Which of these text messages do you think would be more likely to get a conservative voter out to vote?
- Tomorrow is Election Day for Governor! Your Voting Record is Public. Be a good citizen, be a Voter!
- Will we let them beat us? Friendly reminder to Vote for Gov tmrw.
Adam Schaeffer, the Director of Research and the co-founder of Evolving Strategies, posed that question to CPAC attendees at a panel titled, “Vaccines vs. Leeches: Using Experiments to Win Hearts, Minds, and Elections.”
He and his team have sent out both these messages to randomized subsets of voters, and it turned out that the first message had a statistically insignificant effect on voting, but the second turned out to raise turnout by 6.8 percentage points.
Schaeffer and others (including the growing team at Para Bellum) are trying to use experiments to guide outreach, testing tiny variations in messaging to find big, unexpected advantages. The Democrats, relying on the research of Alan Gerber and Donald Green, have been using experiments to increase turnout and maximize fundraising, and have outpaced the GOP’s efforts.
Experiments have the power to subvert the conventional wisdom of campaigns, since it’s easy to try out a new idea cheaply. In 2012, the Obama team found that they could maximize the chance that one of their emails would be opened with a simple, enigmatic subject line: “Hey.” Small changes can make a big difference.
In Schaeffer’s experiments, timing was critical. Although the second message produced good results in the morning, when the same message was sent in the afternoon, the results were still significant, but they were significantly negative. Voters who were contacted in the late afternoon had their turnout rates drop by -11.4 percentage points as a result.
Testing so many hypothesis and checking the impact of messages on so many tiny subgroups leaves candidates vulnerable to being mislead by statistical artifacts. Most commonly used significance tests have a one in twenty chance of being false positives. When a campaign tests hundreds of variations, some results are bound to seem significant in pilot tests but fail to preform when they’re applied to the whole electorate. Read More…
At hackathons and in the cubicle-less offices of Silicon Valley firms, Republican recruiters are sidling up to programmers and cautiously sounding them out to see how they feel about the NSA spying program and the Obamacare rollout. They’re headhunting for Para Bellum Labs, the GOP’s attempt to answer the computed power of President Obama’s Organizing for America. The organization is meant to take advantage of a start-up spirit, nurturing small, agile political projects that can scale up to national races.
The new initiative takes its name from the Latin motto, Si vis pacem, para bellum—If you seek peace, prepare for war. But it might have been more apropos to say, Si vis vitam, para bellum—prepare for war, if you want to live. In 2012, the GOP’s get out the vote project, Project Orca, blew up in the Romney campaigns face. On Election Day, the webpage went down and stayed down, unprepared to handle the load of field volunteers checking voter turnout and following up with tardy voters.
Meanwhile, the Obama team’s outreach rolled along smoothly, messages tailored to individual voters through Project Narwhal, a massive data mining initiative similar to the algorithms and A/B testing that online advertisers use to maximize the chance that you’ll click through on an ad. The Obama tech team didn’t just work on what message to send, but what medium to send it through as well. At the peak of the campaign, the Obama team was carefully looking for undervalued, highly-targeted media buys. Their big data machine meant that the Democrats were spending, on average, $72 less per TV spot than the Romney campaign.
The Para Bellum team may be able to help the GOP staunch the bleeding, but they’re unlikely to deliver the same kind of advantage as Project Narwhal did for the Democrats. The Obama campaign benefited from being the first mover in the political data movement. By using big data, they were able to segment voters and media markets into smaller demographic slices and to identify opportunities that had been systematically mispriced.
The Democrats’ playbook resembled the sabermetric approach of Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s coach profiled in Moneyball. By taking a finer-grained approach to a market (of persuadable voters, in the Democrats case, of free agents and draftees, in Beane’s), the quants were able to steal a march on their opponents.
But Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s only benefited from his Moneyball strategies for a few seasons before the rest of the league caught up, and his advantage didn’t last long enough to reach the World Series. His data-intensive approach only helped as long as players were systematically mispriced. Once the other general managers wised up, the market for players settled into a new equilibrium and the richer teams were able to outbid their rivals for better players.
The Para Bellum initiative can blunt the advantage of the Organizing for America team, but it will be difficult to outstrip them. As both parties get better at leveraging big data, they’ll find it easier and easier to spend their resources efficiently on the undecideds who are most likely to become supporters, and the supporters who are the most likely to become campaign contributors.
