush lost voters under 30 by 48-46 in 2000, 54-45 in 2004; McCain lost them by 66-32 in 2008, Romney by 60-37 in 2012. Some of those voters may grow naturally more conservative with time, and many are already disillusioned with Obama and his party (Romney won white voters under 30, even white women under 30, but by modest margins and with low voter turnout in those groups). But a significant chunk of the youngest voters have only ever been exposed to caricatures of conservatism and platitudes mouthed by much older white men - a 'low-information' dynamic that only a President or a presidential nominee can penetrate. I'll dive into more of the polls another day; for the moment, recall that back in December, Rubio was the first GOP candidate to pull tied with Hillary in a national poll with voters under age 35.
In short, in 2016, we do not live a world like 1988, when the public had been sold on conservatism. For voters over 40, we may arguably live in a world like 1980, when the public had been listening to voices selling it and was ready to turn in our direction. But for voters under 40, we live in a world more like 1964, when the project of introducing conservative ideas was still a new and foreign concept. If we meet them with a stern and unbending voice of Goldwater, our efforts will come to similar grief. We need a salesman.
To Whom Are We Selling?
Rubio and Cruz are selling mostly the same product, but in very different ways. More than any other disagreement between the two, the Cruz-Rubio divide in how to approach the voters is about differing conceptions of what is possible with the electorates and Republican coalitions in 2016 and beyond. These differing views of the possible come from differing views of who the persuadable voters may be, and suggest differing models of how a 21st Century Republican campaign should follow the paths of past campaigns. The 2012 election focused our attention as never before on who the voters are, given that Mitt Romney won independent voters by five points (and won them in most competitive states other than Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida) and won most other categories of traditional "swing voters" (e.g., voters over 30, suburban voters, white Catholics) and still lost the election due to Obama maxing out turnout among his most favorable voter segments (non-white women and non-white voters under 30). Recall the broad outlines of the current arguments about the electorate, which I've covered at some length before:
1. The Emerging Democratic Majority Theory: Progressives have spent the past 15 years arguing that demographic change - the growth in Hispanic, Asian and South Asian populations, the decline of religiousness especially among white Americans, and the rising levels of voter turnout among African-Americans - means that over time, the electorate will (all by itself) become gradually more favorable to Democrats, nationally and in many key states. A 2015 Pew survey found that Democrats have a 16-point advantage among Millennials (age 18-33). A December 2015 Center for American Progress report by Ruy Teixeira, John Halpin, and Rob Griffin projects an electorate in which the white vote is steadily shrinking:
2. The Static Electorate Fallacy: the idea that the 2016 electorate and results will not stray far from the demographic, geographic and ideological contours of 2012, including who turns out and how they vote. This is a common misconception by adherents of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory who expect demographics alone to resolve the 2016 election - possible, but a position I view with skepticism.
3. The Post-Incumbent Election Theory: 2016 should be a major opportunity for Republicans, despite demographic trends, because in thirteen straight elections since 1816 in which the re-election of an incumbent was followed by an election with no incumbent on the ballot, the popular vote shifted significantly away from the party in power every single time, in all but one case (the unusual election of 1868) by a margin wide enough to hand the GOP the election in 2016. The only real counter-arguments to this theory are that the demographic momentum of the Emerging Democratic Majority will overwhelm the historical trends or that Republicans will make a poor candidate choice that squanders that opportunity.
4. The 4 Million Missing Conservatives Fallacy: I have previously debunked the notion that 3 or 4 or 5 million conservatives who had voted in previous elections stayed home in 2012 and/or 2008, or that tens of millions of Evangelical Christian conservative voters remain at large to be brought into the GOP fold. Nonetheless, close analysis of the voter turnout and election results for the last four elections strongly suggests that the GOP does need a candidate who can grow Republican base turnout beyond what McCain or Romney did, and that this should not be an impossible task given historical trends in post-incumbent elections and the enormous number of eligible voters who have not voted in recent elections.
5. The Missing White Voters Theory: the theory that white-working-class, not-particularly-religious voters east of the Mississippi stayed home disproportionately in 2012, and could be won back by a Buchanan/Perot-style candidate who speaks to the resentments of the "radical middle". Sean Trende looked at the 2012 results and found that these voters did indeed stay away in droves from Mitt Romney in 2012, albeit many of them in states that are not that competitive. Like the missing conservatives theory, this may well offer a pool of voters that can be tapped, but it is unlikely to provide a magic bullet to eliminate the Democrats' advantage in four of the past six elections. People who don't vote tend to continue not voting, and changing that is a process of increments.
The Rubio and Cruz Theories
As you can tell from the above summaries, there are both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios for conservative Republicans. The most optimistic theory is that there remains a potentially potent natural majority if conservative white Christian turnout and Trump-ish "missing white voter" turnout can both be excited by the nominee; the Cruz theory of the electorate was already premised on the former, and especially since the emergence of Trump, it has also encompassed the latter.
The less optimistic theory, which underlies most of the arguments for Rubio, is that Republicans right now are in something like the tight pinch that faced Democrats in 1992: favorable circumstances might release us from a multi-year electoral headlock held by an intellectually exhausted dominant party that had decayed at the sub-Presidential level, but only in the hands of a talented candidate who could blunt the other side's favorite wedge issues and start winning new voters over to the idea that his party isn't really so bad after all. This is a view of the electorate that starts with us needing to work hard to change the dynamics, but also recognizes that doing so is still possible.
Thus, the case for Rubio borrows a bit from the Obama 2008 and Kennedy 1960 campaigns (which capitalized on the candidate's ethnic/religious appeal combined with youth and glamor) and a bit from the Bush 2000 campaign, which sanded down some of the rough rhetorical edges of his own party's ascendant Congressional wing. But most of all, it's modeled after the Clinton 1992 campaign, which sold itself as a new, younger generation of the party out of power, prepared to face a shifting issue environment. Ironically, Rubio is also chasing Bill Clinton's path through the primaries, which involves absorbing a huge pounding in the early going (Clinton won just one of the first ten states, and is the only candidate since 1976 to win either party's nomination without winning Iowa or New Hampshire) but outlasting all comers.
The Rubio model assumes that the GOP in the short run needs to do a little bit of everything - a little more turnout from Christian conservatives, a little better showing with voters in the center, a little less polarizing rhetorical approach to deprive the other side of the means of driving up turnout among its base groups, and start the process of convincing some of them that the water is fine over on our side.
By contrast, the Cruz theory of the general election campaign and beyond borrows a bit from the Bush 2004 campaign (which used the aid of incumbency and ballot initiatives to drive up conservative Christian turnout to unmatched heights), and a bit from the Reagan 1980 campaign (which won over vast numbers of registered Democrats - many of them blue-collar voters - hopelessly disenchanted with the incumbent president), but is mostly modeled on the Obama 2008 and 2012 efforts in its goal of using data-driven base turnout to render the battle for swing voters in the center of the election mostly academic. The rise of Trump has refocused and re-prioritized Cruz's strategy away from its almost exclusive dependence on evangelical Christians towards also trying to corral more of the "missing white voters". But it also begs a critical question: can Cruz imitate an Obama strategy that was premised on demographic and cultural trends in its favor, when neither of those trends favor Cruz?
Naturally, these differing views of the electorate imply differing approaches to persuasion. Rubio throughout his career has preferred a more soft-spoken style of persuasion geared to winning over people who may not start out agreeing with him, beginning by trying to avoid alarming them. Cruz has at all times taken the opposite approach - he prefers to fix the target, personalize it and polarize it, in an effort to rally and energize to action those who share his goals and outlook. Which approach you prefer depends in very large part on which you consider more plausible: persuasion of the undecided or mobilization of a majority that does not include them. Historically, of course, the former approach has almost always been the more effective one.
