Category Archives: Republican Party

Extreme Party Makeovers

alf landonI always enjoy reading political analyst Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics. What makes him interesting is that he tends to go against the conventional wisdom that is flying around the politisphere. Recently, he a three part series on the future of the GOP and true to form, he goes against the grain. Today’s article dealt with the idea of the GOP having to move to the center in order to win elections and be a viable party. It’s a viewpoint that many have taken, including myself. Trende looks to the past to show that moderation doesn’t always bring votes. He starts by sharing what happened to the GOP during the FDR years:

In the aftermath of the ’32 blowout (when Democrats gained almost 100 seats) and the affirmation of the New Deal in the 1934 midterms (they gained another nine seats), Republicans decided they needed to change.* In 1936, they nominated a governor from the progressive wing of the party, Alf Landon of Kansas (pictured). Landon had actually broken from the party and supported Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose run in 1912, and represented an attempt by Republicans to re-energize the party’s strength in the progressive West.

The result was an even worse loss than it suffered in 1932 with the more conservative Herbert Hoover. Notwithstanding Landon’s support for organized labor and large portions of the New Deal, he won just eight electoral votes. Republicans were reduced to 88 House seats, 16 Senate seats, five governorships, and control of 21 state chambers (out of 92). Republicans stuck with the model, though. In 1940, they nominated a former Democrat (Wendell Willkie) who supported large portions of the New Deal. Likewise, Tom Dewey was a cautious centrist, whose campaign (twice) focused on his ability to manage the New Deal better than Democrats.

When Republicans did win, in 1952, there was no makeover. Conservatives had argued for one, and backed Ohio Sen. Bob Taft for president, using terms that in many ways foreshadowed today’s anti-establishment Tea Party rhetoric. Everett Dirksen, shouting from the podium and wagging his finger at Tom Dewey (in the audience) argued for the seating of delegates critical to Taft’s campaign: “I stood with you in 1940. I stood with you in 1944. I stood with you in 1948, when you gave us a candidate [drowned out by crowd] . . . . To my friends from New York, when my friend Tom Dewey was the candidate in ’44 and ’48, I tried to be one of his best campaigners. . . . Re-examine your hearts [on this delegate issue] because we followed you before, and you took us down the road to defeat! Don’t do this to us!”

What find so fascinating is that I and alot of other people never thought about this. I mean, all you had to do is look at a history book and figure this out.

None of this means that the GOP is fine and doesn’t need to remodel. But no one should think that a policy change here and a compromise there is going to create a winning coalition. Rebranding for the sake of rebranding isn’t going to put the GOP back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The model that pundits like yours truly like to think about when it comes to reforming the GOP is the Democratic Leadership Council which created policy positions that were not the typical liberal fare and made the way for Bill Clinton to become president in 1992. Pundits like to think that it was because the Democrats moved to the center that Clinton was able to win. While that might be part of the answer, could it also be that the GOP had the Presidency for 12 years and voters wanted something new? Also, the economy was sluggish in 1992, and President George H.W. Bush didn’t appear to be handling it well. What if the Democrats won not because they were so excellent, but because of external factors?

Paul Waldman echoes this in a recent article. Here’s what he says about the ’92 general election:

I think the degree to which political success comes from the public agreeing with you on issues is being dramatically overstated. If you look at the ups and downs of the parties over the last 20 years, a couple of other factors—timing, and what your opponents do—matter a whole lot more.

Let’s quickly run over this history, starting with the Democrats’ first revival, with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Was it important that Clinton was a centrist Democrat who sought to neutralize the party’s electoral problems on being seen by white voters as too solicitous of black people and too soft on crime? (If you’re too young to remember the 1992 campaign, Google “Ricky Ray Rector” and “Sister Souljah” to see what I’m talking about.) Sure. But had the country not been in a recession in 1992, that wouldn’t have been enough. And if that was a Democratic revival that went beyond one guy getting elected, it didn’t last very long; two years later, Republicans took over both houses of Congress.

That brings us to the opposition factor. After the Gingrich Revolution, voters got to see the new version of the Republican party, and they were completely turned off. In 1996, Clinton ran one ad after another featuring pictures of Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich together to taint Dole with the stain of the unpopular House Speaker. But what got him re-elected, more than anything else, was the humming economy. We could argue about how much credit he deserved for it, but the importance it had was undeniable, and it wasn’t a judgment voters were making about his New Democrat philosophy that got him a second term.

I’m curious to see how this will all play out in 2016. By then, the Democrats will have had the Presidency for 8 years. What will the economy be like? Will we be at peace or at war? Maybe all of these factors will have an effect on whether or not we will have a President Hillary Clinton or a President Chris Christie.

Does that mean that ideas (or lack thereof in the case of the modern GOP) don’t matter? No. Ideas do have a place and the current discussions going on in the GOP between the libertarian populists and the establishment matter. Bill Clinton won because he had ideas and connected to people emotionally during an uncertain time, but he wouldn’t have one if the country wasn’t in a recession. George W. Bush won in 2004 because September 11 was still fresh in the American mind and Iraq was not yet a quagmire. Americans were thinking about security and the GOP seemed better at keeping us safe. Ideas do matter. But so do the times.

I think it is important for the GOP to focus on issues like the economic insecurity that people face in this sluggish economy. But even if the GOP comes up with a boffo policies it might not matter if the economy is humming in 2016.

Does the GOP needed rebranding? Being a heterodox conservative, I tend to think so. I just don’t think that rebranding alone will put the GOP back in the White House.

