Entries from January 2010

GOP Purity Wars Not Over Yet

January 31st, 2010 at 11:52 pm 10 Comments

Click here for all of Tim Mak’s reports from the RNC Summit in Hawaii.


Over the course of the RNC’s winter meeting this past week, FrumForum asked members whether they thought the committee was becoming more ‘purist’. Many RNC members, moderates and conservatives alike, agreed that the committee had become more open to a ‘small-tent philosophy’ over the last few years.

Jim Bopp, a National Committeeman from Indiana and the chief sponsor of the purity test resolution, said that the committee was becoming more ‘conservative’:

In 2008, there were 39 new members [elected]… By my reckoning, every single one of them was more conservative or dramatically more conservative than whom they replaced. As a result, [conservatives] have a clear majority of members of the RNC.

Of course, being ‘conservative’ means many things to many people. FrumForum tried to clarify by asking people whether they thought a ‘purity mentality’ or a small-tent philosophy was becoming more pervasive.

Outgoing Florida Chair Jim Greer, a moderate and a strong supporter of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, said that he was seeing more and more members who were focused on the idea of ideological purity:

“Not all of them, but there are more members of the committee that believe a smaller tent and a purer tent is the path to victory… I disagree with this. If we try to be a pure party, there will be very few people left, and no members of the Republican party in office,” said Greer.

The move towards ideological purity may be in response to the energy and anger of the Tea Party movement. Typically, the RNC establishment has been more moderate and less rigidly ideological than the grassroots, said one Republican strategist who preferred to remain anonymous.

Massachusetts National Committeeman Ron Kaufman suggested that a change in direction might have resulted from the influx of tea partiers and Ron Paul after the last RNC elections:

In ’08, you had some new people. I would say they’re more conservative, quite frankly… A lot of them came from the libertarian movement, a lot of people came from Ron Paul, a lot were the beginning of the tea [party] movement. Well, they might not just be more conservative, but also more activist.

However, not every member of the committee agreed with the contention that the RNC was becoming more ‘purity-minded’. Even if the RNC has become more open to a ‘purity mentality’ over the last year, says Paul Senft, the National Committeeman from Florida, the Scott Brown win in Massachusetts has shown the errors of this philosophy:

The Brown election has caused a lot of euphoria… a lot of litmus test conservatives are elated and see the benefits of having the 41st vote, even if they don’t agree with everything that Brown believes in.

The purity test resolution may have failed at the RNC winter meeting, but Chairman Michael Steele and all those who value inclusivity in the GOP should pay heed to a deeper and more dangerous trend – the possibility of a ‘purity mentality’ pervading the membership of the Republican National Committee.

Miracle in Jerusalem

January 31st, 2010 at 9:07 am 2 Comments

Jerusalem — It was only my first day in Jerusalem, but I witnessed a miracle.  As the sun set over the golden Dome of the Rock, I watched an Arab Sheik and an Israeli Rabbi pray together.  Sorry, make that two Rabbis.

We were in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian side, on the Mount of Olives.  From here you have a magnificent view of the Old City, especially the historic mosque that now rests on the Temple of the Mount.  The mosque contains the rock where Jews believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac,  and from where Muslims believe Mohammed rose to heaven.

This, more than any other site in the Holy City, embodies the struggle between Arab and Jew: both sides claim this piece of land as sacred to their religion; both sides remain unwilling to concede the other any right to it.  For Jews, their claim is made more wrenching by the fact it is actually illegal for them to pray at the site, and whose visits there are limited and strictly monitored by local police. (To see a “samizdat” video of American Jews defying the ban, click here.)

And yet on a recent evening—the eve of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz–those tensions were briefly put aside.  Among three men, anyways: Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, head of the Suffi Sheiks in Israel who lives in Nazareth; Rabbi Menachem Froman of the Jerusalem-based organization, Legacy of Peace; and their guest, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of Ohev Shalom, the National Synagogue of Washington, D.C. Rabbi Herzfeld was leading his synagogue’s annual trip to Israel (which I joined).  Herzfeld’s hosts were determined to persuade him that the dream of Jews and Muslims praying peacefully side-by-side didn’t have to be a fantasy.

And for a few minutes, it was true.

Beforehand, Sheikh Manasra had invited the two Rabbis to meet him at his mother-in-law’s home, tucked into a garbage-strewn hillside near the Mount of Olives. Herzfeld and Rabbi Froman, famous in Israel for his liberal religious views, traveled to the house in a bullet-proof car.  Sheikh Manasra graciously met them at the front door, hugging Froman, an old family friend.  The two squeezed hands as they chatted over a platter of fresh fruit, before the Rabbi put on his Tefillin—the leather accessories that traditionally adorn a man’s forehead and arm during Jewish prayer.