The case for the advantage of Rubio's sales approach over Cruz's - despite Cruz's undoubted eloquence in stating his case - thus goes well beyond this election. It goes to the questions of what the two parties' coalitions will look like in the future and how the next GOP presidency will operate. Even if Cruz is able to squeeze past Hillary by tapping into the populist anger of the white working-class Trump voters (i.e., those who were not already GOP voters in 2008 or 2012), he faces two basic challenges.
1. Anger Burns Hot, Then Burns Out
First, a significant chunk of the Trump faction is angry not just at any specific government policy but at economic competition and demographic change in general. These are not things any president can solve, much less a free-marketer like Ted Cruz. Four or eight years from now, the perennially angry and disaffected will still be angry and disaffected, and what would Cruz do then? Blame shadowy conspiracies by his own party in Congress? (Perhaps). Obviously the GOP nominee, whether it's Rubio or Cruz, needs a plan to bring some of these voters in, but depending on them creates an inherently unstable coalition. As Erick has noted about Trump:
I’m more into candidates who try to lift us to the better angels of ourselves and I do not think his campaign is doing that right now. Before I started writing about politics, I worked in politics. As a rule of thumb, I think anger burns out and it is tough to sustain over time.
More broadly, there's also the question, inherent in any effort to expand your coalition, of what its new members will want. One of the major objections raised to attempts to broaden the GOP coalition in the direction George W. Bush tried - particularly by appealing more to Hispanic voters - is that they would dilute the party's conservative, small-government message. That was likewise an objection raised when Bush abandoned conservative principles to bail out General Motors, pass Medicare Part D, or impose steel tariffs. But what we have seen so far about the Trump faction (by which I mean not the GOP base voters who are Trump-leaning, but people outside the Bush/McCain/Romney tent who might be brought in by a more Trumpishly populist turn) is that they present the exact same problem, even moreso because they're lifelong and mostly older Americans who are settled in their ways and ideas. They want more government involvement in trade, higher taxes, bigger entitlements. Again, these are already uncomfortable fits for a free-market purist, small-government Constitutionalist, and libertarian-friendly Republican like Cruz.
That's an issue well beyond Election Day 2016. Presidents whose coalitions fracture have problems getting re-elected or passing their agendas, and the midterm elections go much better for the party of popular presidents (see 1998, 2002) than unpopular ones (see 1994, 2006, 2010, 2014).
2. The Shrinking Pool
Second, if (as follows from the distinct views of the electorate) Cruz is focused more heavily than Rubio on courting Trump-ish "missing white voters" of the secular white working class, he is betting more of his potential coalition on a shrinking pool, and making it harder for him - even as the first Hispanic presidential nominee - to grow the GOP coalition with younger and non-white voters.
You don't have to buy into all the smug assumptions of the Emerging Democratic Majority to recognize the basic math: white voters may be a majority for the foreseeable future, especially with slowing Hispanic birthrates and the potential that more Hispanics will cease to self-identify as such as they assimilate further, but inevitably (regardless of future immigration policy), white voters are a declining market and not historically inclined to vote lockstep for a single party. That does not mean Republicans and conservatives should abandon their core base of older white voters (far from it), but that we should insist on broadening our appeal, both generationally and demographically.
With regard to demographics, the numerically inevitable rapid growth of the Hispanic electorate over the next few decades, the fact that most of these voters are not conservatives today, and the fact that as a group they are disproportionately not politically active, means that we are entering a period in which we will have both a great need and great opportunity to begin persuading these voters before they harden into a monolithic permanent Democratic firewall. That process starts with convincing them that Republicans are not their enemies, and progresses from there to seeking converts.
How rapidly is that group growing? Hispanic voters - we're talking citizens here, not illegal immigrants, just to head off that discussion - are very disproportionately young voters, as the latest Pew survey makes clear:
Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half (44%) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016—a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters...The median age among the nation’s 35 million U.S.-born Latinos is only 19..., and Latino youth will be the main driver of growth among Latino eligible voters over the next two decades. Between 2012 and 2016, about 3.2 million young U.S.-citizen Latinos will have advanced to adulthood and become eligible to vote, according to Pew Research Center projections. Nearly all of them are U.S. born—on an annual basis, some 803,000 U.S.-born Latinos reached adulthood in recent years...In the case of whites, some 9.2 million U.S. citizens will turn 18 between 2012 and 2016. Among blacks, 2.3 million young people will have turned 18.
If you are keeping score at home, that means that newly eligible voters are 62.6% white, 21.8% Hispanic, and 15.6% black. If they vote in those proportions and you get 10% of those black voters and 30% of those Hispanic voters, that means the GOP has 8% of the vote and the Democrats have 29% - and if Republicans get an unprecedented two-thirds of the white vote, we're still a little short of a majority in that age bracket. As that age cohort moves into maturity, we (as conservatives and Republicans) need a plan to be more competitive with non-white voters, as well as dominant with white Millennials; it will no longer be optional. The trendlines are already visible:
With this rapid growth, the Latino electorate is projected to make up a record 11.9% of all U.S. eligible voters in 2016 and will pull nearly even with blacks, who will make up 12.4%....In 2012, fewer than half (48%) of Hispanic eligible voters cast a ballot...By comparison, 64.1% of whites and 66.6% of blacks voted. (Asians, at 46.9%, had a turnout rate similar to that of Hispanics.) At the same time, due to the group’s fast-growing population, the absolute number of Hispanic voters has reached record highs despite a decline in voter turnout between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. In 2012, a record 11.2 million Hispanics voted..., up from what was a record 9.7 million in 2008.
For now, these voters are only a major factor in three states that are likely to be contested in 2016 - Rubio's home state of Florida (18.1%), his youthful home of Nevada (17.2%) and Colorado (14.5%), although they are also between 3.4% and 4.6% - enough to be worth courting - in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Republicans don't need that much in the way of Hispanic voters to win in 2016, but if they turn against us for good, the numbers only get worse from here.
Is winning over converts to conservative Republican principles among Hispanic voters even possible? They are not, perhaps, the "natural conservatives" or "Republicans who just don't know it yet" that Republican leaders have sometimes claimed in the past. Happy talk alone won't do it, and neither will pandering on immigration. But the case is not as hopeless as some of the more zealous border hawks would have you think. Sean Trende has done some great work in this area, particularly in his book The Lost Majority, and Trende's conclusion is that Hispanic voters may be starting at a low ebb in terms of Republican voting, but they have already begun exhibiting the same basic trends as prior immigrant groups like the Irish and particularly Italians (and to a lesser extent early 20th Century white southerners) - as they move up the income and education scales, they're more likely to vote Republican, if we don't go out of our way to alienate them: "At the end of the day, Hispanics tend to vote more Democratic than whites because they tend to be poorer than whites. There’s still plenty of room for GOP growth in the short-to-medium term -- winning middle-class Hispanics by the same margin that he won middle-class whites would have almost delivered the Hispanic vote to John McCain in 2008 -- but ultimately the GOP doesn’t need more Republican Hispanics so much as it needs more middle-class Hispanics."