Wishes Won’t Change the GOP

gop elephantFellow Leaguer Tod Kelly wrote a post a few days about his doubts that the GOP would change from what some see as a self-destructive path. I have to say that I have come to agree that the party isn’t going to change after a few losses. Many a moderate or independent hopes the party will lose big in some election that would scare the party to relevance. Think a political version of “scared straight.”

I don’t think this will happen, but it isn’t simply because of the so-called crazies. No, its the same moderates and independents who are constantly wringing their hands that don’t care enough to do anything about it.

As someone who has been involved in GOP circles for a decade or so, I’ve seen my share of fellow travelers who are upset at the current direction of the party. The whine and moan, but seldom do they ever get involved in party politics to change things. When the party loses big in a presidential election, they quietly hope that this time the party leaders will get it right and the party will be steered in less strident path. It’s a hope that outside forces will magically bring the party back from the brink.

 

A few years ago, I wrote a post with the insightful title, “Why Moderate Republicans Suck.” The thrust of the article is that if there is to be change in the party, it will come from activists who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of forging a more moderate conservatism. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:

 

 

The missing story is the lack of a credible countermovement within the GOP, a movement for change. When one talks of Moderate Republicans, we talk of basically a loose group of individuals who are basically on their own. For example, take Senator Arlen Specter, who until recently was a moderate Republican. After he voted for the stimulus package, he recieved a fair amount of protests from Republican groups.

The image in the media was of a lone Republican Senator against a phalanx of hard right groups. In the end, Specter decided to leave.

This image has been seen again and again. A lone, moderate Republican legislator is attacked, not by a collection of cranks, but by organized groups that have the money and more importantly, the people to take down those who are not pure.

The lesson here is simple, the hard right is a movement. There are groups of like-minded individuals that come together and are able to force change in the party. A single person realizes they are part of a larger movement and that gives them the stregnth to march forward.

On the other side, moderates are at best a collection of individuals. We tend to feel lost and alone and don’t feel a connection to anything greater than us. Because we are isolated, we don’t feel as empowered and tend to give up easily.

 

I would also add that the more moderate members in the party are good compromisers, but terrible in coming up with a competing vision of what the Republicans party should do and be in the 21st century. The Tea Party’s views might seem ridiculous, strange and downright scary at times, but they at least have ideas. Crazy ideas, yes, but ideas nevertheless.

Earlier this year Republican consultant Liz Mair discussed what was wrong with moderate Republicanism:

Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.

Now, I come from the more moderate end of the GOP, and cut my teeth as a blogger as an advocate for moderate Republicans. A lot of people in that part of the party will be inclined to respond to this criticism by saying, “no, they weren’t worse candidates, it’s just that the party is so extreme that more moderate/mainstream candidates can’t win over the base.”

And it pains me to say it, but this is simply not true, and I’m going to throw out several names to prove it to you: Mark Kirk. Kelly Ayotte. Carly Fiorina. Dan Coats.

Kirk, Ayotte and Coats not only beat primary opponents widely considered to be more conservative than them, they also won in the general. Fiorina (for whom I consulted—full disclosure) won decisively in the primary besting an opponent generally regarded as more conservative than her (and for the record, California Republicans are more like Kansas Republicans than New York City Republicans). While ultimately losing in blue California, Fiorina lost by a lesser margin than did gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She also beat the registration gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, not all of these people started off running campaigns that might be described as A+ (side note: In my experience, most campaigns suffer road bumps and hiccups on a fairly phenomenal scale for the first 2-8 weeks, anyway).

However, they did not assume they would coast to a victory and they took the job of campaigning very seriously.

That means they hired good staff (not just whoever was already familiar to them or in their entourage or who that one guy who won big 10 year ago used, or some big name consultants who talked a good game but didn’t have a record of putting points on the board).

Sarah Steelman, one of Akin’s opponents, basically failed to raise any money, making it hard for her to beat Akin on the day (one dreads to think how she would have stood up to Claire McCaskill, who wasn’t exactly running the world’s cheapest, crappest campaign).

Mike Castle, who I would have infinitely preferred Delaware Republicans nominate, just couldn’t fathom that his party would nominate someone as nutty as Christine O’Donnell (lesson #1 in life: Never assume, because when you do, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”) He also spent time campaigning at, say, art fairs—probably a very good thing to do in the general, but probably not that helpful in a Republican primary. (Note: Castle did turn things around in the final weeks of the campaign, though by then it was too late; so he does deserve some credit for his efforts.)

If estranged Republicans really want to see change, then it’s time to get busy. There needs to be candidates that can articulate new ideas, connect with the base (and not always assume they are all nutjobs) and well, actually give a damn about the party they claim to want to be a part of.

But if none of that happens, if we are left with the Ted Cruzes of the world, then we will have a party that will continue on the path it has set because it’s the only game in GOP town and frankly because no one was willing to take the time to actually stand up and offer something different.

Social Conservatives: The Republican Party’s Dilemma

One of the readers that I most enjoy reading is the French writer Pascal Emmanuel Gobry.  He is able to give a view of American politics from a very different standpoint than most of us.  He recently came up with a manifesto to reform the GOP.  If you have some time, please read it. I want to life a point he makes about social conservatism and the GOP.  Gobry goes contrary to some reformers in how  the GOP handles this faction of the party.

