Sep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By JAY COST
Pundits throw out all sorts of numbers to explain the Republican defeat in the 2012 presidential election. So here’s our number: $65,000. That is a rough estimate of the household income of the average 2012 voter. Republicans lost because Mitt Romney did not do well enough with this voter or those near him on the income scale.
These middle class Americans have some but not a lot of property, who fret about the effects of economic forces outside their control, who worry about whether their kids will enjoy a decent standard of living, and who have been struggling one way or another since the recession of 2001-02.
Say what you want about George W. Bush’s domestic agenda, it was geared toward these people. Whether the policies were sound, Bush’s middle-class tax cuts, his “ownership society,” No Child Left Behind, and private Social Security accounts were all about making these people more prosperous and secure.
What did the GOP offer these voters in 2012? One struggles to think of anything. There was a lot of talk about small businesses. Indeed, much of the party’s convention was designed to reply to Obama’s “you didn’t build that!” jibe. And there can be no doubt that helping small businesses succeed will help middle-class families—but only indirectly, which makes it hard to sell politically. So, in the end, middle-income voters backed Romney, but not as strongly as they had backed Bush eight years before, and not strongly enough.
Fast-forward two years and it is fair to ask: What has the party done on this front since its defeat? For that matter, does the party even recognize that this is its problem? Sure, its rhetoric is all about the middle class, but actions speak louder than words. In the current Congress, the Republican party has spent time trying to shut down the government, which creates confusion and uncertainty in the markets and thus agitates the middle class, and toying with comprehensive immigration reform, which would have had the effect of lowering wages for existing workers after more than a decade of middle-class wage stagnation.
Congressional Republicans would have better spent their time drawing up a middle-class agenda. They could start by adopting the perspective of families that make about $65,000 per year. These people’s economic situation is uncertain, and they pay a goodly portion of their income to the IRS—not so much through the income tax, but through Social Security and Medicare taxes, which flow into the federal government’s general revenues. So a middle-class agenda would aim to make these voters more secure and stop the government from wasting their money.
Economic security for this group primarily means lowering the cost of education, health care, and energy. Where has the Republican party stood on this in the last two years? Mike Lee has promoted interesting education reform ideas, but the leadership has not gotten behind them. The 2017 Project has put together a health care reform package that aims to contain costs for people like these, but the party leadership has offered nothing. About the only area where the party has done much is energy; not coincidentally, the energy sector is a major donor to the GOP.
What of cutting government? Republicans in Congress too often suggest that the first dollar to be cut come from programs that the middle class finds useful or worthwhile. Corporate welfare, meanwhile, which takes up a shockingly large portion of the budget, is almost never discussed. To wit, why did the congressional Republicans not make a full-throated assault on Obamacare’s risk corridor program, which is a naked payout to insurance companies? Why did they cave on the Export-Import Bank, which is a payoff to Boeing? Why did they buckle on tax reform, an opportunity to excise tens of billions in payola to the well connected? Middle America would not miss these programs. Indeed, it would be glad to see them go. Ask the average American if he thinks special interests hold too much sway, and prepare yourself to be told, “Hell, yeah, they do!”
And what about Congress itself? Middle-class people get angry at the thought of Congress because they (correctly) regard it as corrupt and irresponsible. Republicans have an ironclad grip on the House. Why not pass some tough reform measures to make members behave better?
In 2014 Republicans look to be in reasonably good shape, with a decent chance of taking control of the Senate. In 2016 they will be helped by the odds against a party holding onto the White House for a third term. But if Republicans think they can fall backwards into power, they are likely mistaken. In recent years, Republicans have done a good job of stopping the president’s leftist agenda. But that will not be enough in 2016. They will have to offer a positive alternative, something they too often have failed to do.
Sep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Republican voters are down on the sluggish GOP officials they elected, and the officeholders whine about the unreasonable people who voted for them. Republican backbenchers complain about their lame leaders, and GOP leaders grumble about their unruly followers. Right-wing pundits despair of unimaginative Republican pols, and the hard-headed pols are impatient with impractical commentators. Conservative activists loathe the GOP establishment, and the establishment is terrified and contemptuous of the base.
Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” President Obama told the American Legion’s annual convention in Charlotte on Tuesday, August 26. He repeated the thought in his pre-Labor Day weekend press conference on August 28. A week before, the day after the murder of James Foley, Obama had remarked, “From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.”
Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On Tuesday, August 19, an American citizen, James Foley, was savagely killed. The group of jihadists known as ISIL had previously killed and brutalized tens of thousands of non-Americans. But they killed Foley because he was an American. They titled the grotesque video of this particular act of barbarism “A message to America.”
Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
It was something of a puzzle, according to the headline in the August 7 New York Times: “Islamic Militants in Iraq Are Widely Loathed, Yet Action to Curb Them Is Elusive.” On the one hand, the article pointed out, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, “is on nearly every nation’s public enemy list, as well as the United Nations’ list of terrorist organizations facing sanctions.” What’s more, ISIS’s barbarism has been publicized and its threat to others is clear.
Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
In the largest turnout in a congressional primary in the history of Virginia politics, the voters of the Commonwealth’s 7th Congressional District last Tuesday decisively chose not to renominate their seven-term representative, now serving as House majority leader, who had massively outspent his little-known challenger.
Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
“Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that. That’s what every mom and dad who sees a son or daughter sent over into [a] war theater should expect not just from their commander in chief but the United States of America. . . . The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule.
Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
On May 23, a young man killed 6 people and wounded 13 others near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, before turning a gun on himself. But you probably knew that, because the incident was unavoidable in the news. Despite all of the national coverage, the student-government-run newspaper at UCSB, The Bottom Line, had a unique perspective on the crime and could have provided invaluable coverage. Yet they decided not to cover the story:
Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Are Americans today war-weary? Sure. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been frustrating and tiring. Are Americans today unusually war-weary? No. They were wearier after the much larger and even more frustrating conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. And even though the two world wars of the last century had more satisfactory outcomes, their magnitude was such that they couldn’t help but induce a significant sense of war-weariness. And history shows that they did.
Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By FRED BARNES
Texas attorney general Greg Abbott has a famous saying: “What I really do for fun is I go into the office [and] sue the Obama administration.” Abbott’s relentless struggle against an administration that routinely exceeds its authority and tramples on federalism made him the ringleader among the two dozen Republican state AGs. He’s now running for governor.
Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On February 11, writing for the Washington Post, Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers ably summarized the latest “bad week for Obamacare.” The Congressional Budget Office concluded that Obamacare will cause “a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” The CBO also found that Obamacare would—after all the spending and disruption and coercion—still leave about 31 million Americans uninsured a decade after implementation.
Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By JAY COST
Last month, the House Republican leadership released its guiding principles on immigration reform. While mostly boilerplate, the document suggests that the House GOP envisions a bill similar to last year’s Senate compromise spearheaded by Marco Rubio: enhanced border security in exchange for legalization of the illegal immigrant population; more visas for the highly skilled and permits for temporary guest workers; and a rationalization of the immigration process.
Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Election Day is almost nine months off. But right now Republicans seem almost certain to hold the House of Representatives and are likely to take the Senate. Which raises the inevitable question: How might the GOP seize defeat from the jaws of victory?
Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
The year 2014 marks a centennial and a bicentennial. The centennial is well known: 1914 saw the beginning of World War I, a calamity perhaps unmatched until then in the history of the West. We will be reminded many times this year in centennial commemorations of the war’s terrible destruction, but also of its devastating political and cultural effects over subsequent decades, and of its continuing deep if often indirect contribution to today’s demoralization of the West.
Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By FRED BARNES
A White House official once noted that the problem with the national press corps is it can only keep one idea in its mind at a time. And while that’s often true, it’s not at the moment in regard to Republicans.
Today’s media line on the Republican party is it faces irreversible decline. That’s on the one hand. On the other, Republicans have a solid shot at capturing the Senate in the midterm elections in November, are all but certain to retain control of the House, and have reasonable prospects of winning the White House in 2016.