Free Markets, Free People

GOP

Earmark ban–you have to start somewhere

It is easy to be cynical about politics today, especially for long-time observers.  Years of watching fingers carefully placed in the political wind to determine its direction has given those watching the process a decided and well earned reason for cynicism. 

But that has to be leavened somewhat with the understanding of how this political process works, why the incentives it offers is one of the main reasons it is broken, and then applaud actions which  – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they are – work toward changing those incentives in a meaningful way.

It has been said by many that “earmarks” are both trivial and insignificant when it comes to the budget deficit.  They’re barely 1% of the budget.  We’re told they’re no big thing in world of trillion dollar deficits.

Yes they are significant.  For many reasons.  Most obvious among them is they’re part of that incentive system that encourages profligacy and waste.  As one wag pointed out, they’re the Congressional “gateway drug” for profligacy and waste on a much grander scale.

Secondly while it is easy to waive away “1%” of the budget as “insignificant”, you have to ask, “is it really?”  Certainly in terms relative to a 2.8 trillion dollar budget, a few billion dollars doesn’t seem like much.  But it is

We know – all of us, even the left – that we must cut spending.  Period.  There’s no argument about that.  The argument is where we cut.  And how much.  Cutting 1% of spending wrapped up in earmarks should be a “no-brainer”.  It is a good first step.  If you’re going to say to the country, “we’ve all got to cut back”, what better way – speaking of leadership – is there to make the point than to cut out spending that is advantageous to you politically.

That’s certainly the case with earmarks and has been for decades.  It is the Congressional method of using tax dollars to help ensure a high return of incumbents on election day.  So the symbolism involved in cutting them out is important.  Especially, as I noted, when the country is going to be asked to take cuts in things which they find advantageous to themselves.

That all brings me to Sen. Mitch McConnell essentially reversing himself and signing on to the earmark ban.  I’m cautiously optimistic that the GOP leadership is actually beginning to get the message that I think was transmitted loud and clear on November 2nd.   Said McConnell:

“What I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.” 

Good. What I’m not going to do is look this particular gift horse in the mouth and try to determine whether it is a cynical political ploy or genuine. I’m simply going to take it at face value and put a plus next to earmark reform. I’ll take McConnell at his word and demand that he now be consistent in applying the same received message to areas of spending that will indeed make a huge difference.  Or said another way, I appreciate the sentiment and the symbolism of the earmark ban, but that doesn’t satisfy me or anyone else.  It just indicates some seriousness and willingness to do what is necessary to rein in the government’s spending.  While appreciated, it in no way means anything much more than that.

McConnell acknowledges the “wishes of the American people”.  Those wishes were clearly expressed as a much smaller, much less costly and intrusive federal government.  Banning earmarks is as good a place to start as any.  But the serious work of cutting government down to size must continue immediately after the ban is in effect.  The electoral gods will have no mercy on the GOP in 2012 if the American people don’t see a concerted effort by the party toward that goal.

~McQ

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New York Times suddenly discovers governing as a priority for new GOP majority

A New York Times editorial is all over the place today in its hysterical concern that Republicans are going to spend all their time investigating what Democrats have been doing these past 2 years. Let me say upfront that while there are certainly things which need investigation, the GOP can indeed hurt themselves if the investigations seem to be excessive or perceived to be "witch hunts". However, perhaps the most interesting part of the editorial is its title, an obvious shot directed at the GOP’s supposed preference for investigating over what the NYT feels is its real job – "Try Something Hard: Governing".

Funny – I don’t remember the NYT admonishing Congressional Democrats or the administration to do that when the obvious focus of both should have been jobs and the economy and not a horrific health care bill.

Also understand the premise the NYT tries to advance here. Using a Darrell Issa quote, "I want seven hearings a week times 40 weeks", they attempt to imply that’s all Republicans will be doing. That will hardly be the case.

Then we’re treated to absurdities like this:

This combativeness from the new House majority is an early symptom of its preference for politicking over the tougher job of governing in hard times. Its plans already feature the low cunning of snipping budget lines so the Internal Revenue Service cannot enforce key provisions of the health care reform law. (Why not defund Postal Service document deliverers while they’re at it?)