It was quite an experience to watch: a Rabbi fully decked out in Orthodox garb, sitting in the reception room of an Arab in East Jerusalem—and a Sheik at that, albeit one who eschewed the keffiyeh for an elegant sweater and pants.  Rabbi Herzfeld, dressed in a more Americanized suit and yarmulke, pressed the Sheik on the limits of his tolerance: Did he think Muslims would ever accept Jews to pray alongside them on the Temple Mount?

“The Temple Mount should be a place where everything goes right but now where everything goes wrong,” Herzfeld said.  It should be a place for people to pray together.  If we can pray together, that would be a beginning…”

Sheikh Manasra nodded in agreement.  “The problem is not religion but religious people.  Our project now is to build tolerance and peace with religious leaders.”

Then it was time to pray.  The group waded through heavy mud to get to a quiet place that afforded a spectacular view of the mosque.  The fading sun glinted off the golden dome, casting shadows on the biblical landscape of cypress and rock.  The three men held hands and began praying in both Hebrew and Arabic.  (You can watch the full prayer here.)

When they finished, their eyes were moist.   Within seconds, the Muslim call to prayer rose up over the hills. By now the men were wading their way back through the mud, to the front door where they would say goodbye to Sheik Mansara.  I found out later that it is exactly this sort of “outreach” that provoked a beating of his teenage son last year: Extremists and critics of Sheik Mansara’s liberal views attacked the young man near the house.  They beat him nearly to death.

“I have a dream,” the elderly Rabbi Froman said, acknowledging with a wry smile his evocation of Martin Luther King.  “I have a dream,” he continued, “that one day we will take President Obama to the Mount of Olives, and we will pray together.  We will pray with our wives, in the same direction…”

“When we pray in the same direction we can do other things in the same direction,” said Herzfeld.

Froman nodded. “Muslims, Jews and Christians praying side-by-side.  What would you think of that?”

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Yoo and Bybee Cleared

David Frum January 31st, 2010 at 8:28 am 49 Comments

John Yoo and Jay Bybee have been cleared of misconduct by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

The final report tags them instead with “poor judgment” for their finding that the president had the legal authority to order waterboarding of terrorist detainees.

Good judgment is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. When do we get the finding in re the quality of judgment shown by the decision to try terrorist suspects in lower Manhattan – or to Mirandize the underwear bomber?

Kirk Ready for Primary

January 31st, 2010 at 3:56 am Comments Off

Congressman Mark Kirk is poised to become the Republican nominee for what is certain to become one of, if not the most high profile Senate races of the 2010 midterms. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Republican primary voters shows Kirk ahead of his main competitor, Illinois attorney Patrick Hughes, by a very comfortable margin of 53% to 18%. 12% of respondents reported that they prefer another candidate, while 18% say they remain undecided.

Despite some pressure from the right, 51% of conservative Republicans who plan to vote on Tuesday support Kirk versus 20% who are for Hughes. In other words, come Tuesday, Mark Kirk will be the Republican nominee.

This should be a relief for Republicans, but the  primary fight is only the beginning. Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias will probably be the Democratic nominee. Giannoulias will be tough to beat. Rasmussen Reports polling from December showed Giannoulias ahead of Kirk 42% to 39%. In October those numbers were a dead heatAugust showed Kirk ahead 41% to 38%. But recent Public Policy Polling statistics show that Kirk and the GOP have a lot of ground to make up if it is to have a chance to take back the President’s old Senate seat. Public Policy Polling has Giannoulias leading Kirk 42-34, a substantial shift from the dead heat the Public Policy showed in April, when the two were tied at 35. The source of the shift, according to Public Policy, is that Giannoulias is doing better among Democrats. Back in April, Giannoulias was winning 60% of the Democratic voters. That number has since improved to 72%. According to PPP, Giannoulias leads 72-7 among Dems while Kirk dominates the Republicans 76-5. The key demographic group in this race is independents. PPP has Kirk leading this demographic, but, as PPP notes, it is nearly impossible for a Republican to win stateside in Illinois without scoring a double digit victory among independents as well as a double digit level of crossover support. All of this simply goes to show that Kirk still has an uphill battle.

The race will be all the more difficult because the Democrats are not sleeping on Mark Kirk. Pundits will draw parallels between the Illinois race and the Massachusetts upset, since both feature (or featured) moderate, charismatic candidates vying for victory in traditionally Democratic strongholds. But there are important differences. In Massachusetts, the Democrats slept on Scott Brown and ran an incredibly inept and unlikeable candidate. In Illinois, Democrats long ago identified Kirk as a potential threat and have already begun work to combat a Republican victory. And unlike Martha Coakley, Giannoulias is a talented, articulate candidate that will actively court independents, rather them drive them away.

