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An Awful Deal and Its Political Implications

Anyone who’s been paying the slightest attention to the Republican presidential nomination race has by now noticed that the party’s rank-and-file are in full tar-and-feathers revolt against its elite leadership. The big budget deal that newly-fledged House Speaker Paul Ryan has negotiated is not like to sooth things.
Although Donald Trump’s latest “tweet” is probably getting more attention, the deal is just awful by any rock-ribbed standard of Republicanism. There’s $1.1 trillion dollars of spending, which is bad enough, and it includes full funding for Planned Parenthood despite revelations of its baby-parts business, continued contributions to the Green Climate Fund that pays American penance for the country’s alleged global warming sins, no reins on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power-grabbing “clean waters” regulations over the puddle in your backyard, and money for all those “Syrian” “refugees” that the Obama administration wants to import from the most crazed areas of the Middle East. Even the big business wing of the party is betrayed by the deal, with provisions to spare some financial institutions from the burdens of the Dodd-Frank monstrosity dropped and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bossy Consumer Financial Protection Bureau still exempted from any congressional control, so it’s hard to imagine any portion of the party outside of Washington that will find it acceptable.
Part of the deal is another deal that extends about $600 billion of business tax breaks, which is fine by traditional Republican thinking but only of immediate importance to the affected businesses and their employees without any commensurate spending cuts is not likely to satisfy the rest of the part. There’s something about allowing the export of American oil and a couple of other reasonable provisions that have enraged some of the more far-left Democrats, enough for Ryan to make the strange boast that nobody is happy with the deal, but we can’t help but noticing that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid seem very eager to get it passed. Our fellow Republicans will like notice as they warm their tar and pluck their feathers, too.
This might bolster the front-running Trump, who will surely have something scathing to “tweet” about it, and it could play to his strength as a legendarily tough negotiator, which even such strident critics as ourselves cannot dispute, but it’s more complicated than that. His surging rival is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has earned a reputation as one of the few congressional Republicans willing to engage in the government shutdown brinksmanship that this deal was clearly intended to avert, and Trump has lately criticized Cruz for being a “a bit of maniac” in his opposition to similarly awful deals in the past, although he backed off that after his talk radio pals who had cheered Cruz on each time stopped gushing, so if Cruz is deft he could also easily benefit from the party’s outrage. There’s a case to be made that the current deal isn’t so awful for the party as the fall-out from another round of government shut-down brinksmanship, which would bring down such opprobrium from the press that even Trump’s “tweets” could not drown it out, and if the more-or-less “establishment” candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio can successfully make that case he might wind up the beneficiary. That’s a tough case to make to the typical Republican primary voter these days, however, and Rubio already has a tough case case to make regarding his past heresies on the all-important illegal immigration issue.
The deal isn’t entirely done yet, with crucial votes awaiting in Cruz’ and Rubio’s Senate, so we’re eager to see how it plays out. The deal itself should be the big story, and there should be some way of working out something better within the current political arrangement, but that doesn’t seem very likely. At this point we’re only hoping that it will help an enraged Republican party make better choices in the future, and if Ryan’s lousy deal at least makes that possible we’ll at least give him and that creepy new beard of his some scant amount of credit.

— Bud Norman

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Don’t Mess With Texas

Unaccustomed as we are to rooting for Texas, we’re obliged to raise a toast to the Lone Star State’s Gov. Rick Perry for his decision to send a thousand state militia troops to secure his portion of the nation’s southern border. The troops have no legal authority to arrest or deport anyone and are therefore unlikely to do anything meaningful about the recent invasion of unaccompanied illegal minors into the country, but we like the gesture nonetheless.
At the very least Perry’s gesture keeps the border crisis in the news, and at a time when the implosion of America’s recent foreign recent policy in Gaza and Ukraine and other usually overlooked lands is dominating the headlines. A few hundred thousand invaders are easily ignored by the media, even when they’re underaged and stacked up in makeshift detention centers or being expensively unloaded on a school district and law enforcement community near you, so anything that forces the necessary public attention is welcome.
Those who peruse past the headline about the story will also note that Gov. Perry is taking a more steadfast stand against the the invasion than the current presidential administration, and that should also have a salutary effect on American public opinion. The current presidential administration has been talking tough about sending the invaders back home, just as it has been talking tough about Russia’s misdeeds in the Ukraine and Israel’s right to be doing damage in Gaza, but in each case the insincerity is by now apparent. Gov. Perry is on tenuous legal ground with even his purely symbolic gesture, given the Supreme Court’s inexplicable decision that states have no right to enforce any immigration laws that the federal government declines to enforce, but perhaps the casual reader of the obligatory news stories will wonder how this bizarre situation came to be.
If the gesture is intended only to bolster Gov. Perry’s standing in the ’16 presidential race that is also fine by us. All the pundits like to believe that his aspirations in ’12 were derailed by a brief brain freeze following major surgery during one of those interminable Republican primary debates, but the bigger problem was his past support for in-state tuition for the “dreamers” who had been snuck into the country by their invading parents, and to whatever extent the gesture is intended as penance we accept it gratefully. Aside from those few seconds of stammering during that long-forgotten primary debate Gov. Perry has done a pretty good job of not screwing up his state’s remarkable record of economic expansion while the rest of the non-fracking country has been stuck in neutral, and he warrants consideration as a replacement to the current presidential administration.

