This morning brought news that should make every Republican who actually wants to win in 2016 groan; Donald Trump is talking once again about running for President.
Of course, this is an old game for Trump, who has been flirting with running for President since at least 2000 (he wanted to run with Ross Perot’s Reform Party back then). Trump has proven to be nothing if not good at publicity-seeking. The media, either out of a desire to embarrass the GOP or attracted to Trump like people are attracted to a car crash (or a bit of both), even gave him an interview on ABC News. It was about as useful as you’d expect, with Trump not only raising the Birther nonsense about President Obama, but also about Senator Ted Cruz as well. In short, it was nothing short of an embarrassment for all involved.
While the idea of Trump clogging up the airwaves by mulling, but never actually pulling the trigger on running for President is enough to give us a stomach ache, this could be a real opportunity for one of the potential GOP candidates. It has been a mistake I believe for the GOP and the conservative media to give any sort of credibility to Trump. He’s a circus clown; colorful, attention-grabbing, but ultimately not worth much and he should be treated as such. One of the candidates running for President needs to, with as much publicity as possible, tear into Trump, the Birthers, and others who would use the serious business of running for President as a self-promotional exercise. These people are not entertaining, they are deeply damaging to an already damaged Republican brand. We have no need for carnival barkers when trying to decide who should be the leader of the free world.
We’ve seen what needs to be done before. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton, running as a “New Democrat” attacked the musician Sister Souljah over her comments on the LA Riots. This was immediately picked up on by the press as Clinton showing a willingness to take on a representative of an extreme faction in his party. Now, Sister Souljah was a trivial figure of minimal importance, but the symbol of a Democrat willing to take her (and by extension folks like Jesse Jackson) was a great message for a Party desperate to show that it had changed. The now famous “Sister Souljah Moment” was critical in establishing the idea that the Democrats of 1992 were different from 1984 or 1988.
Who should be the one to call out Trump and his ilk? Really, it could be anyone of the 2016 prospects. Christie seems the most likely to do it, given his personality and persona. Someone like Paul Ryan might do it, given his reputations as an intellectual leader of the Party. Marco Rubio could do it too in order to curry favor with the more moderate wing of the Party. One of the lesser-known possible contenders, like Governors Walker or Jindal might do it to try and get some publicity. But I believe that the two gentlemen who would do themselves the most favors in denouncing Trump would be Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Both Senators have their own problems with being seen as rigidly ideological and perhaps willing to tolerate some of the more rabid folks in their own fan base. If Sens. Paul or Cruz were to stand up and publicly denounce Trump in no uncertain terms, they could reap a lot of publicity as well as surprise the press and others within the Party. It would signal that they are more than just rigid ideologues. It would also show that they are serious about advancing their ideology without having clowns like Trump associated with it.
The appearance of Trump on the GOP presidential scene is a bad reoccurring headache that sprouts up every couple of years. In the past, the GOP has made the mistake of indulging the publicity-seeking mogul. I believe that the time has come for someone in the Party to stand up and say “enough is enough”. With any luck, one of the gentlemen wanting to lead our Party into the next election will be the first one to do it.
Most of the news entities reported only excerpts of Nancy Reagan’s response to the death of Margaret Thatcher. Here is the full text courtesy of Mrs. Reagan’s office:
In an April 8th statement, Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said:
I am terribly saddened today to learn of the death of Margaret Thatcher. The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy.
It is well known that my husband and Lady Thatcher enjoyed a very special relationship as leaders of their respective countries during one of the most difficult and pivotal periods in modern history. Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates, committed to freedom and resolved to end Communism. As Prime Minister, Margaret had the clear vision and strong determination to stand up for her beliefs at a time when so many were afraid to “rock the boat.” As a result, she helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of millions of people.
Ronnie and I knew her as a dear and trusted friend, and I will miss her. The United States knew Margaret as a spirited and courageous ally, and the world owes her a debt of gratitude.
My heart goes out to Mark, Carol and the entire Thatcher family.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver provides his analysis regarding Sen. Rubio’s potential electoral strength:
Being reliably conservative, however, is hardly a liability for someone who might hope to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Indeed, one reason to watch Mr. Rubio carefully is that, among the candidates who will be deemed reliably conservative by Republican voters and insiders, he may stand the best chance of maintaining a reasonably good image with general election voters.
How does Mr. Rubio’s conservatism compare to the other men and women who might seek the Republican nomination in 2016 — and to other candidates, like Mitt Romney, that the G.O.P. has nominated recently?
What makes matters tricky for Mr. Rubio is that, at the same time he is hoping to persuade Republican party insiders that he deserves their support, he will also need to maintain a reasonably good image with the broader electorate lest his electability argument be undermined. This may lead to some strange positions, such as when Mr. Rubio recently critiqued President Obama’s immigration proposal despite its many similarities to his own.
When the wider electorate learns that Mr. Rubio’s positions are in fact hard to differentiate from those of other conservative Republicans, will his favorability ratings turn mediocre, as Mr. Ryan’s now are?
This is not meant as a rhetorical question. One measure of political talent, and something that characterized both Mr. Reagan and Mr. Obama, is the ability to sell ideas to voters across a wide range of the political spectrum. Perhaps Mr. Rubio will prove to be such a talent. Otherwise, if Mr. Rubio holds a fairly ordinary (and conservative) set of Republican positions, his popularity ratings may wind up being ordinary as well.
Be sure to read the whole thing, were Silver also discusses other candidates, such as Gov. Chris Christie.
Perhaps one of the most sobering facts about the 2012 election is the fact that Governor Romney of Massachusetts, who picked a Midwesterner as a running mate, failed to carry a single solitary state in the Northeast. President Obama swept the Northeast, mostly by very heavy margins, and racked up 109 electoral votes in the process. That is the equivalent of 2 California’s and aside from New Hampshire, there wasn’t even an effort by the RNC or the Romney campaign or frankly the state parties to put their states in the Republican column. Most Republicans write off the Northeast as hopelessly liberal and Democratic, hardly worth the fight. Best to concentrate on states like Ohio or Colorado than to make a play for Connecticut or New Jersey.
In the short span of time that a presidential campaign occupies, that makes sense. After all, a candidate or campaign has only 6-8 months after winning the nomination to assemble 270 electoral votes and win the White House. But for the Republican Party, this seems like a foolish strategy. Writing off 109 electoral votes in a presidential campaign is deleterious to the Republican Party overall, not just to a presidential campaign. An ineffective Republican Party harms candidates down the ballot as well. If we want more Republican Governors, legislators, Senators and Congressmen, we need to start making a play for the Northeast once again.
Luckily for the GOP, we already know how to do this. Before the 1950’s the South was so overwhelmingly Democratic that it won the nickname “The Solid South”. To put it in perspective, back in 1920 when Warren G. Harding beat James Cox 60%-34% in the popular vote, Cox won South Carolina with 96%, Georgia with 72%, and Louisiana with 69%. Harding became only the second Republican candidate in history to carry Tennessee, and only by 13,000 votes. The South was the electoral bedrock of the Democratic Party.
By the 1950’s, the South had begun to change and after Dwight D. Eisenhower took several Southern states in his elections, the RNC begun to think that the South was finally willing to listen to the Republican Party. The RNC set up a project called “Operation Dixie” which was to work for the long-term build-up of the Republican Party. The RNC spent resources, time and talent in Dixie to start winning in the South.
Here is where fact and myth start to grow apart. The conventional wisdom, particularly given by Democrats and liberals is that the GOP began to replace the Democratic Party as the party of Jim Crow and by using racist “code-words”, began to swing the South. While that might make the left feel all warm and fuzzy, it’s also not true. Subscribers to this theory forget that there were other developments that helped turn the South. Issues like right-to-work and the GOP’s moving towards an internationalist, anti-Communist foreign policy, along with an increasingly liberal Democratic Party on non-racial issues were very important. The most critical development though was the migration of people after WWII to the Sun Belt. Places like Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida became very appealing to young families eager to get away from cold northern winters. Many of these families that came to the South were Republicans. It was this group of voters, generally middle-class suburban dwellers who were the base of the new Southern Republican Party. For instance, in my state of Florida, the first real Republican county was Pinellas where St. Petersburg is. Pinellas County became a GOP stronghold while the most Dixiecrat part of Florida, the Panhandle, stayed Democratic long into the future.
The most important part of Operation Dixie was that it took time. Launched in 1957 the year after Dwight Eisenhower took 5 Southern states, the next cycle in 1960 saw Richard Nixon only win three states. Goldwater won 5 states of the Old Confederacy in 1964 but was annihilated everywhere else. It wasn’t until 1968 when Nixon carried 5 Southern states and won the White House as well. In other words, it took 11 years before Operation Dixie saw its goal obtained.
The lesson from Operation Dixie is that with long-term investment and dedication, even a region as hostile to the GOP as the South can, eventually be brought to consider voting Republican. It is true that outside factors like those mentioned above helped the GOP, but the infrastructure and resources had to be in place to take advantage of these developments.
