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11/29/2009
THE GRAHAM-DeMINT AXIS OF THE GOP

I would hesitate to go so far as to say that the argument taking place in South Carolina by partisans for Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint is a microcosm of the debate between “moderates” and conservatives across the country. In the first place, someone with a lifetime rating of 90 from the ACU (Graham) can by no means be considered a “moderate” anything. Secondly, Graham’s difficulties have been heightened by his own potty mouth trashing of conservatives who disagree with him. Calling someone a “bigot” because they want tighter border security is not the way to win friends and influence conservatives.

Rather, the debate is over whether Republicans should assist the Democrats in governing the country. This is the real issue, at least in South Carolina, where Lindsey Graham has demonstrated a desire to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats on key issues like cap and trade and the Sotomayer nomination. In short, the difference is in what we used to call the “temperament” of the legislator. And there are many who believe a legislator cannot hold to any principles if they parlay with the enemy.

And DeMint? Anyone who claims allegiance to a political party and makes a statement that he would rather have only 30 true believing GOP senators as opposed to a majority who held varied positions on some issues needs to have an intervention by some adult, and be sent away where he can weave baskets until he comes to his senses. The prescription on the bottle of pills on which he has overdosed reads: “Take two every day and destroy the Republican party.” His idea is that rock solid stupid.

From a New York Times article on the South Carolina situation:

Their grievance list was long: it cited the senator for calling opponents of immigration law change “bigots,” holding the Republican Party “hostage” by participating in bipartisan maneuvers, voting for the Wall Street bailout and tarnishing the ideals of freedom.

It even criticized Mr. Graham, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, as having “stated on many occasions that his primary concern is to ‘be relevant.’ ”

The party had no such criticism for the other senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint.

In fact, Mr. DeMint, a Republican in his first term, is the leader of a movement to pull the party in the opposite direction from Mr. Graham’s conciliatory approach. The political action committee he founded, called the Senate Conservatives Fund, backs only candidates who are rock-solid conservatives, and adherents to his views have led the efforts to censure Mr. Graham.

The two senators say they are friends whose differences are exaggerated by the news media, and Mr. DeMint has not personally criticized Mr. Graham or called for his censure.

But their contrasting strategies have brought home to South Carolina the struggle over the future of the Republican Party and have put them on opposite sides of important Senate primaries in states like Florida, where Mr. DeMint supports a vocal conservative, Marco Rubio, and Mr. Graham supports Gov. Charlie Crist.

In California, Mr. DeMint supports Chuck DeVore, in defiance of the national party leadership and Mr. Graham, who said he would campaign for Carly Fiorina.

Here in South Carolina, Mr. Graham’s vote to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, among other positions, has cost him the support of many conservatives, as have his comments that voters want politicians to reach across the aisle and that Republicans need to do a better job of attracting younger voters and minorities.

I have taken pains in the past to point out that DeMint’s idea of conservatism and someone who lives in the northeast (where only 6% of the population have a favorable view of the GOP) may differ wildly - ON THE ISSUES. The fact that so many conservatives confuse “issues” with “principles” shouldn’t surprise anyone considering they get most of their information from people like Rush Limbaugh who make the exact same mistake. A northeastern conservative can hold to the exact same principles as a southern conservative but differ in the ideological lens through which they view the world. Why this makes a northeastern conservative suspect goes to the heart of the debate in the party today.

Issues and principles are not the same, have never been the same, and will never be the same. And someone like Graham who gets a 90% lifetime conservative rating and is seen as a “moderate” by many conservatives proves my point spectacularly. In this case, DeMint conservatives are confusing temperament with principles. Just as many on the right believe that criticizing their idols like Palin, Limbaugh, and other cotton candy conservatives makes someone, somehow, less beholden to conservative principles than they. Principles be damned - it’s whether you are sufficiently hateful toward the opposition that is the yardstick where someone’s conservative bona fides are measured. If conservatism was a philosophy today instead of a rigid, ideological religion, such nonsense would be laughed out of the room.

Madness.

I disagreed with Graham on Sotomayer, cap and trade, and the judges compromise. And I resented his intimations that he held a superior moral position on immigration reform - something that smacked of arrogance even if he was pandering to Hispanics by playing it that way. But Graham has been a reliable conservative vote on so many other issues, one wonders why his apostasy in these few cases would condemn him to be cast into the outer darkness by conservatives. It only proves that the DeMint notion of a party in lockstep and a prisoner of its own rigid ideology, will probably dominate the landscape in 2010.

