Tags: Republicans

The GOP’s Limited Ability to Win Over Those Who Vote Libertarian


A Virginia Democrat laughs on the Washington Post op-ed page:

Robert Sarvis received 2.4 percent of the vote; without him (or another Libertarian of similar stature) on the ballot, most of those votes would likely have gone to Republican nominee Ed Gillespie. And Mr. Gillespie, not Democratic incumbent Mark Warner, would be smiling as the hairbreadth winner.

Third-party candidacies are often ego trips, pure and simple. But in races as close as this one has been, they can be consequential. It seems only fitting that we Democrats stop licking our bruises long enough to say thanks to Mr. Sarvis.

The “Libertarians, without a candidate of their own, would otherwise vote for Republicans” theory is not so sound, and it’s not a factor Republicans should base a strategy on.

Those willing to vote Libertarian — as opposed to those who describe themselves as libertarian or having some libertarian views — are usually deeply attached to policy positions that are still pretty unpopular to Republicans as a whole — oftentimes (though not always) a quasi-isolationist or outright isolationist foreign policy, drug legalization (often well beyond marijuana), and gay marriage. Many (but not all) Libertarians oppose restrictions on abortion, habitually offer long diatribes about the Federal Reserve and the Gold Standard, and in some quarters, an inability to discuss U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel without lapsing into conspiracy theories and uglier sentiments.

What’s more, a lot of self-identified Libertarians see their policy differences with Republicans as key to their political identity; otherwise, they would be Republicans. To many Libertarians, the difference with Republicans is the point.

Nor is there much evidence that Libertarians fear that their vote will elect a Democrat. For all of of the alleged or potential flaws of voters who choose Libertarian-party candidates, they’re usually not stupid. They know their guy is in the single digits in the polls. They’re not voting in order to vote for a winner, and hearing Republicans complain that the Libertarian cost them the victory doesn’t make them feel guilty or a sense of regret. They may feel a bit of vindication in that result.

For much of autumn, polls suggested that North Carolina Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh would win a margin that was greater than Kay Hagan’s margin over Republican Thom Tillis. As it turns out, Haugh’s 3.7 percent was greater than Tillis’s margin over Hagan.

Most recent Republican campaigns, from the Romney-Ryan ticket to Ed Gillespie, did not explicitly or vocally run on the positions that most irritate Libertarians — a “let’s invade everywhere” foreign policy, support for the war on drugs, opposition to gay marriage, or leading cheers for the Federal Reserve. For those who have chosen to vote Libertarian in recent cycles, it’s not enough for a Republican to merely be quiet about the topics where Libertarians and Republicans disagree or deemphasize those issues; the disagreement itself is a deal-breaker.

If Republicans really fear that Libertarians are going to cost them future elections, it may be simpler to get states to pass changes to election laws like the one in Georgia, requiring the winner to get more than 50 percent of the vote, and force voters to decide between the two major-party candidates in runoff elections.

Tags: Republicans , Libertarians

Liberal Group’s Ad Blames Congressional GOP for Ebola


Perfect. The tax-exempt “Agenda Project” is airing an ad declaring “Republican cuts kill,” directly blaming congressional Republicans for the Ebola outbreak:

From their even-tempered, fair-minded release:

Today the Agenda Project Action Fund launched “Republican Cuts Kill,” a multi-pronged blitzkrieg attack that lays blame for the Ebola crisis exactly where it belongs — at the feet of the Republican lawmakers. Like rabid dogs in a butcher shop, Republicans have indiscriminately shredded everything in their path, including critical programs that could have dealt with the Ebola crisis before it reached our country. Yesterday, a health worker tested positive for the virus — now, the effects of the GOP’s fanatical hatred for our government may finally be exposed.

. . . In launching this effort, we will be the first major progressive group to directly blame GOP budget cuts for the nearly 4,000 deaths caused by the Ebola crisis.

Our plan is to place a paid buy in Kentucky the week of October 18 with North Carolina, Kansas, and South Dakota to follow provided we complete the financing we need.

The NIH budget has doubled since 2000, allocations to the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases rose to $4.3 billion in 2004 from $1.8 billion in 2000, and as Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal notes:

Consider the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a new series of annual mandatory appropriations created by Obamacare. Over the past five years, the CDC has received just under $3 billion in transfers from the fund. Yet only 6 percent — $180 million — of that $3 billion went toward building epidemiology and laboratory capacity.

Hey, could any of that $1 billion spent on been spent on vaccine research?

Tags: Ebola , Republicans , NIH

Conservatives and ‘Line in the Sand’ Issues


Earlier today I had an exchange with a reader — whom I respect a great deal — who doesn’t agree with my Twitter argument about the folly of conservatives’ staying home and not voting this cycle (or any cycle, really).

His Republican governor agreed to expand Medicaid coverage, as permitted under the Obamacare law, and he finds that a deep betrayal.

I can’t argue with that. If the issue of expanding Medicaid is your line in the sand — and there are good reasons for that! — then you have every right in the world to say, “I can’t vote for that guy.”

Of course, if you have too many “line in the sand” issues, you end up with few or no candidates you can support. And when determining your “line in the sand” issues, you probably ought to account for local issues and dynamics. It’s really hard for a Michigan Republican to be a loud-and-proud opponent of auto-industry bailouts. A congressman who represents beach towns is probably not going to be a full-throated supporter of offshore drilling. These guys do have to be the voice for their constituents, and their constituents are not always going to be down-the-line conservatives.

This reader made a reference to “all of the GOP governors expanding Medicare,” which I interpreted as a claim that all Republican governors agreed to it. They didn’t. A lot held the lines, and in places like Virginia, GOP state lawmakers held the line.

Have no illusions, opposing a Medicaid expansion is a heavy lift for most GOP governors. If a GOP governor signs on, they get rewarded now, and their state will pay later (probably after they’ve left office). If they oppose it, they’re painted as mean and uncaring about sick and poor people. Yes, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Susana Martinez signed on to the expansion. But Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker opposed it. You can’t paint the entire Republican party with too broad a brush.

Ask yourself, why should Republican governors take the political hit of opposing the Medicaid expansion when A) grassroots conservatives ignore them or pretend they don’t exist or B) self-described conservative Republicans who most strongly oppose the Medicaid expansion proudly announce they’re not going to vote?

It’s fair to fume at the “Democrats win, therefore we must be more like Democrats to win” philosophy, but if Republican voters stay home, the electorate that is guaranteed to show up shifts to the left. After a few cycles of conservatives declaring “I’m staying home because the candidates aren’t rightward enough for my tastes,” it makes absolute sense for Republicans to try to be more like Democrats, because self-described conservative Republicans announce they’re not going to vote.

A common lament of the “I’m staying home” crowd is the GOP’s failure to significantly reduce the size and cost of government at the state or federal levels. Right now there is not a public mandate for a dramatic reduction in the size and cost of government. I wish there was, but there isn’t. We have to build that. It is unrealistic to expect a Republican governor (or president!) to try to force through spending cuts that the public does not want.

You go to war with the army you have, and you govern with the electorate you have.

Finally, even if you find a GOP governor too squishy to support . . . is there anybody in the U.S. House, state legislature, city council/town council, mayor, or school-board level that you find to be any better than any other option on the ballot?

Tags: Medicaid , Governors , Republicans , Conservatism , Conservatives

Iowa Republicans: We’re Happy With the Senate Polls


The Republican party of Iowa e-mails:

CNN: GOP Remains Happy About Iowa

CNN’S JOHN KING: “There’s a big senate race, Tom Harkin, the senator hosting the steak fry, he’s retiring. In the race to succeed him, another brand new poll that we are releasing now. Look at this dead heat. Bruce Braley is the Democrat, he’s a congressman. You see him on the right of your screen there, 49 percent. Joni Ernst, 48 percent the Republican candidate. If you are the Republicans, you are happy here, because Iowa is a blue state. President Obama carried it comfortably twice and you have a dead heat in Iowa. Republicans slightly ahead in some of the red states that has to be a cause of concern.”

