Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Still catching up on GOP presidential nomination politics...

Andrew Sullivan responded to my questions about Palin's candidacy by asking:
And who, I ask again, can beat her? That's the other side of this equation. Obama did it against the Clintons. Why couldn't Palin do it against ... no one?
Good questions!  Time for a speculative post about some of the possible answers.

As I look at the GOP field, what I see are two kinds of candidates up against Palin, who as I've said I see as a personal factional candidate.  The first is what I think I'll call Empty Suit coalition-style candidates.  These candidates -- Tim Pawlenty, John Thune, and Mitt Romney -- draw their strength from the oddball field of Republican candidates in 2008, which featured an array of people who drew vetoes from some part of the GOP coalition.  So for this group, being an Empty Suit is a feature, not a bug; the problem in 2008 and perhaps in 2012 for Mitt Romney is that he's not empty enough, what with having a possibly problematic religion, a past that draws questions from social conservatives, and a past that draws questions from small-government conservatives.  Among these candidates, the current boomlet is for Thune, although Dave Weigel believes finds him not empty enough too, because he supported TARP.   Is he right?  Well, Weigel is an awfully good reporter, and that's the kind of information we need to analyze what's going on in the invisible primary.  My question about Thune would be: do GOP leaders in general like him, in which case they would tend to downplay TARP as an issue, which might well mean that it gets less traction if he's attacked over it in Iowa and New Hampshire?  Or is the interest in Thune really more of a Washingtonian, Capitol Hill thing, with GOP leaders out in the rest of the nation having little interest in him.  If the latter, well, Thune wouldn't be the first candidate who seems imposing from the United States Senate Press Gallery who turned out to have nothing going on elsewhere.  In other words, while I do respect Weigel's judgment on these sorts of things, I guess I see TARP more as a weapon to use in public than something like taxes, missile defense, guns, or abortion which disqualifies a candidate with the leaders of crucial GOP factions.  Presumably, one of the things that happens as the process moves forward is that we find out whether or not that's true -- we'll see if GOP activists, at least, consider TARP a litmus test issue.

And speaking of factions, and again I'm not a reporter, just a consumer of news, it sure seems to me that Jim DeMint is the current leader of the hard-core conservative faction of the Republican Party.  He's far more consistent with his endorsements than any other conservative leader, and unlike Palin he can claim that he's actually been doing something effective for the cause.  For the conservative/Tea Party faction, presumably the trick is to be as far to the right as possible without actually sounding crazy to those outside the faction (and thus perhaps drawing vetoes from more pragmatic conservatives, and possibly some GOP-aligned interest groups).  At least as I read the reporting, DeMint seems to be pretty good at keeping to that line, and he certainly must be more reliable both for that crowd and for more pragmatic types than Palin.

To know more, we need more solid reporting.  Hey, reporters!  We know activists hate TARP; is it a make or break issue for them?  What about other important groups within the GOP?  And, while of course Tea Partiers and conservatives generally are fond of the Sage of Wasilla, do leaders of those groups seem more likely to turn to her or to DeMint (or perhaps to another candidate) for leadership?  How much good will did DeMint buy with his endorsements and support in primary season 2010? 


  1. Further complicating TARP/Thune:

    Even if Republican leaders want to downplay it, there's enough candidates who will be running from OUTSIDE of their auspices, and perhaps even directly hostile to them. Palin is certainly the chief among these (As we discussed last week)- although as John McCain's running mate, she had to say some very nice things about TARP herself. Though it certainly seems like she's not above such "hypocrisy".

    Does someone else have enough of a power base to put out a negative message that the establishment wants stifled? Unknown. Maybe DeMint? I can't imagine he voted for it, though another problem is that so much of the Republican Party- especially the big wigs planning a run in 2012- at LEAST kept their mouth shut on it at the time.

  2. DeMint, Mike Pence, and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions voted against TARP. Everyone else on David Bernstein's list who was in Congress at the time voted for it.

    Romney defends TARP, notably in what I presume is his 2012 campaign book, No Apology. I haven't read it, but that's what is reported.

    Sarah Palin's defense of TARP in the Couric interview was surely her worst performance of the campaign, which is going some. It's the one that Tina Fey 'parodied' with an almost verbatim repetition.

    She did better in the VP debate, which will probably provide the standard video clip.

    Going Rogue mentions the first TARP vote, after an account of the first presidential debate.

    'Three days later, the House of Representatives rejected a Bush-backed economic bailout plan in a vote in which two-thirds of Republicans voted no. The impression this made on the electorate was not helpful to our cause. Millions of Americans were poised to go bankrupt or lose their savings, and the perception was that Republicans had failed to respond.' (Chapter 4, part 10. I'm working from a large print edition because it was available at the library, so the page numbers are different from a regular edition. FWIW it's p. 382 of the LPE.)

    These remarks are all about politics and appearances, in keeping with the book's mostly substance-free character. But the implied criticism of TARP opponents may not go over well in the primaries.

    Pawlenty criticized TARP in a interview with Howard Fineman, in December 2009.

    Rick Santorum criticized TARP in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2010.

    So far I haven't found any comment on TARP by Mitch Daniels.

  3. I'm sure many tea-partiers forgive Palin for defending the causes of the campaign she was attached to. What requires considerably more cognitive dissonance is Glenn Beck's support for TARP. Beck is far more influential in the Tea Party than Palin. If they can forgive Beck, they can forgive anyone.

  4. I'm sure many tea-partiers forgive Palin for defending the causes of the campaign she was attached to.

    That's why I was particularly interested in what she had to say in Going Rogue, after the campaign was over.

  5. Speaking of cognitive dissonance, will Reagan's own TARP-sized stimulus throw a wrench in the anti-TARP purity test? For those who don't recall, early in his Presidency Reagan pushed forward an $800 B stimulus to combat the nasty 1980-1981 recession (a bad recession, but not quite as bad as the one Obama was fighting).

    In real dollars, Reagan's stimulus was around 2X Obama's. But in real politics, that's a difficult connection to make, since the electorate is so generally anti-spending that a "Reagan stimulus comparison" may simply come across as a justification for debt.


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