Free Markets, Free People

GOP


Will the GOP again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

And no, that’s not a rhetorical question – it’s a real concern.

Even the left knows they’re in trouble for the 2014 midterms … or should be.  John Judis of the New Republic:

What I’d point to instead is a comparison between where Obama and the Democrats stood in January 2010 and where they stand today. In January 2010, they were about to lose the Massachusetts senate race, and in November 2010 would lose 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. If Obama and the Democrats’ numbers are better now than they were then, they may not be in trouble; but if they’re worse, the conventional wisdom is right. And they’re worse.

The most recent standard of comparison is the ABC/Washington Post poll that asked some of the same questions in January 2010. First, there are the questions about Obama. These are relevant because midterm elections are often referenda on the president and his party. In January 2010, Obama’s approval ratings were 53 approval to 44 percent disapproval of his “handling his job as president.” Today, 46 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove—a 13-point swing. In January 2010, 47 percent approved and 52 percent disapproved of his handling of the economy. Today 43 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove—a seven-point swing.

In January 2010, 57 percent of registered voters thought that Obama understood “the problems of people like you.” Forty-two percent did not. Today, it’s 47 to 52 percent—a 20-point swing. And there is a similar 20-point swing in the question of how much confidence voters have in Obama’s ability to “make the right decisions for the country’s future.” In short, the electorate has far less confidence in Obama now than they did in January 2010.

ABC—Washington Post didn’t ask the same questions about Democrats and Republicans in January 2010 that they asked today, but they did ask these questions in October 2010 on the eve of the Republicans’ sweep. In October 2010, voters thought Democrats would do a better job than Republicans handling the economy by 44 to 37 percent. Today, they think Republicans would do a better job by 44 to 37 percent—a 14-point turnaround. In October 2010, voters said (incredibly) that they preferred Democratic House candidates by 49 to 44 percent. Today, they prefer Republicans by 45 to 46 percent. The number for October 2010 may be inaccurate, but in any case, there is nothing in the current numbers to inspire confidence. In midterm elections, the Republicans have a built-in advantage that allows them to maintain their majority without winning a majority of votes.

To be as succinct as possible, the 2014 midterms are the Republican’s to screw up.  And this is where Johnathan Last of the Weekly Standard points us toward the problem (one we’ve been hitting up here lately):

What could have accounted for these diminished prospects for Obama and the Democrats? Oh, it’s hard to say. Probably just tactical brilliance on the part of congressional Republicans. Yes, that’s the ticket. I mean, it’s not like there was a signal event that focused all political attention on a single issue. It’s not like there’s a Topic A that has been demoralizing Democrats, rallying Republicans, moving independents, and providing a constant stream of campaign fodder.

No, no, no, it’s not like there’s one subject which totally unites the Republicans and cuts against Democrats and—mirabile dictu!—where the news keeps getting worse for Obama with every passing week. As Homer Simpson would say, “Right, Lisa. Some wonderful, magical issue.”

Oh, right.

So with the wind at their backs and the Democrats in disarray, late last week the Republican leadership decided that this was the perfect moment to change the conversation to…immigration reform!

To again be as succinct as possible, they’re on their way to screwing it up.

And they wonder why people call them the “stupid party.”

*sigh*

~McQ


ObamaCare: the myth and the reality

Perhaps I should say the building myth and the reality.

What is the building myth?  That the worst is behind it.  Megan McArdle fills you in:

Many of the commentators I’ve read seem to think that the worst is over, as far as unpopular surprises.

But she then takes a chain saw to that particular notion:

In fact, the worst is yet to come.

· 2014: Small-business policy cancellations. This year, the small-business market is going to get hit with the policy cancellations that roiled the individual market last year. Some firms will get better deals, but others will find that their coverage is being canceled in favor of more expensive policies that don’t cover as many of the doctors or procedures that they want. This is going to be a rolling problem throughout the year.

· Summer 2014: Insurers get a sizable chunk of money from the government to cover any excess losses. When the costs are published, this is going to be wildly unpopular: The administration has spent three years saying that Obamacare was the antidote to abuses by Big, Bad Insurance Companies, and suddenly it’s a mechanism to funnel taxpayer money to them?

· Fall 2014: New premiums are announced.

