Stories by Fred Bauer

Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.  He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm.

How Obama Lost the Middle

October 27th, 2010 at 12:48 pm 82 Comments

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the office of president with, it seemed, the wind of history at his back. Not even two years later, whispers and proclamations of a failed presidency abound. How did this happen? How have we come to the third “wave” election in a row?

Click here for part 1 of this series.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s electoral strategy was the casting of Obama as a kind of political savior. He would come forth and wash away some of the stains of the nation’s history. He would offer a transcendence of the petty cultural antagonisms that had riven America for the past few decades. He would offer a new way of hope that would reconcile the disparate parts of this fractured nation. Perhaps even more than his early opposition to the US’s military involvement in Iraq, this cultural message was his biggest advantage in the Democratic primary. Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention allowed him to seize the mantle of political redeemer, and he clutched that garb to him throughout the 2008 campaign.

2009 was the moment when the nation would come to see a stark difference between Obama’s political narrative and the reality of Obama’s governance. Obama’s record prior to 2009 gave evidence of the fact that he was not, by many measures, a political moderate: throughout his career, he voted like a left-wing Democrat, and his race against Hillary Clinton became saturated with polarizing invective claiming that the Clintons were arch-racists (or something). So his approaches to government and campaigning often revealed a willingness to polarize and not to moderate. But 2009 turned a spotlight on his governance style.

Obama made no secret of his desire to be a kind of revolutionary president, one who would not merely massage the edges of political discourse but who would completely re-center it decisively to the left. So, with big majorities in the House and the Senate, Obama and the Democrats made a huge gamble: push as much through as big and as fast as possible. A flurry of “progressive” legislation could totally expand and reshape the federal government’s power.

The stimulus, which would fall woefully short of the administration’s guarantees, would shackle the U.S. to a mountain of debt, one which would, at some point, require the raising of taxes. This stimulus would also allow the federal government to funnel billions of dollars to various groups and, in return for that, put the yoke of expectations on these groups. Healthcare “reform” as originally envisioned by the administration would allow bureaucrats in Washington to run the whole of the nation’s health system, 17% of the national economy. Cap-and-trade would become a vehicle for federal intervention in every aspect of people’s private lives and commercial transactions. Education “reform” would allow Washington and its bureaucratic corps more and more to shape the minds of later generations.

From the standpoint of “progressive” centralizers, this gamble was not misaimed. Had all of these passed, it would have been truly revolutionary. And many of these did pass: the stimulus, healthcare “reform,” and many education policies. If history is any guide, these changes might be very hard to turn back. Though many on the right celebrate Goldwater’s loss to Johnson as a moment for the renewal of the conservative movement, it should not be forgotten that many of Johnson’s signature programs have not yet been repealed. It took nearly thirty years of constant political fighting for the right, center, and dissident left to reform Johnsonian welfare, long an unpopular program. Looking back at the example of the post-Johnsonian welfare state, Obama might have thought that, even if the Democrats lost Congress two years after his election, and even if he was denied a second term, he could retire in electoral defeat knowing that he had a won a major “progressive” victory.

And Obama may ultimately prove successful in that revolutionary move. The GOP might find it more appealing to talk about repealing healthcare “reform” than to engage in the hard legislative work of actually repealing that bill and/or putting more effective policies in its place. Republicans have pulled similar moves with “big government,” after all; continually inveighing against it, they usually have expanded government. Sure, Reagan campaigned on eliminating the Department of Education, but this department (and many others) was bigger at the end of his presidency than it was at the beginning.

However, in the short term, at least, Obama’s policies have ignited a groundswell of opposition on the right and center. Obama’s image as a transcendent political redeemer was soon scratched and then smashed by the first few months of his presidency. With the right finding a new enchantment in small government, many Republicans in Congress were unwilling to go along with massive expansions of the government. Under the (surprisingly to some) effective party discipline of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, congressional Republicans stood united against many radical policy proposals.

This resistance gave the president a choice: compromise, or use his large majorities to ride roughshod over these resistors. The president chose the latter.

