Category Archives: Republican Party

Wishin’ For Armageddon

So, I guess I wasn’t the only one who thinks a big GOP loss might be good for the party:

In “Batman Begins” — the 2005 movie about the origins of the caped crusader — there is a group of villains who believe the city of Gotham is beyond saving and that the only way to fix it is to first destroy it.As the Republican presidential race has worn on (and on), there are some within the party wondering — privately, of course — whether the only way for the party to face the growing divide between its moderate and conservative wings is for the 2012 election to be its Gotham moment.

“I’d personally enjoy all the ‘we can’t nominate another Republican In Name Only’ crowd getting a stomping by an incumbent with an 8.5 unemployment rate,” said one senior party strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly, warning of nominating a strictly conservative candidate like former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

It’s happened before. In 1964, conservatives got their way when Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater beat out New York Gov. — and proud moderate — Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination. Goldwater’s conservatism didn’t sit well with the country at large and Johnson won with 61 percent of the vote, the largest popular vote percentage in modern history.


In someways this is a reverse of the Goldwater Myth that conservatives in the GOP tend to adhere to. But as David Frum has noted, there are drawbacks:

Republicans lost 36 seats in the House of Representatives in 1964, giving Democrats the biggest majority in the House any party has enjoyed since the end of World War II. Republicans dropped 2 seats in the Senate, yielding a Democratic majority of 68-32, again the most lopsided standing in any election from the war to the present day.

This huge congressional majority – call it the Goldwater majority –  liberated President Johnson from any dependence on conservative southern Democrats. In 1964, only 46 Senate Democrats voted for the great Civil Rights Act; 21 opposed. Without Republican support, the Act would not have passed. (And indeed while 68% of Senate Democrats voted for the Act, 81% of Senate Republicans did.)

While dependent on southern Democrats, President Johnson had to develop a careful, pragmatic domestic agenda that balanced zigs to the right (in 1964, Congress passed the first across the board income tax cut since the 1920s) with zags to the left (the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 which created Head Start among other less successful programs).

Then came the Republican debacle of November 1964. Goldwater’s overwhelming defeat invited a tsunami of liberal activism. The 89th Congress elected in 1964 enacted both Medicaid and Medicare. It passed a new immigration law, opening the way to a surge of 40 million newcomers, the overwhelming majority of them from poor Third World countries. It dramatically expanded welfare eligibility and other anti-poverty programs that together transformed the urban poor of the 1950s into the urban underclass of the 1970s and 1980s.

Would running a Rick Santorum as the candidate and losing really make a difference? Maybe. But 2012 isn’t 1964, either.

The Myth and Disaster of a Brokered GOP Convention

David Frum takes on the myth of a “brokered convention” this summer when the GOP gathers in Tampa.  He does a good job of explaining how the rise of the primary/caucus system and the demise of the party bosses have made such a myth less and less of a reality and if it did happen, it might spell doom for the party.

1) Imagine that Romney falls just slightly short of the 1144 needed to nominate.
In this scenario, an individual party chairman from a smaller state
with more old-fashioned rules might be lured to find some way to
redirect his state’s votes to Romney. That is what happened in 1976,
when Gerald Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan by gaining the
last-minute support of the Mississippi state delegation; that’s the most
recent occasion when a convention chose a nominee.

The problem is that there are many fewer such old-fashioned states
today than there were in 1976, with the result that the price such
“available” states might be able to exact will be considerably higher
than it was back then.

Ford only needed to replace his vice presidential candidate, dumping
Nelson Rockefeller, anathema to party conservatives, in favor of Bob
Dole, then a conservative hero.

But what price would be exacted from Romney? And what effect would
that have on the election? Romney badly needs to pivot back to the
center for the general election. Would a convention-season deal to get
the votes of strongly conservative delegates veto that pivot and doom
his hopes?

 Frum’s piece also reminds us that a party that had smoke-filled rooms was a party that had more control and was also a place where moderates could thrive.  What had weakened the power of moderates is not simply some kind of “kidnapping” by the far right as much as how American political parties have been transformed over the last half century. 