— Bud Norman

How to Ruin a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

One of the most prominent conservative talk radio hosts spent most of Wednesday’s broadcast railing at full volume against the Republican Party’s senatorial nominee in Kentucky. This does not bode well for the GOP’s otherwise excellent chances of winning a Senate majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The host did not go so far as to endorse the Democratic nominee, but neither did he offer any criticisms of her mostly liberal platform or employ any of his characteristic schoolyard taunts against her. On the whole, she had to be pleased with the broadcast. Early polling suggests the race will be close, with the Republicans needing a strong turnout to prevail, and having a popular voice of the right shreiking against their candidate can only help the Democrats.
Prior to Tuesday’s primary we would have had some sympathy for the host’s fulminations against Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. He scores a solid 90 percent on the American Conservative Union’s usually reliable rating of right-winginess, and his position as the Republican Senate leader suggests he has the respect of the party’s most highly elected officials, but that heretical 10 percent includes some rather egregious transgressions and the party’s pooh-bahs have too often proved timid in the fight against Democratic craziness, so we welcomed the intra-party challenge by the more rock-ribbed investment fund manager Matt Bevin and wished him well in the effort. After Bevin lost by a solid margin of 60-to-40, however, we’d rather that conservatism’s focus is now on the race between McConnell and Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Call us squishy establishment country club RINOs if you want, but we’ll take the Republican Senate leader with the 90 percent ACU rating over any Democrat that even a state such as Kentucky might come up with. Grimes has been running as a moderate, and is shrewd enough to always mention her support for the embattled coal industry when distancing herself from President Barack Obama, but she doesn’t pretend to be as conservative as McConnell. She enjoys the enthusiastic support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, commentators at the far-left Daily Kos site embrace her as “the best we can get,” and Democratic party discipline is formidable enough that she’s certain to wind up ever further left once in office. For all his many failings, and for all the infuriation they caused to conservative sensibilities, McConnell is clearly preferable to Grimes.
We’ll also take respectful note of the indisputable fact that a clear majority of Kentucky Republicans, who were better able to observe the primary race than that radio host or us, preferred McConnell to Bevin. This might have been due largely to the fund-raising advantage that McConnell enjoyed as Senate minority leader, even if Bevin did have contributions pouring in from disgruntled conservatives around the country, but it also seems due at least in part to some embarrassing missteps by Bevin. The unavoidable problem with breath-of-fresh-air outsiders is that by definition they are not seasoned political professionals, and Bevin was often amateurish in the worst sense of the word. His reasonable arguments against McConnell’s vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program that bailed out the big banks in the first days of the Great Recession was undermined by the revelation that he’d supported it back in his investment fund managing days, he was forced to apologize for a speech at a pro-cockfighting rally, and he couldn’t woo Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul or other prominent Kentucky conservatives to his cause. Such missteps and the fund-raising disadvantage suggested he would have been less likely to beat Grimes and her well-oiled political machine, so perhaps that majority of Kentucky Republicans who voted for McConnnell wasn’t entirely comprised of squishy establishment country club RINOs or just plain rubes easily duped by high-priced advertising.
The folks at the Senate Conservatives Fund that largely bankrolled Bevin’s insurgency were quick to endorse McConnell after the results came in, even if the candidate and his talk radio supporters have been less gracious in defeat, so there is hope the party can unify to defeat the far more liberal candidate and bolster the party’s chances to win the Senate and more effectively block whatever foolishness the Democrats had planned for the last two years of the Obama administration. It won’t be the Congress of our fondest conservative dreams, alas, but it would be markedly better than the Reid-Pelosi Congress of our worst nightmares.
Unity requires compromise on both sides of the Republicans’ internecine squabbles, of course. We’d prefer that House Speaker John Boehner and other party big wigs must cease their schoolyard taunts against the party’s more conservative and assertive ranks, and would be happy to see a Republican House and Senate purge from the leadership ranks even if the Republican voters in their districts decline to do so, but are willing to offer our support so long as they do. The “tea party” has suffered many bitter defeats this primary season, but its core principles of limited government and low taxes and individual liberty remains essential arguments even for the most “establishment” Republicans. Those “tea party” candidates that do pick up the occasional win should get the full support of t, but it’s he big donors and party professionals, a fair trade for the votes of those disgruntled conservatives who grumpily trudge to the polls for the likes of McConnell if only to keep the likes of Grimes out of Washington, and let any lingering arguments can be settled by the majority caucuses in both houses of Congress.
With the public belatedly wising up to the incompetence and wrong-headedness of the Obama administration, on everything from the rapidly deteriorating foreign affairs to the still-sputtering economy to all those scandals of bureaucratic bumbling that keep popping up, it will be hard for the Democrats to make a winning argument no matter how much money the unions pump in or how many inches of attacks the press write. The Republicans will be hard-pressed to blow it, but some of them seem determined to pull it off.

