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Archive for the ‘2012 Election’ Category

On Labor, Primaries, and Pressure

Friday, June 11th, 2010

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I wasn’t really planning on writing on this silly spat between the White House and organized labor over the Democratic primary in Arkansas, but there’s a few different angles I want to address. For starters, while I’ll agree that this never should have been said publicly, and if the White House finds out who the source is they probably ought to relieve them of their duties, let’s get one thing straight; the White House official is right.Labor has every right to do what it wants with its money, but it definitely wasted its resources in this race. For one thing, Halter was hardly a progressive lion, and likely wouldn’t vote much differently than Lincoln in the Senate. For another thing, Arkansas just isn’t a state where labor has a lot of clout, making their backing somewhat less valuable than it might have been elsewhere. Indeed, much of Lincoln’s campaign was premised around attacking Halter for being pushed by national labor unions.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that the message was sent anyway; that incumbents better not cross labor less they make your life miserable. Perhaps, but I think the people pushing this line the hardest are looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. The bottom line is that incumbent re-election rates are very high in the U.S., and they’re downright astronomical for sitting Senators in primaries. And, of course, Blanche Lincoln is now a mark in favor of re-election. So even if we assume that labor or other factions of the party can give an incumbent a headache in the primary, the simple fact remains that the incumbent is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary, and much more likely to get beaten in a general election (especially if they’re in a conservative state) than in a primary. For someone who’s only concerned about getting re-elected, this isn’t really a tough call to make at all.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of the White House’s ability to pressure Senators, which Greenwald raises again in typically dense fashion. Yglesias and Bernstein dispose of the nonsense in good fashion, but I’d simply add that, again, there’s a very simple balance of power here; while troubled incumbents may want White House backing in elections, it’s at least technically possible for them to win without it. On the other hand, the White House can’t get its agenda through Congress without sufficient votes from members. With 40 Repuplicans lined up to oppose his agenda no matter what, Obama had to keep every Democrat on board for healthcare reform. If Blanche Lincoln refused to support the bill, that was it. There was no clever way out of things; it was get Blanche Lincoln to support the effort or give up on comprehensive reform. Period. The leverage between individual Senators at the tipping point of votes and the White House is always going to tilt in favor of the Senators (at least in domestic policy) because they have votes in the Senate, and you have to get votes in the Senate to pass bills. The question is how do you get those votes. Greenwald wants to imagine a world where you get them by beating marginal Senators with sticks until they’re cowed like powerless children into doing what you want them to, but that world quite simply doesn’t exist. Senators just aren’t powerless, and thanks to the filibuster, they’re holding the trump card more often than not. The national party or various factions of the party might be able to make life difficult for them, hell they may even be able to slay the dragon, but that vote in the Senate means that the Senator is going to be able to return the favor and then some as long as they have it.

And losing primary challenges does nothing to alter that balance.

Romney Will Be Fine

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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by Brien Jackson

There’s a growing meme lately that the passage of the healthcare bill spells doom for Mitt Romney’s chance to win the Republican Presidential nomination. Basically the idea is that the Republican base has been whipped into a froth of opposition to “Obamacare,” and since Romney signed a program that’s essentally the same as the Affordable Care Act in Masachusetts, he’s not going to be able to win support in the Republican primary. The latest articulation I’ve seen came fron Ben Smith this morning, who compares the healthcae issues potential cost to Romney to the impact support for the Iraq War had on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

For my part, I’m pretty skeptical of this. For one thing, 2012 is pretty far away. And yes, the early parts of the cycle are only a year away, but that aspect of the campaign is dominated by fundraising, which I doubt Romney will have trouble with. The Chamber of Commerce isn’t interested in fighting ove repeal of the bill, PhRMA and providers endorsed it, and non-healthcre businesses don’t really have much of a reason to care about it now that it’s passed. So I very much doubt that the economic interests who fund Republcan campaigns are going to find it much reason to cut off Romney. As far as the Republican electorate goes, I think the idea that they’re going to reject Romney 3 years ago because of his healthcare plan imputes a little too much intellectual sophistication onto the masses. For one thing, it could have been an issue in 2008 as well, when Hillary Clinton was proposing to basically take the Massachusetts system nationwide, but it never really came up, even though it’s not like Democratic plans for universal healthcare were only noticed on the right last year. Indeed, from 1993 to 2008, conservatives used “Hillarycare” as a short-hand for “Socialized medicine.” So the fact that it didn’t hurt Romney in 2008 bodes well for him in 2012. There’s also the fact that Romney can issue some mealy-mouth hedging about “states” and so forth that should buy him enough room to pivot to something else.

