Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bring It On

When I am down, and lately I have been down, I take great joy in reading the GOP introspective "The Growth and Opportunity Project". For a Party that has lost 5 of the last 6 popular vote elections--and takes solace in the 2012 loss by claiming a partial mandate in that voters returned the GOP to the House, despite the gerry (rigged) mandered districts, their soul searching report to make them competitive by 2016 is nothing short of delusional.  Rather than deal with the report in detail, let me just pick one part: the complaint that too many primary debates left them in a weakened position vis a vis the Democrats.

The report, with a nifty graph, notes the rise in the number of debates since 1980. In 1980, there were just 6 debates whereas in 2012 there was 20 (actually down one from 2008)!  They believe that the number of debates are hurting their ability to produce a viable competitor to whomever the Democrats pick (nevermind that the Democrats have the same number of primary debates when they are looking to take back the White House from the Republicans).

What the GOP suggests is to cut the debates in half (at least), for the GOP to announce a year away from 2016 the exact number of debates and where (I guess we are supposed to be blind to the fact that the Party is not supposed to have anything to do with the primary process), and then the suggestion to institutionalize the debates by creating a companion organization to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization responsible for hosting the presidential debates.

First, the GOP changed their system in 2012 to make it harder for a nominee to emerge earlier in the process as well as to encourage participation in debates because it worked so well for the Democrats in 2008.  The lengthy primary process in 2008 energized the electorate, including the much vaulted Independents, and the vigorous debates between Obama and Clinton left a nominee who was battle tested.  Now they complain about it?

But let's look at what is really afoot here.  The GOP is overlooking the fact that the person who they expected to be the nominee won the nomination, and the debates actually made him a better candidate (witness Presidential Debate #1). They are upset that Romney had to compete with a circus of challengers--that Bachmann-Cain-Perry-Santorum--presented an image of the GOP that was out of step with the average voter.  Right, the debates is what damaged the image.

What is disappointing about this report, and what they miss, is the fact that fewer debates or debates controlled by the Party, who get to weed out undesirables, is not going to solve their problems.  In fact, minimizing the number of  debates in 2012 might well have left that trainwreck Rick Perry unscathed--no "oops" moment--giving him the opportunity to allow his money and advertising to give him the nomination, only to put him on stage with Barack Obama, with 10 times more voters watching.  Yeah, that's going to help the GOP get right back in the game.

So listen up GOP: Americans love debates.  If you are truly soul searching in an attempt to win back voters, give them what they want.  Give them debates.  Your problem is an internal schism, and until you fix the weight that social/cultural conservatives have in the Party, no amount of soul searching and fancy reports are going to fix your problems.

But hey, keep churning out those reports.  It has added levity to an endless winter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The March Madness of the Invisible Primary. And Sister Fest.

