CBS/NYT: Romney 46, Obama 43 Among Registered Voters

In a long election season, it’s never wise to get too high or too low over any one poll. Presidential elections are won at the state level, but statewide polling is fairly sporadic at this stage of the race, so we’re stuck reading national polls a lot. But the latest poll is bad news for President Obama.
We all know the major issues by now to look for with individual polls: some polls are adults, and are totally useless, because only registered voters can vote. Polls of likely voters, in turn, are vastly more accurate and less Democratic-biased than polls of registered voters, many of whom also don’t show up to vote. Most polls are also reported after weighting to achieve some guesstimate of the partisan breakdown of the general electorate among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Even polls that don’t feature egregious hackery are an inexact science, because they rest on the pollster’s current assumptions about the D/R/I split and the ‘screen’ they use to decide who is a likely voter. If the shape of the electorate is not as projected, the poll will be wrong.
Polling averages tend to be steadier than individual polls conducted over a few hundred respondents, and they show a tight race – the RealClearPolitics average shows Obama up 46.5%-45.1%, while the left-leaning TPMPolltracker average shows Romney up 46.1-44.2. Those averages smooth out possible outliers like last Friday’s jaw-dropping Rasmussen poll showing Romney up 50-43 among likely voters. And the averages themselves get more reliable as more of the pollsters start polling likely voters – right now, Rasmussen is virtually the only pollster reporting regularly conducted polls that is polling likely rather than registered voters. Looking at RCP, Rasmussen’s mid-April poll is the last likely voter poll showing President Obama in the lead.
All that said, the Obama campaign cannot be happy with the results of the latest CBS/New York Times poll – a poll of registered voters done by two organizations notoriously unfriendly to Republicans* – showing Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama 46-43. Some breakdowns below the fold.

Continue reading CBS/NYT: Romney 46, Obama 43 Among Registered Voters

Operation Counterweight Comes To Indiana

Indiana Republicans go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether to re-nominate 80-year-old 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar or to pick instead State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, running as the conservative alternative. In the usual course of events, my advice for activists and pundits alike in these races is to not forget that every race is unique, based on the individual candidates, the state or district, and the issue environment of the day. Not every state is Utah or Rhode Island; not every conservative is Marco Rubio or Christine O’Donnell; not every moderate is Chris Christie or Jim Jeffords. Often (but not always), the better candidate wins, whether or not that candidate is the most conservative, the most Establishment-backed, or considered the most ‘electable’ by pundits and political pros.
That being said, the conditions of 2012 – specifically, the now-certain nomination of Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president – call for conservatives to take a harder line than ever in supporting Operation Counterweight (William Jacobson’s term), in particular to seek in Senate races what David Freddoso has called “an un-bossable Senate.” Party insiders expect conservatives, Tea Party-style outsiders and single-issue social conservatives to show up to vote anyway for a party whose leader is a man many of us distrust on nearly every issue. Politics, they remind us, is compromise. And that’s precisely my point: it is exactly because one side of the party got Romney that the other can less afford to swallow Romney-like figures in the Senate. That doesn’t mean backing the most conservative candidate in every single race without considering any other factor – but it does mean giving more than usual preference to the more conservative and/or less establishment option in Senate races. It’s not about demanding absolute party purity – it’s about recognizing that Romney has sopped up most of our tolerance for impurity already. If you want a Senate that will hold Romney’s feet to the fire, you have to start by replacing men like Dick Lugar and, in Utah, 78-year old Orrin Hatch.

Continue reading Operation Counterweight Comes To Indiana

The Momentum Finally Shifts, Slightly, To Romney

I’ve previously looked in detail at the breakdown of GOP primary votes here, here and here; for purposes of this series, I’ve broken out the votes in three groups – the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul) – for reasons explained in the first post. In my second post, I detailed the signs to look for to see whether and when Romney would start putting the race away with the voters rather than simply plodding through the accumulation of delegates.
After the March 24 vote in Louisiana and Tuesday’s votes in Wisconsin, Maryland and DC, we can see the signs of that momentum shift, but only slightly, with stubborn resistance to Romney still continuing. Not-unrelatedly, we can see the collapse of Newt Gingrich’s campaign to levels even lower than he was getting in February, the last time he went a month without being on the ballot in any Southern state (recall that Newt was not on the Missouri ballot). Let’s start with the month-by-month running tally:

Romney 1,071,678 40.5% 741,495 40.6% 2,181,105 37.6% 466,928 45.4%
Santorum 378,995 14.3% 692,296 37.9% 1,748,498 30.1% 358,668 34.9%
Gingrich 817,770 30.9% 160,360 8.8% 1,219,154 21.0% 72,509 7.0%
Paul 278,729 10.5% 215,023 11.8% 578,435 10.0% 111,129 10.8%
Huntsman 50,049 1.9% 2,817 0.2% 15,387 0.3% 6,851 0.7%
Perry 23,592 0.9% 6,293 0.3% 23,581 0.4% 1,041 0.1%
Bachmann 10,856 0.4% 3,480 0.2% 8,688 0.1% 6,054 0.6%
Cain 10,046 0.4% 3,555 0.2% 39 0.0% 0.0%
Rest 4,742 0.2% 1,528 0.1% 29,142 0.5% 5,416 0.5%
Conservatives 1,241,259 46.9% 865,984 47.4% 2,999,960 51.7% 438,272 42.6%
Moderates 1,121,727 42.4% 744,312 40.7% 2,196,492 37.8% 473,779 46.1%
Libertarians 278,729 10.5% 215,023 11.8% 578,435 10.0% 111,129 10.8%
TOTAL 2,646,457 1,826,847 5,804,029 1,028,596

Continue reading The Momentum Finally Shifts, Slightly, To Romney

Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal Wins Again

The GOP’s national leadership – including the presidential candidates stumping today in Louisiana – may be uninspiring, but the GOP governors continue to roll. Bobby Jindal last night just scored another victory with the passage through the Louisiana House of a landmark school choice bill (the bill still awaits action from the LA Senate), before proceeding to debate a second bill that tightens teacher tenure standards:

In a victory for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday night that would expand state aid for some students to switch from struggling public schools to private and parochial classrooms.
The vote was 61-42 after nearly 12 hours of debate.

Jindal still faces a tough fight – some of the legislators who voted for the bill also voted for an amendment limiting the use of local (as opposed to state) tax dollars for vouchers that could cross local district lines, and opponents are vowing a constitutional challenge. But then, reform is never easy.
For more on why Jindal is one of the nation’s very best governors, this long wide-ranging interview discusses not just his education reform proposals but also his pension reform fight. Excerpt:

[B]efore we discuss any change, we have to understand that the status quo is not sustainable: $18.5 billion [Unfunded Accrued Liability]. We’re spending already over $2 billion dollars a year [for retirement programs]. If we do nothing, the UAL will go up by $3 billion.
Let’s look at the alternative. If we do nothing, there really are just three alternatives. One is that we break our promise to employees, which we’re not willing to do. Second is that we devastate critical services like education and health care. We’re not willing to do that. Third is that we simply raise taxes on our people. We’re not willing to do that as well. Some would say, “Well, why tackle these hard reforms? Constitutionally, you don’t have to pay off the UAL until 2029.” I think that’s irresponsible.


When you look historically at the 1980s, taxpayers were paying for 60% of the retirement program’s cost. Workers were paying 40%. That was considered a fair balance. Today taxpayers are paying 75% and the employees are only paying 25% of the retirement costs. Even with all the reforms that we’ve proposed, we’re not going back to 60/40, even with the savings for taxpayers. You’re still looking at a … two-thirds, one-third split. So taxpayers are still paying for two-thirds of the retirement program. I think a better question, another way to ask that question, would be, “Why didn’t you go back to 60/40, why not cut the taxpayers contributions to 60%?”…
I think that if you go and ask the average taxpayer, “Hey, look, you guys used to pay 60% of the retirement cost; today you’re paying 75%. Don’t you think you should get a little bit more of your money back?” I think, absolutely. I think their money should go back to them. Whether it’s in tax cuts, whether it’s investments in education, whether it’s investments in health care. Because what has happened over the last several years is, those investments have been crowded out as the [state retirement contribution] share has gone up. What has happened is, instead of being able to pay for classrooms and instead of being able to pay for health care, instead of being able to pay for tax cuts, taxpayers have been forced to pay for retirement costs.

Finally, in case you missed it, a Jindal tour de force on energy:

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Energy from Republican Governors Association on Vimeo.

Red State, Blue State, Mitt State, Newt State

How has the popular vote differed in the 2012 GOP primary if you break out the states by their track record in recent presidential elections? It turns out that there are some distinct patterns, patterns that provide both good and bad news for a GOP contemplating a general election behind Mitt Romney.
Let’s start with the 13 “Red” states (i.e., the states won by the GOP in the last 3 presidential elections) to vote so far: SC, MO, AZ, WY, AK, GA, ID, ND, OK, TN, KS, AL & MS. Here’s how the vote breaks down, out of 4,052,212 votes cast:
Newt 30.4% (2 wins)
Romney 30.2% (4 wins)
Santorum 29.1% (7 wins)
Paul 8.5%
If we combine the votes for the 5 conservative and two moderate candidates as explained here*, we get the following:
Conservative bloc: 60.3%
Moderate bloc: 30.4%
Unsurprisingly, Romney has struggled in solidly Republican states, where the conservative vote has outpolled him 2-to-1, but the division in that vote means that he, Newt and Santorum have run almost in a 3-way heat, with Newt actually narrrowly in the lead (Santorum will probably close the gap on Saturday). The good news is, unless the Romney campaign really collapses, he’s likely to win most of these states against Obama anyway. The bad news is, there are a lot of down-ticket GOP officeholders who could suffer if Romney isn’t able to energize voters in these states.
Then we have the 8 Blue states (states won by the Democrats the past 3 elections) to vote so far: MN, ME, MI, WA, MA, VT, HI, & IL, in which 2,460,097 votes have been cast. Unsurprisingly, these states present a diametrically opposite picture:
Romney 47.3% (7 wins)
Santorum 32.4% (1 win)
Paul 11.5%
Newt 7.0%
Moderate bloc: 47.5%
Conservative bloc: 39.9%
Romney’s run much closer to a majority with voters in blue territory, who are accustomed to making a lot of compromises in search of electable candidates; Ron Paul has also run a lot stronger in these states, while Newt has been a complete non-factor with GOP electorates that tend to be mistrustful of the role of Southerners in the party’s leadership. That doesn’t mean there’s no market for conservatives, as the Pennsylvanian Santorum has actually done better in blue states than red ones.
Then there’s the 7 Purple or Swing states, each won by each party at least once in the last 3 elections. Excluding Virginia, which skews the sample because the conservatives were not even on the ballot, that leaves IA, NH, FL, NV, CO, & OH, in which 3,345,072 votes have been cast:

Continue reading Red State, Blue State, Mitt State, Newt State

Trayvon Martin And Perspective

On February 26 in a suburb of Orlando, a Hispanic man, George Zimmerman, shot to death an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch, carrying a pistol. “Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket.” To date, Zimmerman has not been arrested, but after a media outcry, local and federal grand jury investigations have been opened. Zimmerman contends that he shot Martin in self-defense; there are no eyewitnesses and the details are murky, but at least one witness overheard a confrontation. Presumably, further investigation will be needed before prosecutors can build a case that does not leave the claim of self-defense surrounded by a cloud of reasonable doubt, ending with a Casey Anthony type verdict. There’s been some discussion about Florida’s particularly strong self-defense law, but in any state in the Union, if a jury believes there is a real possibility that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, he’d be acquitted, and if the jury doesn’t, he’d be convicted.
The Martin case is a legitimate local news story, of the type that crops up now and then – in major cities like New York, where I live, we have multiple crime stories a year that involve sensational or particularly tragic facts and – at least at the outset – a significant possibility that injustice will be done either to the victim, the defendant, or both. Such cases test public confidence in the competence and fairness of local law enforcement, and sometimes find both to be wanting.
But the media feeding frenzy over this particular story – one out of the thousands of homicides in this country – in apparent response to a left-wing campaign to keep it in the national news, reflects at best a loss of perspective and at worst a cynical effort to inflame racial division in an election year.

Continue reading Trayvon Martin And Perspective

Mitt Romney: Winning, But Not Getting More Popular (The Popular Vote, March 10-13)

After last night’s contests, it’s time to update my running tallies of the popular vote in the GOP presidential primary and see what further conclusions can be drawn. I continue to break out the votes in three groups – the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul) – for reasons explained in my last post. Also, the numbers through Super Tuesday have changed slightly from the last post, as more complete tallies in some states have become available. This time I’m including the Wyoming results in the totals, but not the tiny vote totals from the territories (the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands; no popular vote totals are available from Guam or American Samoa).
I. Popular Vote Totals To Date
Let’s look at how the week of contests since Super Tuesday stacks up against the popular vote count up to then:

Candidate Votes Thru 3/6 % Votes 3/10-3/13 % TOTAL %
Romney 3,238,971 39.2% 275,023 29.3% 3,513,994 38.2%
Santorum 2,082,469 25.2% 323,184 34.5% 2,405,653 26.1%
Gingrich 1,820,340 22.0% 273,927 29.2% 2,094,267 22.8%
Paul 926,245 11.2% 48,610 5.2% 974,855 10.6%
Huntsman 66,544 0.8% 1,467 0.2% 68,011 0.7%
Perry 43,834 0.5% 3,171 0.3% 47,005 0.5%
Bachmann 19,786 0.2% 2,616 0.3% 22,402 0.2%
Cain 13,601 0.2% 39 0.0% 13,640 0.1%
Conservatives 3,980,030 48.2% 602,937 64.3% 4,582,967 49.8%
Moderates 3,305,515 40.0% 276,490 29.5% 3,582,005 38.9%
Libertarians 926,245 11.2% 48,610 5.2% 974,855 10.6%
TOTAL 8,263,696 937,477 9,201,173

Let’s take a different angle and break that out by month:

Romney 1,071,678 40.5% 741,495 39.8% 1,700,821 36.3%
Santorum 378,995 14.3% 692,296 37.1% 1,334,362 28.4%
Gingrich 817,770 30.9% 160,360 8.6% 1,116,137 23.8%
Paul 278,729 10.5% 215,023 11.5% 481,103 10.3%
Huntsman 50,049 1.9% 2,817 0.2% 15,145 0.3%
Perry 23,592 0.9% 6,293 0.3% 17,120 0.4%
Bachmann 10,856 0.4% 3,480 0.2% 8,066 0.2%
Cain 10,046 0.4% 3,555 0.2% 39 0.0%
Conservatives 1,241,259 47.0% 865,984 47.4% 2,475,724 53.0%
Moderates 1,121,727 42.5% 744,312 40.8% 1,715,966 36.7%
Libertarians 278,729 10.6% 215,023 11.8% 481,103 10.3%
TOTAL 2,641,715 1,825,319 4,672,793

Continue reading Mitt Romney: Winning, But Not Getting More Popular (The Popular Vote, March 10-13)

Can Republicans Win In 2012 Without Leadership?

Fred Barnes, who is nothing if not plugged in to the thinking of leading Beltway Republicans, looks at how the Congressional GOP plans to work with the presidential nominee:

Republicans would like to revive party unity and repeat the Reagan-Kemp success story. House speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell are planning to confer with the Republican nominee, once one emerges. Their aim: agreement on a joint agenda.
McConnell has specific ideas about what the presidential candidate and Republicans in both houses of Congress should promote. “Obamacare should be the number one issue in the campaign,” he says. “I think it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Next are the deficit and national debt. These, in turn, would make entitlement and tax reform important issues against Obama. “We’re not interested in small ball,” McConnell says.
And there’s another Republican initiative on Capitol Hill aimed at thwarting President Obama and Democrats. Republicans plan to keep up a steady stream of bills and proposals, mostly coming from the House, to foil the charge that Obama’s policies have been undercut by a “do-nothing Congress” – that is, a Republican Congress.

Even considering the fact that McConnell has to play coy due to the fact that there’s as yet no nominee, you will notice what is missing in this picture: the idea that the nominee himself, now most likely Mitt Romney, will have any ideas of his own to which Congressional Republicans will have to accommodate themselves. This is part of a broader pattern: outside of the party’s most moderate precincts – where Romney is seen as a bulwark against conservatives – Republicans who have resigned themselves to Romney have done so, more or less, on the theory that he can be brought around to do things the party’s various constituencies want him to do. This is the opposite of the thing we normally look for in a president: leadership in setting the agenda of the party and the country. As such, it represents an experiment, or at least a throwback to the late-19th century model of how the presidency operates. Can the GOP beat Barack Obama and run the country the next four years without presidential leadership?