At what cost? Let’s be frank and acknowledge that the DeMint idea of conservatism is much more ideological than pragmatic, more beholden to the holy writ of purity than reason and logic, and requires a plethora of litmus tests on issues to join his scowling band (ideologues have no sense of humor at all). Couple that with the belief that saying anything halfway nice about the president or the political opposition disqualifies one from membership and you have the perfect recipe for a permanent, minority party.

Perhaps this has to happen in order for a revival to take place. Perhaps the DeMints of the party have to be beaten so badly that they are once and for all, totally discredited in the eyes of conservatives in the rest of the country. Only then can a reasonable, pragmatic conservatism emerge that acknowledges adherence to DeMint principles, but lowers the ideological temperature to be more inclusive.

It may very well be that DeMint’s southern fried conservatism will do very well in 2010. Certainly the Democrats are helping out a ton there. But beyond that, the future is clouded by notion that events may very well play more into the Democrat’s hands in 2012 and whatever gains made at the polls in the Mid-Term elections would be washed away.

America is not an ideological country. And believing the route to majority status can be achieved by being more wild eyed and rigid than the opposition is a losing proposition. I’m not sure that Graham’s approach is 100% the way to victory. But it’s a damn sight closer to what’s needed than where DeMint wants to take the party.

Destination DeMint: Over a cliff.

By: Rick Moran at 11:03 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

11/4/2009
MESSAGE SENT, LESSONS LEARNED

I’m a little bemused this morning reading lefty blogs who are chortling over Doug Hoffman’s defeat last night. Isn’t that sort of like someone who’s been thrown in a sh*t pile and accidentally discovering a brass ring?

It isn’t just the raw results that should give Democrats a cold chill. The internals of the exit polls reveal several key demographic groups moving strongly back to the GOP including ex-urban whites, as well as suburban women. If that trend continues - and at the moment, that’s a big “if” - the GOP is back in the national ball game with several states that were trending blue like Virginia inching away from the Democrats and returning home.

Of course, the low turnout in these elections make it difficult to really pronounce such trends as harbingers of victory for Republicans in 2010. But moderates and Blue Dogs on the Hill think they’re real enough, which should, at the very least, complicate matters for Nancy Pelosi as she moves the health care reform bill to the floor. I don’t think the results changed anyone’s vote - and that’s the problem for Pelosi. She’s still short a couple of dozen votes for passage of a bill with a strong public option and what happened last night will just make her job of arm twisting Blue Dogs to jump on board that much more difficult.

Of all the results that came in last night, Republicans can take the most heart from the Virginia governor’s race. It’s not that McDonnell won - that was expected. But his margin of victory was astonishing considering that Obama took the state by 7% last November. Deeds finished 12 points behind Obama’s total and the other two statewide races saw similar massacres of the Democratic candidates. Again, it is perhaps folly to read too much into this race, but if you were to ask Axelrod (and if you were able to get an honest response from him), I think he would say that they were most disappointed in what happened statewide in Virginia.

New Jersey is an entirely different narrative. It is pretty clear that Obama’s presidency was a non-player in people’s decision for whom to vote. The issue was a scumbag governor - period - and the clear desire of New Jerseians to kick the bum out.

Nate Silver:

Obama approval was actually pretty strong in New Jersey, at 57 percent, but 27 percent of those who approved of Obama nevertheless voted for someone other than Corzine. This one really does appear to be mostly about Corzine being an unappealing candidate, as the Democrats look like they’ll lose just one or two seats in the state legislature in Trenton. Corzine compounded his problems by staying negative until the bitter end of the campaign rather than rounding out his portfolio after having closed the margin with Christie.

That’s pretty convincing evidence that, at least in the New Jersey governor’s race, “all politics are local” prevailed.

Not so in NY23. I am very disappointed that Doug Hoffman lost. As in any vote, it was a variety of factors that did Hoffman in. Was he “too conservative?” I doubt that. Hoffman wasn’t a bomb thrower nor is he a radical rightie. He was a nice little “gray man” as I called him yesterday, who didn’t impress the locals with his knowledge of local issues nor set them on fire with his personality. And I think the enthusiasm felt for him by national conservatives never translated into support on the ground in the district.