Each year I go away with the most wonderful person in the world, my sister Monica, for what we call “Sister Fest.” This is less a “Girls Gone Wild” bacchanalia than a break from dishes and laundry, but it’s something fun and highly anticipated. We are sometimes joined by our other “sisters,” close friends who go way back with us and who we call family, but this year we went solo and we went rogue. While in the past we have hit various cities with hurricane-force consumerism, this time we went… to the Borgata in Atlantic City. I had never been to a casino before – it was just like a spa, right?
            Wrong. Apparently, it is not like a spa, except if you are in search of services called “aggression” and “lung cancer.” Since I don’t gamble and smoking is my biggest heebie-jeebie I am, perhaps, not the prevailing Borgata customer. But Monica and I have fun wherever we are, and last weekend we had fun at the Borgata too. We landed in the one non-smoking bar where a mass of people were watching the start of March Madness on HUGE television screens. Everyone was cheering for Marquette. I do not know why. When Monica went to the bathroom and I found myself bored, I cued into the game and began to cheer for Davidson. The nice guy next to me asked if I had gone there, and when I answered: “No. It’s just a better school than Marquette” I triggered an avalanche of condescending lessons on how to pick a winning team for a bracket. The thing was, all of the reasons that were sold to me as the “real” reasons to pick a winning team seemed almost as arbitrary as mine: Fealty towards an alma mater, a geographic region where the school was located, the team’s ranking (this, clearly, less arbitrary) etc. because in the end – someone makes a great shot, someone loses a big shot, or someone gets shot and the prognostication goes to crap. The late Don Frazier, my wonderful faculty mentor whom I miss every day, once said about his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl: “They’re predicted to win. But that’s why they play the game.” All of this, of course, made me think about politics and the Invisible Primary. 
            No less an authority than the WaPo’s Fix has now bracketed the 2016 presidential potentials. This is as much fun for politicos as the real March Madness is for sports nuts, because it allows us to consider some wild match-ups. But at the exact same time it’s even sillier than bracketing the college hoops teams because if the sports stuff is slightly predicated on guess work, then the 2016 picks are entirely built on confirmation bias. This is the phenomenon that says we seek out and receive information that corroborates what we already think, and it explains certain strange actions – like Sheldon Adelson funding so much of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. He really thought Newt had a chance? Really? Anyway, confirmation bias is the thing that makes us look at our Invisible Primary contenders and eschew those we think wanting or embrace those whom we think to be winners. The truth? It’s WAY too early to bracket anything, because the money’s not there.
            Forget the Super PAC mishegoss – I’m talking hard money donations and of course those aren’t in yet because you need to file first with the FEC in order to raise real money. The money accrued during the I.P. is clutch, and this is just like the March Madness basketball rankings: It is perhaps the most compelling factor that will contribute to a candidate’s success, but it isn’t a given. In other words, if you start out with a huge bank you go into a long and expensive primary period on solid ground. You can run ads up the wazoo, fly all over the place, walk the length of New Hampshire if you want to (but you don’t. Right, Lamar Alexander?). It’s one solid predictor of success, because it shows existing fund raising skills and predicts solid name recognition and campaign success. But just like the basketball rankings, it doesn’t guarantee anything: You still have to play the game. And just as there have been upsets in March Madness, there will be upsets in the primaries, both Invisible and highly visible. It’s why we play the game. So right now, I look to the political brackets the same way I looked to the March Madness brackets – I select my winners based on some fact and a hearty amount of favoritism. I'm looking at you, Joe Biden.
            Monica and I abandoned the Borgata early because she got sick and I flatly refused to gamble, but our Sister Fest resumed at her house where I still rejected laundry and dishes and we continued to have fun. Just like the sports fans love March Madness, and just like we poli-sci-riffic fans love the Invisible Primary, I love Sister Fest. It’s the one event where no predictions are necessary, because the outcome is inevitable.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Heritage, CPAC, and Stolen Underwear

