Thursday, February 7, 2013

GOP Recovery vs. Ted Cruz

I have a new column up at the Prospect arguing that Karl Rove's group isn't likely to make much difference, and that for sane conservatives to really do something about the GOP Senate nominations problems, they need to take two steps: actively, aggressively push The Crazy out of the mainstream of the party, and substitute policies that can be sold as having direct effects on voters' lives for the symbolic policies that they've specialized in over the last few years.

(The headline says it's for moderates, but it's just as much for sane conservatives as it is for moderates. If not more).

Anyway, anyone looking to see how far they are from doing this only need examine how Ted Cruz has begun his Senate career -- and how the conservative media has reacted. Cruz has, basically, been a disgrace. Not that he's "too" conservative, but that he's doing exactly what I talked about in that column as the problems for Republicans: pushing nuttiness, and valuing symbolism over substance. All of which has earned him rave reviews from the Republican-aligned partisan press.

Indeed, look closely at an item by Andrew Stiles in National Review about how well Cruz is playing among conservatives. About his antics during the Chuck Hagel hearing:
Cruz’s blunt approach, and perhaps unorthodox tactics, became a lightning rod for liberal critics, especially after many of them had all but given up defending Hagel, whose performance was widely panned on both sides. Cruz was derided for his “bogus attack” on Hagel, for “hectoring” the nominee, for turning the hearing “into a clown show,” and even for channeling the spirit of Joe McCarthy.

For conservatives, that may be one of the surest signs that Cruz is doing something right.

There's no sense at all that NR or conservatives in general care even slightly about whether the attacks were "bogus" or not. No sense at all that Cruz's attacks needed to be defended or justified. All that's important is that "liberal" critics (which basically means anyone who isn't 100% on board with movement conservatives) found fault with Cruz: that alone is, Stiles says, good enough for conservatives.

I think Stiles is basically correct in his reporting. And if so, you can't really paint a sadder picture of where these "conservatives" are right now.

27 comments:

  1. Movement conservativism is about not liking libruls. That's it.

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  2. I really like the part about how crafting effective policy that improves people's lives is hard, because it really is!

    @JB if you want to do a Thursday Cranky Blogging/Ignore those polls Alan Abramowitz is already trying to handicap the midterms (he thinks the Dem's might gain one seat in the House!) But of his three factors used to come up with this prediction neither has anything to do with the economy.

    http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/midterm-forecast-democrats-may-gain-house-seats-in-2014-but-majority-probably-out-of-reach/

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  3. Jon,

    When is TAP going to get an actual picture of, you know, you?

    Thanks,
    -V.

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    1. It's pretty hilarious. It's like if Alex Pareene had a picture of Mark Halperin next to his name on his profile.

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  4. Insurance premiums were going through the roof when a brilliant Republican governor took right-wing think tank ideas and pushed universal health insurance through in his state. Serious change, serious policy, hard, hard work. And he was completely successful in that part of his governorship.

    So what was the outcome for Governor Romney?

    Why do you ask Senator Cruz to commit political suicide by actually doing something? Who knows what conservative talking point will send you to Siberia in five years, if you actually enact it?

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    1. The outcome for Governor Romney is that he crushed all opponents in the Republican presidential primary, became the Republican presidential nominee, and held a competitive presidential election against an incumbent president. Hardly electoral suicide. In fact, it's not crazy to think that his reputation for moderation and problem-solving in a blue state helped elevate Romney to the national stage in 2008, which built up the name recognition and campaign infrastructure that helped him win the Republican nomination in 2012, so health care might have been a big part of his success. If the economy had not started a tepid recovery during the election year, we might be talking about all the things President Romney did right.

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    2. Which is why he ran on his reputation for problem solving in the general election, as it was highly regarded by the Republican base.