Beyond the Roar of the Crowds

Matt Bai has a great article up today about the Republicans and the upcoming 2012 election. The temptation is to get a candidate that will fire up the base and wow the crowds. In doing so, Bai tells the GOP to remember what happened to the Democrats in 2004 with Howard Dean:

Now flash forward to 2003, when another little-known governor from a small state, Howard Dean of Vermont, joined the messy field of candidates vying to take on President George W. Bush. Mr. Dean began that campaign as a proven centrist in the Clinton mold, espousing two central planks: health care reform and a balanced budget.

By then, though, the activist base of the party had had its fill of Clintonism, and it was demanding a candidate who would make a more ideologically pure indictment of conservatism. Mr. Dean grabbed an oar and steered furiously into the current. “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party!” he told the California Democratic convention in March 2003, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Within months, Mr. Dean had so surpassed his rivals in money and glamour that ABC’s Ted Koppel, moderating a Democratic debate, felt moved to ask the other candidates if they thought Mr. Dean could beat Mr. Bush. He needn’t have wondered; as it turned out, Mr. Dean ended up winning only two primaries, in his home state and the District of Columbia.

The main lesson Republicans might take from this admittedly selective contrast is that chasing the applause of the faithful, even in a party that is more ideologically cohesive, generally gets you only so far. Aspirants at this week’s forum can elevate themselves by playing, both rhetorically and substantively, to a base that’s virulently anti-Washington and anti-Obama. But the wider primary electorate may judge such stridently partisan candidates to be unelectable.

Bai says the lesson Republicans should follow is that of Bill Clinton, who persued a more moderate path that brought the Dems back in the White House after sixteen years and also led to two back to back terms:

What Mr. Clinton proved, however, is that laying out a more affirmative vision of what the party should stand for, and trying to persuade activists of its merits, makes for a more enduring campaign, both in the primaries and in November. This would suggest that if you’re Mr. Thune or Mr. Daniels, you don’t necessarily have to win the approval of everyone in the room at CPAC; you just have to convince them, over time, that yours is the vision that will ultimately attract enough independent voters to return the party to power.

There is an obvious lesson here for the GOP base and establishment, especially in light of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But I also think there is a lesson here for political centrists within the Republican Party.

The news this week is that Tea Party is officially going after Maine moderate Olympia Snowe when she comes up for re-election. Solomon Kleinsmith thinks this is proof-positive that Snowe is no longer welcomed in the GOP and instead should run as an independent. It’s an attractive option and I tend to wander back and forth from the idea of moderate Republicans running as independents or not. But I wonder if in the long run, the better option is stand and persuade instead of leaving.

I think the problem with centrists on both sides of the isle is that they have a problem explaining why they are needed and why people should vote for them. Like Mainline Protestant Christians, centrists have been part of their party for so long, that they forget why they are where they are. Very seldom do they present a true governing vision. Whenever I hear some moderate person running for office, what they usually talk about is being able to work accross the isle, or come up with the best ideas of left and right, or what have you. They want to come accross as an able functionary, but what the average voter wants is a compelling vision. Clinton in 1992 had a vision of what he wanted and that’s what propelled him to victory.

I think that in this age of the Tea Party, moderate and even conventional Republicans have to explain clearly what is their governing vision. Why do they want to be in public office?

One reason that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder won is because he presented a real vision for governing. He is a roadmap for moderates within the GOP. It’s not enough to be moderate. One has to be able to say how they would want to govern and make their society better than what it was. He was able to bring independents into the GOP .

Now, maybe Snowe could win as an independent. But the thing is, if she can’t explain why she should be elected other than “vote for me, because I’m moderate,” then she won’t win. In Minnesota, former Republican Tom Horner ran as an independent/third party candidate. But most of his spiel was to run as a functionary, not a visionary. The result was that he won 12 percent of the vote.

That said, if she wins as an independent what does that mean? Joe Liberman ran as an independent, but for the most part he voted with the Dems. How is that “independent?”