Why not – while the NYT calls it "low cunning", it is indeed a method by which the legislative chamber "governs". The NYT and similar media voices seemed to understand that when Democrats in Congress threatened to defund the war in Iraq. Now it’s "a feature of low cunning". A cry to govern by the NYT with a follow up criticism of doing so by the means the House is able to employ.  Absurd. 

Regulation?  Well, last time I looked it was Congress who decided what regulations were and agencies who enforced them as the law provided by Congress said.  Apparently that’s not the case anymore per the NYT:

The new majority will showcase hearings devoted to what Representative Fred Upton, the ranking Republican on the energy committee, called a “war on the regulatory state.” What he means by that is the Environmental Protection Agency’s daring to accept scientific evidence that human activity is driving global warming. Similar hearings, rooted in the vindictive rhetoric of the 2010 campaign, are likely for the new consumer protection bureau, immigration enforcement, and more.

How 2008 of the NYT to claim the EPA is accepting “scientific evidence” in its drive to regulate CO2.  Obviously the carrier pigeon hasn’t made it to the Grey Lady yet that says not only is the “science” not settled, it is in total disarray and largely discredited.  More importantly it isn’t up to the EPA to decided what science it is or isn’t going to accept.  Its job is to enforce the law as it is written and amended by Congress.  And to this point, there’s nothing in the law which allows the EPA the power or authority they are attempting to assume.  What the Republican Congress wants to do is make that abundantly clear to the bureaucrats there.  That’s governing.  That’s oversight.

The same for the activist who has been named to the Consumer Protection Agency – the job there is to enforce existing law, not make it up as you go or enforce it arbitrarily according to an ideological agenda.  And of course, immigration “enforcement”, which is again being arbitrarily applied by the bureaucrats as they see fit vs. applying it as the law demands, is in the same boat. 

Reining in the bureaucracies as they attempt to overstep their bounds time and time again is “governing”.  It is “oversight”.  And those are two jobs the Democratic Congress has done poorly if at all as witnessed by the examples I’ve given.  And there are plenty more.

The Times acknowledges, even after its ignorant tirade above, that it is the job of Congress to oversee how the laws it has passed are implemented and followed.  And that it also has a duty to oversee the executive branch.

In principle, Congress’s oversight of the executive branch can be a vital necessity. Politically, however, both parties push its limits from time to time. Now is no time for myriad searches for sensational distractions when the nation’s voters cry out for solid progress.

This is the only worthwhile paragraph in the entire NYT editorial.  If taken alone, it speaks perfect sense.  When taken in the context of the rest of the editorial, it is a pitch for no investigations, since it is obvious that while the Times is pretending to call on the GOP House to “govern” it really doesn’t want it doing anything in that area which may point to administration malpractice or malfeasance or allowing executive agencies to interpret law as it sees fit instead of as it is written.

Tough cookies.  To paraphrase Barack Obama – “they won”.

~McQ

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Irony– liberals not happy with deficit commission report because liberals “not at the table”?

Seriously – that’s essentially the Matt Yglesias take on the recommendations published by the co-chairs of the president’s debt commission:

I’m not surprised that liberals don’t like the Simpson-Bowles proposals and I’m not surprised that people who aren’t liberal disagree with liberals about that. But I am surprised that there are people out there professing to be surprised that liberals are hostile to the proposal. But what are liberals supposed to think? It’s a proposal hashed out between a conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat. So of course liberals don’t like it. Imagine the conservative reaction to a deficit proposal written by Lincoln Chaffee and Russ Feingold.

Or instead of a hypothetical, how does Yglesias think the GOP would feel about a health care law written only by Democrats? To use his words, “if you want Republicans to like a deal, you need to invite Republicans to the table”. The irony, however, seems to have escaped him.

That’s not to say that pursuing a conservative-moderate deal was a bad idea. Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a large margin and moderates are a much bigger force in the Democratic coalition than in the Republican one. So if you want a deal, appointing an orthodox conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat from North Carolina makes a lot of sense. But it also makes sense that liberals won’t be happy with the results.

But when the GOP was unhappy with the health care law, it was because they hated poor Americans and were the lackeys of the insurance companies, right?

