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The Daily Strategist

August 21, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



"MIcrosoft Ditches ALEC In Latest Blow To Conservative Group," reports Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo Live Wire. Scott adds: "Microsoft joins Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble as some of the major corporations that have severed their relationship with ALEC, according to CNET. Others -- like Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, and Yelp -- remain involved with the group."

Via Plum Liner Greg Sargent's "From a vulnerable red state Democrat, a strong pro-Obamacare ad":

Nate Cohn explores several reasons why "Alaska Might Be More Friendly to Democrats Than It Appears" at The Upshot.

Also at The Upshot, however, Josh Katz argues that "Georgia Is the Reason the G.O.P. Is Edging Up in the Overall Senate Race."

New Suffolk University/USA Today poll has Democratic U.S. Sen. Hagan up 2 percent with LVs in NC, a stat tie.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin is not so dismissive as others of the likelihood that Texas Governor Rick Perry may lose a ruling on the two-count indictment ("abuse of official capacity" and "coercion of a public servant") that has been filed against him, as Toobin explains in his article "Why Rick Perry May Be Out of Luck."

At Fox News Latino Elizabeth Llorente explains why "Despite Expected Low Turnout, Latino Voters Could Prove Crucial In Some Midterm Races." She quotes Fernand Amandi, a managing partner at polling company Bendixen & Amandi International: "The question for the midterm elections is, given the extra emphasis on immigration, and the economy and the impact of the healthcare program,...will that cause a Hispanic spike in voting, like we saw in 2006, or will Hispanics revert to the historical pattern of less than a regular turnout?"

A paragraph from Al Hunt's latest Bloomberg View column suggests an important messaging point that might bear some repetition: "The U.S. economy has turned around with the unemployment rate dropping from as high as 10 percent in the first year of the Barack Obama presidency to a little over 6 percent now. That hasn't registered with many voters. In the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, the public was dissatisfied with the economy by an almost two to one ratio. Almost half of Americans thought the U.S. still was in a recession; the deep downturn caused by the financial crisis actually ended five years ago."

Maybe not. But the gender gap suggests she will more likely vote Democratic.


August 20, 2014

Senate Reset



So the much-discussed Senate Republican primary cycle is coming to a close, and many GOP partisans are congratulating themselves on avoiding disaster via the nomination of another Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin (though they came close in Mississippi). As we reset our expectations for the general election, however, it still looks to be a very close election when it comes to control of the Senate, as I discussed today at TPMCafe:

[T]here are no signs of a Republican "wave" election; most of the positive trajectory remain attributable to a lucky Senate landscape this particular cycle and to the turnout advantages the older and whiter GOP automatically enjoys in midterms these days. So the assumption many Republicans seem to have that they'll get all the "late breaks" in close races isn't really warranted at this point. Nor is the much-discussed "enthusiasm gap" a reliable indicator. As Republican pollster Neil Newhouse warned recently (per the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza), the same "gap" existed in 2012:
"The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team's [get out the vote] efforts," writes Newhouse. "In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were 'unenthusiastic,' 'unexcited' and not 'energized' to vote, rendering the 'enthusiasm gap' meaningless."

We don't know yet whether the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's "Bannock Street Project" -- a heavy investment in turning the Obama '12 campaign's voter targeting and mobilization techniques into a disruption of past midterm turnout patterns -- is going to pay off. The impression I get, however, is that it's a deadly serious enterprise, and potentially crucial in, for example, Arkansas, where African-American turnout has been abnormally low in recent elections. We also don't know if Republican "independent" groups are going to be as feckless as they generally were in 2012 in spending their considerable resources.

Beyond that, there are obviously idiosyncrasies in individual contests that are difficult to predict but could change everything. North Carolina's Thom Tillis is uniquely tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that's generated as many negative headlines in the state as Congress. Both he and Joni Ernst took dangerously extremist positions in the course of winning their primaries. Tom Cotton didn't even need a primary to create ideological peril for himself. Ernst and Georgia's David Perdue have been gaffe-prone. Mitch McConnell, never a beloved figure at home, is a highly visible officer in a despised congressional status quo. Cory Gardner is the rare Republican Senate candidate for whom a strong Latino backlash against the recent upsurge in GOP nativist sentiment could prove a catastrophe.

On the Democratic side, Mary Landrieu has already in her career accomplished something thought near-impossible for a Democrat by winning a post-general-election runoff. And Mark Pryor's reservoirs of support are such that he didn't even draw a Republican opponent last time he ran.