I think in the end, centrists in the GOP (all five of us) need to better explain why we are a better choice than a Tea Party candidate. We need to persuade folks to who might not have ever pulled the “R” lever to actually vote for Republicans. I want to see the Scott Browns, Richard Lugars and Olympia Snowes come up with a real compelling vision that will make people vote for them in primaries over a Tea Partier. It’s time to make a stand.

Conservatives and the “Pippi Longstocking Society”

Via Reihan Salam, British writer Bagehot writes about the UK Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s fascination with the Nordic Countries, particularly Sweden.  Conservatives in the United States normally think of Scandanavian nations as strongly socialist, but Sweden especially has started electing center-right candidates after decades of social democratic rule.  Bagehot explains:

I have no doubt that Mr Cameron is a sincere admirer of the Swedish centre-right, led by his friend Fredrik Reinfeldt. After all, Mr Reinfeldt has twice won election in a country with a strong social democratic tradition by dragging his party to the centre-ground, vowing to overhaul the state rather than dismantle it, and convincing voters that his party is best-placed to preserve all those gleaming public services with a mix of fiscal discipline and market-based competition. That must fascinate a man like Mr Cameron, leading a party like the Conservatives in a Britain emerging from a decade-long boom in public spending.

But do the British really want to compete with the Swedes? Researching this week’s Bagehot column, I was talking to a senior Swedish official when the subject of the country’s heavily subsidised day care came up. The official told me—from personal experience—about an email sent to all parents at a Stockholm pre-school not long ago. We believe that some of the children have been watching superhero cartoons at home, the email began reproachfully. Some children have been running about in the playground pretending to be superheroes, and this is rather disruptive and could cause accidents. This email caused no offence, apparently. Had it been sent in Britain, I suspect, it would have caused (mild) parental outrage.

Something similar is at work when it comes to all those family-friendly policies. I have written already about the Icelandic prime minister, noting that a good father takes three months of parental leave. Indeed, other delegates at the London summit last week explicitly argued that one of the reasons to push fathers to take more leave after their children are born is to make men as troublesome to employ as women. As long as only mothers take long periods of parental leave, they said, it is clearly true that employers will be wary of taking on a women of childbearing age.

There is also a pretty direct clash between the Nordic vision of the family and more traditional family values. I interviewed Mr Reinfeldt in Stockholm on Tuesday for my column, and he had some interesting things to say about how women should enter the workforce for the sake of the national economy, but also to gain independence from men:

“My mother was one of those in the 70s to raise her hand and say, we want to have individual freedoms, we want to have the same rights to enter the labour market,” the prime minister said. “Both men and women need to be active in the labour market because at the end of the day, you don’t know how long your marriage will last, and whether you may need to be active in the labour market. So our day-care system, and our affordable system for employing home help, builds on that tradition of helping women and men enter the labour force.”

A lot of women had been held down in the past, he said, by men expecting them to raise children and look after elderly parents. The Swedish state, by providing high quality care for children and the old had created families built around “individuals who are free”. This had spared Sweden the usual trade-offs between helping women to have careers or to have children: the country had high employment rates and high fertility rates.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, the five Nordic governments are to present a really interesting paper on “The Nordic Way”, which sets out to challenge what it calls the “half-truth” that Nordic voters are simply rather left-wing and wedded to a big, intrusive and conformist state. Nordic voters like the state but are also exceptionally individualistic, the paper asserts. The circle is squared because Nordic voters believe that the state (which usually works pretty well in countries like Sweden) is the best referee and guarantor of their individual freedoms.

Bagehot goes on to explain that while there is a concept of family in the Nordic countries, there is far more emphasis on individual autonomy than there is on a role within the family structure.