 

The Republican Party can’t win without social conservatives. There’s roughly a third of voters in this country who are committed social conservatives. What that means is that Republicans can’t get to 51 with just those people, but it also can’t get to 51 without them. This is for “upper-middle” reform conservatives who think the Republican Party’s problem is social conservatism. There is simply no path to victory for a socially liberal Republican Party. Period. Maaaybe the GOP is in danger of becoming a “Bible Belt rump” if it goes too much in the social conservatism direction, but there’s no doubt that if it goes too much in the social liberal direction it will become a Northeastern nothingburger. More deeply, it is deeply fitting and consistent (as we’ll see in greater depth below) that  the GOP be an economically and socially conservative party, since economic dynamism creates churn and disruption in people’s lives–churn and disruption which can be alleviated either through big government which destroys freedom and kills the goose that lays the golden eggs, or through vibrant cultural, social and local institutions.

This message is directed at me and others who tend to be more socially liberal.  I’ve longed thought the problem with the party is it’s social conservatism.  If we just got rid of them,  I thought, then everything would be great. As much as I want to believe that, I’m coming to the conclusion that we just aren’t going to get a socially liberal Republican party. I can envision a party that welcomes social liberals as well as social conservatives, but I don’t see the party totally abandoning social conservatism.  The problem boils down to who shows up.  Social conservatives tend to be the most committed members of the GOP.  They are the ones that are involved in party politics and in the footwork of getting candidates elected.  The more moderate folk tend to not be as involved and in most cases tend to be somewhat standoffish in dealing with the party.  I’ve learned this over my years of being involved in more moderate GOP groups; we want the party to bend to our will, we just don’t want to work that hard to get it done.

Which is why the recent op-ed by two straight interns at Log Cabin is dear to my heart, but isn’t realistic and in some cases antithetical to the cherished “big tent” we want.  In the article, Mack Feldman and Lisa Schoch advocate for the party to give up its opposition to same sex marriage or face losing the vote of social moderates:

A recent study by the College Republican National Committee suggests that young voters have an appetite for a more moderate GOP. Forty-nine percent of respondents maintained that same-sex marriage should be legal, half of whom indicated that “they would probably or definitely not vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on same-sex marriage, even if they were in agreement on taxes, defense, immigration and spending.” In other words, the GOP’s opposition to marriage equality definitively eliminates at least one-fourth of its youth vote, regardless of the relevance or appeal of its other conservative policies.

Despite efforts to convince themselves otherwise, the Republican Party needs to accept that social matters do make a difference. Indeed, as the CRNC report illustrates, social concerns — including support of same-sex marriage — are increasingly a priority for young voters, with fiscal policies threatening to take a backseat.

There are two problems with their reason and they line up somewhat to Gobry’s views.  First, Feldman and Schoch assume that if the GOP modernized its stance on same sex marriage, then a whole tide of voters will come and vote GOP.  But I think this view is missing some key factors.  First, if the GOP does change its stance, we also have to face the fact that part of the reason that the GOP lost votes in the last general election wasn’t simply because of social issues, but economic issues as well:

In order to win, therefore, Republicans need to find a way to adapt Reagan’s core insights–”government that rides with us, not on our backs”–in a way that directly addresses the front-of-mind day-to-day concerns of the lower-middle in the 21st century. These concerns include: unemployment, economic insecurity, wage stagnation, healthcare (security and affordability), education, quality of life, etc. And remember, lower-middle people are not ideologues. Maybe capital gains tax cuts or a flat tax would create a rising tide that would lift all boats. Reform conservatives love them some tax cuts. But people in the lower-middle ain’t buyin’ it. If Republicans don’t have good, credible, conservative policies to address these concerns, lower-middle people will vote for Democrats if only by default. This is the story of 2012. Lower-middle people don’t like Obamacare but they still swung the election for Obama because Romney’s alternative to Obamacare was (perceived to be) zilch. At least the Obama agenda realized what their concerns were and addressed them.

The thing that is holding the party back isn’t simply social issues, but economic ones as well.  It has to find a way to speak again to the lower middle class on economic matters.  I’m guessing a lot of young people are not voting GOP simply on same sex marriage, but also on the fact that they don’t see the party really helping people like them.  The same-sex marriage issue is frosting on the cake instead of the cake itself.  The problem with social liberals like myself is that we have internalized the Democratic critique of the GOP instead of seeing what is the real problem.  Social issues are a drag on the party.  But the problems that drag the GOP down looks more like an iceberg.  The social issues are on top and look imposing, but the economic issues are bigger and dwell below beneath the waterline. We can support same-sex marriage and immigration, but as long as we don’t deal with what’s below, the party will not win.

So what to do with social conservatives? Instead of trying to throw them overboard, it might make more sense to lift up more of their salient points, while downplaying that which polarizes.  Earlier this year, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner wrote a piece in Commentary that got to the point: how to save the Republican Party.  Gerson and Wehner suggested the following when it came to social issues:

…the GOP can engage vital social issues forthrightly but in a manner that is aspirational rather than alienating.

Addressing the issue of marriage and family is not optional; it is essential. Far from being a strictly private matter, the collapse of the marriage culture in America has profound public ramifications, affecting everything from welfare and education to crime, income inequality, social mobility, and the size of the state. Yet few public or political figures are even willing to acknowledge that this collapse is happening.