So while Republicans can rightly be pleased that they avoided disaster during the Senate primary cycle, it's far too early for gloating. And if the imponderables between now and November 4 aren't sobering enough, they can look ahead to the 2016 Senate elections, when the landscape shifts sharply in the opposite direction and a far less favorable presidential electorate shows up at the polls.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans can manage to avoid the irrational exuberance that convinced so many of them in 2012 that Mitt Romney would be the 45th president.


GOP Freaking Out About Voter Registration in Ferguson



It appears that our Republican brethren are getting a little twitchy about the political fallout emerging from the tragic slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. As Simon Maloy writes in his Salon post, "GOP's insane Ferguson crusade: Now they're denouncing voter registration drives":

...With the situation spiraling out of control in the streets, activists and community leaders have set up voter registration drives in Ferguson. This act of civic engagement is drawing howls of outrage from conservatives and Republicans.

Before we get into the complaints from the right, let's just take a moment to appreciate what is actually happening. Every night, the streets of Ferguson are filled with tear gas and less-than-lethal ordinance as cops decked out in military gear respond to protests over the killing of an unarmed black teenager. The situation is extremely tense and the threat of violence hangs over everything. In response to that, activists are saying to the community: "Yes, the system has failed you, so sign these forms and work within that same system to peacefully and proactively ameliorate the situation."

And as ThinkProgress points out, low black voter turnout (combined with an unusual election calendar) has resulted in a local government that looks nothing like the population of Ferguson. The community is majority black, but the mayor is white, and five of the six City Council members are white. For members of the community who feel their interests aren't being represented, the first step toward changing that is registering to vote.

Maloy relates that Missouri Republican Party executive director Matt Wills got all bent out of shape about the voter registration drive and responded "I think it's not only disgusting but completely inappropriate." Maloy reminds his readers, "Again, this is in response to a voter registration drive in a majority black community."

The GOP response to the voter registration effort continues on in like fashion, including some disparaging jabber about "politicizing" the death of Michael Brown. Sadly, it appears that the Republican Party is finally reduced to openly saying more voting by African Americans is a bad thing. As Maloy concludes, "They're evangelizing faith in the political system and encouraging people to act within established political norms. I'm not sure how one can view that as "disgusting" and "completely inappropriate."

In his Plum Line post, "By all means, we should 'politicize' Ferguson," Paul Waldman writes, referring to the Republican expressions of disgust:

This argument isn't just wrong, it's precisely backward. "Politicizing" this crisis is exactly what we should be doing...."Let's not politicize this" is something we hear whenever a dramatic (and especially tragic) event occurs, and talk inevitably turns to the larger issues and policy implications raised by the event in question. The guardians of the status quo always say that this isn't the time to talk about those implications (this is particularly true of gun advocates, who inevitably argue that the latest mass shooting isn't the time to talk about the fact that our nation is drowning in firearms).

But what's a better time to talk about those larger issues than when the nation's attention is focused on a particular crisis or tragedy? The events in Ferguson have highlighted a number of critical issues -- the treatment of black people by police, the unequal distribution of power in so many communities, the militarization of law enforcement, and many others. Does anyone think that if we all agreed not to propose any steps to address any of those problems for a few months, that we'd actually restart the debate over these issues unless there was another tragedy that forced it into the news?

...Meanwhile, people in that community may be thinking more about their lack of political power, which might lead them to do things like register voters. I'm sure that all over the country, local activists are starting to ask questions about their own police departments and whether they suffer from some of the pathologies we've seen in Ferguson. That's not exploitation, it's the political process in action.

Or, if you prefer, Democracy.


August 19, 2014

New Poll Spotlights Reaction to Brown Slaying, Ferguson Protest



From Pew Research Center's "Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting" discussing an Aug. 14-17 national survey of 1000 adults:

Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown "raises important issues about race that need to be discussed." Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown's death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.

...Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting's aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.

...One-in-five young adults (20%) closely followed news from Ferguson, less than the share of those 50-64 (34%) and 65 and older (33%).

It's still too early to estimate the political fallout of the Michael Brown slaying and community protests in Ferguson. But Jonathan Cohn discusses possible outcomes in his post, "When Does the Ferguson Story End? At least two things probably need to happen first at The New Republic, while TNR's Brian Beutler reports on the right-wing spin on the Ferguson events.