On Tuesday, the battle for the independents begins.

The Day the Purity Test Died

January 31st, 2010 at 2:30 am 2 Comments

Click here for all of Tim Mak’s reports from the RNC Summit in Hawaii.


Instead, the RNC passed a resolution by Texas member Bill Crocker that was even more watered-down than the accountability resolution, which had been amended from the purity test to be more palatable. The Crocker resolution merely tells the RNC to do what it’s supposedly been doing all along, that they:

…carefully screen the record and statements of all candidates who profess to be Republicans and who desire the support of Republican leaders and Republicans organizations, and determine that they wholeheartedly support the core principles and positions of the Republican Party.

FrumForum had exclusive post-conference interviews with Jim Bopp and Solomon Yue, both sponsors of the two resolutions, as well as Bill Crocker.

“The 80% [Purity Test] was clearly drawing lots of fire. So we amended that into the so-called ‘accountability resolution,” said Solomon Yue, a National Committeeman from Oregon. “We knew that [Crocker’s resolution] would more likely pass… we knew that after his passed we would withdraw our [two resolutions].”

“I’m here to accomplish a goal, not pass MY resolution,” Bopp told FrumForum. “That goal was to make a statement that… we’re going to consider whether [candidates] are faithful in upholding conservative values when funding or supporting candidates.”

“I’m very satisfied with the outcome,” Bopp added. That said, Bopp appeared to be more than a little irritated on the floor when Oregon chairman Bob Tiernan interrupted his press briefing to call the purity test “nuts”, prompting Bopp to tell Tiernan to “shut up”.

The chief sponsor of the bill that eventually passed defended his resolution, saying that it was more appealing, and more inclusive.

“[My resolution] was a much more desirable alternative, to be able to take this back to any jurisdiction, and to apply our broader standards to Republican candidates,” said Bill Crocker, an RNC member from Texas and the chief sponsor of the resolution that eventually passed.

“You could have gone further [by passing the litmus test], but I didn’t want to go any further. You need to leave room in the party for local context,” Crocker told FrumForum.

Don’t Blame GOP for Obamacare’s Demise

January 30th, 2010 at 10:21 am 6 Comments

There was a satirical headline floating around after the Scott Brown victory which read: “Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate”.  I think that sums up nicely the position the Democrats have put themselves in regarding healthcare reform.  Liberals may blame Republicans for obstructionism but there is a valid argument for the minority taking an oppositional stance when the legislation in question is something they fundamentally disagree with.

Flip the tables: Imagine there are 59 or so Republicans in the Senate and they’re pushing for the privatization of Social Security – something Democrats fundamentally disagree with and want dead in its tracks.  Should Democrats work with Republicans on this reform or should they threaten to filibuster?  Would private retirement accounts be a palatable enough alternative to the current entitlement for Democrats to compromise, or would it better suit them and their constituency to simply obstruct?

Travel back a few years and you’ll notice that the Bush tax cuts were passed via reconciliation, because Democrats, rightly or wrongly, were obstructing those cuts.  Now reconciliation may be the only way Democrats can push healthcare reform through the Senate.  Nor is there anything wrong with that.  Both sides do it, and both sides should do it, just like both sides should oppose legislation they fundamentally disagree with.  That’s why we elect representatives – not just to do things, but also to oppose things that we disagree with.  They represent us, and if we oppose healthcare reform, so should they.  If we oppose going to war, so should they.  If we oppose privatizing Social Security, so should they.

Nevertheless, Republicans are wrong to think that they’ve worked miracles by stalling or possibly killing the Senate healthcare reform bill, or that those efforts will translate into tangible gains in 2010 or 2012.  Much of this is self-congratulatory spin-doctoring.  In a down economy it is almost inevitable that people will begin grumbling about the incumbents.  Whether that translates into significant gains for the opposition is another matter, and so far there is little reason to believe that Republicans have made serious gains in the public trust.  Disappointment with Democrats and disappointment with Republicans are not mutually exclusive sentiments.

Politically, the Republican party and the conservative movement remain immature and overly hysterical.  They have taken opposition beyond its necessary boundaries, devolving into rhetorical shenanigans and misrepresentations of their opponents.  While this may rouse the base and stir up populist ire, it does very little to restore faith in independent voters that Republicans actually have a plan or the capacity to govern.  It does nothing to bring about a return to good conservative ideas, no matter how much hot-air it expends on rather more generic ‘conservative principles.’