~McQ

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Election post-mortem

An incredible election night by any measure.  The obvious question that pundits will be concentrating on is “what does it mean”?

Well I think there is consensus on both sides that it doesn’t mean that the voters love Republicans.  Even establishment Republicans are acknowledging that fact.  And Marco Rubio made that clear in his acceptance speech where he called this a “second chance” not an embrace of the GOP.

So that leaves us with a number of other options to consider.  What needs to be kept in mind is this is the third consecutive wave election and in each case the party holding the White House suffered losses.  That’s unprecedented.  And this particular midterm is the largest shift of seats since 1936 (update: House numbers now have a projected 242 seats on the GOP side, a net of +64 – historic or as one Democrat strategist said, a defeat for Democrats of “biblical proportion”).  So one meme that isn’t going to fly is this election is “no big deal”.  Democrats got spanked and got spanked hard.  They have a lot of work to do to win back voters.

Another thing that seems to be a developing narrative is that this is a repudiation of the Obama agenda.  I think that’s true to an extent.  The biggest driver of the dissatisfaction with Democrats is the health care law as  indicated by polls. And they are certainly mad about the deficit spending.  But as Charles Krauthammer said last night, “this isn’t a failure of communication by the Democrats, this is a failure of policy”.  So it would seem that at least part of the vote was a repudiation of the president despite claims by some on the left that its only about the economy.

That said, part of it is also about the economy.  Historically the party in power doesn’t do well in a down economy.  So that too must be factored in to the formula.  While much of that is beyond government’s control, that which it could impact was perceived as poorly done.  Very poorly done.  That exacerbated the loss.  And, with the focus on health care reform, most Americans thought that the legislative priorities were wrong as well.  Voters have historically turned to the GOP to handle economic matters. But this is still no mandate for the GOP.

Finally voter anger hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just taking a breather.  Again, watch the direction of the country polls over the coming two years.  It’s an interesting set up in DC now.  Democrats actually would have been better off if the Senate had gone to the Republicans.  They still control it and the Presidency and that leaves the onus on them as we head toward 2012.  It also gives the GOP a free hand to pass whatever it wants in the House, regardless of where it goes, if anywhere, and make the case that they tried to reform what the people wanted reformed and Democrats (in the Senate and the President) stood in their way (reverse the “obstructionists” claim).

I think, after last night, that 2012 is definitely in play.  It will be interesting to see how both parties react.  I’m eagerly awaiting the Obama presser at 1 pm today when we’ll hear the first reaction from the President.  But as always with him, judge him by his actions, not his words.  His words have become empty rhetoric that many times doesn’t support what he ends up doing.

~McQ

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What a strange election

Democratic Rep Jim Marshall from here in GA (GA08) has an ad out which says it all:

"Georgia is a long way from San Francisco," drawls the narrator, over images of dancing hippies.

"Jim Marshall doesn’t support Nancy Pelosi," says the narrator, citing a finding that Marshall voted with Republican leaders 65% of the time."

How desperate is that?

If those two things are important campaign issues, then electing someone from the GOP should easily maintain the non-support of Pelosi and most likely up the percentage of votes with the GOP leadership, shouldn’t it?

Heh …

~McQ

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GOP’s Pledge? Just words …

That’s my initial reaction. Can’t help it. Been there, done this.

Sure, I understand the urge to be something other than the party of “no”.  I understand the desire to tell the American people what you stand for, and not necessarily only what you’re against.  Ok … got it.

But until and unless substantial change is enabled and accomplished by the GOP, this is just another in a long line of promises that ended up on the ash heap of history.

Oh certainly, much of it sounds wonderful – on the surface.  In fact, to the right, this is much like the sounds the left heard from the Obama campaign.  The reality, as they learned, isn’t anywhere close to what was promised.

Then there’s the recent GOP history.  An all Republican Congress led by a Republican President gave us Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind among many other things which would be directly opposed to what is promised in “A Pledge to America”.

Steven Taylor does a good job of hitting most of my objections to a quick read of the “Pledge”:

I would take the whole affair far more seriously if the Pledge contained even the outline of real plan to deal with the country’s structural fiscal problems.  Caps on spending, especially ones that seems to partially exclude security-based spending, always sound good, but aren’t a solution to the problem (not by a long shot).  I am willing to accept the notion that one has to start somewhere, but this is nibbling around the edges.  This pledge does not seriously address the major issue facing the country.

