Thursday, December 29, 2011

VA Ballot Update

Gingrich expands on why he was disqualified from the Virginia ballot:
A worker collecting signatures to get Republican GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on the Virginia primary ballot turned in fraudulent signatures, Gingrich told a woman at a campaign stop in Iowa on Wednesday.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond confirmed the story, which was initially reported on CNN, and said: "We are evaluating our options."

Of the 11,100 signatures the campaign turned in, 1,500 of them turned in by the worker were false, Gingrich said. He said that the campaign needed 10,000 to be placed on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has filed a lawsuit to get on the ballot. Team Perry claims that requiring those who collect petitions to be in-state residents violates the First Amendment.

Pat Mullins, the chair of the Virginia GOP, responds, focusing on the procedural details of the verification process:

Despite this early notice and RPV’s exhortations to candidates, only one candidate availed himself of the 15,000 signature threshold – Governor Mitt Romney. RPV counted Governor Romney’s signatures, reviewed them for facial validity, and determined he submitted well over 15,000. Never in the party’s history has a candidate who submitted more than 15,000 signatures had 33 percent invalidated. The party is confident that Governor Romney met the statutory threshold.

Rep. Ron Paul submitted just under 15,000, and was submitted to signature-by-signature scrutiny on the same basis as the other candidates who submitted fewer than 15,000 signatures. After more than 7 hours of work, RPV determined that Rep. Paul had cleared the statutory 10,000/400 signature standard with ease.

Two other candidates did not come close to the 10,000 valid signature threshold. RPV regrets that Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry did not meet the legal requirements established by the General Assembly. Indeed, our hope was to have a full Republican field on the ballot for Republican voters to consider on March 6.

The party will discuss the specific nature of their shortfalls if necessary. But the failure of these two candidates to meet the state requirements does not call into question the accuracy of the Party’s certification of the two candidates who are duly qualified to appear on the ballot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Ed Morrissey casts doubt on the hope of an anti-"establishment" TRUE CONSERVATIVE hero to leap in and change the direction of the GOP primary race:
Even if a candidate were to jump in at this late date, it would have to be one who could reliably raise money fast, organize effectively, have good name recognition, be well prepared on policy, and survive the kind of intense vetting that has derailed Cain, Rick Perry, Bachmann, and has deflated Gingrich’s bubble. That’s a recipe for an establishment candidate, not an outsider. We should stop fantasizing about white knights riding to the rescue and focus on the choices we have in front of us now.
Of course, by many contemporary "purist" standards, Ronald Reagan would be demeaned as part of the "establishment" in 1980.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunlight Necessities

The Republican Party of Virginia is on the verge of the appearance of a significant scandal. Allegations, fueled by a post by Richard Winger at Ballot Access News, are swirling, suggesting that the Virginia GOP changed the rules for the validation of signatures in October 2011:

But what has not been reported is that in the only other presidential primaries in which Virginia required 10,000 signatures (2000, 2004, and 2008) the signatures were not checked. Any candidate who submitted at least 10,000 raw signatures was put on the ballot. In 2000, five Republicans qualified: George Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, and Steve Forbes. In 2004 there was no Republican primary in Virginia. In 2008, seven Republicans qualified: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Alan Keyes [Not actually on the 2008 ballot--FB].

The only reason the Virginia Republican Party checked the signatures for validity for the current primary is that in October 2011, an independent candidate for the legislature, Michael Osborne, sued the Virginia Republican Party because it did not check petitions for its own members, when they submitted primary petitions. Osborne had no trouble getting the needed 125 valid signatures for his own independent candidacy, but he charged that his Republican opponent’s primary petition had never been checked, and that if it had been, that opponent would not have qualified. The lawsuit, Osborne v Boyles, cl 11-520-00, was filed in Bristol County Circuit Court. It was filed too late to be heard before the election, but is still pending. The effect of the lawsuit was to persuade the Republican Party to start checking petitions. If the Republican Party had not changed that policy, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would be on the 2012 ballot.

Obviously, sudden changes in standards for petitions to get on the ballot can raise a lot of questions.

However, in the 2008 presidential cycle, none other than Erick Erickson was actually complaining about the GOP checking the signatures on the petitions of presidential candidates:

Romney, Fred, Rudy, McCain, Huckabee, and Paul all filed over 15,000 signatures each - well above the recommended minimums.

So what did the Virginia GOP do? Well, they did absolutely nothing to help any of the candidates other than put out clipboards at their state fair booth.

Then they decided to attempt some kind of unprecedented "verification" process. Historically, forms have never been checked by either party, often they never even open the boxes. They gave no one notice of this new process. They sent all the campaigns an email notice the Friday afternoon after they'd all filed their signatures. You can see the memo below. As you can see its a ridiculous attempt to replicate Florida in 2000.

At the time, no one had any idea who the "verifiers" would be or who they supported. Likewise, everyone had questions on what did and did not constitute legitimate signatures. All the campaigns had to lawyer up against their own party. The Executive Director of the Virginia GOP had the nerve to pace the room, during the verification process, in a referee jersey. Likewise, the process for verification changed throughout the day, despite the party sending out its guidelines ahead of time in writing.

So there may have been some verification in the 2008 cycle after all.

Moreover, Richard Winger, in an email to me, admits that the signatures were put through some verification process in 2007. The 2007 checking was "to see how many signatures there were from each U.S. House district, and also how many there were statewide." Winger also believes that the signatures were checked to see if they were notarized (a key requirement for Virginia). He says that signatures were not cross-checked with voter registration forms to ensure that petition signers actually lived in their stated addresses. (I have reached out to VA GOP officials involved in the 2007 count but have not yet heard back from any.)

So there are a few outstanding facts here:
  • You need 10,000 verified signatures (with at least 400 signatures from each Congressional District) in order to get on the Virginia Republican primary ballot. These signatures must be notarized. This requirement has been in place for over a decade.
  • In 2007, most of the major GOP candidates submitted over 15,000 signatures and were on the ballot.
  • In 2011, Mitt Romney submitted more than 15,000 signatures and is on the ballot.
  • Ron Paul submitted around 15,000 signatures and is on the ballot.
  • Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry submitted under 12,000 signatures each (fewer than the major candidates of 2008), but were disqualified.
On the last point, the main question is why?

This is where the Republican Party of Virginia can come in and save its reputation.

If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because they did not get 400 signatures from each Congressional District, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because enough signatures were not notarized, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

Under either circumstance, there would seem insufficient evidence to claim that any "dirty tricks" occurred.

However, there are plenty of permutations under which "dirty tricks" could have occurred. Only further information can help us sort this out.

Unless there is some legal limitation, it is imperative for the Virginia GOP to make clear exactly why Gingrich and Perry were disqualified. If it can be clearly established that Gingrich's and Perry's campaigns did not follow long-standing rules, then it seems hard (if not impossible) to claim a pro-Romney conspiracy. It seems clear the Gingrich campaign was not particularly familiar with the rules of the Virginia primary, as Gingrich's declaration that he would run as a write-in demonstrates; write-in candidacies are not allowed in the Virginia GOP primary. Moreover, I have seen a few reports suggesting that some of Perry's signatures were not properly notarized. So it's possible that they ran afoul of the rules due not to a sinister conspiracy but due to sloppiness. But I don't know, and neither do those alleging a conspiracy.

Instead of rumors, we need facts. Instead of spin, we need information.

(NB: None of this is an endorsement of the rules Virginia puts in place for getting on the primary ballot. Also, all this is very contingent on information as it comes in.)

(There is an electoral side to this as well. One might tip one's hat at the success of the Perrysphere and Gingrichsphere in shifting the conversation away from the fact that neither campaign could manage to get enough signatures in a significant Super Tuesday state to avoid this debacle---that Fred Thompson's campaign (an operation not noted for its efficiency) outmatched both Gingrich's and Perry's teams. Instead of a narrative of organizational incompetence, they have put forward one of conspiratorial victimization. Whether or not the Virginia GOP is engaged in "dirty tricks," it's quite clear that Barack Obama's team in 2012 will pull no procedural punches. A Republican candidate ill-equipped to fight back on the procedural level is not very likely to sit in the Oval Office.)