· 2014 and onward: Medicare reimbursement cuts eat into hospital margins, triggering a lot of lobbying and sad ads about how Beloved Local Hospital may have to close.

· Spring 2015: The Internal Revenue Service starts collecting individual mandate penalties: 1 percent of income in the first year. That’s going to be a nasty shock to folks who thought the penalty was just $95. I, like many other analysts, expect the administration to announce a temporary delay sometime after April 1, 2014.

· Spring 2015: The IRS demands that people whose income was higher than they projected pay back their excess subsidies. This could be thousands of dollars.

· Spring 2015: Cuts to Medicare Advantage, which the administration punted on in 2013, are scheduled to go into effect. This will reduce benefits currently enjoyed by millions of seniors, which is why they didn’t let them go into effect this year.

· Fall 2015: This is when expert Bob Laszewski says insurers will begin exiting the market if the exchange policies aren’t profitable.

· Fall 2017: Companies and unions start learning whether their plans will get hit by the “Cadillac tax,” a stiff excise tax on expensive policies that will hit plans with generous benefits or an older and sicker employee base. Expect a lot of companies and unions to radically decrease benefits and increase cost-sharing as a result.

· January 2018: The temporary risk-adjustment plans, which the administration is relying on to keep insurers in the marketplaces even if their customer pool is older and sicker than projected, run out. Now if insurers take losses, they just lose the money.

· Fall 2018: Buyers find out that subsidy growth is capped for next year’s premiums; instead of simply being pegged to the price of the second-cheapest silver plan, whatever that cost is, their growth is fixed. This will show up in higher premiums for families — and, potentially, in an adverse-selection death spiral.

In fact, she is exactly right.  Note how many of these surprises happen before 2016.  And, as they come true, perhaps … just perhaps … when voters are told that the rest of this nonsense is likely to come true too (it is the law, you see), they might believe it.

Perhaps.  The “Cadillac tax” was inartfully delayed until after the election.  However, the snowball will already be rolling down hill by then and you’d think the public would be open to believing that the rest of this abomination, that which was delayed, will indeed happen.  And you’d also believe they’d want to do something about that (that, of course assumes Obama doesn’t wave the magic executive pen and waive all of this until after the election).

But then, doing something would depend on what?  Well, getting elected officials that want to actually get rid of most of this monstrosity and are willing to say that and then do it.  Uh, that won’t be Democrats (well except perhaps blue dog Democrats, if they’re not extinct by then).

What it all boils down too is that voters will have to depend on Republicans to do the heavy lifting.  The question is will they do that if elected?  In other words, will Republicans be up to the job?

If I had to base it on the current crop – yeah, not so much.

~McQ


Well goodie – no more debt ceiling – at least till February

In a brilliant move, the GOP has managed to not only be unable to impose the debt ceiling, it has apparently found a way to capitulate and make it temporarily unlimited:

There’s no actual debt ceiling right now.

The fiscal deal passed by Congress on Wednesday evening to re-open the government and get around the $16.4 trillion limit on borrowing doesn’t actually increase the debt limit. It just temporarily suspends enforcement of it.

That means Americans have no idea how much debt their government is going to rack up between now and February 7, when the limits are supposed to go back into place and will have to be raised.

17 days for this?

Really?

And they wonder why people call them the “stupid party”.

~McQ


What does this headline tell you?

Seen today on an MSN newsfeed:

Gingrich, Rove and the right for the Republican Party

What does it say?  It says the GOP is more screwed than we ever understood.

The “old ladies” are still predominant and now are fighting among themselves and attacking the Tea Party, which should, if you believe GOP propaganda, be a natural ally. 

As long as that condition prevails, the GOP will remain a minority party in national politics.   And yes, I know, there are some new faces attempting to emerge.  But between the left, the media and the old ladies, their chances of emerging anytime soon without having their character assassinated are likely slim and none.

~McQ


How Republicans will lead again

What will the Republican Party look like when it retakes the lead in governing?  I’d bet it will be a coalition that identifies more with what Alex Castellanos is laying out at NewRepublican.org.

Some of it is new messaging for old ideas. Castellanos rebrands spontaneous order and subsidiarity as “open,” “natural,” “organic,” and “bottom-up.”  He tags statism, command economies and federal control as “closed,” “artificial,” and “top-down.”  Those are elegant ways to tell Whole Foods shoppers and Silicon Valley what we’re about without assigning them F.A. Hayek or a history of the Soviets.