As Taylor points out, it’s mostly warmed over GOP talking points, which, to this point have mostly remained talking points vs. action.  And the “Pledge” does indeed seem vague in a lot of areas.  Perhaps instead of calling it a “Pledge” or a “plan” it would be better to call it a “blueprint” or “outline” – detailed plan to follow.

Certainly this will please much of the base – but frankly, they didn’t need much pleasing.  They’re already eager to hit the polling booths.  What one has to wonder – especially with the obligatory social con stuff thrown in when it wasn’t necessary – is what the independents will think.  Certainly they have been seen by polling data to at least be abandoning the Democrats – but does that necessarily mean they’ll embrace the GOP?  The social con inclusion in what should have basically been a small government plan sort of argues against the whole premise of small less intrusive government, doesn’t it? 

It will be interesting to see how indies respond.

I’m going to be reading the “Pledge” more closely and will respond with more detail, but at the moment, those are my thoughts.  How about yours?

~McQ

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GOP’s Pledge? Just words …

That’s my initial reaction. Can’t help it. Been there, done this.

Sure, I understand the urge to be something other than the party of “no”.  I understand the desire to tell the American people what you stand for, and not necessarily only what you’re against.  Ok … got it.

But until and unless substantial change is enabled and accomplished by the GOP, this is just another in a long line of promises that ended up on the ash heap of history.

Oh certainly, much of it sounds wonderful – on the surface.  In fact, to the right, this is much like the sounds the left heard from the Obama campaign.  The reality, as they learned, isn’t anywhere close to what was promised.

Then there’s the recent GOP history.  An all Republican Congress led by a Republican President gave us Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind among many other things which would be directly opposed to what is promised in “A Pledge to America”.

Steven Taylor does a good job of hitting most of my objections to a quick read of the “Pledge”:

I would take the whole affair far more seriously if the Pledge contained even the outline of real plan to deal with the country’s structural fiscal problems.  Caps on spending, especially ones that seems to partially exclude security-based spending, always sound good, but aren’t a solution to the problem (not by a long shot).  I am willing to accept the notion that one has to start somewhere, but this is nibbling around the edges.  This pledge does not seriously address the major issue facing the country.

As Taylor points out, it’s mostly warmed over GOP talking points, which, to this point have mostly remained talking points vs. action.  And the “Pledge” does indeed seem vague in a lot of areas.  Perhaps instead of calling it a “Pledge” or a “plan” it would be better to call it a “blueprint” or “outline” – detailed plan to follow.

Certainly this will please much of the base – but frankly, they didn’t need much pleasing.  They’re already eager to hit the polling booths.  What one has to wonder – especially with the obligatory social con stuff thrown in when it wasn’t necessary – is what the independents will think.  Certainly they been seen by polling data to at least be abandoning the Democrats – but does that mean they’ll embrace the GOP?  The social con inclusion in what should have basically been a small government plan sort of argues against the whole premise, doesn’t it? 

It will be interesting to see how indies respond.

I’m going to be reading the “Pledge” more closely and will respond with more detail, but at the moment, those are my thoughts.  How about yours?

~McQ

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Let’s see how savvy the GOP really is …

POLITICO points out that the House Republicans are planning to announce their election agenda within the next two weeks.  That ought to be an interesting exercise.  This is supposedly a result of their “America Speaking Out” initiative, an online, grass-roots effort to build ideas from voters across the country. 

Two things that have leaked out sound great but most likely will have about the same impact as PAYGO:

One of the GOP proposals would require bills to have a specific citation of constitutional authority, on the heels of criticism that Democrats breached their constitutional limits in Congress with big-ticket bills like health care reform. If a member questioned whether the House had constitutional authority to pass a bill, that challenge would receive debate and a vote.

The second major initiative would encourage — though not require — members of Congress to read bills before they vote. According to a senior House GOP source, Republicans plan to push for a new rule that would require the House to publish the text of a bill online at least three days before the House votes on it, also giving the public an opportunity to review legislation.