Big data and algorithms mean that future political campaigns will be conducted in a world of better slicing and better pricing. But better pricing, in this case, means more efficient pricing, not cheaper pricing. If Para Bellum Labs succeeds in its mission, the Republicans won’t be leaving money on the table for Democratic programmers anymore. But instead of reaping an advantage of their own, the GOP coders will just have shifted the electoral market into a new equilibrium.
Just as the segmentation of the electoral college allows both parties to better target their outreach, to the only voters whose votes could make a difference, the data crunchers on both sides will let the parties fight fiercely over an ever smaller set of voters.
Gov. Scott Walker has fashioned a reputation as a fiscal steward and political survivor. He made some tough choices during a severe economic downturn and turned a budget shortfall (how much of one is a matter of some dispute) into a surplus and, for his troubles, faced down a partisan recall effort.
With a nearly $1 billion projected budget surplus expected next year, Walker wants to slash property and income taxes as he heads into reelection this fall — a move many say could also grease a 2016 presidential bid should he decide to run.
The interesting, and to my mind, encouraging, thing is that the move, which will cost Wisconsin an estimated $860 million over two years, has met with skepticism from some Republicans in Wisconsin. Bade reports that “he’s facing headwinds from a handful of Senate Republicans who say the tax cuts should come after paying off a slew of unpaid bills due in just a few years. Walker’s plan would actually worsen the longer-term deficit outlook.” One state Republican senator told Politico, “The tax plan sets us up for a very bad time in the future.”
And Walker would do well to listen to him—because if he’s truly eying a run in 2016, he’s badly misreading the mood of the national electorate and even of congressional Republicans. The salience of revenue-reducing tax cuts as a plank in the national Republican platform has diminished over the years, as gains in income have been concentrated among a small cohort of already-wealthy voters. Recall: Mitt Romney, if only vaguely, promised to pay for lower tax rates by limiting deductions. Rep. Paul Ryan’s most recent budget proposal also was revenue neutral. Sen. Mike Lee’s barebones tax reform proposal is possibly revenue-negative, but it hasn’t been scored and, as written, won’t see the light of day.
The bottom line is that the GOP isn’t anxious to return to the playbook of the Aughts. In his first presidential campaign, Gov. George W. Bush warned against letting Washington get its hands on projected budget surpluses—“the people’s money”—so he promised to cut taxes instead. In office, Bush drained federal coffers of the surpluses—and then some.
Governor Walker is foolish to think Republicans, let alone the electorate in general, want to see that movie again.
I was pleased to see Howard Kurtz respond to my post on why President Obama shouldn’t fear a GOP Senate, even as he thinks I’m “all wrong.”
An all-Republican Congress can make life miserable for Obama and, by extension, for Hillary Clinton if she runs. The notion that the GOP will suddenly function as a cooperative partner totally underestimates the poisonous atmosphere in Washington.
Nowhere in my post did I suggest that the GOP would “suddenly function as a cooperative partner.” I made a narrowly focused prediction that “things may actually improve slightly”—most likely on the issue of immigration, concerning which Kurtz argues:
Republicans are highly unlikely to be passing immigration reform in 2015 even if they win the midterms. The base hates it, and more important, we’ll be in the opening innings of a presidential campaign in which the party’s contenders will be pulled to the right, as Mitt Romney (he of “self-deportation”) was in 2012.
Kurtz here is just projecting the status quo into the indefinite future. Yes, the base “hates” the idea of amnesty. But guess what? 1) The base cannot deliver a Republican president in 2016. 2) The Romney campaign sucked; and the GOP establishment is not anxious to repeat its mistakes (the “self-deportation” rhetoric was a particularly and self-evidently disastrous mistake). This is why I believe there’s at least a sliver of a chance of compromise over the issue. With unified control of Congress, the GOP will very likely be able to present to Obama a bill with tough enforcement measures and no path to citizenship. It will be able to declare victory on a major issue on its own terms, not the Democrats’, and it will have laid the groundwork for a campaign that courts Latinos afresh. And as I noted in my original post, Obama will have little choice but to accept whatever cards the GOP deals him on immigration.
Kurtz takes, issue, too with my argument that “Republican Congress” will make for juicy target for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign: “Two years of a Republican Congress won’t be much of a 2016 target, if things aren’t going well, compared to eight years of the Obama administration. As a bogeyman, John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich.” Well, yeah, true. But I never made such a comparison. The Republican nominee will run against Obama’s eight years no matter which party controls the Senate. And Hillary won’t need a neo-Newt bogeyman. She will instead sow fear of unified Republican control of the federal government. Of a return to the mismanagement of the Bush years. Of unchecked power.