In the short run, it's hard to get hard information about Hispanic voting preferences because of holes in the exit polling - we have no exit polls for Cruz's 2012 Senate race (in which he ran a bit behind Mitt Romney, but ahead in some of Texas' more Hispanic counties), no Hispanic exit polls for the 2014 Colorado Senate and Nevada Governor's races. And the polling we do have outside of exit polls is often unreliable or agenda-driven, hardly the kind of robust polling averages we like.
We do know that Rubio won an outright majority of Florida Hispanics in 2010 - 55%, the same as his share of the white vote; Rick Scott got 50% in the same year. But then, Florida's Hispanic population has shifted more towards Puerto Ricans rather than Cubans in the past few years as Puerto Rico has undergone a severe fiscal crisis. We know that in 2014, David Perdue got 42% of Hispanics in Georgia, almost double Michelle Nunn's 23% of white voters; Greg Abbott got 44% in Texas, compared to Wendy Davis' 25% of white voters; and Sam Brownback won Hispanics 47-46 in Kansas. Based on some of the in-race 2014 polling, it appears that male Hispanic voters may be particularly open to voting Republican when the Democrats are running a white woman. Winning big portions of Hispanic voters in off-year elections is not by itself a winning presidential strategy, since midterm voters in any demographic segment tend to be more politically attuned, but it's a start.
[U]p to 63 percent of Hispanics could be persuaded to support a GOP candidate...while roughly a third of the respondents identified as strong Democrats, just 8 percent said they were strong Republicans...But 55 percent fell somewhere in the middle, and more than six in 10 of that group’s Republican-leaners said they had previously voted for a Democrat for the House or a higher office. Meanwhile 41 percent of the persuadable Democrat-leaners said they had voted for a Republican, indicating a willingness to break from party lines.
These voters had and have deeply unfavorable views of Donald Trump, but Trump isn't likely to be the Republican nominee anyway, and if he was, there would be no point analyzing the general election or the future of the party. Let's ask what that means for a choice between Rubio and Cruz, given the nature of these two candidates.
Who is likely to be the best Republican messenger to young voters in general, and Hispanic voters in particular? In theory, identity politics should not matter. In reality, it always has and maybe always will. Obviously both Rubio and Cruz have an advantage over the rest of the field in this regard, each being the sons of Cuban immigrants and potentially the first Hispanic President, and both being - at age 45 - much younger than recent GOP presidential nominees or the geriatric Democratic contenders. But even aside from his more youthful appearance and upbeat demeanor, on multiple levels, Rubio is more naturally in tune with the experience of young Hispanic voters in particular. Consider a few differences between Rubio and Cruz:
-Rubio speaks fluent enough Spanish to do TV interviews on Spanish-language networks, and bears a slight but noticeable accent when speaking English. Cruz apparently speaks a little Spanish, but not comfortably enough to speak it in public.
-Rubio's parents were both Cuban; Cruz's mother was of Irish and Italian descent and born in Delaware. Rubio is visibly darker-skinned than Cruz.
-Rubio's wife is the daughter of Colombian immigrants, spent a season as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader, and has spent years at home with their four children; Cruz's wife is white, from California, and is an investment manager at Goldman Sachs (they have two children).
-Rubio is Catholic (although his wife is Baptist and they sometimes attend her church back home); Cruz and his wife are Southern Baptists.
-Rubio goes by his given name; Cruz went by "Felito" in his youth but dropped it as a teen in Texas in favor of "Ted":
“The problem with that name was that it seemed to rhyme with every major corn chip on the market,” Mr. Cruz wrote. “Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos and Tostitos — a fact that other young children were quite happy to point out.”
-Rubio listens to rap music. Cruz listens to country music.
-Rubio has, from his time as a West Miami City Commissioner, represented majority-Hispanic constituencies at the ground level, and grew up in majority-Hispanic areas of Miami and racially diverse areas of Nevada. Cruz has no similar experience of immersion in the non-white world (although his best friend is Jamaican) and has never represented anything smaller than the State of Texas.
-Rubio had a much more checkered climb up the ladder than Cruz. He attended college on a football scholarship, had to go to community college because his first college went broke and scrapped its football program, ended up borrowing a bunch of money to go to law school that it took him years to pay back, went into politics at the local level. Cruz, of course, was national debate champion at Princeton, on the Harvard Law Review, clerked for the Chief Justice and went into politics at such a high national level that at age 29 he turned down a White House job because he was holding out for an even bigger White House job reporting directly to the White House counsel.
Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these things; Cruz's personal and family experience is part of the natural assimilation and intermarriage that has long been a part of the American immigrant experience and is especially common among Hispanics in Texas (there's a whole side debate in the demographic sphere about how you even define "Hispanic" and what percentage of people fitting the definition reject it as a self-description over time, even leaving aside the number of Hispanics who instead identify as Mexican-, Cuban-, Puerto Rican-American, etc.). You can't rationally hold Cruz's stellar ascent up the academic and political ladder against him.
But if the 2008 and 2012 elections taught us anything, it's that the superficial things matter a whole lot in elections. Nobody who has ever been involved in an election will tell you that politics is not a popularity contest (the Trump phenomenon is nothing if not about superficial impressions). Taken in combination, these various distinctions add up to a feel that Rubio has more in common with young first-, second- and third-generation Hispanics than Cruz does - just as many of the same factors contribute to why Cruz has connected more with Iowa evangelicals. And Rubio's ability to communicate in Spanish is not just a feel, but a tangible asset that only the moribund Jeb Bush shares in this race.
Moreover, without rehashing the whole immigration imbroglio at length, Cruz has used immigration as an offensive weapon against Rubio (arguing that Cruz has taken a harder line against "amnesty" in opposition to Rubio's position on the "Gang of Eight" bill), while Rubio has mostly been playing defense and trying to convince skeptical conservatives that he would not go soft on the issue. While the optics and perceptions of that battle have worked in Cruz's favor in the early primary season, the opposite will be true once we get to the general election, as Mitt Romney could testify.
Once we get past the primaries, the reality is that the Democrats have staked out a far-left position on immigration that leaves a lot of open space in the middle - but in a general election with no other choices on offer, the Democratic far-left position is more popular than the hardest-line border-hawk position. Most Hispanic voters are less obsessed with immigration than the media would have you think, but many are sensitive to any perception of hostility to the presence of them and their families in these United States. The perception that Rubio has taken flak for resisting such hostility, while Cruz was calling Donald Trump "terrific," may well help Rubio open minds that are closed to Trump and might even be closed to Cruz.
How Rubio Sells
Thus far, I've discussed why we need a good salesman and why Rubio has the profile of one. But let's also take a look at how he sells.
Let's start with a recent video that went viral of Rubio being confronted by an atheist obviously perturbed by Rubio's public professions of faith. Watch how Rubio manages to walk the line of treating this guy and his concerns with respect, while standing without apology for his own faith and that of many of his supporters:
Next we have Rubio responding to questions about his position on abortion, which were intended to portray him as an extremist on the issue. Watch how deftly he turns this back on Hillary Clinton, pointing out ways in which she is the one outside the mainstream on abortion:
Then there's Rubio responding to questions about the "Black Lives Matter" movement. There were cheap and easy political points to be scored here, since most conservatives are justifiably suspicious of the people running the movement and the tactics they employ. But Rubio chose to emphasize his empathy with the underlying and pervasive concerns that created the political opening for the movement in the first place:
For a harder edge, here's Rubio bearing down on Charlie Rose about Hillary Clinton's lies about Benghazi, and not giving an inch:
Here's Rubio mixing faith and empathy talking about Millennials in light of the death of a Ben Carson campaign volunteer last week:
Here, halfway through this clip, is Rubio carving up Bernie Sanders in a debate on the Senate floor about proposals to increase accountability at the VA:
You can see a variety of approaches at work here, but notice the common threads - he doesn't back down or give policy ground to his interlocutors, but he works to disarm them with empathy and common ground while explaining why he stands where he does - not just in terms of abstract principle but in more practical terms. This is how you approach people who don't necessarily buy into your own ideological premises, but are not necessarily hardened into their own, either. It's gradual work, and it takes time, but just as Bill Clinton was able to gradually revive the reputation of liberalism in the 1990s for a new generation, Rubio has the skill to do the same thing for our side.
