Tag Archives: centrist

Jon Huntsman, Conservative

One of the biggest problems that John McCain faced in 2000 and again in 2008 is how people portrayed him.  Because he had chastised the far right on one occasion or another, people started to paint McCain as a centrist Republican, completely ignoring his record which was actually pretty conservative.  People wanted to see in John McCain what they wanted to see and when reality stared them in the face, they were shocked that this candidate that they lauded as a moderate or centrist was really a conservative.

Now it’s Jon Huntman’s turn.  Because he has staked out positions to the left of the party on civil unions and the environment, he immediately got tagged as the reincarnation of Nelson Rockefeller.  Which is why I think Jess Chapman wrote this very odd post taking the conservative Utah governor for pandering to….conservatives.

Chapman links to this Yahoo story where Huntsman met with a group of Tea Party activists in South Carolina:

Those who braved the heat to show up to the presidential forum in the Palmetto State — home of the first Southern presidential primary — admitted they came skeptical of Huntsman’s conservative credentials.

“I think candidates need to have constructive criticism, and that’s what people are saying about him,” Jones, the woman who did the impromptu audience survey, told The Daily Caller. “That he’s a moderate.”

Despite the fact he governed in conservative Utah, how did he get that reputation?

His speeches aren’t exactly fiery like those of fellow candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain or potential rival Sarah Palin. He once worked for President Obama, as ambassador. And last week, he was the only major presidential candidate to support the debt-ceiling compromise struck by Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House.

Huntsman, who was tie-less on Sunday and shed his blazer once on-stage, spent the next hour at Scott’s forum trying to convince those like Jones that he is no moderate or liberal Republican.

He got loud applause by praising the district’s freshman conservative congressman by saying, “thank god for Tim Scott.” They applauded again when he said President Obama has “failed us” and when he said the country needs a balanced budget amendment, a favorite of tea partiers.

And when it comes to paying down the country’s debt, he said “everything needs to be on the table,” including entitlements and defense.

“We can’t have any sacred cows in this debate,” Huntsman said.


Chapman saw this as a loss of nerve:

When former Ambassador Jon Huntsman (R-UT) announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, I was thrilled. He had a solid record on both domestic and foreign policy; he had executive experience; he had the potential to be a true political uniter; and even if the Republicans dropped him, we centrists could have someone around whom to rally if he went third-party. Then he hit the campaign trail and lost his balls. It’s quite a common tale.

Huntsman was in Charleston, SC, yesterday, at a town hall organized by Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), one of the young Tea Party guns. Put him together with a room full of like-minded people, and you can easily find yourself under enormous pressure to toe the line, which is exactly what Huntsman did. He asked the crowd to look at his record – and then took great pains to stress his status as a “conservative problem solver,” emphasis on the “conservative.” A few shots at President Obama and props to Scott, and he was in business. As far as we know.


When Huntsman announced his candidacy earlier in the year, I wrote a post about how folks have tended to misconstrue his conservative record.  What made him different was not that he was a moderate, but that he was a conservative that was open to reaching out to moderates.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

Huntsman’s support for civil unions and responding to climate change has had him pegged as some sort of Rockefeller Republican (which has been described as in one reading). But his moderation is one more of tone than it is one of politics. While such moderation might not be attractive to die hard centrists, I do think it might be more appealing to those who want to be persuaded to vote GOP, but don’t feel they can’t with some of the current crop of candidates (think Michelle Bachmann). I don’t think it’s an accident that Huntsman kicked off his campaign at the same place Ronald Reagan did a generation ago.  I think he is less about reviving a moderate, northeastern-style Republicanism, than he is reviving a Western conservatism ala Reagan.  Reagan was no doubt a conservative, but he is remembered as trying to expand the conservative family, instead forcing purity tests on folks.

Huntsman is not a moderate politically, but he is trying to hone a civil and civic-minded conservatism, something that just might appeal to moderates and independents.

Jess and others might want to read past articles by Daniel Alott and Ezra Klein to see that Huntsman has governed as a conservative.

As for meeting with Tea Party conservatives?  Well, they aren’t my (pardon the pun) cup of tea, but I know that this is part of politics.  If Huntsman is serious about winning the GOP nomination, he has to meet with all types of folks and that includes the Tea Party.  Coupled with a his recent outreach efforts to moderates in New Hampshire, he is doing what Ronald Reagan did 30 years ago: reach out to the different part of the GOP and even try to grow the party. If he went on television denouncing the Tea Party and calling them wingnuts, he might get the praise of centrists and liberals, but if he did that, he might as well give up any chance of winning in the GOP.  If he wants to win, he has to play nice with the Tea Party.  Jess might not like it.  I might not like it.  But this is politics.  It’s not like he’s started parroting Michelle Bachmann or something.