For various reasons, the issue of gay marriage is now front and center in the public consciousness. Republicans for the most part oppose same-sex marriage out of deference to traditional family structures. In large parts of America, and among the largest portion of a rising generation, this appears to be a losing battle. In the meantime, the fact remains that our marriage culture began to disintegrate long before a single court or a single state approved gay marriage. It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage, and when it comes to strengthening an institution in crisis, Republicans need to have something useful to offer. The advance of gay marriage does not release them from their responsibilities to help fortify that institution and speak out confidently on the full array of family-related issues. Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage. (Emphasis mine)

Yes, the ability of government to shape attitudes and practices regarding family life is very limited. But a critical first step is to be clear and consistent about the importance of marriage itself—as the best institution ever devised when it comes to raising children, the single best path to a life out of poverty, and something that needs to be reinforced rather than undermined by society.

Other steps then follow: correcting the mistreatment of parents in our tax code by significantly increasing the child tax credit; eliminating various marriage penalties and harmful incentives for poor and for unwed mothers; evaluating state and local marriage-promotion programs and supporting those that work; informally encouraging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenthood. There may be no single, easy solution, but that is not a reason for silence on the issue of strengthening and protecting the family.

While social liberals like myself has usually seen nothing good to come from social conservatives, they are partly right about the disintergration of the family.  Liberals and libertarians have been slow to see the problems with a crumbling family structure.  If social conservatives are willing to work with social liberals and if social liberals are willing to see that social conservatism might have some value sans the anti-gay rhetoric, then we might be able to co-opt and harness the power of social conservatism in a way that’s beneficial for society and not divisive.

At some point social liberals/libertarians and conservatives are going to have to come to some sort of detente; a place where they won’t every agree, but are willing to live with each other and work with each other for a greater good.  But for that to happen, both factions have to see the other as valuable to the GOP coalition.

Will that happen?  We shall see.

The Jon Huntsman Syndrome (An Insiders Look at the GOP)

Liz Mair is a political consultant that has worked for various Republican campaigns such as John McCain’s 2008 presidential run. She also a great blogger and I wished she blogged more. Back in February, she posted  about what’s wrong with the GOP. It’s a good take on the current state of the Party.

Here’s a taste:

Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.

Now, I come from the more moderate end of the GOP, and cut my teeth as a blogger as an advocate for moderate Republicans. A lot of people in that part of the party will be inclined to respond to this criticism by saying, “no, they weren’t worse candidates, it’s just that the party is so extreme that more moderate/mainstream candidates can’t win over the base.”

And it pains me to say it, but this is simply not true, and I’m going to throw out several names to prove it to you: Mark Kirk. Kelly Ayotte. Carly Fiorina. Dan Coats.

Kirk, Ayotte and Coats not only beat primary opponents widely considered to be more conservative than them, they also won in the general. Fiorina (for whom I consulted—full disclosure) won decisively in the primary besting an opponent generally regarded as more conservative than her (and for the record, California Republicans are more like Kansas Republicans than New York City Republicans). While ultimately losing in blue California, Fiorina lost by a lesser margin than did gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She also beat the registration gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, not all of these people started off running campaigns that might be described as A+ (side note: In my experience, most campaigns suffer road bumps and hiccups on a fairly phenomenal scale for the first 2-8 weeks, anyway).

However, they did not assume they would coast to a victory and they took the job of campaigning very seriously.

Read the whole thing and see if we can shake the Jon Huntsman Syndrome.

On Conservative Strawmen

strawman-motivational

Note: I’ve been doing some writing over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen lately and this is a post I wrote over there on Tuesday of this week.

I’ve never really understood Michael Tomansky’s role at the Daily Beast other than to write screeds about how evil Republicans and conservatives are.

I never had much love for pundits whose sole duty in life is to write column after column about how evil the other side is. Ann Coulter and Michele Malkin do that quite annoyingly on the starboard side and I find it not only bothersome but rather boring. These writers don’t add any light, but do throw more flames on the fire to pump up their side of the aisle and assure themselves how good they are and how evil and pathetic the other side is.

Tomansky’s latest screed is going after conservative “reformers”; writers that have from time to time advocated for reform from within American conservatism. He thinks they aren’t doing a good enough job. Here’s his take on a quote from one reformer, Avik Roy:

Here’s what Roy says he wants: to “orient the GOP agenda around opportunity for those who least have it, to offer these individuals a superior alternative to failed statist policies.” Please. You get a lot of this from Republicans. Paul Ryan says things like this all the time. Rick Santorum did. Even Mitt Romney did, though to a lesser extent. But it’s all nonsense because they have invented a straw-man version of liberalism in their heads that isn’t anything like the liberalism that actually exists.

So, what should the reformers like Roy, or Ross Douthat, or David Brooks or Reihan Salam be talking about? Well, not policies, but the fact that the GOP is a racist, sexist, homophonic rump or a party:

The big problem with today’s Republican Party isn’t its policies. Certainly, those policies are extreme and would be deeply injurious to middle-class and poorer Americans should they be enacted. But Bob Dole wasn’t thinking, I don’t believe, just of policies. He was talking about the whole package—the intolerance, the proud stupidity, the paranoia, the resentments, the rage. These are intertwined with policy of course—indeed they often drive policy. But they are the party’s real problem. And where these “reformers” fail is that they never, ever, ever (that I have seen) criticize it with any punch at all.

Hey, Avik! Would you like to know why 90 percent of black people aren’t listening to your message? Because you don’t want them to vote! Not you personally (at least I assume), but your party. I know that you think black people are victims of false consciousness (how Marxist of you!), but do you also think they are stupid? If you and your wonderful Arthur Brooks want to develop a program to attract black voters, you might start by trying to change your party’s position on the question of attempting to pervert the law to deny them their franchise.