Honesty compels me to say that the person who got me thinking about this was Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker issued a lengthy memo to the RNC (seen here) where he suggested that the GOP start an “Operation California” to try and make the Golden State competitive once again. While certainly a good idea, I think the better use of resources could be an “Operation Yankee”. Not only does the Northeast have twice as many electoral votes as California, there are many more down-the-ballot races, such as Governorships, Senators and Congressional seats to harvest by building up the GOP.
If there is one undeniable takeaway from the disappointing 2012 election results it’s that we Republicans simply cannot write off huge portions of the country if we want to win national elections. The failure of the GOP to win a single electoral vote in the Northeast should be a red-light to the Party. We need to start winning back that section of the country if we want to really be a nationally competitive Party once again.
With Governor Romney clearly having the momentum going into the final days of this campaign, optimistic Democrats and some pessimistic Republicans believe that a scenario is emerging where Governor Romney wins the popular vote, but loses to the President in the Electoral College. Proponents of this theory look at the polls coming out of Ohio, Wisconsin and other swing states and that show a very tight race. A whole manner of scenarios are coming out where the President scrapes by to getting 270 votes and another term. While these are technically possible, history shows that it is probably not going to happen.
Four times in the past has the winner of the popular vote failed to win the election: 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. We can safely discard 1824 because it did not take place in a traditional two-party election. There were four candidates in that election all members of the same political party. Unless Jill Stein or Gary Johnson start sweeping crowds off their feet, there probably isn’t going to be anyone receiving an electoral vote not named Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.
The other three elections: 1876, 1888 and 2000 offer a better comparison, but even they, particularly 1876 and 1888 have peculiar circumstances. The two Gilded Age elections took place at the end of Reconstruction in the South. In 1876, with the exception of Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana, all the Southern states were under Democratic rule. Systematically denying freed African-Americans their right to vote, these Bourbon Democrats created a system of one party rule in the South. While many Northern states were competitive, no deep Southern state would vote Republican after 1876 for a generation. So what you had in 1876 and 1888 was that the Democrats, Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland respectively, rolled up huge, very unproductive margins in the Southern states. Tilden’s national popular vote margin over Rutherford B. Hayes was roughly 200,000 votes, and they almost all came from the Southern states. He won by 60,000 in Texas, 80,000 in Georgia, and 70,000 in Mississippi which translated into at least 2 to 1 victories for Tilden in each state. The same thing happened in 1888 when Grover Cleveland beat Benjamin Harrison in the popular vote by less than 100,000 votes. South Carolina went for Cleveland 82%-17% and gave him a 50,000 vote majority, almost half of his national margin. Outside of Virginia and North Carolina, no Southern state was competitive.
The infamous 2000 election is actually the perfect argument for keeping the Electoral College because of how Gore won the popular vote. Outside of Texas, Florida and Ohio, Gore swept every state with over 15 electoral votes by comfortable margins. Bush lost the popular vote by 600,000, but lost California by over 1,000,000 his entire margin of victory. Results in New York, Illinois and New Jersey showed something similar. Out of the big three states that Bush carried, the only one he carried by over 3 points was his home state of Texas. Bush came close in the popular vote and won in the Electoral College because a much bigger number of smaller states voted for him by large margins.
One final note, the 1876 margin of 200,000 votes was 3% of the popular vote. The other two, 1888 and 2000, the margins were less than 1% of the vote. With the Democratic dominated South a relic of the past, the odds of a candidate winning the popular by several points but losing in the Electoral College is increasingly remote.
Credit to Dave Leip’s Atlas of President Elections for all the electoral data.
One of Max’s comments yesterday sparked my curiosity regarding Republican presidential candidates tendency to over-perform their national vote total in Ohio. So I ran the numbers:
2008 Winner: Barack Obama 52.87% - Loser John McCain 45.60%
2004 Winner: George W. Bush 50.73% - Loser: John Kerry 48.27%
2000 Winner: George W. Bush 47.87% - Loser: Al Gore 48.38%
1996 Winner: Bill Clinton 49.23% - Loser: Bob Dole 40.72%
1992 Winner: Bill Clinton 43.01% - Loser: George H.W. Bush 37.45
1988 Winner: George H.W. Bush 53.37% - Loser: Michael Dukakis 45.65%
1984 Winner: Ronald Reagan 58.77% - Loser: Walter Mondale 40.56%
1980 Winner: Ronald Reagan 50.75% - Loser – Jimmy Carter 41.01%
So on average, Republicans candidates have performed 1.1% better in Ohio than they have nationally. Democratic candidates on the other hand, have fared -1.21% below than their national totals, on average.
I am not really sure how much predictive value this has to be honest, especially in the volatile political environment we live in (I can imagine myself using this kind of data to argue that the GOP couldn’t possibly lose Indiana back in the ’08 cycle). However, it may be safe to say that Romney’s final tally in Ohio should not be too far below his RCP average for the general election.
Recent polls show Mitt Romney running a surprisingly close race in a handful of Northeastern states — a Morning Call poll shows him within four points of Obama in Pennsylvania, Rasmussen pegs him within six points in Connecticut (!), and one poll even gives Romney a lead in Maine’s second Congressional district.
What a difference four years makes! After the “thumping” Republicans took in 2006 and 2008, a host of commentators tripped all over themselves in a mad rush to pen the GOP’s obituary in the Northeast. Well-known moderates like Chris Shays and John Sununu Jr. were voted out of office; besides the ladies from Maine and Arlen Specter, who was left, they asked? What has happened to this once-national party? Pundits wept crocodile tears for the fate of the Republican Party as a national institution in a post-Bush America. James Carville infamously declared that Democratic dominance would last for forty years because of the GOP’s stunning ineptness at appealing to diverse demographics.
Yet, after all of the smoke cleared, the Republican Party successfully engineered an incredible resurgence north of the Mason-Dixon line, producing marquee-name politicians like Chris Christie, Pat Toomey, and Scott Brown. Republicans swept the state legislatures of states like New Hampshire and Maine (where they also won the governorship); states like New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania all sent more Republicans to the House. The much-predicted apocalypse never actually arrived for the Republican Party.
And so it is in this year’s presidential race, too. A book I own, How Barack Obama Won , written in 2008 by Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser of NBC News, declared that Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Hampshire were “receding battleground states” “on the verge of losing their status,” that Connecticut was “solidly blue,” on par with Maryland, that Georgia was an “emerging battleground” where Democrats could make inroads, and that Indiana was now to be considered a new “battleground.” The authors also predicted that there might be glimmers of hope for Democrats in Texas this year. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
The lesson to be learned here is that coalitions are constantly in-flux; parties are always adapting to changing circumstances. The electoral map of one election is not necessarily going to translate to the next, and striking results do not always indicate a trend. The consistency of the Bush elections was an aberration of history — even a brief glance at past election results will show that presidential coalitions are remarkably unstable, and that it is always possible to re-engineer the electoral map. Contrary to the fantasies of partisans, both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are perpetually reinventing themselves to appeal to new demographics and adapt to emerging situations. Not since the 1800s has a party simply been consigned to the dustbin. Our political system is remarkably fluid — one or two electoral thrashings will not cause a national party to disintegrate. Political pundits pride themselves on their omniscience, but the electorate is constantly throwing wrenches into their grand narratives: Who would have predicted, in 2004, that the Democratic candidate for president in the next cycle would win electoral votes from Indiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina? Was there anyone in 2008 who predicted that the Republican candidate in 2012 could keep the polls tight in certain Northeastern states against Barack Obama? For that matter: Did anyone in 2008 accurately predict that a Republican would replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate in Massachusetts, or that the GOP’s most prominent rising star would come from the state of New Jersey? Did anyone predict that the formerly-polarizing Hillary Clinton would emerge as an ‘above-it-all’ figure in 2012? Americans are constantly upending popular media narratives.
What’s shocking is not that these events have occurred. What’s shocking is that pundits, time and time again, fail to recognize that their own limited perception can’t actually conjure up an accurate grand narrative explaining and predicting Americans’ political behavior. If Mitt Romney manages to defeat Barack Obama, we’ll undoubtedly hear resurrected Karl Rove-style dreams of a “permanent Republican majority” (this time we’ll get it right!); if Obama wins reelection, we’ll surely hear Democrats declare that the Republican Party has finally been definitively rejected. Both conclusions would be completely wrong. Parties must — and will — change and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. The electorate is always up for grabs, with the right message, the right candidates, and the right political climate. Ideological narratives are what lose in the end.
Republicans, at least to some rather large degree, were hopeful of a Romney candidacy because of one key aspect: the appeal to independents. A Romney candidacy was a chance to rebrand the GOP, after the stereotype of Republicans as unintelligent southern hicks culminated in the Bush 43 presidency. Independents, the theory went, would not be afraid or ashamed to support the GOP any longer.