Which brings me back to the comparisons with John McCain.  McCain always had to deal with people who wanted to see in McCain what they wanted to see.  Huntsman is facing the same problem. Chapman wants Huntsman to stay moderate/centrist all the time, but that’s kind of impossible since he was never a moderate to begin with.  He’s a conservative that wants to reach out to moderates and in the world of Republican politics, that’s good enough.


A Plausible Third Party Scenario?

What happens to the political class if the debt ceiling talks fail?  Political analyst Jeff Greenfield thinks it might provide the backdrop for the rise of a third party:

At 2:30 on Monday morning, Aug. 1, 2011, the clerk of the House announced that the motion had failed. Within 24 hours, the government of the United States would be unable to pay its debts.

The political recriminations were as swift and ferocious as the economic fallout, which the hastily contrived debt-ceiling fix three days later did nothing to soften. The 1,400-point drop in the Dow, Moody’s move to downgrade the rating of federal debt, the fever spike in interest rates for mortgages and business loans, the delays in paying federal contractors, the impending layoffs — all had been predicted months before the debt limit was breached.

And the first wave of public reaction was equally predictable: Congress’s job-approval rating fell into the low teens, while President Obama’s dropped into the mid-20s. Nine in 10 Americans surveyed said they thought the country was on the wrong track (“The 10th one is in a coma,” Conan O’Brien quipped).

But then something else began to happen to American politics, something that turned a long-standing political fantasy into a reality…

Until now, when the two-party system had failed at one of the government’s most basic jobs: protecting the full faith and credit of the country’s obligations. The persistent, low-level discontent with Republicans and Democrats suddenly became a tidal wave sweeping across ideological lines, encapsulated by one tweetable, postable, share-able word: “Enough!”

I think Greenfield puts forth a plausible scenario, but I’m still skeptical.  Is the Great American Middle angry enough to demand change?  Is it willing to get involved to making government work?  Would the debt ceiling crisis be the catalyst to launching a great reform in America?

I want to believe that something could happen, something that will move us beyond this deadlock that has made American politics so toxic.  I’m just not so sure Americans give a damn as much as to bring about something new.

I’d like to be proven wrong.

Response to Third Party Repost, Part Two

From Commenter RichC:

Money is often the deciding factor in elections, especially Congressional elections. Third parties can’t attract big money no matter how passionate they are because they can’t win elections. The big money donors pay their way into the system and they want access to elected officials. They want to back winners. This makes fundraising almost impossible for any candidate not in the Republican or Democratic parties.

I find that the most passionate people in either party are the loudest voices and the most active. This is why we see candidates in both parties skew to the far left or far right during the nominating process. Mostly the most die-hard members of the parties participate. Therefore, the candidates must speak to them or fail. People in the middle generally don’t spend as much time on politics and don’t care as much. They are hard to motivate.

The third party candidates we’ve seen in the past have failed because they are seen as simply warmed-over Republicans or Democrats who couldn’t get their own party’s nomination or they represent radical slivers of one of the main parties who have a very narrow focus with a very small percentage of the electorate who backs them. I think Perot was different in that he was more of a populist and he had gobs of his own money to spend. But liberal voters didn’t trust him so he couldn’t gain much traction left-of-center.

The only chance for a third party to become viable is the disintegration of one of the two main parties. This is basically how the GOP gained viability in the 19th Century. This theoretically could happen if a radical faction gains control of a party and nominates increasingly radical candidates. The independents would summarily reject either party for doing this thereby opening the door to a third party. But this third party would have to take over many of the positions of the disintegrated party. So, would we really have a third party? I think so because the radical fringe would be culled out of the disintegrated party, or more precisely the radical fringe would remain with their original party and the more people with more centrist view would join the new party. One problem with this would be that the power brokers of the old party who are centrists might not want to give up some of or all of their power to join a new party thereby leaving two weak parties on one side of the spectrum allowing for the possibility of the one strong party on the opposite side to consolidate power. This would probably be the worst of all scenarios. I think given the current state of the GOP and the tea party influence, the GOP is most likely to succumb to this type of thing although I think that possibility is small.

The people in the middle simply don’t care enough for any of this to happen.

On RINO Hunts, Ctd.