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    3. I'm not really sure what you're suggesting here, but I assume you're being sarcastic. I'm not saying health care reform helped endear Romney to the Republican base (clearly the "base", by which I mean the most socially conservative and least politically pragmatic of Republican voters and donors, spent the primaries trying to replace him), but at the same time I don't see any clear way that support health care reform hurt him politically. Once the general election came around, all those conservative voters and donors all came around to Romney and supported him and voted for him. He crushed Pawlenty and Perry, won the primary, and had enthusiastic support from conservatives in the general election. There's just no evidence that he was held back by health care reform. He was held back by Barack Obama being the incumbent during a recovering economy.

      There are examples that do a better job of demonstrating your point though, such as Arlen Spector and Dick Lugar. The problem with using Mitt Romney is that he lost the general election for reasons that are completely irrelevant to the point Jonathan is making.

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    4. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I am alluding to the riptide nature of what is considered conservative these days. I still shake my head at the irony that Romney really made health insurance reform work in MA, by using think tank approved ideas. But after the Democrats decided to use it as a model for the nation, it became a cause celebre for government over-reach, and no true conservative would speak a kind word about it.

      That is why I think many prominent Republicans fail to propose any policy. If it works, if it's reasonable, the Democrats will adopt it. And then it becomes anathema.

      Quite the Catch-22!

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    5. Consider closing tax loopholes, as another example, or keeping weapons out of the hands of the lawless, for another. These are tried and true Republican talking points, but now no one will espouse them.

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    6. I would agree with you on that.

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  5. He was clearly playing political hardball with Hagel. I guess you're trying to do the same thing when you suggest that this makes him "crazy."

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    1. Couves --

      1. For Cruz's performance, see Larison:
      http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/the-triviality-of-ted-cruz/

      2. But regardless: my point here isn't whether or not Cruz was using McCarthyite tactics; my point is that movement conservatives *don't care* -- they're saying it's a badge of honor for him to be accused of it.

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    2. People don't usually care about criticism by their political opponents. Nor is it unusual to wear that criticism as a badge of honor (If Bill O'Reilly went on a 5 minute rant about your article today, would that really bother you?)

      You're playing politics here. There's nothing terrible about that, I'm just pointing it out.

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    3. If O'Reilly ranted against me, I'd love it! But that's not really what we're talking about.

      Look, the normal response is: Our pol did X. Opponents made the following accusation. It's wrong, for these reasons. *Then* badge of honor.

      You don't skip the "it's wrong" part. At least not if you want a healthy party.

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    4. Jonathan, I agree that this is low political discourse, just the same as calling someone crazy, a clown or the reincarnated spirit of Joe McCarthy.

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    5. No. If they act crazy, like a clown, or like McCarthy, then it's perfectly reasonable to call them out on it.

      Whether they actually are is an important part of it!

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    6. Cruz acted like McCarthy because Hagel had associated himself with the dreaded enemy, the other McCarthy!

      https://www.csbsju.edu/news/hagel.htm

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    7. Jonathan, if you're going to embrace political name-calling, don't expect me to take you seriously when you talk about Republican discourse being "unhealthy." Or to use your language, cut the pious baloney. ;)

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  6. I placed this in the other thread cause I wanted to respond to the article.

    Jonathan,

    I read your article in the prospect about how the GOP should save itself but I have to disagree with a small part:

    It may be hard to go in front of a conservative crowd and resist an applause line calling Barack Obama a socialist. But these are applause lines because Republicans have been using them for at least 40 years whether the target is Bill Clinton (Whitewater, travelgate, mysterious deaths); Hillary Clinton (the Vince Foster “murder” and more); or Ted Kennedy (Chappaquiddick). Not to mention “San Francisco Democrats” and “Taxachusetts” and “Chicago politics” and “real America.”

    I agree that all of the terms save one is sill and symptomatic of a dysfunctional party. I don't think Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick should be on the list. If Ted Kennedy's last name was Smith there is little doubt in my mind that he would have been sent to jail. His conduct on that night was objectively horrendous and it is perfectly legitimate for an opposition party to throw that in his face.

    Lord knows I would if there was a Republican who did a similar act and whose behavior really didn't improve until over twenty years later as witnessed by the reports of sexual harassment and alcoholism that stayed with him until the end of the 80s.

