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I wrote something long on Medium, so you should probably Instapaper it and plan to read it on a future flight or something.
For months now, observers have been wondering why the Republican Party has been failing to rally around one seemingly-obvious candidate in particular. Young, new to the United States Senate, he is smart, well-spoken, represents a large and diverse state, and would be the first Latino nominee of a major party. Despite some bumpiness in his tenure, his positions on most issues are conventional, and he is likely to have similar priorities to a Republican Congress. Even though he’s rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way, the media has been pretty unified over the last few months in wondering:
“Why won’t the Republican elite rally around Ted Cruz?”
Ha ha ha, just kidding, nobody’s been asking that. Instead, they’ve been asking that about Marco Rubio, get it, he also meets that description. The problem with Rubio, though, is that he’s irrevocably tied to being on the wrong side of what has becoming the defining issue in the primary for nakedly cynical reasons and more generally that he’s an empty suit and even more generally that voters don’t seem to actually, you know, like him or want to vote for him.
But Ted Cruz doesn’t have that problem! He won Iowa! He placed third in New Hampshire despite it being an exceptionally weak state for him, behind the overwhelming winner and the guy who had banked 100% of everything on ekeing out second place, but ahead of Rubio and Jeb! He’s right there! What’s going on?
Ha ha ha, just kidding, we all know what’s going on. The problem with Ted Cruz is that literally ever person who has spent more than a few seconds in his physical presence apparently loathes him. Major publications are practically building out entire verticals devoted solely to aggregating quotes from public figures about the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-of-the-soul experience that is interacting with Ted Cruz. And, yeah, he definitely hijacked the Senate that one time to shut down the government, putting his interests ahead of the party.
But you know what? It worked! It demonstrated an ability to understand and interact with a complex network of institutions to achieve his goals. It showed savvy. It was entrepenuerial. And unlike Marco Rubio’s immigration SNAFU, it showed he had, and has, his fingers much more squarely on the pulse of key portions of the GOP primary electorate.
Let me be clear – a Ted Cruz presidency would be terrible. And, as the Republican nominee, he would probably lose. He is very conservative! He would probably rub a lot of voters the wrong way because, truly, being a successful politician who nonetheless rubs people the wrong way, deeply, in their bones, is Ted Cruz’s unique gift in life.
But he is decidedly not Donald Trump. Donald Trump is scary. Donald Trump is accountable to nobody. Donald Trump is a monster. A Ted Cruz candidacy would most likely be a Goldwater- or McGovern-esque loss; a Donald Trump’s candidacy has an equal chance of either accelerating centrifugal forces in the Republican Party and coalition past the point of no return, or of being something much, much worse for the future of American democracy itself.
Any long-term thinking on the part of the Republican elite should, at this point, realize that the collective odds of Bush, Kasich, and Rubio securing the nomination are slim; the contest, at this point, may very quickly become an effective two-man race if Trump and Cruz 1-2 South Carolina and Nevada. The long-term viability of the Republican Party is, frankly, in doubt no matter what happens this year, but it is in much better shape if it loses in a large but ultimately controlled and predictable way than if it puts all its chips on…whatever it is we will one day call Trumpism. The GOP and its elite, to put it bluntly, should prefer to “Lose with Cruz” (now there’s a campaign slogan) than to grab the toupeed tiger by the tail and ride it into the dark unknown.
The fact that this decision seems gobsmackingly obvious from anyone outside the group of, at most, a few thousand people who constitute the core of the GOP elite, yet so repulsive to those few thousand people themselves, is a little scary in what is says about the inability of high-level political actors to put the political ahead of the personal. Shoot, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just be[whack], there was a crazy spate of stories about how the Republican elite might actually prefer Trump to Cruz because Cruz is a galaxy-class asshole. How those stories will play out now that Trump is winning primaries and Rubio may have dispelled himself once and for all remains to be seen. But it would be a collective gamble of reckless, amoral, cynical, myopic abandon unlike any in recent American history for a major party’s elites to even acquiesce to the nomination of someone like Trump; it would be staggering if a perfectly viable and much more predictable and conventional, if not exactly promising, alternative were discarded simply because the person inhabiting that alternative has all the charisma of microwaved fish.
Josh Marshall rightly extrapolates from the utterly insane and terrifying comments of Ted Yoho (R-Airstrip One) that we should all be very, very afraid. He’s not wrong, exactly (I just said he was “rightly,” after all) but I don’t think we’re going to default on the national debt. Here’s why:
40-50%: Debt limit compromise on process. Not enough, methinks, has been made of this report from Greg Sargent:
The principle articulated internally is simple. Never mind delaying or defunding Obamacare — there will be no policy concessions in exchange for a debt limit that would damage Dem priorities. Republicans must refocus on legitimate legislative means, i.e., the legislative process’ normal give and take. In exchange for the debt limit hike, there will be no medical device tax repeal. No Keystone pipeline. Obama administration officials are open to the possibility of face saving moves by Republicans being part of the endgame, but only ones involving process — not policy concessions — such as the McConnell provision, a device floated last year that would have largely transferred debt limit authority to the president.