In the end, both parties should avoid the perils of over-confidence and self-delusion. Republicans should quit preemptively patting themselves on the back, and Democrats should avoid relying too much on the blame game. If healthcare reform fails its failure will be laid at the feet of the Democrats and especially at the feet of the president, no matter how hard he tries to distance himself from that legislation.  Obama’s State of the Union speech has shown that when it comes to healthcare reform he’d rather just drop the ball and blame the Republicans than take a position of leadership and pass the damn bill.  I can’t imagine a universe in which this won’t come back to haunt him later on, whether or not Republicans make an easy target.

P.S. – I personally don’t like the fact that Republicans have taken such an oppositional role in the healthcare debate.  But that’s because I’m pro-reform.  On issues that I am against (such as cap and trade) I heartily welcome staunch opposition.  I imagine many on the left and right are this way, calling foul on ‘obstructionism’ when it is against a policy that we like and similarly supporting the noble opposition against policies with which we disagree.

Still Waiting for the Obama Recovery

David Frum January 30th, 2010 at 9:30 am 43 Comments

The most important statement of the Washington week was not actually President Obama’s State of the Union address. That address will bump the polls a little bit, but it will not alter any deep political realities.

The most important statement was delivered on Tuesday by Doug Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Elmendorf warned the country: Brace yourselves. Despite the positive (if preliminary) fourth-quarter GDP numbers released this week, the recovery will be slow and it will be weak. Unemployment will hover around 10% through 2010, and will only slowly decline thereafter. Not until 2014 should anyone expect to see the number decline to the 5% level of 2007.

To appreciate how horrifying this news is, look back in time. The last severe U.S. recession was that of 1981-82. Unemployment peaked at 10.8% in November and December 1982. Then things got better fast.

The U.S. growth rate exploded: 4.5% growth in 1983, 7% growth in 1984, 4% in 1985.

Unemployment tumbled: The rate dropped two points during 1983, another 1½ points in 1984, another half point in 1985.

Within three years of the recession bottom, the ugly experience had faded into history. The Reagan recovery would prove amazingly enduring.

Between Election Day 1984 and Election Day 2008, almost a quarter of a century, there would be only five months in which the unemployment rate would exceed the 7.5% level Ronald Reagan inherited in November 1980.

That’s why they called it “morning in America.”

Compare that record to today’s projections. U.S. economic output has been rising since the summer of 2009, but mostly because of government spending and inventory restocking. Debt-hammered consumers continue to keep their money in their pockets. The CBO predicts two years of weak growth and agonizingly slow progress against unemployment: maybe half a point in 2010, maybe another half point in 2011.

If those predictions prove correct, the Obama recovery will be the most protracted and unsatisfying since the 1930s.

It’s not entirely Obama’s fault. As Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff show in their important new book, This Time It’s Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, recessions after banking crises are much nastier and longer than recoveries from other kinds of recessions.

On the other hand, Obama’s policies are not exactly helping. The President is pushing spending onto a permanently higher new plateau. (The “freeze” touted in the State of the Union address is a gimmick, not a policy — a slushie, not a freeze.) The emergency spending in the so-called stimulus was too big, too slow and too hard to reverse when the emergency ends.

To finance the new spending, taxes will rise — with many of the rises being imposed for arbitrary and punitive reasons, like the President’s proposed tax on lending by big banks. The economy is being re-regulated, while protectionism accumulates. The free trade agreement with Colombia mentioned by the President on Wednesday night was signed all the way back in 2006. Ratification has been stalled by Democrats in Congress for almost four years. It’s good that Obama has finally sorta kinda endorsed it — but where has he been? Oh yes: imposing trade sanctions on Chinese tires.

Obama’s version of the bank bailout, or TARP, has seriously miscarried. The toxic assets remain on the books of the banks, inhibiting new lending. Banks are paying TARP back rapidly, not because they have recovered their health, but in order to free themselves from their federal senior partner. Now Obama is proposing to use some of the repaid TARP money as a federal lending fund for smaller banks: an ongoing federal intrusion into commercial credit allocation.

Under a law professor President, the security of rights under law has abruptly become less certain. In the AIG, General Motors and Chrysler bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies, the President used his political power to intimidate executives and creditors into surrendering contractual rights. In the State of the Union, Obama did something no president has ever before done: criticize a specific Supreme Court decision before a national audience to the very justices who wrote it.

At a crucial juncture in his presidency, Bill Clinton famously declared that the age of big government was over. Clinton signed NAFTA, accepted welfare reform and a big cut in the capital gains tax, declined to regulate the Internet, balanced the federal budget — and presided over sustained economic expansion.