If anything, I think the Hillary/Iraq comparison is pretty good, but probably not for the same reason Smith does. Was her initial support for the Iraq War a drag on Clinton’s campaign? Sure. Did it cost her the nomination? Probably not. Compared to investing as much capital in Iowa as they did, even though she was at a distinct disadvantage in the state, and having absolutely no plan for a contest going past Super Tuesday or any kind of campaign presence in the contests between February 5 and March 4, I’d say it’s pretty low on the list of factors that could plausibly be said to have cost Clinton the campaign. What it did do was give her opponents particularly Obama, an early and consistent opening from which to attack her. And that’s probably about all this will do to Romney. Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and John Thune or whomever is running will be able to respond to Romney’s attacks on the ACA by pointing out that he signed something similar in Massachusetts, but whether or not that proves devastating remains to be seen. For now, I don’t see any evidence that Romney is facing a backlash from the leadership of the conservative movement, which leads me to think it probably won’t hurt him much with the rubes either.

Amateur Hour Continues

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

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So for her latest trick, Sarah Palin is apparently attacking, or her eldest daughter is anyway, Family Guy for a not really thinly veiled jab at her special needs son. I don’t really think the cartoon is that offensive in the grand scheme of things (it features a teenaged girl, as opposed to a toddler or infant, who’s only real identifier is having “odd” facial features) but YMMV. Here’s the clip:

Now there’s a couple of different ways you can go after this. On the one hand, there’s the gobsmacking passive-aggressive tactic of funneling your criticism through one of your other kids. I mean, what’s the point of that, exactly? It carries extra umph coming from one of her kids instead of her? It gives her plausible deniability? I legitimately don’t get it. On the other hand, however, there remains the simple fact that, at some point, Palin is going to have to stop being offended by everything. It’s not so much that I think it hurts her credibility with anyone, opinions on that are probably set in stone by now, but rather that Palin is going to have to come up with some other trick if she actually intends on running for President. As I’ve said many times, the one thing that most commentary on Palin’s Presidential odds fail to account for is the new dynamic she’ll have to confront in a Republican primary campaign. So far, her entire national political life has revolved around liberal foils. When she came on the scene, she was the VP candidate, running against the Democratic ticket. Since (excluding her brief period back in the governor’s mansion), she’s mostly opposed abstract figures like “liberal elites,” with some attacks on the Obama administration thrown in. And that’s all well and good, but at some point, if she wants to be President anyway, her opponent is going to be other Republicans, at least one or two of whom it stands to reason will be people in good standing with movement conservatives. And if she’s the front-runner, then they’re going to try to bring her down a peg. That’s just the nature of campaigning. But what is she going to do then, complain that other Republicans are campaigning against her? What’s she going to do when someone brings up the tax increase on oil companies she signed while she was governor? Or when someone appeals to conservative dogma on court matters by intoning that they damn sure can name some Supreme Court decisions they disagree with? Is she going to accuse the boys of ganging up on her? Hide behind her kids? Quit?

And, of course, there’s the risk of self-inflicted wounds. Family Guy is a reasonably popular show, although I have no idea how popular it is with Republican primary voters, and it’s on the Fox Network, with is obviously something Palin is also affiliated with now via Fox News. So to a certain extent, if anyone actually wanted to ding her on this, they could ask her why she isn’t ending her relationship with Fox if she feels that strongly about it, or mock her for her PC sensibilites, etc. More broadly, this is just further confirmation that Palin is incapable of ignoring any perceived slight. She just can’t let anything roll off her back. That’s not a trait that’s going to suit her well over a long, grueling, boring, primary campaign, and it’s just further proof that Palin, and the people she’s taking advice from (if anyone) don’t really know what they’re doing. Assuming the idea is winning votes, anyway.