Continue reading Can Republicans Win In 2012 Without Leadership?

Super Tuesday By The Numbers

The voting is over, and so for the most part is the counting. The delegate math, I leave to others; let’s take a look at how the popular vote has shaped up over the course of this primary season and what conclusions we can draw. First, the overall popular vote before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and to date.* In addition to listing the candidates’ individual vote totals, I’ve classified them in three groups: the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul). While there will undoubtedly be some grousing over the use of those labels, I think it’s uncontroversial to note that Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain all built their campaigns around appealing first to the conservative wing of the party and reaching out from there, while Romney and Huntsman took the opposite approach (and Paul, of course, is in his own category), so this turns out to be a reasonably useful descriptor of how the electorate has broken out between the voters responding to these different appeals. If anything, this overstates the moderate voting bloc, as Romney’s “electability” argument, among other things (including religious loyalties among Mormon voters), has tended in exit polls to draw him some chunk of conservative support.
I. Popular Vote Totals To Date

Pre-3/6Votes % SuperTuesday % TOTAL %
Romney 1,831,177 40.4% 1,404,594 38.1% 3,235,771 39.3%
Santorum 1,082,820 23.9% 996,305 27.0% 2,079,125 25.3%
Gingrich 982,341 21.7% 836,726 22.7% 1,819,067 22.1%
Paul 505,760 11.2% 419,499 11.4% 925,259 11.2%
Huntsman 52,872 1.2% 13,639 0.4% 66,511 0.8%
Perry 29,889 0.7% 13,929 0.4% 43,818 0.5%
Bachmann 14,339 0.3% 5,475 0.1% 19,814 0.2%
Cain 13,603 0.3% 0 0.0% 13,603 0.2%
Conservatives 2,122,992 46.8% 1,852,435 50.2% 3,975,427 48.3%
Moderates 1,884,049 41.5% 1,418,233 38.4% 3,302,282 40.1%
Libertarians 505,760 11.2% 419,499 11.4% 925,259 11.2%
TOTAL 4,535,498 3,690,167 8,225,665

There are three obvious conclusions here. One, Romney is steadily outpolling any one of his individual rivals, cementing his frontrunner status. Two, his frontrunner status derives entirely from the division among his opponents: the conservatives have consistently outpolled the moderates. And three, despite winning his home state of Massachusetts by a 60-point, 220,000 vote margin on Super Tuesday and despite none of the conservatives being on the ballot in Virginia, Romney’s not getting any stronger – even with Perry and Bachmann out of the race and Cain not drawing a single recorded vote, the conservatives drew a majority of the votes on Tuesday. Thus, as Romney pulls away in the delegate race and thus advances closer to being the nominee, he does so over the sustained objections of a near-majority faction of the party. More optimistically, the strength of the conservative vote – even in a year when that vote is fractured and underfunded and the remaining conservative candidates are decidedly subpar – bodes well for conservative candidates who can unify that vote in the future.
Let’s dig deeper below the fold:

Continue reading Super Tuesday By The Numbers

Mitt Romney, The Unconvincing Convert

It can be difficult to summarize in one place all of Mitt Romney’s problems as a candidate and as a potential President. I have tried; I wrote, back in 2007, a series so lengthy on Romney’s flaws (some 15,000 words, Part I, II, III, IV & V) that I can’t possibly hope to rewrite the whole thing now, and explained why I preferred McCain to Romney. More recently I focused on the dangers of backing Romney to the integrity of his supporters, the conservative movement’s need to maintain its independence from Romney, and the problems with Romney’s technocratic approach. Let me try to zero in on four of his problems here: the unconvincing nature of his political conversion, the hazards of becoming enamored with candidates whose primary rationale for running is their money, the unprecedented difficulty of winning with a moderate Republican who lacks significant national security credentials as a war hero or other prominent foreign policy figure, and Romney’s vulnerability arising from his dependence on his biography.

Continue reading Mitt Romney, The Unconvincing Convert

What’s At Stake in Michigan

Here’s why tomorrow’s Michigan primary is so important: it’s about establishment confidence in Mitt Romney and the last outside chance of getting another entrant in the race.
There are, as I’ve noted previously, a number of different types of “establishment” vs “grassroots” divides in the GOP, but you don’t have to have any particular definition of ‘establishment’ to recognize that Romney’s candidacy leans heavily on the support he draws from traditional ‘establishment’ or ‘insider’ sources: money from big-dollar fundraisers, endorsements from big-name elected officials, and covering fire from right-leaning journalists at major mainstream publications and conservative journals. Romney has depended, time and again, on his ability to get out of trouble by having the resources to go more negative than whatever opponent he’s targeting: more money to dump on negative ads and a bigger chorus of voices amplifying those attacks.
Aside from Mormon support – which is somewhat sui generis to Romney – some of Romney’s structural support comes from people who know him personally or identify with him as a fellow wealthy businessman; some comes from people who fear running a bold-colors conservative; and some comes from those who, whether or not they’d support a conservative in theory, fear Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich as electoral liabilities, Santorum for his overly outspoken social conservatism, Newt for his long train of baggage. (It’s obviously Santorum who represents the more serious threat to Romney at present.) It’s the latter two groups whose loyalty Romney must retain.
But there have been significant signs that if Romney loses his home state, where he grew up and where his father was Governor, that support may at last start to crack. Elected officials not in the Santorum or Newt camps were increasingly vocal criticizing Romney after his tripleheader loss to Santorum earlier this month. There are reports that Romney’s fundraising may be ready to tap out, which would require him to increasingly self-finance. His polling among independents is poor, calling into question the whole “electability” rationale of his campaign. The clincher came ten days ago when ABC quoted an unnamed Republican Senator saying that if Romney loses Michigan, a new candidate is needed to avoid running Santorum:

“If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate,” said the senator, who has not endorsed anyone and requested anonymity.
The senator believes Romney will ultimately win in Michigan but says he will publicly call for the party to find a new candidate if he does not.
“We’d get killed,” the senator said if Romney manages to win the nomination after he failed to win the state in which he grew up.
“He’d be too damaged,” he said. “If he can’t even win in Michigan, where his family is from, where he grew up.”

(There was similar talk when Romney seemed in danger of losing Florida to Newt Gingrich) Talk of this nature has quieted a bit as Romney’s polling improved in Michigan, but it could revive in a big way if he loses there, while continuing to trail badly in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Such a response is, in my view, the last remaining plausible path to nominating someone other than the 4 candidates presently in the race.

Continue reading What’s At Stake in Michigan

Presidents By Birth Month

For your Presidents’ Week (or whatever they call it these days) enjoyment, the birth month of all the presidents, plus presidential candidates:
This is…not evenly distributed in terms of quality.
January: Nixon, FDR. McKinley, Fillmore
February: Reagan, Lincoln, W.H. Harrison, Washington
One of these things is not like the others. Then again, at least Harrison did no damage in office.
March: Cleveland, Tyler, Jackson, Madison
(Mitt Romney was born in March)
April: Grant, Buchanan, Monroe, Jefferson
May: JFK, Truman
(Rick Santorum was born in May)
June: George H.W. Bush
(Newt Gingrich was born in June)
July: George W. Bush, Ford, Coolidge, J.Q. Adams
August: Obama, Clinton, LBJ, Hoover, B. Harrison
Poor Benjamin Harrison, in this company.
September: Taft
There wasn’t room for another one.
October: Carter, Ike, TR, Arthur, Hayes, Adams
Character of this list changes a lot if you ignore History’s Greatest Monster.
November: Harding, Garfield, Pierce, Taylor, Polk
Pierce is the only one who was alive five years after being elected. Polk rather stands out in this crowd.
December: Wilson, A.Johnson, Van Buren

The Right Answer on Birth Control

At the CNN GOP debate last night in Arizona, the candidates were asked this question:

Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?

The question was roundly booed by the audience. Republicans hated this line of questioning when it was aired in a debate a few weeks back by former Democratic White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos, at a time when it seemed to have nothing at all to do with the issues in the campaign. Since then, President Obama has forced the issue into the public debate with the HHS mandate that all employers, even those with religious objections, include contraceptive coverage in employer-provided health care plans, so the subject can’t be avoided entirely. And in fact, for various good reasons, Republicans will probably be talking a good deal about the assault on religious liberty in general and the Catholic Church in particular in the months to come. But there’s a simpler way of framing the right answer to this in a debate.
Newt Gingrich came pretty close to the right answer to this question, before the other candidates rambled off in various wrong directions, although Rick Santorum came back to something like the right note right at the end of his. First, here was Newt’s answer, which may prove the final installment of the “Newt crushes the debate moderators” series we’ve been seeing for the past seven months:

Continue reading The Right Answer on Birth Control

RELIGION: David Waldman of Daily Kos: Know-Nothing Bigot

It’s time for Democratic politicians like Elizabeth Warren who are courting Catholic voters, or who – like Senator Bob Casey – profess the Catholic faith themselves, to distance themselves from Daily Kos over the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing bigotry of Contributing Editor David Waldman.
Waldman, @KagroX on Twitter, is one of the leading figures at Daily Kos, the largest left-wing blog; a former Hotline staffer, he’s a contributing editor and front-page writer, runs the affiliated site Congress Matters, and his tweets are frequently quoted and retweeted by Markos Moulitsas. In an angry, profanity-laden tirade last night on Twitter over a flap between a local Virginia church and the Girl Scouts, Waldman unloaded his hatred of the Church, grasping for every anti-Catholic trope he could reach (examples: “Catholic Church: the ones we don’t rape, we’ll alienate by calling them communist b****es” or “Catholics are the next Shakers. No one under 35 will ever stay in this church”) and complaining that there are too many Catholics on the Supreme Court (“Oh that’s right. Six Catholics. Fantastic.”) Waldman’s vicious rant would have been right at home with the anti-popery screeds of the Klan in its heyday, the Know-Nothings of the 1840s or the “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” trope that cost James G. Blaine the 1884 presidential election.
Waldman’s full outburst, in reverse chronological order, is below the fold; warning, it includes language I do not ordinarily use on this website):

Continue reading RELIGION: David Waldman of Daily Kos: Know-Nothing Bigot

Links 2/9/12

I should do roundups like this more often of the stuff I do on Twitter.
Jose Reyes’ hair sells for $10,200 in charity auction. The hair will play SS for the Mets.
-I largely agree with Victoria and with John McCain about Syria; the US has much stronger case for taking sides in Syria than it did in Libya.
Looking back at the sad death of Ron Luciano.
-The one thing that’s really booming in this economy – despite the best efforts of liberal activists and the Obama Administration to the contrary – is domestic oil and gas production. Frack, baby, frack!
-Science fail: an Oklahoma state Senator is apparently unaware that baby-making requires both a sperm & an egg.
Yeah, sure, and being against Nazis is just what Elie Wiesel does to feel young & virile again. It is true that older people overestimate recurrence of the troubles of their youth. Ascribing this to “testosterone” is juvenile.
-Yet another “better Romney argument than Romney is making” column, this one with good ideas from Jim Pethokoukis. Call it a Prospectus for America.
Dan Abrams debunks some of the myths around Citizens United.
Then: “core symbol of right-wing radicalism” Now: Democratic mainstream. We always knew a lot of the anti-war stuff was just partisanship. Of course, unlike Greenwald, I regard this as a good thing for the country.
Elvis Andrus focused on getting better. This seems like a unique goal to have.
It’s not even remotely inconsistent for Mitt Romney to profit from something while saying it should not be compulsory.
John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign is still spending money, even though it’s in debt to taxpayers.
The media’s blind spot on religious liberty.
Vin Scully on not retiring.
-I’d forgotten that, for idiosyncratic reasons, Reagan actually won the popular vote in the GOP primaries in 1968.
The Wilpons try to get the Supreme Court interested in reversing a decision in the Madoff litigation.

What A Difference Nine Days Makes

Here’s what Rick Santorum’s campaign looked like on January 30, the night of the Florida primary:
Prompting headlines like “This Is What It Looks Like When A Campaign Dies.” Here’s what it looked like on February 8, after his wins in the Missouri primary and the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses:
Things change in a hurry, this campaign season.


While I write a lot about baseball and politics, I generally try to avoid mixing the two. But once this analogy occurred to me, having lived through both of their tenures as a Mets fan and Republican in the 1990s, it was irresistible:
Bobby Valentine is the Newt Gingrich of baseball managers.
Think about it. Both are essentially relics of the 1990s who have spent a good deal of the past decade as TV pundits, and have had to overcome the initial instinct to laugh at the sudden re-emergence of a once-controversial figure so long out of power. Both are restlessly intelligent, talkative to a fault, energetic to the point of being a whirlwind of activity, devious (in the “what will he think of next?” sense of being constantly alert for ways to exploit opportunities and gaps in the rules), prone to conflict with peers and occasional mutinies among their subordinates, and often overly impressed with their own intelligence. Both have that odd Kermit the Frog lump-in-the-throat tone to their voices, yet are nonetheless compelling speakers. Both had their first go-round ended by George W. Bush, more directly in the case of Bobby V (who Bush fired, rather than just stepping into a power vacuum he left behind). Both have been mostly successful throughout their careers, yet are back pursuing the largest prize that has evaded them. Both need to overcome the creeping suspicion that they’re better suited to being scrappy insurgents than frontrunners.
The parallels are not perfect, of course. Valentine lacks Newt’s command of history and his ugly marital record; Newt lacks Valentine’s family connections (as Ralph Branca’s son in law) or his status as a former phenom felled by misfortune (in 1970, Valentine hit .340/.389/.522 as a 20 year old shortstop in the Pacific Coast League, winning his second straight league MVP award – 39 doubles, 16 triples, 14 homers, 29 steals – but was just getting his sea legs as a 23 year old in the majors when he suffered a gruesome leg injury). But once you think about it, the similarities are obvious.
Time will tell which of them ends up with more to show for their return to the arena.

A Further Response To Avik Roy on Establishments

My original essay on the current divide between the GOP “Establishment,” on the one hand, and the Tea Party and other anti-Establishment factions, on the other, sought to explain the leading issue (the growth of spending and the size of government relative to the private sector), the proximate cause (the loss of trust that the GOP Establishment would make a serious effort to stem this tide) and the underlying history that led to the wide fissure currently visible in the party and the movement on the Right. As I noted in my followup essay, the loss of trust in the Establishment over spending is by no means the only such divide, but it’s the one that has brought longstanding tensions out in the open and has overcome the natural tendencies of Republicans and conservatives to defer to authority, hierarchy and gradualism. The break is not a sudden onset of irrationality, as some would have us believe, but an entirely rational response to a long and depressing history of failure to check the growth of federal spending, the federal entitlement state, and federal regulation, leading us to the point where our private sector can no longer carry the burden of a perpetually growing public sector.
RoyThis observation has led me into an argument with Avik Roy, a senior healthcare fellow at the Manhattan Institute, professional healthcare analyst and healthcare writer at Forbes and National Review, who insists that conservative voters who have lost faith after some six decades of unkept promises by Republican candidates to stem the tide of growth in government spending and regulation should continue to trust that this time, the promises of such politicians will be different because they have white papers and proposals that would lead to “entitlement reform” (note that Roy nowhere promises that any such reforms would actually reduce the ratio of public expenditure to private production). Roy relies on a false comparison: the fact that not all anti-Establishment candidates for office have offered substantive solutions to the growth of entitlement reform, whereas an ideal Establishment candidate would do so.
This is a straw man argument, and one that continues to ignore history, Congressional dynamics, the basics of negotiation and the actual facts of the current Presidential race. In fact, Roy’s analysis is impractical and detached from reality. The practical reality is that, without pressure and leadership from the anti-Establishment wing of the party, nothing will get done. And the long and dolorous history of prior efforts to restrain spending, entitlement spending and regulation amply justifies the mistrust of Establishment figures who offer purely theoretical solutions and refuse to take political risks to make them a reality.