Kurtz’s final point:
If they control the Senate machinery, Republicans will be able to launch twice as many investigations as they can now by holding just the House. They will be able to block Obama nominees, creating a sense of dysfunction. They will be able to bring bills to the floor, while Harry Reid watches helplessly, solely for the purpose of forcing Democrats to cast politically dangerous votes that can be used in attack ads. They can cut the budget in the name of deficit reduction. They may even be able to force Obama to veto legislation that suits their purposes. In short, the White House will lose the bulwark of a Senate that ensures all conservative legislation dies in the House.
I will concede that a Republican Senate could make life for Obama marginally worse than the carnival barker Darrell Issa already has. But the rest of the paragraph is almost adorable. “They will be to block Obama nominees, creating a sense of dysfunction [emphasis mine].” No kidding? I’d say Obama is fairly used to that kind of thing by now. “They can cut the budget in the name of deficit deduction.” You don’t say? And good luck getting legislation to the floor. There’s this thing in the Senate about invoking cloture. I hear it’s really difficult to do lately. And about “conservative legislation dying in the House”: I was around in the late 1990s when complaints from House Republicans about their lamentably milquetoast brethren in the Senate were routine and vociferous. Such may be the case again in 2015. With a Republican Senate, “conservative legislation” won’t die in the House. It will die instead in conference.
Kurtz’s scenario of Republicans’ eliciting embarrassing vetoes on show-me bills (“legislation that suits their purposes”) is outdated. Obama’s not running again. There will be no painful vetoes for him—only gleefully satisfying ones. And if, as a consequence, Hillary needs to run to Obama’s right because of something he vetoes, so much the better for her. If legislation that’s sufficiently moderate does miraculously make its way to his desk—most likely, and probably exclusively, an immigration bill—he will sign it.
That’s all I’m saying. There will be no “Kumbaya” around a campfire.
Center-right wonks are increasingly optimistic that the next Republican nominee will have a real agenda to promote—one that’s attractive to all voters, not just white owners of capital.
There’s the focus on overhauling antipoverty programs from Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan. There’s the family-friendly tax plan of Sen. Mike Lee. There’s the brave gesture in the direction of prison reform from Lee and Sen. Rand Paul.
To be sure, this agenda is still bones and no flesh.
In the meantime, an equally important development is underway.
Byron York reported from the recent House Republican retreat:
At the House Republican retreat in Cambridge, Md., Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called on GOP lawmakers to take a new approach to the nation’s economic anxieties. Dividing his remarks into four categories — Obamacare, jobs and economic growth, the middle-class squeeze, and opportunity — Cantor’s goal was to try to identify specific problems middle-class families are facing and spark discussion on conservative solutions that might help those families.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Cantors presentation was that it included a recognition that in the past Republicans have focused more on the nation’s employers than employees, have talked about small business owners and entrepreneurs to the exclusion of the far greater number of Americans who don’t own their own businesses.
“Ninety percent of Americans work for someone else,” Cantor said, according to a source in the room. “Most of them not only will never own their own business, for most of them that isn’t their dream. Their dream is to have a good job, with an income that will allow them to support their family.”
“We shouldn’t miss the chance to talk to these people,” Cantor continued, according to the source, “which is why we will present and pass our plans to relieve the middle class squeeze.”
This shift in tone and emphasis is key to any hope of a Republican winning the White House again. It is a not-so-subtle rebuke of the disastrous Romney campaign and its self-satisfied and divisive “Yes, I did build that!” rhetoric. It’s the human-interest frame in which to hang the Ryan-Rubio-Lee-Paul reform agenda.
After Ryan’s 2012 convention speech, I wrote:
In Ryan’s intellectual bubble, there are job creators and entrepreneurs on one side and parasites on the other. There is no account of the vast gray expanse of janitors, waitresses, hotel front-desk clerks, nurses, highway maintenance workers, airport baggage handlers, and taxi drivers. They work hard, but at the end of the day, what can they be said to have “built”?
There’s an old saying that American politics is fought “between the 40 yard lines.” This is half-true. It skips over the matter of which football field we’re playing on. For the last five years, we’ve been fighting between the 40 yard lines on the football field of low inflation and deficit reduction—spending cuts vs. new tax revenue. What, if anything, to do about long-term unemployment and underemployment is another field altogether—and we barely play on it.