(Crossposted at FrumForum)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ed Morrissey has a fairly even-handed summary of the ballot issues for the Virginia GOP primary. As it stands, only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have qualified to be on the ballot. No other candidate submitted enough verified signatures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Back to 1994

I appreciate Andrew Sullivan's readers' points in response to my post on the limits of the effectiveness of Wall Street attacks on Mitt Romney:
The democrats lost eight Senate seats that year. In Virginia, Oliver North would
have won a seat if an independent candidate hadn't taken 11% of the vote. The fact that Kennedy still beat Romney in 1994, and by that much, shows how weak Romney is -- as does the fact that if Romney had run for re-election as Governor, he would have lost.
However, there's a little more to that story. Let's hop in the time machine back to 1994 and look at the Republican win/loss record that year. For the seats Republicans gained, we have the following:
Arizona: Jon Kyl wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Maine: Olympia Snowe wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Michigan: Spencer Abraham wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring
Ohio: Mike DeWine wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Oklahoma: Jim Inhofe wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum wins over Harris Wofford, who was appointed
to the Senate seat in 1991 and won by less than ten points a special election to hold the seat in late 1991.
Tennessee (1): Bill Frist defeats a 3-term Democratic incumbent.
Tennessee (2): Fred Thompson wins an open Senate seat (Al Gore's seat, held
by a Democrat appointed to it but who chose not to run for it in 1994).
Six of these eight wins occurred in open Senate seats. Santorum's win was over a not-very-established incumbent. So Bill Frist's win was the only Republican Senate victory in 1994 over an entrenched incumbent, and Tennessee was growing a lot more friendly to Republicans than Massachusetts.

Every other Democratic incumbent was able to fend off his or her Republican challenger, even in more Republican-friendly states. These results suggest that incumbency can be a significant advantage in Senate races, even in wave years. They also suggest that Romney's defeat in 1994 is not exactly an outlier.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beyond Red Meat

Ronald Reagan's speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention provides a welcome jolt amidst the atmosphere of the current Republican nominating contest. Instead of hypocritical invective and mindless tribalism, Reagan offers a fundamentally optimistic and cooperative narrative of America.

Though this speech has moments of anger, it is not, at heart, an angry speech. Consider some of these lines near the opening:

I know we have had a quarrel or two, but only as to the method of attaining a goal. There was no argument about the goal. As president, I will establish a liaison with the 50 governors to encourage them to eliminate, where it exists, discrimination against women. I will monitor federal laws to insure their implementation and to add statutes if they are needed.

More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country; to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values.

Not a single word about destroying those rotten, freedom-hating "progressives" or "liberals." Not even an invocation of "union thugs"! Instead, we see a defense of anti-discrimination laws and an advocacy for the broader purpose of bringing the country together. Rather than inveighing against enemies, Reagan reaches out to potential allies.

Though Reagan criticizes Carter throughout this speech, his criticism seems to emphasize Carter's incompetence and unfitness for the task of government. He does not claim that Carter hates freedom or despises capitalism or has bad intentions for the country.

A politician today might be denounced by certain factions as a "statist" or "collectivist" for repeating these lines by Reagan:

Isn't it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them--for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?

Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families; to have the courage to defend those values and the willingness to sacrifice for them.

Let us pledge to restore, in our time, the American spirit of voluntary service, of cooperation, of private and community initiative; a spirit that flows like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation.

Reagan here seems to suggest that the needy should not be blamed for their poverty but helped from it. Praising "private and community" initiatives is not necessarily elevating government actions, but it does dismiss the celebration of selfishness. From this Reaganite perspective, liberty is more than the celebration of private profit; it is also the opportunity to do public good, beyond the scope of the business ledger.

Reagan goes on to embrace RINO apostasy in his defense of the social safety net and Social Security:
It is essential that we maintain both the forward momentum of economic growth and the strength of the safety net beneath those in society who need help. We also believe it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security are preserved.
This isn't winner-take-all crony capitalism. This is instead a faith in the growth of markets complemented by a compassion for human need.

In this speech, Reagan is a defender of small-government thinking. And he does make a compelling case for it, but this case does not depend upon demonizing his opponents. Reagan knew that venom was the common friend of failure. Instead, a spirit of optimistic faith in the potential of liberty motivates this address.

Reagan speaks from a time when conservatism meant more than having the right enemies, when it offered a vision of bringing together Americans in the dream of a greater freedom. This dream does not merely entail getting rich but also emphasizes building, by oneself and in cooperation with others, a fairer, juster, and happier society.

2012 could be a great opportunity for conservative and Republican politics. If they are to make the most of it, Republicans should keep in mind that Reaganite spirit of hope over despair, unity over division, and empathy over scorn. It's easy in a time of trials to settle into a complacent alienation. But, for the sake of this American republic, it is even more necessary as a matter of civic spirit to work to renew the civic compact and face our problems with temperance, reason, and, yes, some measure of good cheer.

Redistricting California-Style

California voters (despite the wishes of the Democratic party) recently approved an initiative that requires that Congressional districts be drawn by a nonpartisan commission rather than the state legislature. The aim was to limit the influence of partisan politics in the drawing of districts.

ProPublica has looked into the recent redistricting process in California, and it looks like that aim was not entirely achieved:

The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines," according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento...

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

ProPublica also offers some very interesting insight into the organization of the commission responsible for drawing up districts:

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners — three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.

The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise — and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.

This lack of political experience and choice to ignore standard political data (such as party affiliation) may have made the commissioners more susceptible to political manipulation.

A question that's not addressed by ProPublica, though, and one that ought to be asked, is what were California Republicans doing during this Democratic effort? Were they simply sitting on their hands?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Limits of Wall $treet

Some on the right are concerned that Obama would slam Romney as a denizen of Wall Street and that Romney's wealth would prove a hindrance in the general election. While some worries about Romney's business background are more the product of sympathy for other candidates than anything else, there is an element of real anxiety to them, and they are not completely baseless.

However, there are numerous reasons not to overestimate the potential effectiveness of White House attacks on Romney over Wall Street connections.

Perhaps foremost among them is the White House's own very deep connections to Wall Street. Cabinet figures like Tim Geithner and White House allies like Jon Corzine are the embodiment of Wall Street insiders---they make Mitt Romney look like a secretary at the Merrill Lynch branch office in Fargo, North Dakota. Many of Obama's top advisors come from the world of Wall Street. Any attacks on Romney's Street connections immediately open Obama up to the countercharge of hypocrisy: if Wall Street is so bad, why do you choose to people your administration with Streeters and have Wall Street tycoons as central fund-raisers for your presidential campaign?

Charges of hypocrisy here could be particularly damaging for Obama. Despite a lackluster (to put it mildly) administration, Obama still has a chance of winning reelection in part because of the personal affection that many Americans still have for him. The glow of Obama as a political figure who can rise above petty partisan squabbles has dimmed, but it has not entirely vanished. If Obama becomes painted as just another hypocritical political opportunist, his reelection prospects suffer a considerable blow.

Moreover, attacks upon Romney's wealth would make Obama seem more like Walter Mondale than Bill Clinton. Invective-fueled class warfare might be helpful at the margins, but America is still, despite a decade of trials, an optimistic nation. It would seem out of touch indeed for Obama, not exactly a poor man himself, to be complaining about Romney's wealth when millions of Americans are out of work. The American public would much rather see solutions for the nation's problems instead of complaints about an individual's success.

This suggests another limitation for Obama's potential attacks upon Romney's corporate history. It's true that a number of people were laid off due to the actions of Bain Capital (though many others were also hired due to Bain). The media (and maybe some Republican candidates) will be sure to emphasize the lost jobs and displaced individuals. But millions more have lost their jobs in Obama's economy. The disappointments of the stimulus bill far exceed those of Bain. A comparison of Romney's employment record in the corporate world and as governor of Massachusetts with Obama's is not one that would seem to be in the president's favor at the moment. The president's only hope for reelection is to focus on the future; looking to the past will only emphasize the shortcomings of the administration. Obama may think that his administration's accomplishments may possibly exceed those of Lincoln, but most Americans are a little more pessimistic on that point.

Some rightie activists have suggested that Ted Kennedy's anti-Romney strategy in 1994 offers a devastating blueprint for Obama's 2012 strategy against Romney. This parallel should also not be overstated. Kennedy did hit Romney hard on his record at Bain, but Barack Obama is no Ted Kennedy, and the United States is not Massachusetts. Kennedy's 17-point victory over Romney was a decisive one, but 1994 was the only time Kennedy's reelection margin fell below 20 points. Even with all his Wall Street attacks, Kennedy's margin of victory was over 10 points less than it was in 1988 or 2000. Obama lacks Kennedy's electoral cushion; a 10-point swing would end his presidency.