Ted Cruz's style could hardly be more different from Rubio's. The idea of bringing your audience along gradually is completely inconsistent with how Ted Cruz operates and has always operated. Even his fans must recognize that Cruz's default setting is a Manichean struggle between himself and those who stand arrayed against him, with little room for gray in between. That comes through not only in his rhetoric but in his negotiating tactics. As I discussed in the first installment of this series, Rubio's preferred approach to negotiation is similar to the Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton approach: maneuver himself in public as the more reasonable party, get the voters on his side or at least neutralized, and get the other side to sign something that may save face but is worse for them than it looks. That approach doesn't always succeed, but it has a pretty good track record and a relatively low downside in terms of public disapproval even when it doesn't.
Cruz's signature approach is more like Nixon's "madman" theory - be the most stubborn and unreasonable person in the room and demand that people bend to you. In closed-door negotiations, when you are sure you won't face defections, this can be an incredibly powerful method of negotiation. But a great deal of political negotiation doesn't work that way at all. Public persuasion and posturing have a huge effect on a politician's ability to keep his own side in line, much less convince the adversary that he has a downside for holding out. Thus far in his Washington career, Cruz's negotiating strategy has failed to deliver results just about every time he has deployed it. It would doubtless fare somewhat better with the power of the White House at his disposal, but the nature of politics will always make it a high-risk technique with lots of large, costly failures.
Cruz could suffer, in office, from the fact that he's almost uniformly hated on Capitol Hill, but then again he's earned most of that hate honestly, much of it from people whose hatred is a badge of honor. My concern is not his unpopularity with elected officials and campaign consultants, but how he will play with voters over extended public exposure.
Cruz has sometimes been compared to Barry Goldwater or Richard Nixon, and while the comparisons are not completely apt, they do tell us something significant. Even if Cruz loses in November 2016, he is not likely to absorb a Goldwater-sized defeat: conservatism is not as strange or foreign to older voters as it was in 1964; Cruz (unlike Goldwater) is not likely to convince voters that he is apt to start a nuclear war; and the Democrats today are not running an incumbent successor to a martyred president in a time of relative peace and booming prosperity. To the extent Cruz is like Nixon, he has more in common with the polarizing young anti-Communist Nixon of 1952 - full of energy and bristling at a Washington society that despised him - than the Nixon of 1972, who abandoned the last of his ideological convictions while in the grip of the demons and resentments that would destroy him. Then again, that later, corrupted Nixon won 49 states; indeed, Nixon was on two winning national tickets as a vice presidential nominee, two winning tickets as a presidential nominee, and his worst loss as a presidential candidate was by less than the margin of fraud in 1960.
But the challenge for Cruz is that both his public personality and his habitual approach to political debate put him in the Goldwater/Nixon category of scowling, confrontational figures rather than happy warriors, and that he embraces rather than resists the caricature of an inflexible ideological purist (Barack Obama, the most ideological progressive in the history of presidential candidates, went to great lengths to avoid this perception). That's a great brand for selling yourself to primary voters, but it's historically a dead end in a general election, where the ability to sound reasonable (even for a highly principled political figure) is a crucial asset. For the past 40 years, our politics at a national level have rewarded happy warriors, people you wanted to have a beer with, not people who spat fire and brimstone. Maybe this is the year that changes - but even if it does, how long will that mood last?
I love what Ted Cruz is selling. I'm just not sure he can sell it to anyone who wasn't already buying.
Does conservatism even need selling, or is it a product for which there is widespread pent-up demand? Do Republicans need to expand their audience to younger voters and Hispanic voters, or are we better off trying to capture the populist anger of the disaffected middle-aged white working class? We can't know the answers for certain, but if history and experience are any guide at all, the conservative movement and the Republican Party have much better odds of selling ourselves to the next generation of voters with Marco Rubio at the helm.
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January 19, 2016
POLITICS: ARG Polls Love John Kasich When Nobody Else Does
There are many rules of thumb in evaluating polls, especially in the volatile context of a primary. We usually caution people to look at polling averages rather than individual polls for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that some pollsters may have biases (even if unintentional) or may consistently produce outliers. Sometimes, of course, one pollster that sees the world differently from everyone else is right, so being way off the averages probably means the pollster is wrong, but it doesn't always.
So it is right now with American Research Group (ARG) in the New Hampshire Republican race. The RCP poll average right now has Ohio Governor John Kasich second in New Hampshire, far behind Donald Trump at 31 but with 13.3% to 11.5 for Marco Rubio, 11.3 for Ted Cruz, and 8.3 each for Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
But the polling averages are heavily influenced by the lastest poll from ARG, which has Trump 27, Kasich 20, and Rubio 10 with everyone else in single digits. If we look at the Huffpost Pollster average, we can see what the averages look like with different pollsters in and out of the average:
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The last three ARG polls had Kasich at 20, 14 and 15, while the majority of other polls the past several weeks had him in single digits. And since most of the other candidates do almost as well in ARG as elsewhere, what ARG is showing is Kasich drawing that extra support from...Donald Trump. And maybe that's right, given Trump's appeal to more liberal and moderate Republicans and independents, but it seems pretty implausible given their diametric styles - Kasich is the ultimate establishment Republican, a bleeding heart moderate who's been in office since the 1970s and likes to brag about running the House Budget Committee 20 years ago. ARG has a justifiably poor reputation as a pollster. FiveThirtyEight's pollster ratings, last updated before the 2014 elections, gave it a C+. Down the stretch run in 2012, it significantly overestimated Mitt Romney's performance in New Hampshire:
It also had Ovide Lamontagne up six in its last (early October) 2012 poll of the Governor's race, which he lost by 12 points - an 18 point miss.
Its final polls in 2014 had the Senate race tied (Shaheen won by 3) and Maggie Hassan up by 2 after leading by 15 and 10 in the two prior ARG polls (Hassan won by 5).
So, this may be the time when ARG is right, but the smart money wouldn't bet on it.
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January 17, 2016
POLITICS: Trumpian Motion
January 14, 2016
POLITICS: Rubio, Cruz, Trump
January 13, 2016
POLITICS: Marco Rubio Is Now Getting Attacked Unfairly For Killing Charlie Crist's Climate Scheme
In 2007, Florida’s newly-elected “Republican” Governor Charlie Crist announced, with much fanfare, a costly “cap and trade” plan to regulate carbon emissions by Florida electric power plants. In the Spring 2008 legislative session, Crist pushed the Florida legislature to adopt his mandates into law. During the months-long public debate on the plan, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio called for free-market approaches to “clean energy” and decried European-style mandates. Instead of Crist’s plan, the legislature at Rubio’s insistence passed a bill (which Crist reluctantly signed) that instructed the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a potential plan, which would then go back to the Legislature no sooner than 2010 to put it up for a vote before Crist (who was then projected to be up for re-election in 2010) could actually do anything. The delaying tactic worked: the mandates were never passed into law, Crist ultimately ran away from them while running for Senate in 2009, in large part due to Rubio’s (successful) primary campaign, and by 2013 the whole scheme had been repealed. None of these facts are reasonably in dispute – yet Crist in 2009 ran with a wholly disingenuous attack claiming that Rubio had supported cap-and-trade, and some of Rubio’s critics in this race are recycling that attack. Charlie Crist’s sloppy seconds should be no less nasty this time.