The field on which elite Republicans would like to fight is that of cheap labor, tight money, balanced budgets, hawkish foreign policy and low taxes on capital. On this field, amnesty and gay marriage are between the 40 yard lines.
Not to single her out, because there are all too many Republicans like her in Washington, but this is Jennifer Rubin’s field.
It’s the way to defeat again in ’16.
Cantor’s advice to his Republican colleagues is a critical first-step in ensuring that, for the next campaign, the GOP is between the 40 yard lines and on the right football field.
Conventional wisdom says the Obama administration is effectively toast if Republicans capture the Senate this fall. I’ve peddled it myself, and I’m not certain it’s wrong. But here are a few reasons why it might be:
His agenda is dead anyway. What the moral-equivalence mainstream vaguely calls “dysfunction” is really a poisonous dynamic in which compromise, the mere scent of it, politically lifts Obama and splits Republicans. Of immigration, Carl Hulse writes this morning:
Republicans knowledgeable about the issue said immigration was not yet completely off the table. Instead, they said, reaching any agreement has become appreciably harder because of a Republican reluctance to get caught up in an internal feud and stomp on their increasingly bright election prospects.
This is why new gun regulations were never going to pass. Or tax reform. Or tweaks to Obamacare. Or an extension of unemployment insurance. Looking back, it’s obvious that Congress would pass nothing of any significance after November 2010. This is a pitfall of divided government. You can blame James Madison if you like. (Garry Wills once made a provocative case that our notion of Madisonian checks and balances is so much mythology—an argument for another day.)
Arguably the only thing that President Obama and Congress have accomplished since the GOP House takeover is a sharp reduction in short-term budget deficits. Neither party has benefited politically from this accomplishment. Nor has the economy improved appreciably. Rather, it has probably been dragged down. (One day, historians will look on the period of 2011-13 and unanimously conclude it was utter madness.) Consequently, both sides have wisely given up on debt and deficits for the meantime.
There is the issue of judicial and executive branch appointments. But the heavy lift on those probably has already taken place.
Things may actually improve slightly under a unified GOP Congress. Look at it this way: if Republicans win the Senate, their next prize, obviously, will be the White House. That’s a different ballgame altogether—a bigger, browner electorate. Suddenly the imperative to obstruct the Obama agenda begins to recede. A different incentive structure will take shape: the party will have to govern, or at least appear as though it’s trying. As Hulse writes in the Times, some Republicans “believe it would be smarter to wait until after the midterms and pursue immigration in 2015 leading up to the presidential election,
when Republicans will be more motivated to increase their appeal to Hispanic voters. If the midterm goes their way, they will be strengthened in Congress.
The Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP desperately wants an immigration bill. Obama desperately wants an immigration bill. With control of both the House and Senate, the GOP could write a bill that’s more to its liking than the dead-in-the-water bill the Senate passed last summer. And Obama will have no choice but to sign it. It’s the last feather in the cap of his legislative legacy, with the White House now set to pursue the Podesta strategy on unilateral executive action.
If it takes losing the Senate to pass immigration, Obama should welcome it. Come 2017, he’ll be working on his memoirs and running a foundation.
Speaking of the next presidential campaign…
“Republican Congress” will make for a juicy target in ’16. In 1996, President Bill Clinton had great fun turning the moderate Sen. Bob Dole into the sidecar villain of Speaker Newt Gingrich. There’s little reason to think the next Democratic nominee, whoever he or, ahem, she turns out to be, won’t be able to repeat the trick.
If, however, the trick proves unrepeatable—if the attack line that Republicans are extremist refuseniks loses its punch—it will have been due to some kind of thawing in the great cold war between Obama and Republicans. It will have been due to something like, say, the passage of immigration reform (see point two above), plus one or two other major compromise measures. Which, as far as Obama is concerned, would be all to the good.
Put it this way: if Republicans win the Senate, the prospects for getting something through Congress may brighten for Obama. And if they don’t brighten, his frustration—and the country’s—will ultimately redound to the benefit of Hillary Clinton, who is faced with a uniformly depressing and horrendous array of potential GOP contenders.
Andrew Sullivan here sums up the monumental sense of inevitability surrounding Hillary Clinton’s capture of Democratic nomination of 2016. He quotes Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan from the Washington Post, and their numbers sound pretty convincing:
Clinton stands at an eye-popping 73 percent in a hypothetical 2016 primary race with Biden, the sitting vice president, who is the only other candidate in double digits at 12 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has signed a letter along with a handful of other Democratic senators urging Clinton to run, is at 8 percent. And that’s it.