Moreover, in 2002, Shannon O'Brien, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts governor, tried replicate Kennedy's tactics, but she was not able to copy his success. A close race with a slim Democratic lead according to most polls ended in a 5-point victory for Romney. It would seem likely that such attacks will be even less effective now.

There are obviously topics in Romney's business background that should be investigated more. But Romney also has a number of years of government and public service upon which to run. Obama may hope that class warfare can distract from the nation's poor economic picture, but there is no reason why Republicans should allow that triumph of rhetoric over reality.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Barone on Last Night's Debate

Some interesting thoughts from Michael Barone:

The ABC commentators seemed pretty sure that Gingrich, the frontrunner in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida polls, and pressing for the lead in New Hampshire, came across ahead. Certainly Romney seemed somewhat more flustered and defensive than he has in most previous debates. Yet I think Gingrich may have sustained more damage than they suggest. Bachmann’s hard-hitting attacks may not have been ignored by Iowans who gave her the lead in polls in that state last summer. And Santorum may finally be making some headway. Any gains for either are likely, it seems, to come more out of Gingrich’s hide than Romney’s. And while Romney did not have a superb night, the spate of negative attacks from and to almost all directions insulates him from the risk which I argue in my Sunday Examiner column he has taken by launching negative attacks on Gingrich. If he were alone in going negative, we might see the dynamic of candidate A attacking candidate B which hurts both A and B and therefore helps candidate C (like John Kerry in Iowa in 2004 after Dick Gephardt attacked Howard Dean). When there’s lots of flak, incoming from all directions and headed in most directions too, the risks for the attacker are likely to be lesser. My conclusion: the plot thickens.

The DNC Really Wants to Run against Newt Gingrich

Viewers might be a little surprised by the time they come to the end of this ad portraying Newt Gingrich as the "original Tea Partier": it comes not from the Gingrich campaign but from the Democratic National Committee.

Though this ad is meant to be an attack ad with the eye toward the general election, a lot of it might be music to "Tea Party" ears. Beyond identifying Gingrich with the "Tea Party," it also cites his support for weakening Medicare and privatizing Social Security and his interest in ending the Department of Education. It highlights Gingrich's support for capital-gains tax-cuts for the wealthiest (a la Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan). For some on the "Tea Party" wing of GOP politics, those positions are not electoral problems but instead a banner to rally around.

If Newt Gingrich gets identified as a Washington insider who has made himself wealthy through trading on his political connections and a Protean political operator who can change positions at a moment's notice, he will have a hard time getting the Republican nomination. If he's identified as a "Tea Party" purist, that path to the nomination (though perhaps not the presidency) becomes a lot less daunting.

The DNC is doing what it can to cast Gingrich as that kind of purist and thereby help him win the nomination. Over the past year or so, Democrats have been very effective in shaping the Republican nominating process. After all, the leftist talking point that Romney's Massachusetts health-care reform is the same thing as Obamacare has now become "conservative" purist gospel. Perhaps Democrats will be equally effective in casting Gingrich as a "Tea Partier." According to polls, "Tea Partiers" have been coming into the Gingrich fold in many early Republican primary states, so ads like this could help solidify that tendency.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Electability: Not Yet Settled

Some on the left and some on the right have been touting today's Quinnipiac poll report on Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, claiming it demolishes the claim that Romney is more electable than Gingrich. As the report shows,
  • Florida: Romney with 45 percent to Obama's 42 percent; Obama at 46 percent to Gingrich's 44 percent.
  • Ohio: Romney at 43 percent to Obama's 42 percent; Gingrich with 43 percent to Obama's 42 percent.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama edging Romney 46 - 43 percent; Obama tops Gingrich 48 - 40 percent.
Romney still outperforms Gingrich in these polls, but not by colossal levels. Ohio and Florida seem like must-win states for any GOP candidate; Calvin Coolidge was the last Republican to win without Florida, and no Republican has won without carrying Ohio.

Yet even if the head-to-head polling doesn't show the biggest difference between Romney and Gingrich, looking at the favorability numbers tells a much different story. For FL/OH/PA, Romney has +11/+4/+4 net favorability ratings (favorability minus unfavorability), respectively. For Gingrich, the numbers are -4/-6/-14. That's a huge swing between the two candidates. In every state except Ohio (where their favorability numbers are tied), Romney has a higher favorability rating than Gingrich, and he has a much lower unfavorability rating in every state. By comparison, Obama has -1/-10/-1 net favorability ratings in these states.

Voters in these crucial swing states seem to have more built-in resistance to Gingrich than they do to Romney. These numbers suggest that Gingrich has a much more uphill battle in these states in winning over the (crucial) undecided voters.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not Yet Inevitable

Though Newt Gingrich seems to be styling himself as the inevitable nominee, a look back at the polling in during the Republican primary race in late 2007 suggests that Gingrich's camp should not get too confident yet.

In December 2007, no polls seemed to show McCain as the frontrunner. Instead, Giuliani and a fast-rising Mike Huckabee tended to dominate in polling.

A CNN poll released December 10 showed McCain at 13%, while Giuliani and Huckabee were at 24% and 22%, respectively.

A CBS poll released that same day had even worse news for McCain: 7% of the nationwide Republican primary vote. Meanwhile, Giuliani and Huckabee were cruising at 22% and 21%, respectively.

The Florida primary was a huge step for McCain toward the Republican nomination, but, in early December 2007, he was an also-ran. Polls showed him between twenty and thirty points behind frontrunner Giuliani. As December went on, Huckabee climbed, but McCain remained mired in the low teens.

The dynamic of this cycle has differed from the 2007-2008 primary race in a lot of ways, so this isn't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. But the fact remains that neither Mike Huckabee nor Rudy Giuliani made it on to the 2008 GOP ticket. The history of presidential politics is filled with candidates who presumed to inevitability after a surge in the polls only to find themselves not quite so inevitable after all (just ask Rick Perry, who seemed on the verge of having a lock on the nomination in the early fall). The GOP primary race is still very much alive.

Conservative Moderation

Nice points here by Peter Wehner:

My colleague Yuval Levin, in his dissertation comparing Edmund Burke and Thomase Paine(“The Great Law of Change”), points out that Burke believed in the complexity of human nature and the limits of human reason. He warned of the dangers of relying simply on speculative theories and mistaking politics for metaphysics. And he insisted on the importance of learning from circumstances, from the concrete and particular in human life. Burke wrote that government is “a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind” – not “to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians.” The danger facing statesmen, he warned, is when they view self-government “as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling.” This created in Burke an “essential moderation,” according to Levin, a modesty in our capacity to understand the patterns of human nature and the actions of human beings. There is no unified field theory that explains everything.

This doesn’t mean Burke didn’t believe enduring principles should guide our politics; it simply means Burke believed the practical application of those principles in human affairs is difficult and often imprecise, that we have to rely on the accumulated wisdom of those who came before us, that even the wisest among us has an imperfect and incomplete understanding of things, and that radicals can become “blind disciples of their own particular presumption.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Don't Despair, George Will

In an interview with Laura Ingraham, George Will despairs of the choice between Gingrich and Romney as GOP frontrunners:
Ask yourself this: Suppose Gingrich or Romney become president and gets re-elected – suppose you had eight years of this...What would the conservative movement be? How would it understand itself after eight years? I think what would have gone away, perhaps forever, is the sense of limited government, the Tenth Amendment, Madisonian government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers — the sense conservatism is indeed tied to limitations on federal authority and the police power wielded by Congress — that would all be gone. It’s hard to know what would be left.
In a column, Will doubles down on this line of criticism. Will is no fan of Romney, but he is an even bigger opponent of Gingrich, whom he calls the least conservative candidate. Instead, Will suggests Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman (whom more and more pundits have been giving a second look) as "conservative" alternatives.

I'm not sure that Will's despair here is entirely justified, however. After all, look at some of the salient points of George W. Bush's domestic record:
  • Tax-cuts that were not offset by spending decreases and thereby added to the deficit (It's amusing to read a Heritage report from 2001 that predicted that the Bush tax-cuts would lead to the near-elimination of the federal debt by 2011.)
  • Exploding government spending
  • Anemic economic growth (well below the averages of past decades)
  • Enormous deficit spending
  • No Child Left Behind, which sets the stage for the federalization of public education and was probably the greatest expansion of federal power over education that the nation has ever seen
  • Sundry other expansions of federal power, including the ban on the traditional tungsten incandescent bulb, which currently has conservatives up in arms
  • A housing bubble (which the administration's policies encouraged)
  • A near-economic meltdown
This list is partial, and doesn't consider the cases of the almosts that the Bush administration fought hard for but failed to achieve (such as Justice Harriet Miers). Bush's whole "compassionate conservatism" was premised on expanding federal power in order to achieve certain "compassionate" ends.

Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush, and I see no reason why it could not survive some of the GOP presidential contenders, some of whom have a far more conservative campaign theme than Bush ever did. For example, though Will derides Romney as a "manager" or something, Romney's proposed policies would seem to have no small potential for promoting the aims of small-government conservatism.

To return to Will's column attacking Gingrinch for a moment, there's another point I'd like to look at:
Romney’s main objection to contemporary Washington seems to be that he is not administering it. God has 10 commandments, Woodrow Wilson had 14 points, Heinz had 57 varieties, but Romney’s economic platform has 59 planks — 56 more than necessary if you have low taxes, free trade and fewer regulatory burdens.
I think this formulation is a little glib. Consider "fewer regulatory burdens." The fact is that we currently live amidst a complex of regulations. Every regulation depends upon every other regulation (as traditional conservatism would recognize). So it's not enough to get rid of regulatory burdens but to revise these burdens in the right way. Under Bush, certain regulations were gotten rid of, but the intersection of this "deregulation" and other regulations that were kept in place brought American to the brink of a financial collapse. Will may sneer at technocratic tendencies, but skill in finessing current regulatory regimes would be no small aid to small-government policies.

(Crossposted at FrumForm)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rasmussen or PPP?

Two polls, two different results.

Rasmussen released an interesting poll the other day that showed Newt Gingrich outpolling Barack Obama 45-43 in a hypothetical general election matchup. That would seem to be relatively good news for Gingrich.

However, PPP, which released a poll showing Gingrich with a huge lead in the Florida GOP primary, also has polling on the general in Florida. Those numbers tell a very different story. Based on PPP, Gingrich falls six points behind Obama, 44-50. (Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is within the margin of error against Obama, 44-45.)

It would seem that a GOP candidate that far behind Obama in Florida on election day would have a hard time winning a national majority. The last Republican to win the White House and lose Florida was Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

So which is right---PPP or Rasmussen? Time, and more polling, will tell.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Conservative Case for Mitt Romney

Many have raised various arguments for why Mitt Romney is the best candidate for Republicans. The conventional narrative goes something like this: Romney's electability outweighs his moderation, so conservatives would be better off with half a loaf with Romney than with no loaf with Obama. The claim of electability is no small advantage, but I'm interested in exploring things from a slightly different perspective: the case for Romney as the best candidate from a conservative perspective as a matter of principle and not mere electability. So here's a thought-experiment along those lines:
First of all, an identification of the problem: America has currently slipped into the Bermuda Triangle of big government, big declines for the middle class, and big deficits. As more economic power concentrates in the hands of an increasingly small minority, this minority is more able to wring benefits from a bigger centralized government. Meanwhile, the struggles of the middle and poor make a large number of voters susceptible to the claims of increasing government power (even if this power is increasingly used to benefit the few). The stagnating economy for most Americans drives down tax receipts and puts a further strain on social welfare programs, leading to deficits as far as the eye can see.

A market-based economic policy that ignites growth for most Americans could detonate this triangle. The past decade or so has witnessed the winnowing of the middle class, and a set of policies that empower the middle could pave the way for new wealth for both the top 1% and the bottom 99%. Among top-tier presidential contenders, Romney seems well-poised to promote such a set of policies. Conservatives who are serious about setting the nation's fiscal house in order must turn their attention to the economy. Economic revival will slash short-term deficits and give the nation breathing room to engage in longer-term reform as it is necessary. The defense of the middle class should be more than just a partisan talking point: it serves a key interest of principled conservatism.

One might suggest Dwight Eisenhower as Romney's closest recent Republican presidential nominee ancestor, though Romney lacks Eisenhower's impressive military record and Midwestern charm. However, like Eisenhower, Romney has been viewed with suspicion by the right wing of the Republican party. Eisenhower Republicanism has been treated with disdain by many "conservative" activists, but the nation---and conservatism---could do worse than a president in the spirit of Eisenhower. After all, look at some of the things Ike did: oversaw a period of great economic growth for all ranks of Americans, helped stabilize global affairs, invested in new technologies, vastly enriched the American infrastructure, balanced the federal budget (a feat basically unmatched by any of his Republican or "conservative" successors), cracked down on the employment of illegal immigrants, and reformed some of the excesses of the New Deal. As a lifelong soldier like Eisenhower might have best been able to warn against the dangers of a military-industrial complex, Romney, with his experience in the world of Wall Street, might best be able to divert a finance-governmental oligarchy.

As a point of practice, Eisenhower put forward policies that responded to the nation's concerns and achieved, on many points, more conservative results than can be boasted of by certain "conservative" icons. One might hope the same thing for Romney. There might be a whiff of the technocrat about Romney, but it should not be forgotten that a technocrat, in order to be successful, must bow before the reality principle.

Conservatism is not about the drum-circle therapy of glib policy axioms cited over and over again. It's about applying principles to real-world situations. Classical conservatism is an empirical enterprise. It's not enough to aver that government regulations are always the problem; particular regulations have to be examined and their implications (and the implications of their repeal) analyzed. For example, the regulatory revisions of the financial markets in the late 90s and early 2000s helped lead to the meltdown of 2008; disregulation intersected with existing government policies and entities to fuel a mortgage and financial bubble. Singing hymns to the badness of the federal government is no substitute for acknowledging that recklessly pulling blocks from the social-governmental Jenga tower can easily lead to collapse. If we are going to reform some fundamental economic institutions and practices, we would be wise to have reformers who are confident with policy arcana and show a skill in assimilating a broad range of viewpoints. Romney seems such a reformer.

Romney seems to understand that a strong middle class has been a key driver of American prosperity and republican liberty. The Union victory in the Civil War and the US triumphs in World War II and the Cold War relied upon an industrialized middle class. He also seems more aware than some of his fellow Republican candidates that production and skills provide a better foundation for long-term economic growth than does resource extraction. Economic opportunity is a complement and ally to political liberty. Economic opportunity does not always lead to political liberty, but radical economic stagnation usually places a liberal, democratic republic under great strain.

The technocrat in Romney can read the charts that amply demonstrate the weakening economic power of the vast majority of Americans. With his family heritage in car country, Romney probably remembers Henry Ford's principle that it is ultimately in the best interests of the owners of capital for labor to earn more money; further disposable income for the middle class provides the fuel for economic growth. Romney is doing more than pandering to economic anxiety when he says that he is "not worried about rich people": he is pointing to an acute and real economic problem. The fact that Romney has been attacked on the right for daring to focus on the middle class reveals how out of touch certain factions of rightist orthodoxy are at risk of becoming.

While some of his rivals are defending an endless flow of non-citizen labor and tax programs that would raise rates on the poor and middle while slashing them for the rich, Romney has been outlining policies that defend the middle class, the historical pillar of democratic republics. He has moved beyond the principle that tax cuts are the magic solution for economic growth. This fixation on tax cuts has been one of the biggest anchors around the neck of conservative renewal. On many issues, Romney challenges so-called "conservative" orthodoxy and reshapes it into something more vital and, frankly, more conservative. He supports turning off the magnet of labor for illegal immigrants by punishing employers who knowingly hire them. Rather than stuttering invocations about a digital (or electric) fence or boots on the ground at the border, he has turned his eye on the engine that drives the influx of illegal labor: jobs. More than any leading Republican presidential contender in decades, Romney is running against the United States's unilateral trade disarmament, attacking the People's Republic of China's "great wall of protectionism." Conservative thinking has increasingly come to realize over the past few years that the current trade regime is not exactly real "free trade," and Romney finds himself on the cutting edge of this trend. Romney as a 2012 GOP nominee would have a stronger stance on immigration enforcement than any GOP nominee in many an electoral cycle; many of his Republican rivals have a far weaker record on immigration enforcement.