Continue reading A Further Response To Avik Roy on Establishments

Establishments and Our Money: A Response To Avik Roy

Following my essay on the nature of the Establishment vs Tea Party or Outsider divide on the Right as driven primarily by a divide over whether and how we can roll back the seemingly endless growth of spending and the size of government, a number of people offered criticisms. Some noted that there are longstanding divides between the DC-based professional class (officeholders, staffers, pundits and journalists who have a direct stake in particular people having political power) and those outside. Which is true and a contributing factor (as any student of public choice theory could tell you), but not new, and in any event self-defeating definition: if the people in power are definitionally opposed to those without, then new elections are purposeless exercises. History tells us otherwise: the professional class may restrain and co-opt, but there are always those officeholders (new and experienced) who are willing to stick their necks out for genuine changes in the long-term trajectory of public policy. Others pointed to the cultural divide such as the one that Angelo Codevilla identified in his 2010 essay distinguishing between a Ruling Class and a Country Party. Codevilla’s analysis is certainly a useful part of the debate, and is another longstanding fault line that laid the groundwork for the current schism. But it doesn’t really reflect why now, at this time, conservatives are willing to lock horns with the organs of Republican and conservative leadership that, in the Bush years, commanded a good deal of loyalty from the rank and file – willing enough to line up cheering throngs of responsible citizens behind the most unlikely of 21st century populist champions, Newt Gingrich.
The most sustained critique comes from sometime National Review contributor Avik Roy, writing in Forbes. Roy calls Redstate a “bastion of populist conservatism,” which is true even if I’m not exactly anybody’s idea of a populist. He says that Ben Domenech is “one of the best conservative writers on health care issues,” which is certainly true, and faults the rest of us at RedState for not developing “serious proposals for entitlement reform,” in contrast to NR’s columnists – which should be unsurprising to Roy if he thinks about the fact that most of us have day jobs, to say nothing of the fact that RedState’s principal role is activism rather than think-tankery.
Roy seems most upset at my references to National Review, which is a shame, because as I said I have nothing against NR, and I agree with Roy that NR as a whole still provides an awful lot of good punditry, analysis and advocacy (and I remain a big fan of many of its long-time writers); I was just trying to explain precisely why so many people on the Right were agitated at it. In any event, Roy misses some crucially important points that undermine his entire argument.

Continue reading Establishments and Our Money: A Response To Avik Roy

Rush Limbaugh: “Newt is a vessel”

If you want to understand what Republican primary voters are thinking in flocking suddenly to Newt Gingrich, nobody is closer to those voters than Rush Limbaugh. I highly recommend you read Rush’s explanation of what the voters are seeing in Newt right now and what he has to do in order to seal the deal with them going forward. Sample:

Let me tell you why Newt Gingrich won South Carolina. Let me tell you why he’s coming on. It is ’cause he is able to articulate conservatism, nothing more. John King, Juan Williams, could have asked any other Republican the same questions they asked and they would have shriveled away in abject fear and defensiveness. If any of the Republican candidates had the same life story as Newt, or had said the same things about food stamp president and all that, Juan Williams’ question to Romney wouldn’ta helped Romney. John King setting up Romney, if Romney had three ex-wives and one of them was saying he wanted an open marriage, would not have mattered. It wasn’t those questions. It was that they asked somebody who can articulate conservatism.
To those of you in the Republican base, this isn’t complicated. Newt is winning. He is on a momentum roll here because he can articulate conservatism, that and he’s willing to take it to Obama.

Which is a large part of why my preferred candidates – Pawlenty and Perry – fell by the wayside; Pawlenty wasn’t willing to take the fight to Mitt Romney face to face, and Perry was seen as unable to properly communicate. Of course, Newt doesn’t just have rhetoric; he has a record, with real accomplishments both political and legislative, and the scars to show for it. That’s a point I’ve made repeatedly: voters can and should want candidates who have proven the willingness and ability to put themselves out there and take heat for their positions. Newt’s record has – as Rush notes – plenty of flaws in it as well, but as Phil Klein neatly summarizes, the difference between Gingrich and Romney is that Romney really has no such earned good will to fall back on.
UPDATE: Ace has some wise words for Romney.

Three States Down, 47 To Go

The basic dynamics of the 2012 GOP nomination battle remain unchanged: the bulk of the GOP electorate doesn’t want Mitt Romney, but isn’t really sold on an alternative. Iowa’s voters broke late to Rick Santorum as the conservative alternative; South Carolina’s broke late, and much more decisively, to Newt Gingrich. It remains up to Newt now to prove he can hold together the conservatives going forward, as Santorum was not equipped or financed well enough to do.
It’s worth noting here the raw numbers. While the categories don’t perfectly describe the candidates or their supporters, it has been generally true that Romney and Jon Huntsman have appealed to the more moderate Republican primary voters; Gingrich, Santorum, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann to the more conservative voters; and Ron Paul to the libertarian voters. What we see in the first three states is that in South Carolina, as in Iowa, the conservative vote was a majority:
Iowa: Conservatives 53%, Moderates 26%, Libertarians 21%
New Hampshire: Moderates 56%, Libertarians 23%, Conservatives 19%
South Carolina: Conservatives 57%, Moderates 28%, Libertarians 17%
There will be other states – possibly including delegate-rich California and New York – that will more nearly resemble New Hampshire’s profile; there will be states where Newt is not on the ballot (Virginia), where Romney has a home-field advantage (Michigan, Massachusetts, Utah), or where the confluence of caucuses and a large Mormon population favors Romney (Nevada). But at the end of the day, regardless of desperate efforts to prop up Santorum, it is hard to see any of those structural/organizational factors overcoming the core question: either Newt will unite the conservative vote, or Romney will have to earn a share of it away from him. Which has always been how we needed to pick a nominee. However you describe the GOP “Establishment,” our nominee can and should only be one whom the primary voters – however reluctantly – have decided after reflection and stress-testing to nominate.
Florida won’t be the last test of this, given Romney’s money and organization advantages there, but it will be the first serious one. In Churchill’s phrase, South Carolina was not the end, or the beginning of the end; it marked the end of the beginning.
More links:
Ben Domenech on Why Newt (I’m the unnamed “email from a non-South Carolinian” quoted)
Sean Trende on why SC was so bad for Romney
Erick on:
The base and South Carolina
The narrowness of Romney’s demographic appeal
-Efforts to prop up Santorum to help Romney, here and here

What The Republican “Establishment” Really Means

There’s been a lot of talk, maybe too much talk, about the struggle between the GOP “Establishment” and “Outsiders,” sometimes – but sometimes not – meaning the Tea Party, however defined. There are many fault lines, wheels within wheels, that divide different groups on the Right, but it’s time to clarify the core issue that has people of perfectly conservative temperament and ideology scratching their heads at their own constituents. After all, we’re conservatives: establishments are a good idea, a necessary intersection of tradition and meritocracy, giving undue weight to neither and co-opting dangerous ideas about revolution and radical change. What’s so bad about that?
The answer is a simple one: it’s almost entirely about spending. The current trajectory of American government spending is one in which spending by government in general, and by the federal government in particular, just keeps on growing as a share of the economy, further and further crowding out the space occupied by free private citizens and businesses in the private sector. Worse, much of this happens automatically, without the consent of the governed in any but the most perfunctory way: discretionary spending is designed to grow because budgets are set by using the prior year’s spending as a baseline, and entitlement and public employee benefit spending – which consume a far larger share of spending – grows by itself in the absence of any affirmative legislation to stop it. The federal government has not passed a budget in nearly 1,000 days (President Obama’s State of the Union speech will mark the 1000th), yet spending has continued to grow, and will continue to grow as far as the eye can see – a dramatic change in our country taking place on auto-pilot – unless dramatic action is taken in response to stop it. Jack’s magic beans have nothing on public spending.
And the growth of spending bleeds over into every other issue. Federal spending comes with strings attached, and those strings reduce the independence of the states and burrow the arms of the federal octopus ever further into the area of social policy. Institutions like churches, schools, and hospitals become hooked on federal money, and have to dance the federal tune. Spending gets earmarked and targeted to favored people, businesses and groups, making society less equal and government less ethical. Spending distorts energy markets, housing markets, and markets for higher education, creating bubbles and inefficiency. And that’s before we even get to the metastatic growth of federal regulation. And eventually, runaway domestic spending saps our ability to adequately fund our national defense.
There is general philosophical agreement among both Republicans and conservatives about all of this. Where the fault line lies is in exactly how far we are willing to go to do something about it. Many people who got into politics as good conservatives, and still think themselves good conservatives constrained by the limits of practical possibility, are at a loss when it comes to meaningful ways to tame Leviathan. For reasons, some good (the need to use political power to protect national security, preserve control of the courts and restrain regulatory overreach), some less so, they have thrown in the towel on the central issue of the day. That is who we speak of as the “Establishment.” Others – not always with a sense of proportion or possibility, but driven by the urgency of the cause – seek dramatic confrontations to prevent the menace of excessive spending from passing the tipping point where we can no longer save room for the private sector. They are the Outsiders, the ones challenging the system and its fundamental assumptions. The analogy of a Tea Party is an apt one: the Founding Fathers had much in common with the Tories of their day, but disagreed on a fundamental question, not of principle, but of practical politics: whether revolution was needed to protect their traditional rights as Englishmen from being eradicated by the growing encroachments of the British Crown. As it was then, the gulf between the two is the defining issue of today’s Republican Party and conservative movement.
In short, the real “Establishment” and “Outsider,” “anti-Establishment” or “Tea Party” factions are not about who is conservative or moderate, or who is inside or outside the Beltway or public office, or who has fancy degrees or a large readership/listenership or attends the right cocktail parties or churches, or even necessarily who has or has not supported various candidates. The term “Establishment” is used and abused in those contexts, but invariably describes only a division of passing significance. The real battle between the Establishment and the Outsiders is between those who urge significant changes in our spending patterns as a necessity to preserve the America we have known, and those who are unwilling to take that step. It is, in short, between those who are, and those who are not, willing to take action in the belief that the currently established structure of how public money is spent is unsustainable and must be fixed while it still can if we are not to lose by encroachments the all the other things Republicans and conservatives stand for.
The Background
In a way, the division between confrontation and accommodation with the growth of the public sector is one that dates back to the 1950s, and the historical origins are useful in understanding why National Review, in particular, has found itself caught in the crossfire between its editors and its readership. The great GOP debate of 1933-1956 or so was how to react to the New Deal: try to moderate its excesses, or assault its premises. Dwight Eisenhower, in the long run, won the battle within the party in favor of the former; William F. Buckley, jr., in the long run, won the battle within the conservative movement in favor of the latter (hence the slogan “standing athwart history, yelling ‘stop!'”). Yet even Buckley and his magazine spent more effort combatting the status quo in national security policy than on the size of government.
From Goldwater’s failure in 1964 to Reagan’s victory in 1980 and Newt Gingrich’s victory in 1994 and failure in 1995-96, the common thread has been that conservatives win arguments about cutting taxes and restraining domestic discretionary spending, but lose arguments about dismantling the entitlement state created by FDR and LBJ and the auto-pilot budget-bloating processes of the 1970s. George W. Bush cemented this consensus in 2000-05: he could get the public behind cutting taxes and (sort of) restraining the growth of discretionary domestic spending but couldn’t get the public behind Social Security reform and was only able to get elected in 2000 by promising – then delivering in 2003 – a pricey new Medicare prescription drug entitlement. It seemed at the time that conservatives would have to content themselves with winning battles on taxes, national security, social issues/the courts and occasionally discretionary spending, but couldn’t challenge the status quo on the entitlement state and its compulsory collectivist impulses.
Then we got the multiple whammies of 2006-2011, which collectively pushed a lot of people on the Right from a position of accepting that they might be naive about how much change was possible, to being determined that the Establishment was naive about how long the old system could stand:
1. The Congressional GOP got swamped in the 2006 and 2008 elections, casting doubt on the long-term electoral viability of a strategy of modest ambitions in restraining spending, as well as spotlighting the ethical hazards of co-existing with massive federal spending.
2. The U.S. financial crisis left the federal and state governments in an immediately and visibly horrible fiscal position, bringing a renewed focus to the fact that entitlements (both citizen entitlements and public-employee benefit entitlements) would have brought us to this pass eventually and were only getting worse – a fact that otherwise-moderate public officials like Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels were able to exploit to get significant public support behind rethinking the social contract between government and its employees, if not its constituents.
3. The U.S. fiscal crisis paled in comparison to the fiscal crises of Europe. The horrible position of Greece in particular was a radicalizing event, as observant Americans were presented with a vivid example of how an entitlement state unravels. And the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating in the summer of 2011 cracked the complacency of those who assumed such things could never happen here.
4. More broadly, the financial crisis shook the faith of people throughout American society in our leading institutions, public as well as private. It made many people less trusting of experts, and less easily soothed by appeals to the status quo. The Occupy Wall Street movement, in its own way, underscored the fact that the center was fraying from both sides. The growth in support for Ron Paul is likewise a symptom of this dynamic.
5. Barack Obama got elected and pushed the most dramatic expansion of the universal-entitlement state in memory on healthcare, destroying the illusion that Republicans could hold the line by being reactive and awakening many previously sleepy citizens to the danger of comprehensive, compulsory national policies dictating the details of our daily personal lives.
6. The war – the glue that had held together Bush’s coalition – first turned politically toxic in 2006 and then began to recede in importance, almost immediately after both parties chose their presidential nominees in 2008 primarily on the basis of their positions on the Iraq War. Without the war as a unifying political force, it was no longer possible to convince spending hawks to set their concerns aside for the greater good.
7. The success of some – but by no means all – Tea Party candidates in the 2010 elections laid bare the fact that a lot of voters out there were open to the idea that possibly the whole structure of the federal government’s relationship with the voters was unsustainable.
Ben Domenech offers a helpful graph that sums up the impact:

Confronting Leviathan
Where do we go from here?
The Establishment vs Outsiders dynamic has manifested itself most clearly in the various battles John Boehner – to his credit, despite being temperamentally and by experience a classic establishment figure himself – has attempted to wage on budget issues, most of which have ended with him surrounded and outmaneuvered by a de facto alliance of the Obama Administration, Harry Reid, and most depressingly Mitch McConnell. A line of battle is only as strong as its weakest link, and Boehner has repeatedly gone into battle without being able to depend on McConnell and the Senate GOP to hold his end of the line, making his negotiating position untenable. For the most part, the House-Senate divide has not been about ideology, but about tactics, and the Senate Republicans simply have not been willing to go as far as the House. This is precisely what I mean by “Establishment.”
The small but determined Outsider faction in the Senate, led by men like Jim DeMint and Ron Johnson, will need reinforcements, and all the moreso if – as discussed below – we end up with Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee and possibly the next President. This is why I have stressed, here and here, the importance of continuing to build a counterweight within Congressional GOP to whatever emerges from the presidential race, in particular unbeholden to Romney, and with particular focus on wresting control of the Senate GOP from its current accomodationist leadership. The results thus far have been mixed, although Jim DeMint’s refusal to endorse a candidate before the South Carolina primary is at least a start.
The White House
The presidential race, of course, has been a great disappointment. Of the remaining five candidates, the two Texans are truly anti-Establishment, but one (Rick Perry) has struggled to get traction and is not (despite his impressive record) a particularly persuasive spokesman, while the other (Paul) is limited by the many other ways in which he is unacceptable to the Right and unworthy of significant office. The two Northeasterners are classic Establishment figures on spending: Mitt Romney’s entire career (like that of his father) embodies the Eisenhower-era approach of accommodation, complete with his signing of a huge, costly new entitlement in Massachusetts; while Rick Santorum is in many ways tempermentally more of a populist outsider, his career ended as part of the Senate leadership that lost its way and then its offices in the run-up to 2006. Both have attracted vocal, overlapping cheering sections dedicated to arguing that the tiger must be ridden. In the middle we have Newt Gingrich, who as I have written before, is a mixed bag on these issues; Newt is a believer in finding less confrontational ways to start unraveling the entitlement state, but he’s not fully a small-government guy, and your view of the weight to be placed on his successes and failures in this area may vary.
The contrast can be illustrated by the responses at last night’s debate by Santorum and Romney to Gingrich’s plan to offer voluntary private accounts as an opt-out of the Social Security system for younger workers. Santorum:

[Newt’s plan is] irresponsible. And I say that against Newt because there’s nobody for the last 15 years that’s been more in favor of personal savings accounts than I have for Social Security. But we were doing that when we had a surplus in Social Security. We are now running a deficit in Social Security. We are now running a huge deficit in this country.
Under Congressman Gingrich’s proposals, if he’s right, that 95 percent of younger workers [choose to opt-out], there will be hundreds of billions of dollars in increased debt, hundreds of billions of more debt being put on the books, which we can’t simply – we’re going to be borrowing money from China to fund these accounts, which is wrong. I’m for those accounts, but first we have to get our fiscal house in order, balance this budget and then create the opportunity that Newt wants. But the idea of doing that now, is fiscal insanity.