Let’s go blow-by-blow here to get the context.
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Orange Charlie’s Big Green Plan
In 2007-08, after winning election amidst the Democratic wave of 2006 and as an even bigger wave (in which Barack Obama would carry Florida in November 2008) was cresting, Crist was a popular new governor trying to pull Florida to the left on carbon emissions, and getting lots of fanfare for it:
Rubio Fires Back
In July 2007, Rubio took to the pages of the Miami Herald to push back, with his characteristic more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone, aimed at persuading voters who liked the sound of Crist’s ideas that the carbon emission mandate plan was a bad idea:
Rubio’s alternative plan wasn’t all pure free-market: he was also pushing “green energy” tax incentives, including for ethanol (the final bill included an ethanol mandate of the type that Rubio and a number of his primary opponents now want phased out at the federal level). But he was vocally against carbon-emission mandates from the very outset on grounds that they would be costly out of proportion to any possible effect.
Crist Riding High
The Tampa Bay Times, writing in 2009, noted that Crist seemed to have the upper hand as the 2008 legislative session started:
We’ll come back to that quote in a minute, but it was not isolated – Rubio at the time was convinced that the federal government was going to force down cap-and-trade on the states, and argued that there was money to be made in Florida meeting the demand for new technologies to comply with Washington’s mandates:
As it would turn out, the political momentum of cap-and-trade would be slowed down by the 2008 financial crisis and other events. But at the time, a rearguard action would be needed to buy time – a traditional method of blocking runaway political initiatives.
In January 2008, however, Crist was attracting national attention, and told a left-wing rag that he had been converted to the “climate change” cause by an adviser to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who he saw as a “role model” on the issue (Ah-nold remains a cautionary tale on the hazards of recruiting celebrity amateurs with vague principles to run for office as “Republicans”).
The Rubio Interview, March 2008
Rubio critics today are circulating this clipped video from eight years ago, which was anonymously added to YouTube last week, and which basically recycles a 2009-era Charlie Crist attack ad that claimed that Rubio was the one who supported cap-and-trade:
You can tell from the clip that Rubio is cut off in mid-sentence. Here’s the short video summary of what was left out:[VIDEO SINCE TAKEN DOWN]
Florida conservatives didn’t fall for that then, nor should conservatives further removed from that battle fall for it now. The clip is from a half-hour interview Rubio did on March 13, 2008 – you can watch the crucial four-minute segment from 22:50 to 25:15 here. Rubio started off by noting that the budget crisis in Florida (related to the economic downturn) would prevent funding any “clean technology” initiatives, and then moved on to the cap and trade bill. Here’s the crucial passage:
In the context of the legislative battle at the time, it’s crystal-clear that Rubio was not backing Crist’s plan for California-style mandates – he explicitly said that was the wrong way to go. Instead, he proposed letting the bureaucracy spin its wheels for a while coming up with a more specific proposal (inside the Beltway, this sort of thing is usually done by handing things off to a “bipartisan commission” or “blue-ribbon panel” – Rubio clearly knew that game eight years ago), thus preventing any mandate plan from passing into Florida law without a chance for the Legislature to live to fight it another day.
The environmental bill, House Bill 7135, was ultimately signed into law by Crist on June 25, 2008. Crist by this point was auditioning to be John McCain’s vice presidential nominee, and TIME Magazine noted that week that while “America’s tree-huggers virtually canonized Crist,” he was also making concessions on offshore oil drilling, and “on Wednesday Crist signed a bill (albeit weakened by the G.O.P.-led state legislature) to finally phase in auto and carbon emissions limits in Florida — including the first ‘cap and trade’ arrangement in the Southeast, whereby companies that exceed their air pollution caps can buy emissions credits from firms that keep pollutants below their caps.”
According to the State House legislative analysis at the time, the final bill’s effect included “[a]uthorizing the DEP to adopt rules for a Cap-and-Trade Regulatory Program to address GHG emissions from electric utilities, subject to legislative ratification and not prior to the 2010 Legislative Session.” In the absence of legislation, Crist was powerless to act, as his own DEP head admitted: “[a]n executive order would not have been able to implement a cap-and-trade system on its own. We needed the legislative authority.”
The Club for Growth “cited Crist’s support for cap-and-trade legislation when it…endorsed Rubio” in that race. Today, the Club’s generally favorable “white paper” on Rubio’s record on free-market and economic growth issues notes that Rubio “voted for legislation…that authorized - with legislative approval required for implementation - Florida's Department of Environmental Protection to pursue a system of cap-and-trade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Talking to people involved in the process in November, the National Journal concluded that Rubio was right:
Politico, talking in October not only to Rubio allies but also to “Susan Glickman, an environmental advocate who lobbied for the 2008 bill,” reached the same conclusion:
The delays were effective, and the winds changed. As Politico observed, “[m]uch of the language in the 2008 energy bill has since been stripped from statute, in bills sponsored by Republicans who have expressed skepticism about climate change.” The Florida House repealed the provisions in 2012, and Governor Rick Scott signed the repeal in 2013, also repealing the ethanol mandate, which he viewed as “duplicative” of the federal mandate anyway.
Rubio Pushes Crist To The Right, For A While
The 2010 Rubio-Crist Senate primary, which began in earnest in early 2009, put an end to Crist’s cap-and-trade plans, and the need to compete with Rubio was universally recognized as the reason why:
Politico likewise credited Rubio’s Senate run for scrapping Crist’s plan, and concluded that “Rubio’s positioning on environmental issues has inarguably changed as he evolved from local Republican legislator to high-profile U.S. senator and, now, presidential candidate. But the shift has in many ways been more about political framing than substance.”
Marco Rubio has never supported a cap-and-trade mandate, and his actions in 2008 prevented Florida from adopting one. His willingness to play the system by appearing to acquiesce to a DEP study was sound legislative strategy of a kind that we often see – much like how the GOP Congress beat back Hillarycare in 1994.
There’s a certain irony here, because what Rubio did is in some ways similar to how Ted Cruz used amendments to ‘bear hug’ the Gang of Eight immigration bill. But there’s also a key difference. Rubio’s “poison pill” didn’t stop the legislation from passing – it changed its provisions in ways that were acceptable to him, because it left Crist without power to actually do anything without going back to the Legislature a second time. By contrast, had Cruz’s amendments been adopted into the Gang of Eight bill, there remained a risk that the bill would pass, despite Cruz’s later protests that he was actually opposed to his own amendments.
In either case, one of the lessons is that any elected official with a record is going to have to make choices in legislative battles that diverge from absolute ideological purity, even when pursuing goals that conservatives want, and that sometimes entails the risk that proposals to water down or slow down a bill might end up looking later on like an undue compromise, or even in some cases might be just a step on the way to a broader defeat. But this one is a win that Rubio delivered for conservatives, which was justified by subsequent events. It failed as a line of attack when it was coming from Charlie Crist, and it should fare no better now.