August 18, 2014

Lux: Money in Politics a Mounting Voter Concern



The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of "The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be," is cross-posted fro HuffPo:

There is more and more evidence that Democrats and progressives are discovering the power of taking on big money in politics as a central issue in their campaign strategies. In the House, Nancy Pelosi has gotten most of her colleagues in the Democratic caucus (160 of them) to co-sponsor a major clean money campaign finance initiative, John Sarbanes' Government By The People Act. In the Senate, Harry Reid is leading the charge against the Koch brothers, and for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Meanwhile Netroots icon Larry Lessig, with the help of a wide array of progressive movement organizations, was able to rapidly raise more than $5,000,000 in small donations for his new Mayday PAC to take on money in politics, proving the grassroots passion behind this issue. I think there will be more in the weeks to come as more news stories on political corruption break, and billionaires like the Koch brothers spend more and more money trying to buy this election.

In the meantime, two folksy prairie populists (full disclosure, both are old friends and I have been helping out their campaigns) have added new videos to the money-in-politics mix. Featuring music, humor, and down-home folksiness, they are both a lot of fun to watch.

The first is from Rick Weiland, who has been running for Tim Johnson's open Senate seat in South Dakota. Rick has built his entire campaign around the message of taking on big money in politics, with his Take It Back slogan being a call to take back our country from the big money special interests that control it. While the Republican frontrunner in the race, Mike Rounds, runs around the country raising millions of dollars, Rick has been the first candidate to visit all 311 towns in the state, and is in the middle of doing it again right now. Rick likes to sing, and he came out with his second music video of the campaign a couple weeks back, having rewritten the words to Roger Miller's classic "King Of The Road:"

And then there's Chuck Hassebrook, who has spent his entire career fighting for family farmers and small businesses as head of the Center for Rural Affairs. He's running a great populist campaign, this one for governor of Nebraska. He is running against Pete Ricketts, who is a far right crony of the Koch brothers and a brother of the owner of the Chicago Cubs (Ricketts is threatening to do to Nebraska what his brother has done to the Cubs, God save my home state). His new video thankfully doesn't feature him singing, but it is really funny:

These kinds of grassroots videos are the latest sign that candidates all over the country, in red states as well as purple and blue, are taking up the fight against money in politics, to take the country back from the Koch brothers, Wall Street, and the big business interests that run things right now. It is exciting to see.


Political Strategy Notes



Re the debate about "tax inversion," loopholes allowing corporations to relocate their HQs overseas to avoid taxes, Justin Sink notes in his post "White House betting '14 midterm elections on economic patriotism" at The Hill: "A poll commissioned by the Americans for Tax Fairness found that half of all voters were aware of the issue, and that large majorities -- including 86 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 69 percent of Republicans -- disapprove of it..."Tax fairness stuff polls really well across the board," said ATF executive director Frank Clemente...He said voters are "very sensitive to offshoring of profits and offshoring of jobs, and this inversion stuff feeds very much into that."..His polling leaves him "extremely" confident it will resonate with independent voters."

Rand Paul tries to sell his "big government is to blame" snake oil to exploit the tragic slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO for political gain. If you were thinking that budget cuts resulting in poorly-trained police had something to do with it, just never mind.

Other Republicans are treading gingerly around the Ferguson tragedy, but that probably won't last, since they rarely miss an opportunity to gin up racial divisions. Ferguson may not be front-page news by November, but the development Republicans would fear most would be an energized movement to register African American voters emerging from it and spreading nation-wide. As Tommie Dale, a former resident of Ferguson who has set up a voter registration drive in the community, explains "It's the only way we can make a change," she said standing in front of a boarded-up Chinese restaurant, damaged during a night of violent unrest. "People don't understand. Looting and rioting aren't going to get it."

Most political observers seem to have their favorite bellwether state, and NYT columnist Frank Bruni makes a good case for monitoring CO political trends. As Bruni describes the political demography: "In many ways, Colorado is the new Ohio, a political bellwether. The percentage of its voters who chose Barack Obama in each of the last two presidential elections almost precisely matched the percentage of voters who did so nationwide. And nearly all the currents that buffet national politics swirl around the Rockies...bursting with agriculture and booming with high tech, outdoorsy and urbane, a stronghold of the religious right (Colorado Springs) and a liberal utopia (Boulder)...In other ways, "Colorado is the new California," in Hickenlooper's words. It floats trial balloons -- marijuana being one example, education reforms being another -- while other states watch to see which take flight and which wheeze and crumple to earth."