Rick is right. I – I know it’s popular here to say, oh we could just – we can do this and it’s not going to cost anything. But look, it’s going to get tough to get our federal spending from the current 25 percent of the GDP down to 20, down to 18 percent, which has been our history. We’ve got a huge number of obligations in this country and cutting back is going to have to happen. I know something about balancing budgets.
In the private sector, you don’t have a choice. You balance your budget, or you go out of business. And we – we simply can’t say we’re going to go out and borrow more money to let people set up new accounts that take money away from Social Security and Medicare today. Therefore, we should allow people to have a voluntary account, a voluntary savings program, tax free. That’s why I’ve said anybody middle income should be able to save their money tax free. No tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.
That will get American[]s saving and accomplishes your objective, Mr. Speaker, without threatening the future of America’s vitality by virtue of fiscal insanity.

Santorum and Romney plainly both recognize that Newt’s proposal would be good for younger workers, but Santorum argues that we need to keep them trapped in the current system to pay for other people’s current benefits, which of course is the self-fulfilling cycle that keeps the system impervious to reform. This is the rationale of Romneycare and Obamacare – compelling individuals to subsidize a collective program – and why such programs are so hard to uproot once they have been in place for a while. More crucially, what both Santorum and Romney are missing – both with regard to Santorum’s pleas for delay and Romney’s offering of an alternative savings system on top of Social Security – is that we already owe benefits to current recipients, no matter how we fund them, but an opt-out system would prevent us from accruing further obligations to younger workers who would then be self-financing their retirements, changing the system gradually from a defined-benefit to a more actuarially sustainable defined-contribution system, as most private employers have in the past few decades and as even state and local governments are beginning to realize they must (Romney, surely, would recognize this if he was dealing with a private business). This is the fundamental philosophical argument that needs to be made if we are going to persuade the American people not only that the spending and entitlement crisis is real – something the public is prepared to accept – but also that the GOP has a more sustainable long-term answer to fixing it so it does not recur.
At present, with Romney in the lead, it seems highly likely that whatever the outcome, the 2012 presidential election will be an enormous lost opportunity to educate the American public on the nature of the crisis and build a mandate for confronting it.
The Commentariat
Perhaps even more depressing has been the extent to which conservative commentators in general, and National Review in particular, have seemed eager to join not only the pro-Romney faction but the counterreaction more broadly against the “Outsiders” and their effort to shake the status quo on spending and entitlements. Thus, we get suggestions that Romney as President should raise taxes on the middle class by “lowering the floor for the top tax bracket” and preserve parts of Obamacare within a new comprehensive national system rather “than to have an emotionally satisfying but probably unwinnable fight over repeal per se.” This would be disastrous in many ways, not least symbolically: no federal entitlement program has ever been repealed wholesale, and the fact that a repeal of Obamacare would be shocking to the system is precisely why – in addition to its fiscal impact – it would be such significant progress in beginning to regain control over the system. And even worse than the economic and partisan impact of a GOP-sponsored middle-class tax hike is the extent to which raising taxes is official Washington’s longstanding solution to avoiding facing the spending problem. NR still employs a number of wonderful conservative and/or Republican writers who serve an important purpose in the world of political journalism, but that purpose is no longer the one that many of its readers so clearly want: a sustained and serious voice of resistance to an Establishment that is unsustainable. Which may say a good deal about why RedState’s following has grown apace these last few years: our corps of mostly volunteer contributors generally can’t match the resources and output of NR or The Weekly Standard (which to be fair has never positioned itself as an anti-Establishment outfit), but we’re giving voice to a message a lot of people want and need to hear and act on.
The States
Jindal & Christie
The future, if Washington (in particular the Obama Administration) doesn’t cut off its freedom of movement entirely, lies in the states, in the example of greater or lesser reforms pursued in Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, Florida, Indiana, and to some extent New Jersey (where the problems are worse) and Texas (where there was less to reform). The states can provide models not only on the wonkier question of how to fix government’s finances, but on the far more significant underlying question of how to win and lose battles to persuade the public that meaningful change can wait no longer. The front lines in the states are primarily battles over public employee pensions, but important as those battles are, they are a dress rehearsal for the larger and more bitter fights to come over entitlements.
The specific outlines of those changes will continue to be debated, but the Republican Party will continue to be riven internally by a collision between the Establishment and the Outsiders until we have resolved the fundamental question of whether or not we are truly serious about spending and entitlements. If you know where you stand on those questions, you know which group you belong to.

The Romney Reader

I keep meaning to update and summarize my 2007 opus on Mitt Romney, but for now, here’s a bookmark post that collects the links.
The five part 2007 series on Romney:
Part I: If We Nominate Him, We’re Gonna Lose
Part II: The Experience Factor and The War
Part III: What, Precisely, Does This Man Stand For?
Part IV: Campaigning Like A Democrat
Part V: The “M” Word
From 2008: Why I backed McCain over Romney
Romney’s hostility to the suburbs.
From 2011: David Brooks Likes The Crease of Mitt Romney’s Pants
From 2012: On Romney, Bain and Keeping Your Integrity
An Open Letter to Jim DeMint

An Open Letter to Jim DeMint

Dear Senator DeMint:
By the numbers, we are yet very early in the presidential primaries. 1144 delegates are needed to sew up the nomination, and depending how you count these things, Mitt Romney has maybe 13 delegates after finishing Iowa in a de facto tie with Rick Santorum and thumping Ron Paul in New Hampshire last night. But presidential primary races are often about perception: like wars, you more often win them by convincing the other side that further resistance is futile than by total, to-the-last-man annihilation. And so the coming South Carolina primary is widely recognized as the last realistic chance to stop Romney, or at least visibly slow his momentum and eliminate the divisions among conservative candidates that have thus far precluded a unified opposition. Romney has been lining up endorsements (including SC Governor Nikki Haley), money and favorable press from conservative journalists to create an air of inevitability that he hopes will end this race by Florida, if not South Carolina. I think it is fair to say that a great many grassroots conservative activists view the prospect of a Romney candidacy with varying shades of dismay.
We may yet, indeed, be stuck with Romney. And I know you were one of a good number of conservatives to endorse him in 2008 as a tactical move to stop John McCain, so the pull of some consistency (as well as longstanding disagreements with Rick Santorum) must be drawing you back to support him again. But even if we do end up with Romney – indeed, especially if we do – it will be terribly damaging for the conservative movement if you endorse or in any way assist him while there is still a race on. Let me explain why.

Continue reading An Open Letter to Jim DeMint

On Romney, Bain and Keeping Your Integrity

We’re far down the rabbit hole of primary season right now, and that inevitably means that charges and counter-charges are flying so fast that the news cycle can change dramatically from morning to afternoon. Naturally, when things are moving this quickly and emotions are running high, people get carried away. This happens to everyone. A lot of people who sit on the sidelines are too quick to say, “oh, so-and-so totally lost credibility with me by making that argument.” But candidates and pundits in particular are making arguments all day long, day after day; they’re going to grab hold now and then of a story they should know better than to believe or an argument they should know better than to make. Like anything in life, the test of character is not the occasional stumble but the long sweep of your record over time – whether you back off when you’ve dug into an untenable position, whether you learn from mistakes.
This comes to mind with yesterday’s confluence of attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record at Bain Capital and his ill-timed quip that “I like to be able to fire people.” To varying extents, the Gingrich and Perry campaigns and their supporters jumped all over him on both counts. A pro-Newt SuperPAC is rolling out a 27-minute documentary attacking Romney’s Bain record; as Erick notes, Perry’s campaign has been pushing a more modest line of attack against the Bain record, but still one that has something of a whiff of desperation about it. Perry’s camp also pushed a downloadable ringtone of Romney’s “fire” line. With time and some context, both campaigns backed off hitting Mitt on the “fire” comment: Perry’s people pulled the ringtone, and Newt told Fox News that the line had been taken out of context.
The “fire” comment is the easier call. Romney was making a completely valid point: that people should be able to fire service providers like insurance companies if they’re not getting good service. That’s one of the pro-consumer aspects of the conservative message, and where we part company from liberals who think first of protecting entrenched interests at the expense of consumer choice. That being said, the comment fed directly into the most damaging narratives about Romney, and was emblematic of how he’s much like Rick Santorum in terms of his tendency to use cringe-inducingly tin-eared language when he’s making even valid points.
The Bain storyline is a little more complicated, in part because there are a lot of angles to Bain’s business; while Romney’s record, as Jim Pethokoukis notes, includes a lot to be proud of, as Jonathan Last notes, you don’t have to necessarily take that business record as a whole if there are aspects worth defending and aspects worth criticizing. A fair amount of what businesses like Bain do is to step in and take over businesses that are in bad shape. We have an ongoing debate in this country about what to do with failing businesses, but denying they’re failing is not an option – either you shutter or restructure them or you prop them up, and that raises the question of who gets stuck with the bill for propping them up. One of the great scandals of the past 5 years, which has given rise to the Tea Party and to some extent the Occupy Wall Street movement as well, has been the extent to which the answer to that question has been the taxpayers.
So, I don’t like seeing pro-free-market Republicans attacking the concept of what Bain does, any more than I liked seeing Romney attack Rick Perry from the left on entitlements. But just because the role of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists is a crucial and necessary one does not mean that they are likely to be popular candidates in today’s general election environment. Criminal defense lawyers, for example may be crucially necessary to our system of justice, but if they have represented a lot of unpopular clients, they are not likely to be politically viable. I continue to think that Romney’s business record is an under-explored political vulnerability (one Ted Kennedy used against Romney in 1994, but didn’t even use all the ads he cut) that the Democrats will exploit ruthlessly. And Romney’s existing defenses of that record are fairly weak. We should not be caught unawares by this in the summer and fall when it’s too late to pick another candidate. In many ways, it’s like the swift boat story. You’ll recall that the centerpiece of John Kerry’s electability argument in 2004 was his military record – not any policy proposal on national security, mind you, but the simple fact of his biography as a war hero. Given that Kerry had decades-old enemies from his activties as an anti-war protestor, it was unwise for Democrats to assume that this biographical narrative alone would go unchallenged in the general election. But that’s exactly what they did, and the Swift Boat Veterans’ ads (especially the ads using Kerry’s own Senate testimony from 1970) did terrible damage to Kerry.
Romney’s story is much the same. There’s no serious argument that Romney’s record of supporting free enterprise and job growth in his single term as Massachusetts governor is better than the records of Perry, Gingrich, Santorum and Huntsman; his claim to be a job creation specialist is grounded in his record at Bain, and just like Kerry’s war hero biography, this claim is bound to attract scrutiny. It would be foolishness in the extreme for Republicans to demand that nobody talk about this during the time when we’re choosing a candidate. The harder question, for free-market Republicans, is how to have a serious debate on this point without compromising our integrity and our principles.
The fear that Bain, and Romney’s wealth (by birth as well as his business wealth) will be a political liability is hardly fanciful. Look back over the years at the list of wealthy Republican candidates who put their wealth ahead of their limited records in public office. The California GOP has had the worst record: Bill Simon, Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, Michael Huffington, and Bruce Herschensohn all flopped. The positive example is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who proved a disaster for California conservatives in office. Simon, a good and decent man and fairly conservative, faced an opponent with approval ratings so terrible on Election Day that he was recalled just months later – yet the Democrats tore Simon limb from limb with attacks on his private business record. Republicans in other states or at the national level have often found such candidates to be electoral failures or totally unreliable in pursuing our party’s principles in office: Herman Cain, Mike Bloomberg, Carl Paladino, Linda McMahon, Jack Ryan, Pete Coors, Pete Dawkins. (Ron Johnson and Rick Scott being rare exceptions, and Scott only won after a searing campaign against his business record). An understanding of private business is a valuable thing for public officials, but it’s no substitute for experience pursuing good public policies; Jon Corzine was a success in business before he ran New Jersey into the ground, and the most successful businessman ever to be president was Herbert Hoover. It’s entirely valid for Republicans to ask whether we are buying ourselves a similar set of headaches with Romney.
The other point I would make about integrity is that it goes close to the core of why a Romney nomination worries me so much: because we would all have to make so many compromises to defend him that at the end of the day we may not even recognize ourselves. Romney has, in a career in public office of just four years (plus about 8 years’ worth of campaigning), changed his position on just about every major issue you can think of, and his signature accomplishment in office was to be wrong on the largest policy issue of this campaign. Yes, Obama is bad, and Romney can be defended on the grounds that he can’t possibly be worse. Yes, Romney is personally a good man, a success in business, faith and family. But aside from his business biography, his primary campaign has been built entirely on arguments and strategies – about touting his own electability and dividing, coopting or delegitimizing other Republicans – none of which will be of any use in the general election. What, then, will we as politically active Republicans say about him? I was not a huge fan of John McCain’s record, but I was comfortable making honest points about the things McCain had been consistent on over the years – national security, free trade, nuclear power, public integrity, pork-barrel spending. There were spots of solid ground on which to plant ourselves with McCain, and he had a history of digging himself in on those and fighting for things he believed in. But Mitt Romney’s record is just one endless sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see – there’s no way to have any kind of confidence that we can tell people he stands for something today without being made fools of tomorrow. We who have laughed along with Jim Geraghty’s prescient point that every Obama promise comes with an expiration date will be the ones laughed at, and worse yet we will know the critics are right. Every time I try to talk myself into thinking we can live with him, I run into this problem. It’s one that particularly bedeviled Republicans during the Nixon years – many partisan Republicans loved Nixon because he made the right enemies and fought them without cease or mercy, but the man’s actual policies compromised so many of our principles that the party was crippled in the process even before Watergate. We can stand for Romney, but we’ll find soon enough that that’s all we stand for.
The problem is not entirely without its solutions; one of those is that the only real mechanism conservatives would have for keeping Romney honest is to pour efforts into getting more conservatives elected in the House and Senate, and in particular targeting primary challenges at people who have supported Romney. But that’s a desperate measure, and it still doesn’t answer the question of how we make the affirmative case for Romney without losing our integrity. Which is precisely why we need a hard look now at what we’re getting in return.

A Scurrilous Race-Baiting Attack on Newt Gingrich

It’s silly season, I know. But that doesn’t mean we need to tolerate left-wing nonsense thrown at our candidates.
If you’re familiar with his stump speech, Newt Gingrich routinely argues that Obama is a food stamp president and he’d be a paychecks president – that his economic plan would get more people to work so they wouldn’t be stuck relying on government aid. It’s one of his favorite one-liners about how Obama’s economic policies have failed. This is not an attack on food stamp recipients, especially since one of Newt’s core messages is to tout how he drove welfare reforms in the 1990s that provided more incentives to get work. Newt generally makes the point without referring to the race of the people getting food stamps – indeed, he called it “bizarre” when David Gregory last year argued that it was racist to mention food stamps:

GREGORY: First of all, you gave a speech in Georgia with language a lot of people think could be coded racially-tinged language, calling the president, the first black president, a food stamp president.
GINGRICH: Oh, come on, David.
GREGORY: What did you mean? What was the point?
REP. GINGRICH: That’s, that’s bizarre. That – this kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States. The president of the United States has to be held accountable. Now, the idea that – and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans is on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have – I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.

Another of Newt’s favorite themes is that he’ll go anywhere and talk to any audience – which of course he will, because talking is what Newt does best.
But when Newt combines these two points and says that he’ll take that jobs message to the NAACP if they’ll have him and try to convince black voters that they ought to expect more from Obama – paychecks, not food stamps – he gets branded as racist. The charge is utterly scurrilous and made in bad faith. It’s a textbook example of fraudulent use of the race card.
Here’s how the AP report opens:

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Thursday he is willing to go before the NAACP and urge blacks to demand paychecks, not food stamps.
Gingrich told a town hall meeting at a senior center in Plymouth, N.H., that if the NAACP invites him to its annual convention this year, he’d go there and talk about “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”
He also said he’d pitch a new Social Security program aimed at helping young people, particularly African-American males, who he said get the smallest return on Social Security.

To the AP’s credit, it notes the fact that these are both standard, separate themes of Newt’s. Yet we get people like Martin Bashir on MSNBC blaming the totally unrelated murder of a teenager on Newt: “Let’s cut out the food stamps rhetoric right now before things get any worse.” TPM, which is driving this appalling story, got comment from the NAACP, which predictably groused that “It is a shame that the former Speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country.”
What’s next – making it racist to discuss unemployment at all?