I think frankly that Tomansky is dealing with a bit of a strawman here. Strawmen aren’t totally fiction, they are built on some fact, but this strawmen, like all strawmen is taken to an extreme and is based more on the person’s perception more than it is on the reality of the situation. Continue reading

How to Sustain a “Republican Spring”

Chris Ladd, who used to write for this blog, has written a post on how to rebuild the GOP.  In many ways, he is trying to communicate what I’ve been saying for years: the need to create a viable alternative view of governance than what has been brought forward by groups like the Tea Party.  I want to offer some critiques on his advice and how to move forward.

Ladd’s point is that moderates and others not on the far right must take on and fight the Tea Party:

Traditional Republicans have been reluctant to engage in open dissent out of respect for party’s ethos of disciplined unity. Tea party groups couldn’t care less about unity. They have shown no concern whatsoever in undermining party interests in favor of their own. “Party unity” is a pillow pressed over our faces. It will be necessary to forge compromises to make any party realignment work, but an open split with the extremist wing will have to come first.

This is the dream of a lot of folks disgruntled with the GOP. It used to be my own tactic.  The problem is that in some ways it offers a bizarro version of the far right: be as intolerant as they are.  The other thing is calling out the far right has never really been a successful strategy other than getting a lot of folks on the left rather excited.  A number of folks loved John McCain’s “agents of intolerance” crack, but most of those enthralled by that didn’t support him in the 2000 GOP primaries.  Jon Huntman got points for saying that he, as opposed to other Republicans, believed in climate change.  Again, he didn’t get very far. Actually, we could go as far back as the 1964 GOP Convention in San Francisco where leading liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller slammed the insurgent and successful Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson that year, but the moderates in the party didn’t succeed in becoming the dominant faction.
The thing about this theory is that it believes that the problem with the modern GOP lies only in its far right flank.  If we just get rid of those folks, then everything will be okay and people will flock to the party again.
But I don’t think the problems facing the GOP are just the fault of the Tea Party.  The problems are more systemic and won’t be solved by getting rid of the “unwanted” be they the Tea Party or “RINOs.”
The Democrats faced a similar problem in the 1980s as the far left kept the party from winning national elections.  Democrats didn’t try to go to war with the far left; instead moderates within the party created an alternative vision and then went about selling it.  The far left wasn’t its enemy.  What these New Democrats did is offered themselves as the winnable option against the Republicans.  They came up with ideas that co-opted Republican ideas and then made them acceptable to liberals and moderates alike.
The problem the GOP faces these days is not because of the Tea Party.  They might be more the symptom then they are the problem.  The reason that Mitt Romney and John McCain before him, lost the race to the White House was not because of the Tea Party as much as it was the party was stuck in the 1980s, the same way the Democrats were stuck in the 1930s.  America had moved on, but the political party still offers the same policies that gave it victory.
If we want to have what Ladd calls a “Republican Spring” we need to do a few things that will create lasting change and not feed into liberal fantasies.
1. Offer an alternative with real policies.  Too often the GOP dissidents tend to see the problem as one that is focused on social issues like abortion or gay rights.  But the moderates or dissidents need to come up with not only a social alternative, but present a clear governing vision that focuses on economic issues.  While I might disagree with someone like Ross Douthat on social issues, he tends to be spot on when it comes to how the GOP should attend the economic needs of the middle and lower classes.
A related point to this is that some of the more moderate candidates that lose to the Tea Party were not stellar candidates.  Indiana’s Richard Murdock was a horrible candidate, but Richard Lugar had been in so long he could not articulate a clear governing vision that would bring folks in to vote for him in the GOP primary.
2. The Tea Party is not a monolith. If you follow the major media, you tend get a picture of the Tea Party as a group of tri-corner hat crazies.  While there are those kind of people (think Minnesota’s own Michelle Bachmann), the faction is far more complex than the simplistic caritacure.  Yes someone like Ted Cruz confirms the Tea Party stereotype, but remember that Marco Rubio , who leading the charge to reform our immigration laws, was elected to the Senate with Tea Party support as well.  This leads to another point:
3. Co-opt the Tea Party. When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he made news for his condemnation of rapper Sister Souljah.  It was a moment where he was seen putting the far left in it’s place.  But while he did that, he also was able inject conservative values with liberal beliefs in the role of government.  He could talk about welfare reform and also talk about health care reform.  Clinton was able to co-opt the liberal wing of the party and get them to support his centrist campaign.  The successful GOP candidate will be able to blend conservative values with the moment we are now in.  They will learn to co-opt the Tea Party penchant for small government with a belief that government might not do everything, but the things it does will be done well.  In essence, the road to reforming the GOP lies in holding on the base and also expanding the party as well.
4. Do you like the GOP? One of the problem with GOP dissidents is that you get the feeling that they don’t like the party they claim to be a part of.  Ross Douthat shared that one of the reasons for Utah Governor Jon Huntsman lost was not that he was too moderate, but because it seemed like he didn’t like the electorate that he needed to vote for him:
He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming — that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy’s rationale. He let his campaign manager define his candidacy as a fight to save the Republican Party from a “bunch of cranks.” And he embraced his identity as the media’s favorite Republican by letting the liberal journalist Jacob Weisberg write a fawning profile for Vogue.
This was political malpractice at its worst. Voters don’t necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him, but they need to think that he likes them. Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood, distancing himself from “left-wing nutjobs” and giving a series of interviews on Fox News, and you have the flavor of how Huntsman’s opening act was perceived on the right. The substance mattered less than the symbolism, which screamed: I want your vote, but I don’t particularly care to be associated with your stupidities.
Shorter Douthat: if you call people stupid and nutty, don’t be surprised if they don’t want to vote for you.  People want someone who they percieve cares about them.  They aren’t going to support someone who looks down on them. A GOP politician has to deal with the electorate they have, not the one they wish for.