Well, here we are less than a month away from the 2012 election, and… the theory was proven correct. Perhaps even more correct than anyone could have hoped, actually. Political nerds who read past the topline results have long commented on Romney’s standing with independents throughout the last six months or so. In fact, he is doing extraordinarily well with them.
For comparison sake, in 2008 Obama won independent voters by an eight-point margin over John McCain. In 2004, George W. Bush and John Kerry essentially tied among independents, with Kerry having a slight edge. This year, Romney has consistently, on a national level, held an average of around a 5-point lead with independents.
If that’s the case — if he is doing 13+ points better than McCain with that key voting bloc, and five to even ten points better than George W. Bush did, then why has a lead in the topline results been so difficult to come by for Governor Romney?
The answer may seem a little counter intuitive at first glance, but the problem is with Republicans.
Every Presidential candidate in modern history who has won their election has done so with the backing of around 90% of their respective party. For example, Bush pulled in 91% of Republicans in 2000 (and just 47% of independents); he upped that to 93% in 2004; Obama got just under 90% of Democratic votes in 2008.
On a national level, Romney has struggled to maintain the support of 85% of Republicans this year. That’s a losing proposition. Currently in Rasmussen, he sits at 86% of Republican support — compared to 89-90% of Democrats who support Obama. The only reason he is close to Obama is his six-point lead among independent voters (a fourteen point swing from four years ago).
In the crucial trio of swing states affectionately known as FLOHVA, it’s the same story. In Ohio, Romney leads among independents by 15%, in Virginia by 7%, and in Florida by a massive 22%. Those are ridiculously absurd numbers. If someone would have read those margins among independents to me one year ago, I would have told them Romney was headed toward a landslide of 1984 proportions.
Instead, Romney is barely ahead in Virginia and Florida, and still losing Ohio.
Why? Because he is lacking the support of Republicans. In Ohio, only 83% of Republicans are supporting Romney. In Virginia, it’s only 85%. And in Florida, just 76% of the GOP plan on voting for Romney. In each state, Romney is running well behind even John McCain, who lost all three (McCain got 92% GOP support in OH and VA and 87% in FL).
So what’s going on here? Most all of it, I suspect, can be attributed to the fact that the GOP is currently so divided into so many factions — many of whom are lukewarm toward Romney at best. Within the “tent” of Republicanism, for instance, we now house the Paulite wing and Tea Party wing of the party — and those are on top of the more historical splits between neo- and paleoconservatives, as well as between fiscal and social conservatives. In fact, the traditional divide between fiscal and social conservatives has been magnified by the Tea Party movement — a movement which began based on fiscal issues and was then hijacked by the social conservative wing of the party. The Tea Party has given voice to and amplified the debate and the divide between the two.
It’s no wonder Romney is doing so poorly among Republicans. After all, when Ronald Reagan ran on his vision (given in his now-famous 1976 CPAC speech) of uniting the various wings of the GOP together, all he had to contend with (mostly) were two groups: social and fiscal conservatives. That coalition began cracking when neo- and paleo-conservatism began splintering off with opposing views on foreign policy, and with the Paulite and Tea Party factions now gaining prominence the Republicans are now the most splintered they’ve been in over thirty years. Or perhaps ever.
So far, Romney’s lopsided victory in the first Presidential debate has done little to move the needle with his fellow Republicans. But if he’s to win in four weeks, he’s got one of two options: run up even larger and more unheard of margins with independents, or find a way to get the GOP base behind him. Because if Romney loses to Obama, at this point it appears the Republican Party would have no one to blame for the loss but themselves.
The above graph illustrates the approval ratings of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush in their respective re-election
years as tracked by Gallup thorugh today’s date (day 1067 through day 1266).
Sometimes people fall into a trap of looking for the next “Reagan.” Since 1992, no Republican has won more than 280 votes in the electoral college, which makes us long to return to an era of landslides akin to Reagan’s years. However, with a perceived polarized nation, there is a struggle with understanding that such landslides are still possible.
The best way to bring back Reagan/Bush I landslides, I feel, is not to look for the next Reagan, but to teach solid conservative principles to this nation. If this nation understood why these values were so important, candidates like Reagan would win much more often.
In this election, Romney is a figure that represents a broad scope of ideas. such as:
1. Free markets work and allow companies like Apple and Google to grow and raise the national standard of living.
2. We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in.
3. The family, starting with a marriage between a man and a woman, does a lot of things better than the government.
4. States should have the power to experiment with new plans, rather than have Washington bureaucrats control our lives.
5. Welfare should be safe, rare, and legal. The same entitlements that help those thousands (or more) who are genuinely in need can turn into a dependency on Government for millions.
6. Abortion is wrong, but is a very sensitive issue that should be treated with great care as we work to end it in America.
7. The role of the courts is to interpret the constitution, not to make law.
Whether or not you agree with all 7 statements is beside the point of this article. The point is, we should be running on Conservative principles, because they work. And, as such, we should have conversations about principles, not candidates. If someone believes the principles above, they will vote for Romney.
So, some people are worried that we didn’t get a conservative enough candidate this year. Rather than complaining, they should have conversations about principles more than people this year. If this were to happen, then elections would take care of themselves, the size of Government would go down, minorities would live far better than they do right now and we’d finally have a president who would match Ronald Reagan in popularity– not because of what he does, but because the people are willing to support long overdue policy changes.
-Jason Jackson is a law student at a prominent Christian university. He is concerned more about principles than politicians, but is drawn to politics by the fact that public policy impacts public opinion.
Two difficult weeks for President Obama have shaken the overwhelming confidence of his campaign in Chicago and of Democratic leaders in Washington, and prompted a depressing realization: This is, at best, 2004, not 1996. At worst it’s 1992.
Democrats had taken comfort for months in the Republican Party’s seeming inability to get behind Mitt Romney, Obama’s healthy lead in the polls, and equally healthy job growth. And for a few, fleeting, moments, Democrats thought the election might just be easy. But Republican division appears to have been merely an artifact of primary politics, and Mitt Romney has proved a consistent, if unglamorous campaigner.
And this week, amid poor economic indicators and continuing voter frustration, Democrats returned to the harsh reality that this election is going to be anything but a walk in the park.
“There was this sense maybe a month or two ago that Obama was really riding high — that he had gotten his base behind him and the economy was doing better and it had this Clinton vs. Bob Dole 1996 feeling — that he was going to cruise,” said one 2008 Obama aide who does not work for this year’s campaign. “And now it feels like it’s going to be really tough — a 2004 race.”
Indeed the campaign is shaping up to be a close-combat battle for one percent of swing voters in a few hundred precincts across three or four states.
That’s not to say the Obama campaign hasn’t been preparing for a tough fight — they have — but they’ve also adopted a confident, and at times arrogant, attitude toward their opponent.
From naming their elevators after cars (Cadillac I and Cadillac II) to private conversations with reporters, the campaign has rarely taken Romney seriously, focusing their efforts on mitigating the host of electoral wildcards like the economy.
Now, nobody’s laughing.
Of course, Team Obama could have come to the truth that this will be a close election simply by heading over to Gallup’s Presidential Job Approval Tracker and comparing 4th year approval ratings for Presidents which have won reelection versus those who have not.
Head on over and see for yourself. Compare the average approval, amount of time over the historical presidential approval average, and the trajectory of approval rating in Year Four of each presidency:
Just taking a look at the data, the former Obama aide quoted in the article is correct: this election is, at best, 2004 or, at worst 1992 for the President.
We pundits can’t help ourselves when we try to make analogies between current and past presidential election years. To some degree, the best analogies usually do apply. But I am coming to the conclusion, that apart from some obvious comparisons, the conventional rules of U.S. presidential elections will be largely upturned in 2012.
My reasons center around some simple facts and conditions.
President Obama was the first black president. He will thus be the first black incumbent president to run for re-election. Mr. Obama won the 2008 election primarily for two reasons. First, there was considerable “fatigue” with Republican President George W. Bush, then completing his second term. Second, only weeks before the November election, there was a meltdown in the mortgage banking sector causing an immediate economic crisis. In short, there was a conflation of circumstances which enabled Mr. Obama to win. The election was decisive, but it was no landslide.
Mitt Romney is not John McCain. Although Senator McCain was clearly a much-admired figure for his Viet Nam war experiences as a soldier and prisoner of war, and for his service in the U.S. senate, he lacked ironically the combative nature to wage a tough election campaign against Mr. Obama, There was also perhaps no viable strategy to overcome the mortgage banking crisis that appeared so close to the election; Mr. McCain’s strategy to suspend his campaign might have been one of the worst alternatives available to him.
Mitt Romney is also not John Kerry, Al Gore, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey or Barry Goldwater. Barack Obama is not George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon. Mr. Romney is the first Mormon to be nominated for president. Although he was a governor, he is the first nominee for president since before World War II to come from a successful self-made career in business.