Palin’s Still a Longshot, And Nate Silver is Overrated

Friday, January 8th, 2010

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by Brien Jackson

Nate Silver writes:

I find this truly remarkable: in a National Journal survey of 109 Republican “party leaders, political professionals and pundits”, not a single one deemed Sarah Palin to be the most likely Republican nominee.

I’ve written extensive commentary about how I think Palin’s chances are in fact pretty decent. I’d probably call her the “favorite”, although “favorite” in this context might mean having a 25-30 percent chance of winning.[…]

But back to the point I made in November — there’s going to come a time, probably in July 2011 or so, where the knives are really drawn on Palin and Republican pundits, strategists and candidates start saying in public some of the things they’ve been thinking in private. And that in all likelihood will play very well for her. Although the Establishment’s concerns about Palin’s viability as a general election candidate are well grounded, mostly they’re just terrified of her because she doesn’t need them.

This largely misses the point. The problem with having no “establishment” support for your candidacy is that the establishment contains pretty much everyone with any idea how to run a campaign. Particularly the national campaign it takes to compete in a Presidential primary. We’ve spent a lot of time mocking Palin’s current staff, and some of the rather comical missteps they’ve made, and that’s just in booking speaking events. How well is she going to manage a year’s worth of on the ground campaigning in multiple states/regions if the same people she has arond her now are in charge of managing things? Moreover, the Clinton campaign proved that even professional operatives can be bumbling idiots, how well is a group of amateur bumbling idiots likely to do? And popularity alone, especially popularity within a narrow subset of the electorate, isn’t a substitute for a functioning campaign. Ask Fred Thompson.

But a larger point that needs to be made here, at the risk of sounding like a politco version of Mike Silva, is that Nate Silver actually doesn’t seem to understand that much about politics. He understands statisitcs and polling, to be sure, but that only takes you so far. His schtick, basically, is built on taking polling data and plugging it into a computer model that runs a lot of times, which tells you the most likely outcome. And that’s great, but it’s also a lot of work that really doesn’t add much value to the task of predicting election outcomes. I didn’t have a sophisticated compter program running thousands of scenarios, but I still managed to come pretty close to the ultimate outcome of the 2008 cycle; missing only Missouri in the Presidential contest, correctly predicting every Senate and Gubernatorial race, and missing by 6 seats in the House. Which isn’t (totally) to toot my own horn, so much as it is to point out that sometimes there’s a level of obviousness involved in last second pick ’ems, and you don’t really need computer simulations to figure this stuff out, particularly when the election isn’t very close. Perhaps Silver’s computers add value in an unusually close contest, but those are, well, unusual.

There’s nothing wrong with Silver’s blogging mind you, but he’s much better when he’s analyzing polling and numbers, as opposed to trying to analyze non-statistical aspects of politics. Which isn’t to say he can’t toss his two cents out by any means, but I wish more “A-Listers” would keep that in mind a bit when reading him. I mean, Silver’s models still give Democrats a better shot to retain Blanche Lincoln’s Senate seat in Arkansas than Joe Biden’s old seat in Delaware. Perception and conventional wisdom can often prove to be wrong, and polling can, over time, show where it’s wrong, but that has to pass the smell test too, especially this far out of an election, with little to no actual campaigning having occured, and with very little data to work with.

Do Voters Have to Like Healthcare Reform?

Friday, December 18th, 2009

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Atrios writes:

I know I’m a broken record on this subject, but I do think it’s the thing most lacking from the insider conversations on HCR. Not that I really know, because I’m not an insider, but occasionally I get a wee sense of what’s actually occupying staffers in various places. “Voters liking this thing” seems to be at best an afterthought.

It’s sorta weird, really, because on most subjects it’s the first thing they think of, both about the policy itself and the myriad imaginary attack ads that can be run based on the policy. If voters don’t like this thing, it’ll likely be repealed before most of it even takes effect, either because Republicans take over or because frightened members of a Dem controlled Congress do so.