Bruce Gilson, who has, ahem, more experience when it comes to living, has this response to my earlier post on RINO Hunts:

I don’t think Riley’s type of thing is really new. The tension between extremist and moderate Republicans has been going on since 1964 at least (remember Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” in his acceptance speech). Even the “RINO” designation applied by extremists to moderates is decades old by now. One has to accept that there are some who cannot accept that the Republican Party is not ideologically homogeneous, and work around them. (emphasis mine)

Bruce makes a strong note here.  It’s easy to think that the rise of extremists within the GOP is some recent phenomenon, but the tension between the two wings of the party has been there for at least 50 years if not more.  I’ve read articles from the 1980s where this was still an issue back then. The extremists have always been like the schoolyard bully who threaten the timid moderate.  The problem is that moderates never really try to stand up to the bully.  We whine about the bully and talk about how unfair it is to be bullied, but we never face them down. 

Politics is always going to be rough game.  Moderates have to learn to fight back and stand up for themselves.  The world doesn’t care about whiners.

What’s So Good About the Tea Party?

Earlier this week, Ross Douthat, back from a February fast from blogging, shared what he thought were some of the more positive characteristics of the Tea Party:

 The most pungent, attention-grabbing liberal critique of the Tea Parties was that they were either racist reactionaries fomenting violent insurrection, or else the hapless dupes of plutocratic puppetmasters. But the more plausible liberal critique was that the movement’s supporters weren’t actually serious about the issues they claimed to care about the most. Sure, liberals allowed, Tea Partiers said that they cared about runaway government spending, but polls showed that most of them actually felt more strongly about tax cuts than real fiscal discipline, and believed that the deficit could be pared back without touching Medicare or Social Security or defense. Likewise, Tea Partiers claimed to care about individual liberty, but polls showed that their opinions weren’t any closer to real civil libertarianism than those of the average Bush-era Republican. Citing this data, more than a few liberals suggested that the dirty secret of the Tea Partiers was that they were just Bush-era Republicans, rebranded and equipped with newfound populist zeal, but otherwise identical to the right-wing constituency that had accepted Bush’s deficit spending and expansions of the national security state without a peep. (This Jonathan Chait post from a week ago gives the flavor of this argument.) Which meant, presumably, that the movement’s promises of a more fiscally-responsible and libertarian G.O.P. were so much sound and fury, and what we should really expect from Tea Party Republicanism was more of the same: A notional commitment to limited government and individual liberty, joined to a practical politics of deficit-financed tax cuts, defense sector bloat, and Medicare demagoguery.

But here we are, a couple months into the new G.O.P. era, and the party’s Congressional leadership has formally committed itself to providing a blueprint for entitlement reform, the immense political risks notwithstanding. At the same time, while Ron Paul-style libertarianism is hardly ascendant in the Republican Party, it’s more in evidence than at any point in the Bush era: You’ve had surprising Republican votes to delay reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, a Republican backbencher revolt that killed the F-35 engine and — most importantly, perhaps, for right-wing libertarianism’s long-term prospects — Rand Paul’s emergence as the Republican version of Russ Feingold, making the case for civil liberties in an often-inhospitable environment.

Mike at the Big Stick agrees with Douthat’s assessment and adds this:

The Tea Party is a conservative movement and thus supporting conservative candidates and challenging moderate Republicans. Essentially they are pulling most of the GOP rightward on fiscal policy (which is what so many of us have wanted for nearly two decades). The only question mark is whether or not they can remain enough of a solid voting block to keep the GOP there until something real is accomplished. The worst thing they could do is to lose the fear factor. To that end I would love to see them support a couple fiscally conservative Democrats in 2012 against fiscally moderate Republicans. A move like that would help them maintain their clout and keep Republican incumbents on their toes.

Of course, it’s not a surprise that I don’t share Ross or Mike’s enthusiasm for the Tea Party.  I don’ t think they’re a bunch of racist reactionaries, but I don’t think they are a bunch freewheeling, pot-smoking Gary Johnson lovers either. 

I also think it’s too early to be giving the Tea Party plaudits for their budget acumen.  Yes, there are plans to deal with entitlements, but we haven’t heard of them yet, and most of the cuts they have made have are on the smallest part of the federal budget, discretionary spending.  This is hardly courageous and it tends to affect only constituencies that don’t usually support the GOP, the young and the poor.  If we are going to tackle something like the deficit and live within our means, we are going to have to “make everybody hurt.”  Here, columnist David Brooks shows what the GOP has done in DC:

In Washington, the Republicans who designed the cuts for this fiscal year seemed to have done no serious policy evaluation. They excused the elderly and directed cuts at anything else they could easily reach. Under their budget, financing for early-childhood programs would fall off a cliff. Tens of thousands of kids, maybe hundreds of thousands, would have their slots eliminated midyear.