Although the U.S. economy is always going through cycles of prosperity and recession, the current downturn is unusual for its length and its chronic high unemployment. Previously the world’s dominant economy, the U.S. faces historic ad unprecedented trade challenges from China, India, Brazil and the European Union. There is also a growing global economic debt crisis facing Europe and China that has made world fiscal conditions more important to individual Americans than ever before.
Changing rules and new technologies are increasingly and more rapidly altering U.S. presidential campaigns. This is especially so in the key aspect of fundraising, public relations and in identifying voters in the often under-noticed get-out-the-vote campaigns. The internet, even more than before, has changed American politics.
The congressional election cycles have gone through two unprecedented (in terms of their quick reversal) “wave”elections. In 2006 and 2008, the “wave” went to the Democrats. Abruptly, the 2010 “wave” went the other way, to the Republicans. In 2012, Republicans control the U.S. house, and Democrats control the U.S. senate. Not all candidates are known yet, and once-in-a-decade redistricting has taken place, but given the national economic conditions, and the fact that such a disproportionate number of vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators are running, the relationship between the congressional elections and the presidential campaign of the incumbent are extraordinarily, on their face, disconnected.
The influence of non-traditional political forces on a presidential campaign has, seemingly, not been greater. The Old Media, continuing its pattern from 2008, has become a mostly uncritical cheerleader for Mr. Obama. This also includes most of the figures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The New Media, including radio talk show hosts, Fox News (its cable viewers total more than all the other cable networks combined), and large-scale websites such as Drudge and Breitbart, have become cheerleaders for the conservative movement.
Further complicating the 2012 elections are the new populist movements of both the right (Tea Party) and the left (Occupy Movement) which have recently emerged. As these pull against the natural gravity of the political center in presidential election, they tend to upend traditional politics and politicking.
Finally, there is more political and ideological division in the nation since the 1930′s. There was perhaps as intensive political emotion in the country in the Viet Nam war period, or more, but the division was not so much between conservative and liberal as it was about the specific war issue (and it was generational).
Of course, assuming what I am contending is true about the unprecedented nature of the 2012 presidential election, the key and obvious question is: Who does these circumstances help the most and hurt the most in their quest to be elected, or re-elected, president this year?
The answer to that will become obvious right after election day, and no one knows that answer for certain six months away, but we do have some fascinating clues to the possible answer to this question, and I will discuss them in the weeks ahead.
Copyright (c) 2102 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
With Mitt Romney the Republican nominee in all but name, those in the Republican Party and on the right are taking a look at the primary season that has just gone by. Many of those who are lukewarm to Governor Romney or outright oppose him are pointing to the so-called “next-in-line” theory of Republican primaries to find a satisfactory answer as to how he won the Republican nomination. This theory states that the GOP always nominates the person who came in 2nd the four years previously. Certainly on the surface this seems like a very plausible idea. Ronald Reagan lost to Gerald Ford in 1976 and won the nomination in 1980. George H. W. Bush was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980 and got the nomination eight years later in 1988. Bob Dole, John McCain and now Mitt Romney all ran once before and lost only to receive the nomination the next time around. Surely this means that the Republicans follow this next-in-line rule?
Yes and no. While it is true that the GOP does like familiar faces as its nominee, the next-in-line theory is a bit simplistic. Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney all got the nomination not because they had lost previously and it was now “their turn”. These Republican nominees got the prize because their message, résumé, and the lack of viable opposition seemed to make them the best fit for the Party and the country at that time. Let’s go through every Republican nominee since 1980 and discuss: (more…)
Memories and Lessons of a Just-Completed Campaign
Now that the primary season has all but officially ended (mercifully and at last), it is time for political analysts to look back at the yearlong trek that got us Nominee Romney and see what conclusions we can draw from this prolonged fight. There are several things that led to Romney’s success this time around:
The Job Interview
At first glance, it may seem the most cogent lesson is the simplest one: the Republicans once again nominated their next-in-line candidate. Just as John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford before him, Romney was widely perceived as “earning his turn,” so to speak. But there is something going on at a deeper level here – why (with the notable exception of George W. Bush) does the modern GOP seem to hand their nomination to the next-in-line? After all, this is a truism, a force, strong enough to revive John McCain from political death a thousand times over in 2008. And it was enough to protect Romney from one of the most anti-establishment, angry conservative electorates in recent memory. How?
It has been said that the Republicans treat their primaries much like a job interview, while Democrats treat theirs like a dating game – a comparative analogy that has some heft behind it to be sure. Democrats get excited about insurgent candidates that send thrills up their legs, whereas Republicans like to sit back and determine whether our candidates have the experience necessary for the job. Looking at the 2008 primaries in an parallel universe, then, we wouldn’t have been surprised to see a Mike Huckabee vs. Hillary Clinton general election matchup – where Huckabee had won the Democratic primary and Hillary the Republican one.
Insurgent candidates are just not built to survive modern Republican primaries. And so Romney perhaps had the huge advantage in this way from the outset: with no Huckabee and no Palin in the mix, he was the only “serious” candidate applying for this job. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum were never going to pass the job interview process. Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry both had a chance based on the resumes they had submitted, but as soon as they were called in for a face to face interview they were both summarily dismissed from contention. And so, after inspecting each of the job applicants in turn, ultimately the Republican Party ended up calling the candidate that looked the most attractive at the beginning of the process and saying, “You’re hired.” It’s a familiar process that makes sense for the “party of business” to follow.
Continue reading for Cycling Seppuku, I Can be Your Friend, Where in the World is Romney Sandiego, and “Establishment” Support…
These figures are comparisons through the 1157 day of each respective presidency.
You can compare President Obama’s job approval rating to any other President, all the way back to Harry Truman, here.
These figures are comparisons through the 1145 day of each respective presidency.
You can compare President Obama’s job approval rating to any other President, all the way back to Harry Truman here.
Prior to yesterday’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan, Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal penned an essay discussing Americans openness to candidates of faith but also their reservations about those who they think might impose their own moral and religious views via government. Her essay “Moralizer in Chief?” ran in the Friday, February 24, online and print editions of the WSJ. Strassel accurately and eloquently discusses the standard concerns that libertarian-leaning conservatives such as myself have with candidates like Santorum, but she hits on a couple of points that are particularly worth highlighting because they get to the heart of the difference between the fundamental approach taken by many contemporary social- conservatives with that of the iconic figure with whom they claim to identify—Ronald Reagan.
General elections are not won on bases alone. They are won on the margins—with the votes of married, exurban women, of independents, of moderate men. Many of these voters are generally conservative. They are also generally open to, even reassured by, candidates of faith. They are not thrilled by the recent trend in the social-conservative movement toward using government to impose a particular morality—a trend that Mr. Santorum would seem to highlight.
Ronald Reagan’s success in creating his coalition was highlighting the common desires of both social and economic conservatives. Grover Norquist famously termed it the “Leave Us Alone Coalition.” Reagan assured cultural conservatives that he would keep the federal government out of their homes, out of their faith, away from their guns. This dovetailed with his promise to free-marketers and libertarians of a more limited government. It was a great formula, rooted in liberty. It allowed Republicans to highlight their own social conservatism—an issue that plays well—even as they reassured voters that they, unlike liberals, wouldn’t use government to impose their worldview.
Yet as social conservatives have grown in political strength, more have turned to government. While many read George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” as an explanation of the benefits of limited government, others saw it as a call for conservatives to embrace government for their own social-policy ends. This has allowed liberals to turn the tables, to frighten many Americans about the risks of a conservative-imposed social agenda.
It is here that Mr. Santorum has a problem. The Pennsylvanian is a man of deep faith, which many Americans might admire. He is also campaigning on the argument that strong religious communities and families make for a strong America. This, too, is something that ought to resonate with voters, as many believe that these institutions are best suited to solve most problems, and that government needs to get out of their way.
Yet Mr. Santorum has left many Americans with the impression that he believes it his job as president to revitalize these institutions. And he has done little to reassure voters that his personal views will not become policy. Quite the opposite. Mr. Santorum loves, for instance, to highlight his plans to triple the child tax credit—out-and-out social policy clearly rooted in his desire to increase childbirth. Voters will naturally wonder what other values he’d seek to institute via government.
All the more so, given Mr. Santorum’s unrefined method of delivering his social message. It is one thing to argue that the federal government has no right to force religious affiliates to pay for contraception; or to say that courts should not impose gay marriage; or to criticize policies that are biased against stay-at-home moms. All those statements appeal to basic liberty and are winners for the GOP.
It is quite another for Mr. Santorum to rail that contraception is “harmful” to women; to wax on about the “emotions” surrounding women on the front lines; to graphically inform the nation about his “problem with homosexual acts”; or to moan, as he did in his book, that too many women refuse to stay home with their kids but rather use “convenient” rationalizations to fool themselves into thinking “professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
Those statements are rooted in a fervent moral view, one that many general-election voters will fear Mr. Santorum wants to impose on them. They will reject it, and not just because they won’t risk a president who might legislate values. They will reject it because it will offend them.