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January 12, 2016
POLITICS: The Case For Marco Rubio, Part I: Experience
The two main goals of the primary process - whether in a presidential or other race - are to choose the best candidate to do the job, and the candidate with the best chance of winning the job. Less than three weeks from the Iowa Caucus and less than a month from the New Hampshire Primary, we have reached a time for choosing. That choice involves a careful and serious weighing of those two objectives. Unlike in past years, the GOP's conservative and moderate wings are both still divided, although the options are narrowing. With my first choice (Bobby Jindal) out of the race, I believe the choice for conservatives comes down to Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz - and the best candidate remaining, on balance, is Rubio. Today, I will begin a series of posts explaining why, beginning with the question of Rubio's experience. Subsequent chapters will focus on Rubio’s salesmanship, his conservatism, and his "electability."
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The Rubio Temptation: The Gravitas Party Meets The Age Of The Shiny Object
Republican presidential primary voters face a temptation - indeed, three very different temptations, each of them a departure from the nominees (successful and unsuccessful) of the past several decades. By now, we all know the basic mold of a Republican presidential nominee in the 1952-2012 period: older, white, male, usually Protestant, generally with significant executive experience and/or a distinguished war record, often on his second try for the White House, often better known for foreign than domestic policy, rarely from the party’s liberal or conservative wings but closer to the party’s center, usually someone with strong ties to the West, Southwest or Midwest, almost always someone who has been a known quantity in national politics for a decade or two. But of the three contenders who seem most likely to still be factors in the nomination race after the first month’s voting - Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump – all break the mold in significant ways, and all tempt GOP voters to abandon old habits and accept known and uncharted risks. In terms of age, experience, and ethnic and ideological background, Rubio and Cruz depart from that mold in some very similar ways.
Let's face it: Republicans have traditionally been the sort of stodgy bunch who think that people should not get to be the boss until they have paid their dues, accomplished things, waited their turn, and proven themselves ready to run the show. This is in most cases a healthy impulse, and I have written before at length about the virtues of experience. If it has a downside in picking leaders, it’s that we have too often chosen nominees who have been left to ossify in the Senate for too long, like Bob Dole and John McCain, each four to five decades removed from their time as vigorous young war heroes, and a quarter century removed from when they were actually considered to be among the more conservative members of the GOP caucus. Its downside in picking candidates, however, has been on graphic display in 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012, as younger, more glamorous Democratic nominees seduced young voters who place a large premium on the virtues of youth.
The Republican habit of picking the next in line after years of experience is actually a comparatively recent development specific to the Cold War. Until 1952, the GOP had never selected a Presidential nominee as old as 60 - in fact, the party had picked four straight nominees under age 50 (all of whom lost), and had previously won three elections (in 1868, 1880 and 1904) with candidates between the ages of 46 and 48:
As you can see, a lot of this shift derived from the timing of wars. Between 1868, when Republicans ran U.S. Grant (who was 43 when he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee) and 1896 and 1900, when the GOP ran William McKinley (who was 17 when he enlisted), Republican nominations were dominated by younger men who had fought in the Civil War. (In an all-male electorate, the Republican Party of that age was composed disproportionately of Union Army veterans). Then, between Ike in 1952 and George H.W. Bush in 1992, GOP nominees were dominated by older men who had fought, led or served in World War II. 10 of 16 Republican nominees between 1952 and 2012 have been age 60 or older.
While Republicans have not won the White House with a non-incumbent nominee under age 50 since James Garfield in 1880, the Democrats have gone in the opposite direction, and have not won the White House with a non-incumbent nominee over age 60 since James Buchanan in 1856 (this year their two choices will be 69 and 75 on Election Day). Their infatuation with the Next New Thing traces back to 36-year-old former one-term Congressman William Jennings Bryan, who won the Democratic nomination in 1896 and again in 1900 and 1908, and it blossomed into a full-blown crush with John F. Kennedy in 1960, Gary Hart in 1984 (who nearly tied Walter Mondale in the primary popular vote), the Bill Clinton/Al Gore ticket in 1992, John Edwards on the national ticket in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008.
The Republican strategy of choosing mature, tested leaders paid off for a long time, especially during the Cold War. Democrats won a popular-vote majority just twice between 1948 and 2004 (in 1964 after the JFK assassination and in 1976 after Watergate), compared to seven times for the GOP. Starting in 1994, Republicans also cracked through the old gerrymanders and hereditary party loyalties to take control of the House and a growing number of state governments, and it has frequently out-performed the results that were projected by polls and media doomsayers. The party by the George W. Bush years had thus grown accustomed to thinking of itself as the natural, if quiet, majority.
With this backdrop, 2008 and 2012 hit victory-minded Republicans especially hard. To see a majority won in 2008 by the most lightly-qualified presidential candidate of modern times, and then repeated in 2012 after the least impressive first term since Jimmy Carter and the most partisan first term since FDR, was profoundly alarming and depressing for many Republicans. The obvious inference that Obama was given a pass on his unprecedentedly weak resume on account of the color of his skin only makes the whole phenomenon more irksome. Republicans in the Obama era have made it something of a point of pride that we don’t do this sort of thing.
But at some point, you have to face up to the possibility that you are losing because you keep doing the same thing that used to work, instead of trying the thing that the other side is using to beat you. And that’s the Rubio temptation, the hope of re-creating the lighting in a bottle that Democrats found with Obama in 2008, Clinton in 1992, and JFK in 1960: youth, glamor, eloquence, cool. Republicans haven’t had a candidate with Rubio’s kind of charisma since Reagan (and before Reagan, hadn’t had one since Teddy Roosevelt, well before the age of radio, let alone TV or the Web), and Reagan was an old man who oozed maturity - his cool was not hipness but the retro cool of a guy old enough to have starred in black and white films.
Rubio, of course, is not the only major candidate in this race who breaks this mold. Ted Cruz is also an unusually young and inexperienced candidate - at 45, Cruz is just six months older than Rubio, and also a first-term Senator, elected two years after Rubio. And Trump, the third major candidate in the race, may be old (he'll turn 70 a week after the end of the primaries) but has never held public office at all (Wendell Willkie is the only prior Republican nominee who'd never been an elected official, a military officer or a Cabinet Secretary). After eight years of criticizing Obama for taking a job he was unprepared for, should Republicans be picking a candidate as green as Obama?
Mister Speaker Rubio
The experience question seems particularly to dog Rubio, in good part because of his youthful appearance (many voters seem unaware that he and Cruz are the same age). Erick Erickson's focus group of 35 undecideds in December delivered this message:
The most interesting part of the night came in a consideration of Rubio vs. Cruz. I asked all 35 to identify a word that they associated with both men. With Rubio, the most common word was “inexperienced.” With Cruz, the word was a variation of “accomplished.”
Or consider a recent YouGov national poll, which asked whether the candidates are ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Less than half (47%) thought Hillary Clinton ready for the job, and none of the other six candidates topped Jeb Bush's 34%, but of the five Republican candidates tested, Cruz scored highest among Republican primary voters at 64%, compared to Rubio at 52%. While the voters have tossed the most accomplished Governors from the field (Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker), the three Governors remaining on the main stage (Jeb, Christie and Kasich), who are competing with Rubio in New Hampshire, have been hitting him hard on their advantage in executive experience.
The irony here is that Rubio actually has a quantitative and qualitative edge in experience in politics over Cruz, as well as over President Obama in 2008. And if he is going to convince the voters that he is really ready to lead this country, Rubio needs to talk more about his tenure as Speaker of the Florida House. As I'll explain in more detail in a subsequent installment, that would serve an additional purpose, because his Florida tenure not only showcases Rubio as a leader who has actually accomplished things, but illustrates as well his willingness as a conservative to pick fights with the moderate leadership of his own party.