Moshe Z. Marvit of In These Times reports on a new labor organizing technique -- creating "micro-units" of unions, which represent only workers who join the union. Marvit explains, "...A micro-unit is a traditional, NLRB-certified union, containing the majority of the workers in the unit and serving as the exclusive bargaining representative for the entire unit--it just represents a specific department or job classification...For labor, the potential advantage of micro-units is that they tend to draw from those departments that have higher levels of worker support, as opposed to wall-to-wall units, which may include departments where support is lower. Therefore, they're harder to crush during the organizing phase."

Meanwhile George's Zornick's post at The Nation, "A Bill to Get the Labor Movement Back on Offense" provides a backgrounder on a reform that would get the right to organize into labor unions included in both the Civil Rights Act and the National Labor Relations Act. The legislation, introduced by Reps. John Lewis and Keith Ellison, would "give workers a broader range of legal options if they feel discriminated against for trying to form a union. Currently, their only redress is through a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board--an important process, but one that workers and labor analysts frequently criticize as both too slow and often too lenient on offending employers." This one may require a Democratic landslide to enact, but a dialogue about the concept is overdue.

Jack Healey reports at The Times that Montana Dems are running a 34-year old one-term state legislator/math teacher to replace Sen. John Walsh, who quit his candidacy after a plagiarism scandal. Amanda Curtis has no money and only three months to make her case to hold the U.S. Senate seat for Dems, who have held the seat for a century. Still, she has a populist message, a working-class background and an opponent who has lost his only two previous statewide campaigns.

Great headline, cute picture.


August 15, 2014

Lux: President Obama, Dems Should End Subsidies for Foreign Companies That Violate Rights



The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

One area where a lot of us populist progressives agree with at least the rhetoric of the Tea Party is the issue of subsidies to big business. Case in point: the Export-Import Bank. A recent Chicago Tribune piece touched on this topic. Reporter Gregory Karp asks this critical question: "Do high-end foreign airlines get unfair advantage in U.S.?" He goes on to describe the expanding services foreign airlines such as Emirates and Qatar are offering in the US. He writes that domestic airlines "...operate at a disadvantage because some foreign airlines receive government subsidies, have lower labor costs and don't deal with U.S. regulations, some of which hamstring the growth of domestic airlines."

This is absolutely true and has not received enough attention in the media. The US government's Export-Import Bank has been providing financial subsidies to foreign companies, including Emirates and Qatar, giving them a leg up on domestic companies. These foreign companies often have terrible human rights track records -- yet our government is still giving them a competitive advantage.

Emirates has a long and well-documented history of anti-LGBT behavior. News accounts of the company's policies reveal several instances in which the airline has taken action against LGBT individuals -- even while trying to market itself to gay travelers. The UAE, where Emirates is based, prohibits "homosexual acts," which can lead to up to 10 years in jail. The airline reportedly circumvented anti-LGBT discrimination laws in California and banned a book featuring a gay character during its inaugural international literature festival.

Qatar has policies in place that harshly discriminate against women. The airline forbids any member of the cabin crew, the vast majority of whom are female, from marrying during the first five years of employment. In addition, Emirates has a policy whereby female cabin crew that become pregnant in the first three years have to leave. And last year, the airline was criticized for forcing women to ask permission from the company before getting married.

Thankfully, these actions would not be tolerated by the Obama administration here in the United States; yet, amazingly, that same administration happily allows Ex-Im to benefit Emirates and Qatar. It is time to look at the competitive edge we give foreign companies and ensure that they meet the same standard we ask of our own hometown companies and citizens.


August 14, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Campaign for America's Future's Dave Johnson argues "Dems Should Campaign On Trade And Jobs, Not On Being Like Republicans."

Put Egberto Willies's Daily Kos post, "Obama slams reporter's right-wing adopted talking point as bogus" on your must-read list for the day. Willies does an excellent job of showing how President Obama shreds both the neo-con critique of his Iraq policy and shallow MSM reporting with surgical precision.

Meanwhile at Post Politics, Sean Sullivan reports that "Fully 65 percent of Americans say they approve" of the Iraq airstrikes ordered by President Obama. Only 23 percent disapprove.

"You can argue that the number of bills passed isn't an ideal measure of how successful a Congress is. What you cannot argue is that there aren't oodles of unresolved issues that people of all political stripes want to see addressed -- and that could benefit from some sort of congressional action...Pennsylvania Avenue isn't a one-way street, and the GOP controls the House...And just like it means Obama didn't get more gun control, it also means Republicans haven't gotten more border security." - from Aaron Blake at the Fix.

