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The Republican Race Just Got Angrier and Better

The average Republican primary voter’s seething anger toward the party’s congressional leadership has been the driving force in the party’s presidential race thus far, to the point it’s driven the electorate so stark raving mad that until recently itDonald Trump has been pushed to the top of the polls, and this looming budget deal that the leadership has concocted with President Barack Obama is not going to calm any conservative’s temper.
The deal is just plain awful in every way. It effectively ends the “sequestration” budget cuts that lowered the government’s share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product from 25 to 20 percent and reduced the annual budget deficits back to the level of the Bush administration, which admittedly doesn’t seem like much, and it also caused cuts in defense spending that are painful to conservative sensibilities, but it was arguably the best the leadership could get and inarguably the most that the leadership could brag about. This is in exchange for promises of budget cuts in 2025, which are unlikely to be worth as much as the magic beans that the Democrats had also offered, and basically represents a complete and utter capitulation to Obama and his free-spending ways. There’s nothing in the deal that addresses Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business or the Environmental Protection Agency’s rapaciousness or any other other conservative budget complaints, it goes the wrong way on entitlement reform, and it outlasts the Obama administration and thus spares him any more fights over how he spends the public’s money.
As awful as it is as policy, it’s even worse as politics. Aside from infuriating their own average primary voter, and in a futile attempt to lure the sort of uninformed general election voter who is far more likely to be lured by whatever free and shiny object the Democrats are offering, the Republican party’s official leadership are weakening their position with the solid majority of respondents to almost every poll we’ve ever seen who think the government should spend less and do less. The official Republican leadership’s spin on it seems to be that Boehner shrewdly sacrificed his standing with his party’s vast membership, such as it was, to ensure that incoming Speaker John Ryan can begin his more steadfastly conservative reign untainted by the sins his predecessor had so selflessly taken upon himself. This is all going to going down with Ryan’s gavel, though, and he’s not going to get any credit for it from the more establishmentarian organs of the mainstream press, who are already gearing up to portray him throughout the presidential campaign as the right-wing crazy that he used to be back in the good old days of ’12 when he was chosen as the party’s running mate to placate a conservative base weary of the establishment nominee Mitt Romney. Since then Ryan’s gone wobbly on illegal immigration and government shutdown brinksmanship and other causes dear to conservatives’ hearts, however, and by now no knowledgable observer expects a reign more steadfastly conservative than Boehner’s. Thus we have an emboldened left, a dispirited right, and an uninformed middle that will be reassured by the 3l-second network news snippets in between pop songs that the Republicans are still crazily right-wing and the Democrats are still winning.
The average Republican primary voter gets his news in three-hour chunks from talk radio and in page after pixelled page of reliable conservative news sources on the internet and sometimes even on a printed page, and his response to all of this will naturally affect the presidential race. Our guess is that the already flourishing anti-establishment candidates who are completely untainted by any previous elective office will continue to do well, and it will be interesting to see if blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump or soft-spoken physician Ben Carson gets the best of it, or if the formidable but fading high executive Carly Fiorina can get back in the mix. As the best-selling author of “The Art of Deal,” with a hard-to-deny reputation as a ruthless dealmaker, Trump should gain some advantage, although we’re still convinced what kind of a deal the relatively recent Republican and only occasionally conservative fellow consider would consider good. Among the establishment politicians, both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are presented with an excellent opportunity, and it will be interesting to see which one makes the most of it. Given the understandably seething anger of the average Republican primary voter, we expect they’ll try to out-do one another in their willingness to gum up the works. If we were betting men, and if he we had any money to bet, we’d go with Cruz.