The debate over healthcare reform was not Obama’s Waterloo, but it may yet prove his Borodino. Napoleon’s victory against Russian forces at Borodino allowed him to claim the field temporarily and to drive off his opponents. But this battle also depleted his force’s numbers, supplies, and energy. While Napoleon was able to claim Moscow, his dwindling supplies and men forced him to abandon the city and rendered his Russian campaign a disaster.

So too has the battle over healthcare inflicted a significant blow to Democrats’ political prospects and besmirched Obama’s political brand. Democrats had the numbers to (just barely) pull this victory off, but this victory also solidified a new political narrative that has so far been utterly detrimental to the Democrats.

Instead of Obama as the grand conciliator, able to summon the vital 60%, he became the polarizer and white-knuckle arm-twister. Many “progressives” complain that the president has been too soft in advancing his cause. For many Americans, the view is quite different. They see a president who was able to ram through a massive governmental reform over massive popular opposition. They viewed many Democratic representatives as utterly indifferent to their complaints and utterly unwilling to engage in an authentic political conversation. Legitimate concerns about the effects of Obama’s healthcare “reform” (raised in town halls and district offices across the country) were often met with the tactics of distortion, distraction, and indifference.

The public came to view Obama’s Washington, DC as a city in a bubble. So much for the new politics of transparency and conversation.

Also so much for the new politics of hope. Soon sensing that the Republicans would not capitulate in the early months of 2009, the Obama White House and its Democratic and “progressive” allies began to indulge in discounting Republican opposition (and, indirectly, public skepticism) as somehow illegitimate. Republicans were racists or fascists or nihilists, and opposition to the Obama agenda was not the sign of a mere difference of opinion but of unworthy psychological motivations.

Perhaps this tactic might have delivered some short-term gains when the president’s approval ratings were in the 60s, but these attacks also polarized the electorate and caused Obama’s disapproval ratings to spike. This rhetoric also undermined the image of Obama as the mediator and builder of consensus. Whatever some pundits might have said about Obama as bringing an end to the culture war, it soon seemed as though Obama was just making the war more ferocious. His administration and its allies were not lowering the temperature of public policy debates but selectively inflaming conflicts.

Obama’s temporary political power allowed him to advance a revolutionary agenda, but this very political success may also have fueled a counter-revolution.

Faced with an entrenched political elite that seemed more interested in fighting its partisan battles and courting power above all else, many Americans began to cry, No more!

Click here for part 3.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

How the Right Came Back to Life

October 26th, 2010 at 9:20 am 19 Comments

This is the first in a series, order click here for part 2 and part 3.

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the office of president with, it seemed, the wind of history at his back. Winning a higher percentage of the popular vote than any Democrat had in over forty years, he brought with him huge majorities in the Senate and the House. He seemed to come as a standard bearer for a new generation in politics. Analysts far and wide spoke of a new era of Democratic dominance; a political sea change had occurred.

Not even two years later, whispers and proclamations of a failed presidency abound. A new age of hope sank into a swamp of acrimony, alienation, and anger. Hyperbole has swung the other way, as some now talk of a doomed Democratic agenda and new era of Republican dominance. A movement has semi-spontaneously sprung to life in radical opposition to the current “progressive” agenda and in considerable suspicion of the purportedly “moderate” Republican establishment. The end of 2008, with the economy teetering on the precipice, seemed a tidal wave of public frustration, but the wrath of the present time makes that wave seem like the tiniest ripple.

How did this happen? How have we come to the third “wave” election in a row? Democrats argue that the glum economic situation has brought Obama and his congressional allies to this point; Republicans aver that Americans have decisively rejected the Democratic party and the big government consensus. Both views are probably too glib. The Democratic argument is too reductive, and the Republican argument glosses over the very mixed feelings many Americans have about numerous Republican (and conservative) small-government policies.

In what follows, I hope to explore the road to 2010. This road goes back farther than January 2009. Many of the dynamics felt in this electoral cycle have being nourished for years. Economics, political rivalries, and cultural antagonisms have all come together in this road. The observations that follow are tentative: they make no claim to exclusivity or theoretical absolutism. But they do offer one sketch of the path to November 2.