The thing is, if you’re going to run as a Republican, you have to respect the base of the party.  No one should expect to get very far in the GOP selection process if you call those who you’re going to vote for cranks.  Douthat is correct that people don’t need to like a candidate, but they need to know that the candidate likes them.  While people on either side of Mitt Romney see him as a flip-flopper who tries to please the base, the fact of the matter is if he wanted to be considered a candidate he was going to have to tailor his views to the GOP electorate.Of course, if moderates were more involved on the party level, then candidates like Romney wouldn’t have to give up their views on gay rights and abortion in order to be considered in the GOP.

But I think this all goes back to how the base is treated.  I don’t think one has to give their more moderate social views to be considered for President, but you need to bring the focus on issues like jobs and not give Christmas presents to pundits by calling folks who might vote for you crazy.  It’s crazy to think you can do that and get votes in the current primary system.

This leads to my final point:

5. Politics today works for the bottom up.  Moderates in the GOP are not the ones that will throw themselves into party work.  They won’t spend time trying to get out the vote.  We expect that the establishment will pick one of the wise men to lead the various elected offices.  We are not interested in going to conventions, much less caucuses. Conservatives in the GOP tend to be more active.  They are the ones who go to party functions and will work hard to get out the vote.  Moderates in the party need to stop thinking the party will just be handed to them.

I think the GOP will change.  Heck, it needs to change.  But a bloody intraparty fight will please no one except Democrats who will come and sweep in and win.

 

Why Do We Have to Choose?

There’s a meme running around among some center-right wonks that I can only half agree with.

The meme goes like this: GOP domestic policy is hopelessly stuck in hyper-libertarian thinking, something that doesn’t resonate with middle class Americans.  These same Ayn Rand-loving Republicans go around supporting a more liberalized immigration policy and same-sex marriage.  What the GOP needs to do is stop supporting these silly policies and get back to a more conservative domestic policy that can help a struggling middle class.

Ross Douthat, a center-right wonk that I usually love, adheres to this view.  The most recent conservative pundit that supports this view is Robert Patterson, who worked for the first George Bush.

The GOP’s embrace of free-market absolutism also explains why party elites support the fiction of same-sex marriage and turning America into an open-borders, low-wage country via immigration amnesty, further weakening the social and economic foundations of middle America.

In the libertarian universe, “economic freedom” trumps everything: civilization, nation, statecraft, patriotism, industry, culture and family.

I get where Patterson is going with all of this, but personally, I tend to think adopting an anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration message with some more liberal economic policy isn’t going to help the GOP any more than what they are doing now.

What Patterson, Douthat and others want to do is pin the blame on libertarians and the elites for the current sad state of the GOP.  But the GOP hasn’t been losing just because of their economic policies; they’ve been losing because of their economic and social policies.  Telling Latinos that they need to self-deport themselves tends to make Latinos less likely to vote for the GOP, even if they have policies that might attract them.

The reality is that a hard-edged social conservatism and a hyper libertarianism has made the  GOP a less attractive alternative to the Democrats.  Both social and economic policies have to be overhauled in order for the Republicans to become a winning party.  The party doesn’t have to be pro-same sex marriage, but they do need to not look like hateful neanderthals.

I’m more than willing to accept that the libertarian economic policies of the GOP need to be changed.  What I won’t accept is throwing myself as a gay man under the bus just so that social conservatives don’t have to look at their own policies.  Clean up your own damn house before you go blaming others.

A Few Random Thoughts on “Growth and Opportunity”

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The Republican National Committee released its long term assessment report yesterday. Called “Growth and Opportunity,” the document is intended to spell out the current state of the GOP (not good) and ideas on how it can improve. I haven’t read the whole report, but from what I’ve seen in the news I wanted to share these thoughts:

  • This report along with a some speeches by GOP leaders is in some aspects a breath of fresh air. There is an honesty in the report that I haven’t seen in a while among Republicans; a willingness to admit that the current incarnation of the party is scaring whole sectors of American society away. The first step is to admit you have a problem and this report does that.
  • I’m happy for the focus on minority outreach. It would have been nice to have done this prior to getting their butts whooped in November, but it’s at least happening. However, what remains to be seen is how this moves from talk to work. I also haven’t heard of seen any policy ideas other than immigration that will attract minorities. It’s good to extend a hand of friendship, but people vote on what a political party will do for them, not on how nice people are. As Ben Domenech notes, the party needs to set aside things like the debt and tax reform and highlight conservative solutions to problems that Americans face and in this case what persons of color face. Instead of talking about repealing Obamacare, there should be a focus on either reforming it to make it better or offer an alternative program like Health Care Savings Accounts. Will people like these ideas? I don’t know. But you have to offer ideas to fit what problems persons of color face, not what the GOP thinks is important.
  • I’m glad for the focus on social media. The problem here is they will have to link using new media with a credible message.
  • There wasn’t much about same-sex marriage or outreach to gays, but I never expected anything. That said, Republican candidates and local parties, especially those in blue states, should try to reach out to the gay community and even show up at a gay pride festival. Here in Minneapolis the city party has participated in Pride for years.
  • While the report was incredibly positive on reaching minorities, there will be a lot of pushback from the base and the conservative media. The National Review scoffed the attempt to meet with groups like the NAACP and La Raza, saying these minority advocacy groups oppose much of the GOP agenda. Their answer? Destroy them:

RNC chairman Reince Priebus has promised to establish dialogues with groups such as LULAC, La Raza, and the NAACP, which strikes us as unhelpful and willfully blind to the fact that such groups are ideologically opposed to Republican principles. A truly conservative minority-outreach strategy would severely weaken these groups by challenging their claims to represent their respective ethnicities.