Thus far, however, Obama has declined to rethink or reverse. He is not a market Democrat in the Clinton style: In 2008, he campaigned almost as fiercely against Clinton’s record as against George W. Bush’s. From the point of view of America’s unemployed, however, the Bush and Clinton records are beginning to look far more appealing than the Obama future.


Originally published in the National Post.

Liveblogging the RNC General Session

January 29th, 2010 at 6:20 pm 2 Comments

Click here for all of Tim Mak’s reports from the RNC Summit in Hawaii.


The general session ended about 20 minutes ago.  Click here to read my report on Chairman Steele’s speech.

Posted at 6:15pm EST


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It’s announced on the floor that Jim Bopp, the chief sponsor of the Purity Test and Accountability resolutions, has withdrawn both proposals.

Posted at 5:29 pm EST


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RNC Chairman Michael Steele is currently speaking to RNC membership.

Posted at 4:42pm EST


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General session of the RNC members to be called to order shortly. Steele aide tells me that the Chairman’s remarks will be at 4:50 EST, resolutions to be discussed at 5:35 EST.

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Posted at 3:33pm EST


Steele Slams Obama

January 29th, 2010 at 6:18 pm 1 Comment

Click here for all of Tim Mak’s reports from the RNC Summit in Hawaii.


(Honolulu, HI) – RNC Chairman Michael Steele isn’t pulling any punches. In a speech to the Republican National Committee membership, the Chairman spent the bulk of a thirty minute speech criticizing the President for everything from speaking too often to insincere calls for bipartisanship.

“Talk is cheap… or rather… with this President talk is very expensive,” joked Steele. “Every time he says something that is rhetorically pleasing, it costs you money.”

Much of the speech was focused on pushing back against the President’s State of the Union address: “I’m still completely amazed by this speech, but the audacity of it… [it’s] the audacity of arrogance,” said Steele.

Steele criticized the President for talking too often and listening too little, blasting him for a 70 minute State of the Union and his frequent speeches:

The President has said… that it’s a communications problem, that he needs to start talking directly to the American people. I thought that’s what he’s been doing. He’s given more speeches in a year than most Presidents do in a full term.

Picking up on a theme that was critical to Senator-Elect Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, the RNC Chairman disparaged the President’s handling of national security issues:

Americans want their tax dollars spent to kill terrorists, not to pay lawyers to defend them. We have men and women overseas fighting for this country – and we are reading a terrorist with a bomb in his underwear his Miranda rights… bizarre.

But like the President, Steele turned on the D.C. beltway mentality, on those who “get consumed by the vapors of the Potomac river… who oftentimes drink from its banks… Those who feel more connected to people inside the beltway than the people who sent them there.”

On the other hand, near the end of his speech, the Chairman juxtaposed his condemnation of the President with a slightly more conciliatory tone. “It’s not too late for the President to change course,” said Steele. “One of the most powerful things a leader can do is be honest and admit a mistake when they have gone in the wrong direction.” Chairman Steele had pointed out earlier in his speech that the President’s State of the Union involved admitting mistakes.

Yet, almost as soon as he expressed hope that the President could adjust his agenda to become more palatable to Republicans, the Chairman’s speech seemed to rule out the prospect of bipartisanship and reminded listeners of comments made by Louisiana Gov. Jindal:

Republicans should delay the President’s bills… because the President’s policies are harming the economy, limiting freedoms, prolonging the recession, and saddling our grandchildren with debt they cannot repay.

“We begin the year in Hawaii, where the President was born,” said Steele. “We will end the year in Illinois, taking back the President’s seat.”

Steele to Colbert: It’s On

January 29th, 2010 at 4:01 pm 7 Comments

The rap battle ain’t over.

Early on in his term, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele committed a supposed gaffe when he said that Republicans should engage in “off the hook” outreach to ”suburban-urban hip-hop” communities.

Comedian Stephen Colbert quickly picked up on this, challenging Chairman Steele to a rap battle on live television. The Chairman quickly agreed, but the exchange never actually occurred. In lieu of the Chairman’s appearance, the Colbert Report put together a ingenious compilation of Steele video clips, set to a beat.

But the Chairman isn’t satisfied with the outcome.

“My boys whip me for that all the time,” Steele told FrumForum. “But the rap battle’s gonna happen.”

It might not happen in the next few months, he says, but sooner or later, Michael Steele is going to drop rhymes on Comedy Central with Stephen Colbert. Steele is confident – it might not have been the best time to do it when Colbert first issued his challenge, but when it happens, the Chairman thinks he has the skills to beat him.

“I used to be a DJ,” Steele says.