Some politicians run against Washington. But, as Matea Gold reports, in NC Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is doing pretty good running against Raleigh.

And The Nation's John Nichols explains why Democratic candidate for Governor Mary Burke has a solid chance to defeat Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

Some states actually make it, gasp, easier to vote.

Shane Goldmacher reports at the National Journal that NRCC decepticons have launched two dozen faux news sites to reach low-information voters.

In shameless name-dropping, Hollywood celebs who have given the max ($5,200) to Alison Lundergan Grimes's campaign to unseat Mitch McConnell include (according to Judy Kurtz at the Hill): Ben Affleck; Jack Black; James Cameron; Nicolas Cage; Danny DeVito; Cameron Diaz; Leonardo DiCaprio; Jennifer Garner; Steven Spielberg; Tom Hanks; Jerry Seinfeld; Mike Myers; Jon Hamm; producer J.J. Abrams; DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; Woody Allen; Ted Danson; America Ferrera; Leonard Nimoy; Barbara Streisand; Aaron Sorkin; Ben Stiller; and Chris Rock. It appears that poor Mitch will have to make do with warbucks from his corporate masters.


August 13, 2014

"Libertarian Moment" Really the Christian Right's Hour



There's been a lot of hype the last week over a New York Times Magazine piece by Robert Draper suggesting that the Republican Party and the nation might be ready for a long-awaited "libertarian moment" via a Rand Paul presidential candidacy. Here's an excerpt of my critique of the hypothesis at TPMCafe:

[T]to the extent there is something that can be called a "libertarian moment" in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, it owes less to the work of the Cato Institute than to a force genuine libertarians clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged are typically horrified by: the Christian Right. In the emerging ideological enterprise of "constitutional conservatism," theocrats are the senior partners, just as they have largely been in the Tea Party Movement, even though libertarians often get more attention.

There's no universal definition of "constitutional conservatism." The apparent coiner of the term, the Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz, used it to argue for a temperate approach to political controversy that's largely alien to those who have embraced the "brand." Indeed, it's most often become a sort of dog whistle scattered through speeches, slogans and bios on various campaign trails to signify that the bearer is hostile to compromise and faithful to fixed conservative principles, unlike the Republicans who have been so prone to trim and prevaricate since Barry Goldwater proudly went down in flames. The most active early Con-Con was Michele Bachmann, who rarely went more than a few minutes during her 2012 presidential campaign without uttering it. It's now very prominently associated with Ted Cruz, who, according to Glenn Beck's The Blaze has emerged as "the new standard-bearer for constitutional conservatism." And it's the preferred self-identification for Rand Paul as well.

What Con-Con most often seems to connote beyond an uncompromising attitude on specific issues is the belief that strict limitations on the size, scope and cost of government are eternally correct for this country, regardless of public opinion or circumstances. Thus violations of this "constitutional" order are eternally illegitimate, no matter what the Supreme Court says or who has won the last election.

More commonly, Con-Cons reinforce this idea of a semi-divine constitutional order by endowing it with -- quite literally -- divine origins. This is why David Barton's largely discredited "Christian Nation" revisionist histories of the Founders remain so highly influential in conservative circles, and why Barton himself is welcome company in the camps of Con-Con pols ranging from Cruz and Bachmann to Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee. This is why virtually all Con-Cons conflate the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, which enabled them to sneak both Natural and Divine Law (including most conspicuously a pre-natal Right to Life) into the nation's organic governing structure.

What a lot of those who instinctively think of conservative Christians as hostile to libertarian ideas of strict government persistently miss is that divinizing untrammeled capitalism has been a growing habit on the Christian Right for decades. Perhaps more importantly, the idea of the "secular-socialist government" being an oppressor of religious liberty, whether it's by maintaining public schools that teach "relativism" and evolution, or by enforcing the "Holocaust" of legalized abortion, or by insisting on anti-discrimination rules that discomfit "Christian businesses," has made Christian conservatives highly prone to, and actually a major participant in, the anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party. Beyond that, the essential tea party view of America as "exceptional" in eschewing the bad political habits of the rest of the world is highly congruent with, and actually owes a lot to, the old Protestant notion of the United States as a global Redeemer Nation and a "shining city on a hill."

So perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether the Christian Right and other "traditional" conservatives can accept a Rand Paul-led "libertarian" takeover of the conservative movement and the GOP, but whether "libertarians" are an independent factor in conservative politics to begin with. After all, most of the Republican politicians we think of as "libertarian"--whether it's Rand Paul or Justin Amash or Mike Lee--are also paid-up culture-war opponents of legalized abortion, Common Core, and other heathenish practices. As Heather Digby Parton noted tartly earlier this week:

[T]he line between theocrats and libertarian Republicans is very, very faint. Why do you think they've bastardized the concept of "Religious Liberty" to mean the right to inflict your religion on others? It appeals to people who fashion themselves as libertarians but really only care about their taxes, guns and weed. Those are the non-negotiable items. Everything else is on offer.

And then there's the well-known but under-reported long-term relationship of Ron and Rand Paul with the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party, a Con-Con inspirational font that no Republican politician is likely to embrace these days.

To the extent that the Republican Party becomes identified with Con-Con systematic hostility to government, it's not a creed that's going to appeal to millennials or even to serious secular libertarians. Even if there's a "libertarian moment" in the GOP, and that's highly debatable, it will be the Christian Right's hour.


'Dawn of the New Blue Dogs' Overstated



Alex Isenstadt's Politico post "Running as a Dem, Sounding Like a Republican" suggests a "blue dog rising" trend aborning among Dems running for House seats in 2014, incumbents and challengers alike. Isenstadt argues that Dems are embracing Republican memes not only in red states, but also "in purple or even blue territory."

Isenstadt does provide some examples:

Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff, who's running in a district that Obama won in 2012 and 2008, has started airing a commercial that strikes a tea party theme. It highlights his record as speaker of the state House of Representatives when, he says, he helped balance the state's budget..."It's really pretty simple. You don't buy things you can't pay for," Romanoff states.

As Romanoff narrates, a graph of the nation's soaring debt pops up on the screen. The image looks strikingly similar to one that appears in a Web video Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan released in 2011 to sell his controversial budget plan, though a Romanoff spokeswoman insisted that the campaign hadn't borrowed from the former GOP vice presidential contender.

New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, whose district broke for Obama by a yawning 11-percentage-point margin in 2012, is running an ad that touts her support for small-business tax cuts while showing her touring a local microbrewery. Separately, former Iowa state Sen. Staci Appel, in a district Obama won by 4 percentage points two years ago, underscores her record of fighting overspending in state government, a populist theme often heard from tea party-aligned conservatives.

Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, in a swing southern Arizona district that is slightly more conservative than the others, uses his first TV spot to highlight his support for increasing border security funds. The ad -- complete with the image of a border patrol car -- doesn't mention elements of immigration reform that are typically more popular among Democratic voters.

Like the commercials aired by Romanoff, Kuster and Appel, Barber's doesn't mention his Democratic Party affiliation.

Democrats who have the especially high hurdle of competing in deep-red districts are striking multiple conservative themes. Democrat Patrick Henry Hays, the North Little Rock mayor who's running in an Arkansas district that Mitt Romney won in 2012, uses his first TV ad to discuss the need for a balanced budget, limited government regulations and less wasteful spending. Like Romanoff, Hays includes a graphic to depict the national debt..."I approve this message because it's simple," Hays says. "You cut waste, you pay your bills, and you do everything in your power to create jobs. That's what we need in Congress."

Those are five interesting examples of Dems putting on a little blue dog lipstick to steal a quick kiss from high turnout seniors and other demographic groups who tend to show up at midterm polling sites. But it's a bit of a stretch to imply that 5 races out of 435 constitute a big trend. Nor do Republicans have a monopoly on budgetary prudence. There have always been Democrats who are more concerned about moderation in spending than many of their party fellows, and there always will be. That's life in the big tent.

Isenstadt quotes a grumbling Democratic strategist, who is concerned about Dems losing their populist edge and his Republican counterpart, who says it just goes to show how lame are Dems who copy Republicans. Both are stock characters in this biennial playlet.

What we are not seeing much of among such Democrats is the over-the-top government, immigrant, union or gay-bashing that prevails among many tea party types and, increasingly, Republicans in general. There's none of the pod-people finger-pointing contagion that afflicts today's GOP.

Maybe the better story is that so few Republicans are embracing moderate messages in their campaigns. Isenstadt offers only one example.