— Bud Norman

Romney Reconsidered

The outcome has been all but certain for so long now that it seems anticlimactic, but Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination Tuesday night with a win in the Texas primary. Congratulations are hereby offered.

Although we started out with the same qualms about Romney as the rest of our conservative brethren, especially that darned Massachusetts health care bill and a certain technocratic instinct that it indicates, over the course of the long race we’ve come to rather like him. He offers a convincing critique of the status quo, sensible alternatives, long and successful experience in both the public and private sectors, and he seems to be a good guy.

There’s no use denying that Romney won the nomination simply by lacking the glaring flaws and avoiding the embarrassing missteps that caused each of his opponents to self-destruct, but there’s reason to believe the same strategy will work just as well in the general election, and the slow, steady, reassuringly boring competence of the Romney campaign bespeaks the very qualities needed in the next president. Romney did not mark the occasion in his victory speech by proclaiming that it marked the moment when the earth began to heal and the oceans the started to recede, but rather said that “I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us,” and that is another good sign.

Romney isn’t the ideal candidate that we and the rest of the party faithful had yearned for, but we really can’t think of anyone who is, and it now seems clear to us that the Republicans have made the best available choice. We expect that he would be a better president than Barack Obama, and perhaps even a very good one.

— Bud Norman

Enter Santorum

Savvy political observers will downplay the long-term significance of Rick Santorum’s Tuesday night sweep of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, where few delegates were at stake and the campaigning was light, but there’s no denying the short-term effect. Santorum has at least temporarily supplanted Newt Gingrich as the conservative alternative to putative front-runner Mitt Romney.

Despite a significant disadvantage to Romney in funding and organization, the former Pennsylvania senator might fare better in the challenger role than did his many successors, all of whom faded under the spotlight. He seems a likeable guy, unlike the scowling Gingrich, and in a regular blue collar background kind of way, unlike the blue-blooded Romney, and he’s not a foreign policy fruitcake, unlike Ron Paul. The more orthodox conservatives will point to his past support for earmark spending, No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug entitlement, and other Bush-era heresies, but his right-wing credentials are at least as righteous as Gingrich’s, more consistent than Romney’s, and don’t entail the foreign policy nuttiness of Paul.

Santorum’s conservatism on social issues is unquestioned, and although that has not been the main theme of his campaign it will certainly be the old-line media’s favorite storyline in the coming months. Santorum has the same position on gay marriage as Barack Obama, but he will be portrayed as a heartless gay-basher. Despite his clear and consistent declarations that he will not seek to ban contraceptives, his personal opposition to the practice will be offered as proof that he’s a modern day Anthony Comstock. Never mind that Santorum belongs to the same Catholic church as John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius, it will be duly noted with undisguised disdain that unlike the others he actually believes in all that stuff.

For the most part American political discourse has been blissfully free of the social issues since the economic downturn that began in 2008, and Santorum probably prefers it stay that way, but the old cultural conflicts that have been kept on the back burner are starting to boil over into the news. The resent decision by the White House to force Catholic hospitals and schools and other religious institutions to provide insurance covering contraception and abortifacients is one example, a judge’s ruling to overturn California’s popular referendum against gay marriage is another, and Santorum’s past and present opposition to abortion will now be one more.

A renewed culture war will not only distract attention from the historically weak economic recovery, the looming debt crisis, and a rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East, among other more pressing problems, but the left will also expect to find itself on the winning side. They might be in correct in that calculation, but the White House has been widely criticized by members of both parties for the insurance ruling, that was a popular referendum that the judge overturned, and Obama’s abortion policies are arguably further from the center than Santorum’s. Obama has lately been mentioning his own religious convictions, partly in an attempt to sell his domestic policies with the old social gospel pitch, and several of his most ardent admirers have assured he doesn’t really mean any of it, but the fact that he feels the need to resort to religious language suggests there’s still a sizeable audience for it.

A continued emphasis on economics would serve Santorum well in the primary race, and especially in a general election if he gets that far, that fact he unabashedly holds religious beliefs should not be an insurmountable problem. If it is, this country has bigger problems than Barack Obama.

— Bud Norman