First of all, I think it should be said that the idea that a healthcare reform bill would be reformed is pretty fantasical. For one thing, Republicans would have to regain control of the White House, Senate, and House at once again. For another, they’d have to overcome the filibuster. And given that red state Democrats are the most likely to lose their seats in the near term, the Democratic Senators most friendly to repeal likely won’t be around to vote for it.

But beyond that, this idea that Democrats should be worried that the healthcare bill they pass will be unpopular and shouldn’t vote for anything that might cost them votes just seems bizarre to me, in large part because I simply can’t imagine a healthcare bill that’s popular with the marginal voter in the short term. The simple fact is that any healthcare bill worth passing is going to help the disadvantaged, whether it’s sick people or poor people, and passing legislation to help disadvantaged people simply isn’t good for short term popularity in this country. Among other things, banning discrimination against pre-existing conditions will probably increase the costs of premiums, as insurance companies are forced to cover people who are more costly to cover. Whether that’s popular depends on how willing the average person is to pay a higher premium price in exchange for not screwing over sick people. Perhaps Atrios has a more charitable view of Americans than I do, but from what I can see, one can never go wrong betting that Americans are perfectly happy giving a short stick to the poor or otherwise disadvantaged if it saves them a buck. With that in mind, progressives ought to be more concerned with how much a healthcare reform bill helps the people who need help than how many seats it might cost Democrats in 2010, or 2012, or 2014, because until we get a major change in the median view on social welfare spending that primarily benefits poor people in this country, passing any truly progressive legislation is going to require a willingness to incur short term political loss.

Palin Resigns!

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I don’t know about you, but I’m still trying to make sense of Sarah Palin’s announcement that she’s resigning the governorship of Alaska barely halfway into her first term. A lot of other people have tried parsing the text of the speech, which I’m not going to do, in part because it was totally incoherent, but also because the reason for the resignation probably won’t be found in the speech. But if you want to, well, I warned you:


Anyway, a couple of points. From a political standpoint, this is pretty much the end of Sarah Palin. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying too hard. Plenty of Governors have declined to run for re-election to seek another office (Charlie Crist is doing it now), but, so far as I know, none of them have actually resigned the office to do so, at least not successfully. Also, if this was the intention of the speech, I imagine Palin would have announced her candidacy. It’s too early for that, of course, but it’s also hard to get credit for something you’re not really doing. Palin’s political advisers might be amateurs, but I don’t think even they could make such a silly mistake.

With that in mind, the other thing I’ll note is that this was obviously not a well thought out, highly planned, decision. The speech was clearly not written by a professional, the delivery was rushed, hectic, and uncertain. If I had to guess, I’d venture that the decision to resign was made no sooner than 36 hours or so before the press conference. This raises the rather tantalizing question as to what exactly is going on, and perhaps we’ll never know that. There’s been speculation that another major scandal may be about to break, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If there’s an ethical, or even legal, problem coming down the pike, resigning the office won’t stop it from breaking, and being out of office puts you in a weaker position, politically, than being in office. Now it’s certainly possible that Palin and her team are just too dumb to realize that, but given that mch of Palin’s political persona revolves around “fighting enemies,” it just seems unlikely that such a potential issue would be met with resignation.

Doing a two dollar examination from afar, with the perspective of an ex-political operative, my best guess is that someone has dug up some embarrassing personal information about Palin and has used it to get her out of the way. What could do that? It’s hard to say. Something that would destroy her credibility with the Republican base would be especially damaging, because not only would it wreck her political ambitions, it would erode her ability to cash in on her political celebrity by depriving her of a fanbase. So that’s what I would bet on.

In any event, somewhere Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour are smiling.


Friday, June 26th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I don’t really have very much to say about the Gov. Sanford debacle. I don’t particularly subscribe to the notion that adultery is no big deal, especially when there are kids involved, but I also don’t think it’s much of a reason to tear down public officials, especially when there’s so many things about them that are so much work. Although I guess there really isn’t much of a leap from ditching your family, including 4 kids, on Father’s Day to go fornicate with an Argentine woman in South America to trying to toss thousands of families off of unmployment insurance in the midst of a very serious recession is there? And I think that’s what bothers me the most about this; as screwed up as this scenario is, at the end of the day, it’s nowhere near as bad as Sanford’s active attempts to cause a lot fo very real suffering to very real people in his state.