Perhaps some of this concern for the economic interests of the middle class is just talk, but words in favor of needed reforms are probably better than blather against such reforms. There are many reasons why Barack Obama and his allies anticipate having an identity-driven attack on Romney (i.e., "He's a scary rich person!!!"): perhaps foremost among them is that the Obama White House represents in many ways a continuation of the economic policies that have perpetuated a decade of stagnation. From poor trade policies to big-business cronyism to little real reform of the financial system (we are not yet past the banking era of too-big-to-fail), Obama and his Democratic allies have left the economy just above neutral. Trillions of dollars in deficit spending have kept the nation barely treading water, while not enough has been done to offer the necessary structural change in the economy to guard against another collapse and offer the opportunity of sustainable economic growth. Based on his current economic blueprint, Romney would seem to offer an alternative to prevailing low-wage paradigm: a free-market policy emphasizing investment in human capital.

Of course, Romney, like any other candidate, is not without his flaws. But these flaws need not cripple a Romney candidacy.

In many respects, Romney's identity as a serial "flip-flopper" has about as much basis in the truth as Obama's identity as a super-genius political orator-philosopher: both are media narratives that may obscure more than they reveal. It's true that there have been some changes in Romney's public stances, but a number of his biggest "flip-flops" result from the contrast of his positions today with those of 1994, which was almost twenty years ago. Fewer than twenty years before he became the great conservative hope, Ronald Reagan was also a registered Democrat. Many of Romney's "flip-flops" are often exaggerated or distorted. The fact that a 2008 McCain campaign briefing book assails Romney's change of favorite movie from 2003 to 2007 as a "Top Romney Turnaround" demonstrates the utter triviality of some of these accusations. Some of his position changes (such as abortion) have occurred through the evolution of basic principles; others have come about as a result of changing circumstances (a tax policy recommendation in 2002 might not make as much sense as one in 2007, for example). It's often good for a politician's opinion on a policy option to adapt to new circumstances---that's called responsible government. Furthermore, I'm not quite sure how angry conservatives should be with an individual who comes to agree with them more.

And it seems as though many of Romney's "flip-flops" are no more extensive than those of many of his Republican rivals or many politicians, period. After all, Barack Obama campaigned against a health-insurance mandate, which is now central to Obamacare, and Reagan signed one of the nation's earliest laws liberalizing access to abortion. From a true conservative perspective, what ultimately matters is not whether a candidate is a member in good standing with the "movement" (a notoriously unconservative term), but whether this candidate shows some level of thoughtful integrity and can actually govern in a way that advances the principles of classical liberty. Whether Romney joined the "club" early enough or not should not captivate conservative thinking about him---this is politics after all, not the Seattle alternative music scene.

Romney's health-care reform in Massachusetts was less than perfect, to say the least. But this plan drew from mainstream, pre-Obamacare conservative thinking. It tried to cope with the fundamental problem of one of the greatest federal unfunded mandates (a Reaganite policy, by the way): the federal demand that hospitals treat patients regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance situation. The underlying assumption of Romneycare was that, since the state demands private entities (such as hospitals) provide health-care, the state will demand that consumers purchase health insurance if they can afford it; if they can't, the state will step in and provide subsidies to ensure that they can purchase this insurance. At its base, this idea has some (but only some) resemblance to Paul Ryan's Medicare reform proposal, which would give income-dependent vouchers for health insurance to the elderly. Another premise of Romneycare was that universal access would ensure a healthier population and slow the growth of health-care costs. All that Romney and his conservative allies had hoped for has not come true, and Romney's reform will itself need to be reformed. But he at least tried to solve a real issue. He took up the challenges of governing in a state dominated by Democrats, where his vetoes easily could be and were overridden. Rather than fruitlessly complaining, he tried to forge a workable compromise. Governors of many states have to compromise, and conservatives risk eliminating a big chunk of the political talent pool if they reject all governors who have have worked with Democrats (that is, governors who do not have big Republican majorities in their state legislatures).

Some on the left may find Romney more palatable because of his presumed "moderation." But conservatives should make no mistake: a Romney who lives up to his potential (a technically adept president with center-right instincts who renews the American economic architecture) could offer a national order significantly favorable to small-government classical conservatism. Technocratic skill could prove a real boon in unraveling bureaucratic dysfunction and in charting the course of reform conservatism. Reform of the financial world, medical sector, and manufacturing base could put America in the position to seize the opportunities of the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Immigration Fallout

Mickey Kaus deconstructs Gingrich's position on the mass legalization of illegal immigrants:

5) For recent and future illegal immigrants, the key apparent features of the Krieble Plan–the unlimited number of “red cards” and the ease of obtaining them**–effectively means something close to open borders. Millions of impoverished workers now living abroad could flood the U.S. labor market legally. Krieble’s plan is similar to the Papoon for President drug plan, which would “eliminate all illegal drugs” by simply making them all legal. Krieble similarly ends illegal immigration effectively legalizing it (“a country where there’s no more illegality,” as Gingrich put it).

And these unlimited legal “red card” workers would all return home, of course, right? And they’d be happy with second-class, non-citizenship status?

6) In embracing the Krieble plan, Gingrich fatally abandons the logic of “enforcement first,” which is that if you secure the border you can eventually have an amnesty–because the secure border will then be able to keep out future waves of wannabe illegals whom the amnesty will inevitably attract. If you really have a secure border, after all, you don’t need the unlimited Krieble red card plan, which would inevitably have a depressing effect on American wages (especially for the unskilled). Instead, the secure border would allow a numerically limited guestworker program, big enough to serve employers without having a major effect on wages, capable of being increased or decreased as market conditions changed.

Why would Gingrich want to control the border and then allow open borders–effectively unlimited unskilled future immigration–anyway? The main point of “controlling the border” is to prevent that.

Mark Krikorian piles on:

So the Gingrich Amnesty would cover illegal immigrants here when Congress passed IRCA. That is to say, it would pick up where the previous amnesty left off, legalizing precisely those people who didn’t qualify for IRCA. This just underlines what a chump you have to be to support any deal offered you by amnesty supporters.

Which is why “enforcement first” is the only way to go: consistent, unapologetic, across-the-board enforcement of the immigration law at our consulates overseas for visa applicants, at the borders, and inside the country, especially at the worksite — without preconditions or deals or grand bargains. Only after we’ve done that consistently — comprehensively! — for a sustained period of time and attrition has reduced the total illegal population by half or more is amnesty for some of those remaining even a legitimate topic for debate. For prudential reasons I might well be for amnesty under those conditions — I’m not an absolutist on the issue (though I don’t like second-class citizenship — if you’re going to amnesty someone, just do it and steer clear of Helen Krieble’s silly “red card” gimmick, which was the source of Mike Pence’s amnesty plan, too). But amnesty can only be the final chapter, not an opening gambit.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Accepting Reality

David Frum has an incisive (and controversial) essay up about his struggles with Tea Party-style Republican orthodoxies. There's much that's on target here, though some I disagree with. This paragraph has considerable merit:
Some call this the closing of the conservative mind. Alas, the conservative mind has proved itself only too open, these past years, to all manner of intellectual pollen. Call it instead the drying up of conservative creativity. It’s clearly true that the country faces daunting economic troubles. It’s also true that the wrong answers to those problems will push the United States toward a future of too much government, too many taxes, and too much regulation. It’s the job of conservatives in this crisis to show a better way. But it’s one thing to point out (accurately) that President Obama’s stimulus plan was mostly a compilation of antique Democratic wish lists, and quite another to argue that the correct response to the worst collapse since the thirties is to wait for the economy to get better on its own. It’s one thing to worry (wisely) about the long-term trend in government spending, and another to demand big, immediate cuts when 25 million are out of full-time work and the government can borrow for ten years at 2 percent. It’s a duty to scrutinize the actions and decisions of the incumbent administration, but an abuse to use the filibuster as a routine tool of legislation or to prevent dozens of presidential appointments from even coming to a vote. It’s fine to be unconcerned that the rich are getting richer, but blind to deny that ­middle-class wages have stagnated or worse over the past dozen years. In the aftershock of 2008, large numbers of Americans feel exploited and abused. Rather than workable solutions, my party is offering low taxes for the currently rich and high spending for the currently old, to be followed by who-knows-what and who-the-hell-cares. This isn’t conservatism; it’s a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation.
Robert Stacy McCain thinks that some of the problems Republicans have run into have resulted from a conflation of Republican politics and conservative principles, so that many non-conservative Bush-era policies were identified with conservatism. I think one thing Frum is trying to get at is that many so-called "conservative" policies function in highly non-conservative ways.