THE WASHINGTON POST’S JACKIE KUCINICH: “Well, Joni Ernst came out very strong from a five-way primary and I think it’s helped her and Bruce Braley has suffered from some unforced errors, with his comments about Grassley not being a lawyer. Right now if you look at the number this is a fight over the middle. Democrats are voting for Bruce Braley and Republicans are voting for Joni Ernst. It’s that middle they’ll be fighting for and it’s a very soft middle, because they don’t know where they’re going to go yet.”

CNN’S JOHN KING: “Do these numbers shock you? This was the state that launched President Obama, we’ve been making little jokes about it, but this is where he beat Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. It was his launching ground into the national politics. Look at the president’s approval rating right now in Iowa: 37 percent approve and 56 percent disapprove. Again in a normal midterm year that would tell me if that number holds and that race is still that close on Election Day, that tells me the Republican is going to win because of voter intensity and the anti-president sentiment.” (CNN, Inside Politics, 09/12/14)

“If you’re a Republican, you’re happy here.” Ernst is keeping it close, sure. But if she loses a close one — a distinct possibility — then no, Republicans won’t be so happy on Election Night. Note that the race is tied, or a slight Braley lead, with the president’s approval rating so abysmal in Iowa. Braley is running 12 percentage points ahead of Obama’s approval rating.

Tags: Iowa , Republicans , Joni Ernst , Bruce Braley

Scarborough: ‘I’m somehow a RINO because I’m being the Cassandra here!’


Also in today’s Morning Jolt . . . 

Morning Joe Speaks to the Morning Jolt!

I had a chance to speak with Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, recently, about his new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again. I’ll share more of Scarborough’s policy prescriptions later this week, but I thought I’d begin by asking Scarborough about his pitch to those who dismiss him as a RINO.

Jim: As you no doubt are aware, in the world of Twitter and in comment sections of websites, there are some folks who are a wee bit skeptical of your assessment of the Republican party. So I wanted to give you a chance to give your elevator pitch, your short pitch, to someone who’s skeptical of the criticisms you made of Republicans recently, and why should they listen to you and why the ideas you’re articulating would move the party in a better direction.

Scarborough: (laughing) Yeah, why should they listen to me?

Why in the world would anyone in the Republican party listen to me? Because they have absolutely no idea how to win elections! You know, I was only the first Republican to get elected in my [House] district since 1873. I started out a campaign against a 16-year incumbent. Everybody said I was going to lose. Newt Gingrich said I was too conservative for my own district. He and the entire Washington establishment threw all of their weight and power and K Street behind my moderate pro-choice opponent. And I ended up winning the election with 62 percent of the vote. And how did I do it? I ran as a conservative, pro-life, pro-gun Republican. I wasn’t extreme on any of the issues. I talked about economics. I talked about tax reform. I talked about getting rid of the income tax and reforming the tax code, going to a tax system that actually encouraged hard work and economic development. I’d get a lot of people coming up to me saying that they disagreed with me on a lot of issues, that I was more conservative than they were, but they liked me and they voted for me because they knew I was going to go to Washington and I was going to fight for them.

You can trace a straight line from what I said on the campaign trail in 1994 in northwest Florida, to what I have said throughout my congressional career, what I voted in thousands and thousands of congressional votes, what I said on “Scarborough Country” every night — in 2003, I started warning about George W. Bush’s big-government spending ways — in early 2003, everybody else was turning a blind eye to it. In 2004, I wrote a book, Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day. I predicted that big-government Republicanism was going to lead to the destruction of the GOP majority and wreck the economy.

The only people who were talking that way in 2004 were Tom Coburn, myself, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. In 2009, I wrote another book, where I said the same exact things I said years back.

Over the past several years, I’ve been branded this RINO, for basically calling the people that our party keeps putting up for elections “amateurs.” I was right when I criticized Mitt Romney, and I was attacked for being a RINO. I was right when I kept saying to people like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain and Rick Perry and a lot of these other contenders that were getting a lot of national media attention, I said they’re amateurs, they’re not going to be able to win a national general election. I said time and time again, on air, that this happens to us every four years, where we get amateurs. They run on the extreme right. I don’t just mean ideologically, I mean temperamentally, in a way that offends voters in all the swing areas we need to win, whether it’s the suburbs of Philly, the I-4 corridor [in Florida] — areas Republicans need to win in order to win national elections.

[getting excited]

In spite of all these predictions that always turn out to be right, I’m somehow a RINO because I’m being the Cassandra here, who has been saying the same . . . exact . . . thing! I almost swore!

There is one issue where people can say, “Joe Scarborough has changed,” and they would be right. That has to do with guns, specifically background checks. I support background checks, that puts me with 90 percent of Americans, that puts me with Ronald Reagan. If that one issue alone that I’ve changed on, since 1994, if that makes me a RINO, and these people say I don’t fit in the party, I think they’re sadly mistaken. It’s always been my party, it is my party, and it’s going to be my party. I believe in small-government conservatism and that’s what drives me every day.

Tags: Joe Scarborough , Republicans , Conservatism

A Lame Attempt to Blame Republicans for Obamacare’s Mess


Jamelle Bouie, writing in The Daily Beast: “Before we blame the problems with on ‘big government’ or ‘liberalism,’ we should remember that the Affordable Care Act needed GOP cooperation to succeed.”

Why? As Robert Gamble noted, “If your plan requires complete control and no opposition, then it isn’t a plan, it’s a wish.”

If “the Affordable Care Act needed GOP cooperation to succeed,” why did President Obama, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi go forward with the bill when it was clear that no Republican in the House or Senate would vote for the bill as written? Why alienate people whose cooperation is absolutely necessary?

If Republicans thought the law was a terrible idea before it was signed into law in March 2010, why would they be obligated to drop their opposition to it afterwards?

What is this insane notion that once a law is passed, its opponents must drop their objections and meekly cooperate in enacting it? That is not the way the Democrats greeted Republican decisions such as the Iraq War or the Bush tax cuts. That is not the way gay-marriage supporters reacted to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Bouie writes: “What’s frustrating about the current conversation over Obamacare is the extent to which there’s been collective amnesia regarding the GOP’s categorical opposition to the law.” That may be what’s particularly frustrating to him at this moment, but I think that “collective amnesia” is rather less frustrating to the public than an expensive website that doesn’t work; unexpected cancellation notices after presidential assurances; sticker shock from high premiums, deductibles and co-pays under the new plans; a more limited selection of doctors and hospitals under the new plans; confusing, rapidly changing rules for “grandfathering” the old plans; the possibility of the “death spiral” for insurance companies; and of course, identity thieves and cybersecurity worries.

He asks, “How would the status quo look if Republican states embraced the Medicaid expansion and worked to build their own exchanges (Kentucky, for instance)?” Well, it depends if those other Republican states built their exchanges and had a decent, working exchange, like Kentucky, or if they had one like Oregon’s, which has yet to sign up anyone. Still. The Medicaid expansion is expensive and does not do anything to help the exchanges or ward off the death spiral.

He asks, “What if, instead of casting endless repeal votes, GOP lawmakers worked with Democrats to fix problems in the law?” Like what? What change to the law has President Obama asked for that Republicans have refused? Obama’s been making all of the changes to the law unilaterally. He’s issuing veto threats to the Upton plan and similar plans in the Senate.

He asks, “What does the political situation look like in a world where Republicans don’t attack the Affordable Care Act as a step on the road to serfdom?” It’s a better political situation for Democrats, but I don’t see why that goal should be a priority for Republicans. You might as well ask what the political situation looks like in a world where the Obama campaign didn’t attack Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat who causes cancer in blue-collar workers’ spouses. I suppose that world could be sort of one’s “happy place” to retreat into when reality becomes too much to bear.