With regards to the future, I’d say his political career is pretty much over. It might be possible to survive something like this, but not, I don’t think, if you’ve made a big deal about family values, and not given the sheer bizarreness level of this whole story. Sanford might be able to appeal to the more libertarian contingent of the GOP in 2012 if he does decide to go ahead with a Presidential run, but that’s just not a sizeable enough bloc to deliver many, if any, delegates, and certainly not enough to keep him in the hunt in a crowded field. And this coming from a guy who, if you made me choose, would have been the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. This may be one of the great political flameouts of all time.

Sarah Palin Still Not Ready For Primetime

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Sarah Palin is in the news again, and more or less for all the reasons she was such a soap opera before. First, she was an on-again-off-again presence at a major Washington fundraiser, which I’m told left quite a few donors very unhappy with the Alaska governor, and very unimpressed with the ability of her staff, then she gave an interview with Sean Hannity full of abject nonsense.

I’m on the record predicting definitively that Palin will not be the Republican nominee in 2012 (I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t win any primaries/caucuses, other than Alaska’s), and these stories pretty much illustrate why. Ultimately, Palin, and the people around her, are amateurs. Her staff doesn’t know how to manage her schedule or build relationships with donors, activists, and other such people she’ll need help from to mount a national campaign of her own, and Palin herself still isn’t versed enough in either national issues or conservative mythos to avoid embarrassing herself, even with a softball interviewer like Hannity. Palin can dodge this sort of stuff in a general election by wailing against the media, but that’s simply not going to work in an all Republican contest. And frankly, at this point I just don’t think she has it in her. Whether she’s not smart enough to learn the material or she doesn’t feel like she needs to put any effort towards it, it seems clear enough that she’s not going to stop saying stupid things any time soon and, frankly, I don’t know any strategists/operatives/activists itching to line up behind Palin in 2012. I know people bacing Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman, even Newt Gingrich and Bobby Jindal, but no one who, given the choice of 5-6 Republicans, has Sarah Palin as a first preference.

Huntsman’s Future

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

At Foreign Policy’s frankly disappointing “shadow” blog, Christian Brose offers up an analysis of Jon Hunstman’s move out of the GOP Presidential candidates field and into the Obama administration that is both reasonable, and yet highly absurd at the same time:

He probably assumes that the GOP will spend the next few years banging rocks together in the wilderness, throwing moderates like Colin Powell out of the party, and trying to wind the clock back to the early 1980s while the rest of the country moves on. He probably assumes that he’s already established himself as “a different kind of conservative,” that the domestic policy fights he’ll face as governor will be frustrating and possibly fruitless, and that the GOP will need a few more electoral thrashings before it is ready to buy what he’s selling. What’s more, he probably assumes that, while the rest of the GOP tears itself apart in naval-gazing fights about the meaning of “true conservatism,” he can go off and pad his resume with several years of experience managing America’s largest (and increasingly, its most important) bilateral relationship, and that when he returns in, say, 2014, not only will the GOP primary voters not punish him, they’ll welcome him as a practical, reform-minded leader, attuned to the problems of the 21st century, who puts the national interest above partisan politics — that is, just the kind of guy to lead them to victory in 2016.

From a general standpoint, I think there might be some meat here. If the GOP base nominates a candidate in 2012 that gets shellacked by Obama, there’s going to be an opening for a more “apostate”candidate to change directions in 2016. This will probably have to be someone we haven’t heard of to this point, because there’s really no one in the current GOP who can fit this bill. But let’s be clear about something; it’s most certainly not going to be Jon Huntsman.

