John Nichols of the Nation makes what should be, but is not (for reasons I’ll attempt to explain below), an obvious point about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
Christie also knows his party won’t be looking for a Northeastern moderate in 2016. The GOP has never been more conservative than it is now; and while the motivation to win may be powerful, the common wisdom among the folks who actually nominate presidential candidates says that experiments with supposedly “mainstream” figures like John McCain and Mitt Romney will not be repeated. So Christie is executing a delicate maneuver. He needs to run left this year to pump up his gubernatorial re-election vote numbers, and then pivot right in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Amid all the gamesmanship, it’s easy to lose sight of where Christie is really coming from—unless you look at his record.
Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality.
Nichols goes on to declare that “Christie is at his most militant when it comes to implementing the austerity agenda associated with the most conservative Republican governors.”
By way of throat-clearing, I have a big problem with the term “austerity” being thrown at governors. Most states are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. Having done so, many states are now in a healthy fiscal position and should see revenue return to pre-recession levels this year. Critics of austerity at the federal level understood this all along. The anti-austerians, as I interpret them, aren’t against cutting spending always, anywhere, and everywhere; their argument was, and is, that contractionary fiscal policy in Washington makes our unemployment problem worse. In the face of state and local cutbacks, Congress should have been cushioning the blow.
But Nichols is largely correct: Christie is by any reasonable measure a fiscal and social conservative. Read More…
The Republican Party has become the Southern Party. Or so we’ve been told ad nauseam, at least since Richard Nixon launched an effort wean disaffected whites from the Democratic Party. There’s more debate about the chronology and causes of the South’s realignment than many people realize: the wonderfully named Sean Trende argues that it began long before 1968 and had more to do with urbanization than than with race. For some critics, however, the electoral map is irrefutable evidence that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of the Confederacy (plus the mountain West, which no one ever talks about).
But it may not always be that way. As the outcomes in 2008 and 2012 showed, the Upper South is much more competitive than it used to be. Virginia leans blue. And North Carolina is up for grabs.
Larry Sabato offers an intuitive but nevertheless interesting explanation of what’s going on (h/t @jbouie). Using data from the 2010 census, Sabato observes that states that have experienced big declines in the number of voters who were born there (the “nativity rate”) tend to turn blue. That’s largely because minorities, whether from foreign countries or other states, are more likely to move than whites. They are also more likely to be Democrats.
Virginia, whose population has also been transformed by the growth of the affluent D.C. area, has been the pioneer of this change. North Carolina is following a similar pattern. Based on current trends, Georgia’s nativity rate is likely to drop below 50 percent within the next decade or so. If that happens, and if Sabato’s right, it may again become possible for Democratic presidential candidates to win there too.
The loss of the Upper and Coastal South would be bad news for Republicans. On the other hand, the correlation between high nativity rates and support for the GOP means that the Republican stronghold may be shifting to the Midwest, which attracts few new residents but still commands a pile of electoral votes.
Consider the irony of such a scenario. Republicans have lost ground in North and gained it in the South partly because their appeal is concentrated among whites. But the South is becoming far less white than it used to be, partly because of immigration and partly because its weather and lower cost of living have made it an attractive destination for domestic relocation. As a result, Republicans are beginning to struggle there, just as they do in the more diverse Northeast and West Coast.
So could the GOP return from Southern exile to its origins in the Midwest? Doing so would refute the geographic argument that it’s the party of the Confederacy. But that’s mainly because the Confederacy ain’t what it used to be.
The answer, judging from the image projected by the vice president in an interview with historian Douglas Brinkley in Rolling Stone, appears to be yes.
It’s not far-fetched to think that Biden will run for president in 2016 on Obama’s coattails. This notion surprises many Republicans, who feel Obama is foundering and that Biden, who will be 74 at the beginning of the next presidential term, is too old. But Biden is smart to stay close to Obama, whose public-approval rating hovers just below 50 percent (a number that rises to around 75 percent among registered Democrats). Assuming Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, she will sell herself as a successor to her husband, harkening back to the economic heyday of the 1990s. By contrast, if Biden gets into the race, it will be as an Obama Democrat promising to expand on the record of the last two terms.
A handful of observations about a potential Clinton-Biden rivalry:
1.) “Obama Democrat” and “Clinton Democrat” are no longer mutually exclusive. Hillary Clinton may come to personify the melding of the two political brands. The 2012 campaign saw President Obama rely on Clinton’s speechmaking and retail campaigning acumen to a far greater extent than he did in ’08. The former president’s contribution to Obama’s reelection was second in significance only to Obama’s efforts on his own behalf. In his stemwinder at the Democratic National Convention—an address that was emotionally and substantively superior to Obama’s acceptance speech—Bill Clinton entwined his legacy with that of Obama’s. In the event that both Biden and Clinton run in ’16, Hillary would in effect be able to run as a successor to both men.