He concludes, “If conservatives could let go of their Obama hatred and partisan pique, they might see the real opportunities that exist for center-right health reform.” What’s unclear is why Republicans have to, or should even try to, enact their center-right health reforms within a rapidly-failing Obamacare infrastructure. Scrap this whole damn thing and start over.

Tags: Obamacare , Barack Obama , Republicans , Democrats

Why Republicans Aren’t Worried About PPP’s Latest Survey


From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Apparently No One’s Really Persuaded by PPP’s Latest Survey

So, how worried should Republicans be about losing the House? A PPP poll suggested they should, surveying GOP districts, asking a series of questions prefaced with the claim that the incumbent House Republican is responsible for the shutdown, and finding (surprise!) those incumbents in bad shape against generic Democrats.

The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy:

The drop in congressional approval measured by Gallup will likely lead to drops in the “reelect” numbers for incumbent Republicans. However, skepticism is in order for the MoveOn/PPP results mostly because they were conducted by a Democratic pollster and sponsored by a liberal advocacy group. Our analyses have shown that polls with partisan sponsorship typically exhibit a bias of 3 to 4 percentage points in favor of their sponsor on vote preference questions.

Frequent PPP critic Nate Cohn noted on Monday that the “generic” question (which pits incumbents against an unnamed challenger) overlooks the importance of viable challengers: “Democrats aren’t yet poised to mount serious challenges to a clear majority of the Republicans running on competitive turf, let alone actually win. So you should probably take this morning’s PPP poll with an additional grain of salt: it’s about how House Republicans would fare against a ‘generic’ Democrat, not the mediocre one they’ll face in 2014.”

Stuart Rothenberg just rips PPP to shreds:

PPP isn’t your typical polling firm. Its surveys often are intended to boost Democratic recruiting, fundraising or prospects. In this case, the “polls” were almost certainly commissioned to create a narrative about the political repercussions of the shutdown and the nature of the midterms.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the PPP memo accompanying the results, written by Jim Williams, observes, “The surveys challenge the conventional wisdom that gerrymandering has put the House out of reach for Democrats.”

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out multiple fundraising emails in the hours after reports of the PPP polls surfaced, and dozens of Democratic candidates and liberal groups did the same.

That’s the standard modus operandi these days on both the right and the left: have a sympathetic media organization or polling firm assert some alleged finding, and then have fellow travelers cite the initial report to try to raise cash or create momentum. It is becoming (yawn — excuse me) a little trite.

Rothenberg continues:

Of course, the “polls” did not include head-to-head ballot tests of likely nominees (even though the surveys could have included candidate names in many contests), but instead relied on a messy question that was part “re-elect” and part “generic ballot.” The results are of little or no use because that is not the choice voters will face on Election Day.

Moreover, at least five of the 17 Republicans who are “losing” either have no serious opposition or have less-than-top-tier opponents at this point: Steve King (Iowa’s 4th District), Andy Barr (Kentucky’s 6th), Kerry Bentivolio (Michigan’s 11th), Patrick Meehan (Pennsylvania’s 7th) and Sean P. Duffy (Wisconsin’s 7th). Bentivolio may not survive a GOP primary.

Each PPP survey asked seven substantive questions and four demographic ones. Some of the questions were loaded, and as I have noted previously in dissecting PPP polls, the “more likely/less likely” question is a horrible one to use in surveys because it tends to measure the underlying attitude rather than gather useful information about an issue’s eventual importance as a vote cue.

Even a writer at Daily Kos had to note:

Informed ballots such as these, though, must always be viewed with caution. They represent an ideal environment where one side is able to widely disseminate its preferred message, without pushback or interference from the other side. In other words, a scenario nothing like what you encounter in the real world. That said, though, these polls show that hammering Republicans over the shutdown has the potential to be effective across a very diverse array of districts. And while 3 points might not sound like a lot, seven Republicans and nine Democrats won House races by less than that amount in 2012.

It’s also worth noting that, like informed ballots, polling against generic candidates represents a sort of idealized situation as well. In some races, Democrats may not land serious challengers; in others, Democratic candidates may stumble or fail to gain traction. On the flipside, sometimes an actual candidate will perform better than a generic unnamed option because of their strong personal attributes. Early on, when you’re more than a year out from Election Day, generic ballots can serve as a helpful metric, but reality will ultimately diverge in most cases.

Keep in mind, the majority party in the House when the country is angry at Washington, with a slow economy, is going to face some dangers.

Tags: Polling , Republicans , Government Shutdown

Can Conservative Comments from Celebrities Change the Culture?


The culture section of today’s Morning Jolt:

Can Conservative Comments from Bono and Ashton Kutcher Change the Culture?

Last night I had a chance to dine with some conservative bloggers, new media, and social-networking types, and once again the topic turned to winning the culture.

I won’t get into the specifics of our off-the-record discussion; instead, let me direct your attention to this blunt assessment from John Brodigan, one of the contributors over at Misfit Politics:

Today the new measuring stick of your conservatism is whether or not you want to defund ObamaCare which — in lieu of anyone explaining to me what the marketing plan is to appeal to people outside of our echo chamber — seems like just a ploy to fundraise and build mailing lists.

Nothing we’re doing is trying to engage the culture. Nothing we’re doing is winning hearts and minds, or challenging the view of what it means to be a Republican.

Then, one day, Ashton Kutcher gave a speech after winning an award.

He linked to this video, which has 3.1 million views. He continues:

Heritage (yes I realize they’re #DefundObamacare, but at least they’re trying to reach out) turned it into this:

They did the same with something Bono said recently:

Brodigan continues:

Don’t get me wrong. I know neither guy is going to be showing up at a FreedomWorks event anytime soon. Granted Bono has always cared less about being a slave to liberal ideology and intransigence than he is about helping people, but Kutcher I’m fairly certain supported Obama and is probably going to have to do penance in the entertainment industry for having so many conservatives sing his praise. Just focus on their words. If you swapped out their pictures with one of Ronald Reagan or Marco Rubio, would you know it wasn’t one of their quotes?

I’m still chewing this over, and trying to decide whether this represents a necessary tactic in an era of celebrity-obsessed pop culture, or whether it’s just the latest version of the conservative tendency to instantly adopt and celebrate any celebrity who happens to echo some of our arguments.

After all, when we say it’s shallow and silly and superficial for Democrats to emphasize their Hollywood star supporters at their political conventions, and to hold campaign events with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z and such . . . we’re not wrong.

At the Democrats’ 2012 convention in Charlotte, noted policy wonk Eva Longoria offers a detailed critique of Mitt Romney’s policy and its ramifications for small businesses.

Politics may be entertaining at times, but politics and governing are supposed to be distinct from entertainment. Not everything in life is supposed to be a fun show! Sometimes the country’s problems and potential solutions are complicated, detailed, involve trade-offs, and require a bit of thinking to evaluate. If you’re going to try to transform every aspect of the public’s evaluation of public-policy decisions into a flashy, glamorous, sexy, exciting thrill, pretty soon we’ll see campaigns rolling out Katy Perry in a latex dress at a campaign rallies!

Oh. Too late.

The Katy-Perry-in-latex approach obviously aims to get people with no actual interest or knowledge of what’s going on in the political world to suddenly become interested. Apparently it works, and there will be quite a few folks on the Right side who will want to see our side emulate the same tactics. And Lord knows, Republican beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to effective vote-getting tactics, especially with the young. But how likely are we to win if, through our own decisions, we legitimize the notion that campaigns ought to be duels of celebrities?

After the election, the great Melissa Clouthier pointed out that there is a large segment of Internet users who log onto Facebook . . . and never leave. It’s an audience left untouched by conservative blogs, web sites, magazines, and other media institutions. That’s why NR and every other institution is putting new energy into making these little square graphics with a quote, an illustration, and a hashtag: it’s an effort to bring conservative ideas, messages, and arguments to audiences that may otherwise never encounter them. (This is why we love it so much when you hit “like” for our stuff on Facebook, and share it on your pages with your apolitical friends.)