There are a few reasons why Rubio may be hesitant to focus on his years as a state legislator. First, being a U.S. Senator is obviously a more prestigious role - there are only 100 Senators and they grapple with national issues, whereas there are over a thousand state legislators and many of them represent tiny districts and deal mainly with local issues. Second, in a season when voters are angry at the political class, Rubio may not want to highlight the fact that he is by any definition a career politician, having been first elected to office in his twenties when he was still living with his parents. And third, seven years of Rubio's nine-year tenure in the Florida House overlapped with the Governorship of Jeb Bush, and Rubio may be hesitant to tout legislative accomplishments that are easily described as Jeb Bush's accomplishments.
But by the end of 2016, Rubio will have spent 16 years in elected office, four times the experience of Cruz in elective politics, twice that of Hillary Clinton, and more than any candidate left in the Republican field besides Kasich. (Rubio won two elections before Hillary first ran for office). Unlike candidates who have spent most of their careers inside the Beltway, Rubio started at the very lowest rung of elective politics as a member of the 5-person City Commission that governed the 6,000-person predominantly Cuban hamlet of West Miami, and worked his way up in the State House in Tallahassee.
In the absence of executive experience - and Obama's election called into question whether the voters value that as much as they used to, or as much as I'd like - the next-best kind of experience for the Presidency is political leadership experience. Republican presidents in the past who lacked the experience of leading a political coalition (e.g., as a Governor) generally fared poorly, the most extreme example being the rapid dissolution of the party under William Howard Taft, who came to the White House from experience in the legal system (as a judge and Solicitor General), in colonial administration (as Governor-General of the Philippines) and as Secretary of War. Barack Obama had no such experience - he'd served as a backbencher in the minority all but his last two years as State Senator (and spent most of those running for Senate), in his first two years as Senator (after which he was gone running for President), and had never been elected to any leadership position by his colleagues. And it showed: Obama has gotten a lot done by executive fiat, but his relationships with even his own party's Congressional leadership have been frosty, and he never did learn how to relate to people in the other party, resulting in his failure to get much besides Obamacare and Dodd-Frank through Congress and five years of governing by crisis. Cruz, who has spent most of his Senate tenure staging filibusters, shutdown fights and other episodes of brinksmanship, has proven his willingness and ability to say no, a very valuable trait for a conservative in DC. But can he actually get people in his own caucus to follow him? That's an open question.
For Rubio, it is not. Like Henry Clay or Dick Cheney in the House of Representatives, Rubio in the Florida House was identified immediately as leadership material, and appointed within a year to one of two majority whip jobs in the GOP caucus before he turned 30. Two years later, in 2002, he was named House Majority Leader, and for the last two years of his tenure (2006-08), he was Speaker of the House. While his ascent up the leadership ladder was accelerated by term limits that cleared out more senior members, that's still a remarkable record of winning the confidence and support of his own caucus. As a long and not especially sympathetic profile by Michael Mishak in the National Journal notes, Rubio won that confidence in large part by handling redistricting after the 2000 Census at the behest of the then-Speaker:
In his second year in the Legislature, he volunteered to help a committee tasked with the once-in-a-decade ritual of redrawing voting district boundaries. It’s a tedious task, one that involves managing the grievances of dozens of lawmakers whose political careers could end with the shifting of lines. Johnnie Byrd, a Republican leader on his way to becoming speaker, thought Rubio would be perfect for the job. “He has this real ability to communicate with people all over the state,” Byrd says. “Many Miami-based legislators don’t have that ability to communicate statewide, so I let him run with it.”
I highly recommend anyone interested in how Rubio would lead, or what he is made of, read two further writeups on his Florida House tenure - one from Perry Bacon at NBC News, the other by Jim Geraghty at National Review.
Rubio's approach throughout his years in Tallahassee was constructed around team-building and getting buy-in from his caucus. As Majority Leader, he focused on message (communicating is what Rubio does best), and as Speaker, Rubio's election to the job in 2005 (a year ahead of taking it) set the tone, which he would follow up by devolving more power to committee chairs:
He was the first Cuban-American to win the job, and the Voice of America beamed his speech to countries around the globe, including Cuba. Nearly 200 people flew from Rubio’s hometown to Tallahassee to attend the ceremony, which took place in the state House chambers. They wore laminated floor passes inscribed with a quote from Ronald Reagan: “There’s no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Rubio fought tooth and nail with then-Governor Charlie Crist on an array of issues (I'll return to some of those another day), and at the end of the day he cut some deals with Crist to move the ball in a conservative direction (e.g., on property tax relief) while leaving Crist stymied on efforts to move the chains the other way:
In his second session, Rubio played hardball with Crist. Climate change was one of Crist’s signature issues, and he wanted the Legislature to pass a bill that would lay the groundwork for a California-style cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions. Rubio and House conservatives opposed the idea, but public sentiment was with Crist. The House ultimately passed the bill, but Rubio’s team inserted a poison pill that prevented the plan from going into effect. “I fully credit him with the gutting of the bill,” Gelber says.
Rubio - like Cruz - also spent a few years in private law practice and did some teaching on the side, but neither ever seems to have viewed those roles as more than a stepping-stone to bigger things in politics.
The Cruz Road
Cruz has taken a different path to the Senate, one with its own virtues, but also with fewer opportunities to lead. Marked as a star coming out of Princeton and Harvard Law School, he started off on the traditional path of the elite of the DC bar - clerkships on the Fourth Circuit in Richmond and for Chief Justice Rehnquist, a job at a DC law firm (where he represented John Boehner during Boehner's successful lawsuit against Jim McDermott for intercepting a phone call) - before joining the George W. Bush campaign in 1999. Cruz started off at the Ashcroft Justice Department, working on the transition team and as Associate Deputy Attorney General working with the Office of Policy Development and the Office of Legal Counsel, but he left that job after six months to run the Office of Policy Planning in the Federal Trade Commission from 2001-03, working on early internet-regulation issues as well as a variety of ambitious initiatives to break down legal barriers to competition. Again, Jim Geraghty has a fair and detailed look at Cruz's FTC years, noting that he "earned a reputation as a passionate boss intent on tracking the success of the office’s efforts in granular detail," in some contrast to Rubio's more hands-off, delegation-driven management style. Like Rubio, Cruz had mixed success in his early years, and was more successful at stopping bad policies than promoting good ones. It is useful that he would come to the Presidency having seen the DC bureaucracy and its obstacle course from the inside, but at the same time, his policy-director jobs were never really high enough on the pyramid to really move any sort of ambitious agenda.
After seven years in DC, Cruz left to go home to Texas in 2003, where he would spend five years as the state's Solicitor General (he was appointed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the Governor), arguing cases in the state and federal Supreme Courts. Michael Kruse at Politico had a long profile of Cruz's SG years, including his eight Supreme Court arguments and his role in dozens of amicus briefs in cases like Heller v. DC, the landmark Second Amendment case. Cruz managed a staff of a dozen lawyers, not much more in the way of executive experience than being a legislative committee chair; what distinguished him was his role as a forceful and brilliant advocate and his ambitious expansion of the office's filing of amicus briefs. That testifies to Cruz's talent and principles (neither of which can fairly be disputed), but it also means that most of his pre-Senate career was in the rarified air of the appellate courts and federal policy-setting offices, while Rubio was in Tallahassee and Miami building political bridges and wrangling the support of legislators. Cruz is plainly the better choice of the two for a Supreme Court seat, and in the long run his "bad cop" role in the Senate is valuable simply for ensuring there will always be someone to demand a better deal. But Presidents don't just debate and demand; they lead. Rubio's experience prepares him better to do that.