2.) ”Experience.” In 2008, Hillary ran on the experience issue and failed miserably. She lost to a junior senator who had yet to complete his first term; the appeal to her service as first lady was laughed out of town. But let’s imagine, for our purposes, that 2016 won’t be a repeat of the novelty act that ’08 was. On foreign policy, in particular, Hillary lacked relevant credentials. This was the one issue portfolio where then-Sen. Biden could plausibly claim the upper hand. Hillary’s stint as secretary of state erases that gap.
3.) Benghazi. If, two to three years from now, the Benghazi issue still hovers over Hillary (which I doubt, but let’s say it will for argument’s sake), Biden will hardly be free of its taint. He brags to Brinkley of his tight relationship to Obama: “Think about it: Even our critics have never said that when I speak, no one doubts that I speak for the president. I speak for the president because of the relationship. And the only way that works is you’re around all the time. Literally, ever meeting he has, I’m in. You don’t have to wonder what the other guy’s thinking; I don’t have to guess where the president’s going.” Recall, in this context, Obama’s remark in the second presidential debate that Hillary “works for me.” By extension, she worked for Biden. If Benghazi still smells in ’16, the stuff will roll uphill from Foggy Bottom.
4.) Age and Sex. Hillary will have one very big advantage over Biden (and other male presidential aspirants) three years from now: She’s a woman. Having checked first black president off the list, Democrats will be eager to finally send a woman to the White House. And those worried about Hillary’s age—she’ll be 69 on Election Day ’16—will be able to favorably contrast her to Biden, who will be 74.
5.) Every waking moment of his life, Joe Biden exists on the knife’s edge of verbal catastrophe.
This blog post from Ross Douthat seems a bit unfair to the voters of South Carolina:
… the fact that South Carolina Republicans took that path, and made his swift and shameless comeback a success, is still a useful indicator of where the energy is on the right — and it emphatically isn’t with people who see the decline of marriage as a bigger issue for conservatism and America than the precise balance of power in the House of Representatives.
…or maybe the energy is just with people who care about the balance of power in the House of Representatives during elections for the House of Representatives.
From the moment he decided to run again Mark Sanford was always going to be taken as a demonstration of Republicans’ hypocrisy. After he won, Meghan McCain immediately took to twitter to say the voters of South Carolina have no moral standing to oppose gay marriage anymore. David Burge promptly reminded her that she wouldn’t exist without a politician’s infidelity. Moreover, though the two candidates’ marital sagas are not remotely comparable, Colbert-Busch did spend a night in jail for contempt of court during her divorce proceedings, so she’s not exactly unsullied either.
Hypocrisy is not hard come by in politics. I’d venture that many of the Republican voters in the first district of South Carolina do care about the decline of marriage, probably more than most. And the idea that voters should just stay home when faced with a bad choice seems at least unrealistic, if not undemocratic.
How would things have played out in a district full of the voters willing to forego representation to send a message about the state of marriage?
As Douthat wrote in a later post today: “a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party.” That Sanford made such a high-profile attempt to reassert himself into politics, and that it garnered such media attention, would have made an inconsequential House election a good opportunity for good old American virtue to reassert itself and thwart everyone’s expectations.
It would have made a nice story, but to believe it was possible require a highly unrealistic view of political behavior and public memory. Sanford resigned as the chairman of the RGA little less than four years ago. By contrast Marion Barry was reelected to DC’s city council five months after being released from prison. Ted Kennedy was reelected with 62 percent of the vote a year and a half after killing someone. Did Michigan voters somehow lose their moral standing to oppose fraud when they elected Charles Diggs while he awaited sentencing for taking kickbacks?
I share some of Douthat’s concerns, but I don’t really understand this logic. The reassertion of virtue he seems to have in mind should have happened in the primary, if it was to happen at all. That voters failed to punish themselves for Mark Sanford’s sins in the general election is neither a surprise nor a disappointment.
Sure it is, at least according City Journal‘s Steve Malanga. The Democrats have won convincingly in five of the last six presidential elections. But Malanga argues that those outcomes conceal the growing strength of the GOP in the states:
Since Obama first took office in 2008, Republicans have picked up a net nine governorships, bringing their total to 30 states, which hold nearly 184 million Americans. In 24 of those states, containing 157 million Americans, Republicans also control the legislatures. Democrats boast similar power in just 12 states, with a population of 100 million. Even Republicans’ unimpressive national showing last November didn’t reverse their state-level momentum.