Those Bono and Ashton Kutcher quotes are swell, but it’s hard to shake the subtext,“look, these aren’t just bromides or slogans that nutty conservatives believe, because these apolitical celebrities are saying them, too!” But these arguments would be just as compelling and just as right if Bono or Kutcher had the exact opposite views. Touting the pair is an implied argument from authority, and we on the Right have generally believed that Hollywood stars are knowledgeable about what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and not much else.* (Bono might have particular credibility because of his extensive work with international charities and aid groups.)

These sorts of efforts are probably necessary; a big rallying cry since November has been, “We have to take back the culture!” But I feel like we sometimes forget conservatives recoiled from American popular culture for a lot of good reasons.

We felt, and still feel, that Hollywood in particular has become trapped in its own liberal clichés, convincing itself that the latest dreck is a masterpiece. We’re tired of big corporations telling us stories about how bad big corporations are. We’re tired of seeing some of our religions mocked and demonized while others are protected by political correctness.

(If you ever find yourself in a Stephen King novel, trapped between a horrible monster and the small Maine town’s most overtly devout Christian, move away from the Christian and towards the tentacles, because by the end of the book, the monster will be less villainous.)

We’re tired of seeing our own military revealed as the bad guys behind the conspiracy, southerners depicted as ignorant hicks, suburban parenthood portrayed as soul-crushing conformity, and so on. The problem is that a whole segment of the electorate has marinated in that for years, and our efforts to persuade them lack a common frame of reference.

*Inevitably, some lefty will point to this . . . 

. . . as if Reagan hadn’t been a successful governor, thinker, debater, columnist, radio commentator, etc.

Tags: Culture , Democrats , Republicans , Hollywood , Celebrities

Why Do Virginia Republicans Still Use Nominating Conventions?


The first Morning Jolt of the week features a look at how the Obama administration is claiming that if you look too closely at the scandals, you’re on a witch hunt; a surprising Washington figure who is already “Going Bulworth”; a new hitch for the immigration bill; and then this development down in Virginia . . . 

No, Virginia, This Isn’t the Best Way to Pick a Party Nominee.

How should state parties select their nominees for high office? Let me offer a simple criterion: get as many members of the party involved as possible – but limit the decision to registered members of that party. Sorry, independents and unaffiliated voters. If you want some say in who the Republicans nominate, then join the party, and the same goes for the Democrats and their nominations.

My home state of Virginia doesn’t meet this criterion; the state doesn’t register voters by party, and this weekend the state GOP selected their lieutenant gubernatorial candidate by convention.

Brian Schoeneman, writing at Bearing Drift, lays out the consequences of this approach:

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anybody still thinks that nominating by convention is a good idea.

Let’s look at the numbers.

8,094 – The total number of registered delegates who showed up, out of over 12,000 who registered.
255,826 – The number of Republicans casting a ballot in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary.

Just from those numbers you can see that the majority of well-motivated Republicans interested in participating in our nominating processes were disenfranchised by the State Convention.

Here’s another number: $25.  As my colleague Melissa Kenney noted the other day, that’s the cost for children to attend the convention.  For a family as large as hers, or as large as Ken Cuccinelli’s, it would cost almost $200 for them to attend the convention.  That doesn’t include meals, transportation, and hotel costs for those who didn’t come from Richmond or the surrounding suburbs and don’t want to risk a 5+ hour drive home after a grueling hurry-up-and-wait style convention.  Not everybody can afford the poll tax conventions effectively levy.

And despite the miracles of modern communication, cell phones, Bearing Drift and our livestream, John Frederick’s live broadcast, email, Facebook and Twitter, the convention floor was still rife with rumors and nonsense, including the fake/rescinded endorsement controversy between Corey Stewart and Pete Snyder on the final ballot. Conventioneers were treated like fungi – kept in the dark and fed crap – and that inevitably had an impact on the final selection of E. W. Jackson as our Lt. Governor nominee.  Information trickled out of the counting area, and it was left to bloggers and social media to keep convention goers in the know.  And given the length of the convention, cell phones were dying or dead far before the convention was gaveled closed at 10:30 Saturday night.

We’ve all heard the arguments over the years about disenfranchisement of military members, parents with small children who can’t afford the cost of childcare, small business owners who can’t afford to give up a spring Saturday to the convention, the elderly who can’t go for 16 hours at a time, and the rest.  That was clearly in evidence yesterday, given that by the time the fourth ballot rolled around, over a third of the conventioneers who had showed up had left.  The final ballot saw fewer that 5,000 votes cast.

Is that what we really want?

Meet E. W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor:

E. W. Jackson served three years and was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps. He then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (BA), Summa Cum Laude with a Phi Beta Kappa Key from the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Three years later he graduated from Harvard Law School with a Juris Doctor (JD). While in law school, he was accepted into the Baptist ministry and studied theology at Harvard Divinity School.

Jackson practiced small business law for 15 years in Boston, and taught Regulatory Law as an Adjunct Professor at the Graduate level at Northeastern University in Boston. Since returning to his ancestral home of Virginia, he has also taught graduate courses in Business and Commercial Law at Strayer University in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

In 1997, he retired from his private law practice in order to devote full time to ministry. However, he still taught law and maintained both his avid interest in – and commitment to — civic and political responsibility. His first book, “Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life,” was published in 2008. His second book, “America the Beautiful – Reflections of a Patriot Descended from Slaves” is scheduled for release in 2012.

Jackson’s family history in Virginia dates back to the time of the Revolutionary War. According to the 1880 census, his great grandparents (Gabriel and Eliza) were a sharecropper family in Orange County, Virginia. His grandfather, Frank Jackson, moved to Richmond and then to Pennsylvania, where Jackson was born.

Expect every Republican running for office in the next two years to run on the theme that government, particularly the federal government, has abused the trust of the American people:

Vance Wilkins Jr., the first-ever Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and now active in the tea party movement, was asked to handicap the Cuccinelli-McAuliffe contest.

Wilkins flashed his knowing jack-o’-lantern grin: “That depends on what happens with those congressional hearings” — a reference to House and Senate inquiries of the controversies roiling the Obama administration — “They will flavor it.”

Tags: Virginia , Republicans , E.W. Jackson

The Perpetual Death of the GOP


The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt offers a pair of Emily Litella “nevermind” moments from our friends on the Left, and then this consideration of the latest moment of GOP doom and/or transformation:

The Perpetual Generational Death of the Republican Party

Let’s play a game. First, read the following passage:

“At lunch the other day I was startled to hear a specialist in Republican Party affairs give it as his judgment that not inconceivably the Republican Party would die in about three years. ‘Here’s what would do it,’ he explained to his two guests. ‘First, a tremendous defeat in the congressional elections in the fall. Next, in the coming presidential cycle, a catastrophic defeat at every level – presidential, congressional,  and local.’ After that, he said, in the ruins of the following year, the commanding position of the organizing party would be lost, and ambitious conservatives would look for another label. It would be not unlike the end of the Whig Party in the mid-1850s.”

Okay, now guess the writer and the date.

[Insert Jeopardy theme.]

The answer: William F. Buckley, January 26, 1974. (I cheated a little and took out the specific references to the 1974 and 1976 elections.)

Republicans are always on the verge of extinction, but never seem to get there. Having said that… you never know, the doomsayers could be right this time.

Over at Ace of Spades, Drew M. wonders if the coalition of issues, groups, and philosophies that bound together the Republican Party for our lifetimes is kaput:

After yesterday’s release of the RNC’s 2012 “autopsy” I think it’s time to consider that the current GOP/center-right coalition no longer exists. On immigration and same-sex marriage the committee was essentially saying, the base of the GOP needs to move on to survive…

One note: for what it is worth, Priebus tells Jen Rubin that he isn’t taking a position on immigration reform, and that he doesn’t believe it is the role of the party chairman to “pick and choose what provision of what law is going to be included or excluded.”