The Resurgent Right

By 2009, the wrath of many years of suffocation had grown on the right. Though many conservatives supported the President Bush’s record in foreign affairs, they had numerous misgivings about his domestic record. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was never calculated to appeal to members of the small-government right. This faction was willing to go along with the president for electoral purposes (feeling that Bush would have been far preferable to either Gore or Kerry), but they never felt a deep devotion to Bush’s domestic agenda.

It seems that, for many members of the right, the two most celebrated positive domestic accomplishments of the Bush administration were his tax cuts and his nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. That’s relatively thin gruel for fans of small government when the president is radically expanding the federal government’s intervention in the education system, shooting the deficit through the roof, and otherwise putting forward a case for an activist, “compassionate” federal government. The gruel is thinned even more by the fact that Bush nominated Alito to the Supreme Court only after a grassroots revolt over his first choice for that seat, Harriet Miers.

Electoral politics placed a gag about certain topics on this faction of the right, which seemed to devote more energy to mocking John Kerry in 2004 than defending the total domestic record of President Bush. This gag was partially removed in the wake of 2006, when Congressional losses allowed these members of the right to excoriate the Republican party for its failings. And Bush’s attempt to push through some kind of immigration “reform” in 2007 offered one outlet for conservatives to express their dissatisfaction with an increasingly unpopular president.

2008, however, led to a reimposition of this gag. John McCain may have pivoted to the right, but he wasn’t exactly a leading proponent of a small-government message. For reasons of personal temperament and political policy, McCain was unable to offer a significantly contrasting vision to Barack Obama’s conjuring of an active, redemptive federal government. McCain may have had one-liners and certain facts on his side, but he was unable to find a message that galvanized the right (or the rest of the country). Other than a few partisans on the left, most agreed that he was an honorable man, but personal honor is not always enough to guarantee an electoral victory, let alone a philosophical one.

Again, the small-government right went along, defending a man who was no great ally of its cause against a man who seemed an outright opponent of it. Many right-leaning pundits seemed far more to fear an Obama victory than to desire a McCain win. This mood not only was a sign that McCain’s role in the 2008 campaign was primarily a reactive one; it also led to the outpouring of conservative anger in 2009.

At last, with Barack Obama inaugurated, the small-government right no longer needed to defend any incumbent federal power structure. The resentments that had been simmering for years and years could finally break into a boil.

This anger was helped by the fact that the man coming into office in January 2009 was the proponent of a more radically expansive government than had been seen in decades.

More to come…

Originally posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

GOP Buckles Down in Close Races

October 14th, 2010 at 3:15 pm Comments Off

Here are some possible GOP-takeover House races which are very tight:

MI-01: Dan Benishek (in the race to replace Bart Stupak):

Benishek leads state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, 42 percent to 39 percent, in a survey of 404 likely voters released by Washington-insider newspaper The Hill. The 3 percentage point lead is within the 4.9 percent margin of error, and shows a significant shift from early post-primary internal polling in the district, which showed Benishek with double-digit advantages.

Benishek’s running hard against Obamacare.

NY-19: Nan Hayworth:

Republican challenger Nan Hayworth leads two-term Democratic Rep. John Hall by three points — 46 percent to 43 percent — among 610 likely voters, Siena found.

Hayworth’s lead fell within the poll’s margin of error (plus or minus four percentage points), making the race a dead heat.

That’s consistent with forecasts by independent political handicappers such as the Cook Political Report that rate the race a tossup.

Analysts expect the GOP to pick up at least a few seats in New York. With a little effort, this seat could be one of those pick-ups.

PA-07: Pat Meehan (for Joe Sestak’s House seat):

The race between Republican former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan and Democratic state Rep. Bryan Lentz is essentially tied, says today’s The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which has Meehan leading Lentz by a single percentage point, 40-39. They’re running to replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.

The survey of 405 likely voters was conducted between Oct. 2 and Oct. 7. Meehan’s edge is well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.9 percent.

One percent of respondents said they would vote for another candidate, and 20 percent said they were undecided. The only other candidate in the race is Jim Schneller, a conservative independent who was placed on the ballot with the help of Lentz’s allies, including one of his top campaign workers.

