Welcome to the return of Morning Jay! From a civic perspective, I have mixed feelings (at best) about the permanent campaign, but from a professional point of view, it's awesome! We're just three months off the last election, and already there is so much to discuss about the next one! For the time being, expect a new Morning Jay every Wednesday and Friday, with a focus on the 2012 presidential campaign. So, without further ado, let's get started!
1. Establishment Versus Grassroots? With the recent announcement that Mike Pence will not run for president, and every indication that Jon Huntsman is throwing his hat into the ring, there's lots of chatter about an establishment versus grassroots divide in the Republican Party.
I think this is a less-than-great framework for understanding the battle to come. Here's why.
The classic establishment/grassroots battle is probably 1964 -- when Nelson Rockefeller battled Barry Goldwater, whose narrow victory in the California primary that year ensured his nomination. Yet I don't think 1964 fits the 2012 paradigm at all. A great indication as to why is none other than Mitt Romney himself. His father, George Romney, was a notably moderate Republican back in the 1960s, yet when Mitt ran in 2008, he did so as an unabashed conservative. Now, a lot of people doubted whether Mitt was conservative deep down in his heart; but that is beside the point, which is that to win the Republican nomination these days, you have to convince the party base that you are a real conservative.
So, I'd predict very few policy disagreements during the 2012 nomination campaign. Instead, I see candidates largely doing the same thing they've been doing since 1988: trying to convince the voters that they are the true heirs to Ronald Reagan, that their opponents aren't, and that they are the most electable. Nobody is going to run as the heir to Rockefeller! Huntsman, if he runs, will be a strong critic of the Obama administration. Romney will swear from one end of the country to the other that Romneycare is fundamentally different from Obamacare. The real question is whether they can sell the idea that they will be good stewards of conservative Republicanism.
To appreciate my point that this establishment/grassroots distinction is going to be one without much of a difference, consider this interview that Laura Ingraham recently conducted with Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who previously suggested that a "truce" on divisive cultural issues might be a good idea. That was enough to get him tagged as a potential RINO (Republican In Name Only), but in this interview he offers the essential context: our deficit crisis is a national emergency that requires a broad majority to handle it, and maybe that means we need a temporary "truce" on the issues that split us 50/50. That's hardly a RINO-esque position, right? After all, he's equating the deficit crisis to a military emergency. And, I'd add that his observation has the advantage of having historical precedent. One reason Ronald Reagan was able to get his big tax package through in 1981 was that he won a broad electoral majority that, in turn, put pressure on Democratic members of Congress to support his economic program. If conservatives want to repeal Obamacare and handle our deficit problem without new, onerous taxes, they're going to need more than half-plus-one.
2. Does Axe really believe this?! I've long counted myself as one of those people who think that the genius of the Obama 2008 team was vastly overstated. It did a remarkably good job with many tasks, no doubt -- e.g. raising lots of dough and out-foxing Hillary Clinton's team in understanding the arcane delegate allocation formulas -- but this was the same crew that sent Obama overseas, giving McCain his first real traction in the race. And I'm sorry, but 52.9 percent of the vote in the middle of the biggest economic collapse in a half century is just not all that extraordinary.
“We need to return to first principles,” Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, said he wrote in a memo to the president.
Axelrod said the president and his administration had lost the essence of their strength, the ability to maintain public support by offering a consistent narrative, much as Obama had during the 2008 campaign. Instead, Obama and his staff were too deep into the tactical legislative battles over the response to the financial crisis and overhauling health-care laws.
“We got so enmeshed in the details of governing that we stopped telling the story,” Axelrod said in an interview Jan. 28, his last official day at the White House as Obama’s senior adviser. “The president of the United States has a responsibility to set that tone, to set that vision, to give people that sense of the things that bind us. I regret that we didn’t spend more time doing that.”
I certainly do not disagree that a president often has a responsibility to be a unifying force in the country, "to give people that sense of the things that bind us." But it has to be more than just a "story"! The rhetoric has to meet reality, and with Obama and the 111th Congress, the reality was that their health care overhaul picked out winners and losers.
In fact, I think one of the big problems the White House had was that it actually tried to do what Axelrod said it didn't. It claimed, for instance, that everybody who likes their health insurance would be able to keep it. In other words, it tried to reassure people that they had no need to worry that they would lose because of the reforms. But this claim was widely debunked, and the administration lost credibility because of it. Additionally, at the same time it was trying to convince the country that everybody would win from the bill, the White House was sanctioning the very kinds of insider, sweetheart deals that it had condemned on the 2008 trail, reinforcing the idea that groups with the right connections were going to come out on top. It was also making highly questionable claims about the effects of the Medicare cuts, as well as the long-term impact of the bill on the federal deficit.
This is why the Republicans are not done with this health care bill, not by a long shot. They are betting politically that they can convince a majority of the electorate in 2012 that this bill is going to make losers of them, and that their damages are going to be so bad they should install a Republican majority across all branches of government. Obama, for his part, will never be able to pivot all the way back to his 2008 posture because of the divisive nature of that bill. A few wins in the lame duck session won't change any of that.
What I'm wondering is whether Axelord and company actually believe that they will.
Democrats will gather for their 2012 national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, a pick that signals that President Obama will seek to recreate -- at least in part -- his winning electoral coalition.
"Barack and I spent a lot of time in North Carolina during the campaign," wrote First Lady Michelle Obama in an e-mail announcing the choice.
A fair choice for what it's worth, and not much in my opinion. Historically, the national conventions used to be hosted in centrally located cities, like Chicago and St. Louis, to facilitate the actual meeting of the party members to agree on a platform and pick a nominee. Back in the days of the railroad and telegraph, it was hard for partisans on one side of the country to get in touch with their allies on another side, so the convention had value as a real meetup. Until relatively recently, the victorious nominee usually stayed at home, to avoid any appearance of active electioneering. Today, on the other hand, partisans don't need a central location to get in touch, the convention is just a media event designed to maximize the party's appeal to the middle of the electorate, and the nomination acceptance speech, once taboo, is now the big payoff.
Completely unpractical suggestion that will never happen: the nominating convention, like the agrarian school calendar, is a vestige of a time long since gone; it is a waste of time, money, and energy; cancel it.