Admittedly, Rubio - like Cruz, Hillary, and Obama - lacks a particularly accomplished record in the U.S. Senate. Partly that's due to not being there very long, but even moreso it's due to the fact that the Senate has been completely dysfunctional for most of the past decade, so really nobody has gotten much done there. This is a major reason why Rubio decided to leave to run for President.
It should be noted here that Rubio is entering his sixth year in the Senate, while Cruz is in his fourth - just as Obama was in his fourth. That's not an enormous difference, but the reality is that Rubio and Cruz have been mostly focused on running for President in 2015-16, just as Obama and Hillary were in 2007-08, and in turn that means that the real time that Rubio has been a full-time Senator is four years to Cruz's and Obama's two. That's particularly important in foreign affairs, where Rubio has had more time to develop his expertise and fluency on the issue (unlike, say, Obama, who didn't even show up to run his own subcommittee because he was only appointed to run it the year before the presidential election).
Rubio has focused heavily on foreign policy and national security in the Senate (much as Cruz has). In addition to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (both Rubio and Cruz are on the committee and chair subcommitees), Rubio has served on the Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence Committees (plus Small Business), and chaired the awkwardly-named Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security,Democracy, Human Rights, And Global Women’s Issues (which among other things has jurisdiction over U.S. Cuba policy), while Cruz has served on Armed Services, as well as Rules and Joint Economic and chairing a subcommittee on Judiciary. Both have traveled abroad and been actively engaged in debates on surveillance, Syria and Iran as well as (in Rubio's case, since it precedes Cruz's Senate tenure, Libya). The value of Rubio's Select Intelligence Committee service is that it has given him more regular inside access to classified intelligence, something Presidents have to consume regularly.
Rubio's major effort to build a bipartisan legislative coalition in DC was, of course, the Gang of Eight immigration bill in early 2013, a poorly-conceived last effort to find middle ground on immigration reform that fell apart for a variety of reasons, not least that Rubio delegated too much of the drafting of a massive bill to untrustworthy Democrats like Chuck Schumer. But his major policy win in the Senate is also worth recalling: the repeal of "risk corrdior" bailouts for insurers in Obamacare.
The risk corrdior bailout presents a real contrast in styles with Cruz, who has fought furiously (even to the point of pushing a government shutdown) for total war against Obamacare, to great (if debatable) political effect, but none in practice. Rubio, by contrast, took on a more manageable target and focused on messaging - he announced and introduced a bill in late 2013 attacking the bailout program, and his early efforts were critical:
As Forbes' Avik Roy, a longtime leading critic of Obamacare (and now a Rubio adviser) explains:
Staffers at the Senate Budget Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee had been sniffing around Obamacare’s risk corridors in the spring and summer of 2013. But Sen. Rubio was the first to publicly raise concerns about the issue. In a November 2013 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Rubio wrote, “While risk corridors can protect taxpayers when they are budget-neutral, ObamaCare’s risk corridors are designed in such an open-ended manner that the president’s action now exposes taxpayers to a bailout of the health-insurance industry if and when the law fails.” Simultaneously, Rubio announced that he was introducing a bill, “The Obamacare Bailout Prevention Act,” to repeal Obamacare’s risk corridors.
(There's a lot more links and sources in Roy's column). Typically, Rubio did not end up doing the dirty work of actually writing his bill into the 2014 "cromnibus" spending bill, and both Rubio and Cruz voted against the cromnibus (both on cloture and the bill itself). Nonetheless, he succeeded in making an issue of the risk corridor bailouts and persuading his colleagues to follow his lead. And that has had real effects in practice, as The Hill reported in November:
Sen. Marco Rubio may have dealt the biggest blow in the GOP’s five-year war against ObamaCare.
Given his lack of executive experience and relatively short tenure in DC, Rubio is not my ideal candidate, nor the traditional ideal of GOP presidential nominees. But he would come to the presidency with a decade and a half of experience in elected office, and years of practice as a political leader and spokesman, not just a lone voice on the periphery. Leadership matters, and we don't have to guess if Rubio can do it; we know, because he has.
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January 10, 2016
POLITICS: How A Donald Trump Nomination Would Make The GOP Consultant Class Very Rich
While Donald Trump won't be the GOP nominee, reclaiming the party from Trump still requires that we contemplate what a Trump nomination and even possibly a Trump presidency would look like. The picture isn't a pretty one. One of the underappreciated aspects is how any electoral success by Trump in the primaries and potentially the general election could spawn a bonanza for the GOP's much-despised consultant class, at the expense of the party's ability to field principled and/or successful statewide and national candidates.
The reason for this is fairly straightforward: Trump is the avatar of the clueless-rich-guy style of candidate that is the absolute favorite target of consultants. Oh, the consultants working for other candidates right now would be, momentarily, upset if Trump won the nomination; they're hired guns, but they do like to win. And consultants for Senate and House Republicans would be dismayed for a while by how a Trump nomination would cost the GOP Senate and House seats and make Chuck Schumer the Senate Majority Leader. But there's always another campaign season.
Back when Mitt Romney was running a similar effort to win the nomination, I warned that a Romney victory would spawn imitators:
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Political consultants love candidates who enter races with a lot of money and not much in the way of a political record or political convictions. Such candidates can be tailored to a script and platform developed by the consultants, they spend money on the consultants and their businesses, and when the candidate inevitably fails because he or she lacks the natural political instincts and convictions to speak well off script, the consultant can just shrug, say there’s only so much you can do with a bad candidate, and move on to the next one. Over and over, Republicans have lost races with such people, and if Romney manages to back his way into a victory this fall, we shall never be rid of them.
Patrick Ruffini, who knows this space well, has elaborated on this dynamic:
The dollar signs dancing around in consultants’ heads don’t make up for the fact that most self-funders tend to be subpar candidates for important structural reasons. First, they’re political dilettantes unfamiliar with the rigors of elected politics. They make rookie mistakes. They assume their records before their recent entries into politics aren’t relevant or won’t be scrutinized. They have less political acumen or knowledge than many of the people I follow on Twitter, or even most of them.
Even moreso than Romney, this describes Trump to a T - a candidate who has never lifted a finger to help conservatives or Republicans, who has donated copiously to leading Democrats like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and the Clintons throughout the Obama years, who has until very, very recently (at age 69) been pro-choice and a supporter of gun control and big government, who even in this campaign has proposed massive tax hikes and spoken warmly of single-payer healthcare - but who has abruptly decided that his stance on immigration (itself a brand-new change from his past positions) qualifies him to be a Republican presidential contender.
If Trump were to win the nomination, consultants all across this land would get the message that the next rich guy, and the next, could be persuaded to run for Senator and Governor and President, not only with no political experience but without the need for any record of standing up for anything conservatives or Republicans believe in or wish to accomplish. It's not easy to sell political amateurs with no record of conservatism that they can be the next Marco Rubio or the next Ted Cruz - that requires working your way up the ladder, proving your principles in action, showing real political talent, beating entrenched moderates, winning elections. But "the next Donald Trump"? All you need is money and "attitude." No need to have been any sort of friend to conservatives more than a day before you announce. We'll scripts some outrageous remarks, lay out some cash, get people to vouch for you...the consultants will have a field day.
This would be the real Trump legacy.
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January 4, 2016
POLITICS: End of 2015
My last two essays of 2015 were just before Christmas:
On to 2016.