The Conservative Race In Iowa

There are 2,286 delegates awarded in the GOP primaries and caucuses; the nomination thus requires wrapping up 1,143 delegates. Between them, Iowa and New Hampshire award 10 delegates; South Carolina and Florida, the other two states voting later this month, award 75. By contrast, three states (California, Texas and New York) award a combined 422 delegates, more than a third of the total needed to win. So, the race is far from over after New Hampshire, and as long as there is credible opposition, it can go on for quite a while after South Carolina and Florida as well.
That said, the early states are traditionally a test of strength that helps winnow the field to the more serious contenders, especially those with the fundraising ability and appeal beyond a narrow niche to make a serious effort to win the nomination. But three of the seven candidates now in the race are pretty much guaranteed to go beyond Iowa. First, Mitt Romney: Romney would like to win Iowa, and could be embarrassed if he finishes third (lower is very unlikely), but no matter what happens, Romney’s money, his appeal to the moderate wing of the party, and his establishment support will carry him to New Hampshire, where he is heavily favored to win easily. Second, Ron Paul: Paul could do well in Iowa as a protest vote if there are a lot of independents and Democrats re-registering tomorrow on caucus day, but his hard core of support and idosyncratic appeal guarantee that he will be in the race as long as there’s a race, regardless of how he does in any contest, yet with no chance of ever winning. And third, Jon Huntsman: Huntsman has placed all his chips on New Hampshire and already plans on finishing a distant seventh in Iowa. The only effect Iowa has on Huntsman is indirect: if Romney looks weak coming out of Iowa, Huntsman can ratchet up his efforts to convince New Hampshire moderates that Romney is fatally flawed.
Where Iowa could matter a lot, however, is in sorting out the four candidates running as the field’s conservatives: Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. (Let’s leave aside for the moment the arguments over who can claim the term “conservative”; clearly this is the role in the field all four are pursuing). They represent a caucus-within-a-caucus, and even though they are likely to be separated 1-4 by a relatively small number of votes, their order of finish could have an outsized impact on the race, eliminating anywhere from 1-3 of them from the field.

Continue reading The Conservative Race In Iowa

On, Yes, Kelly Clarkson and Ron Paul

Sometimes you write the stories, and sometimes they write you. I awoke this morning to a big, blazing Drudge headline about Texan pop starlet and American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson having endorsed Ron Paul for president. As it happens, I’m probably the only conservative political writer in America who has taken Clarkson seriously at some length (see here, here and here; I still follow her on Twitter and Facebook and the like), while at the same time following my RedState colleague Leon Wolf’s magnificant series on the lunacy of Ron Paul and his campaign (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for lots of gory details), and for that matter I’ve written about the intersection of music and politics with an exhaustive look at the culture and politics of my favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen, so this story has my name written all over it. There’s actually some lessons to be drawn here, whether or not you have any interest in Clarkson per se.
The first point up is how Clarkson’s tweets about Paul are revealing of the mindset of a lot of ‘soft’ Ron Paul supporters. Those of us who write about politics on the internet tend to assume that all of Paul’s support comes from hard-core Ronulans, of the sort who will swarm you on the web with the kinds of barrages of talking points and – often – ALL CAPS and hate speech (or just rambling email manifestos) that carry an overpowering stench of political fanatacism. (This is a major reason why RedState has banned the Paul supporters for years; en masse, they make reasoned discourse impossible).* Even the more polite, otherwise reasonable people who support Paul in web discussions tend to be absolutely immovable in their support, to the point where there’s no realistic chance they could support any other Republican.
But when you do polling and casual discussions with people not following politics all that closely, you discover a fair number of people who have gotten the whitewashed version of Paul and aren’t aware of the full depth of his crazy – people I have to believe are still persuadable that Paul is toxic. And that’s exactly what Clarkson sounds like here. It started with this tweet

I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.


we shouldn’t try & help/tell other countries how to solve their issues w/the poor when we can’t even solve our own.


I am about progress. Ron Paul is about letting people decide, not the government. I am for this.

All of which sounds reasonable enough; Paul is certainly in favor of more liberty at home and a less vigorous American role abroad, and while I regard his brand of isolationism as deeply dangerous, the general concept of getting out of the UN and the ‘world policeman’ role is attractive to an awful lot of people who are not crazy. This is the sort of thing why I run into people – friends, family – who tell me “you know, Ron Paul has a lot of good ideas.” It’s also why some of the saner people in the GOP who have some overlap with Paul’s ideas – from the more conservative types like Mike Lee, to Paul’s son Rand, to the more libertarian types like Gary Johnson – might be better spokesmen for some of those ideas.
Unfortunately, you buy Ron Paul, you buy the whole batty package: the flirtations with 9/11 Trutherism and other conspiracy theories, the “we had it coming” view of anti-American terrorism, the anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian bias, the racist newsletters, and whatnot, all of which you can find at length in Leon’s posts. And Clarkson, with nearly a million Twitter followers and nearly 3 million Facebook fans and a prior record of trying to keep herself out of political controversies, got inundated with hostility she clearly wasn’t expecting for backing Paul, ultimately complaining about the volume of “hateful” attacks. Thus, the backtracks:

I have never heard that he’s a racist? I definitely don’t agree with racism, that’s ignorant.

I love all people and could care less if you like men or women. I have never heard that Ron Paul is a racist or homophobe?

I have never seen or heard Ron Paul say anything against gay people?

I am really sorry if I have offended anyone. Obviously that was not my intent. I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women’s rights, men’s rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all. Out of all of the Republican nominees, he’s my favorite.

(There’s a longer story here, which Dave Weigel has covered, as to why Paul still has apologists among gay liberals despite the content of his newsletters)
Most entertainers tend towards knee-jerk leftism, and even the more thoughtful ones – like Springsteen, who as I’ve discussed is in some ways a culturally conservative figure in his music despite his leftism – are often hard-core liberals or leftists. And the exceptions are sometimes no better; John Mayer came out as a vocal, hard-shell Paul supporter in 2008, and in Mayer’s case that seemed to dovetail with some of his own more unsavory characteristics. One of the reasons I like Clarkson, aside from her music, is that she thinks for herself and is frequently a lonely voice for sanity in the insane world of pop music. Her words on the death of Amy Winehouse was one example of this:

Sometimes I think this job will be the death of us all, or at least the emotional death of us all. Maybe that is why as a little kid in sunday school I learned that God didn’t want false gods or idols. I thought it was terribly selfish of God as a child but I think I get it now. He didn’t want us following people or things that are imperfect and not so much for the followers but for the gods and/or idols who will never be what everyone wishes or needs them to be because we are made imperfect. He knew we wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure, the shame, the glory, or the power the spotlight brings.

Her background ought to make her the kind of swing voter the GOP can reach: raised poor among strict Christian Texas Democrats, Clarkson is something of a stubborn holdout for decency and modesty in pop music, refuses to describe herself as a feminist, owns 9 guns and sleeps with a Colt .45 for protection, and is a self-described Republican but one who voted Obama four years ago:

I just want someone that’s about change, and that’s what [Barack Obama] campaigned on, and that’s what I’m hoping happens. I’m very much a Barack fan.
How’d you celebrate the inauguration?
I was actually with two of my friends here in Texas — we were in my kitchen watching it on TV. We were crying — all three of us. Seeing Aretha Franklin — who in her lifetime has seen oppression and now seeing a black man become President — sing … that in itself is such a beautiful message to the rest of the world.

A lot of people felt that way about Obama in January 2009, but the thrill is long gone, even in Hollywood.
Political coalitions, of course, inevitably involve picking and choosing positions that alienate some people you might otherwise reach. Ron Paul, now 76 years old, will be gone from the stage after this election, but the challenge of how to appeal to people who like some of the themes he projects but aren’t fans of more conventional Republican ideas – people like Kelly Clarkson – will persist.

Continue reading On, Yes, Kelly Clarkson and Ron Paul

Doubling Down With Rick Perry

A bunch of us at RedState have a post up endorsing Perry.
The faster this race gets down to three candidates (or three plus Paul and Huntsman), the better for Perry, who can lie in wait to consolidate the conservative wing of the party when and if Newt collapses. I continue to believe Romney cannot win a long two-man race against a more conservative opponent who has the money to go the distance.

The Newt Conversation

Let’s imagine the primaries as a conversation between the conservative grassroots and the national media elite (including the conservative media establishment):
Elite: Time to find a new national standard-bearer, Republicans. But not somebody dumb, like George W. Bush.
Grassroots: We love Sarah Palin!
Elite: She’s dumb. You can’t have her.
Grassroots: We love Michele Bachmann!
Elite: She’s dumb. You can’t have her.
Grassroots: We love Rick Perry!
Elite: He’s dumb. You can’t have him.
Grassroots: We love Herman Cain! And you’re not allowed to call him dumb!
Elite: He’s…Ok, you got us there. But he doesn’t know anything. He’s ignorant.
Grassroots: So, you want smart, educated, knowledgeable, good in debates? That’s your criteria?
Elite: Absolutely. Go find somebody like that. We have a pretty good idea what we have in mind.
Grassroots: You asked for it, bro. We love Newt Gingrich, Ph.D, historian and mad scientist! We love his debating style and his enormous head and his 24 books and his moon mining schemes! He’s gonna lecture you guys until you beg for mercy!
[A few months later]
Elite: We give up! We can’t take it anymore! Send us back that Perry guy! We have carpal tunnel from taking so many notes! We’re sick of looking up obscure battles on Wikipedia and ordering out-of-print books on eBay to do fact checking! The pages of our thesauruses are falling out! We just want to ask a simple question without having our premises fundamentally challenged! Uncle!

Taking Newt Gingrich’s Ideas Seriously

Ideas don’t run for president; people do. That’s as true today as it was four years ago. So, it is understandable that much of the press and blog coverage of the 2012 GOP primary race has focused on the personalities, experience and record of the candidates rather than their ideas. In fact, until you know the candidates by their actions, you cannot meaningfully judge what their words will mean in practice. Mitt Romney is the prime example of this, having so inconsistent a record that it’s impossible to take seriously the idea that he’s guided by any sort of coherent political philosophy.
But as it happens, we do have three candidates in this race who stand for a distinctive philosophical approach to domestic policy. One of those, Ron Paul, espouses a radical constitutionalism that exists on the periphery of the conservative movement. Rick Perry, while his issue stances are more conventionally (but not always uniformly) conservative, can best be understood through the lens of his guiding principle as a Texas nationalist – a belief that a significant amount of the powers now wielded by the federal government should be returned to the states. And then there’s Newt Gingrich. Newt generates so many new ideas – he develops more firmly-held political convictions before breakfast each morning than Romney’s had his entire life – that it’s tempting to view them as essentially random. But there is a method to the madness. Setting aside for a moment Gingrich’s personal attributes, let’s look at his ideas, with particular attention to two recent interviews he did – one with Ben Domenech, Brad Jackson and Francis Cianfrocca at Coffee and Markets, the other with Glenn Beck. Both provide a keen window into how Newt views domestic policy issues. In the interests of length, I’ll pass over one of the three pillars of Newt’s worldview (his futurism and faith in new technologies), which has been written about extensively, and focus on two others: his gradualism and his revival of what I call “Reform Conservatism.”

Continue reading Taking Newt Gingrich’s Ideas Seriously

State of the Race

I’ve got a handful of essays on the 2012 primaries in the hopper if I can ever get them finished. For those of you who aren’t following me on Twitter, here’s the short summary of my thinking at present.
1. I’m still with Rick Perry, who would clearly be the best president and most reliable conservative in the race. Perry still has the executive experience and steady temperament best suited to the job (plus his service record and stable family life), and he still has the money and organization to go the distance if the primaries turn into a long slog, something candidates like Bachmann and Santorum lack. Perry has come from behind before – in his 2010 primary race against Kay Bailey Hutchinson he trailed by 20 points in some early polls, but he outworked and outlasted her. Obviously Perry is not a good debater, is prone to Bush-style gaffes and had some other missteps in reacting to the early onslaught of negative press, but he was also hurt by the dynamics of the race at that point – he’s a better when given more time to speak (a problem on an 8-candidate stage), and Bachmann in particular has devoted most of her energies to running interference for Romney, which meant that when Perry emerged he had a stage full of people attacking him and nobody attacking Romney. Perry’s virtues are more on display in this unscripted Veterans Day video he did for Ben Howe of RedState:

All that said, Perry’s in a fairly deep hole at the moment, and realistically he may not be able to get out of it unless three things happen, none of which is all that unlikely individually, but running the table may be harder: (1) Newt implodes, (2) Romney fails to consolidate the support of the 75% or so of the voters who really don’t want him as the nominee, and (3) some of the other candidates drop out so that voters are forced to look more closely at what’s left.
2. I’ve been as surprised as anyone by the Newt boomlet, but it mostly comes down to the fact that Newt is an excellent debater, and there have been a whole lot of debates. I still think Newt 2012 is basically a bad idea, for a lot of reasons I’ve discussed before; I don’t think he is really well-suited to be a chief executive, as streiff explains here. On the other hand, I’ve always liked Newt as an intellectual and rhetorical resource for the Right, and all things considered I have reached the point of having him as my second choice behind Perry, much as it astonishes me to type that. Anyway, much more on Newt to follow. If he’s the nominee, he’ll be a neverending smorgasbord for political journalism. The feeling may be mutual, as Ben Domenech has hilariously illustrated in the daily must-read Newt Judges You.
Newt’s return from the political wilderness has some parallels to Nixon, Reagan, Churchill, De Gaulle, FDR…among others. But I think the best parallel is a guy I have seen for years as extremely similar to Newt, and that’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Some conservatives may object that Netanyahu is awesome, but Newt would look pretty awesome from a distance of a few thousand miles as well. Closer observers of Israel know the flaws that come with Netanyahu’s toughness, eloquence and deep patriotism.
The one thing Newt has improved the most since the 1990s is his demeanor. He’s much more the happy warrior than the scowling bombthrower these days. Looking back, Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign suffered from the fact that he had mellowed with age; some mellowing, in Newt’s case, may prove a great asset.
Newt is a whole lot of fun to watch do this, and for all my misgivings about him as the nominee, if that’s what we come to, I intend to enjoy the ride.
3. One of the telling things to watch, previewed by his “$10,000 bet” debate line and Newt’s broadside against his record at Bain, is how well Romney holds up to criticism of his wealth and business record. That’s a theme Republicans have been – typically – hesitant to push too hard, but it will be the #1 avenue of attack by the Democrats, and as distasteful as that sort of thing is, we may as well see how he stands up to it now.
4. Not to lean too heavily on the work of my fellow RedStaters, but Neil Stevens explains why you should put no stock in the PPP poll showing Ron Paul within striking distance in Iowa.
5. Herman Cain’s implosion will not teach the unteachable among us the perils of untested rookie candidates at the national level, but it should. I’d have gladly supported Cain for a governorship, but he was in over his head running for president.
6. Jon Huntsman has gotten a lot of second looks from desperate conservatives, partly because he’s got the basics of a good resume with no obvious weaknesses (executive and foreign policy experience and a stable family as well as stuff like being tall and rich), partly because his policy proposals are really good and conservative, and his record is more conservative than people think. But we are ultimately imprisoned by our own choices, and Huntsman not only chose to abandon the domestic policy battles of 2009-10 to go work for Obama overseas, he chose to hire as his most visible political adviser John Weaver (the GOP-hating former McCain adviser who tried to get McCain to switch parties and whose termination in July 2007 coincided with the nadir of the McCain campaign) and to telegraph his disdain for conservative voters on a bunch of cultural and economic wedge issues, resulting in his candidacy attracting a vocal cheering section among people with the most poisonous of relationships with the primary electorate. (Huntsman’s sneering unlikeability in debates hasn’t been an asset either, nor his tendency to overrate his own sense of humor) He’s the equivalent of a liberal blue-state governor launching a presidential campaign by touting his evangelical Christianity and mocking believers in evolution and global warming; that would go over like a lead balloon in a Democratic primary. The only way Huntsman could begin to repair that damage is by doing a fundamental reboot of his image, starting with sacking Weaver. His unwillingness to do that cements the suspicion that he’s still at heart a rich guy from Palo Alto who doesn’t much like the people whose votes he’s asking for.

David Brooks Likes The Crease of Mitt Romney’s Pants

I could hardly sum up more pithily the problem with Mitt Romney’s candidacy in four words than “David Brooks loves him.” Brooks’ column today is revealingly out of step with the party and the nation Romney is seeking to lead.
Let’s start with what’s missing from Brooks’ description of the job Romney is applying for:

[T]he challenges ahead are technically difficult. There’s a reason that no president since Reagan has been able to reform the tax code. There’s a reason no president save Obama has been able to pass health care reform. These are complicated issues that require a sophisticated inside game – navigating through the special interests, building complex coalitions. They are issues that require executive expertise.