Both men came into office by besting the “establishment” candidates in their states, with Rubio the most celebrated because he had upset the hated Rockefeller Republican and soon-to-be Democrat Charlie Crist in his primary, and in a swing state at that, but since then Cruz has proved the more reckless provocateur. His filibustering attempts on previous budget showdowns were widely blamed for the inevitable frenzy of news stories about National Parks closing and old folks dying while their Social Security checks went undelivered and Earth spinning out of its orbit that inevitably followed, as well as the electoral disasters that also didn’t happen, so of course the average Republican primary voter, if not the uninformed voter hearing those 30-second news snippets, has looked kindly upon him ever since. As the most notoriously anti-establishment of the elected officials, he’s well positioned to lead a charge here, and he strikes as the sort who seize it.
Rubio might surprise us, though. We still fondly recall the handsome young fellow who vanquished Crist, and all the rousing speeches about capitalism and constitutional guarantees of liberty and all that full-throated Cuban anti-communism, and we can’t help thinking he’d make a good pick against whatever crazy lefty the Democrats might come up with. Although the 30-second news snippets will continue to characterize him as a right-wing crazy he still needs to shore up that credential with we actual right-wing crazies, so a good old-fashioned Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster would do him even more good. It would also remind the public that he’s a Senator doing his job, which further refutes a minor controversy about all the Senate votes he’s been missing lately while out on the campaign trail, and ensures his name showing up in a lot of headlines that even the most uninformed voters are likely to spot.
Former Florida governor and Bush family scion “Jeb!” Bush tried to exploit the mixed votes in this weeks presidential debate, and the general consensus of pundit opinion is that Rubio responded nicely by contrasting his record with presidential candidates ranging from Sen. John McCain to Sen. Barack Obama, and that Bush’s already faltering campaign took another hit. We can’t see how the oh-so-establishment candidate from the oh-so-establishment family ever thought he stood a chance, and we can’t see how he’ll get one out of a budget deal that confirms every seething angry anti-establishment suspicion of the average Republican voter. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also had a good night slapping around the media in the last debate, but he has a certain East Coast attitude about guns and a shoddy record on Muslim jurists and other issues dear to the hearts of more heartland conservatives, as well as the audio of him of praising Obama’s Hurricane Sandy efforts and photos of them hugging together on the New Jersey shore like the end of some of Will Smith-Josh Rogan “bromance,” so he also never stood a chance and doesn’t stand to gain one from this awful budget deal.
Whichever candidate winds up winning the nomination on the seething angriness of the seething angriness of the average Republican primary voter, we don’t worry that all the pandering will hurt their chances in a general election against what left-wing crazy the Democrats put up. For all the effort packed into those 30-second spots to make the Republicans look extreme, the Democrats are staking out wildly unpopular positions on guns, illegal immigration, law enforcement, abortion, and even on the economic issues that take more than 30 seconds to explain. If Rubio or Cruz have to explain their brinksmanship on a budget showdown to a general electorate, they can say that they did it so that the government would have to spend less and do less, which always polls well, especially after the National Parks are re-opened and the old folks never did miss a Social Security check and Earth stays in its orbit. Given the mood of the average American voter, who by now regards both the Democrats and Republicans with a seething angry suspicion, the candidate that is mostly convincingly running against both parties stands to do well.