And they wonder why people call the GOP racist.

I’m not fan of the NAACP, but if the Republican party wants to be seen as legit in the eyes of persons of color, then the GOP needs to engage these groups. If you go around them, if you work to weaken groups like the NAACP, then don’t expect to get votes from persons of color. For better or worse, groups like La Raza are seen as the legitmate representatives for various ethnic groups. You gotta play with what you have, unless of course, you don’t give a rip about minorities.

  • Finally, despite what National Review says, you have to support immigration reform. Opposing reform offends all Hispanics, even those who are native born Americans and it offends their friends. It doesn’t matter if we don’t get a ton of Latino votes. It doesn’t matter if you think they will just vote for liberals anyway. Opposing immigration reform will send the message that the GOP is against Latinos and that will prevent many folks from throwing the lever to the GOP.

There’s probably more that I could write, but this is what I got for now. After a good start, I’m interested to see how this report could change the GOP.

Demographics or the Red Social Model

Within a few moments of knowing President Obama had secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term, the explanations and recriminations had begun.  The two that bubbled up to the surface were demographics and social issues.  People saw this victory as proof that the new minority-majority America that we have been told was coming finally arose.  This meant the dawn a new Democratic era where the the GOP would be reduced to regional rump of a party.

The other issue that came to fore was the party’s views on same sex marriage and abortion rights.  If only they were able to pass an immigration bill to please Latinos or support same sex marriage, well, the party would be saved.

Now, being a gay African American/Puerto Rican such talk should be music to my ears.  After all, I am the mythical diverse voter that the GOP needs.  But this mythical voter doesn’t think making a few changes such immigration reform or allowing my partner and I to legally wed will bring salvation to the party of Lincoln.

First off, it’s not like the GOP is openly hostile to minorities.  The George W. Bush Adminstration placed not one but two African Americans in the positon of Secretary of State.  The 2012 GOP convention in Tampa had the likes of Marco Rubio, Susanna Martinez and Condaleeza Rice as speakers.  A racist political party would not have such people speaking in front of them.  As for the gay issue, the party has been making some halting moves towards inclusion.  Lost in the headlines was the fact that an openly gay Republican ran for a House seat in Massachusetts.

Diversity is important, and I do think there is room for improvement.  But demographics is only the dessert to a bigger issue: the economy.

It’s easy to get more black folk up on the dais of a convention to speak; it’s a lot harder to figure out how to help people in a changing economy.

Walter Russell Mead has talked about the disintergration of the blue social model.  For those who don’t know that phrase, it talks about the guiding rule of American Society from the New Deal onward.  Here’s how Mead describes the model:

The blue model rested on the post-Second World War industrial and economic system.  The ‘commanding heights’ of American business were controlled by a small number of monopolistic and oligopolistic firms.  AT&T, for example, was the only serious telephone company in the whole country, and both the services it offered and the prices it could charge were tightly regulated by the government.  The Big Three car-makers had a lock on the car market; in the halcyon days of the blue model there was no foreign competition.  A handful of airlines divided up the routes and the market; airlines could not compete by offering lower prices or by opening new routes without special government permission.  Banks, utilities, insurance companies, trucking companies had their rates and, essentially, their profit levels set by federal regulators.

The stable economic structure allowed a stable division of the pie.  Workers (much more heavily unionized then than now) got steady raises and stable jobs.  The government got a stable flow of tax revenues.  Shareholders got reasonably steady dividends.

This system was all about security and stability.  This was the system my mother and father encountered when the arrived in Michigan from Puerto Rico and Louisiana  respectively.  You got a job at one of the Big Three automakers and you were set.

But life started change in Michigan and the rest of the nation in the 70s.  Mead notes:

The blue model began to decay in the seventies.  Foreign producers began to erode the market share of lazy, sclerotic American firms–like the Big Three automakers.  The growth of offshore financial markets forced the financial services industry to become more flexible as both borrowers and lenders were increasingly able to work around the regulations and the oligopolies of the domestic market.  Demand for new communications services created an appetite for competition against Ma Bell.  The consumer movement attacked regulations that were clearly designed to protect companies; Teddy Kennedy was a cosponsor of the bill to deregulate the airlines.  Anti-corporate liberals rebelled at the way government power and regulation was being used to allow corporations to give their consumers the shaft.

As the old system dissolved, companies had to become more flexible.  As industry became more competitive, private sector managers had to shed bureaucratic habits of thought.  Lifetime employment had to go.  Productive workers had to be lured with high pay.  The costs of unionization grew; in the old days, government regulators simply allowed unionized firms to charge higher prices to compensate them for their higher costs.  The collapse of the regulated economy (plus the rise of foreign competition from developing countries) made unions unsustainably expensive in many industries.

 

If you haven’t already guessed, this system was powerful during the years of Democratic party dominance.  As that system started to decay, the Dems started to lose power.

As this old model is passing by, there has not been a response from the Republicans.  There has been no Red Social Model. When people look to the party for answers on how to deal with the new economic uncertainty, they get an odd response about lowering taxes- an answer that seems to fit all situations.