Castellanos also stresses the superiority of private compassion over state welfare, but instead of getting trapped by placing charity in a bidding war with the welfare state, or quibbling over the definition of charity, he casts the state welfare agencies as “machine-like” or “factory-like” and “archaic,” and more importantly labeling them as “social mercenaries” that allow Americans to “distance ourselves from our responsibilities as human beings,” which involve “person-to-person” compassion.

That leads into a much more substantive change: redirecting social conservative energy to where it can actually accomplish something for itself and for the party, namely local and fulfilling private action instead of trying to seize the top and push down, which outsources to politicians and bureaucrats the promotion of our values.

Several items on the list of 67 beliefs of New Republicans (67!) deal with this:

4. We believe in freedom nationally and values locally.

6. We believe that when we allow big-government to enforce our values, we legitimize it to enforce other values, as well.

7. We believe in natural and organic ways of addressing social challenges, not political and artificial controls directed by Washington.

12. We believe Washington should stay out of our wallets, and out of our bedrooms.

39. We believe we are Republican for Everybody, and Republicans Everywhere.  We believe our principles are an indispensable force for good, needed now to alleviate poverty, misery, dependency, and family breakdown destroying American lives in our inner cities.

Social conservatives lost the battle to use federal levers to enforce family and religious values, and damaged the good reputation of those values in the attempt, but those beliefs are still popular in many states, towns, and households.  They can still gather a majority coalition with libertarians and moderates to carve out the space to practice their values and their faith without interference from the state, with more confidence and optimism than Paul Weyrich had in the late ’90s; if they revert to using top-down power, those potential allies will be embarrassed of their association with social conservatives.  That’s coalition politics.

The New Republicans will avoid being associated with Big Everything, including Big Business. What saps the Republican Party’s entrepreneurial spirit and daring to cut government and promote free markets is its reliance on forces that want the state to protect them against change and competition; Milton Friedman repeatedly observed that this makes business community a frequent enemy of free enterprise.  But the GOP need not be anti-business, just suspicious to the extent of keeping anything Big at arm’s length.

Chris Sansenbach / Flickr

Finally, Castellanos does stress a couple of times that New Republicans believe in “campaign[ing] for our solutions in the most benighted parts of America, from the barrio to the inner city.”  I’ve heard noises to that effect from Republicans for years, but that will only succeed if it’s a major, sustained effort; if we have nothing to say about urban problems beyond school choice, and we don’t learn how to assertively persuade people that we are absolutely superior at addressing poverty, we’re cooked.  These things require practice, trials and errors, and personal experience with the poor and with urban life.  We have to be able to win at least sometimes, electing mayors and city councils in major metro areas, to show that our way of governing works for the growing portion of the country living in cities.

I said at the beginning that this is how Republicans will think when they regain the lead in governing, and I chose those words instead of “winning elections” because it’s possible the GOP can temporarily get over 50% here and there by other means, but it won’t have the initiative until it accepts the challenge to persuade all of America that its principles are relevant to them. The party could and should also make gains by modernizing the way it learns and reorganizes itself, how it encourages and channels activism, its campaign tactics and strategy, and more.  But those things go naturally with a mindset that’s reflexively entrepreneurial and not only open to change but so hungry for it that we’re unafraid to stop doing what isn’t working.


Why the Right Should Embrace “Fairness” in Entitlement Reform

This is a departure from my previous two posts; it’s not about a particular group that has pulled away from the GOP.  Romney pulled a slightly larger share of older voters than McCain did, even if fewer total turned out than in previous years.  That the Romney-Ryan ticket did this while proposing entitlement reform is a substantial feat, but it did involve watering down the reforms a great deal.  For example, Republicans now make a habit of promising that nobody under age 55 will be affected by their reforms.

Why make this concession when the lion’s share of the fiscal problem is current retirees and the many, many Baby Boomers who will retire soon?  Boomers vote, of course, but what motivates them?  I don’t think most seniors could bring themselves to act on straightforward greed; I think they’re voting based on a particular concept of fairness.