— Bud Norman

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Bon Voyage, Boehner

We won’t have Speaker of the House John Boehner to kick around anymore, at least not after the end-of-October resignation he announced last week, and we’re glad of it. His cautious style of leadership was ill-suited to these times of constitutional crisis, as far as we are concerned, and we never did enjoy kicking him around.
Although we consider ourselves as rock-ribbed and radical as the next Republican, and are in a very confrontational mood lately, we couldn’t quite work up the same red-hot hatred for Boehner that all the right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists seem to have cultivated. Maybe we were just suckers for the lachrymose Speaker’s compelling sob story about his rise from a humble home atop his father’s bar in a working class neighborhood to the heights of politics, or it’s that our disagreements always seemed to have less to do with his policy preferences than about the tactics best suited to achieve them, or that we well remember what it was like when San Francisco’s well-heeled Nancy Pelosi so expensively wielded the gavel. To say that Boehner represented a great improvement over his predecessor is to damn with faint praise, of course, but at least the deficits are down since to slightly less scary levels since he took over the House and there haven’t been any bills passed nearly so bad as Obamacare and the rest of what has happening when the Democrats everything, and something in our perpetually pessimistic conservative temperament makes us glad for such small favors.
Those right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists will rightly note that cap-and-trade and open borders and Iranian nuclear bombs with a $150 billion signing bonus and all sorts of other Democratic craziness that would have passed the Reid-Pelosi Congress have nonetheless been achieved by executive action, and with only feeble resistance from the Republican majorities that were installed in congress to prevent it. This is why we’ve concluded that Boehner had to go, and that so should his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but we will concede that their leadership has at least reduced the president to executive actions that can be more easily undone by the executive actions of a new and more sensible president.
We’ll even hold out hope that Boehner’s and McConnell’s cowardly cautiousness have made it slightly more more probable that we’ll soon have a new and more sensible president. Already such still-influential press outlets as The Washington Post are gleefully fretting that the conservative elements of the Republican party that forced Boehner out and now have their sights set on McConnell “can’t govern” and will instead rashly shut down the non-essential government, which is most of it, and that all hell will surely break loose. We’re inclined to believe that there’s already far too much governance going on, that progress would be better measured by the number of laws repealed and regulations rolled back and entire agencies abolished, and that a shut-down of all of those non-essential services would be salutary, especially during the winter when few people are planning vacations in those photogenic national parks, and we’re certain that even our left-wing radical president would blink before allowing a default on the national debt, but we acknowledge that not everyone shares our rather right-wing perspective on such things.
There are only so many of us right-wing crazies out there, and a smaller number of the left-wing crazies on the other side, and therefore policy is so often decided by those uninformed voters in the middle. What little information these voters possess usually comes from the 30-second news updates that are wedged in between the latest pop tunes on the radio each hour, and that brief attention span does not take in anything more than a vague awareness that the latest spat is all about those anarchist conservatives wanting to shut the government down. The other day we heard a short National Public Radio report about the latest possibility of a government shutdown explained as the Republicans refusing to fund the women’s health care services provided by Planned Parenthood, with no mention that Planned Parenthood is mostly a network of abortionists and that a series of hidden camera videos have revealed that they routinely sell the remains of late-term fetuses and even live but promptly terminated births for profit, and one needn’t be such a jaded old pol as Boehner or McConnell to worry how a fight on such terms might end up.
Still, we hope that whoever winds up with Boehner’s job, and with good luck McConnell’s as well, is at least somewhat more daring. The last government shutdown was widely blamed on the Republicans, but ended soon enough for the party to win gains in the election, and the next one might be as well-timed. If the Republicans are willing to fund pretty much everything except Planned Parenthood all of those right-wing talkers and a few of the honest press writers might be able to persuade the public that Democrats were the ones who shut down the government for radical reasons, and people might finally notice that a government shut-down isn’t that big a deal after all, and a reasonable Republican candidate might even enjoy support from that uninformed middle as well as all the suddenly enthused right-wing crazies such as ourselves. Something in our instinctively pessimistic conservative temperament, though, urges at least a wee bit of that old establishment caution.