At the end of the day, political parties just aren’t that accepting of people who worked for administrations of the opposition party. It’s one thing if you were a member of the other party at the time, and have since changed your ideas, but to work for the other party and then try to come back and seek a leadership role, to say nothing of the Presidential nomination, of your party is just simply not going to happen. I think Huntsman knows this and, moreover, I think he realized that he was never going to get anywhere in the current national GOP. I think his decision to accept the ambassadorship reflects, more than anything else, that that was a job he really wanted to have, and realizing that his ceiling was rather low, he jumped on the opportunity.

Not every move is pure Machiavelli.

When Ambition Hurts

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

On the perennial dilemna of Governors harboring national political ambitions, Anonymous Liberal writes:

Governors with presidential ambitions often spend much of their time in office trying to raise their profile and pad their resume for a future presidential run. That’s to be expected, and in general, it’s not a bad thing for the people of their state. Yes, these governors probably spend a little too much time in Iowa and New Hampshire, but they also tend to do things to bring positive attention to their states. Governor Mitt Romney, for instance, worked with Democrats in his state to construct a universal health care system, the first such system in the country. Though his ultimate ambitions were clear, he attempted to further them by creating a record of accomplishment as governor.

What’s happening now, though, is very different. The Republican governors with presidential ambitions are tripping over each other to be the one that hoses over his own constituents the most.

This is, of course, pretty obvious. Ever 4 years, you get a rash of Governors who kick around the idea of running for President, and this generally leads them to try to do a lot of good things for their state in order to create a list of accomlishments to, possibly, run on. Similarly, Governors often run for the Senate after leaving office which, again, is usually predicated on being remembered fondly by the voters of their state. Here, however, you have a rather odd scenario in which a group of Republican Presidential aspirants have decided the best way to further their national ambitions is to give the residents of their state the shaft. And, perversely, they’re probably right. It’s certainly not hard to imagine a non-Gubernatorial candidate for President, say, Mitt Romney, criticizing any governor who accepts federal money as only paying lip service to their opposition, and it’s also not that hard to see national Republican voters punishing them for it. So the real lesson here is how decrepit the national Republican Party has really become, that in order to succeed internally, Republican governors must sacrifice the people of their states on the altar of ambition.

I do hope, however, that the DNC and various state Democratic parties make a point of connecting the actions of Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford to their naked political ambitions and, by extension, the national GOP.

Jindal’s Disaster

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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Forget Obama’s speech, that was mostly stuf we already knew delivered in a way we’ve seen Obama give dozens of speeches now setting up a budget that we have a fairly good idea how it’s going to look. No, the real political story from last night is the total bombing of Gov. Bobby Jindal. This is David Brook’s reaction:

That’s some pretty strong stuff, but I think I especially like that he characterized the speech as “nihilistic,” because I think that’s exactly what it was. Jindal trotted out decades old right-wing lines like we hadn’t been doing all of these things for the last 8 years. Tax cuts? Check. Tossing money at the military industrial complex? Check. Slashing government services for the poor and middle class? You betcha. It was, as Ezra Klein noted, a speech any Republican leader could have given since 1992. Moreover, Jindal full throatedly embraced the new Republican strategy of lying through your teeth about everything. And yes, the Kenneth from 30 Rock comparison is a good one. Xotoxi said it well over in the forums; Jindal’s tone sounds like he’s introducing some hokey educational video targeted to a 4th grade class.

But what really stands out about Jindal’s speech is how obviously disconnected from reality it was. Barack Obama was overly clear that his tax plan includes a tax cut for everyone making under $250,000 a year, but there was Jindal demanding…tax cuts. It’s odd enough that Congressional Republicans haven’t moved away from the McCain strategy of campaigning against an imaginary person who was talking about massive tax increases and huge spending cuts in the Defesne Department, but you’d think someone who wanted to come to a leadership role after their 2008 beating, and who was delivering a speech right after the President’s much more visible speech, would realize that you need to stay reasonably close to the parameters of what the President actually said. Add in the specter of a Republican actually daring to bring up the response to Katrina as an example of government failure…

Here’s a bold prediction; Louisiana will be taking all of their money from the stimulus package, and Bobby Jindal will be running for re-election in 2011, avoiding the big stage for a little while longer. Clearly he’s not ready, and he’ going to need to let this recede from memory a little bit.