That lead is almost three times as large as the one Clinton enjoyed in Post-ABC polling in December 2006, the first time we asked the 2008 Democratic presidential primary ballot question.
Yet no one I know in progressive circles is the least bit excited about Hillary. Either she seems too old (which she may well be) or too much a captive of Wall Street neoliberalism (American inequality began to accelerate during the Clinton era) or is too close to the Israel lobby. Her refusal to endorse Obama’s diplomacy with Iran is suggestive evidence of the latter.
I would conclude that her hold on the nomination is solid, if she wants it, if there are no scandals surprises or health problems. Still, someone could make a real name for him or herself running against her from the Left. It’s not going to be Howard Dean, who is no spring chicken himself and has his own Israel lobby related problems, having opted to serve as an occasional spokesman for the Iranian terror group MEK. (Or, as it were, the organization, “formerly designated as” a terror group.)
But it could be someone younger, who also opposed the Iraq war and who (unlike Dean) stands against the various efforts to maneuver the United States into war with Iran. Such a candidate almost certainly would not win, but because the press needs a horse race, they would garner a massive amount of attention and emerge as a major national figure.
The obvious precedent is Pat Buchanan’s campaign against George H.W. Bush in 1992. It was obviously doomed not to succeed, running against a president whose approval ratings eighteen months before the election were sky high. But the campaign succeeded fabulously in building an organization and staking claim to an interrelated series of issues (in PJB’s case, non-intervention, immigration restriction, trade protectionism, as well as the “culture war” stuff.) There was plenty of running room on these issues, and the campaign set the stage for a much closer run in 1996. But a Democratic “progressive” in 2016 would have far more traction going up against Hillary. Who is going to take advantage of it? That’s one of the more interesting questions of next few years.
Out of the Republican retreat on Maryland’s Eastern shore comes word that the House leadership is raising the white flag of surrender on immigration. The GOP will agree to halt the deportation of 12 million illegal aliens, and sign on to a blanket amnesty. It only asks that the 12 million not be put on a path to citizenship. Sorry, but losers do not dictate terms. Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO says amnesty is no longer enough. Illegal aliens must be put on a path to citizenship and given green cards to work—and join unions.
Rep. Paul Ryan and the Wall Street Journal are for throwing in the towel. Legalize them all and start them on the path to citizenship. A full and final capitulation. Let’s get it over with. To understand why and how the Republican Party lost Middle America, and faces demographic death, we need to go back to Bush I.
At the Cold War’s end, the GOP reached a fork in the road. The determination of Middle Americans to preserve the country they grew up in, suddenly collided with the profit motive of Corporate America. The Fortune 500 wanted to close factories in the USA and ship production abroad—where unions did not exist, regulations were light, taxes were low, and wages were a fraction of what they were here in America. Corporate America was going global and wanted to be rid of its American work force, the best paid on earth, and replace it with cheap foreign labor. While manufacturing sought to move production abroad, hotels, motels, bars, restaurants, farms, and construction companies that could not move abroad also wanted to replace their expensive American workers.
Thanks to the Republican Party, Corporate America got it all.
U.S. factories in the scores of thousands were shut down, shedding their American workers. Foreign-made goods poured in, filling U.S. stores and killing the manufacturers who had stayed behind, loyal to their U.S. workers. The Reagan prosperity was exported to Asia and China by the Bush Republicans. And the Reagan Democrats reciprocated by deserting the Bush Republican Party and going home. But this was not the end of what this writer described in his 1998 book, The Great Betrayal. As those hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, fast-food shops, car washes, groceries, and other service industries also relished the rewards of cheap foreign labor, they got government assistance in replacing their American workers. Read More…
For his fifth State of the Union Address, and arguably the most politically fraught moment of his presidency, Barack Obama offered what he called “a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity.”
“Ladders of opportunity” is a go-to phrase of Obama’s. It not only predates his presidency, but also his career in politics: you can hear him (a “civil rights lawyer”) use it here, in this 1994 NPR commentary warning against Charles Murray and Richard Hernnstein’s The Bell Curve.
It’s more than a go-to phrase, actually; it captures something fundamental about his assumptions about government and markets. He does not believe that the outcomes of the latter are morally authoritative. Hard work does not always pay. Discipline is not always rewarded. Consequently, it takes a thumb on the scale to break up—not necessarily equalize—patterns of wealth distribution, to ensure that there are rungs on the “ladder” and not just a pretty view of the mansion on the hill. And it requires a central government to promote a healthy ecosystem of the future, where things like the DOD-hatched proto-internet, the Air Force-administered GPS, and biomedicine can grow fruit.