Anyway, back to Drew:

Smaller government isn’t even a unifying theme anymore. Look at the Huckabee/Santorum social-con wing of the party. They aren’t for smaller government. Maybe those two will support less spending in some places but they clearly see a larger role for government in some areas of people’s lives.

Rand Paul called for eliminating the Department of Education in his CPAC speech, while Marco Rubio talked about reforming how federal dollars are spent.

Paul and Rubio are also great stand-ins for the foreign policy debate the GOP is having.

And we can go on and on.

Obviously a big national party is never going to agree on everything, but what’s the issue that gets 75-80% support? Tax cuts? Entitlement reform? Maybe but those aren’t electoral winners. Gun rights is but that’s an issue that crosses party lines. Opposition to ObamaCare? The House just passed a Continuing Resolution funding it.

 Allow me to offer a fairly simple philosophy for resolving these issues. First, recognize that Republican candidates for higher office are going to be different, depending upon the nature of the state and district they represent. To use another one of WFB’s favorite phrases, mutatis mutandis, “with the necessary changes having been made.” Candidates in heavily-Republican districts are most likely to be full-spectrum conservatives; in the “blue” states and districts, you may get more Libertarian types. In Appalachia and blue-collar districts, you’re going to get more populist candidates who don’t spend as much time lamenting the horrors of the corporate tax rate.

This is okay. In fact, this is a good thing.

Let’s try to keep complaining about other state’s primary choices to a minimum, and trust that Iowa Republicans know the best candidate to run for Senate in their state, and the same applies to Republican primary voters in West Virginia, Louisiana, Iowa, North Carolina and so on. The people who live in those states know who would be best to represent their interests. Yes, out-of-state SuperPACs will spend oodles of money trying to influence the choices.

Remember, Obama’s coalition is just as much of a coalition. There’s really no reason for Colin Powell and Markos Moulitsas to like the same guy, nor William Buffett and Elizabeth Warren, nor Jim Matheson and Nancy Pelosi. Political parties are always going to be exercises in coalition-building and faction-pacifying.

Tags: Republicans

You Can’t Persuade People You Disdain


Over on the homepage, I have a long article on how wishy-washy voters may come to the conclusion that Republicans and conservatives are mean and nasty because . . . every once in a while, some Republicans and conservatives are mean and nasty. I think the most important point is that if we want certain groups of voters to consider our ideas, join our movement, and vote for our candidates, then we can’t speak of them with contempt.

The “47 percent”: In Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks, the worst line was, “My job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Even if there was some valid lament in there about a culture of dependency, the phrasing was about as harmful as possible, because it suggested that as president Romney wouldn’t “worry” about those people — that is, wouldn’t govern with their needs in mind, because he deemed them uninterested in self-sufficiency.

If you believe that conservative ideas work, you hopefully believe that the formula — a decent education, hard work, prudence, thrift, and a dollop of ambition — can and will work for anyone and everyone. “Some of you people are just hopeless” is an awful political slogan, and one that actually strengthens the case for liberalism: If a significant chunk of the citizenry is indeed unable or unwilling to care for itself — not merely failing to do so in response to incentives created by liberal policies — then some entity must step in to do that, and the state is probably best equipped for this task.

Most conservatives’ objection to the culture of dependency is that it results in a waste of human potential: in jobs gone unfilled, in able-bodied men and women not pursuing something better and not becoming role models for their children because they’ve been conditioned to believe that a government check is the best they can achieve. We hate the culture of dependency because we love those trapped in it and want to see them living better, happier, more fulfilling lives. If we truly hated them, we would want to keep them there.

Tags: Republicans

Democrats’ Advantage in Voter Registration Slipping in Key States


This news release – announcing that there are now roughly 20,000 more registered Republicans in Iowa than registered Democrats – suggests that Hawkeye state Republicans can crow about a dramatic turnaround, pointing out that back in January 2009, Iowa Democrats enjoyed a 110,000 voter registration advantage.

In terms of how many voters are registered with each major party, Democrats continue to hold advantages in several key swing states, but in all of those states, their advantage is considerably smaller than it was in 2008.

In Florida, as of last month there are 4,627,929 registered Democrats and 4,173,177 registered Republicans, which amounts to a a 454,752-voter advantage for Democrats. (Keep in mind, Florida has 11.5 million registered voters, so there are a lot of unaffiliated and third-party voters.)

In 2008, there were 4,800,890 registered Democrats in Florida and only 4,106,743 registered Republicans, a 694,147-voter advantage. So while the number of voters who registered with the GOP is up from four years ago, Democrats are down roughly 170,000.

In Nevada, there are 447,881 registered Democrats to 400,310 registered Republicans, a split of roughly 47,000. (Keep in mind, the state has 1.4 million registered voters right now.) In 2008, the state split 531,317 registered Democrats to 430,594 registered Republicans, a split of roughly 100,000.

In New Mexico, as of July 31, there are 582,656 registered Democrats to 385,898 registered Republicans, a Democrat advantage of 196,758 voters. In 2008, there were 594,229 registered Democrats and 375,619 registered Republicans, an advantage of 218,610 voters.

In North Carolina, as of Friday, there are 2,778,535 registered Democrats and 2,008,609 registered Republicans, a 769,926-voter advantage. But on Election Day 2008, there were 2,866,669 registered Democrats and 2,002,416 registered Republicans, an 864,253-voter advantage. This is another state where Republicans have already gotten more voters registered with their party than the preceding cycle.

In many states, residents who wish to cast ballots must register to vote within 25 to 28 days before an election.

In Pennsylvania, as of today, there are 4,185,377 registered Democrats to 3,099,371 registered Republicans, a 1,086,006-vote advantage for Obama’s party. But as daunting as that sounds, it’s smaller than in 2008, when there were 4,479,513 registered Democrats to 3,242,046 registered Republicans, a 1,237,467-vote advantage.

Virginia does not register voters by party.

One state where the GOP had and continues to have a small advantage is in Colorado. In that state, as of September 1, there are 837,732 active registered Republicans and 739,778 active registered Democrats, about a 98,000-voter advantage. On Election Day 2008, the GOP had 1,065,150 registered Republicans and 1,056,077 registered Democrats, about a 9,000-voter advantage.

Tags: Elections , Independent Voters , Republicans

A Surge of Optimism for Republicans?


The Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt features more discussion of parenting and modern society, the mysterious ailment of Jesse Jackson Jr., and bits of good polling news:

A Surge of Optimism for Republicans

I’ll let Ace set the stage with the two polling results out Monday that suggests that things may look better for the GOP than a couple of gloomy days would suggest:

56% agree that Obama has changed the country, but for the worse.

A new poll for The Hill found 56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.

The results signal broad voter unease with the direction the nation has taken under Obama’s leadership and present a major challenge for the incumbent Democrat as he seeks reelection this fall.

In addition, 53% of the country approves of the contempt vote against Eric Holder.

According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday morning, 53% of people questioned say they approve of the House vote a week and a half ago to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to a controversial program called Operation Fast and Furious, with one in three saying they disapprove of the move and 13% unsure.

Note that last poll isn’t of likely voters, or even registered voters, but simply breathing adults.

I think both polls are very predictive of November’s vote. My theory (which I’ve written about a lot) is that late-deciding voters actually are not so late deciding. They are simply very late about admitting they’ve decided. Because they tend to be disinterested in politics, they know they haven’t done their homework, and thus hold off on making an acknowledged decision until they get all the “facts” — until they’ve done their homework — which they never actually do.