Bagehot then goes on to explain how three different societies, Sweden, Germany and the United States tend to view the roles of the state, the family and the individual:

Finally, “The Nordic Way” cites a paper that compares Sweden to Germany and the United States, when considering the triangle formed by reverence for the Family, the State and the Individual. Americans favour a Family-Individual axis, this suggests, suspecting the state as a threat to liberty. Germans revere an axis connecting the family and the state, with a smaller role for individual autonomy. In the Nordic countries, they argue, the state and the individual form the dominant alliance. The paper cited, by the way, is entitled: “Pippi Longstocking: The Autonomous Child and the Moral Logic of the Swedish Welfare State”. It hails Pippi (the strongest girl in the world and an anarchic individualist who lives without parents in her own house, with only a monkey, horse, a bag of gold and a strong moral compass for company) as a Nordic archetype.

(Hmmm…that might explain why I’ve always loved the Pippi Longstocking story.)

While Bagehot is focusing on UK Conservatives, there are some lessons for Republicans on how to best govern after November.  In fact, this article flows nicely with a recent article by Henry Olson that challenges the “center-right nation” myth.  Writing in National Affairs, Olson is able to show that the American electorate is more in the middle than they are on the right or the left.  While there are many parts of the electorate that will vote for one party or the other regardless, Olson notes that white working class is up for grabs.  Olson describes the group as such:

Why do these voters oscillate between the two parties? What do white working-class voters want? Patrick Muttart, a pollster and strategist who once served as Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, is perhaps the leading authority on working-class voters in the English-speaking world. He notes that America’s experience is not unique: Australia’s and Britain’s transformative conservative leaders — John Howard and Margaret Thatcher — also relied on the votes of working-class former Labor Party supporters for their historic majorities. And their experiences can teach us a lot about American working-class voters. Muttart’s research tells him that working-class voters do not fit neatly into the left-right divide that characterizes debates between party elites: These voters favor low taxes and balanced budgets, but support government welfare-state programs like public education and state-sponsored retirement benefits. They are economically populist, and suspicious of free trade and high finance. They are culturally orthodox but morally moderate, meaning that, while they often hold conservative views regarding social issues, they do not think that debates about social issues will affect their own lives very much. They are patriotic and supportive of the military, but are as suspicious of “big military” as they are of “big government” and “big business.”

In essence, they would like a smaller government, but one that still provides some public services like Social Security and public schools. 

So, what does this mean for the GOP?  It means that it can’t simply cut government for the sake of cutting government.  In some way, it needs to basically help people be Pippi Longstockings, being able to have some sense freedom and dignity.

Will it?  The idea of the individual and family against the state has long been a part of American conservatism and as much as people revere Ronald Reagan’s conservative credentials, they aren’t that willing to do that balancing act he did to keep the welfare state intact, while trying to streamline government.

I think this is an idea to move the party forward and should be taken up by bloggers, pundits, politicians and think tankers and try to shape it to American tastes.  That said, I think the Republican party will probably ignore such advice until it hits a wall after not listening to the needs of the working class and the wider American society.

The Uses of Ronald Reagan

With the centennial birthday of Ronald Reagan taking place yesterday, I wanted to think for a bit about how people use the 40th president for their own ends.  In this essay by Steven Hayward, we see Reagan as the ultimate Tea Party Patriot standing against the evil liberals. On the other hand, there have been a few posts and essays talking about Reagan as the embodiement of moderation as compared to today’s conservatives. 

Both sides use Reagan to justify themselves and in doing so, cover up the real Reagan.  Two blog posts from yesterday did a good job of trying to show the real Reagan, warts and all.

Doug Mataconis frames what brought Reagan to power and then spells out the good and bad of the Reagan years:

In order to really understand what Ronald Reagan meant to some of the people who are lionizing him today, you have to be able to understand what came before him. By the late 70s, America was, in may ways, a demoralized country. We had lost a war in Vietnam and ended up with a country divided. We lived through a President who broke the law, lied, and used the power of the state to prepare lists of Jewish people in the government, and investigate his “enemies.” The economy never really recovered from the tailspin it was forced into by the oil shock of the early 70s. Revolutionary governments were popping up in formerly friendly countries and seemingly on our own doorstep. When the Energy Crisis hit in the Carter Administration, our President told us that the answer was for everyone to turn down the thermostat and wear sweaters. Then, our embassy in Iran was taken over by a bunch of students and we found ourselves humiliated before the world.