Reagan’s success was in respecting cultural conservatives’ right to live their lives as they saw fit. Mr. Santorum’s mistake is in telling people how to live. [Emphasis mine].
Read the Strassel essay here.
In recent election cycles there has been much rhetoric, much flapping about, within the GOP conservative universe about the components of the “conservative coalition” and the supposed need to recreate the “Reagan Coalition.” In the 2008 cycle we heard about the “three-legged stool” representing economic conservatives, national security conservatives, and social conservatives and the necessity of any successful candidate appealing to all three equally “like Reagan did.” But there has been little examination and discussion of how Reagan created and built his successful coalition. He did not go chasing after various factions or interest groups telling them what they wanted to hear and promising to enact their agenda once in office; rather, he annunciated a clear and consistent message as to why limiting government’s power and reach would benefit everyone. The foundation of the Reagan coalition and the common thread holding it together was freedom and liberty, the basic right to live our lives as we choose and the responsibility to do for ourselves. Reagan drew the various components of his coalition to him in response to the consistent set of fundamental principles he espoused from his earliest days in politics. As a result, Reagan created a new GOP majority coalition with a common unifying thread. Our candidates this time around should be trying to do likewise, if they are serious about winning the general election.
As pundits’ attention shifts now from the Republican primary race, where Romney is our presumptive nominee, to the general election where Romney is the presumptive challenger, we are going to be inundated with data. Polling on a national level. On a state level. On a demographic level. Polling about potential Vice Presidential candidates. Electoral vote totals. Swing state data. County-by-county matchups. Historical trends. Power rankings. Exit polls.
There will be no shortage of numbers to crunch and statistics to drool over in the coming months. But for all the amusement and information they will provide, there are really only two numbers that matter now: Barack Obama’s approval rating as measured by Gallup, and the national unemployment rate.
Those two intertwined numbers will tell you all you need to know about who will win come November. Why? Because history shows that to be the case. Allow me to repost a couple of graphics from an old post of mine entitled, “The Two Most Important Charts I’ve Seen“:
The first chart tracks, over time, an incumbent President’s chance of winning re-election based solely on his job approval numbers. The second chart provides the historical context for such predictive ability. (Both charts are taken from a piece Nate Silver wrote last January.)
When we take this data into consideration, it would appear that we are treading into unknown territory with Barack Obama. At the moment, his Gallup approval rating rests at 44%. We are about nine months out from the election. Plotting that on the first graph above nets us a 50/50 chance of Obama’s re-election.
Of course, what happens during the next nine months to that 44% number is ultimately the key. If it stays at 44%, Obama will lose to Romney. If it rises a few points, then the picture gets very murky. If it rises to 48% or above, then he will defeat Romney.
Amidst all the campaigning, debating, gaffes, speeches, advertisements and other campaign trappings, it really is that simple.
And the number one thing that will move that 44% up or down is the unemployment rate. There are ten more updates of the national unemployment rate due between now and Election Day (including one a day and a half from now). Ten more times to move the needle as Americans digest an improving or weakening economy. Although the American economy is richly complex with a million moving parts, for an overwhelming percentage of the American electorate the economy is comprised of this single, simple number.
If it continues going down, Obama’s job approval will go up, and he will win – and vice versa.
So over the coming nine months, have fun with all the polls and data points you will be presented with. But remember, ultimately this race will come down to these two numbers. Keep your eye on the Gallup job approval and the unemployment rate, and you will be ahead of the rest of the pundits out there.
Here’s the tease:
High stakes: When the remaining four presidential candidates gather for the 18th debate of the cycle tonight in Tampa, FL, the stakes couldn’t be any higher, especially for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. For Romney — fresh off his double-digit defeat in South Carolina and after uneven performances in his last two debates — tonight’s debate is a crucial moment for his campaign. Either he rises to the occasion (by providing sharper answers, by disqualifying Gingrich, and by proving to GOP voters the confidence he can be their guy in November), or he struggles again, giving Gingrich a path to overtake him in Florida. For Gingrich, tonight’s debate will prove if he can withstand the attacks (because they’re coming), and if he can pull off another strong performance. And don’t lose sight of Rick Santorum (who has leveled pointed criticism at both Romney and Gingrich in past debates) or Ron Paul (who has sometimes has served as Romney’s wingman). If we learned anything from South Carolina, it’s that the debates have mattered, and tonight’s debate likely won’t be any different. By the way, this is the first debate where, based on ACTUAL results, it’s clear there’s no real front-runner right now.
Tonight’s NBC/National Journal/Tampa Bay Times debate airs beginning at 9:00 pm ET on NBC’s “Rock Center.” It’s moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams, and will also feature questions by National Journal’s Beth Reinhard (a former Miami Herald reporter), and the Tampa Bay Times’ veteran political reporter Adam Smith. You can also watch the debate live on NBCPolitic.com and follow the Twitter stream of our political experts.
And as always, have at it in the comments!
Populism in the United States is older than the republic and its unprecedented constitution. It was a vital ingredient of the American revolution in 1776, and provided much of the natural organizing energy for the American colonists to overthrow the regime of George III and his British army.
After the short “non-political” period of George Washington’s two terms as president, the revolutionaries of the 1770′s split into two camps or parties of the nation’s political leadership, and created an inchoate “establishment” that lasted until Andrew Jackson, renewing some of the spirit of the colonist revolutionaries, initiated a then-new populism that grew in the states and frontier regions further from New York and Washington, DC. This early American populism evolved into an agrarian populism which, although having anti-establishment and radical elements, took on, at the same time, isolationist and discriminatory elements of anti-Catholic, anti-Black and anti-immigrant prejudice. This variety of populism flourished in the South and the Midwest until the beginning of the 20th century.
Before World War I and just after it, there appeared a left wing populism, much of it inspired by the appearance of radical and Marxist ideology and regimes in Europe. This new populism was both leftist and isolationist, and produced several governors and U.S. senators from the West and upper Midwest. The coming of the New Deal saw the decline of this populism, and its marginalization when liberals such as Hubert Humphrey, campaigning against its Marxist and Soviet ties, reduced it to fringe status.
In recent years, populist-styled movements, left and right, have occasionally arisen, usually behind an opportunistic figure. Examples of this have been George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader. Most recently, and including this cycle, Ron Paul has offered an economically libertarian-styled campaign combined with foreign policy isolationism. Populist movements have influenced U.S. domestic and foreign policy in the past, but rarely changed electoral outcomes. Ralph Nader probably cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000, and Perot may have altered the result in 1992. A notorious example of when both right wing and left wing populist candidates tried to change a presidential election at the same time was in 1948 when Strom Thurmond, from the right, and Henry Wallace, from the left, used populist appeals to try to defeat Harry Truman. Each of them received more than a million votes, and Thurmond even received a notable number of electoral votes, but Truman still won.
In 2012, however, we see a revival of an old populism, and the appearance of a new one. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is the new face of the old far-left radical populism of the past. But the Tea Party movement may be something new, i.e, a CENTRIST economic populism. This group had a huge influence in the 2010 midterm elections, and helped fuel the big Republican sweep of U. S. house, senate, gubernatorial and state legislative contests. When I discuss this Tea Party movement, which is decentralized, I am not speaking of its elements which advocate social and religious issues. I am instead speaking only of the Tea Party’s initial preoccupation with economic and security issues, issues about taxes, deficits, enlargement of government bureaucracy and spending, and advocacy of a strong military and an engaged international foreign policy. Just as one hundred years ago, the “new” left wing populism has now become isolationist, as has Ron Paul’s otherwise more conservative libertarianism.
Although his political background is as a backbench traditionally conservative congressman, and later “establishment” speaker of the U.S. house, the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich has taken on elements of the new conservative and centrist populism introduced by the Tea Party in 2010. To the list of movement “villains” which include Obama social welfare and tax-raising theorists, the federal bureaucracy and its regulations-obsessed policies, and reduced defense and national security-weakening advocates and legislators, Mr. Gingrich has added a relatively new “villain” into his policy mix, the Old Media, including most of the national TV and radio networks, cable networks and liberal establishment newspapers and magazines. Noting the indisputable and measurable “bias” of this part of the media against Republicans, conservatives and outspoken centrists, Mr. Gingrich has tapped into a long-brewing grass roots resentment in the 2012 GOP presidential debates, climaxing in the two debates just prior to the South Carolina primary.
Populist movements, as I have suggested, sometimes influence American policies in the long-term, but rarely take control of contemporary policy. That is because they have been either left-wing or right-wing movements; whereas the majority of American voters, some liberal and some conservative, reside in the general political center. The question of the 2012 campaign is becoming increasingly whether a new CENTRIST populism, responding to the aggravated economic frustration of very large numbers of voters, many with no allegiance to either major party, could possibly elect a president of its own.
That is why the campaign of Newt Gingrich, in spite of whatever flaws and controversies of the candidate himself may have, bears special watching in the next phase of the presidential campaign.