Republicans Don’t Understand Republicans

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

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To answer Matt’s question, and to follow up on something I wrote yesterday, another interesting thing to ponder about the Deep South (and Alaska!) Governors considering turning down federal stimulus money is who, exactly, they think they’re playing to. It’s certainly true that the rump presence of the Congressional GOP is disproportionately right-wing, and Southern, but is there any indication that the national GOP is in the same boat? Well, not really.

Remember that the Republican Presidential primary, like the Democratic primry, consists of capturing delegates. But unlike the Democratic Party, the Republicans do not have a uniform standard for delegate allocation, favoring instead a system that yields an early end to the contest. This includes states that are winner-take-all, some that are proportional, and some that are a mix. It also, ironically, is one that favors big states, at least with the 2008 schedule. New York, New Jersey, and Florida are all winner take all contests, and California is winner take all by Congressional district. It was in these states, plus Arizona and Missouri, that John McCain won the nomination. In fact, he didn’t win a single Deep South contest, other than South Carolina. Mike Huckabee swept the rest…and was completely crushed in the delegate count by McCain. And with a Democratic incumbent in 2012, independents who want to vote in a primary election are going to flood into the GOP process, making it even more moderate than usual.

In other words, even if it weren’t the case that governors were largely judged on the basis of performance, and could get by with being ideological standard bearers, Jindal, Sanford, Palin, and Barbour are playing to an ideological base that has no power whatsoever even in the GOP primary process. It’s possible, of course, that the rules could drastically changes before 2012, but that seems like an awfully big thing to bet on now, doesn’t it?

Banking on teh Crazy

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

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I haven’t yet commented on the Republican governors considering declining their state’s stimulus money (or actually doing it), mostly because I haven’t yet figured out what I think about it. Steve Benen calls it a race to out crazy one another, but that seems a little too credulous for my liking.

First of all, the obvious connection between Governors Jindal, Palin, Barbour, and Sanford is that they’d all like to be President, and are all clearly convinced that opposing the stimulus is your best bet in the Republican Party. And I’m sure that’s a wise calculation, but there’s a bit of a difference between opposing the bill and actively turning down money for your state. As I noted the other day, national politics is relatively short on governors who served during economic downturns, mostly because it’s hard to accumulate a list of accomplishments to run on as a result. You get to cut spending on state services, and that’s a hard sell to make down the road, even to the national Republican Party. So I suppose these governors are trying to distinguish themselves, but it seems a little odd all the same.

For one thing, they’re taking an awfully big gamble. Congressional Republicans opposing the stimulus bill makes sense; if it works you’re not going to get credit regardless, but if it fails, or is seen to have failed, you can gain from having opposed it. Now that it’s passed, any governor actually thinking about turning down the money is betting on an awfully big stretch; that their state’s economy will do better than the rest of the country without the money. That’s the only way this can really work out as a positive for them, and the only way they could really sell this nationally. Obviously that’s quite a bit unlikely, and the downside is much starker; the national economy recovers, at least somewhat, while your state continues to suffer, or even to recover at a pace slower than the national average. In that case you’ve not only hurt your own personal political career, you’ve provided an incredibly stark, side by side comparison of two competing worldviews, and if you bust you’ll have a hard time defending your entire ideology for a generation or so. It won’t be an abstract debate over competing economc theories, it will be an objective assessment of the two theories played out in real time.

Of course, it’s also possible that the governors are trying to short circuit the plan. That theory would be bolstered by what has been refused so far; Jindal wants to refuse additional millions for unemployment insurance, and Sanford is going to refuse money to make buildings more energy efficient. These are not only some of the most popular aspects of the package, but also among the most stimulative. The wrench in this view, I think, it that it’s just hard to see how refusing money to be spent in Louisiana or South Carolina is going to have a huge ripple effect on the national economy. Neither state is all that big, and there’s nothing particularly special about either state that gives it a disproportionate impact on the national economy. So the most likely outcome is that these state economies lag behind the rest of the country, which is bad for the citizens in those states, but also bad for the governors managing the situation as well.

It is, in other words, totally crazy.

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