This strikes me as being both politically and policy-wise the best solution. The Democrats and the President maintain that they did not offer policy concessions for ransom, the Republicans get to claim that they won something, and the potential of future debt ceiling crises is permanently defused in a wholly-legitimized manner. The main goal the President is trying to accomplish (and that the whole world should be behind) is that a faction of Congress cannot threaten massive catastrophe in exchange for unilateral policy concessions, and even a completely clean debt ceiling hike doesn’t wholly remove that possibility from the table in the future, though it would make it far less likely.
20-30%: Clean debt ceiling hike, AKA, the GOP caves. Who knows what lives in the addled mind of John Boehner? Of which GOPers are truly mad and which are eyeing the emergency exits on the crazy train? Certainly, though, it seems that if the Senate were to pass a clean hike soon, the pressure on the House to do the same on Oct 16-17 would be enormous, and it seems that wouldn’t be a too-unlikely scenario. This is certainly what the President wants, and it would hopefully defuse future crises of this nature, but of course, nothing is guaranteed.
20-30%: The financial crisis is substituted with a wholly political one. In this scenario, the President would emerge when the first payment is due beyond what is in Treasury’s coffers and above the legal borrowing limit and, legal memo in hand, declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional and order his administration to proceed as if it did not exist. (I don’t think the platinum coin, awesome though it is, has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening). What would happen then is – the government and debt markets proceed as normal, forever. The GOP would epically flip out, the House would pass a bill/resolution ordering the POTUS to respect the debt ceiling, but a) it wouldn’t pass the Senate and b) the POTUS/WH would simply lump that in with “unconstitutional threats to the credit of the US” and move along. The House would then impeach the President on a purely party-line basis, the Senate would acquit, and there it would lie. Certainly nothing would move forward in Congress through the rest of Obama’s second term, but it’s not like anything would anyway! Whether the POTUS’s decision was correct legally would be debated, but morally, pragmatically, and governance-ally the consensus would be sympathetic to him. This would have the effect of burying the debt ceiling as an issue forever, since it’s unlikely that the GOP would believe so strongly in this that, in 2017, a President Christie/Jindal/Cruz/Paul/Palin/whomever would take the oath of office and immediately order a cessation of payments on the national debt. It would also have the odd effect of making any US default ever, for any reason, untenable legally, and thus prevent the US from any kind of Argentina/Greece kind of debt restructuring/selective defaulting down the line, meaning an actual US debt crisis (as opposed to the political crisis nominally centered around the issue of the national debt) would have to be resolved through a combination of austerity and inflation.
…and that’s it. I truly do not believe that Obama and his administration has any incentive to elect to actually catastrophically default over taking the legal out above, and I think they would elect for that knowing full well it would result in impeachment.
But of course, they can’t say they’re going to do that, or even hint that they would, because that would eliminate all incentive for the GOP to cooperate in advancing either of the two other scenarios above. The GOP would love to paint Obama as a lawless debt-addicted tyrant and has been all-but-openly itching for a reason to impeach him since Jan 20 2009, so Obama in fact has to act like Option C is off the table even if he’s completely convinced that it’s the only alternative.
It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks, folks.
Freddie deBoer’s post on Rand Paul’s filibuster has inspired three thoughts – one about why he’s mostly right, one about where he goes wrong, and one about how this all implicates our national institutional design.
Firstly, Freddie is generally speaking on-the-nose – there is nothing about Rand Paul’s positions on other issues or political ambitions that should prevent anyone who cares about restraining executive power and preserving civil rights and rule of law from cheerfully supporting his endeavors. Anything that brings more attention to these issues is good, anything that puts more pressure on the executive branch is good. This filibuster is a distinct act (though not wholly separable) from his other political stances, and thus can and should be supported in good faith and conscience.