Now, I don’t discount the idea that a good “inside game” is important, and indeed is one of the reasons why we generally look for presidents with some record of executive political leadership – indeed, for presidents with more of it than Romney brings to the table from a single term in office. But notice who is missing in this picture? The voters. Brooks ascribes no importance whatsoever to the president’s role in persuading the public of anything (a critical factor in Reagan’s tax cut and tax reform fights); he simply assumes that backroom deals can be cut that make the public’s role moot:

He could probably work well with the leaders of his own party. If Romney were to be elected, he would probably share power with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the House speaker, John Boehner. These are not exactly Tea Party radicals. Instead, they are consummate professionals and expert legislators who could plausibly work together.

What about Romney’s ability to sway voters?

Romney can be dull. Political activists like exciting candidates. But most people, who have lower expectations from politics and politicians, just want them to provide basic order. They want government to be orderly so they can be daring in other spheres of their lives. Romney is the most predictable of the candidates and would make for the most soporific of presidents. That’s a good thing. Government would function better if partisan passions were on a lower flame.

This is all well and good if the government is set on a reliable course and needs no alterations, and if the partisan opposition was vanquished once and for all; you pick a technocratic manager to run the big machines well. (We’re talking domestic policy; Brooks makes no mention of national security or international relations). But none of that is true: Brooks gives lip service to the idea that we have real problems with an unsustainable spending and entitlement state, but he is too happy with the status quo to admit to himself that fixing the country’s genuine fiscal problems will require real, wrenching changes and an obstinate determination to see things through (let alone to survive the bruising fights that will loom over the next Supreme Court nominations, which are similarly a major inflection point). Nor does he address the thick hide a new president will need to make genuine reductions in the regulatory burdens that currently weigh down business, or to withstand the now-perennial calls for new bailouts (the next big ones on the way will be bailouts of the Postal Service and the State of California).
Let’s turn to how Brooks misunderstands the nature of the challenges ahead:

[T]his is not a party riven by big ideological differences. This is not Reagan versus Rockefeller. Whoever wins the nomination will be leading a party with a cohesive ideology and a common set of priorities: reform taxes, replace Obamacare, cut spending and reform entitlements. The next president won’t have to come up with a vision, just execute the things almost all Republicans agree upon.

This vision of a bloodless party dispute over technical competence sounds good, although of course this is what the Rockefeller/George Romney side of the party has been saying for decades. It’s true that the big differences within the party these days are less about ideology per se than about strategy and tactics, but they are no less divisive for being so (hence, Romney echoing his own father’s attacks on Barry Goldwater in his campaign against Rick Perry).
Note the crucial word choice “replace Obamacare.” The word is not chosen by accident, and it carries enormous ideological freight. The great health care divide in the party for some time has been over whether Republicans need to accept a comprehensive and universal approach to health care, rather than leave the system as is and tinker piecemeal, by trial and error, around the edges seeking improvements. And Mitt Romney is the high priest of the former faction – the centerpiece of his agenda in his single term in office was passing a “comprehensive” and “universal” health care plan built on a foundation of individual mandates. Rather than a masterful inside game, what happened in that case was that Romney got rolled, badly, by Ted Kennedy and his state-level allies into a plan that has driven up insurance premiums in Massachusetts and laid the political groundwork for Obamacare.

Romney was warned of these consequences by conservatives at the time, and ignoring those warnings was the most significant decision, and largest strategic error, of his political career. But to Brooks, Romney’s failure on his signature issue counts as a feather in Romney’s cap because a big, complicated bill got passed with the support of a lot of interest groups. Consequences – and voters – be damned.
What does it mean to “replace” Obamacare? The next GOP president should make it a goal on Day One to repeal the bill and go back to the drawing board. Certainly, that should include a plan to follow repeal of the PPACA with the introduction of new, more modest proposals to improve the health care system in this country; nobody argues that our system is perfect, nor that it is such a libertarian utopia that government has no role in fixing problems that are in many cases the creation of government.
But the largest strategic error that can be made is for the next president to link repeal of Obamacare to passage of some equally “comprehensive” plan to “replace” it – thus dissipating political momentum on passage of a new, complex bill that may prove equally unpopular (especially at a time when the president will have to be busy with many other economic issues). And Romney’s record and pronouncements thus far have indicated nothing to give confidence that he wouldn’t fall into precisely such a trap (his emphasis on suspending Obamacare by executive order, while not a bad thing by itself, suggests the worrisome possibility that he might not put a full effort into getting it entirely off the books before the White House and its power over executive orders falls back into Democratic hands).
Time and again the past five years, David Brooks has been impressed by the supposed erudition of Barack Obama, and time and again he has been disdainful of competing virtues more important to democratic leadership and popular sovereignty. His ode to Romney demonstrates how little Brooks has learned from his own errors, and how far removed Romney’s appeal is from those virtues.

Reagan Did Not Wait Until The Last Minute

The 2012 presidential election season has not been a normal one in many ways. History teaches us that every election season brings something new we haven’t seen before – but also that progress in electioneering, as in most walks of life, is more gradual than people are wont to predict. The candidate who says “this time, everything is different” or “the old rules don’t apply” or promises “new politics” or “fundamental change” is almost always selling a bill of goods to his or her supporters, and often to himself or herself. As conservatives, with a belief in experience as mankind’s best and only teacher, we should know better. One need only look back to 2010, when a popular wave brought victory mostly to candidates with the attributes and experience of traditonally successful candidates (Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey) and defeat to candidates who were genuinely unorthodox or similar to past losing campaigns (Sharron Angle, Carly Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell). The terrain shifted and new opportunities were created, but the basic rules of the game remained the same.
Even now, with the leading GOP contenders pouring money and manpower into the early primary states and the filing deadlines only a month away, we still have pundits and eager activists telling us that it’s not too late for new candidates to jump in. Please, Sarah Palin. Please, Chris Christie. Etc. It’s certainly true that a late entrant could yet generate enough support to shake up the fundamental dynamics of the race. It’s even possible that Rick Perry and Mitt Romney will prove vulnerable enough that a new entrant could still win. But let us not kid ourselves: the old rules still matter. It would be deeply unprecedented for a candidate in the modern (post-1972) age of presidential primaries to win the nomination without having laid any foundation of a national organization as late as the October before the primaries.
Some would have you believe that Ronald Reagan, who officially declared himself a candidate in November 1979, ran such a race. This is nonsense and historical ignorance.

Continue reading Reagan Did Not Wait Until The Last Minute

The Broader Meaning of NY-9

Last night’s victory for Republican Bob Turner in NY’s 9th Congressional District was not as resounding as the 22-point blowout in Nevada’s 2d District, a district that is much more likely to play a role in contested Presidential and Senate races next year. And it shouldn’t be oversold, for some of the reasons Nate Silver identifies. But Sean Trende’s analysis is nonetheless a must-read regarding the broader trends it represents.
Also on a demographic note, this Atlantic article (aside from the error of forgetting – as I noted in the comments – that Rick Perry’s 2006 race was not his most recent election) is a good roundup of why Perry is the GOP candidate who offers the best hope of capturing a competitive share of the Hispanic vote, as he has traditionally done in Texas.
UPDATE: Closing comments due to a spambot invasion, which tends to happen when the blog isn’t updated frequently enough.

Today in Social Security Debates

Stanley Kurtz has a detailed post on the distinguished history of comparisons between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme, dating back to an influential 1967 article by liberal Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson, and running through multiple other liberal commentators as well as scores of establishment-conservative think tank papers. Via the comments here, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution adds more, including Paul Krugman.
Over at RedState, Leon Wolf looks at Mitt Romney’s reliance on Democratic scare tactics, which is, of course, par for the course with Romney.

Obama Vindicates Rick Perry on Social Security

The major controversy right now in the GOP presidential primaries is over Rick Perry’s contention that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that can’t deliver on its promises under its current structure. Mitt Romney doesn’t exactly dispute this – in fact, Romney himself said the same thing in his book, but then Romney always did like to attack other Republicans for things he himself has said or done – but Romney’s argument is that you can’t say these things out loud and win elections.
Well, President Obama last night handed Perry a huge gift, by providing a vivid illustration of how Perry is right about Social Security.
Here is what the President said:

[The American Jobs Act] will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services…
Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers’ wages. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. If you have 50 employees making an average salary, that’s an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012.

This proposal is an extension of a prior temporary payroll tax cut that was part of the extension of the Bush tax cuts passed by the lame-duck session of the last Congress at the end of 2010:

The cut affects the 46 percent of all Americans who pay payroll taxes but do not qualify to pay federal income taxes. In the bipartisan deal last December to keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place for another two years, lawmakers signed off on a proposal to reduce the percentage of taxes that workers pay towards Social Security from 6.2 to 4.2 percent. That rate is set to go back up to previous levels on Jan. 1, unless Congress acts.

Now, as an initial matter, the problem with temporary cuts in the payroll tax is that they don’t provide much incentive to hire new permanent workers. This is a recurring issue with Obama’s proposals, like how he tried to use temporary stimulus payments to induce states to take on more permanent obligations under Medicaid, a deal a number of Governors rejected. If I’m a business owner, this sort of payroll tax cut may persuade me to hire more temporary or seasonal workers, but I’d be leery of creating new permanent positions knowing that the tax will pop back up as soon as we’re past the 2012 election. There’s certainly a good case to be made for slashing the payroll tax in the long haul – which would require fundamentally reworking how Social Security is funded – but as an economic matter a temporary payroll tax holiday is mostly a gimmick that will offer only a very limited bang for its buck.
Which brings us to the fiscal impact. If you take at face value the defenders of the Social Security status quo, their theory is that Social Security is not supposed to be a welfare program but a pension plan: workers pay into the system, which places their wages in a “trust fund” and later pays them back a defined benefit. As Perry – and Romney, in his book – notes, the system doesn’t actually run that way. The only “assets” in the trust fund are “I owe me” bonds reflecting that the taxpayers will be asked to come up with revenues in the future, the same kinds of “my own debts are my assets” accounting that got Enron in trouble; meanwhile, the government spends the money as soon as it comes in, and hopes that it will continue getting enough future payroll tax revenue to pay future benefits. This is the textbook definition of how a Ponzi scheme operates and precisely why such schemes – as we saw with Bernie Madoff – inevitably go bust when they can’t keep expanding.
Social Security already has that problem, as the most recent Trustees Report makes clear:

Social Security expenditures exceeded the program’s non-interest income in 2010 for the first time since 1983. The $49 billion deficit last year (excluding interest income) and $46 billion projected deficit in 2011 are in large part due to the weakened economy and to downward income adjustments that correct for excess payroll tax revenue credited to the trust funds in earlier years.

With retirees living longer and benefits having been expanded in various ways over the years, the number of current workers supporting each current retiree has plunged dramatically since the program was established, a problem that will only get worse with declining birthrates and the Baby Boom generation entering retirement age. In other words, the conditions for ever-widening Social Security deficits are upon us already and will, by design of the current system, only get worse. The bill for the longstanding pattern of both parties on Capitol Hill raiding the program’s surplus income to spend on other things has come due.
And with this crisis upon us and only designed to grow, what does President Obama propose? An even bigger bite out of the income of a program already in deficit:

Obama plans to cut revenues by $245 billion, or 36%, of the entire annual revenue (projected at $687 billion) of the so-called trust fund. Being that he will ostensibly slash half of payroll taxes, that number is surely too low…

This is the point in the storyline where a guy like Madoff gets led out in handcuffs. Let Obama make the argument that extending the temporary payroll tax cut is an economic necessity; we can have the argument about whether this is the best way to cut tax burdens on businesses and workers. But what he can’t do is pretend is that Social Security is sacrosanct when just last night he went before the nation and proposed gutting its only source of funding just as it’s plunged into the red. The next time Governor Perry lays out his case against the flim-flam accounting behind Social Security and its manifest inability to pay for its own promises, he will have fresh ammunition direct from the man he hopes to face in the general election.

Is It Debatable?

My takes on last night’s GOP primary debate (I saw all but the very end).
-Short answer? The debate reinforced, rather than changed, my impression of each of the eight candidates on stage. Which is usually what these debates do, but there’s always the odd night when somebody really makes a good impression or shoots themself in the foot.
-Globally, the bad news for Mitt Romney is that this debate really did not do anything to alter the current dynamic, which started to set in as Michele Bachmann’s poll numbers began tanking (she’s now trailing Ron Paul in the RCP poll average) and is likely to remain true unless Sarah Palin jumps in the race: we’re headed for a two-man race without any real competition for Rick Perry from the right, and that’s a fight Romney can’t win. He needs conservatives divided while he solidifies the smaller wing of the party.
-Two notes on MSNBC, which really should not be hosting a GOP debate (Ben Domenech aptly compared this to having Derek Jeter questioned by an audience of Red Sox fans). One, I made some jokes at first on Twitter, but the more I thought about it, the more offended I was at the use of Jose Diaz-Balart from Telemundo, who was brought out to ask an immigration question and then politely told by Brian Williams to go away once the immigration discussion was over. It’s really offensive to treat a presumably legitimate journalist as if he’s only allowed to care about one issue because of his ethnicity. We have long since passed the point where black journalists like Bernard Shaw and Gwen Ifill are treated as able to question candidates on the full spectrum of issues – but MSNBC was unsubtly pushing the assumption, much beloved by Democrats, that this is the only issue of interest to Latino voters. (Rick Perry, who won about 38% of the Hispanic vote in 2010 in a state with a huge Latino population, intends to challenge that assumption.) MSNBC should be ashamed of its treatment of Diaz-Balart.
The other low point came when Brian Williams Williams’ co-moderator asked Perry to name his favorite climate scientist, as an appeal-to-authority argument against Perry on climate change. Think back to all the times Obama and other Democrats have made arguments about science (climate change, stem cells, nuclear power, SDI, etc.) – have you ever heard them asked to name the scientists they relied on? (Presumably by next time, Senator Jim Inhofe – one of the first major federal officials to endorse Perry – can have him prepared with the list of some 700 scientists who have signed Inhofe’s report critical of climate change theories). The issue in the climate change debate is the evidence, not the names of the scientists – blind faith in scientists isn’t faith in science, it’s the opposite of faith in science.
-The contrast between the three Governors (Perry, Romney and Huntsman) and the other candidates could not have been more evident – it was obvious that they came off as presidential in a way that the non-executives did not. Huntsman put in a solid performance, but unfortunately for him, it was in pursuit of an inherently doomed strategy of irritating and condescending to Republican primary voters (this is why RCP shows him in ninth place with only half of Santorum’s support and a third of Cain’s or Newt’s, eighth if you don’t count Palin, who gets polled despite not being a candidate). He’s only missing the big eyeglasses to be John Anderson.
-Relatedly, the three Governors are the only ones on the stage who have ever won a statewide election, and Romney’s one win was nine years ago, by a plurality against a hapless opponent. Experience in appealing to an un-gerrymandered electorate does matter.
-Perry’s goal in the debate, it being his maiden voyage in this race, had to be not so much to win the debate as to win by not losing, and he did that. He didn’t do anything scary or have any terrible gaffes, although he was definitely rusty at times compared to the other candidates, who have been at this for a while now. His most controversial moment, of course, will be his jeremiad against Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” (which is definitionally true) and a “monstrous lie” to young workers, but that was also stylistically his high point – Perry was vigorous and passionate and even a little eloquent. Romney obviously hopes that Perry’s candor will sink him, but at the end of the day, my guess is that what will matter is not Perry’s diagnosis of the problem (as Moe Lane notes, Ron Johnson did just fine in 2010 running on a similar theme in Wisconsin) but the solutions he proposes, and we haven’t reached that stage yet. Most of the other things Perry said that would turn people off are pretty much the standard things that cause Democrats to not vote for Republicans. Given Perry’s moderate record on immigration, he probably helped himself by openly challenging whether the President knows better than he does the state of the border areas in South Texas.
-Romney’s assault on Perry over Social Security (which, as was pointed out on Twitter, was an echo of George Romney’s criticisms of Barry Goldwater back in the day) is not without risks of its own. If Romney wins this race by using the Democrats’ “Mediscare” playbook (something Karl Rove has been doing already), he’ll have fatally compromised his ability in office to do anything about entitlements, which in turn seriously limits his options in taking on spending and debt. Also my guess is that the more he pushes back against having an adult conversation about entitlements, the more he guarantees that he won’t get the support of people like Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, none of whom want to be in this race but all of whom have flirted with it precisely because they want that discussion to happen.
-Perry is, for better or for worse, running on his state. Romney is running against his.
-Bachmann and Cain are strong presences on stage, but they sounded like exactly what they are – a backbench legislator and a businessman/activist/talk radio host – rather than like serious presidential contenders. Bachmann’s best moment in the debate, chiding Romney for overlooking the extent to which repeal of Obamacare requires legislation, made her sound like a legislator – and then she compounded that by stressing her introduction of a bill that went nowhere, a reminder that while Bachmann is a spokeswoman for a faction of the party, she has no actual accomplishments to run on.
-Newt sounded like he was running for RNC Chairman, or at least Chairman Emeritus. He’s a wonderful debater, and has earned his status as one of the party’s elder statesmen, but at this point, escaping this race with his dignity intact seems to be his main goal. Newt 2012 in a nutshell came with his answer to a question about writing the forward to Perry’s book: “If he wants to write another book, I’ll write another forward.”
-I found it sort of amusing that both Newt and Santorum were touting the job-creation figures of the nation in the 90s, essentially running the campaign Al Gore refused to run in 2000, when he ran away from a Clinton third term to run as a business-bashing populist.
-Ron Paul sounded like a crazy old man with batty ideas who thinks the 80s were “a bad scene.” Bogus.
-Easily the night’s biggest loser was Rick Santorum, who just has no reason to be there, and it shows. Perry didn’t even pretend to know who Santorum was, referring to him at one point as “that other person.”
-Even if I never did love the guy as a candidate, I still kind of miss Tim Pawlenty. This interview with Colbert captures Pawlenty’s low-key, self-deprecating demeanor, which unfortunately is not what people want in presidential candidates these days. And if we were going to have people on the stage with no chance, it’s a shame one of them wasn’t John Bolton, who would have elevated the discussion on national security. But eight candidates is really too many anyway.