Specifically, they paid into the system over a long career, and they believe they should be able to get back what they paid in.  And even though current Medicare beneficiaries get two to six times as much in benefits as they paid in (if this is right), only about a third of Americans think Medicare beneficiaries get any more than they paid in.  As long as they think that way, they’ll continue to oppose means testing and raising the retirement age by wide margins.

You might be tempted to say that our task is to educate them, but it’s much easier to persuade people based on their current beliefs than to convince them of inconvenient facts first.  Republicans basically conceded that cutting benefits to older voters at all would be unfair, and pushed complicated plans that few people aside from Paul Ryan can competently defend.

But we might be even bolder if we just hugged that core fairness principle tighter.

September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF – fixed link) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.”  It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no.  Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.

At a stroke, you could slash Medicare in half with a reform based on that principle.  (Their August 2011 poll suggested similar support for applying the principle to Social Security, but the cuts would be much more modest.)

Centering a reform on that principle achieves steeper cuts and seems easier to defend than what Paul Ryan is trying.  Because if Democrats fought us on it, they’d have to make the wildly unpopular case for entitlements as redistribution programs rather than as “insurance” or “savings.”

The kind of coalition the Right needs for sustainable entitlement reform has to include people who highly value fairness (or, as Jonathan Haidt would call it, proportionality).  If we want the project of liberty to be successful, we have to pluck on other heartstrings.


Why Conservatives Should Embrace Gay Marriage

I already mentioned that marriage, kids, and a mortgage are very strong indicators of conservatism.  Here’s a straightforward causal explanation: when you’re invested in something, you don’t want it to be taken from you, and you’re skeptical of starry-eyed meddlers doing anything that might threaten it.  Probably the best thing done for the cause against gun control was teaching others how to use and maintain a firearm: once people own one, it sharpens the mind to cut through any argument for taking it away.

But a gun is a small investment compared to a committed and intimate relationship, custody of children, and homeownership.  A dollar taxed is one that you can’t spend on your family when they want something, a dollar borrowed is one that your kids will pay back, and that meddler on TV is rolling the dice with a major part of your life.

In the case of immigration, Hispanics are already primed to be conservative because they’re already invested.  With gay marriage, you have a group trying awfully hard to get more invested.

The conservative argument for embracing gay marriage is that marriage seems to be a fine institution that benefits even people who can’t have children together, and that it may strengthen the institution and the country to expand the institution so that a nontrivial minority of the population is on the inside trying to protect it rather than on the outside where their exclusion leads to thorny political issues of respect and tribalism.

Another conservative argument is that if gay marriage is politically inevitable, conservatives should proactively move through legislation to ensure that it goes smoothly without infringing on other freedoms (like those of association and contract), rather than allow this to play out entirely in the courts or in a referendum.  If conservatives keep trying to board the windows, more stuff is going to end up broken than if they just opened the door.

As with immigration and Hispanics, marriage may not be gays’ top priority, but it matters, and the way Republicans approach and discuss the issue can signal that “you’re not one of us,” which is poison for coalition-building.

The flip side of that coin doesn’t have to be pandering; given the consciousness of gay communities about targeted violence and bullying, it’d be awesome if conservatives taught more gays how to use and maintain firearms.


So how do you talk about contraception without going all “SoCon?”

Or, as I recommend in my previous post, how do you make issues such as contraception relevant to the economy and point out its real cost?

Well, don’t forget, at base it is another government mandate.  It is government deciding what private employers and insurers will cover and how they’ll cover it.  It is obviously not “free” as they claim, but another in a long line of redistribution schemes cloaked in “good intentions” and the “common good”.

It is, in fact, just another straw on the back of the private insurance camel, the addition of which this administration hopes will eventually break its back and allow government to take over that role.

Having directed all insurance companies to provide it at “no cost” to their insured and falsely claiming to the public that they’re getting something for nothing, the administration takes a step toward that goal.

How?

One major feature of the ACA [ObamaCare] is to put so many mandates on private insurance plans (abortion pills and contraception being just a couple of them) that it becomes increasingly difficult for employers to afford private health benefits for their employees.

As more and more employers have to dump private insurance, the idea is that people will demand a government replacement plan. Lurking in the back of the ACA is the public option, which will spring to life once enough people have lost their private insurance. (This can very well happen even if the Supreme Court declares the individual mandate unconstitutional.) Once it is activated, the public option will enroll more and more Americans until it effectively wipes private options off the table.