I think that’s the reason the GOP lost so big this year.  Yes. the President hasn’t done much and the economy is still in the doldrums.  He hasn’t really told the public what he will do in his second term.  But when people looked to the GOP for an alternative, they found…nothing.  The voting public would rather go with the devil they knew.

Take for example health care.  People are not crazy with Obamacare.  The GOP latched on to that and used to make big gains in the 2010 midterms.  Mitt Romney said one the first actions as President would be to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But as much as people didn’t like the President’s plan, at least it was a plan compared to…..well, nothing on the Republican side.

In his weekly column, Ross Douthat explains that middle class Americans are facing economic pressures and are not finding good answers from the GOP:

What the party really needs, much more than a better identity-politics pitch, is an economic message that would appeal across demographic lines — reaching both downscale white voters turned off by Romney’s Bain Capital background and upwardly mobile Latino voters who don’t relate to the current G.O.P. fixation on upper-bracket tax cuts.

As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen writes, it should be possible for Republicans to oppose an overweening and intrusive state while still recognizing that “government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream.” It should be possible for the party to reform and streamline government while also addressing middle-class anxieties about wages, health care, education and more.

The good news is that such an agenda already exists, at least in embryonic form. Thanks to four years of intellectual ferment, Republicans seeking policy renewal have a host of thinkers and ideas to draw from: Luigi Zingales and Jim Pethokoukis on crony capitalism,Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein on tax policy, Frederick Hess on education reform,James Capretta on alternatives to Obamacare, and many more.

The bad news is that unlike a pander on immigration, a new economic agenda probably wouldn’t be favorably received by the party’s big donors, who tend to be quite happy with the Republican Party’s current positioning.

In light of the disintergrating blue social model, there needs to be a red social model to come and fill its place.  People want to know how they can pay for college or have some kind of health care even if they lose their job.  The GOP circa 2012 couldn’t find an answer to give the people and they chose accordingly.

Becoming a bit more diverse is a good thing, but in this post-civil rights era, is not as pressing as some have made it out to be.  What really matters to the middle class family in the suburbs and the single mom in the inner city is how to keep their heads above the raging economic waters.

Trying to answer these “bread and butter” issues will take some time.  But I think if the GOP can find away to address the anxieties of millions of Americans, they might have a shot of having the chance to govern again.

On Dick Lugar

Pejman Yousefzadeh, offers words of praise for the defeated GOP Senator:

Let it be conceded–as though it has to be–that Dick Lugar never had any particular right to be re-nominated to another term in the United States Senate by Indiana’s Republican voters. Let it also be conceded–as though it has to be–that Richard Mourdock had every right to run against him, and won fair and square. He simply ran the better campaign, and 2012 simply wasn’t Dick Lugar’s year.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that I was ever in favor of targeting Lugar for defeat. In fact, quite the contrary; I had hoped that he would be able to prevail over Mourdock. Lugar is a highly experienced senator in the best sense of the term. He is a responsible and thoughtful legislator, he understands that in order to get things done in Congress–and yes, sometimes one ought to want to get things done in Congress–one has to be prepared to deal with the other side of the aisle, and he has tremendous expertise when it comes to foreign affairs, and national security.

He wasn’t the most conservative senator around, but he was no liberal, and could scarcely be called a moderate. Ronald Reagan used to say that the person who agreed with him 4 times out of 5 was an 80% friend, not a 20% enemy. Dick Lugar may not have reached 80%, but being a nearly 70% friend is not half bad, and is little cause for an insurrection.

 

Meanwhile Tom Van Dyke saw good riddance to man who consorted with Democrats:

Want to blame Republicans for spending like drunken Kennedys during the GWB era? Dick Lugar’s your man, what was wrong with the GOP, except he’s a “moderate,” so he gets a pass.

No longer, though. If the GOP is going to win elections, it’s going to win them fair and square with real Republicans, not fake ones.

Mebbe it was Sen. Lugar’s fronting for the execrable “Law of the Sea ” treaty that reduces the United Steezy into just another arm of the Euroweinie enviro-diplomatic complex. My jingoistic self is thoroughly appalled. I wouldn’t give you two cents for the rest of the world combined over the United States of America.

So call me pisher.

In any case, the 80-yr-old Sen. Lugar’s brand of Republicanism has had its day, where any “moderation” is a demerit on the GOP record and any guts are proof of the GOP’s “extremism.”

It’s not win-win mugwumpery, it’s a lose-lose Rockefeller Republicanism where the critics nail the GOP either way, coming or going.

If the GOP is to reform, and it must—it got no credit for GWB’s Democrat-lite “compassionate conservatism”—it’s to be as the adult alternative to Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” and Dick Lugar’s Audacity of Professional Politicianism, where there’s little difference between Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Find the Elephant in the Room.

Myself, I would echo Pejman.  While I think Lugar stayed way past his time, he represented a gentlemanly conservatism that was resolutely Republican, but willing to deal with the other side in order to get things done.

As for Van Dyke’s too-cute-by half post mocking Lugar; well, one wonders how much a real Republican you have to be to get his approval.  Lugar was never really considered a Rockefeller Republican like many of the Northeastern Republicans, so his painting Lugar as one is a sign of how far the goal posts have moved in considering who is a Republican and who is not.

Richard Murdock may well make a good Senator, standing up for conservative values.  But part of being a politician is to be able to govern as well.  Will Murdock be able to work with Democrats when the need arises?  We shall see.