Democrats look like they were hoping to split the right’s vote. That’s not a sign of great confidence in their candidate. The fact that 20% are undecided probably helps Meehan more than Lentz, but it suggests that this race isn’t over yet.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Is It Time to End Birthright Citizenship?

October 11th, 2010 at 7:41 am 37 Comments

There is much to be said for the tradition of birthright citizenship in the United States. The idea that, unhealthy if you are born on U.S. soil, click you are a full-fledged American citizen, with a right to that citizenship as great as that of a scion of the Mayflower, offers a beneficent narrative of assimilation: the child of immigrants is as much a citizen as anyone else. Birthright citizenship is a policy in part based on the faith of Americans in new starts. By making even the children of illegal immigrants citizens of the United States, we do not hold the sins of the father or the mother against an infant.

Part of the popularity of birthright citizenship can be attributed to sentimental mythologizing of the Ellis Island-style immigration of one hundred years ago, but part of it does draw from deep weaves in the American fabric. That faith in the new—that faith in the assimilation of the old—does seem a key tradition to the American way of life.

However, sometimes traditions fall by the wayside. The era of the independent farmer, so celebrated by many Founding Fathers and thought so central to maintaining the republic, has now passed away. And this new era, too, may see the fall of formerly sacred idols.

This season of change can in part be seen by the public commitment of increasingly prominent public officials to end birthright citizenship. Never mind that a constitutional amendment banning birthright citizenship would have an exceedingly steep road; the fact that politicians are talking about ending birthright citizenship (rather than merely complaining about some of its effects) reveals a change in the public mood.

One does not need to be a raging nativist to acknowledge the legitimacy of some of the concerns of opponents of birthright citizenship. In the age of the advanced welfare state, being a parent to a citizen child is the entryway to a portfolio of benefits for housing, healthcare, food, and income supplements. So birthright citizenship for one’s children is a significant draw for illegal immigrants.

The huge influx of illegal immigrants has also been deeply damaging to many social ideals Americans cherish: equality, respect for the law, and civic fellowship. Illegal immigration introduces a feedback loop of inequality. Major magnets for illegal immigrants are also centers of social and economic inequality, where an economic elite lords it over a burgeoning peon class.

And make no mistake about it: the number of illegal immigrants coming in has been significant. Prior to the recent downturn, a population of illegal immigrants the size of that of South Dakota came into the United States every year. A decade of that level of immigration is the equivalent to the population of New Jersey. Numbers like that have strained to the breaking point (or outright broken) the public resources of many municipalities. Schools, clinics, hospitals, and more have all borne the weight of this influx. And the damage to public agencies has been but another blow to social equality and the middle class.

It is only because of the extent of this increase that politicians or the public at large would even begin to consider ending birthright citizenship. Americans for the most part believe in the idea (and ideal) of immigration. They view some level of openness to immigration as foundational for modern America, and revel in the power of assimilation as the power of American culture. But if Americans don’t want to change the United States’ thinking on immigration, facts on the ground may cause them to rethink their overall ideal.

Many in the president’s circle have made much of the idea that a crisis is an opportunity. Well, the crisis of illegal immigration (one created by elites in both parties) may be an opportunity for a radical rethinking of our nation’s immigration policy and, perhaps even more radically, immigration ethos.

This is a manufactured crisis, one aided and abetted by presidential administrations from both sides of the aisle. President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush, seem to have an almost ideological opposition to enforcing immigration laws. Bush was and Obama is content to leave the border unsecured, allow employers to exploit “undocumented” labor, and, particularly in Obama’s case, attack any states or municipalities that to move against illegal immigrants and their law-breaking employers.

This negligence about and outright hostility to enforcement has not lessened the controversy over illegal immigration but has increased it. Every year that goes on would increase the number of individuals benefiting from an amnesty, and any amnesty would provide even more incentive for further illegal immigration. The bigger the number of illegal immigrants becomes, the more thoroughly the system of illegal immigration metastasizes within the American economy.

With a leadership class that seems to have more antipathy toward those who oppose illegal immigration than toward those who break this nation’s laws, many Americans have grown increasingly frustrated with the current status quo. Opponents of illegal immigration are right to note that birthright citizenship is a magnet for illegal immigrants and also complicates notions of enforcement. The constitution of the United States as an egalitarian republic of laws is probably somewhat threatened by an influx of those who are outside the law. Moving against birthright citizenship is an understandable tactic for reducing illegal immigration.