Recently it seems a lot of conservatives have expressed a sense of deep trepidation if not depression; it probably should be expected when one of our funniest and most jovial voices, Mark Steyn, writes things like:

Last week’s power outages are more relevant to where the U.S. is headed than what passes for John Roberts’s thinking in his Obamacare opinion. It was a reminder, as if you needed one, that in the American twilight the lights will be going out literally. Last week, as the East Coast was fading to black, the West Coast was sinking deeper into the red: Stockton, Calif., became the largest U.S. city to date to file for bankruptcy. America is seizing up before our eyes, and the action necessary to reverse the sclerosis is stymied at every turn by rapacious unions, government micro-regulators, dependency-spreading social engineers, and crony capitalists who know how to weave their way through the bureaucracy . . .

No advanced society has ever attempted Big Government for a third of a billion people — for the simple reason that it cannot be done without creating a nation with the black-hole finances of Stockton, Calif., and the Black-Hole-of-Calcutta fetid, airless, sweatbox utility services of Rockville, Md. Thanks to Obamacare, in matters of health provision, whether you’re in favor of socialized medicine or truly private health care, Swedes and Italians are now freer than Americans: They have a state system and a private system, and both are relatively simple. What’s simple in micro-regulated America? In health care, we now have what’s nominally a private system encrusted with so many statist barnacles that it no longer functions as either a private or a state system. Thus, Obamacare embodies the strange no-man’s-land of statism American-style: The U.S. is no longer a land of republican virtue and self-reliant citizens but it’s not headed for the sunlit uplands of Scandinavia, either.

On the Amazon page for Mark’s book, it says “customers who bought this product also bought hemlock, razor blades, sturdy rope, and firearms.”

It’s not that the causes of the Right are never winning; it’s that the wins and losses are coming in such unexpected places. Think back to, say, five years ago . . .

  • Would you have predicted that a tough law reducing the political power of public-sector unions would withstand all challenges in Wisconsin . . . but falter in Ohio?
  • Would you have expected that Katrina-devastated Louisiana would have a tough, smart governor implementing one groundbreaking reform after another, while the mayor of New York obsesses about banning large sodas?
  • Would you have predicted that Anthony Kennedy would vote with Scalia and Thomas on one of the biggest Supreme Court cases in a generation . . . while John Roberts voted with Ginsberg and Breyer?
  • Would you have predicted a domestic energy-production revival that brings unemployment rates to 4.3 percent or less in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska . . . while Nevada limps along with the highest unemployment rate in the country?
  • Would you have predicted Republican senators representing states like Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey), Illinois (Mark Kirk), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), or Wisconsin (Ron Johnson) but not states like Virginia, Colorado, Montana, or West Virginia?
  • The Occupy movement is gone, while swing state and swing-district Democrats are avoiding their convention like it’s got Ebola.

The Right has gotten some wins in recent months and years . . . just not necessarily the ones we expected.

Tags: Barack Obama , Polling , Republicans

Grim Poll Numbers for GOP, Awful Ones for Gingrich


Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conduct the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, were just on with Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown. They noted that in their latest poll, Barack Obama carries rural women — traditionally a Republican-leaning demographic — over Newt Gingrich.

South Carolina Republican women may be comfortable with Gingrich, but women elsewhere are not, it would seem.

In the MSNBC writeup on the poll, there is this ominous note:

“Gingrich is Goldwater,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “In the general election, Gingrich not only takes down his ship, he takes down the whole flotilla.”

There’s plenty of bad news for Republicans in the poll, as Romney does better, but not by a ton:

Women say they would vote for Obama over Gingrich by a wide 69-21 percent gap, far wider than the 54-38 percent difference by which Obama beats Romney. With independents, Gingrich gets just 28 percent against Obama, who wins with 52 percent. By contrast, Obama narrowly edges Romney with independents, 44 percent to 36 percent.

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Obama , Polling , Republicans

The Hero vs. Hero Battle You Haven’t Been Waiting For, True Believers!


Perhaps when you write a Morning Jolt late enough, and a weekend is looming, the mind begins to see strange comparisons…

The Conservative Civil War Multi-Issue Crossover Event!

I think a lot of the discussion among conservatives Thursday can be summarized in one Twitter exchange:

Guy Benson: It would be awesome if people on our side would stop angrily questioning each other’s motives.


(John’s kidding.)

This isn’t the Civil War of Conservatism in the context of the Union vs. the Confederacy. No, that conflict looks simple and clear in its divisions: North vs. South, slave-holding and non-slave-holding, secessionist vs. unionist, etc.

No, this is messy, with lots of longtime allies and friends surprised to find themselves in opposition. This is the conservative version of the Marvel Civil War, a comic book storyline in which all of the publisher’s most prominent heroes took sides on the institution of a “Super Hero Registration Act,” in which any person in the United States with superhuman abilities register with the federal government as a “human weapon of mass destruction,” reveal their true identity to the authorities, and undergo proper training. Those who sign also have the option of working for a government agency, earning a salary and benefits such as those earned by other American civil servants. 

(Perhaps young powered Americans have been listening to Derb’s “get a government job” lectures!)

Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four supported the act; Captain America and Daredevil opposed, and the storyline tossed away the familiar story of heroes fighting villains to the surprising, unpredictable, and incongruous sight of popular, noble heroes fighting other popular, noble heroes, each convinced that their view is the right one and the best way to protect their values.

Not as outlandish a metaphor as it seemed two paragraphs ago, huh?

Now we have Rush Limbaugh vs. Thomas Sowell!…

…In the next issue, we have Sean Hannity vs. Ann Coulter! Mediaite gives a rundown: “It’s a rare episode of Hannity that includes a segment where the show’s host exclaims “you are dead wrong!” indignantly at Ann Coulter. This is one of those gems. Sean Hannity could not understand the argument that Republicans were in jeopardy should Cut, Cap, and Balance pass the House but not the Senate, and Coulter attempted to explain that the spin would be unfavorable to them… This came after an extensive talk on the perception of the debt debate from the average American’s perspective who wasn’t following the whole debate. “Republicans will be blamed,” she argued, even though they were playing “a game of chicken with the Democrats offering nothing.” As “Cut, Cap and Balance” is expected to fail, Coulter argued, “that will fit into the counterfactual narrative of Tea Partiers refusing to compromise.” Hannity didn’t buy this line of thinking at all. “Why don’t they pass Cut, Cap and Balance, cross their hands, and say ‘your move’?” Coulter replied that the problem was that the casual observer would know only that a Republican bill failed– “some stories are big enough,” she argued, using as an example that she had no power over the fact that she was aware of the existence of Snooki. Should Cut, Cap, and Balance fail in the House, too– especially if the Tea Party representatives are the deciding vote, she concluded, “the narrative is going to be ‘These crazy Tea Party Republicans shut down the government.”

But wait, this special double-issue of Hannity features an explosive showdown of Pat Caddell vs. Hugh Hewitt! The Right Scoop has the video, summarizing, “Okay, it wasn’t like a pop in the jaw, but in a contentious debate Caddell gets so frustrated at Hewitt interrupting him that in the heat of the moment he strikes him on the arm which kinda surprised Hugh.”

To be continued in the next spine-tingling issue!

Tags: Conservatism , Debt Ceiling , Republicans , Rush Limbaugh

What To Do After the Election


A challenge to the Class of 2010:

The Brits cut spending.

The Romanians cut spending.

Spain cut spending.

The Czechs cut spending.

The Irish cut spending.

South Africa is cutting its deficit.

Even the French are cutting some spending.

Who’s not cutting the deficit?

Mexico’s deficit probably will get bigger: 0.5 percent of GDP, rather than 0.3 percent. Our deficit is bigger than Mexico’s entire economy.

Greece’s deficit is getting bigger. Who wants to be Greece?

And there there is us.