It's pretty much biz as usual for Democratic mid term candidates. As congressional races begin to narrow, there will be some movement toward moderation in messaging, perhaps more so on the Democratic side. But anyone looking for a sea change in Democratic policy will likely be disappointed.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



August 20: Senate Reset

So the much-discussed Senate Republican primary cycle is coming to a close, and many GOP partisans are congratulating themselves on avoiding disaster via the nomination of another Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin (though they came close in Mississippi). As we reset our expectations for the general election, however, it still looks to be a very close election when it comes to control of the Senate, as I discussed today at TPMCafe:

[T]here are no signs of a Republican "wave" election; most of the positive trajectory remain attributable to a lucky Senate landscape this particular cycle and to the turnout advantages the older and whiter GOP automatically enjoys in midterms these days. So the assumption many Republicans seem to have that they'll get all the "late breaks" in close races isn't really warranted at this point. Nor is the much-discussed "enthusiasm gap" a reliable indicator. As Republican pollster Neil Newhouse warned recently (per the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza), the same "gap" existed in 2012:
"The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team's [get out the vote] efforts," writes Newhouse. "In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were 'unenthusiastic,' 'unexcited' and not 'energized' to vote, rendering the 'enthusiasm gap' meaningless."

We don't know yet whether the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's "Bannock Street Project" -- a heavy investment in turning the Obama '12 campaign's voter targeting and mobilization techniques into a disruption of past midterm turnout patterns -- is going to pay off. The impression I get, however, is that it's a deadly serious enterprise, and potentially crucial in, for example, Arkansas, where African-American turnout has been abnormally low in recent elections. We also don't know if Republican "independent" groups are going to be as feckless as they generally were in 2012 in spending their considerable resources.

Beyond that, there are obviously idiosyncrasies in individual contests that are difficult to predict but could change everything. North Carolina's Thom Tillis is uniquely tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that's generated as many negative headlines in the state as Congress. Both he and Joni Ernst took dangerously extremist positions in the course of winning their primaries. Tom Cotton didn't even need a primary to create ideological peril for himself. Ernst and Georgia's David Perdue have been gaffe-prone. Mitch McConnell, never a beloved figure at home, is a highly visible officer in a despised congressional status quo. Cory Gardner is the rare Republican Senate candidate for whom a strong Latino backlash against the recent upsurge in GOP nativist sentiment could prove a catastrophe.

On the Democratic side, Mary Landrieu has already in her career accomplished something thought near-impossible for a Democrat by winning a post-general-election runoff. And Mark Pryor's reservoirs of support are such that he didn't even draw a Republican opponent last time he ran.

So while Republicans can rightly be pleased that they avoided disaster during the Senate primary cycle, it's far too early for gloating. And if the imponderables between now and November 4 aren't sobering enough, they can look ahead to the 2016 Senate elections, when the landscape shifts sharply in the opposite direction and a far less favorable presidential electorate shows up at the polls.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans can manage to avoid the irrational exuberance that convinced so many of them in 2012 that Mitt Romney would be the 45th president.


August 13: "Libertarian Moment" Really the Christian Right's Hour

There's been a lot of hype the last week over a New York Times Magazine piece by Robert Draper suggesting that the Republican Party and the nation might be ready for a long-awaited "libertarian moment" via a Rand Paul presidential candidacy. Here's an excerpt of my critique of the hypothesis at TPMCafe:

[T]o the extent there is something that can be called a "libertarian moment" in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, it owes less to the work of the Cato Institute than to a force genuine libertarians clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged are typically horrified by: the Christian Right. In the emerging ideological enterprise of "constitutional conservatism," theocrats are the senior partners, just as they have largely been in the Tea Party Movement, even though libertarians often get more attention.

There's no universal definition of "constitutional conservatism." The apparent coiner of the term, the Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz, used it to argue for a temperate approach to political controversy that's largely alien to those who have embraced the "brand." Indeed, it's most often become a sort of dog whistle scattered through speeches, slogans and bios on various campaign trails to signify that the bearer is hostile to compromise and faithful to fixed conservative principles, unlike the Republicans who have been so prone to trim and prevaricate since Barry Goldwater proudly went down in flames. The most active early Con-Con was Michele Bachmann, who rarely went more than a few minutes during her 2012 presidential campaign without uttering it. It's now very prominently associated with Ted Cruz, who, according to Glenn Beck's The Blaze has emerged as "the new standard-bearer for constitutional conservatism." And it's the preferred self-identification for Rand Paul as well.

What Con-Con most often seems to connote beyond an uncompromising attitude on specific issues is the belief that strict limitations on the size, scope and cost of government are eternally correct for this country, regardless of public opinion or circumstances. Thus violations of this "constitutional" order are eternally illegitimate, no matter what the Supreme Court says or who has won the last election.