However, I think Freddie has somewhat blinkered himself in not broadening his view. Forget about Rand Paul’s mostly-despicable views on almost every other class of public policy issues; on this particular issue, Paul is definitively in the minority amongst his own party. That, though, is what made this filibuster so politically clever for him. The Republican Party is split between those who are (mostly) consistent in favoring reduced government power and those who simply support low taxes on rich people and bombing undesireables, and the weight is largely towards the latter. However, the GOP is very much unified on the subject of hating Barack Obama. So by spontaneously creating a dynamic by which a question that leaves Paul in an intra-party minority into a referendum on spiting the President, he managed to frame himself as a leader on the issue and bring along most of his party with him since they were motivated by not wanting to look weak on the key GOP issue of sandbagging Obama. Especially when you look at the list of key GOP contenders for 2016 – in addition to Paul, you have Rubio, Christie, Jindal, Bush, Ryan, Hunstman, Santorum, McDonnell, Walker, Daniels, Portman, Cruz…any big ones I might be forgetting? – almost every other candidate is either explicitly or implicitly on the other side of this issue. What Paul did yesterday gained him a lot of exposure while simultaneously turning a weakness that isolated him into an instance of combative, Capra-esque leadership.
This is not to say that Paul’s motivations (or his internal ranking of those motivations) are the key factors for us as citizens – to the extend Rand Paul made supporting unchecked state power to do violence more costly, it was unambiguously a Good Thing. But the dynamics also expose a serious flaw in our Constitutional institutions. Namely, it really does seem as though many of the Framers bought their own hype and believed the major points of conflict in the state they designed would be a) inter-state and b) intra-federal-governmental. But political partisanship, as in retrospect seems inevtable, ended up playing a major role in political organization in the United States and totally threw a wrench into those dynamics, especially b). The expectation that "Congress," as a body, would check "the Executive" is perhaps-fatally compromised during high periods of partisan polarization, when the Executive is unified but Congress is deeply divided, and members of Congress may prioritize supporting their party over their institutional prerogatives. So you could have a dynamic whereby, say, one party is more inclined than the other to oppose state violence, but when that party has control of the executive branch they suddenly find state violence is really useful and their co-partisans in Congress prioritize winning partisan battles. This, of course, means that these kinds of issues can quickly become corrosive to the body politic and result in the kind of self-perpetuating cynicism that further empowers state violence. I’m not sure what to do about that, per se, but I am certain that this is the correct way to understand yesterday’s events and why I am cheered but still quite wary by the Paul filibuster.
The other day I wrote two post on the same day, one that went like this:
If you were a potential candidate running for office in one of two districts, and District A had a middle-class incumbent and District B had a rich incumbent, you might be more inclined to run in District A. And I think you’d be right. But probably for the wrong reasons…[rich pols are] in politics strictly for the game. And because all their upside is on staying in office, they might fight a lot harder and a lot nastier to stay in office.
Unsurprisingly, many GOP governors have chosen the latter path, especially those who might be running for re-election, even those who were conservative darlings before hand. So instead of just one big Dolchstoss from Roberts, we now have a running clown car of conservative Dolchstosses across America and a big juicy political target for Democrats.
Yet I did not sum one and one to compute the mythical “two” until Dave Weigel wrote this:
When Florida Gov. Rick Scott buckled and said he’d support Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, I urged caution, because the GOP-run state legislature would get a say on this. It could always reject the expansion “and make Scott seem—for the first time in recorded history—like a centrist” as he faces a 2014 re-election campaign…Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also preside over reasonably-safe Republican legislatures, which might have blocked expansion anyway.
Tom Corbett and Scott Walker come from not-uncomfortable middle-to-upper-middle-class-itude; but Rick Scott has a personal net worth in the nine figures and that’s after he blew eight figures seizing Florida. So think about it this way – if Corbett and Walker get re-elected they’re Presidential candidates; if not they’re sitting pretty on wingnut welfare or corporate boards and getting rich. Rick Scott is already rich, and probably doesn’t care about running for President. He wants to stay in the statehouse and is willing to buck his own party strategically to do it.
Obviously this isn’t a deterministic or even primary factor, but I think we forget too often that politicians are people and are looking forward to their own possibility trees.
So everybody seems to have noticed that John Boehner let the Violence Against Women Act pass through the house with mostly Democratic votes, depsite this being an egregious violation of the Hastert rule (not to mention the Hastert rule’s corrolary Boehner rule). And people seem to be noticing that, since Jan 2011, things have only gotten done legislatively in America when the Hastert rule has been, how to say this nicely…temporarily placed in abeyance. My guess is we’ll start to see more, not less, of this, and this will actually move us towards a political equilibrium.
Essentially, the Hastert rule was an attempt to increase the leverage of the party controlling the House. But in practice, what it does is empower the furthest-from-center faction of the party in power (in this case, the far right-wing faction of the GOP). And Boehner trying to stick to it has been agonizing to watch, as he tries to find compromises on major issues that both Barack Obama and the median House GOP legislator can agree to (hint: there aren’t very many). So on big issues – three in the last few months, in fact – the Hastert rule has been chucked and we’ll probably see it chucked more.