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The first bubble I ever darkened on an American electoral ballot was that of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney for President and Vice President in 2004. Being an 18-year-old young conservative, the choice was clear: smaller, more honest government with Bush, versus what would inevitably be scandalous, big government with John Kerry.
Over the next four years, I would watch as the man for whom I had cast my first vote expanded the federal government to its largest size in history, ramped up government spending to its greatest volume in history, engaged in some of the most radical and opaque redistributions of wealth ever undertaken by an American president, and began effectively nationalizing vast swaths of the private economy.
The effects of these actions were a housing bust that never corrected, a recession that turned into a lumbering depression, a dimming and slowing American economy, a new culture of corporatism and dependency, and a social order that has begun unraveling into civil unrest.
Needless to say, I and many others who had initially supported George W. Bush have been seriously disillusioned. No longer do I (and the majority of grassroots conservatives) merely take it for granted that the individual with the (R) adjacent to their name will necessarily be preferable to the individual with the (D) adjacent to their name. And it wasn’t just George W. Bush being one bad apple—the entire executive branch, Senate, and Congress, were awash with Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives. We got government that was larger and more unsavory than anything Democrats had ever delivered us—unprecedented federal regulations on the education system, a huge expansion of Medicare entitlements, and a Great Society program for the entire Middle East under the guise of “protecting us from terrorism”.
I needn’t relate the terrifying numbers to you, which constitute the national debt, the tens of trillions more in unfunded liabilities, and the unfolding population shift that spells crisis for all the entitlement systems. We have heard these numbers endlessly, and we are all well aware of them.
We are in a serious crisis, and the root of this crisis is a federal government that has stifled the ability of our once robust and well-oiled free market economy to provide for its participants. The federal government has disoriented and impoverished the individuals comprising the free market slowly, bit by bit, over the course of many decades. Each additional, little program has contributed a little bit more to the economic and fiscal disaster now upon us. What the economy needs is not someone who will tinker with, and try to “fix,” all these thousands of poorly-functioning trinkets that, combined, are crushing us beneath their weight. What the economy needs is someone who will simply throw all of this junk off of our backs entirely.
The charge typically thrown at those who advocate such a massive paring down of federal responsibilities is that we would be “throwing out” these things entirely. Without federal student loans, we just won’t have college education anymore. Without subsidies to the arts, we just won’t have any museums. Without massive entitlement systems, we just won’t have health care in this country. If the federal government doesn’t do it itself, it just won’t happen.
As conservatives, our immediate response should be, “Bull hockey.” We know better than that. We had all these things before the feds got involved in them, and their rate of improvement has either slowed or reversed since the feds got involved.
The biggest portion of federal weight on the private economy is of course not student loans and subsidies to the arts, but rather military spending and entitlement spending. Once again, the charge of big government-supporters is that if the Pentagon isn’t expropriating and using the wealth we create, then we will be unsafe. If Medicare and Social Security are not humming with a steady intake of taxpayers’ money, then retirees will waste away in the streets. On so many other issues, we conservatives readily see and admit that government spending more money on a good or service does not equal a better good or service. Shoveling more money into the Department of Education does not equal a better educational system, just as shoveling more money into the Department of Defense does not equal a better national defense. We can and should see huge portions of the defense and entitlement budgets returned to private control. For every dollar that we take away from a bureaucrat’s pocketbook and return to the individual who earned it, we see an increase in the prudence and ingenuity with which it is put to use.
We need a very, very big change—not only in the size of government, but in the entire attitude and culture that defines the citizenry’s relationship to government. A President can only accomplish so much, which is why every President accomplishes far less than they promise. This is why I feel it is so important to risk erring more on the side of small government and individual liberty. A President who promises to eliminate three federal Cabinet departments will probably only eliminate one—and it will probably be eliminated by joining its staff and budget to other departments in such a way that no net decrease in spending occurs. A President who promises to cut federal spending by 10% will probably only slow the increase in federal spending by about 10%. If we really want to see even minor changes in the way the government operates, we need to elect someone who promises to cut federal spending by a full 40%, or someone who will submit a balanced budget to Congress in his or her first or second year in office. There will be push-back from the legislative branch and other elements of the government, but we will be much farther on the road to a balanced federal budget and an economic recovery with a President who pushes the envelope a great deal and only makes half the progress they intend to, rather than a President who promises to push only a little bit past the status quo and ends up only maintaining the status quo (or worse).
Now is not the time for status quo moderation. We cannot afford a “safe” (which is not truly safe anyway) presidential candidate that will merely get an “(R)” into the Oval Office without actually making a serious difference in federal spending and monetary policy. It’s time to move past the red flag / blue flag game we so enjoy playing and actually get serious about changing this government from a huge, limitless one, to a limited, constitutionally constrained one. Only a libertarian Republican can accomplish this.
If you want an America defined by personal responsibility, free market capitalism, and strong communities, then vote for Ron Paul or Gary Johnson in your state’s primary or caucus. If you want an America that continues its slow, gravely slide into economic stagnation, uncontrolled government power, and civil strife, then vote for any of the other seven candidates with a great haircut, a perfectly-fitting suit, smooth oratory skills, and a milquetoast commitment to individual freedom and free markets.
On more than one occasion this year I have brought to the attention of the Race 4 2012 community the accomplishments of some of those who made important contributions to the successes of the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. I now call your attention to Dr. Fred Ikle who served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during both Reagan terms. As noted in the Wall Street Journal editorial of November 16 entitled Fred Ikle, “The Cold War ended with a glorious whimper 20 years ago, which means that too few young Americans will have heard of the contributions of Fred Iklé, who died late last week at age 87.”
I served as Dr. Ikle’s Special Assistant during the second term and had the good fortune of learning from him and working with him on one of the most interesting projects of that time: President Reagan’s Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy which not only served as a blueprint for future US defense strategy planning but was prescient in its forecasting of profound geopolitical and technological changes that lay ahead and their probable impact on US national security. As observed in today’s Washington Post, Ikle was a leading member of Reagan’s brain trust and his elite national security team. In fact, he had provided regular advice to candidate Reagan from 1977 onward. As USD Policy, Dr. Ikle presided over the Pentagon’s policy-strategy directorate that included other such luminaries as Richard Perle and Bing West (author of several recent books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
He was a native of Switzerland who came to the US in 1946, and I can personally attest that Fred Ikle was Swiss to the core. A reserved, rather modest man, sometimes of few words but of great depth and brilliant intellect. Highly accomplished and well respected in his field, he had worked at the legendary RAND Corporation strategic think-tank in the 1950′s and later taught at both Harvard and MIT. Dr. Ikle was very proud of his association with and service to Ronald Reagan, but in addition, he lent advice and help to numerous right-thinking Republican senators and Congressman during that time, understanding that prudent national security policy involved the Congress as much as the administration. Unlike some uber-intellectuals and policy wonks who, regardless of their political-philosophical leanings, tend to consider themselves above partisan politics, Dr. Ikle was quite willing to speak to various Republican Party organizations and did so fairly often.
The Wall Street Journal editorial summed up Ikle’s accomplishments nicely as follows:
The Cold War ended with a glorious whimper 20 years ago, which means that too few young Americans will have heard of the contributions of Fred Iklé, who died late last week at age 87. The far-seeing defense strategist was one of those who helped win that long twilight struggle, as it was once known, without a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange.
Along with the late, great Albert Wohlstetter, Iklé (pron. Eclay) was among those who fashioned U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy during the most dangerous days of the Cold War. They resisted the arms-control fads of the 1970s as naive and dangerous. Instead they focused on maintaining a credible deterrent against Soviet adventurism, while also making the U.S. arsenal and the world in general less dangerous.
As undersecretary for defense policy from 1981 to 1987, Iklé was present at the creation of the strategic defense initiative, the deployment of midrange nuclear missiles in Europe and other decisions that persuaded the Soviets they couldn’t win a competition with the West.
Inside the Pentagon, he was among those who pushed to provide arms and especially Stinger missiles to the Afghans who fought against the Soviet invasion. Such U.S. support was a turning point in the Afghan struggle, and arguably in the entire Cold War, as the Soviets began to doubt their ability to prevail. Amid America’s current fight in Afghanistan, it’s fashionable to deride U.S. support for the Afghan freedom fighters in the 1980s as the beginning of al Qaeda. But the rise of al Qaeda had many causes, and victory in the Cold War liberated millions while sparing countless potential casualties.
In the late 1980s, Iklé combined with Wohlstetter to produce a strategy document called “Discriminate Deterrence” that was remarkably prescient in foreseeing U.S. military needs in the post-Cold War era. It promoted stealth aircraft, precision-guided missiles fired from standoff weapons, smaller satellites and other technologies that have done so much to improve America’s ability to project force while doing less collateral damage to noncombatants.
Iklé’s wisdom often informed these columns over the years, though he sought no credit. Born in Switzerland before coming to America in 1946, Fred Iklé both benefited from U.S. freedom and helped immeasurably to preserve it.