The Dede Factor probably had something to do with Hoffman’s loss. How much is hard to say. And don’t forget the machinations of the national GOP and state party bigwigs who foisted Scozzafava on the district in the first place. If Hoffman hadn’t been on the ballot, I am not convinced she would have won anyway. Owens centrism contrasted badly for the GOP with Scozzafava’s center left voting record as well as her open embrace of such positions as pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. That would have kept many conservatives at home last night watching “V” rather than heading to the polls to vote for the likes of Scozzafava. The notion that she would have won if Hoffman had stayed off the ballot is just not supportable by what we know.

From some New York commenters and correspondents, I am told that redistricting will probably make this a safe Democratic enclave by the 2010 race. We will see about that. It could be that come the mid terms, very few seats in the country would be “safe” for Democrats unless the unemployment rate comes down significantly, and a way is found to lower the deficit. In case you didn’t hear, voters are indeed angry. They appear angry at both parties, but Democrats come in for the lion’s share of the blame simply by virtue of them being the “ins” at the present time.

If I were a Democrat, I would be relieved that the night wasn’t as bad as it could have been. As a nominal Republican, I am pleased but very cautious. I see nothing from those results that shows me the voter is ready to embrace the GOP as an alternative to Obama and the Democrats. I think there was a lot of “holding of noses” by people in Virginia and New Jersey when going into the polling booth. I sense little enthusiasm for choosing Republicans over Democrats - something that can be changed only if the lessons from last night sink in with the mossbacks currently in charge of the party in Washington.

What are those lessons? Listen to conservatives. Not the ones calling for a purge of incumbents that don’t measure up to some idiotic notion of ideological purity. That way leads to madness and defeat:

But their success in Tuesday’s upstate New York special election, where grass-roots efforts pushed GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava to drop out of the race and helped Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman surge into the lead on the eve of Election Day, has generated more money and enthusiasm than organizers ever imagined.

Activists predict a wave that could roll from California to Kentucky to New Hampshire and that could leave even some GOP incumbents — Utah Sen. Bob Bennett is one — facing unexpectedly fierce challenges from their right flank.

“I would say it’s the tip of the spear,” said Dick Armey, the former GOP House majority leader who now serves as chairman of FreedomWorks, an organization that has been closely aligned with the tea party movement. “We are the biggest source of energy in American politics today.”

“What you’re going to see,” said Armey, “is moderates and conservatives across the country in primaries.”

Dick Armey is a fool. He knows full well that incumbents challenged in a primary are much more vulnerable to defeat in the general election than those who run virtually unopposed. And why the challenge? Does the member have ethics problems? If so, then by all means throw the rascal out.

The idea that an incumbent has “betrayed conservative principles” might be cause for removal but who are these national conservatives that they think they can dictate to locals and define “conservatism” for them? They may have their own ideas on how conservative their member is and to have someone else tell them they’re full of it - especially someone from outside the state or district - is a real recipe for a civil war.

I am coming around to the notion that the GOP has to blow their opportunity in both 2010 and 2012 for anything to change. Losing when you should have had a slam dunk win (as I think 2010 should be) might wake up a few people who need a kick in the ass. And that includes throwing out the deadwood in Washington as well as putting the radical righties in their place. Both groups are dragging the GOP down and, like a drunk who has hit rock bottom, will only reform when the alternative is more unpalatable.

UPDATE

Pete Wehner points to something I hadn’t considered:

Among the important by-products of this election is that it will encourage many impressive and capable Republicans from around the country to become candidates. They now believe, with justification, that 2010 looks to be a very good year for the GOP. If an individual ever wanted to toss his hat into the ring, this is the time to do it.

I wrote in both 2006 and 2008 about the way the Democrats far outperformed the GOP in candidate recruitment, and how that factor was one of the primary reasons for their success. There are several factors that go into recruiting a good candidate including having a strong base of support in some part of the district, some nominal name recognition, and, as always, an ability to self finance is seen as a huge plus.

I am willing to bet that Hoffman was not the best conservative candidate available in NY23, although not knowing anything about the district I can’t say for sure. But if the GOP can attract some up and comers, as well as a few old political hands who are known in the district who might be encouraged by what happened last night, more power to them.

By: Rick Moran at 10:38 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (44)

8/31/2009
TRENDS FOR 2010 BEGINNING TO WORRY DEMOCRATS

Yes, it’s way too early to make any predictions, but then, pollsters and pundits wouldn’t have anything to write about which means they’d be out of a job for a year or so.

Actually, the value of predictions today is relevant to the current political debate over health care. Leading analysts who gauge the mood of the public on a month to month, even week to week basis, see outliers that may - or may not - be indicative of trends.