The first is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.  That nag fled decades ago.  Obviously I’d like to see the Constitution followed as it should be, but I find it highly unlikely that a body of lawyers would have any trouble rationalizing almost anything they come up with as “Constitutional”.  I mean, look around you.

The second is, well, window dressing.  While it sounds great, I have little confidence that a 2,500 page bill posted on line for 3 days allows anyone enough time to read it much less understand and react to it.  I cannot think of any bill that Congress considers and debates that couldn’t wait a month for enactment (other than perhaps some funding for a natural disaster, etc).  In that time a real reading could be done, and the appropriate debate among “the people” could take place.  What effect even that would have on the House is unknown, however, it certainly would raise the visibility of the debate to much different levels than now and provide a little accountability so sorely missing. 

We’re still digging horse apples out of the ObamaCare law.  It was passed in haste precisely because of the crap it had hidden inside.  Yet there is no reason whatsoever that bill couldn’t have been available on line for 30 days prior to House action.  None.  Making that a requirement (and if there’s a schedule that the House feels it must keep on certain reoccurring items like the budget – adapt.  Move the House work schedule for that bill back a month) would certainly go a lot further to keeping House members honest and between the ditches than anything.

The rest of the agenda remains veiled in generalities:

Other bills and initiatives that are likely to be launched alongside the agenda include tax policy proposals, health reform proposals and jobs-related measures, though GOP aides involved declined to release any specifics ahead of the unveiling.

POLITICO says some of them will be designed to appeal to the Tea Party vote.  The first is obviously designed to do that – but is it really something which can and will be enforced?  And if it is, will it actually have an effect.  Again, you’re asking a body of lawyers to vote on their interpretation of what the Constitution says, and most are going to fall back on “precedent”, i.e. the fact that in the past what many say is an unconstitutional expansion of government – see Commerce clause – has been upheld by the Supreme Court.  How in the world would this change that?

Anyway, given my dissatisfaction with the first two, the GOP does indeed need to roll out reasons to vote “for” them, rather than just against Democrats.  And most importantly, if they’re able to successfully appeal to the voters to vote “for” them, they better damn well execute.

~McQ

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GOP still clueless – it’s not about majorities, it’s about fundamental change

Nate Silver is someone I’ve come to enjoy reading when it comes to election analysis.  He knows his business.  But he too seems to have missed the significance of the New Hampshire and Delaware senatorial primaries, casting them only as elections – if they go to the “insurgent” Tea Party backed candidates – that could cost the GOP a majority in the Senate if the insurgents win.

Of course, that’s not the point, at least as I see them.  While Christine O’Donnell may not be the ideal candidate for the US Senate, she’s at least fiscally conservative.  Mike Castle, the GOP choice on the other hand, is described by Silver like this:

… Michael N. Castle, who has held elected office in Delaware for 30 years as its governor, lieutenant governor and lone United States representative. … Mr. Castle — a moderate who is unambiguously a member of the establishment …

Are any lights flashing and horns sounding in your head right now?  Silver describes Castle in terms that make him part of the problem, not part of the solution.  He’s a perfect plug-in to the Congress the country as a whole seems so unsatisfied with and is on the verge of changing.

Oh sure, he might nominally give the GOP another seat in the Senate – but to what end?  Voting with the Snowe/Collins Republicans and the Democrats on bills that expand government and spend more?

When is a seat not really a seat, or a majority not really a majority?  When you elect “moderates” of either party who are not averse to expanding the role of government. That’s part of the reason you see more and more polarization within the country.  Right now the left is having fun characterizing the right as “radical”.  But one only need look at the size of the liberal caucus in the House to know where the heart of leftist radicalism lies. 

I continue to harken back to polls which show the vast majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track – in numbers which haven’t changed much in the last 8 years or so.  In other words, the people as a whole are dissatisfied with both parties and their representation.  And again, I’ll point back to the Ned Lamont/Joe Lieberman race where the left tried precisely what is happening on the right in states such as AK, NH and DE at the moment.