In short, the GOP went after the low hanging fruit.  Hardly a way to get to fiscal responsibility.

The GOP talks a good game about tackling the deficit.  But in the end, they aren’t any more willing to make the hard choices on federal spending than the Democrats.

And I haven’t even talked about the Tea Party,  party diversity and social conservatism.

An Example of “Make Everybody Hurt?”

Nick Goebel is impressed with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s brand of fiscal discipline:

Governor Snyder’s budget that he unveiled last week is a truly unique document in so many ways.  For one, it is an apolitical document that cuts from almost every constituency.  Unlike Republican Governor Walker in Wisconsin, Snyder did not just cut from political constituencies that are loyal to Democrats; he also took on loyal Republican constituencies.  For example, senior citizens could see their pensions taxed if Snyder’s budget is passed.  It is obvious that the Governor’s objective was not to score political points or protect political allies.  As Lt. Governor Brian Calley said, “Whenever people would get weak in the knees and offer a political answer about why not to do something,” Snyder would come back with, “What’s the right thing to do?”

This makes me wonder if Synder if following along the lines of what David Brooks said in an oped last week regarding dealing with state and federal budget issues: “Make Everybody Hurt.”  Brooks believes that budget cuts can only make sense if everyone’s sacred cow gets gored.  His belief is that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s approach is too partisan: only attacking programs favored by Democrats or programs that don’t have a constituency to fight back.  His fellow Republican Synder, is willing to take on people who do vote, like his plan to tax retirees benefits in an effort to balance the budget.

I happened to be back in Michigan when Gov. Synder gave his State of the State address in January.  I thought it has some great ideas and the budget he came out with was fair-minded in my view. It will be interesting to see what approach will benefit the GOP over the long run: Walker’s go for the jugular tactic or Synder’s quiet diplomacy. Time will tell.

The Center Cannot Hold

Solomon Kleinsmith links to an article by Major Garrett about the decline of centrists in Washington.  It’s actually the summation of a longer article in the National Journal about how the two political parties in Congress have grown more and more apart.

Not that long ago, Washington used to be a place full of individual, and individualistic, lawmakers who were both capable and willing to defy party labels and the party orthodoxy to make things happen. That was also a world, paradoxically, where party infrastructure mattered more; a place and time when local, state, and national party machinery exerted at least some influence over candidate selection, fundraising, endorsements, and field operations. The irony is that in that era of greater party influence, lawmakers acted less predictably and with less partisan zeal.

National Journal‘s vote ratings in 1982 found, to cite just one example, 60 senators who could credibly be described as operating in the ideological middle. Back then, 36 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted in ways that put them between the most liberal Senate Republican, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, and the most conservative Democrat, Edward Zorinsky of Nebraska. The number of those in the broad middle in the House was 344. The ideological poles were defined by liberal Republican Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island and conservative Democrat Larry McDonald of Georgia.

Garrett goes on to explain that political parties don’t have the power they once had.  This in turn has led to lawmakers becoming independent contractors that tend to be more robotically partisan.

Garrett is right to a point, but where I disagree is the rise of outside groups that have basically taken over the process that political parties once had.  Last year in Delaware, it was the GOP establishment that thought that moderate Republican Mike Castle would have the best shot at gaining the Senate seat that had been occupied by Vice President Joe Biden.  But the Tea Party was able to put forth Christine O’Donnell and through legwork and fundraising was able to beat Castle.

What has changed is that party bosses knew they lay of the land and was able to pick candidates that fit the locale.  The outside groups are not as concerned with what candidate can win in Massachusetts as opposed to Texas.  They want more ideological conformity and will pay good money for it.

Political parties of decades past were designed more for the masses.  In the days when there were only three major networks, the political parties had to welcome people from various walks of life.  This meant that there had to be more cooperation and compromise.  But in an age of Facebook, where people can tailor their experiences so that they only hear what they want to hear, cooperation becomes more impossible.

As we look at the ongoing mess in Wisconsin, I have to wonder if such a scene would have existed 30 years ago.  Listening to all the rhetoric on both sides, you get the sense that neither side listens to the other.  Both sides see the other as a threat to all that is good and true about America, instead someone to talk to and maybe come to a compromise.

So, how are we going to solve some of the major problems coming down the pike when we can’t talk to each other?  And can organizations like No Labels turn things around?