And yet and yet and yet….abolishing birthright citizenship would also lead to a whole host of problems. Particularly if the executive elite refuses to enforce immigration laws (which seems likely for at least the next few years and could easily happen in the next presidential term, as well), there is a risk of compounding the shadow population. It could be a troubling thing indeed for the United States to have within its borders a growing native-born, non-citizen population.

While abolishing birthright citizenship would be a response to understandable anxieties about the decline of the middle way of American life, this abolition would also itself be a blow to some of the equalizing tendencies of American law. No longer would birth upon American soil automatically entitle one to all the rights and privileges of American citizenship. No longer would any American-born person be civically equal to any other American-born person. This is not an inconsiderable loss.

Friends of birthright citizenship need to be watchful. A near-majority of Americans (48%) want to end this institution. With the change induced by this seeming crisis, many Americans are willing to dismantle what had seemed foundational to our society. Exasperated by the willful negligence of the federal government, they are increasingly open to a revolution.

Poor administration and dishonesty have gotten the nation to this point. The current president has not really made the case for increased immigration or argued that the laws prohibiting the employment of illegal workers are wrong. Instead, he has paid lip service to the rule of law while showing hostility to those who would enforce the letter and the spirit of the law. Little more could be said for his predecessor in this regard (or for many of those in Congress). The actions and inactions of both men have escalated the problem of illegal immigration.

There is still the opportunity for a third way, sailing between two poles: the perpetual influx of an illegal laborer class, stripped of civic protections, and a sweeping dissolution of citizenship for the native-born children of illegal immigrants. Both these extremes would likely lead to the same result: a nationless people within our nation.

It is perhaps not too late for competent, good faith administration to turn the illegal immigration situation around. This third way would involve the enforcement of our immigration and labor laws. It would recognize our nation’s proud tradition of assimilation and of respect for the civic body. It would understand that governmental integrity and compassion sometimes go hand-in-hand.

Once we have made our illegal immigration problem smaller, the clamor for ending birthright citizenship would likely die down. If the American people felt confident in an enforcement regime, their own anxieties about particular illegal immigrants would be lessened. If we have a pragmatic approach to illegal immigration instead of an endless process of demonization, we could have a solution that improves the lot of both native-born Americans and immigrants.

Originally posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Why O’Donnell Isn’t the New Scott Brown

September 24th, 2010 at 2:19 pm 26 Comments

I have a few doubts about the electoral applicability of comparisons between Scott Brown and Christine O’Donnell. Yes, they’re both outsiders with gumption (or so we’re told), but the challenge Scott Brown faced in Massachusetts in January is quite different from the one that O’Donnell faces in Delaware in November.

It’s true that Brown was considered a long-shot candidate, but take a look at his favorability rating in this early January 2010 Boston Globe poll (which showed him trailing Democrat Martha Coakley by 15 points): 44% favorable/25% unfavorable, with 23% who were uncertain. That’s a +19 net favorability rating. Brown’s public image was mostly positive; he needed to prove his competitiveness and to become a more familiar presence to voters.

Take a look at O’Donnell’s numbers from some recent polls. Fox News: 33% of Delaware voters view her to be qualified to serve as senator while 60% think she’s unqualified. That’s a -27 net rating. PPP: 29% favorable / 50% unfavorable. -21 net rating.

To point out these statistics is not to talk down O’Donnell’s chances in the general election but to note that she has a very different strategic imperative. While voters in Massachusetts were generally favorable and open to Brown, a majority of Delaware voters are actively hostile to O’Donnell. Opinion is not unformed about her (as in Brown’s case) but instead has soured against her candidacy.

O’Donnell will need to fight to reverse the media narrative that’s grown up around her. Outreach—to Castle’s people, to independents, to the media–is going to be crucial.