Fred, thank you for your contribution to America and to the success of the Reagan Administration, and especially, for the opportunity to work for you.
John Sides, of Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight, penned a fascinating article this week. In it, he describes a recent academic paper examining how recent presidents’ backgrounds influenced their performances in office:
A new paper by political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Arthur Simon provides an answer. Knowing that previous studies such as this one haven’t provided much evidence that experience matters, they improve on these studies in several ways. For one, they focus on “modern” presidents, a category that begins with William McKinley (although similar results would emerge if the analysis had begun with Woodrow Wilson or FDR). This is because the modern presidency is a much different job that the presidency of the 1700s and much of 1800s. Messrs. Uscinski and Simon also expand the measurement of presidential greatness to include not just overall ratings but ratings on specific dimensions from the 2009 C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership. Finally, they develop more precise measures of experience. So rather than simply note whether a president served in the military (most presidents did), they count the numbers of years each president served in both wartime and peacetime.
Perhaps the most consistent predictor of presidential greatness, Messrs. Uscinski and Simon found, is military service. Serving on active duty during both wartime and peacetime, as well as the number of years of service, is associated with higher scores in many domains, including crisis leadership, international relations, and economic management.
Service in the federal government, either the executive or legislature branch, has few apparent effects. It typically matters only in narrower domains. So previous service as a federal administrator is associated, unsurprisingly, with perceived skill as an administrator. And previous service in Congress is associated with higher ratings in terms of relations with Congress.
That said, being an “outsider” is also not typically helpful. Years in public office at various levels (federal, state, local) is not significantly associated with most dimensions of greatness, but when it is, the relationships are almost always positive: experience helps. Moreover, outsiders — those with no federal experience — earn lower ratings on three dimensions.
What about those governors? As it turns out, being a governor does help, but only if you’re a governor of a large state (defined here as states with a larger number of Electoral College votes than the average state). Modern presidents who have served as governor of large states are evaluated more positively on several dimensions, including relations with Congress, public persuasion, moral authority, and a few others.
When reading this kind of analysis, one naturally connects it to the upcoming election. As the researchers argue, military service has a positive correlation (along with years of service) with presidential performance. Of the current Republican candidates, only Ron Paul and Rick Perry served in the armed forces – two years in the Air Force and three in the Air National Guard for Paul and five years in the Air Force for Perry.
Romney, Perry, and Huntsman can lay claim to the administrator skill, with their experience as governors (although, we should note, Romney’s and Perry’s should carry more weight, as they came from more populous states). If you go simply by their resumes, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, and Bachmann would have better relations with Congress. However, Paul’s and Bachmann’s less-than-impressive histories of spearheading legislation through the parliamentary process create a definite cause for concern.
This paper certainly appears least charitable toward Herman Cain, as he obviously lacks experience as a federal administrator (unless you want to count his chairmanship of the Kansas City Fed) or legislator, and Mr. Sides specifically states that “outsiders” fared poorest in the analysis.
Regardless of the implications for individual candidates in this race, every time we near a presidential election, countless debates rage about qualifications for the office and what makes an effective commander-in-chief. The academic paper cited by Mr. Sides has made a typically murky and subjective field just a little bit clearer.
First, Nate Silver posted this chart tracking, over time, an incumbent President’s job approval rating compared to his chance at winning re-election:
Then, Scott Elliott – aka The Blogging Caesar – posted this chart over at his blog Election Projection:
These historical examples provide us a great backdrop with which to predict and judge President Obama’s chances at re-election one year from now. For example, with his current approval rating of 45%, at this moment he has about a 55% chance of re-election. However, if that approval rating remains at 45% one year from now, he will lose the election.
Lest you think this means the Republicans can run anyone they want to against Obama in this scenario, I give you also the most important caveat (also from Scott at Election Projection):
But here’s the caviat [sic]. Obama’s job approval will be somewhat tied to the GOP nominee. If Republicans nominate someone who connects with voters, Obama’s shortcomings will be accentuated, and his approval will sustain downward pressure. On the other hand, a weak candidate will have the opposite effect. If voters are presented with an unacceptable GOP challenger, they will begin to see such things as a bad economy as more palatable, and Obama’s approval will rise as a result.
One of the more common critiques of Mitt Romney we hear from conservative pundits employs a metaphor that says Mitt Romney equals Michael Dukakis or John Kerry. After hearing the hundredth iteration of such a charge over the weekend, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on why this, to me, seems to be nothing more than an intellectually lazy comparison.
There are reasons to compare the three men, of course. All served as Governors or Lieutenant Governors of Massachusetts. Dukakis and Romney are/were both known as stiff ‘technocrats’. Kerry and Romney are/were both known for switching positions on key issues and touted as figures who appeal to an argument of electability in national elections.
But beyond those surface level similarities, there’s not much else there to recommend the comparison. In fact, there are more dissimilarities among them than similarities once you scratch the surface of presidential history.
The comparisons are made by detractors of a Romney candidacy because they believe the similarities will extend to how well Romney performs on election night: Dukakis lost in the 1988 landslide to George H.W. Bush; Kerry lost 16 years later to Bush’s son — and therefore, Romney will lose to Obama.
But why did these men lose? It will be instructive – especially for our younger readers – to re-examine these elections.
Let’s start back in 1987. At first, Michael Dukakis was an afterthought in the Democratic primaries – a liberal Governor in a crowded field of also-rans led by the former Senator from Colorado, Gary Hart. Hart was far and away the favorite to win the nomination. Four years earlier, he had finished second to Walter Mondale in the primaries, and after Mondale’s crushing defeat in the infamous blowout of 1984 (Reagan won every state except Washington, DC and Mondale’s Minnesota) the Democratic Party was anxious to move away from the liberalism of the past and embrace a centrist candidate. So the party embraced runner-up, and moderate, Gary Hart. Hart led in most of the primary polls until news of an extramarital affair sidelined his candidacy. He dropped out of the race, leaving the field muddled and with no clear frontrunner at all. Nobody knew who was going to win Iowa or New Hampshire until the contests actually took place.
When Iowa rolled around, Dick Gephardt ended up winning thanks to some huge endorsements and get-out-the-vote efforts from labor unions. To blunt Gephardt’s momentum, Dukakis aired negative ads against him in New Hampshire. The ads were so effective it actually caused the labor unions to withdraw their support from Gephardt, leaving the primaries essentially a three-man race between Dukakis, Jesse Jackson, and Al Gore (and we all know who was heading up Gore’s efforts back in Texas). Dukakis ran as the proud liberal in the race, taking the left flank of the party; Gore ran as the southern centrist and got a lot of attention because many thought he represented the new course the Democratic Party was looking to chart: young, attractive, southern, and moderate. Gore, however, was defeated by Jesse Jackson in South Carolina and his campaign would never recover. Gore went on to win five primaries on Super Tuesday, but it was Michael Dukakis, proud liberal, who would win large states such as Wisconsin and New York – and thus secure the nomination.
On the GOP side of the equation, George H.W. Bush was locked in a tougher-than expected primary battle against Kansas Senator Bob Dole. Despite having the endorsement of Ronald Reagan, more than a half dozen candidates stepped up to challenge Bush. He was largely stereotyped as a wimp, a moderate northeasterner in a (relatively new, but now solidly) party of southern religious conservatives. Additionally, no sitting Vice President had ascended to the Presidency in about a hundred and fifty years. Dole quickly became the leading challenger to Bush, along with Pat Robertson, and both men beat Bush in Iowa. Bush responded by airing negative ads against Dole in New Hampshire, won the Granite State primary, and then relied on his fundraising and organizational advantages to win the nomination.
In the 1988 Presidential campaign against Bush, Dukakis was skewered for his liberalism. He famously quipped he was a proud “card-carrying member of the ACLU”. He was a staunch opponent of the death penalty in any circumstance, and during the second debate with Bush gave the answer that may have doomed his candidacy — a cold, emotionless response to the question of whether he would desire the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife. And the final straw that lost Dukakis his chance at the White House was Willie Horton. Massachusetts had a prison furlough program in place whereby prisoners could be released for a weekend as part of rehabilitative treatment. The idea (ridiculous on its face) was that the furlough program helped prisoners re-enter society. The courts got a hold of the program and said that if you granted any prisoners furlough you had to grant all prisoners furlough – even first degree murderers. The Massachusetts legislature attempted to fix the law and ban furloughs for first-degree murderers, but Dukakis agreed with the courts and blocked the attempts. Willie Horton, a first-degree murderer, was released on one such weekend furlough – and never came back. He went on to brutally rape and murder a woman and torture and murder her husband before he was caught in Maryland. Conservative groups and the Bush campaign alike ran ads demolishing Dukakis for this program and his decision.
In the end, Bush won by a large margin over Dukakis. Michael Dukakis was simply too extreme for America. He was a proud liberal at a time when the Democratic party recognized they needed a moderate to win. Plus, Bush ran as a quasi-incumbent, promising to continue Reagan’s policies during a time of economic strength and relative quiet on the foreign policy front after the defeat of the Soviet Union.