In the back-and-forthing of State of the Union addresses, this debate is typically reduced to Democrats arguing for things like, well, an increase in the minimum wage, more spending on early-childhood education, job training assistance, an extension of unemployment insurance, new infrastructure spending—all of which Obama called for tonight—and Republicans responding that Democrats believe in “equality of outcome” and government’s picking economic winners and losers.
In short, Barack Obama is the keeper of a shriveling post-WWII consensus about economic development and countercyclical strategy.
And quite frankly, he picked a terrible time to be president. Trust in government, whether to manage the national economy or protect the “privacy of ordinary people” (as he put it in tonight’s address), is miserably low. Indeed, if there’s an issue on which he truly enjoys the will of the people at this back, it’s in his insistence on preventing direct U.S. government involvement (to put it cheekily) on foreign soil.
As I see it, there’s a tension within Obama’s (and mainstream Democrats’) stubborn clinging to the old consensus. The fact is, they don’t just want to create “ladders of opportunity.” They want a strong safety net that extends from early-childhood through to retirement. You could hear this in the speech’s section on financial security:
Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401(k)s.
And probably the most potent appeal of Obama’s mention of the Affordable Care Act was its link to financial security: you will not go bankrupt if you get sick.
As a strong-government conservative, I’ll cop to this: I’m sympathetic to the old consensus. But I’m equally sympathetic to the Republican critique of an agenda that doesn’t seek to just equalize opportunity, but rather a cradle-to-grave latticework of care and feeding.
To be sure, there are compelling Rawlsian social-justice arguments for the latter—but they should not be confused with the former. Dollars spent on the old are dollars not spent on the young and underprivileged. This is not a summons to throw grandma over the cliff. It’s simply an acknowledgment of a finite budget.
Say this for Obama: he seemed upbeat, despite low polling and talk of lame-duck-ery spreading like wildfire. If nothing else, he seems aware of the fact that there will be no more major legislative accomplishments of his administration. (Count me in the camp that immigration reform remains a long shot.) If he does nothing else than push the boulder of his approval rating a few points up the hill, and thereby maintain Democratic control of the Senate, he will maintain a semblance of relevance for the last three years of his presidency.
With the new year finally upon us, it is time to see what stories of the past will be continuing forward with new life.
When the shutdown showdown of this past October finally concluded with Ted Cruz’s demands left unmet, the Senate Conservatives Fund vowed to wage a campaign of retributive primaries against the the insubordinate members of Congress that refused to follow Mr. Cruz all the way off the cliff and down into the waters of default. Steve Stockman has announced a candidacy to oppose “liberal” John Cornyn, whose credentials as a Beltway conservative are thoroughly intact. In Kentucky, Matt Bevin has likewise challenged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for being a Washington figure through and through, drawing on the popularity of the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, to pummel McConnell. The establishment is fighting back, however, as they target upstart constitutionalist Justin Amash in Michigan, pouring business money into a candidate more willing to toe the party line.
Can Obamacare Survive Takeoff?
With a disastrous October launch faltering through the end of the year, President Obama’s signature law is in much more serious danger of failing of its own accord than its bitterest opponents could have hoped. The administration has reported cautiously positive enrollment numbers through the infamous Healthcare.gov, but it is far from clear how many of those enrollments will actually pay for their coverage. Moreover, as the administration has continued to issue ad hoc exemptions and extensions, the insurance companies themselves are increasingly worried about their ability to enroll the magic mixture of young and healthy premium payers to pay for the old and sick. With the prospect of insurance “death spirals” looming over it, the Affordable Care Act’s implementation will in large measure set the political tone for the rest of the year.
Whither the Midterms?
To a certain extent, the 2014 midterm elections will be a product of the previous two stories. Should Obamacare resurrect itself and go off without too many more hitches, the Democrats’ chances of retaining the Senate improve considerably. Likewise, if the law continues to falter or worse, vulnerable Democrats like Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Kay Hagan in North Carolina will be heavily investing in antacids. Pryor should already be purchasing in bulk, as he faces Weekly Standard darling Tom Cotton, a Harvard Law graduate who left a lucrative private practice to enlist in the Army in 2005. The first-term Congressman makes up for what he lacks in experience with resume and backing. Should he win the seat, Rand Paul would have regular dueling partner in the fight for the Republican foreign policy soul.