            One of my favorite friends from college was Scott. He was (and likely remains) outrageously funny, smart, and sarcastic, and we lived in the same dorm for two years running. Our second year, having abandoned his loutish roommate, he moved all of his belongings into our second floor lounge and squatted there until the custodians locked him out of the room, but that’s a totally different story for another day. Scott came to St. Lawrence University from the Deerfield Academy boarding school, a tradition-rich WASP haven in New England whose motto is “Be worthy of your heritage.” We got several weeks into our first semester at SLU when Scott copped to the fact that he couldn’t do laundry, so we tromped downstairs to the basement of Reber Hall (rut roh!) where I meticulously explained the nuances of Tide and bleach. He had a look on his face that basically said: Isn’t this what we pay people to do? but I endeavored on. I was expounding on an astonishingly wide variety of underwear folding techniques when I stumbled upon a pair of his boxers that had the Deerfield motto and crest on the front, and on the tush was written: “Where the hottest party is the Grand Old Party.” 
            So I stole Scott’s underwear.
            Look, I was a Government major from DC, Reagan was in office, and this just killed me. All of my tee shirts and printed clothing read leftie things like: “Experts agree! Meese is a pig!” so finding something that was so gung-ho Republican was both totally different and really funny. I still have the boxers, and take them out when I’m feeling blue and need a laugh. This may be one of those boxer weeks, actually.
            Anywho, I was reminded of Scott’s underwear after my star-student Antonio sent me this cartoon about the future of the GOP in regards to the Invisible Primary. The Republican Party may very well remain the hottest at Deerfield but they seem to be losing their way off-campus, in no small part to their steadfast devotion to their own heritage. Since the cartoon references yet another Bush (that would be Jeb), we will begin with him and then get to the other members of the Sonnenkinder (that one’s for you Adam Rapp!).  
            We’ve heard a whole bunch from Jeb Bush lately, thanks to the release of his book “Immigration Wars” and the ensuing press tour that landed him on the Sunday morning chat shows. Since it seems fairly straight-forward that one I.P. technique is to write a policy book and hawk it to hell, Jeb was asked repeatedly about his 2016 prospects which brought this rejoinder to David Gregory of NBC: “Man, you guys are crack addicts. You really are obsessed with all this politics.” Umm… Jeb? Did you miss the briefing about what the Sunday morning shows are about? Because I have it filed away on my computer in my “patently obvious” file, right next to the documents titled “Congressmen want to be re-elected” and “Chocolate is delicious!” Back to his book, which is on immigration: His TV sales pitch led to a slew of headlines about whether or not his new immigration stand makes him more in-line with the GOP, a flip-flopper, or a back peddler. But this really was subtext for the big question about his 2016 intentions, and he added fuel to the fire by saying he would not rule anything out. Crack addicts indeed.
            Moving on to CPAC, since the conservatives arrive in DC this week for their annual bacchanal, the conference program is out and the speaking times have been listed by The Atlantic right here. Sen. Ted Cruz gets to speak for the longest amount of time (33 minutes) and after that, my girl Sarah Palin is allowed 16 minutes. Trump, Jindal, Paul, Perry, Rubio, Walker and Ryan each get just over 10 minutes each. I’m not sure if this means too much, but it does give insight to who the cool kids are on the right wing of the GOP. And only at CPAC does Donald Trump count as “cool.”And... Sarah Palin gets more time than the rest of those folks? Really? Moving on....
            Speaking of Sen. Rand Paul, his filibuster last week (the 9th longest in history, apparently) garnered much I.P. attention, not only because he kept the floor for so long but also because he got great press because of it. Even though a few Republican stalwarts (Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham most notably) criticized the effort as “ridiculous,” Paul gained a ton of support from the likes of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and GOP strategist Steve Schmidt among others. We already knew that Paul the Junior has his eye on the 2016 prize and would lean forward into any spotlight, but as my favorite Uncle, Larry the Libertarian, notes: What made this special was the boost that Paul got from social media. According to the WaPo, Twitter was on fire with more than a million Tweets. Nicely noted, Uncle! It was this social media attention that brought what our marvelous Nicholas noted to be even more Senate attention from another I.P. favorite, Marco Rubio. Much jockeying for attention, Invisible Primary candidates! Well played!
And so now we double back to the conundrum facing the Grand Old Party: Being worthy of your heritage is not the same as being accessible to the electorate. That seems to be the biggest problem facing the Republicans as they march towards 2016. As Bill O’Reilly noted on Election Night (in terms far more crass than this) you can no longer win an election with just the WASP establishment behind you. You can bet your Gin & Tonics that the lack of ethnic diversity will be problematic for a party that is struggling to re-define itself, since Rubio and Jindal are the two clear exceptions to the white-guy rule seen in our I.P. front runners. But that said, into this void comes a bit of intellectual diversity where Paul in particular doubles-down on the libertarian strain of conservatism. We see this attention to the far right in the CPAC run-down, which (as noted) very specifically excludes a more moderate Chris Christie. Don’t yell at me – I know the “C” stands for “Conservative,” but still. The right wing of the Republican Party is hoping to add a little heat to the GOP.
Long live the Deerfield boxers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Running right in Pennsylvania -- don't get yourself primaried!

It is good to be finally posting since I am the only one left.  I should explain myself, I thought the blog was called the “silent primary” so I thought I would stick with that theme and remain so (as difficult as that is for me).  Now that I know it is the invisible primary I plan talk much but remain invisible (equally hard for me…).