These movements to effect change are indicators.  What is described as “radicalism” from “political activists” are the surface bubbles of a molten core of unrest among the majority of Americans.  They’re thrashing around for ways and means of changing something that seems never to change.  The Tea Party movement is one of those bubbles.  The Daily Kos left was another.  But nothing much has changed, has it?  And the “wrong track” numbers continue to remain at a constant level. And the frustration builds.

This isn’t  about majorities in the Senate.  It isn’t about the horserace in November.  It’s about fundamental change – and not many seem to understand that. The people in Alaska have said “enough” with the Joe Miller primary win.  The fact that the GOP primary races in both DE and NH are as close as they are should be sending unmistakable messages to the GOP leadership – one’s even they can’t miss – that establishment moderates aren’t who the people want in the Senate.  Naturally, it seems the Republicans are as tone deaf as everyone else.

If the GOP only wins 7 seats instead of 9 in the Senate, that’s fine, as long as the 7 are of the type that are committed to paring government down – reducing its sized influence and cost.  Those 7 are enough to keep the Snow/Collins branch of the GOP from pushing the numbers over to the Democratic side.  As it stands, in fact, not having a Senate majority is probably better for the GOP than achieving one right now – they’d just blow it and, as Mitch McConnell once said, being minority leader in the Senate is one of the most powerful positions in Congress.  And besides, we’d have to listen to Obama whine for 2 years about the “Republican Congress”.

Nope, the hand writing is on the wall if the GOP (and for that matter, the Democrats) would just pause long enough in the partisan bickering and bomb throwing to read it.  This isn’t about either of their parties, or them.  It’s about changing the direction of the country.  The party that first manages to absorb that message and then elect candidates that actually work toward that end is the party that is going to be in power for quite some time.  In principle, that should be the GOP.  But as usual, in their normal clueless way, they continue on the same road that put them in the minority two years ago believing instead that all this excitement about the midterms is actually because people are embracing their candidates over the Dems.  How they have missed the fact that the Tea Party insurgency indicates they couldn’t be more wrong still amazes me.

So continue on your merry blinkered way, GOP, and fight the movement and candidates who’re all but lighting the way with the platform you should be embracing.  Continue to put up your moderate establishment candidates and then wonder why, in two years time, you’re back on the other side of the wave as Democrats are again swept into office while you are pushed out.

It is the usual short term view that drives politics today and drives me crazy.  The belief that winning a majority is all that’s important because then the party can act on its agenda.  No – it can’t.  Not if those it has elected aren’t in tune with the principles of the platform.  Not if those elected are “moderates” who have no problem with big government, subsidies, entitlements and high taxes. 

If returning to the fundamentals of Constitutional government is “radical” then the GOP needs to become the radical party.  Until they absorb that, embraces that “radicalism” and runs candidates who believe in that fundamental principle, the wrong track numbers will continue to remain constant and the GOP will continue to be the clueless lesser of two evils, but not by much.

~McQ

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The bigger story about the Murkowski defeat

You remember Ned Lamont, don’t you?

You don’t?  Well Ned was the posterboy for the Kos Kids effort to change the dynamic within the Democratic party.  They wanted “progressive” candidates and Joe Lieberman of CT just didn’t fit the bill.  So the Kossaks and others like FireDogLake, backed their candidate, raised money and did their best to oust old Joe.  And they had some limited success.  I say limited in that they beat Joe in the Democratic primary, but then independent Joe whipped Ned’s rear in the general election.

Now, it’s not clear that will happen in Alaska.  Rumor has it that Murkowski, sensing defeat to the Tea Party backed Joe Miller, reached out to the Libertarian Party of Alaska, wondering if they’d be willing to adopt her as a candidate.  The libertarians said, “no way, no how, Lisa”.  She might be a viable candidate, but she’s no libertarian.  But that caused some to believe she’ll run now as an independent.

And, in Florida, you see the same sort of scenario being played out with Charlie Crist and the TP backed Marco Rubio.  Crist, the establishment GOP choice has been reduced to running as an independent – and he is.

The whole point of course is getting establishment candidates ousted in a primary is only Step 1.  As Ned Lamont and the Kossaks learned, the important step is Step 2.

If the Tea Party is to be taken seriously as a force for making the GOP more fiscally conservative and Constitutionally aware, it has to win the Step 2 contests as well.

~McQ