I think there's a tension to this part of McCain's response, though:
Frum is a wonk very much concerned with the question of what legislative and policy initiatives can be feasibly enacted (and politically defended) by Republican elected officials. That’s a very different thing than declaring, broadly, what the ultimate objectives of the conservative movement should be.

For example, were it in my power to accomplish one thing in Washington, D.C., the federal Department of Education would be abolished and its employees summarily dismissed from public service. Except for funding necessary research and providing educational benefits for military veterans, we would get the federal government entirely out of the education business.

This is not how wonks talk or think, however, because nobody in Wonk World has that kind of profound loathing for federal bureaucracy. When you suggest a genuinely bold proposal like zeroing out the Department of Education, a Republican wonk immediately imagines the hue and outcry from the Democrats, the teachers unions, and the New York Times. They can’t imagine Republicans withstanding such angry criticism and, they’ll point out, Reagan never followed through on his promise to abolish the Department of Education.

But, OK, say you want to get rid of the Department of Education, and say you that desire doesn't change the fact that it very likely will not be abolished? If it is going to exist, how can you make it run in the most effective and conservative way possible? That's not an incidental question (nor do I mean to suggest that McCain thinks it is). And it is precisely that kind of question that Republicans and conservatives need to think the hardest about.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Path to Reform

Rod Dreher has some interesting reflections here on the need for reform within conservatism:
The complaint I’m making here is not that any of these views are wrong (that’s another argument), but rather that the conservative movement and the Republican Party is so driven now by hidebound orthodoxies that it’s by and large unwelcoming to innovative thinking and creative challenge. This is unconservative, if conservatism is understood as the opposite of ideology, as Kirk had it. The whole idea of the RINO is what political correctness looks like when it manifests on the Right.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Executive Supremacy

Though Rick Perry's plan to "reform" Washington has been getting a lot of press, I think there is something that should especially be emphasized about it, one that does not bode well for classical conservatism: Perry's plan seems a recipe for radically increasing the power of the executive branch. Here are some of the principles:
  • Ending the practice of giving lifetime appointments to federal judges (current judges would not be affected);
  • Cutting Congressional pay in half;
  • Cutting Congressional pay in half again if they don’t balance the budget by 2020;
  • Cutting Congressional office budgets in half;
  • Cutting the Congressional calendar by half;
  • Criminalizing insider trading by Congressmen;
  • Reducing spending to 18% of GDP;
  • Privatizing Fannie & Freddie;
  • Ending the funding of Planned Parenthood;
  • Eliminating the Commerce, Education, and Energy Departments;
  • Getting the EPA under control;
  • Getting the TSA under control;
  • Audit the government, including the Department of Defense;
  • Freeze incoming federal regulations, and audit all of them for the last five years;
  • Federal salary freeze for all non-military and non-law enforcement officials until the budget is balanced;
  • And cutting the Presidential salary in half until the budget is balanced
There's a lot here---some of it good, some of it not so good. Let's focus on Congress for the moment. One of the key levers of power for Roosevelt's New Deal and, more broadly, the modern presidency is its corps of bureaucrats and analysts; the Executive Office alone has at least 2000 or so staffers. The president has access to layers and layers of information. This access gives the president great influence in shaping the annual budget and the details of policy. Members of Congress may propose laws, but the substance of these laws often has considerable White House backing.

Congressional staff provide at least a partial check on the data power of the executive branch. By undermining Congressional staffs through salary cuts, one also undermines the ability of Congress to shape the information narrative and write legislation. Meanwhile, cutting Congressional pay might seem an invitation to more petty corruption.

One can say this about Rick Perry with some confidence: he knows how power works. As Governor of Texas, he has shown considerable skill in centralizing power through a cunning use of the appointment powers of the governor and through legislative maneuvering. He knows that power abhors a vacuum and that a diminution of Congress's power will give the president a further opportunity to exercise power. A few Cabinet departments may be eliminated under Perry's plan, but those agencies under the president's direct control will have plenty of room to grow.

Any talk of cutting government employment may elicit shouts of glee from many on the right. But conservatives need to ask themselves whether it advances the cause of smaller government to reform the federal government so that the centralized executive branch has even more power.

(Crossposted at FrumForum)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Unity over Division

The defeat of Ohio's anti-union Senate Bill 5 will be hailed by both righties and leftists as a defeat for conservatism. Perhaps due to my skepticism about how authentically conservative that measure actually was (here I might differ a bit with Mytheos Holt), I'm not so sure about that. But it is a defeat for a certain set of political tactics and suggests that a route Republicans recently have surged down may be a bit of a dead end.

John Kasich has no small potential as a governor. However, he has fallen into an unfortunate trap: rather than focusing on selling an economic plan that brings opportunity to all, he instead chose to back a series of reforms that had the appearance of pitting Ohioan against Ohioan. In a way reminiscent of Scott Walker's policies in Wisconsin, Kasich offered a combination of tax cuts and spending cuts and then added a capacious anti-union measure on top of that.

Unlike Walker, Kasich chose not to buy off interest groups by making his anti-collective bargaining apply to all public workers---not just clerks and teachers but also firefighters and police officers (Walker exempted the last two groups). This act of principle only made the issue seem even starker and helped unite a union coalition against this measure. Moreover, certain parts of SB5 reach far beyond cost-saving measures and offer a fundamental restructuring of key parts of Ohio's public service infrastructure. For example, banning tenure for future teachers and tying teacher pay to student performance on standardized exams would have consequences that reach far beyond the government coffers.

Though hating unions has become an increasingly "in" thing for many in the conservative base, many Americans view unions, private and public, as a bulwark of the middle class, which has been subjected to such stinging attacks over the past decade. Economic anxiety about the decline of the middle has, in Ohio and other places, been translated into a defense of unions.

Analysts left and right are speculating about the importance of union spending in tipping the balance, but we should not overestimate the effects of this political spending: a majority seems to have always supported repeal. When Quinnipiac first started polling the repeal of SB5 in May 2011, 54% of respondents backed a repeal. By late October 2011, support for repeal had climbed up to 57%, a definite increase but not a game-changing one. 61% of voters eventually came out in favor of repeal. SB5 was never a popular piece of legislation. Union spending might have increased the margin of victory, but I think Republicans needed more than slick ads if they wanted to win on this issue in Ohio.

The overwhelming victory for Issue 3 (which would ban the enforcement of a federal health-care mandate) shows that conservatives can still get commanding majorities on the question of federal overreach. The defeat of SB5 shows that union-bashing may make for viscerally enjoyable talk-radio, but it may not be the best electoral tactic. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the United States can afford a vigorous public-sector employment field and can even afford public-sector unions. (There is a case to be made against public-sector unions, but fiscal sustainability may not be the strongest grounds for it.) But such expenses can best be afforded under conditions of economic health. Republicans would be far better off working toward an optimistic vision of economic opportunity for all than trying to castigate certain portions of the American public as parasites, vermin, and thugs. Faith in the American people is an ally of small-government thinking. Ronald Reagan understood this alliance and was able to forge an electoral message that combined economic growth with a sense of national fellowship. The defeat of SB5 may yet bring conservatives and Republicans to appreciate the wisdom of this Reaganite principle.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kristol: 1980 Is Long Gone

Bill Kristol suggests that conservatives should not be held hostage by the nostalgia for 1980:

For every American conservative, not once but whenever he wants it, it’s always the evening of November 4, 1980, the instant when we knew Ronald Reagan, the man who gave the speech in the lost cause of 1964, leader of the movement since 1966, derided by liberal elites and despised by the Republican establishment, the moment when we knew—he’d won, we’d won, the impossible dream was possible, the desperate gamble of modern conservatism might pay off, conservatism had a chance, America had a chance. And then, a decade later—the Cold War won, the economy revived, America led out of the abyss, we’d come so far with so much at stake—conservatism vindicated, America restored, a desperate and unbelievable victory for the cast made so many years ago against such odds.

But that was then, and this is now. Now is 2012, and it seems clear that 2012 isn’t going to be another 1980. The reality seems to be that we’re not going to have a chance to replay that election, with (at least in the hazy glow of retrospect) a compelling conservative leader of long standing but ever youthful, a man who stood tall and spoke for us and for America, riding gracefully to victory over the GOP establishment in the primaries and over decadent liberalism in the general election. Assuming the presidential field stays as it is, 2012 won’t be a repeat of 1980.

As Kristol goes on to note, the fact that the 2012 dynamic seems like it will be different from that of 1980 might not be the worst thing in the world: there are other models for successful presidential campaigns than Reagan's.