Trends represent long term outlooks rather than the “snapshot” that polls generally give us. Get enough snapshots of how people are thinking, and you can trace how people are feeling about an issue on a graph. That’s the essence of strategic polling and politicians - even this far out from the 2010 election - ignore the information at their own peril.

So when several of the best analysts in the industry examine the trendlines, as well as the 50-60 congressional districts where vulnerable members from both parties are fighting to remain in office, they put two and two together and come up with scenarios for the election based on science, their own experience, and hunches born out of their insights gleaned over many years of watching politics.

What these pollsters are seeing does not bode well for the Democrats as explained by Josh Kraushaar of Politico:

After an August recess marked by raucous town halls, troubling polling data and widespread anecdotal evidence of a volatile electorate, the small universe of political analysts who closely follow House races is predicting moderate to heavy Democratic losses in 2010.

Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House - not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.

Nate Silver, an unconventional but deadly accurate pollster who runs the must read site 538.com - and a Democratic consultant - managed to scare the beejeebees out of liberals at the recently concluded Netroots convention:

At the mid-August Netroots Nation convention, Nate Silver, a Democratic analyst whose uncannily accurate, stat-driven predictions have made his website 538.com a must read among political junkies, predicted that Republicans will win between 20 and 50 seats next year. He further alarmed an audience of progressive activists by arguing that the GOP has between a 25 and 33 percent chance of winning back control of the House.

“A lot of Democratic freshmen and sophomores will be running in a much tougher environment than in 2006 and 2008 and some will adapt to it, but a lot of others will inevitably freak out and end up losing,” Silver told POLITICO. “Complacency is another factor: We have volunteers who worked really hard in 2006 and in 2008 for Obama but it’s less compelling [for them] to preserve the majority.”

Is Silver being an alarmist or is there really a 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 chance that the GOP can pull off a shocker?

If history is any guide, Nate may have something there. Opposition gains in off year elections are a tradition in American politics with the party out of power winning back seats in 10 of the last 12 such elections. (The average gain has been about 13 seats).

But realistically, there would have to be a huge backlash - even bigger than 1994 - for Republicans to regain control of the House. The re-election rate for modern gerrymandered congressional districts tops 98% and the GOP would have to knock that percentage down to 90% in order to gain back the House.

A tall order, that. But the Democrats did it in 2006. And given the volatility of the current political climate, it is not beyond imagining, although Silver’s estimate of Republican chances to regain control is not shared by other seasoned pros.

I think that Nate is being deliberately provocative. The stars would have to align just right for a GOP takeover of the House to materialize. A perfect storm of failed health care reform, a double dip recession, and perhaps higher than expected inflation could combine to cause the kind of collapse in the political fortunes of Democrats that would give the GOP control of the House. I would place the chances of this occurring somewhere between “Impossible” and “Highly Improbable” - say, from zero to 5%.

If the economy improves faster and better than expected, that would alter the trends and Democratic losses may be held to a minimum. There are a lot of variables there as well, but I would put the chances of that happening slightly higher than a GOP takeover; say, 5-10%.

But most analysts - even Democratic ones - see the possibility 14 months from election day, that Republican gains could top the average of 13 seats by as much as a factor of 2. That seems reasonable to me - especially given the number of very vulnerable Democrats who won in 2006 and 2008 in districts normally carried by Republican presidential candidates.

Another factor that is an unknown will be congressional retirements. The GOP had 29 members leave office more or less voluntarily in 2006 (4 members declined to run because of ethics problems), and the Democrats captured all of them. We’ll have a better idea of who might be leaving after the first of the year.

As for the senate, I would say GOP chances of a takeover are even less than the House; say, between a “Cosmic Impossibility” and “When Hell Freezes Over.” And that’s being optimistic.

Seriously, the Republicans have too many seats to defend and not enough vulnerable Democrats to have a chance for an upset. Even if the Perfect Storm Scenario laid out above plays out, winning 11 seats is just too steep a hill to climb. If the GOP can gain 3-4 seats - still a tall order - they could consider the election a success.

But if the current trends showing double digit gains for Republicans in the House and those modest gains in the Senate play out, it would put the GOP in position to make a realistic run for control in 2012 when a winning president’s coattails can make the difference.

It would still be a long shot - I’m thinking that the first real chance for the GOP to regain control is in 2014 if Obama is re-elected and 2016 if a Republican wins in 2012 - but given the eye-popping deficits Obama will be running, anything is possible.

By: Rick Moran at 8:34 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)