With that in mind, one might have a few misgivings about her decision to avoid any national television interviews for the rest of the campaign. The 2008 election is instructive in this regard. By mostly keeping Palin in a media bubble after her debut as vice-presidential candidate, the McCain camp indirectly helped solidify Palin’s image as a Tina Fey “I can see Russia from my house” caricature. It’s understandable for the O’Donnell team to want to avoid a media feeding frenzy, but her campaign should be wary of a similar fate befalling her.

Her campaign has suggested that O’Donnell’s going to be pursuing local news organizations. She should be. She should also be getting out there with the voters (which she seems to be doing)—even in less-than-friendly territory. O’Donnell’s accumulated something like a $2 million war chest. That spending should help, too, but blanketing the airwaves with advertisements will only do so much good. For O’Donnell to win in Delaware, she will need voters to view her as more than a “conservative” firebrand.

As William Jacobson says, it might be too early to count O’Donnell out of the race. But she does have a lot of work to do, and there are plenty of other Senate races for those on the right to keep an eye on.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

GOP Shows Signs of Life in Washington State

September 21st, 2010 at 1:30 am 7 Comments

SurveyUSA has two polls that suggest some possible pick-up opportunities for the GOP in Washington.

In WA-03, Republican Jaime Herrera leads Democrat Danny Heck by nine points (52-43) in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Brian Baird. Herrera’s numbers have been slipping a little bit, though, so she’ll have to keep fighting for that seat to ensure a win on Election day. A multicultural coalition backs Herrera; it remains to be seen if this coalition can hold together for a win.

WA-09 has some surprisingly good news for the GOP: Republican Dick Muri lags only three points behind 14-year incumbent Democrat Adam Smith (46-49). Prior to this poll, many analysts had ranked this as a “safe” Democratic seat. Muri’s lagging big-time in fund-raising; a little cash might tip the race in his favor.

If WA-09 is starting to swing the GOP’s way, it could have implications for the closely-contested Washington Senate race. These numbers might also be a sign of further deterioration—even in previously safe districts—of the Democratic brand. If these challengers can pull off these victories and Washington’s three Republican incumbent representatives can hold on to their seats, the GOP stands to capture the majority of Washington’s House districts.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

The Case for Castle

September 12th, 2010 at 12:29 am 20 Comments

As the Delaware Republican primary campaign heats up, I thought I would put forward five claims in defense of Mike Castle:

Two out of three ain’t bad. He supported the Bush tax cuts, he rejected time tables for withdrawals from Iraq, he opposed Obamacare, he opposed the stimulus, etc. etc. etc. Has he always stood with Republicans in the House? Certainly not. But has he stood with them on many important issues? You bet. Yes, he backed cap-and-trade, but how likely is that measure to pass, if it can’t get out of the Senate now, at the high-water mark of Democratic strength? His Second Amendment record has been mixed, but the courts have weakened the ability of Congress to undercut the right to bear arms, and it doesn’t seem like the gun issue is one Democrats want to take on right now. He has a lifetime American Conservative Union Score of 52; for this year, it’s 56. Is that a hard-right score? No. But it’s hardly a dyed-in-the-wool far-leftist score.

Experience has its benefits. Mike Castle has served in government for over forty years. He has great experience in legislative maneuvering, a virtue not to be discounted. If Republicans do regain control of Congress in 2010, they will need more than people who can spout talking points: they will need people who can skillfully craft and interpret legislation. Competence in management will be crucial for a renewal of Republican and conservative fortunes. The electoral failures of 2006 and 2008 were in part driven by the earlier political and policy failures of Republican legislators and administration officials. Legislative policy is a complex issue, and having elected officials who can navigate that complexity will be key for advancing conservative aims.

Diversity is a good thing. There are some people who wish for a Senate with 100 Jim DeMints. This writer is not one of them. No disrespect is intended here for the senator from South Carolina, who has been a strong force in the Republican caucus; I might merely suggest that any political coalition is enriched by a variety of perspectives. A radical search for purity in politics often leads to intellectual staleness. I might not agree with Castle on many issues, but his is still a voice worth having in the Republican chorus.