— Bud Norman

The Border Battle Begins

The Republicans showed some fight on the issue of illegal immigration Wednesday, with a majority of the House of Representatives voting to withhold funding for the Department of Homeland Security to enact President Barack Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants, and we were glad to see it. Their efforts might yet prove futile, given the longer terms and weaker wills in the Senate and the full fury of the open borders lobby and the way Obama usually gets away with these things, but we’re heartened by the feistiness.
House Speaker John Boehner, long derided by the more robustly conservative members of his party as too accommodating to the president, even delivered a full-throated denunciation of Obama’s extra-constitutional attempts to re-write immigration that the most rabid right-wing radio talker would be hard-pressed to top. The speech cited the 22 separate occasions when Obama clearly stated that he did not have the legal authority to issue the executive orders being contested, noting that Obama has “ignored the people, ignored the constitution, and even his own past statements.” Although 26 Republicans helped the Democrats defeat an amendment that would have blocked an executive order deferring deportations of illegal immigrants who arrived here as children, and another seven bolted on an amendment to delay “immigration priorities,” the watered-down version got unified party support. There won’t be such unity in the Senate, where several Republicans have a long history of sharing the party’s big business wing’s preference for cheaper labor, but the House vote represents an overwhelming consensus among the grassroots that could jam the congressional phone lines and mailboxes and thus force a majority to go along.
Everyone expects the bill will be further watered down in the Senate, though, and even the weakest brew is likely to result in a veto that even the most improbably unified Republican party does not have the votes to override. The Republicans could still prevail by withholding funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but that would severely test any politician’s feistiness. Already The New York Times is describing the House vote as “approving legislation that would revoke legal protections for millions of unauthorized immigrants, including children, and put them at risk of deportation,” and the National Journal was making much of those “moderates” and “centrists” among the Republicans who voted against the amendments and worrying that the majority Republican position “could imperil their re-elections in 2016.” The Times cannot explain how an executive order to negate existing law is a “legal protection” for “unauthorized immigrants,” nor can The National Journal explain why the terms “moderate” and “centrist” enjoy such a positive connotation as they intend, and they don’t want to mention those dissenting Republicans would only imperil their re-election chances because they Represent majority-Latino districts that are never supposed to vote for Republicans in the first place, but it’s an indication of how a shut-down of the Department of Homeland Security would play out in the press.
The Republicans will happily cough up some generous amount to fund all of the department’s vital anti-terrorism functions, just not the parts that would invite millions more illegal immigrants and perhaps a few terrorists to happily traipse across the southern border, and this should prove a politically advantageous position. The Third World’s unfettered access to the United States of America is not widely popular, even in those Latino-majority districts that have unaccountably elected Republican representatives, and revanchist groups such as La Raza and the owners of companies reliant on cheap unskilled labor do not constitute a majority of the voting public. That tale about racist Republicans picking on poor brown children will be oft-told, however, and the president does have a way of getting away with these things.
This will all take weeks or maybe months to sort out, and we’ll keep attuned to the latest developments. In the meantime, we’re hoping for more Republican feistiness.

— Bud Norman

The New Congress and Its Fitful Start

Conservatives have hoped that the newly installed Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will be like the cavalry coming to the rescue in one of those old John Ford westerns, but the session is off to a start more reminiscent of the old “F Troop” series.
The first official act of the new congress was to elect the same old Republican leadership, which conservatives had long found too timid in their confrontations with the president even before they ended the last session with a whimpering acquiescence to a “Cromnibus” budget deal that did little to limit the president’s hated executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and was otherwise so pleasing to the president that he actually phoned some of his party’s legislators to lobby on its behalf. Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell was elevated from minority leader to majority leader in routine fashion, but Ohio’s Speaker of the House John Boehner had to endure a bit of drama in order to retain his post. He only lost 25 Republicans votes to a variety of candidates that were never serious contenders, but that was enough for The Washington Post to describe it as “the biggest revolt against a House speaker in more than 150 years” and feed a popular press narrative about those crazy conservatives and their wacky war within the Republican party. The party leadership enjoys the good guy role in this tale, with The New York Times touting Boehner’s pledge to “restore function and civility to a body that has become a symbol of disorder for most Americans.”
Within hours such narrative-spinners as Politico were gleefully reporting that Boehner’s desire for “function and civility” had compelled him to punish a few of the dissenting voters by stripping them of desirable committee assignments. This is a common and longstanding practice by the leaders of both parties in order maintain a necessary unity, but in this case it is more likely to exacerbate the party’s divisions. The conservative activists who are largely responsible for the Republicans holding a majority in the House of Representatives will understandably be less enthusiastic about toeing the party line, and no more intimated by the results. Among those voting against Boehner was Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas’s First District, who had already been stripped of a coveted seat on the Agriculture Committee for his past confrontations with Boehner but survived a primary challenge and a general election by candidates who tried to make an issue of it and survived to cast another vote against Boehner, and we don’t expect that he or any of the other rebels will be more compliant in the future.
Nor does it help for the party leadership to corroborate the media depiction of the conservative faction as a bunch of crazies. If the Republicans don’t confront the president on illegal immigration and become even more aggressively tight-fisted on budget they will eventually face a full revolt from the party’s most important voters, and when tit comes down to the inevitable confrontation with the the president the media won’t be giving them any more good guy roles. Plans to get a veto-proof vote on the XL Keystone Pipeline as the start of a busy schedule of other poll-tested bills that president will hate are a good strategy, and a reminder that McConnell and Boehner and the rest of the leadership didn’t get their establishment credentials without some of the political strategy that their more ideological and less pragmatic challengers too often lack, but the bigger battles won’t be won without the conservative’s support and sound ideas.

