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Morning Jay: Establishment vs. Grassroots, Axelrod, and More!

6:00 AM, Feb 2, 2011 • By JAY COST
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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!

Morning Jay: Establishment vs. Grassroots, Axelrod, and More!

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.

And this to me is just so silly:

David Axelrod had straightforward advice for President Barack Obama to recover from Democratic losses in the midterm elections: Get back to basics.

“We need to return to first principles,” Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, said he wrote in a memo to the president.

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