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    1. Well, I understand what you're saying, and you have a point. I'd say the amount of scorn movement conservatives had over it was order-of-magnitudes more than it deserved, but it's not a strongly held belief or anything; you may be right. I mean, the cases aren't close enough parallels to prove anything, but Democrats didn't keep using Nixon as a punch line in the 1980s and beyond.

      What I'd say generally is that some of this kind of thing is understandable and perfectly ordinary, but the GOP obsession with it, even in cases where it might be justified, is so dysfunctional that they might be smart to overcompensate the other way.

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    2. Jonathan,

      Thank you for your reply and having read your reply I think you are correct. This is totally off-topic I tried to send you an email on this topic but it was rejected.

      You frequently refer to the John Tower nomination defeat as a major moment in the nominations battles. I am not that young anymore, age 30, but I have no idea who John Tower was or why he mattered. I imagine a lot of your readers who are younger than I am are in the same boat.

      If you have the time, could you please write a short post on your blog explaining who Tower was and why he was opposed. I read his wikipedia entry and found it hard to determine why he launched such strong opposition. Womanizing and drinking are pretty common vices in Washington D.C. which are traditionally ignored by the Washington establishment so I suspect there must have been a different reason that he was voted down.

      If you could even give a short explanation I would appreciate it or if you point me to an article that would be great as well.

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    3. You know, I do remember that period, including the Tower hearings, and the reasons for all the animosity escape me as well. It may just have been the mood of the times. But I'd second Anon's request on that.

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  7. "Can Republicans shut it all down?" Nice wording. Intentional, I presume?

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  8. Response to Original: GOP Recovery vs. Ted Cruz

    Even though Hagel's responses, with added context, don't quite have the sting that they had in Cruz's representation, the points that Cruz made were still 100% valid. (1) Hagel did agree with a caller's accusation of U.S. being a global bully, (2) Hagel did not dispute a claim that Israel has committed war crimes, and (3) Hagel's characterization of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict "being a slaughter on both sides" clearly puts Israel on the same moral ground as their terrorist attackers. I would expect that a candidate for Secretary of Defense would see that conflict as it truly was - Israel responding to rocket attacks on innocent civilians inside their border. Furthermore, Israel targeted enemy combatants to the best of their ability, not civilians (which hardly qualifies as a slaughter).

    So I really don't see much substance in the "not as bad" argument when Hagel's support for Israel remains questionable. Even after looking at all of the evidence presented in this post, Cruz seems guilty only of slightly overstating the "slaughter" comment. Fact remains, it was very telling that Hagel viewed Israel's defensive actions as a "slaughter" when they were simply protecting their people. Our leaders need to be more responsible than that. By using language that puts terrorists on the same moral ground as our more civil allies, we legitimize their cause and enable them to gain political support throughout the region and globe.

    With that said, was Cruz behavior "pushing nuttiness" or just effective? Are you really going to equate a slight overstatement as "pushing nuttiness"? How often do you think politicians overstate their case? And when they do, how often are they accused of "pushing nuttiness"? Or does it depend on their party? Do you think, if I looked, I could find evidence of a Democrat overstating a few things? And if I did, how credible would it sound to you if my conclusion was that this Democrat was "pushing nuttiness" for a slight exaggeration?

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  10. IMO, the GOP needs, now more than ever, the insurgence of Tea Party candidates. After all, the Tea Party simply represent the views of most center-right thinkers in this country. And all they want is less government, and primarily more fiscal responsibility. Without this change, the GOP is simply producing candidates that regurgitate old messages during campaign season (which no longer resonate with minorities), then dilute conservative principles when legislating, e.g. George W. Bush who governed from the left almost as much as he governed from the right. He increased spending more than any other president (except for Obama). His only fiscal policy that conservatives found even remotely acceptable was the Bush tax cuts (which most on the left and the right fail to acknowledge, actually RAISED taxes on the rich and lowered taxes for the middle class and small business).

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