Obama’s deficit panel does not seem to be packing the gear to get the job done: It has focused mostly on tax increases, in the form of eliminating tax breaks such as the mortgage-interest deduction and the use of pre-tax dollars to pay for health-insurance benefits. As Vero has argued persuasively, the problem is not really revenue, it’s spending. I’m no fan of the mortgage-interest deduction, which distorts the housing market, and there’s probably a good case to be made on the pre-tax health-insurance spending — but neither of those measures is going to do a lot of good unless it is part of an overall rationalization of the U.S. tax system, which is a national disgrace. GAO estimates of the efficiency costs of our tax code — meaning the economic loss our tax regime imposes on the economy above and beyond the revenue collected by Uncle — run as high as 5 percent of GDP, i.e., roughly the cost of all U.S. national-defense spending combined. Federal tax-compliance costs alone run 1 percent of GDP. That is insanely wasteful.

We aren’t going to close the gap by working on the unholy trinity of “waste, fraud, and abuse.” By all means, cut waste, fraud, and abuse — but that isn’t enough. NPR and foreign aid? Sure, but that’s chickenfeed. Until you start tackling the hard stuff — which means entitlements and defense spending, among other things — you aren’t getting serious.

Here are some things to do:

First, reduce the federal head-count, even if that means paying a few federal employees higher salaries than we’d like. (Yes, first.) The nasty long-term costs are in benefits and pensions: Here’s the tradeoff: We don’t cut the bureaucrats’ pay, or cut it all that much, but we have a lot fewer of them, and we don’t put as much up for health-care and pension costs. This works even better at the state and local levels, where bureaucrats’ pensions tend to be defined-benefit plans rather than defined-contribution plans.

Second, see if Sarkozy will lend Republicans the necessary gear to raise the Social Security retirement age and start means-testing all of the major entitlements. How severely should we means-test? Enough to put them on a stable financial footing without a payroll-tax hike. Enough to remind people that they are welfare programs, not a retirement plan. Enough to make replacing them with private retirement plans, private disability insurance, and the like in a decade or two more palatable. You want to head off Fiscal Armageddon, then the total government payroll, its pension obligations, and the major entitlements are the place to start.

Third, just savage the hell out of discretionary spending. That’s the fun part, and Republicans  should enjoy themselves. It’s also a chance for Republicans to reclaim their party’s reforming soul and throw some of their own favorites on the fire — farm subsidies, the scam that is the Small Business Administration, etc. I like the idea of butchering one Democratic sacred cow and one Republican sacred cow in pairs: two by two they go down — public broadcasting and farm subsidies, Amtrak and foreign-military financing.

Fourth, straighten out the tax system, preferably with a broad-based single-rate tax. The level of taxation ultimately will be set by the level of spending, but there’s plenty of room for improvement in the tax code. If Congress got really ambitious about putting a flat tax on all income — salaries, dividends, capital gains, inheritances, whatever — then there’s no reason to maintain a special carried-interest carve-out for the Wall Street weasels who funded the Obama campaign. (Hey, just sayin’.) That wouldn’t be terrible politics, and it would add tens of billions to tax revenues, too. Democrats will whine that it’s regressive. Republicans should respond that under a flat tax a guy who makes $200,000 a year pays twice as much as a guy who makes $100,000 a year, who pays twice as much as a guy who makes $50,000 a year. That’s progressive enough, and it’s a winnable debate.

And we’d save ourselves a lot of tax-compliance expenditures, lawyers’ fees, and grief by taxing all income at the same level. You know who was a fan of taxing capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income? The Reagan administration. Not a bad idea.

Fifth, develop a better plan for defense spending. Unlike practically everything else in government, fiscal considerations should take a back seat when it comes to national security — but not too far in the back. We need to fundamentally rethink our military priorities and our commitments around the world — rediscovering what is really essential to our national interest — and then redirect spending accordingly. A return to pre-2000 military spending seems to me a reasonable goal, and it is possible that further reductions are possible.

Also, a little politics: Step 1 (fewer bureaucrats) plus Step 4 (everybody pays the same tax rate) means a smaller permanent constituency for Big Government and Big Spending.

I’m not married to any of this. Got a better idea? Let me know in the comments.

Tags: Debt , Deficits , Despair , Fiscal Armageddon , Republicans

David Limbaugh, contra VAT


Over at Ricochet, David Limbaugh has a wise response to my post yesterday on Grover Norquist, VATs, Mitch Daniels, etc.

While I am a supply sider I agree that we should not allow our exuberance for pro-growth tax policies to intoxicate us into believing that spending doesn’t matter. While some starry-eyed supply-siders might have been irresponsibly negligent in their inattention to the spending side of the equation, it’s not fair or accurate to place all supply-siders in that quasi-utopian category. It’s a false choice. That is, there is nothing inconsistent between supply-side advocacy and relative spending austerity. That’s the best of both worlds. But an insidious VAT tax might be the worst of all worlds.

Praise to David Limbaugh for striking the right balance on the supply-side question: growth matters, spending matters. For the record, I do not think all supply-siders are crazy utopians: not Laffer, not Reagan, not Kemp. That is why I use the term “naïve supply siders” to distinguish those dealing in unreality.

I myself am more of a flat-income-tax guy than a VAT guy, though Andrew Stuttaford argues that we’d have to make the flat rate so high to make the numbers work out, even with some pretty ambitious spending cuts, that it would not fly. (He also thinks that consumption should carry some of the load.) I’m going to do the arithmetic on it here in a bit and see what it adds up to. I doubt very much that anything will cause me to conclude that the current system is defensible, wise, just, or the best way to fund the level of government spending that Americans seem (inexplicably!) to want.

Tags: Debt , Deficits , Despair , Fiscal Armageddon , General Shenanigans , Republicans , Taxes

Grover Norquist Is Living in Candyland


So it turns out that the cure for “epistemic closure” is great quantities of crystal meth. The things you learn from Grover Norquist.

In case you missed it, Norquist came down like a runaway gravel truck on Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, a favorite around these parts. Governor Daniels’s offense was declaring himself open to the possibility that a value-added tax might be an acceptable part of a wide-ranging reform of the federal tax system. Norquist replied, in a Politico interview:

“This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.”

Here’s the problem: The deficit is, by my always-suspect English-major math, about 36.3 percent of federal spending ($1.29 trillion deficit out of $3.55 trillion spending). For comparison: Defense accounts for about 18 percent of federal spending. So you could cut out the entire national-security budget, and another Pentagon-sized chunk of non-military spending, and not quite close that deficit. You could cut the Pentagon to $0.00 and eliminate Social Security entirely and just barely get there.

Even great heaping quantities of crystal meth would not be enough to convince me that is going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: In a perfect world, Exchequer would love to see the budget balanced and some tax cuts enabled through spending reductions alone. Exchequer would also like to be dating Marisa Miller, driving a Morgan Aero, and running a four-minute mile,  developments that are about as plausible as Congress’s cutting 36.3 percent of federal spending. Not going to happen.

So, our choices are this: 1. Hold out for the best-case scenario, in which a newly elected Speaker Boehner gives President Obama the complete works of Milton Friedman and everybody agrees to cutting federal spending by more than a third. 2. Keep running deficits and piling up debt. 3. Raise taxes. My preferences, in order, go: 1,  3, 2. And No. 2 is not really acceptable.

Like it or not, taxes are going up: If not today, then in the near future. Even once the deficit is under control, that debt is still going to have to be paid down, lest debt service alone overwhelm the federal budget, necessitating even more tax hikes. If Grover Norquist thinks there’s a tax-free way out of this mess that is both politically and economically realistic, he is living in a fantasy. There’s an old joke that goes: Neurotics build castles in the sky; psychotics live in them. And Grover Norquist seeks tax protection for them.

Norquist’s outfit, Americans for Tax Reform, does a lot of good things. (And so has Grover Norquist, over the years.) But here’s how it describes itself:

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.

That’s not a campaign against Big Government — it’s a campaign against math. As ye spend, so shall ye tax. Denying that is not a principle — it’s a tantrum. ATR’s pledge reads:

“I _____ pledge to the taxpayers of the __________ district, of the state of __________, and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

And here is how it should read:

“I _____ pledge to the taxpayers of the __________ district, of the state of __________, and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase spending.”