Socialized health care through the back door.

Precisely.  There is more than one way to skin a cat.  And that’s what is evident here.  This is an alternative cat-skinning method.

The White House argues the new plan will save money for the health system.

"Covering contraception is cost neutral since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services," the White House said in a fact sheet.

"For example, there was no increase in premiums when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and required of non-religious employers in Hawaii. One study found that covering contraception saved employees $97 per year, per employee."

But it isn’t cost neutral at all.  And whatever an employee “saves” on the one hand, goes away plus some to cover the expense, because here’s reality:

[I]nsurers say there’s nothing "free" about preventing unwarranted pregnancies. They say the mandate also covers costly surgical sterilization procedures, and that in any case even the pill has up-front costs.

"Saying it’s revenue-neutral doesn’t mean it’s free and that you’re not paying for it," an industry source told The Hill.

Doctors still have to be paid to prescribe the pill, drugmakers and pharmacists have to be paid to provide it – and all that money has to come from insurance premiums, not future hypothetical savings, the source said.

And all of that cost is going to be paid for by those employees who are “saving” money in higher premiums – especially those 50 somethings who are no longer in the child bearing years and ‘saving’ nothing but paying for it anyway.  By the way one of the ways to lower insurance cost is to do away with government mandates and let the insured choose what coverage they’d like to pay for.  But government will have none of that.  That would actually remove straws from the camel’s back.

Of course there are other free market approaches that would most likely be effective if government would allow them:

[P]arents who let their children become obese by feeding them irresponsibly should bear the financial cost of the extra health care that their children will require. This can, again, be done if private insurance companies are allowed to operate on the terms of free markets. Just like a smoker should have to pay a higher health insurance premium than a non-smoker, private insurance companies should be allowed to charge higher premiums of a family that eats themselves obese than of a family that eats responsibly and attends to their own health.

Find obesity to be a national problem?  What’s the most effective way to fight it?  Mandates and complicated and expensive government programs that only address the problem generally?  Or making the obese pay for the consequences of their irresponsible behavior?

I know, how horribly anti-American – making people take responsibility for their actions (something the GOP claims to believe in) and pay their own costs.  In the new America, apparently everyone has to pay, no one is held accountable and by the way, it “will be cheaper in the long run” if government does it.

The latter is the eternal promise of nanny government rarely if ever having come to fruition.

But, back to the title and the point – now if some want to add “and it’s against my religion”, fine, wonderful, great.  That’s added impetus on top of the economic one to reject Obama’s argument.  But it shouldn’t be the primary argument.  Instead it should be an argument that voters add themselves among themselves.  The broad economic argument about the real cost, not to mention the ideological argument against the growing social welfare state are extraordinarily powerful and appealing.  If others want to add their own arguments in addition to this, fine and dandy. 

That’s how you do it.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


A post wherein I agree with Ron Paul

Actually, there’s a lot Ron Paul says I agree with, but there’s about 5 to 10% of what he says that makes him, at least to me, unsupportable.

But he and I see eye to eye on this thought (from an article about an interview he did with Candy Crowley):

Paul seemed almost baffled that everyone has been talking about social issues at a time when he and others are more concerned with preserving basic civil liberties and the economy.

Folks, for this election social issues is a loser.  Sorry to be so blunt, and burst the social issue’s activists bubble, but this is the distraction the Obama administration badly needs and it is playing out pretty much as they hoped, with the candidates concentrating in an area that is so removed from the real  problems of the day (and the real problems of the Obama record) that it gives relief.

Additionally, it gives visibility to the one area that usually scares the stuffing out of the big middle – the independents who are necessary to win any election (and, until this nonsense started, pretty much owned). 

What is going on now is a self-destruction derby.   And the tune is being called by the left (if you think the George Stephanopoulos question on contraception that started all this nonsense during one of the debates was delivered by an objective and unbiased journalist, I have some beachfront land in Arizona for you) and kept alive by the media.

How I see it is Americans, in general, don’t give much of a rat’s patootie about all this nonsense at this moment in history.  They’ve watched their economic world collapse, they’re upside down in their houses (or have lost them), they’re seeing their children, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren enslaved to government debt, they’re out of work and they’re suffering – economically.