Generation 1099

Chris Ladd probably does the best job of summing up what’s going on in Wisconsin:

The unstated agreement when our ancestors left behind their Jeffersonian rural lives for the greater wealth and opportunity of a Hamiltonian city (suburb, really) was that employment could provide us with the same dignity as owning our own land.  On our little green patch of suburbia we would keep some vestige of the independence – the sovereignty – that my grandparents knew on their farm.

With a decent education and a steady job, you could be almost as free as our grandparents.  Government had little purpose apart from providing police, schools, and roads (on which to drive to work).  We could pretend that little had changed from the farm.

But employment as we have understood it for a hundred years is fading away.  It is being replaced by what Bush II’s speechwriters called “The Ownership Society.”  With each passing year, fewer and fewer us are formally employed and more of us work for ourselves (almost 1/3 of the workforce already), either as full-blown entrepreneurs or as independent contractors.  It may feel scary, but on the whole, this could become a very, very good thing.

It could lead us to an era of broadly shared wealth beyond most people’s imagination in which a culture dominated by a massive middle and upper-middle class earns money more or less at their own pace, owning their own businesses or working as contractors.  It could make the supposed Golden Age of the ’50’s look like drudgery.

Or not.  It could, if we screw this up, devolve into a sort of hell.  There are two political constituencies poised to make the nightmare scenario come true and, you guessed it, they are squared off against each other in Wisconsin right now.

Why Michael Bloomberg Matters

Back in December, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a speech attacking  ideologues on the right and the left and offering a “middle way” to governing.  I’ve read it over and it isn’t the most moving speech.  Bloomberg offers some ideas, but they aren’t anything that is new or that interesting.

Now, Esquire Magazine has a long piece on hizonner which explains his view governing style.  While Bloomberg strikes some good notes on things like mass transit, he also tends to rub me the wrong way with his nanny-state ideas on eating and smoking. 

The article on Bloomberg reminds me of another article I was reading today from Walter Russell Mead about the birth of what he calls the “Blue Social Model” or cultural liberalism in the United States.  In many ways, Bloomberg exemplifies that kind of East Coast liberalism that has had a long history in America.

I’ve been wondering what makes Michael Bloomberg such an interesting person to some folks.  Yes, he is the mayor of America’s largest city, but he’s rather boring.  The libertarian in me rails against his nannyish policies when it comes to eating or smoking.  He hasn’t really come out with bold new ideas. I think the reason he garners attention is because he represents in a way a lost tradition in American politics.  It would be too simple to look at the Mayor and see him as nothing more than a common East Coast liberal.  He is that, but I think he also represents a different strain on East Coast liberalism that is all but dead- that of the liberal Republican.  The part of him that is business-friendly and politically pragmatic on issues of taxes was part of that tradition.  When people talk about some form of centrism, they are in some ways longing for this lost tradition. Writer John Richardson sums it up this way:

He just wants us to be reasonable. Business is the great engine of progress. This is the theme tying together all his ideas, the reason why we have to keep the borders open, rebuild the national infrastructure, restrict guns in cities, and support cosmopolitan freedoms like gay rights and religious tolerance. We need a modern educated country for the new age of global competition. Is that so hard to understand?

That said, if Bloomberg were to ever run for President, he would have issues with not only his take on junk food and tabacco, but because he revels in being part of the elite and his preference of city life over all other ways of living.  Look at this paragraph towards the end of the Esquire essay:

“I think kids should grow up in the city,” he says. “I’ll tell you a great story — when my oldest went to Princeton, the first three weeks, she hated it. I said, ‘Emma, why?’ She said, ‘Daddy, all they do is drink!’ I said, ‘Emma you’ve never turned down a drink in your life.’ She said, ‘Daddy, I did this in the tenth grade.’ ”

Spoken like a true New Yorker — in fact, the ultimate New Yorker, with the spending power of a state and complete indifference to the petty concerns of ordinary political hypocrisy.

Ouch.  Now, I’m a city kid, but I think my partner who grew up in rural North Dakota and refers to himself as a “country mouse” would take a bit of umbrage at such a comment.  I could see a lot of folks who live in small towns and suburbs taking offense at Bloomberg’s comments and I could see some conservative group running an ad using the above quote as a way to paint Bloomberg as out of touch with the common folk.

Of course, Bloomberg is the product of his upbringing on the East Coast.  That said, if you’re even thinking of running for President, you have to take in to account that not everyone lives the way you do and frankly they don’t want to.  It’s one thing to share a preference, but don’t wind up pissing off half the country in the process.

I don’t think a Michael Bloomberg would make a good candidate for President because he does come off as a know-it-all.  But he could make a good template for centrist-libertarian what-have-you out there.  Time will tell if someone like that (maybe Gary Johnson?) will emerge.