Greg Sargent’s Imaginary Conflict

The Washington Post’s in-house left-wing activist, Greg Sargent, thinks he can convince you that he has a “gotcha” moment with Rick Perry’s recent book “Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington”:

Rick Perry’s campaign is now distancing him from another controversial claim in his book: That we should repeal the 16th Amendment and replace it with a “Fair Tax,” a radical idea that’s still rattling around in some precincts on the right.

Here’s the problem: the book doesn’t say that.
Perry, who has spent his career as governor of a state with no income tax, argues as a historical matter – and he’s on solid ground here – that the federal-state balance was decisively altered by the Progressive Era enactment of the 16th and 17th Amendments, which (respectively) created a federal income tax that vastly expanded federal revenues relative to state revenues and made Senators popularly elected rather than representatives of their states’ legislatures. By giving the federal government a large revenue base independent of the states and removing the representation of state governments in Washington, those two amendments were foundational in creating the modern national administrative state and expanding Washington’s power and influence at the expense of state and local authority closer to the people. Perry, as an ardent exponent of federalism, thinks this was in many ways more trouble than it’s been worth. There’s a lot of pros and cons to an argument of this nature, but it’s a serious question. None other than Sargent’s ideological comrade at the Post, Ezra Klein, who agrees with Perry on almost nothing, wrote in his positive review of Perry’s book back in April:

This is not a boring book. More to the point, it’s not even a book about Rick Perry. It’s a book about Rick Perry’s ideas. And his big idea is that most everything the federal government does is unconstitutional… Perry’s federalism is radical in scope, but it’s not thoughtless. He believes, and repeatedly argues, that states are simply more capable than the federal government. “Most problems get better solutions when they’re solved at the local level,” he writes. He believes that the variations in state policy allow Americans to “vote with their feet.”

That’s the history. But making a historical argument of How We Got Into This Mess is not the same as arguing that the entire last century should be unwound to get us out of it. I myself have argued that, whatever its original merits, it would be a terrible idea to try to get rid of the 17th Amendment. (And frankly, I’m not a fan of the Fair Tax either.)
But let’s look at Perry’s actual argument. Perry does, in the conclusion of his book, argue in the book for restructuring the way the federal government collects revenue, with the goal of both tax simplification and reducing the ultimate size of the federal government. And he does suggest the Fair Tax and the repeal of the 16th Amendment as one of the possible ways to go about doing that, a suggestion that undoubtedly makes the Fair Tax faction more receptive to his overall point. But Perry does not argue for that as his proposed solution, but simply one of the potential options along with something closer to a flat tax:

Second, we should restrict the unlimited source of revenue that the federal government has used to grow beyond its constitutionally prescribed powers.
One option would be to totally scrap the current tax code in favor of a flat tax, and thereby make taxation much simpler, easier to follow, and harder to manipulate. Another option would be to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (providing the power for the income tax) altogether, and then pursue an alternative model of taxation such as a national sales tax or the Fair Tax. The time has come to stop talking about fixing the broken and burdensome tax code and to take bold action to replace it with one that is not a burden for the taxpayer and that provides only the modest revenue needed to perform the basic constitutional functions of the federal government.
America needs a fairer, flatter, and simpler system, one which working families can complete without having to hire a bevy of professionals to assist them.

A flat tax is a controversial idea too, but one that has had bipartisan support over the years (both Jerry Brown in 1992 and Steve Forbes in 1996 ran on flat-tax platforms). And Perry’s campaign, in responding to Sargent, is open about the fact that a presidential campaign has to deal with the immediate practical reality of how to implement political ideas in ways that a book does not, even a book by the same man written at the same time:

The 16th Amendment instituting a federal income tax starting at one percent has exploded into onerous, complex and confusing tax rates and rules for American workers over the last century. The need for job creation in the wake of the explosion of federal debt and costly entitlement programs, mean the best course of action in the near future is a simpler, flatter and broader tax system that unleashes production, creates jobs, and creates more taxpayers. We can’t undo more than 70 years of progressive taxation and worsening debt obligations overnight.

If you read that paragraph next to the complete excerpt from the book, there’s no conflict. One says there’s a historically-rooted problem and a couple of ways to reach the goal of fixing it, the other repeats the assessment of the problem and declares the same goal of fixing it, and simply adds the acknowledgement that this won’t happen overnight. In neither event does Perry wed himself to the Fair Tax, nor does he rule it out. Not being naive or inexperienced at practical politics, Perry undoubtedly understands that whatever his preferences, it’s a lot easier to pass a new tax code through Congress than to repeal an Amendment to the Constitution, and that itself is all the difference in the world between writing books and running for President.
My guess is that Perry, like most presidential candidates, will eventually produce a tax plan, as well as various other plans. Sargent is trying for a “gotcha” moment here because he wants to nail Perry down before Perry has time to roll out anything that deliberate. But Sargent is a web writer, not a print writer – as I just did here, he could have given his readers the context of Perry’s actual quote so they could judge for themselves what Perry’s argument was in the book, instead of leaving the false implication that Perry positively endorsed the Fair Tax and repeal of the 16th Amendment and was now backing away from a proposal he’d made just a few months ago.

Perry’s Texas

Ross Douthat looks at the Perry record. This amused me:

The question is whether Perry himself deserves any of the credit. Here his critics become much more persuasive. When Perry became governor, taxes were already low, regulations were light, and test scores were on their way up. He didn’t create the zoning rules that keep Texas real estate affordable, or the strict lending requirements that minimized the state’s housing bubble. Over all, the Texas model looks like something he inherited rather than a system he built.

Yes, like Barack Obama, he inherited it from George W. Bush. I doubt the Democrats will get far with that argument.
UPDATE: Phil Klein takes apart Paul Krugman’s characteristically dishonest critique of Douthat.

Rick Perry For President, Y’All

Last weekend, Republicans waiting for the proverbial man on the white horse to ride in and save them from an unsatisfactory 2012 primary field got their answer, or at any rate the best answer they are likely to get: Texas Governor Rick Perry. And while Perry entered stage right, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, my previous choice among the announced candidates in the field, exited stage center-right, leaving the choice – to me – an obvious one: Rick Perry for President, y’all.
The Governor From Central Casting
Perry is in many ways a blindingly obvious choice to fill a gap in the presidential field. He’s the longest-serving Governor in the history of the nation’s second-largest state, a state with a long and disputatious foreign border; his predecessor in the job served two terms as President. He’s won statewide election six times, a record matched only by one previous President (Bill Clinton, whose terms were shorter), and has held statewide office continuously for two decades, since Barack Obama was in law school. He’s defeated liberal icon Jim Hightower, survived the Democratic wave of 2006, and beaten African-American, Latino and female opponents (showing his ability to survive Obama-style identity politics), the last a primary challenge by a sitting Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who had Establishment backing as prominent as Dick Cheney. He’s never lost an election since winning his seat in the Texas Legislature in 1984. He served overseas in the Air Force, flying C-130 transports for five years during the Cold War in the mid-70s in places like Germany and Saudi Arabia, joining just as the Vietnam War was winding down (he’d been in an ROTC-style organization at Texas A&M). Like Mitt Romney, he has great hair and looks like a guy Hollywood would cast as a president – which may seem like an awfully silly way to pick a President, but one of Pawlenty’s problems seemed to be a lack of perceived gravitas arising from his decidedly nerdy appearance. Perry has no such problems.
In a red-blue nation, Perry has been a protean political figure, making a journey from Establishment Southern Democrat (in 1988 he was statewide chair for the Al Gore for President campaign) to Establishment Republican (in 1998 he was George W. Bush’s running mate, and he originally took office when Bush resigned after winning the 2000 election) to Tea Party-backed iconoclast (in 2010, as noted, he faced a moderate Establishment rebellion, and survived by cementing his popularity with Texas Tea Partiers and other conservative grassroots). But Perry has changed his politics more than his policies over the years (even as a Democrat he was distinguished as a foe of government spending); while he has any politician’s vulnerability to charges of flip-flopping, pandering and beliefs of convenience at times, he has nothing like Mitt Romney’s vast catalogue of flip-flops in a career in public office barely a fifth as long.
Perry’s strong economic record as Texas Governor, swimming against the national tide, is his strongest selling point (and as such has attracted the most immediate and incoherent assaults). He may have gotten a D in economics in college, when he was still a Democrat, but his much more relevant grade came in 2009, when his state’s bond rating was upgraded to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s on the basis of his 2010-11 budget.
The Real Thing
Perry’s record is solidly but far from perfectly conservative; honestly, there’s not that much difference between him and Pawlenty that’s not explained by the difference between Texas and Minnesota. He’s not the Platonic ideal Republican candidate. He’s not a brilliant policy innovator like Bobby Jindal, a budget wonk extraordinaire like Paul Ryan, or an exemplar of Tea Party purity like Michele Bachmann. He hasn’t faced down a hostile polity like Chris Christie or Scott Walker, or led a faction within the party like Jim DeMint or Pat Toomey. He lacks Marco Rubio’s spellbinding eloquence, Sarah Palin’s biting wit or Allen West’s martial ferocity. He hasn’t been a successful businessman like Romney or Herman Cain, or a decorated combat veteran like West or John McCain. He’s a career politician. And as a 61 year old white male Texas Baby Boomer who has been in office for a quarter century and who sometimes sounds like George W. Bush, he’s not in any way a “new face” for the party.
But the Republican Party right now has plenty of enthusiasm and plenty of ideas. What it has been looking for is a leader with credibility in governance, and that’s Perry. With over a decade in office in a huge, Republican-dominated state, Perry isn’t selling castles in the air, he’s selling an alternative vision of how government should operate, implemented and road-tested through good times and bad. From the new security demands of 9/11, to a decade of balancing budgets with ebbing and flowing tax revenues, to creating jobs through two recessions, to immigration from neighboring Mexico, to crises ranging from Hurricanes Rita and Ike to eruptions of Islamic extremism at Fort Hood to every variety of social ill and social-issue controversy, Perry has had to grapple with the full menu of practical challenges that come with governing responsibility. Many a buck has stopped at his desk. His answers may not always have been ideal, but the voters will be able to judge him, for good and ill, on a long and proven record.
On my 2008 checklist of five types of experience we look for in presidential candidates, Perry scores strongly on two (executive experience and political leadership experience) by virtue of his long tenure as Texas Governor and the state party’s consistent success under his guidance. He’s not a combat veteran, but has worn his country’s uniform abroad. On foreign affairs, he’s somewhat typical of a long-serving border-state governor – he’s well-traveled and well-versed in immigration and trade issues (probably nobody in America has more practical experience dealing with immigration and the Mexican border), but still has much to prove on national security. He can also boast some private sector business experience from his time as a rancher before running for office – hardly a vast enterprise, but one that teaches a good deal from the ground level up about how to make ends meet. As I’ve noted before, no one factor is essential – although executive experience is by far the most important – and only two presidents (George Washington and George H.W. Bush) entered office with a strong resume in all five categories. So, Perry comes out looking pretty good on that test.
After 2 1/2 years of a President who entered the White House as a wish-projection object with no track record running anything, America deserves a leader who already knows how to lead and has gotten his rookie mistakes out of his system.
Holding Out For A Hero
Every successful presidential campaign requires a little touch of hero-worship and personality cult, although again the Obama experience demonstrates the dangers of overdosing on this sort of thing. Perry, as a poster boy for gun-toting Texans (he once shot a coyote while jogging), has inspired a bit of that. If you’ve seen the burgeoning “Rick Perry Facts” meme on the web (@rickperryfacts on Twitter, for example), after the mold of the Chuck Norris Facts, they’re a good example of pumping up Perry’s Texas tough guy image with the proper air of absurdity to avoid taking themselves too seriously. Nobody is going to depict Perry as a “Lightworker” who brings meaning to our lives, paint pictures of him astride a unicorn, or argue that he will fundamentally change the American people or hold back the tides. He’s simply a successful political leader who wants to apply his talents to improving how our federal government works, in many cases by imitating things that have already been done on the federal or state level in the past.
We all have our biases in preferring candidates. I know three of mine. One, which Perry fits just as have Pawlenty, Palin, Ryan, Rubio, Giuliani, Christie, and even Ronald Reagan, is a preference for Republicans who didn’t grow up wealthy or from prominent families, who have had to scrap their way up the ladder. I’ve voted for my share of to-the-manor-born Republicans and surely will again, but I still feel like Republicans who have had to claw their way up from middle-class or harder backgrounds tend to understand better at a gut level what the party really stands for, how hard it has to work to win, and why it appeals to Americans who don’t come from money and influence. But Perry doesn’t exactly fit the second (I tend to like candidates who are, like me, either lawyers or otherwise talkers, fast on their feet and clever in debate) and as for the third…so sue me, I’m a New Yorker, I prefer not to run Southerners, who tend to get counted out easily by much of the rest of the country. But it’s important to know your biases precisely so you don’t let them dictate your choices. I’d rather have run a candidate from another region of the country, but if Perry’s the best we have – and I think of the current field he is, and that whatever rumors you hear, we’re unlikely to get another top-shelf entrant – he’s my candidate. He doesn’t need to be my hero.
I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the Map
Here is where the entry of Perry gets interesting and a little dicey. One of the primary reasons why I’d been open to possibly continuing to support Pawlenty even if he and Perry were both in the field is the 2012 map. As I have written before, the demographics of the true swing states in 2012 are likely to determine the two sides’ battle plans.
Let me offer my current seat-of-the-pants analysis of what that map will look like. This is based in good part on history and educated speculation; it’s too early to have meaningful hard data and dangerous to project too much certainty on current polling.
Realistically, given Obama’s current weaknesses and the traditional GOP loyalties of those states, I expect that Ohio, Florida and Indiana will end up in the GOP column so long as the Republican candidate is competitive – in other words, I can’t foresee the situation where Republicans lose the election because of a failure to win one of those states. Meanwhile, so long as the bottom doesn’t drop out on him, Obama’s likely to hold on in Minnesota, but Republicans will have opportunities in other states of the Midwest and Upper Midwest that have tended to run Democratic in the past two decades. I also think the demographics make it at least an open question whether the GOP can reclaim Virginia and North Carolina, although (1) Democrats mostly got drubbed there in 2009-2010 (besides the NC-GOV race) and (2) Obama only won NC by a hair in 2008 anyway, with less than 50% of the vote, so his margin of error there is almost nonexistent. In general, polling has tended to show that Obama is more popular than you’d expect from national numbers and the local partisan climate in federal worker-heavy Virginia, less popular than you’d expect in bitter, clinging Pennsylvania.
This is what my current map looks like:
2012 Map as of 8/22/11
You will notice that this puts the GOP 32 electoral votes short of the goal line, with the remaining votes up for graps divided into the following buckets:
The Midwest: 52 votes, 16 of them in the white-bread Upper Midwest states of Wisconsin and Iowa, 36 in the more traditional Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. These were states where the Democrats got slaughtered in 2010, with the GOP winning governorships in all four (as well as Senate races in PA & WI). New Hampshire’s 4 electoral votes are likely to trend in a similar direction as these four states, bringing the swing total to 56. If Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota come onto the table, that expands this region by another 39 votes. The Midwest is huge.
The Tidewater: VA & NC were both red states under Bush, but an influx of northerners to NC’s Research Triangle and to the federal worker and contractor dominated Northern Virginia region, combined with heavy African-American turnout, swung both states for Obama in 2008. (If you prefer, we can call these two the Big Ten and the ACC). VA & NC carry 28 electoral votes; adding them on this map leaves the Republican candidate just one state from victory.
The High Desert: CO & NV were mostly reliable red states that have been pulled left by demographic changes (growing Latino populations, influxes of Californians), heavy union organization in NV, and a pair of especially ineptly run state Republican organizations. NM is a more traditionally Democratic state, but was won by Bush in 2004 and went Republican in the 2010 Governor’s race (both NV & NM elected Hispanic Republican governors in 2010). I’ve tended to assume Obama wins all three, but they will be close-run races, with a total prize of 20 electoral votes.
The predominance of the Midwest would seem to argue for a candidate more suited to that region than a guy like Perry who embodies Texas swagger. That’s where Pawlenty could have come in handy, with his careful balance of blue-collar scrappiness and “Minnesota nice” and record of lasting two statewide terms in blue Minnesota without emerging hopelessly compromised. But in retrospect, the defining moment of Pawlenty’s campaign ended up coming when he blasted Mitt Romney’s health care record as “Obamaneycare” on a Sunday talk show, but refused to repeat the line in Romney’s presence in a June debate in New Hampshire. Pawlenty ended up with the worst of both worlds, looking less like a scrapper than like a rabbit-puncher who wasn’t willing to slug with the big boys. Pawlenty ended up bowing out with class as soon as his path to victory was closed off after the Ames Straw Poll.
But if Perry is perhaps not the best fit for the Midwest, one advantage of Perry being a Texan is that, as Richard Cohen sagely notes, Texas is culturally, geographically and politically part of both the South and the West. As a result, Perry is in some sense campaigning on home turf as far east as Florida and Virginia and as far west as Arizona and Idaho. He’ll look and sound very much like the kind of Republican candidate who wins elections in Virginia and North Carolina. And a corollary is that Texas’ unique historic and demographic ties to Mexico means that a successful long-time Texas politician like Perry is much more at home campaigning for Latino support than a candidate from the Upper Midwest would be, giving him a better chance of running strongly in the three High Desert states.
Buckle Your Seatbelts
Barack Obama, like Harry Reid in 2010 and Gray Davis in 2002, is likely to enter the 2012 election needing to make the race about something other than his own unpopular and unsuccessful record in office; indeed, that was one major reason why I’d been attracted to the relatively bland Pawlenty. Perry lacks obvious weak points – he can’t be painted as a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he can’t be caricatured as a Bill Simon-type corporate predator or a Sharron Angle-type batty extremist. Even some of his more eccentric-sounding ideas, like his criticism of the Sixteenth Amendment, are grounded in his experience balancing budgets and presiding over economic growth in a state with no income tax.
The fact of Perry’s Texas-ness and Obama’s own needs make the primary attacks on him wholly predictable. The demographics of the swing states and Obama’s 2008 coalition only amplify his side’s natural inclination to run a racially divisive campaign. Obama’s poll numbers, plunging along with the economy, will exacerbate this tendency. An incident last week perfectly captures this dynamic. Perry referred on the campaign trail to the national debt as a “big black cloud that hangs over America,” and MSNBC pounced, editing out the reference to the debt and asserting that Perry was referring to Obama as a “big black cloud”. Ed Schultz was forced to do a retraction – even Jon Stewart defended Perry on this one – but attacks of this nature never truly go away even after the inevitable insincere apology. Expect more “big black cloud”-style nonsense for the next 15 months.
One of the pet sound bites of Perry’s less literate critics has been the notion that he’s some kind of secessionist, an urban myth that comes from how he tried to talk down some heated chatter in 2010:

What actually happened was that after people shouted “Secede!” at an Austin rally, he said that he understood their frustration but added, “We’ve got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that. Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”
Perry emphasized that he was not advocating secession, but understands why Americans may have those feelings because of frustration. He said it’s fine to express the thought. He offered no apology and did not back away from his earlier comments. Perry’s remarks were in response to a question from The Associated Press as he walked away from the rally.

This is, of course, a textbook example of how to respond to people with extreme-sounding ideas without agreeing with them. But just as important, it’s not, as some left-wingers would have it, a species of neo-Confederacy. “Secession” may have an automatic association with the Stars and Bars to people in, say, Ohio or South Carolina, but in Texas it’s part of a much longer-standing tradition of Texas nationalism. Recall that Texas is one of just two states to have once been an independent nation (the other, Hawaii, has not only a lingering nationalism of its own but an active movement to enshrine in law a rule of racial superiority for its native people), and became independent by seceding from Mexico – to Texans, independence and secession are first and foremost associated with the Alamo, not Fort Sumter. But don’t expect that history to be understood by people who automatically salivated at the sound of “big black raincloud.”
Another brand of really disqualifying-sounding attacks has been the decade-old whispering campaign (I swear I saw it on left-wing blogs as far back as 2002) to paint Perry as gay, a womanizer, or maybe even a gay womanizer (what can’t he do?). But similar campaigns have failed to damage Obama (remember Vera Baker?), George H.W. Bush, or even guys with more checkered marital records like John Kerry and John McCain. Americans are usually pretty good about knowing when to write off critics who don’t have the goods on this kind of story. You never know with a guy until he’s been road-tested at the national level, but … well, the guy who keeps trying to push these stories to us at RedState has a long history of touting claims that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian who had an affair with Webb Hubbell. I’ve seen nothing to take the mud slung at Perry out of that category.
There’s other critiques of Perry, of course (there’s an excellent summary here), but that’s to be expected with anybody who’s been in public office for that long. On ethics, for example, Perry’s records is wholly unremarkable. He hasn’t made a career as a reform-minded crusader like McCain or Palin, or pretended to, like Obama. Inevitably, he’s open to charges that his state government has sometimes favored his political and financial supporters. This is common to basically all successful politicians, and it’s entirely proper that they be kept in some fear of public criticism on the subject. But as all conservatives know, the only way to limit public corruption is to limit the role of government, especially in the economy – that’s why the Democrats will always have a larger systemic problem with corruption. Perry’s Texas experience, the polar opposite of Obama’s grounding in the all-encompassing Chicago machine, helps him understand this. We’ll hear more about the Texas Governorship being comparatively “weak,” and the legislature is even weaker…but that’s a good thing, as Perry pointed out in 2007:

The Texas Legislature meets 140 days every other year.
Would Texans consider having a full-time legislature like Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly, which serves 12 million people, and where lawmakers are paid $73,000 a year, drive state-paid cars and collect generous pensions?
Forget about it, Perry says.
“There are people who always think, ‘Let’s have a full-time legislature.’ I happen to think that’s just asking for trouble. When you have a full-time legislature, they just feel pretty inclined to be doing something. So they are going to dream up new laws, new regulations and new statutes — and generally all of those cost money,” Perry said.

Perry will take his knocks. Put not your faith in princes – he’s no messiah, he’s a politician. But he’s a good one for these times.
I haven’t walked through Perry’s record in detail here, nor explained in full my reasons for discounting his opponents; there will be ample time for all that as the campaign unfolds. But I hope you’ll agree with me that Perry is precisely the kind of proven, experienced, responsible conservative leader that the GOP should be running in 2012, and take the time yourself to give his record (warts and all) a closer look.

Kohl Out

I told you last month that Herb Kohl, Wisconsin’s Democratic senior Senator, hadn’t raised even a penny in the first quarter of 2011, leading to questions about whether he would run for re-election in 2012. Kohl was best known for being not known – he kept an extremely low profile in the Senate, and the best you can say of his Senate career is that, to quote Animal House, Kohl has a long tradition of existence in the Senate. Today he makes it official: he’s not running for re-election in 2012.
Kohl’s retirement sets off a scramble to identify the candidates for what will doubtless be a very high-profile race, given the recent political controversies in Wisconsin and its status as a potentially crucial 2012 swing state. The A-list Democratic candidate is recently deposed Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who commands loyalty from the base and top-flight fundraising capability; given that Feingold was beaten in 2010 by relative unknown Ron Johnson (52%-47%) without the assistance of a scandal or other major controversy, running him sets up a pure test of whether the state’s rightward shift will endure in 2012 with the elevated turnout of a national election.
The GOP “dream” candidate is Paul Ryan, who of course is also being courted in some circles to be a presidential or vice presidential contender, but Ryan has a safe lock on an otherwise Democratic-leaning district, a powerful perch in the House and young kids, so he may pass on this race. The other main candidate who’s already jumped in is former two-term Congressman Mark Neumann, who lost a moderately close race to Feingold in 1998 (50.55%-48.40%) and finished a distant second to Scott Walker in the 2010 Gubernatorial primary.
Then again: it’s a job opening in Wisconsin, and guess who’s out of work!
Stay tuned.

Haley Barbour Not Running For President in 2012

If there is one thing we should have learned from the 2008 primary and general elections, to say nothing of 1996, it’s that being a good presidential candidate on paper is useless; you have to want it – want it badly enough to hire a serious staff, badly enough to trim a few positions and hard edges to fit the various demands of the primary and general electorates, badly enough to endure the most exhaustive efforts to tear apart your entire life for public entertainment, badly enough to spend endless weary hours fundraising and stumping in Iowa and New Hampshire and enduring crummy bus rides with grumpy reporters and town halls with cranks and half-wits and left-wing troublemakers. Your family needs to want it too – a man whose wife doesn’t want him to be president will not become president. It’s a big, life-consuming commitment, and you don’t do it halfway.
Add Haley Barbour now to the list of people who simply were not willing to make that 100% commitment, and Gov. Barbour knows himself and the task well enough not to pretend otherwise and run halfway:

“A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” Barbour added. “His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.”

Gov. Barbour’s combination of folksy populism and gravitas, and his matchless rolodex as 1994 RNC chairman and 2010 RGA chairman – the two greatest years for GOP candidates across the country in a long time – would have made him a formidable entrant into the race. He had his weaknesses as a candidate too, which are moot now; the point is that a fully committed Barbour would have been a factor. Perhaps we should have suspected this was coming when his right-hand man at RGA, Nick Ayers, instead signed up for the Pawlenty campaign.
The roster of candidates who are genuinely serious GOP contenders – especially if you look at who has won a statewide election some time in the past decade – remains limited. All eyes will now turn to the people who remain on the fence (Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee) or denying they’re interested (Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan) to see who else might round out the field. In particular, the field now seems especially thin on Southerners for a party with so many officeholders in the region.
There’s still plenty of time to jump in; there’s perhaps less time now to hire staff and raise money. It’s early still; but as Yogi Berra said, it gets late early out there.

Nobody Even Sent Him a Buck Out of Team Loyalty


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Soggy Wonder Bread For All

As regular readers will recall, I am not the biggest fan of Mitt Romney. Unlike my RedState colleague streiff, I don’t really expect Romney to be the last man standing in the 2012 primaries, even if they go relatively badly in terms of who gets in and who gets their act together once in. Romneycare, atop his many other defects, is too big a problem for too many voters.
But there is a candidate in the race who represents, to me, the lowest common denominator we can all learn to live with, and that’s Tim Pawlenty. Ramesh Ponnuru, whose opinion is never easily dismissed, makes the case for Pawlenty at length in the March 7, 2011 issue of National Review, and I urge you to read it.
As Ramesh notes, Pawlenty is pretty dull (check out the clips of him I collected in profiling him as a VP candidate in 2008), and runs the risk of coming off as insincere as Romney if he tries to cure that by trying to be someone or something he’s not. Not for nothing do I refer to Pawlenty as Governor Soggy Wonder Bread. In many ways he’s McCain without the interesting parts, for good and ill – minimally acceptable on all the big issues. And while that was a sad excuse for a candidate in 2008, it may be a very different story in 2012 if Obama is still unpopular and ends up banking entirely on his ability to discredit his opponent to win.
Fundamentally, Pawlenty is the one guy in the field with no potentially fatal weaknesses. He’s the most experienced candidate available – two terms as a blue-state governor and four years as a state house majority leader make him the rare presidential candidate experienced as a chief executive and a legislative leader. The media will try, but he can’t be effectively caricatured the way Palin, Barbour and Romney can. And like Romney, he has one crucial thing the rest of the field has yet to prove – he wants the job, badly, and is effectively already running.
I’m not trying to sell anybody just now on Pawlenty – as I’ll explain in a lengthier post on Palin I keep meaning to finish writing, I don’t think we conservatives should be committing ourselves to anybody in the field just yet, and I intend to keep hunting for a better alternative than Pawlenty. But we can most assuredly do worse, and if we’re stuck (as in 2008) with a last-man-standing least-of-evils anybody-but-Obama candidate, I think Pawlenty will prove to be a far more plausible choice than Romney or Huckabee or Jon Huntsman. I certainly want him to stick in the race so we have that option available.
So, just in case, save me a seat on the blandwagon.

Why 2012 Is Not 1996

A little history can be a dangerous thing, and in advance of Tuesday’s State of the Union Address by President Obama, political commentary will be focusing on Obama’s ability to replay 1995-96, when President Clinton rebounded from a similar rout in the midterm elections to more or less coast to re-election (while Clinton finished below 50% of the popular vote, it was only a “coming home” of Republicans in the campaign’s closing weeks that averted a more lopsided result; the outcome was not seriously in doubt).
Undoubtedly, Obama will have the opportunity to take advantage of many of the same dynamics that favored Clinton’s re-election, and he may succeed for those and other reasons. But history never repeats itself precisely. It is worthwhile to reflect on the many things that worked to Clinton’s benefit that Obama can’t count on:

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It’s Cens-mas!

The Census Bureau today released the official reapportionment figures from the 2010 Census, which will determine (1) what states gain and lose House seats and thus will be prime targets for redistricting and (2) what states correspondingly gain and lose votes in the Electoral College for 2012.
By and large, the news was good for the GOP. For the immediate impact, I’ll focus on the Electoral College, although it’s worth noting how many of the redistricting states – especially the two biggest gainers, Texas (+4) and Florida (+2), and one of the two biggest losers, Ohio (-2) – are now under heavy GOP control (and the GOP just recently took control of the NY State Senate, assuring a place at the table in the other state losing more than one seat, as NY is also -2).

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An Early 2012 Prediction

If you’ll permit me, I’m going to go on record with a very early prediction about 2012. Sarah Palin has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning endorsing Paul Ryan’s Roadmap as a good plan for rescuing the nation’s fiscal solvency. It’s far from the first time that former Gov. Palin has spoken warmly of Congressman Ryan and his ideas.
I have no idea as of yet who is running in 2012 and who isn’t, let alone who will be the GOP nominee, and other than being committed to finding a candidate who (1) has executive experience and (2) isn’t Romney (not that I’m likely to back Huckabee, either), I haven’t settled on a candidate and haven’t ruled out any of the remaining contenders.
But I will predict this now: if Sarah Palin is the nominee, she will pick Paul Ryan as her running mate. Ryan has a few things in common with Palin – he’s relatively young, telegenic, and a workout fanatic – but my guess is that Palin recognizes that the biggest knock on her is that she’s not regarded as a policy-details person, and Ryan of course is precisely that, a sharp communicator with a mastery of the details. While the conventional wisdom goes in one of two directions – either that a running mate would be someone with specific ethnic/regional/religious appeals different from the nominee or that a nominee coming from a governorship would pick a national security heavyweight – my guess is that Palin would look to Ryan as a guy she could see taking the de facto prime minister role of running the legislative and budget agenda, freeing her up to handle the big-picture issues and the Commander-in-Chief role.
UPDATE: Ace, for one, is impressed by Palin’s endorsement of the Roadmap.

Obama Chooses Sides In Favor of the Ground Zero Mosque

Last night, as part of a Ramadan celebration, President Obama waded into the controversy over the Cordoba Initiative mosque within sight of Ground Zero. In so doing, he unambiguously chose sides with those who see this deliberate provocation as a positive good.
It is unsurprising, given what we already know about him, that President Obama would decline to support using government power to block the mosque project, and would decline to support withholding the various government favors needed to build it (although he carefully avoided mention of the State Department’s employment of the mosque’s Malaysian imam) – but he could have at a minimum used the opportunity to denounce in no uncertain terms what broad majorities of the public in and out of New York recognize: the fact that whatever the law says, the project itself is deeply and intentionally offensive. Especially when the president feels a matter is beyond his formal power, this is what the presidential bully pulpit is for. He has certainly not been shy in the past about speaking forcefully to denounce matters as provincial as a dispute between a professor and local cops in Cambridge. Instead, Obama offered only a tepid nod that failed to suggest he personally saw anything wrong with the selection of the Ground Zero location for a mosque:

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