The impressive number of Republicans in American statehouses is a matter of simple fact. Yet it’s curious that Malanga virtually ignores other simple facts: many of those governors won office in the Tea Party election of 2010, and are extremely unpopular today. The stars of Malanga’s long account of the “rise of Republican governors” include Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Florida’s Rick Scott, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Maine’s Paul LePage, who won blue states on conservative platforms in 2010. Although they’ve have had some legislative successes, however, all of these governors face long odds of retaining their seats.
There are exceptions to this bleak prospect, most notably New Jersey’s Chris Christie. As Malanga acknowledges, however, Christie’s popularity is partly attributable to his partnership with Obama and criticism of the national GOP in response to Hurricane Sandy. And Republican governors are struggling even in solidly red states. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, for example, has an approval rating in the high 30s that reflects widespread opposition to his signature plan replace the state income tax with a sales tax.
Considered in broader context, there’s little evidence that the GOP has a growing base of support in the states that could eventually be transformed into a national majority. So what accounts for the high number of Republican governors? A big part of the explanation, as Jamelle Bouie observed in connection with GOP’s likely win in Virginia this year, is that the electorate in gubernatorial elections tends to be smaller, older, and whiter than the electorate in presidential years. In short, Republicans win elections in which Republican constituencies are more likely to vote. This was particularly true in 2010, when Republicans mistook a demographic aberration for a national wave.
Republican success in the states, then, is perfectly consistent with continuing Democratic control of the presidency. One party is rooted in a dwindling but highly motivated base. The other dominates the broader electorate that turns out in big years. This dynamic means that Republicans will remain local players no matter what happens in Washington. The demographic source of their state-level strength, however, also threatens to lock the party out of the White House.
In conjunction with his appearance on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, Sen. Rand Paul attended a gala sponsored by the magazine, where he toasted Henry David Thoreau—“just a guy,” Paul explained, who “wanted to live by himself,” but “society wouldn’t leave him alone.”
Obviously, the Kentucky senator, and possible 2016 presidential contender, chose to highlight Thoreau not just because he was an idealistic, contemplative loner. In the broader context of the liberty movement’s desire to see the Republican party reclaim the mantle of individual rights, it makes perfect sense that Paul would cheer Thoreau’s legacy of civil disobedience in the face of slavery and imperialism.
More, one can imagine Paul approvingly quoting Thoreau’s paean to trade and “commerce”—“its enterprise and bravery”:
Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes. I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails …
Yet the pairing, however brief, of Paul and Thoreau had me stewing this past weekend. I was thinking about the desire to “be left alone.” Laissez-faire. Liberty defined as the absence of restraint. In order to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” Thoreau withdrew from the community, from the polis. Read More…
It’s official, Ron Meyer Jr. is running for Congress in the 11th district of Virginia. At 23, if he were elected he would be the youngest member in the nation’s history by several years. But he won’t be.
The district was very close in 2010, and for that reason some still point to it as a possible pickup for Republicans. But in 2012 Gerry Connolly was reelected by a 26 point margin. That partly reflects the advantages of an incumbent, but the 2010 redistricting also shifted many of the 11th’s Republican strongholds elsewhere. The Hill ranked Connolly as one of the top ten lawmakers who benefited from redistricting.
Nonetheless, for some reason it was held out as a possibility, if the right Republican with crossover appeal could be found. To some, ex-Democrat Artur Davis was seen as that man. He spoke at a fundraiser in the district and stoked speculation that he might be considering a run. But being a far more experienced politician, he must have realized the seat was unwinnable; it’s revealing that Davis endorsed Meyer even while his campaign was still in the exploratory phase.
Former senator Rick Santorum really doesn’t like Sen. Rand Paul. In a profile of the latter’s burgeoning support in today’s Wall Street Journal, Santorum says, “Rand Paul’s brand doesn’t line up with all of what our party stands for—on national security, social values, the economy and the role of government in society. His message won’t ultimately lead us to be a more successful party.”
That’s how many Republicans feel about Santorum himself, of course, which is why Mitt Romney was last year’s Republican nominee. GOP presidential primary voters habitually prefer “electable” candidates—even those who can’t actually win elections—over ideologically purer ones. This bloc, and its bellwethers in the establishment, are rooting for a politician from Florida in 2016. That could be Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush; either is conventional enough.
But neither Rubio nor Jeb has the kind of energized base that Rand Paul and Rick Santorum have. The country isn’t likely to be ready for another Bush by 2016, and if Rubio washes out, where does that leave the average Republican presidential primary voter—the guy who voted for McCain and Romney? It may leave him to choose between Santorum and Rand Paul, and the “brand” each represents. And which of those will seem more electable in 2016?
Normally the religious right winds up having to reconcile itself to the pick of the electability voters. In 2016—if the party establishment continues to weaken—electability voters themselves may have to reconcile themselves with one of the party’s ideological activist blocs.