Bill Jacobson thinks that we should blame conservative "technocrats" for this difference. Instead, I tend to think that, in order for conservatism and Republicanism to grow, it cannot be held hostage to a single electoral model. Yes, Reagan did a lot of good things as president. But some of what Reagan ran on in 1980 is no longer applicable (I don't think diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union are exactly a pressing issue anymore). And there are plenty of issues where Reagan's talk didn't exactly align with his actions; the Department of Education, which he ran on abolishing, only grew during his tenure. Furthermore, there are other points where self-styled "conservative" purists would excoriate Reagan for his governance. Of the current top-tier presidential candidates, the one whose stance on Social Security is closest to Reagan's is probably Mitt Romney, a man derided by many purists as a technocrat.

History changes, leading to new issues and new policy alignments. A political coalition unable to create narratives to cope with these changes is one that is fated to wither. In an interesting post earlier this week, Ace at Ace of Spades HQ argued that the hunt for the "Great Conservative Candidate" can sometimes substitute wishful thinking for realistic reflection. Conservatives cannot afford to let nostalgia displace critical thinking. As much as he admired Calvin Coolidge, Reagan did not try to put in place a Coolidge economic program. He adapted certain small-government principles into new policies. Conservatives would be wise to follow in the spirit of this example.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Toward A Foundation-Up Economics

Perhaps the greatest single threat to both conservatism in American life and the nation's economic vitality is not Ivy League professors or Hollywood elites or a sinister "progressive" conspiracy but the economic decline of the middle class. Take away hope in the churning of the free market, and you push many citizens considerably closer to the state as a provider. The turmoil of the markets in 2008 was merely the cataclysmic icing on top of the cake of a decade of lost ground for the bottom 90% of workers. Take that away, and an Obama victory would have been much less of a sure thing (and even such a victory would have been considerably moderated). If insurance premiums and coverage rates had been closer to those of 1993, Obamacare, the bette noire of conservative activists, would not have passed. The economic wasteland of the past few years has pushed more than a few public and private pension plans closer to the edge of insolvency.

The recent Congressional Budget Office report on incomes from 1979 to 2007 has depressing news for believers in egalitarian free-market capitalism. Since 1979, the after-taxes income of the bottom 80% of Americans as a share of the total national after-taxes income has dropped from 57% to 47%; every one of the first four quintiles has seen a drop in its share of the national income. Yet even the gains in economic strength for the top quintile have been unevenly shared. The 81st-99th-income-percentile range has seen its share of the national income stay the same. Meanwhile, the top 1% of earners have seen their share of the nation's after-taxes income climb from 8% in 1979 to 17% in 2007. These numbers suggest that the profits of the national economy (broadly considered) have increasingly flowed to the top.

There are broader policy reasons that explain this change. For much of the past decade and beyond, the prevailing Republican (and, frankly, bipartisan elite) orthodoxy has been as follows: lower wages, lower prices, and an empowerment of capital over labor. The CBO numbers reflect this dynamic, as they show the share of income due to labor declining since 1979, while the share of income due to the combination of capital and business income increasing. The claim made continually on behalf of statist globalization over the past twenty years has been that lower prices on various goods through cheaper labor would reward the American consumer, and that the increase in spending power on tchotchkes would exceed the decline in wages due to outsourcing. Similar claims have been made on behalf of massive amounts of illegal immigration: poor workers in the shadows enrich Americans as a whole through providing a plentiful peon class to act as babysitters, home-builders, fast food workers, and other assorted "service" positions.

This decline in labor cost provides a de facto empowerment of capital: if you earn money from investing rather than collecting a paycheck, having cheaper resources of labor allows your dollar to go much further. The "ownership society" sought by President Bush attempted to leverage this dynamic. By making as many Americans investors as possible (especially through investing in the housing market), the Bush administration tried to place hundreds of millions of Americans in the position of the victorious investor class in order to compensate for the decline of the labor class.

However, there are noticeable shortcomings to this model. First of all, not all Americans can join the investor class, so a substantial number of Americans lose out in an investor-centric model. Moreover, housing, the investment vehicle favored by the Bush administration, is a dangerous institution on which to base an investor-centered economy: an individual house is nowhere near as fluid an investment vehicle as a stock portfolio, and the fact that most people need somewhere to live complicates the role of a house as an investment commodity. Since most people need to take on a mortgage in order to buy a house, using the house as the doorway to the investor market requires Americans to take on considerable amounts of debt, and the debt needed to keep the housing-investing game going will balloon (as the 2000s proved).

And the decrease in prices due to cheaper labor is not spread equally across all sectors of the economy. Those sectors least undermined by outsourcing and domestic and international low-skilled workers, such as health-care, have seen some of the biggest price increases over the past decade. Jeans at Walmart may be less, but your health insurance premiums have doubled. With wages stagnating or declining, health-care bills and others like them eat more and more into a worker's paycheck. So the decline in wages is not fully compensated for by cheaper goods and services.

A final limit for the low wages=low prices model is that the consumer often does not feel the full price benefits of the decline in worker wages. Instead, the "savings" that many companies find through shipping work abroad or otherwise cutting labor costs are translated into bigger compensation packages for elite management and the investor class. While current "globalization" has witnessed the decline in wages for the middle and working classes, it has also seen the the pay of upper management (those who control large amounts of capital) increase. The recent history of American business is saturated with stories of companies that close down their American factories while giving upper management colossal paydays. So many of the presumed benefits of declining wages are accruing to an increasingly narrow band of the population.

With wages shrinking and the spigot of easy credit turned off, it's no wonder that public demand has withered.

What might be slightly more interesting, though, is a movement among some factions on the right and left toward a policy reversal: using higher wages and not lower wages as a stimulant for economic growth. Under this model, rising incomes for working- and middle-class workers would increase consumer demand. Rather than the cost of jeans production going down, workers would have more money to spend on jeans---and housing and cars and medical care and foreign trips. Economic growth for the bottom 90% of wage-earners would in turn provide new opportunities for the top 10%. Things weren't exactly bad for top-tax-bracketers during the egalitarian 1950s and 1960s or during the later part of the 1990s, when the income of a broader range of Americans increased in real terms (though income inequality increased in the 90s, as well). Rather than trickle-down economics, we would instead have foundation-up economics.

Nurturing this foundation in part depends upon increasing the skill level of the American workforce, so that workers can make the most of cutting-edge technologies. Education as driving future economic growth has perhaps acquired the somewhat dusty ring of tired dogma, but, like many things that may seem trite to the jaded, it has some truth to it. Reforming our immigration system, making new investments in fundamental research, and pushing back against social dysfunction (among other policies) would go a long way in the direction of improving the skills of America's workforce and would likely improve the wages of many workers.

But mere training is no panacea. With all due respect to current education "reform" movements, people are not mere containers for educational inputs; they exist in vibrant, heterogeneous communities, where all do not all have the same aptitudes. America will not and probably cannot be a nation populated solely by Facebook founders and investment bankers and political pundits. It will have maids and clerks and factory technicians and farmers and truckers, too. We can and we should have an economic system that offers advancement to all productive enterprises of worth and merit.

(And make no mistake: the People's Republic of China is witnessing great economic growth not because some of its students are doing well on international standardized math and science tests but because it has pursued an aggressive policy of protecting and developing Chinese industry. The decline of the US economy has less to do with the notion that it is graduating "insufficient" numbers of math and science majors and more to do with the fact that whole sectors of the economy have withered.)

Part of foundation-up economics also thus depends on protecting the livelihoods of so-called "lower-skill" workers (though, in reality, it does take considerable skill to build a house or run complex machinery or sundry other tasks). It may be true that the current statist flavor of globalization may increase inequality somewhat, but the extent of this inequality is in part due to other domestic policies. Our immigration and trade policies in particular have allowed those on the higher end of the ladder to leverage worker against worker in the pursuit of maximizing profits. Moreover, many of the gains for the wealthiest have been due not to the fair functioning of a free market but to the manipulations of state power.

It is possible to realize an economy that combines the exuberance of the market with a sense of popular prosperity. However they may differ in their methods of reaching this goal, many Republican and Democratic presidents have aimed for it. For a number of years now, we have empowered capital through cheapening labor; now may be the time to increase the value of labor in order to find new opportunities for capital.