By the time the 1980 election rolled around, America was, in many ways a demoralized country. As I said yesterday, one of the primary reasons for Reagan’s political success then was the fact he told Americans that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be:

The Ronald Reagan I remember was an optimist who spoke of America as being the “shining city on the hill,” and who, even if in the depths of  the Carter Malaise believed that the country’s best days were ahead of it, a sentiment that appeared throughout his major campaign speeches in 1980. One of the reasons Ronald Reagan was successful was because he brought that message of optimism at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly pessimistic.

Reagan once said that he believed that his greatest accomplishment was the fact that he made Americans feel proud of their country again. Given the state of things in the late 70s that was no small accomplishment and, along with his actual political successes and the role he played in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion, it strikes me as being one of the gifts that he gave America, and something we should be thankful for.

That’s not to say Ronald Reagan was perfect, though, because he wasn’t. He presided over massive increases in spending and the deficit that even he later said he regretted. He was slow to take action on the public health threat posed by AIDS. He stubbornly resisted efforts to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa (although that was largely influenced by the fact that the United States still looked at the world through a Cold War lens at the time). And, he engaged in a foolish endeavor to sell arms to terrorists in exchange for freedom for hostages, perhaps one of the biggest mistakes any President has made in connection with the Middle East in the modern era. Even conservatives, if they looked at the Reagan Presidency honestly, should be able to find flaws, whether it’s the aforementioned Iran-Contra scandal, or the fiscal irresponsibility.

The picture Mataconis draws is one that is less Reagan as the Idea Example and more of Reagan as a leader.  Liberals will never appreciate that Reagan lowered taxes, but I think some conservatives were mad at Reagan’s willingness to negotiate with then- Soviet leader Gorbachev.  He was slow to respond to the grow AIDS crisis.  But he also found a way to push through immigration reforms.  He was a solid conservative and a pragmatist. 

One of the problems I have with people using Reagan for their own ends is that we end up not really learning about they guy.  Haywards’ essay is basically deification of the President and now trying to learn from who the guy actually was.  Yes, there were a lot of liberals both then and now that didn’t like Reagan.  So, what?  A lot of people don’t like this or that president. 

But what can the historical Reagan teach us?  What can he say about the modern Republican party?  What mistakes should we avoid?  Where was he right?  Where was he wrong?  Are we willing to be taught by his history; learning from his successes and mistakes?

As Reagan become part of American history, those of us who lived through the Reagan years and those of us weren’t even born during those days, need to listen to history and be willing to learn from it.

Why Republicans Hate Mass Transit

Via Reihan Salam, Yonah Freemark explains why the GOP tends to be so against mass transit.  The answer should not surprise anyone- it boils down to location:

But how can we explain the open hostility of so many members of the GOP to any federal spending at all for non-automobile transportation? Why does a transfer of power from the Democratic Party to the Republicans engender such political problems for urban transit?

We can find clues in considering the districts from which members of the House of Representatives of each party are elected.

As shown in the chart above (in Log scale), there was a relatively strong positive correlation between density of congressional districts and the vote share of the Democratic candidate in the 2010 elections. Of densest quartile of districts with a race between a Democrat and a Republican — 105 of them, with a density of 1,935 people per square miles or more — the Democratic candidate won 89. Of the quartile of districts with the lowest densities — 98 people per square mile and below — Democratic candidates only won 23 races. As the chart below demonstrates (in regular scale), this pattern is most obvious in the nation’s big cities, where Democratic Party vote shares are huge when densities are very high.


This would make sense: as the center of the GOP moved from the Northeast and Midwest, which tend to be transit-dependent- to the South and Southwest, we have seen a drop in support for transit.  Conversely as the center of the Democrats became more urban, it became the party of mass transit.

None of this means that there are no Republicans who favor mass transit, but the culture of the party makes them the minority.

Just another example of how the dividing line between the political parties has more to do with culture than it does with policy.