There’s a long way to go—at this stage in the 2012 cycle, it looked like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee might be contenders. And whoever does win the 2016 nomination may find it a poisoned chalice if it leads to defeat and discredit in November. (Although Goldwater’s 1964 annihilation didn’t ultimately derail the ascent of conservative movement with which he was identified.) But there are reasons to think the GOP may face a more philosophically polarizing contest in three years’ time than it’s had to confront in the last four decades.
The former South Carolina governor had been one of the stalwart small-government conservatives of the GOP congressional class of 1994. His star was still rising when his career—and marriage—was derailed after disappeared from office while “hiking the Appalachian trail” with his Argentine mistress. Now Sanford has won a primary runoff to face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch (Stephen Colbert’s sister) in an election to fill the House seat vacated when Tim Scott became a senator.
Now would be a good time to check out Michael Brendan Dougherty’s classic 2009 profile of Sanford, “Plain Right,” and see what the measure of the man was before the scandal that eclipsed his White House aspirations. A taste:
the governor edges closer to pure libertarianism at times. He rolls his eyes at the Columbia sheriff’s department’s zeal in investigating Michael Phelps’s recreational pot use. And he criticizes Alan Greenspan’s management of the “opaque” Federal Reserve. “If you take human nature out of a Fed, it might work,” he explains. “But you can’t. You can have these wise men. But who wants to turn off the spigot at a party that’s rolling?”
He also deviates from the Republican line on foreign policy. In Congress, he opposed Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo. And he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the 1998 resolution to make regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. He says that it was a “protest vote” in which he tried to reassert the legislature’s war-declaring powers. When asked about the invasion of Iraq, he extends his critique beyond the constitutional niceties. “I don’t believe in preemptive war,” he says flatly. “For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.”
The “Growth and Opportunity Project” report released by the RNC yesterday is getting an unenthusiastic reception. Critics both inside and outside the party have pointed out its unrealistically rosy assessment of the party’s health and focuses on marketing over policy.
The report’s discussion of “non-Republican ethnic groups” also borders on the delusional. A party dominated by Southern white evangelicals is never going to do well among Asian-American and black voters. Period. And support for comprehensive immigration may be a necessary condition of improved showing among Hispanics. But it’s by no means a sufficient one.
So is the report a failure? Actually, it’s no worse and perhaps and bit better than could have been expected.
In the first place, some of the critics seem to have forgotten that the RNC is not a thinktank. Rather, it’s the fundraising and organizational arm of Republican party. The RNC can provide advice, tactical support, and funding to candidates. But it can’t tell them what to think or say, even at the level of general principles.
Expecting policy advice from RNC chairman Reince Priebus, in other words, is like asking the office manager to fill in as CEO. It’s just not his job. And it’s no wonder than he seems uncomfortable in the role.
Second, many of the paradoxes in the report reflect tensions within the party. As Matthew Continetti has argued, Republicans are caught in a “double bind“: there’s not much they can do to reach new demographics without alienating influential constituencies within the party. That’s another reason the report emphasizes style at the expense of substance. Having failed, (inevitably) to square the political circle, all the RNC can do is encourage candidates to avoid alienating even more voters with ugly and stupid rhetoric that cost the parts Senate seats in 2012.
Finally, the report does represent a step toward reality on two important issues: immigration and gay marriage. I don’t often agree with Jennifer Rubin. But she’s right to argue that Republicans cannot ignore the facts that 11 million illegal immigrants are here and unlikely to leave, and that public support for gay marriage has become overwhelming. Shifts on these issues are not enough in themselves to restore the party. But they would remove two obstacles to the success of appeals outside the dwindling base.
Representatives of that base, such as the Breitbart operation, object that “there is nothing in the report about strengthening the Republican Party’s commitment to conservative principles–the winning formula in 1980, 1994, and 2010.” A bit of scrutiny reveals how foolish this objection really is. The Republican victories of 2010 and 1994 were in midterm elections. Both followed the election of a Democratic president. They also preceded the reelection of the same president two years later. If that’s the result of commitment to conservative principles, then conservative principles are losers in national elections.
But what about 1980? In fact, Reagan’s success that year does tell us something important about Republicans’ prospects, although not what Gipper fetishists imagine. Reagan didn’t win because of his “commitment to conservative principles”. He won because he was able to convince voters who disagreed with each other on many issues that America would be freer, more prosperous, and more respected under his administration than under his opponent’s. Only a strong candidate can pull off this trick of political alchemy, which Bill Clinton would accomplish for the Democrats twelve years late. And a political talent like Reagan’s or Clinton’s can’t be conjured up by any report.