And the GOP goes off on the usual nonsensical social issue tangent when there is a table laden with a feast of issues that are relevant to the problems with which the majority of Americans are concerned.

Take a look at Memeorandum right now, for instance, and what headlines do you see?  “Santorum attacks Obama on prenatal screening”.

Really?  Could we maybe see attacks on Obama for adding 4 trillion to the debt, or the highest unemployment rate in decades, or the failed stimulus, or his persistent attacks on fossil fuel even while we sit on more of it than most of the world combined but are getting much less benefit from that because of him? How about Keystone?  Gulf permatorium?  Solyndra?  ObamaCare?

Instead what sort of attacks are made against Obama? Senior Obama Advisor: Rick Santorum’s ‘Phony Theology’ Comment ‘Well Over the Line’, which spawned, Santorum explains ‘phony theology’ comment, says Obama is ‘a Christian’ which results in, Santorum denies questioning Obama’s faith.

I cannot imagine a stupider subject being the focus of headlines at this time in our history nor a worse place  for a GOP candidate than talking about other people’s faith or lack thereof. There is no upside to that.  This is the sort of nonsense and ill discipline that has cost the GOP elections in the past, and is well on its way to doing it again.

The middle is watching and my guess is it is not happy with what it sees.  If ever the GOP wanted to lay out a strategy to drive independents back to the Democrats, they’re well on their way.  They are playing to every stereotype the left puts out about them.

What should the GOP be talking about?  Things like this and this.  The attacks should be on Obama’s economic record and leadership, not who is a better Christian.

Take a hint from the Clinton campaign GOP (as loath as they are to do so, I’m sure): “It’s the economy, stupid!”

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


The GOP Götterdämmerung

Political parties exist for a reason, and it’s a pretty simple one: to implement the policies their voters prefer. It’s a pretty straightforward deal.  The voters pick the candidates that best embody their policy preferences, and the candidate, if elected, implements those policies. It works most of the time.

But not always. Parties sometimes go astray for an election cycle or two. Generally, they are pulled back into line by the voters. But, once in a great while, a political party simply fails. The most recent failure of a major political party in the United States was that of the Whigs in the 1850s, when the issue of slavery so divided the northern and southern factions of the party that its voters were simply unable to continue as a unified political entity. Pro-slavery elements absconded to the Democratic Party, while the anti-slavery elements created the Republican Party.*

It is interesting to note this history when viewed against the current state of the Republican Party. What seems to be developing in the GOP is a similar fissure over the size and scope of government. It seems not to be so much a debate among the rank and file, however, as it is between the grass roots and the party establishment.

When I speak of the GOP establishment, I will define it, for convenience, as those members of the GOP whose incomes and/or professional lives are derived primarily from participation in electoral politics, either directly, as a candidate or staffer, or indirectly through journalism, consulting, policy study, or party activism.

There is an increasing sense that the party establishment is more interested in the process of politics, bipartisanism, and policy than they are about the principles behind the party’s ostensible ideology.

The result seems to be a long succession of candidates for whom the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility seem to have taken a back seat to "getting things done" and "working with the Democrats" to "solve problems". The perception seems to have taken hold that this has resulted in accepting to some extent the collectivist ideological premises of Democrats, though in a milder form.

Bob Dole, famously criticized as "the tax collector for the welfare state", was generally thought of as a political moderate. George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism was essentially an embrace of big government for socially conservative ends, rather than limited government, and ultimately, through No Child left behind and Medicare Part D, an embrace of big government for political ends. John McCain was notorious for his "maverick" ways, which came to be generally defined as siding with the Democrats on domestic issues. The GOP seems incapable of producing identifiably limited government conservatives as national candidates.

During this same time, the GOP electorate has become increasingly interested in restraining the size and scope of government, reducing regulations, reducing taxes, and balancing the Federal budget.

Indeed, it’s important to remember that the TEA Party movement began not as a reaction to Mr. Obama’s election, but rather in opposition the Bush Administration’s push for TARP and the bailouts, all of which President Obama embraced and expanded.