More commonly, Con-Cons reinforce this idea of a semi-divine constitutional order by endowing it with -- quite literally -- divine origins. This is why David Barton's largely discredited "Christian Nation" revisionist histories of the Founders remain so highly influential in conservative circles, and why Barton himself is welcome company in the camps of Con-Con pols ranging from Cruz and Bachmann to Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee. This is why virtually all Con-Cons conflate the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, which enabled them to sneak both Natural and Divine Law (including most conspicuously a pre-natal Right to Life) into the nation's organic governing structure.

What a lot of those who instinctively think of conservative Christians as hostile to libertarian ideas of strict government persistently miss is that divinizing untrammeled capitalism has been a growing habit on the Christian Right for decades. Perhaps more importantly, the idea of the "secular-socialist government" being an oppressor of religious liberty, whether it's by maintaining public schools that teach "relativism" and evolution, or by enforcing the "Holocaust" of legalized abortion, or by insisting on anti-discrimination rules that discomfit "Christian businesses," has made Christian conservatives highly prone to, and actually a major participant in, the anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party. Beyond that, the essential tea party view of America as "exceptional" in eschewing the bad political habits of the rest of the world is highly congruent with, and actually owes a lot to, the old Protestant notion of the United States as a global Redeemer Nation and a "shining city on a hill."

So perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether the Christian Right and other "traditional" conservatives can accept a Rand Paul-led "libertarian" takeover of the conservative movement and the GOP, but whether "libertarians" are an independent factor in conservative politics to begin with. After all, most of the Republican politicians we think of as "libertarian"--whether it's Rand Paul or Justin Amash or Mike Lee--are also paid-up culture-war opponents of legalized abortion, Common Core, and other heathenish practices. As Heather Digby Parton noted tartly earlier this week:

[T]he line between theocrats and libertarian Republicans is very, very faint. Why do you think they've bastardized the concept of "Religious Liberty" to mean the right to inflict your religion on others? It appeals to people who fashion themselves as libertarians but really only care about their taxes, guns and weed. Those are the non-negotiable items. Everything else is on offer.

And then there's the well-known but under-reported long-term relationship of Ron and Rand Paul with the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party, a Con-Con inspirational font that no Republican politician is likely to embrace these days.

To the extent that the Republican Party becomes identified with Con-Con systematic hostility to government, it's not a creed that's going to appeal to millennials or even to serious secular libertarians. Even if there's a "libertarian moment" in the GOP, and that's highly debatable, it will be the Christian Right's hour.


August 7: Con-Cons and the Real "Struggle for the Soul of the GOP"

In discussing the strategic and tactical differences within the GOP that exist despite agreement over policy and ideology, there's something underneath the surface that always concerns me: the steady growth of a meta-ideology on the Right that is not at all new, but is rapidly emerging from the shadows. It generally calls itself "constitutional conservatism," and I addressed its basic nature (not for the first time, but more definitively) yesterday at the Washington Monthly:

I do worry that the still-emerging ideology of "constitutional conservatism" is something new and dangerous, at least in its growing respectability. It's always been there in the background, among the Birchers and in the Christian Right, and as as emotional and intellectual force within Movement Conservatism. It basically holds that a governing model of strictly limited (domestic) government that is at the same time devoted to the preservation of "traditional culture" is the only legitimate governing model for this country, now and forever, via the divinely inspired agency of the Founders. That means democratic elections, the will of the majority, the need to take collective action to meet big national challenges, the rights of women and minorities, the empirical data on what works and what doesn't--all of those considerations and more are so much satanic or "foreign" delusions that can and must be swept aside in the pursuit of a Righteous and Exceptional America. I don't think at this point "constitutional conservatism" has taken over the GOP, but its rhetoric and the confrontational--even chiliastic--strategy and tactics it suggests are becoming more common every day, even among hackish pols who probably don't think deeply about anything and would sell out the "base" in a heartbeat if they could get away with it. Some of the moneyed interests bankrolling the GOP and the conservative movement probably just view all the God and Founders talk as a shiny bauble with which to fool the rubes, but others--notably the Kochs--seem to have embraced it as a vehicle for permanent domination of American politics. This is the real "struggle for the soul of the GOP" that's worth watching, far more than the tempests in a Tea Party Pot in this or that primary.

The Con-Con self-identification has grown like topsy in just the last four years. It bears careful watching, because those who espouse this radical ideology will not be subdued by sweet reason, their own party's "discipline," or even temporary setbacks. They're playing a long game, and a dangerous game.


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