2012 couldn’t be a starker contrast: we have the farthest thing from quiet on the global stage, and our economy is in shambles. And if you are looking to make some lazy comparisons to the 1988 election, I would suggest Romney as Gary Hart would be a much better metaphor: a moderate/centrist candidate running against the extreme elements of his own party. Hart would undoubtedly have had a much better chance against Bush in the general election than Dukakis, and could have even begun the “new” Democratic renaissance (which instead began under Bill Clinton four years later). Yes, if a comparison to 1988 is what you’re looking for, then let’s say that Mitt Romney is Gary Hart with morals.
Or if you wanted to continue with the comparisons, you could say that Romney = George H.W. Bush: a rich, Ivy League moderate northeasterner in a southern religious party. One that wins the nomination on the back of fundraising and organizational strength against surging challengers. And one that goes on to win the general election with over 400 electoral votes and 53% of the popular vote. In the 1988 election, Mitt Romney = Michael Dukakis may very well be the weakest comparison one could make.
And what about 2004? Do we have a case where Romney=Kerry because both are flip-flopping Massachusetts politicians? Let’s explore why John Kerry was nominated and why he lost.
Hotline has a really intriguing story up about the Romney campaign’s “new” website, careerpolitician.com, which serves as the home for attacks on rival Rick Perry. According to Hotline, the Romney campaign actually purchased the domain in March of 2007 when the primary battle between Giuliani, McCain, and Romney was heating up.
Presumably, Romney was going to launch the website as a method of attack against John McCain, who had been in Washington for 25 plus years at the time. It was a favorite line of Romney’s in the 2007-08 primary campaign to point out that people who had been in Washington caused the mess in Washington and couldn’t help solve the problem; he contrasted himself as a Washington outsider. This website would have fit into that narrative.
For whatever reason, Romney never launched the website in 2007. I wonder if, perhaps, the website never launched because the McCain campaign imploded in the early summer of 2007. Nobody thought McCain was a threat, and Romney fixed his aim squarely at Rudy Giuliani, and later, at Fred Thompson. Neither of them fit the “career politician” label. By the time McCain made his comeback, it was too late – just days prior to the New Hampshire primary, his poll numbers began to skyrocket, and with Romney’s loss to Huckabee in Iowa, the once left-for-dead McCain ran away with the nomination.
Whoever was responsible for the website at the Romney HQ, though, kept the registration active for four years until the site launched last week. And as I think about that 2007-08 storyline, I have to wonder if that’s not why Mitt Romney continues to attack Rick Perry. Four years ago, one of his chief rivals was written off. Everybody said, ‘Don’t worry about McCain. He’s not going anywhere’ — just as everyone is now saying the same about Rick Perry. And so this time around, Romney intends to keep his rival, who appears to be down for the count, laying on the mat. He wants to ensure there is no miraculous comeback a week before the actual voting starts. And so he revives the website which was intended to do just that in 2007, but which, in what Romney must view as a tactical error, was never launched.
Understanding the context of the past gives us a clearer understanding of what is going on today. That’s not to say the decisions made today are the best ones — or that the ones made in the past were mistakes. I think the attack of “career politician” used against McCain would have backfired because of McCain’s long and honorable military service, and the attacks on Rick Perry this time around may draw Romney into a spat he’d rather, as front runner, avoid. However, we can start to at least understand why Romney is making these decisions when we look at the narrative of his past experiences.
There has been much ink spilled in the past week since Chris Christie’s announcement about how Romney is a weak frontrunner. How no matter what he does, he can’t seem to break through that mystical 25% barrier. That three quarters of the Republican Party want anybody but Romney.
The numbers would seem to bear this out, if you accept the argument. The last time Romney was above 25% in a national poll was back in July before Rick Perry joined the fray. But even then, his RCP average topped out at exactly 25.0. So what’s going on? Is Romney really that repelling to most of the Republican Party?
I would argue there’s something else going on. Something much simpler – so much so that it is being overlooked.
This year’s primary campaign was the latest any primary campaign has started since 1992. And not only did it get started late, it has been incredibly low-key as far as media saturation.
In 2007, for instance, by this point in the campaign Romney had spent nearly $10 million on TV campaign ads. This year? Zero. McCain, Thompson, Huckabee, and Ron Paul were all running millions of dollars worth of ads as well. This year, Ron Paul has been the only candidate with any sort of major ad buy whatsoever – and even that is just recently and only to the tune of $2 million total.
Well, you might say, the candidates are getting plenty of unpaid, free media exposure, what with their web ads and debates and news coverage. You might say that, but you’d be wrong. One of the most fascinating studies I’ve seen this political season so far comes courtesy of Pew Research. They asked respondents an open-ended question: name somebody running for President in the Republican primary. The percentage of Americans that could do that?
Just 54% – the lowest for a GOP primary in the history of the survey.
But it gets even more interesting than that: of those who could name someone, only 27% could name Mitt Romney. (Only 28% could name Rick Perry.)
Now let’s compare that 27% to the past frontrunners — something Pew was nice enough to do for us in their findings — and I think we’ll see why the 25% “ceiling,” well, isn’t.
In 2007, for instance, 45% could name Rudy Giuliani and 30% could name Romney.
Yes, you read that correctly: a larger percentage of voters could name Romney as a candidate for President four years ago than could do so today. That is how low-key this primary campaign has actually been.
Going back further, 54% could name Dubya at this point in 1999. 51% could name Dole in 1995. Massively different than 2011. We political junkies might not understand it, but the public is just not tuned into the race yet this year. If only 27% can even name you as a Presidential candidate, how can you be expected to get the support of more than 25%? (There’s not a direct correlation between the two percentages, but there definitely is an indirect one.)
Another way to look at this is to watch the number of undecideds in the national primary polls. In the Washington Post/Bloomberg poll released today, undecided weighed in at 29%. In the Gallup poll this afternoon, 20% said they didn’t know yet.
Now compare that to mid-October 2007. A Gallup poll done Oct 12-14, 2007 showed a whopping 9% undecided. In a CBS News poll done Oct 12-16, just 7% were undecided. In other words, four years ago half to a quarter of the number of voters were undecided as compared to this year. That’s the effect of starting the 2008 campaign months earlier and saturating the media with tens of millions of dollars of ads.
The data is clear: we have a voting population this year that has not engaged with this primary campaign yet. That, more than anything else, accounts for Romney’s “ceiling.” Now if that ceiling still holds after tens of millions of dollars of advertising, and when the undecideds in the national polls dip into the single digits, then Romney has cause for worry. Until then, let’s not forget just how disengaged “normal” Americans are at this point from this comparatively low-key campaign.
Or, The Night Rick Perry Lost the Nomination
I’ve been watching politics closely since the 2000 election between Bush and Gore. I was in college at the time, had never voted before (turned 18 in 1997), and was trying to figure out exactly what I believed about things for the first time. That election is what made me a Republican-leaning Independent, something I’ve remained ever since. In the subsequent dozen years or so, I have watched a lot of primary and general election debates. I’ve seen a lot of cringe-worthy moments. I’ve watched replays of George H.W. Bush checking his watch. There were Gore’s eye rolls and sighs. There was Dubya begging the moderator to save him from a question Gore was asking that he did not understand. There was Obama rhetorically destroying John McCain on Iraq, and then again on taxes. There was Gore walking into Dubya’s personal space trying to physically intimidate him.
I’ve seen a lot of debate flubs and mistakes.
But Rick Perry’s performance last night may very well go down as the. worst. debate. in modern political history.
After having a night and a morning to process what happened last night, I still can’t wrap my head around Rick Perry’s performance. Mitt Romney could not have scripted a better implosion for his rival. In one fell swoop, Rick Perry may have just cost himself any shot at the GOP nomination. It’s a rather remarkable feat – one I didn’t think possible until I saw it with my own eyes.
Over at Intrade, Perry is down to 29 points Romney is up to 44 (and rising). Before the debates, the men were separated by just two and a half points. That has now exploded into a 15 point lead for Romney.
And Romney isn’t going to ease up on perhaps Perry’s worst moment of the night:
“One of the things I still can’t get over is the idea that a state could decide to give a $100,000 discount to illegal’s to go to school in their state,” Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando Friday. “It is simply wrong to create that kind of magnet. It cannot be sustained.”
“My friend Governor Perry said that if you don’t agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegal’s that you don’t have a heart,” he added. “I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.”
He drew loud cheers and applause for his attack.
The punchline, of course, is meticulously perfect in its double effect. First, it defends conservatism in a poignant way; secondly, it subtly plays upon the stereotype that Perry isn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box.
The conservative blogosphere is replete with comments and blogs of people hopping off the Perry train after last night’s utter disaster. Never before have I seen one single debate be so decisive in the course of a campaign. (Too be fair, there probably has been a bit of a cumulative effect from Perry’s two other debate debacles.) But for Rick Perry, last night was that bad.