This increasing divide between the GOP electorate has led to some embarrassing moments, such as the candidacies of Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in opposition to the GOP establishment, but also some successes, such as the candidacies of Marco Rubio and Allen West. Both, however, often came in opposition to the wishes of the GOP establishment. Some results of this tension are not yet fully known, such as the ultimate outcome of Sarah Palin’s position as a sort of spokesperson and power-broker for a large percentage of the GOP electorate, at the same time her reputation among the GOP is establishment is, shall we say, mixed.

So, we come to the 2012 election, and the primary candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Both men are identifiably part of the GOP establishment. Both are flawed candidates from the point of view of limited-government conservatives. Frankly, neither of them would have a chance at winning an election against Mr. Obama in a normal political environment. Their one hope for beating Mr. Obama in the fall is that this election year is decidedly not normal.

From a policy point of view, Mr. Romney simply isn’t a conservative. He is merely somewhat more conservative than the average Democrat, which is to say he is noticeably more liberal than the GOP rank and file. His record gives every indication of willingness to "work with" Democrats, which can be best understood as code for doing nothing that Democrats strongly oppose. In a normal election, this would translate into a deep sense of ennui among GOP voters that would probably doom his chance of victory.

Mr. Gingrich has a more credible argument for supporting and implementing conservative policies than Mr. Romney in many ways. He is also one of the most actively disliked politicians in the United States. He seems utterly incapable of seeing himself in anything other than world-historical terms, and the result is a noticeably overweening ego.  He is the modern embodiment of General George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 election, who once remarked about himself, "I know that I can save this country, and that I alone can." The instinctive dislike of Mr. Gingrich by the general electorate would normally doom his candidacy in an election as well.

Mr. Romney carries Romneycare like a millstone around his neck, yet does so gladly, and refuses to repudiate it. One of his advisors, former MN senator Norm Coleman, said yesterday that Obamacare would not be repealed. Though the campaign quickly came out in opposition to that position, Mr. Romney’s continued defense of the Massachusetts health care plan remains troubling to GOP voters. He speaks about conservative ideals, but his entire political history is one of compromise with them. This may have been a necessity in a deep blue state like Massachusetts, but it translates poorly to a far more conservative national GOP electorate.

Mr. Gingrich managed to make himself so unpopular as Speaker, even with his fellow Republicans in the House, that he was driven out of Washington like some sort of poison troll. Moreover, as recently as last March on Meet the Press, he supported the individual mandate for health insurance, the key controversy over Obamacare. Mr. Gingrich still defends his support of Medicare Part D. Mr. Gingrich was also one of the primary movers behind the K Street project, which tied the Republican Party deeply with lobbyists, pushed the party into supporting lobbyist pet projects, and ended with the fall of Jack Abramoff, as well as some leading GOP politicians like Tom DeLay. His recent criticisms of Bain Capital, and the concept of private equity firms in general, are also troubling, coming, as they do, from a progressive viewpoint.

In short both men have troubling histories that raise serious questions about their ability to govern as conservatives. I would suggest that if the next president is a Republican, and does not do everything in his power to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans will be finished as a national political party. The same holds true of they fail to restrain federal spending or the growth of the national debt. That would be the short path to the GOP going the way of the Whigs.

Irrespective of presidential politics, however, the GOP is still on the path to decline under their current leadership. If, over the next few election cycles, the GOP establishment cannot bring themselves to actively push candidates of distinctly limited government views, and if they do not actively push for smaller government, less spending, and less debt in Congress, the GOP rank and file will abandon the party and create a replacement for it.

Barry Goldwater’s motto in 1964 was, "A choice, not an echo". Sadly, the GOP establishment seems most comfortable offering a moderately less radical echo of the Democrats. The GOP electorate, however, increasingly wants a choice. A party that is incapable of promoting candidates with a distinctly fiscally conservative, limited government ideology is also incapable of providing that choice.

That is a path to extinction.

 

*Interestingly, the southern Whigs imparted a more conservative, business-friendly element into southern Democrats, the vestiges of which still remain, and one result of which was the general electoral success by southern Democrats for the Presidency, opposed to Northerners. Of the Democratic presidents in the 20th century, Wilson, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton were all distinctly southerners, while only Roosevelt and Kennedy were northerners. Truman is the odd man out, being from Missouri, though it certainly was at least as much southern as it was northern.

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Dale Franks
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