From a conservative perspective, an egalitarian economy, where all may have ready hope of living a comfortable life and of advancing economically, is far better than either an economy where the vast majority of workers need government checks to survive or an economy where the super-wealthy plunder the resources of the public and leave the populace as a whole to malinger. Some extremists of the left and of the right would push the economy in one direction or the other. Link Neither extreme is sustainable. A happy, prosperous workforce is not only the best environment for defending the free market; it is also one of the greatest promises of the free market.

(Crossposted at FrumForum)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perry's Immigration Attacks May Backfire

In the short term at least, it seems hard to deny that yesterday's debate was good to Rick Perry. The leading un-Romney contender, Herman Cain, sank underneath withering attacks on his 9-9-9 plan; his inability to defend the details of this plan with anything other than assertions that his opponents are wrong reinforced impressions that he still has a lot of policy areas to brush up on.

And Perry's deeply personal attacks on Mitt Romney helped bring the focus of the debate back on himself. These attacks may help keep Perry as the media takeaway from the event seems to be focusing on how much he's hurt Romney---not on the Texas governor's verbal slips or policy haziness.

All this may provide a boost for Perry and keep him in the race. But his attack on Romney about immigration may eventually raise even more problems for Perry. Via Byron York, here's the substance of the exchange:

And Perry, for the first time in any GOP debate, rattled former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He did it by bringing up a 2007 charge that Romney hired illegal immigrants to do lawn work at his Massachusetts home. Jobs are the magnet for illegal immigrants, Perry said. "And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy."

Romney tried to laugh it off and to deny the story. "I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life," he said. Romney tried to explain, but Perry kept pushing, leaving Romney protesting that Perry was ignoring the rules -- just as Perry had planned.

"Rick, again, Rick, I'm speaking," Romney said. "I'm speaking, I'm speaking, I'm speaking. You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here…Anderson?"

By the time Romney appealed to CNN moderator Anderson Cooper for help, Romney seemed flustered, almost frantic. "Would you please wait?" he said to Perry. "Are you just going to keep talking?"

When Perry finally told Romney to "have at it," Romney explained that he had hired a company to do lawn work and had no idea the company hired illegals until it was reported in the paper.
Perry has become known for his verbal imprecision in presidential debates, and his attack depends upon an indifference to the details of verbal meanings.

Romney "hired" illegal aliens, according to Perry, by paying a company that employed them to do a service. Under this definition of "employment," anyone who goes to a restaurant that employs an illegal alien is also "employing" an illegal alien. A woman purchasing a candy bar from a supermarket with an illegal alien working at the deli counter is also "hiring" an illegal alien. By Perry's definition of employment, he has probably "hired" countless illegal immigrants---at restaurants, stores, and so forth.

The point of Perry's charge of hypocrisy was not to clarify the distinction between proclaimed position and actual practice but to shut down debate by casting an impossibly wide net of guilt. This appeal to hypocrisy to avoid a debate of policy principles is all too common in politics, especially at the federal level, so it's perhaps no surprise to see Perry engaging in it here.

The point that primarily concerns American voters is not whether some individual candidate's money ended up indirectly in the pocket of some illegal immigrant. The point that ought to concern us is whether a candidate thinks it is good to have the workforce be flooded with millions and millions of illegal workers. Romney's record as governor and his rhetoric as president demonstrate that he thinks that might be a problem for this country. Rick Perry's rhetoric and record---from his opposition to E-Verify to his support for major taxpayer subsidies for illegal aliens---suggest that he doesn't think that's such a big problem, if a problem at all. Both positions are understandable, but they are quite different, and we should not blur those important policy distinctions.

Ironically, Perry's attack on Romney may leave Perry open to accusations of being a flip-flopper. Supposedly Romney hiring a company that (unknown to him, so he says) employs illegal aliens is to be a thing of outrage. But someone is also "heartless" if he doesn't support giving tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to illegal aliens. It's hard to square that circle. And such a Texas two-step seems more motivated by political opportunism than anything else.

One of Perry's distinguishing characteristics has been his reputation as a straight-shooter. If Perry tarnishes that reputation by contradictory attacks on his political opponents, he may find his standing further erode in the polls.

(Crossposted at FrumForum)

Monday, October 10, 2011

$ Primary between Brown, Warren Heats Up

The third quarter results are in for fundraising for Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown:
Warren pulled in $3.15 million in total for the third quarter, with more than 11,000 people in Massachusetts pitching in, her campaign announced Monday. Brown raised $1.55 million in the third quarter — almost exactly half of Warren’s total. But Brown, who wielded a hefty war chest heading into his reelection campaign, now has more than $10 million in the bank.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fear Stalks

Two bits of performance art last night suggest how panicked Democrats, progressives, and socialists (see item #2) are becoming.

One is Harry Reid's decision to muscle his caucus together and weaken the minority's ability to offer amendments to a measure after cloture has been invoked. Philip Klein has a helpful summary:

Tonight, McConnell made what's called a "motion to suspend the rules," to allow a vote on the amendments. Such motions are almost always defeated, because they require a two-thirds majority to pass. But they're another way for the minority party to force uncomfortable votes. Even though the minority party doesn't get a direct vote on the amendment, how somebody votes on the motion becomes a sort of proxy for such a vote. In this case, for instance, if Democrats had voted down a motion for a vote on Obama's jobs bill, it would have put them in an awkward spot.

Though it's been the standing practice of the Senate to allow such motions by the minority, tonight Reid broke with precedent and ruled McConnell's motion out of order, and was ultimately backed up by Democrats.

So, the end result is that by a simple majority vote, Reid was able to effectively rewrite Senate rules making it even harder than it already is for the minority party to force votes on any amendments.
And what caused Harry Reid to rewrite rules in this way? A desire to keep the Senate from having a vote on Obama's jobs bill. Is the president's plan that toxic (or that much of a pipe-dream) that his own party doesn't want to vote on it in the Senate?

Democrats seem to fear that they're on the verge of losing control of the public narrative. This attempt to shut out minority voices is a flailing attempt to provide uniformity to that narrative, to shut out any competing principles or politically embarrassing facts.

This brings us to the second piece of performance art: Lawrence O'Donnell's interview with Herman Cain. Cain is often most effective in these talking-head encounters, and the vitriol of O'Donnell's questions helped the Republican presidential contender portray himself in a good light. The interview is worth watching in full, but a few points bear particular mention.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of this interview is O'Donnell's apparent desire to jump in the timewarp machine and approach the campaign of 2012 like it's 1968.

In a time when millions suffer in long-term unemployment, the national debt is skyrocketing, and the globe's political-diplomatic order is on the verge of disintegrating, O'Donnell seems much more concerned about whether Herman Cain was sufficiently activist about Civil Rights in the 1960s: why didn't he join in the Freedom Rides? Where was he during the protest marches? It seems rather bizarre to think that Cain's viability as a presidential candidate should depend upon if he went to marches fifty years ago. The premise of O'Donnell's questions seem to suggest that there was only one route for a virtuous "black" man in 1960s America: engaged on the frontlines of political activism. While I think that the fight for Civil Rights was a virtuous activity, it was not the only one. And the totalizing narrative on race that O'Donnell was edging toward seems less than desireable.

Vietnam was another fixation of O'Donnell here. As he's done in the past, O'Donnell seemed unable to resist indulging in a little militarism (and more than a little opportunism) when he claimed he was "offended" that Cain had the temerity to run to be Commander-in-Chief without having volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Apparently working on ballistics with the Department of Defense during the war (which Cain did) does not count as a sufficient contribution to the war effort. Based on O'Donnell's premise that it's "offensive" to dare to be president without having volunteered to go on the battlefield, I presume he spits upon the picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt (that "chickenhawk" who took a cushy job in military administration instead of volunteering to fight during World War I) and looks upon the administration of Bill Clinton (no Vietnam volunteer he) as an offensive abomination in American history.

O'Donnell's rabid attempt to caricature Cain as a cowardly lackey of The Man shows a deep anxiety about the failure of Barack Obama's "progressive" dreams. And it's unfortunate that this anxiety is manifesting (and will no doubt increasingly be manifesting) in vitriol, personal enmity, and snide rhetorical questions. There are some shortcomings to Cain's economic plans, and O'Donnell was stronger when interrogating Cain about actual policy options that could affect the future of the USA---and not when playing the grand inquisitor of the 1960s.

Our nation is in great trouble, and the best route out of this danger is the well-intentioned interrogation of all possible options. Instead of the rhetoric of exclusion, the tactics of totalization, and the drug of demagoguery, the spirit of charity and rationality would much better serve our purpose.