— Bud Norman

Toasting the Tea Party With a Beer

Here’s wishing a happy fifth anniversary to the “Tea Party,” even if we’re not quite convinced of the date.
This whole “Tea Party” phenomenon has never been defined to our satisfaction, much less given a precise time of birth, yet activists associated with the movement and their antagonists in the media both marked Thursday as an anniversary because it came five years to the day after CNBC reporter Rick Santelli delivered a stirring on-air rant against the “stimulus package” and the rest of budget-busting spending that was going on in the heady early days of the Obama administration and his Democrat-dominated Congress. So far as we can tell the “Tea Party” stands steadfast against debilitating public debt, even more steadfastly against attempts to eliminate it with higher taxes, and holds an instinctive suspicion of big government even when it is on solid fiscal footing, which is a perfectly sensible philosophy that pre-dates the invention of the on-air ran by several centuries and has been an essential component of America’s politics since before the founding of the republic, but we suppose Thursday seemed as good a time any to take stock of the movement.
That such unfriendly media as The New York Times felt obliged to mark the more-or-less made-up anniversary with grudgingly respectful coverage indicates that the “Tea Party” packs a powerful political punch. The movement was responsible for the Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and holding it ever since, which has resulted in somewhat smaller deficits and thwarted further “stimulus packages” as well countless other attempts at Democratic mischief on issues ranging from gun control to immigration. Such modest accomplishments have not satisfied the “Tea Party” faithful, who are currently working to purge the party of House Speaker John Boehner and any other insufficiently rock-ribbed Republicans, but judging by much of the anniversary coverage they seem to have at least succeeded in forcing the party far enough to the right to infuriate the left. As moderate and weak as Boehner often is, and no matter how preferable a more conservative and confrontational leader might be, the “Tea Party” should take some solace in the certainty of how very much worse a Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have been. Boehner would have been worse without “Tea Party” pressure, too, and we happily predict it will continue to pull the party in a properly conservative direction.
It’s an unusually good wind that blows no ill, however, and for all its positive effects on America’s politics the “Tea Party” has caused occasional problems for conservatism. In the 2012 election the “Tea Party” was helpful in retaining the House majority and bolstering the totals of several Senate candidates, but also cost the party some winnable seats by choosing not-ready-for-prime-time candidates in Delaware and Connecticut and Nevada and Missouri and assorted House districts, and we suspect they were among the missing McCain voters who cost Mitt Romney a chance to defeat Barack Obama and thus make all things possible. The “Tea Party” infused the Republicans with a much needed spirit of amateurism in its very best sense of doing something for the love of it and not for financial gain, which of course is how a democracy is best achieved, but too often its newly-enthused candidates were simply amateurish in the worst sense of the word. The “Tea Party’s” aversion to professionals is understandable, even laudable, but as it purges the ranks it would do well to remember that a certain amount of professionalism will be needed against such a formidable pro outfit as the Democrats. A characteristically high-minded notion of the “Tea Party” that it’s better to lose to a radical leftist than vote for a less-than-pure conservative needs to be re-thought, too, as it is likely to result in a few more radical leftists surviving the upcoming mid-term elections that would have been otherwise necessary.
Also, the “Tea Party” is yet another one of those good ideas that have suffered bad marketing. That “Tea Party” moniker was always a bad choice, as the reference to the Revolutionary Era has little appeal to a younger generation that was taught the Howard Zinn version of history and only knows the Founding Fathers as a bunch of slave-holding 1-percenters in powdered wigs, and it also provided fodder for the late night comedians to make smutty “tea bagger” jokes and portray the movement as a bunch of crazy old white men in tri-corner hats. The brave defiance of the Boston Tea Party should remain an inspiration to any freedom-loving Americans, and the contemporary “Tea Party” isn’t nearly so white as the environmental movement or feminism or most another liberal cause, even if whiteness were an inherent flaw in a political philosophy, and the late night comics can’t possibly explain in their monologues why a $17 trillion dollar debt isn’t a looming catastrophe, but that hasn’t stopped the critics from making the term a pejorative to much of the population. Freedom is always a hard sell when the opposition is offering free stuff, and the “Tea Party” has often been clumsy in making the pitch.
On the whole, however, we think the “Tea Party” has had a salutary effect on America and is likely to do even more good between now and November’s voting. The movement has stopped the Democrats from doing some very stupid things, pulled the Republicans kicking and screaming in the right direction, and perhaps even learned some of the lessons that their more weak-willed but wised-up intra-party opponents mastered long ago. We also hope those less steadfast sorts of Republicans have learned that the Tea Party’s principles of fiscal sanity, limited government, and individual liberty must prevail before or after the looming disaster. If it doesn’t, the alternative is unthinkable.