Not only is this unambigiously Good For America ™, but it is actually more politically stable than inflexible cartelling. The reason is simple – the Hastert/Boehner rule equilibrium is one where the most idelogically extreme members of the Republican Party are forced to either a) vote for something the dread pirate Obama favors or b) [insert dire consequence to the nation here]. That’s basically Sophie’s choice for them, and forcing them to play that game repeatedly can’t end well.
However, if Boehner throws the floor open to bills that have majority support in the house, even if they don’t have majority support in his own party, he can get the best of both worlds – a House where bills pass, and one where his conservative members can safely vote "HELL NO" on whatever they feel like. And by controlling what comes to the floor, he still has leverage to force compromise.
The best part about this for Boehner is that it makes him more, not less, secure in his job. If a rump faction of right-wing Reps decided to try a coup, they would find that they have made their life worse, not better: it takes a majority, not of the majority party, but the whole House both to remove a Speaker and install a new one (which is why Boehner’s own coup against Newt failed). The likeliest outcome of an attempted right-wing coup against Boehner’s Vichy regime would be one in which every Democrat gleefully voted with a minority of GOPers to toss Boehner, resulting in a situation where either a) almost every Republican would have to agree on a new Speaker who would face the exact same conundrum Boehner faces or b) you’d get the inverse-House-of-Cards scenario where the Dems peel off 20 swing-district GOPers and make one of them a weak Speaker who was forced to allow votes on whatever Dems and moderate GOPers wanted, a shaky equilibrium to the left of the status quo.
So, basically, as long as Boehner is willing to continue transition the Hastert rule towards something that is honored mostly in the breach, the future of America gets brighter.
I can understand why Republicans are not terribly thrilled with their current options in this whole nomination contest buisness, but I am mystified that the latest attempt at recruitment is focused on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. When it was focused on Paul Ryan at least it made a snake-oil sort of sense – he was young, banally easy on the eyes, and had a notable plan to address a key issue (albeit a massively unpopular one). But speculation on Chris Christie is bizarre. He’s an arrogant lout most known for bullying his constituents in attempts to promote himself via YouTube. He has no record of note as governor, he has baggage from his previous position as US Attorney, and he was elected mostly as an expression of monumental loathing for his predecessor. His approval rating has rebounded from "bad" to "good," but there’s no reason to think he even has a good shot of carrying his own state against Barack Obama. I fail to see what, if any, problem a Christie candidacy solves for the GOP.
Last nights House GOP FAIL got me thinking about something I once wrote:
Wading into this whole debate about Kos’ American Taliban, I think we’ll see that the difference between "difference in degree" and "difference in kind" dissolves when you realize that the whole question centers around values, which is what puts the lie to both Kos and his (in this particular case) conservative doppleganger Jonah Goldberg. Kos wants to make the argument that in, say, hatred of women’s sexuality, American Christian conservatives and the Taliban are different only in the ways they express that hatred – ie, the values are the same but they’re just enacted more moderately here. And these kinds of situations often leave people fumbling around finding differences of differences of differences. But really the answer is: how you decide to enact your value is in-and-of-itself a value. All of us, all the time, carry around all kinds of values and beliefs and urges about all kinds of things that clash, compete, and in the end mitigate each other. The reason Christian conservatives in America are not regularly stoning or disfiguring women is because they think its wrong, and their value of "don’t physically harm other people" outweighs their value of "women who have violated traditional sexual norms deserve to be punished." The value of "respecting the democratic process" is important enough in the United States that it outweighs the desire of both sides to see their side in power, and it is in fact exactly this that we are trying to instill in the Taliban! We want opposing factions and radicals and extremists and violent types everywhere to sublimate those beliefs to a shared belief in values like "thou shalt not kill" and "let’s make rules and follow them." This is why conservatives aren’t the Taliban, Hillary Clinton isn’t Mussolini and everybody needs to seriously chill out.
I think it’s clarifying and very important to understand that differences of degree – ie, "I don’t like you but I’m not going to kill you" v. "I don’t like you and therefore I’m going to try to kill you right now" – as differences of kind. The difference between the former and the latter is not "how much they don’t like you" but whether or not they think violence is an acceptable repsonse to loathing, which is itself a very important value system.
So, what does that have to do with the House GOP’s inability to pull together for a simple CR? Well it’s become my opinion that the new Tea Party rump of the GOP is different not in degree from their predecessors but in their values, which also explains things like the debt ceiling. The old GOP thought that taxes were bad, but that destroying the American economy or the American government’s ability to function were also bad. The new Tea Party types seem to think the latter concerns are much less of a problem, and therefore is an acceptable risk in pursuit of destroying taxation. The Tea Party is defined not by an extreme hatred of taxes; that’s always been the GOP. The Tea Party is defined by considering everything else so far behind that particular evil that they are willing to roll the dice on economic devestation and meltdowns of governance in order to get their way.