Spending is the issue, not taxes. Spending is the virus, taxes are the symptom. Norquistism, by focusing on the taxing side of the ledger rather than on the spending side, has for decades enabled Republican spending shenanigans of the sort that helped put the party in the minority and ruined its reputation for fiscal sobriety; it is of a piece with naïve supply-siderism. The Bush-era deficits, and the subsequent discrediting of Republicans’ fiscal conservatism, are the product.

Give me the grown-up despair of Mitch Daniels any day over the happy-talk daydream that says we’re getting out of this mess without  paying for it.

Tags: Debt , Deficits , Despair , Fiscal Armageddon , Mitch Daniels , Republicans , Taxes

Even the Goods Ones Are Hostages to Pork


But before I go: This important, Earth-shaking news just hit my desk, courtesy of Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. For reasons known only to God, the farm lobby (a.k.a Big Elmer), and Governor McDonnell, setting up Web sites to sell apples and the “Beautiful Gardens Plant Breeders Workshop” are pressing public priorities in the Old Dominion, requiring taxpayer subsidies. You Virginians need the government to help you build a Web site? What, they don’t have seventh-graders in Virginia?

Couldn’t Republican officeholders at least pretend to be ashamed of this stuff?

RICHMOND — Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced funding today for eighteen agriculture-related projects which will promote and enhance the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops.  The projects resulted from the competitive grant process established by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funds. 

Commenting on the grants, Governor McDonnell said, “These grants represent a half-million dollar investment in Virginia’s economy that will boost economic development and create jobs in agriculture, Virginia’s largest industry.  This is a diverse group of very innovative projects that include marketing, development, research and engineering projects, all of which are designed to increase the competitiveness of specialty agricultural crops in Virginia.  I congratulate these individuals, educational institutions, and organizations for advancing ideas that will help growers add value and enhance market and job creation opportunities across Virginia.”

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorized the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote specialty crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities:  assisting farmers in transitioning into specialty, high value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops; increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises; finding new ways to market or to add value to specialty agricultural products; and developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

VDACS is awarding grants totaling $513,226.81, the largest amount ever for the block grant program, for the following projects:

Specialty Crops Cooling and Packing, Kevin Semones, Southwest Virginia Farmers Market, Hillsville 

Handling and Use of Poultry Litter Incineration Ash Byproducts as Organic Fertilizer in Fresh Market Tomato Production, Jane Corson-Lassiter, Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development Council, Accomac 

Performance of a Novel Solar Greenhouse Prototype, Naraine Persaud, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg  

Marketing Expansion Initiative Promoting Virginia Grown Christmas Trees, Jeff Miller, Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, Christiansburg 

Increasing the Competitiveness of Virginia Specialty Crop and Disadvantaged Farmers through a Statewide Situational Assessment of the VA Farm-to-School Program, Matt Benson, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg 

Educational Opportunities for Farm Direct Marketers and Farmers’ Markets, Cathy Belcher, Farmers Direct Marketing Association, Richmond 

Increasing the Competitiveness of Virginia Grown Strawberries , Gail Moody Milteer, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Franklin  

Beautiful Gardens Plant Breeder Workshop, Alexander Niemiera, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg 

Increasing GAP Certification Readiness among Organic and Conventional Growers and Nutrition Knowledge and Consumption of Specialty Crops among Children and Adults in Southwest Virginia, Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon 

Developing, Teaching and Promoting Sustainable and Organic Growing Practices at Maple Hill Educational Farm, Marisa Vrooman, Local Food Hub Inc., Scottsville

High Resolution Vineyard Site Suitability Mapping, Peter Sforza, Virginia Vineyards Association, Clifford 

Organic Management of Pest Predation in Commercial Production of Summer Squash, Kevin Damian, Virginia Association for Biological Farmers, Louisa 

Working Capital Grant to Develop a Broad Based Website for the Promotion of Virginia Apples, Diane Kearns, Virginia Apple Growers Association, Charlottesville

Connecting Southwest Virginia Farmers to Institutional Buyers through Local Food Processing and Preservation, Michal Burton, Sustain Floyd, Floyd 

Expanding Markets for Virginia’s Specialty Crops, Butch Nottingham, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Onley 

Improved Management of Harlequin Bug in Cole Crops, Thomas P. Kuhar, Virginia Tech, Painter 

Stink Bug Populations, Injury and Control on Primocane-bearing Caneberries, Douglas G. Pfeiffer, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg 

Production and Marketing of High Tunnel Grown Ginger Roots In Virginia, Reza Rafie, Virginia State University, Petersburg

Tags: Big Elmer , Debt , Deficits , Despair , Doom , Pork , Republicans

About the Pledge


I have to admit that I am scratching my bald noggin over the fact that a fair number of my fellow right-wingers are dismissing “The Pledge” as pusillanimous, lacking sufficient specificity, etc. I do not get it.

I don’t think you can get to the militant side of me when it comes to debt and spending, and my distrust for Republicans — especially congressional Republicans — is longstanding and well-documented. That being written, if a new Republican majority can, in fact, pare back spending to 2008 levels (even if it is only non-defense discretionary spending, a small part of the overall budget nightmare) and enact caps, that will be an enormous victory, a hugely significant step in the right direction. If the Class of 2010 can get that done, they will have accomplished something worthwhile — even if they do not achieve a single thing beyond that.

On Fannie and Freddie, especially, the Pledge has been criticized for a lack of clarity. I think it’s suffering more from a lack of good writing: I take “shrink their portfolio” and “end their government bailout” to mean forcing the GSEs to offload a bunch of assets as a prelude to breaking them up and fully privatizing them, withdrawing both the federal line of credit and the federal guarantee backing them. I don’t know what else those words could mean, and the Republicans I have talked to suggest that is what they have in mind.

I agree that they could have been more robust on the entitlements and that defense spending will have to be addressed. As a matter of politics, entitlement reform is going to be a long and complex fight, and difficult to summarize in a short campaign document. (And, yes, I know, call it cowardice or call it the political survival instinct, nobody is eager to grab that third rail at this moment.) As for defense spending, I think we spending hawks can, at the risk of waking the ghost of Murray Rothbard, count on the Left to make that an issue before the Republicans do. There’s a lot of room to cut at in the kingdom of Pentagonia; I suspect that the Republicans, if they are smart (I know! I know! Caveat!) will allow the Democrats to propose those and will agree to some of them as a compromise.

And the budget-process reforms look pretty smart to me.

Also: Repealing Obamacare, enacting national medical liability reform, opening up a nationwide insurance market to replace the fragmented, oligopolistic state-by-state market, better HSAs — what’s not to like?

Cutting and capping domestic spending: You guys do appreciate that this would be more than President Reagan managed on the spending front, right?

And getting that done would do a lot to repair the Republicans’ reputation on fiscal prudence, laying the groundwork for the bigger and more difficult fight over entitlements. And there is no point in passing a bold entitlement-reform bill in the next year, anyway — it would be vetoed by President Obama, and it is extremely unlikely that such a bill would command anything like a veto-proof majority.

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi gang got into trouble for doing too much too quickly: stimulus (and stimulus, and stimulus), health care, attempting cap and trade, etc. The Class of 2010 is not going to: 1. Reduce and cap non-defense discretionary spending; 2. repeal Obamacare; 3. enact free-market health-care reform; 4. fix Social Security; 5. fix Medicare; 6. fix Medicaid; 7. reform national-defense policy and, consequently, national-defense spending; 8. reform the tax code — all at once. If they manage to do 1-3 in a single Congress, conservatives should take up a collection to build a statue of John Boehner — on horseback.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.

Tags: Congress , Debt , Deficits , Despair , Republicans , The Pledge


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