— Bud Norman

No Time For Family Squabbles

Maybe it’s just Christmas spirit, or the fatigue that comes with the season, but at the moment we cannot work up the requisite hatred for any Republicans. As loyal members of the Grand Old Party we are expected to be livid about its congressional leadership, but even after that lousy budget deal the Republicans have capitulated to we’re not in any mood to bash anybody the Democrats.
Those shrieking voices on the talk radio shows have a point, of course. The budget deal does increase short-term spending in exchange for long-term cuts that might never materialize, it does include tax increases even if they are in the slightly more tolerable form of user fees, and it does once again inflict budgetary indignities on the military, among other affronts to a Republican sensibility, and above all it’s a far cry from what’s needed to put the country’s finances in order. We note with satisfaction that our Senators and Representative all opposed the deal, right down to the bitter end, and we’re certainly not inclined to vote for any Democrat as a result.
Still, neither are we inclined to punish House Speaker John Boehner or Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan or any other of the Republicans who went along with this nonsense. As bad as the deal was, those congressmen are in a better position than almost any of their critics to know how much worse it could have been. The Democrats are also infuriated by a deal that didn’t include punitive taxes on those they consider rich, it didn’t restore the trillion dollar deficits of their glory days, and extracting further concessions from them would have required the risky tactic of yet another partial government shutdown. We have no qualms about even a total government shutdown, but many of the people Republicans will need in the upcoming mid-term elections apparently do, and it seems impolitic to offend them at a time when they’re so fed up with Obamacare and a sluggish economy and a snooping national security apparatus that they’re willing to do so something so gauche as vote against the Democrats.
Compared to what’s needed the budget deal is a great disappointment, but compared to what the a Democratic majority in the House would do with the current Democratic Senate and Democratic White House it’s a godsend. With Democrats like that to loathe, even in the Christmas season, we have no anger left for Republicans who sincerely intend to stave off their electoral ambitions.

— Bud Norman