As a person who likes to pay attention to budgeting and budgeting processes, the current budget-centered battles provide a great indicator of the temperature of our current hidden primary.  The sequestration alone seems to be a proxy war of sorts for the 2014 congressional primaries and beyond.  The insightful Stan Collender, in his blog Capital Gains and Games, talks here about how the GOP decision to move forward with the sequester cuts had nothing to do with the budget and everything to do with the potential to be “primaried” by the right-wing of the party.  Challenges from the right become even more important, and the ability to move safely to the right in defending your seat is even more essential given serious efforts to make districts more and more safe.  As the general election becomes more and more irrelevant, the primaries become the true focus of elections.

Of course, you can’t “redistrict” a whole state so it makes it trickier for Senators to use this playbook to its full extent.  Senator Pat Toomey used this move-to-the-right approach in his earlier House wins and in 2010 to win his Senate seat.  But given the problems the Democrats faced with the Arlen Specter switch and a weak campaign strategy offered by Congressman Joe Sestak, it is not necessarily a strategy that will serve him well in 2016.  This is particularly true given the fact that Pennsylvania Democrats have a 1 million registered voter advantage over Republicans.  Toomey’s role on the not-so-super committee makes one think he is going to stick to his well-tested run-right strategy,  But he tries to make sure everyone thinks he is one of the “reasonable” Republican’s by not joining the Tea Party Caucus and by making appearances on the liberal-acceptable-republican show, Morning Joe, here (any Republican drinking Starbucks with a woman must be okay, right?).  But it is hard to reconcile this given his recent Club For Growth’s “Defender of Economic Freedom” award.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Marco, Chris, and Hillary. Oh My!

Since Dave posted that he was right about Iowa, I would like to do the same and claim some credit for warning Marco Rubio about that coveted post-SoTU spot - He sure shootin' dropped the ball in his weird lunge for the water bottle. I was going to post about it but it seemed like piling on, and so I let it pass because I am inherently kind. Besides: What more could I add to the howling choir of Stewart, Colbert, Letterman, Kimmel, Leno and SNL? Anywho, since then Sen. Rubio has been quite active in our Invisible Primary, and so we will start with him and then double back to Hillary. Away we go.

First, a tip of the hat to Rubio for Tweeting a picture of his water bottle immediately after his SoTU train-wreck. That showed self-awareness and a bit of moxie. It certainly showed that he tried to get in front of his self-made prat-fall, which is an attractive quality for someone who wants to be in the spotlight for the rest of his life. Rubio continued the self-deprecating-water-bottle humor on his trip to Israel, which seemed to be taking the joke a bit far, but whatever works. On the other hand, it feels old now so we'll turn our focus to Rubio's international trip that aimed to prove two things: One, that he should be taken seriously on significant foreign affairs issues; second, that by taking a hard pro-Israeli stand, he is waving a gigantic carrot in front of American Jews. And I think we all know that since Passover is right around the corner, Jews love nothing more than a carrot with which to make some Tzimmes. We all knew that, right? Tzimmes? OK, moving on... Marco came back from abroad and hit the ground running, going to New York to fund raise among the movers and shakers of Wall Street. Hilarity ensued when Rep. Peter King (R-NY) gave Rubio the big finger for opposing funding for Hurricane Sandy relief: “It’s bad enough that these guys voted against it, that’s inexcusable enough. But to have the balls to come in and say, ‘We screwed you now make us president?’” HA! But forget the balls reference for just a moment -- Rubio is working the IP system like a champ. Makes me want to hydrate.

Moving along the I-95 corridor, Gov. Chris Christie, another IP fave, has been in the news for three reasons. First, he was dinged by CPAC (and said he "Can't sweat the small stuff." You go, Chris!). Then came news that former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is hosting a fundraiser for the Governor's re-election campaign, joining similar efforts from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Finally, the news out of New Jersey is that Christie is sooooo popular there and polling data predicts that he is going to win his re-election bid in a walk. All of this put together points to a strong Christie as he enters his gubernatorial re-election bid, setting himself up nicely for a war chest and national name recognition.

And finally, to the Democrats to the Democrat. A recent PPP poll shows that the former Secretary of State is a strong Invisible Primary candidate, at least in the state of Wisconsin. The poll, released yesterday, shows Hillary beating Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan in their home state, which is good news for her as she begins to write her memoirs. Joe Biden? Where are you? Probably off trying to fix the sequestration fiasco, which is where our attention must focus for now. But the IP continues!

Happy weekend, everyone!