Moderation can be a virtue. Especially in the legislative realm, achieving success often depends upon reaching across the aisle. One of the things that made Obamacare so unusual was that, as a major reform, it was basically a monopartisan measure. Throughout U.S. history, big reforms often require backing from both parties. Especially since the Republicans are a long way from 60 votes in the Senate, they will need Democratic support if they want to pass major legislation. Castle’s position in the middle — with allies in both parties — could make him a helpful powerbroker in the Senate.

Electability matters. Castle’s electability is often a subtext in defenses of him from the right side of the blogosphere. (I would guess that online defenders of him would become a much rarer breed if he rather than O’Donnell were lagging 10+ points behind the Democrat.) And there really is no doubt about his electability. He was a very popular governor and has been a very popular member of the House. The only reason why analysts are tipping the race the way of Republicans is because of Mike Castle. Even many of O’Donnell’s partisans have admitted that an O’Donnell victory in the primary might easily lead to a Republican loss in the general election.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm

Can Christie Stop the Tea Party’s Next Upset?

September 5th, 2010 at 7:44 am 10 Comments

The blogosphere’s been buzzing for the past few days about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s endorsement of Mike Castle. This is a huge get for Castle, as Christie is a grass-roots folk hero for many on the right. Christie’s endorsement reveals a few interesting things about the New Jersey governor and the dynamic of the (now escalating) Delaware Republican Senate primary race.

  • Christie knows what it takes to win as a Republican in Democratic-leaning states. Christie’s been able to fight hard for conservative causes in New Jersey, but he knows when not to go too far. In his epic budget battle, Christie pressed Democrats in the state legislature to the breaking point and won. Part of Christie’s success depended upon picking battles. Though Christie has a huge fan base among the deeply Republican parts of the blogosphere, he realizes that, to use the somewhat hackneyed phrase, politics is the art of the possible.
  • This endorsement advances Christie as a national figure. Many big-name Republicans (such as Sarah Palin) have stayed out of this primary campaign, giving Christie an opportunity. Christie’s popularity amongst conservatives gives him a valuable opportunity to reach out and advocate on behalf of moderate Republicans; with a reputation of being a rock-ribbed conservative, Christie can deflect claims that he’s a treacherous RINO sellout. Moderate Republicans could be a key voting bloc were Christie to make a bid for higher office. Especially if Castle wins the general election (a very good bet) after winning the primary, this endorsement will burnish Christie’s record of picking winners.
  • Christie knows Castle is a strong candidate in the general election. He’s led in polls since the beginning of this race. He’s won race after race after race in Delaware. This looks like the first real chance for Republicans to gain a Senate seat in Delaware since Republican incumbent Bill Roth lost in 2000 to Tom Carper. Roth wasn’t exactly a fire-breathing right-winger, but he was an ally of fiscal conservatives and was key in putting forward a number of important reforms, including the tax cuts of 1981.
  • Republicanism in the mid-Atlantic states has taken a beating over the decade or so and may have reached its nadir in 2006. Castle’s election as senator would help rebuild the fortunes of Eastern Seaboard Republicans, a group that could use all of the support it can get. For Republicans to create an enduring majority that can accomplish long-lasting reforms, it will be crucial for them to have significant presences in all regions of the country. Look at the current Democratic majority in the House and Senate: it draws from every part of the country, from the West Coast to the South to the interior West to the Northeast. To get big numbers in the Senate, which will be key for passage of many important reforms, Republicans will need not only a deep but a broad well of potential support.

Increasing acrimony in this race could be damaging to Republican fortunes in the general. Castle’s circulation of Christie’s endorsement may be an attempt to shut down the rising anti-Castle sentiment before it gets too virulent.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Tea Party Aims for a Delaware Upset

August 31st, 2010 at 10:31 am 4 Comments

The Hill, Politico, and others are reporting that the Tea Party Express is taking aim at Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), as he campaigns for the Republican nomination for Senate in Delaware. As the Hill puts it

The Tea Party Express, which spent some $600,000 on Alaska Republican Joe Miller’s primary challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), says it’s preparing to do the same on behalf of Christine O’Donnell (R) in Delaware.

O’Donnell is challenging Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) from the right in the state’s Sept. 14 Senate primary, but she has yet to capture the same kind of attention from conservative activists as other Tea Party-backed candidates have this cycle.

Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said Monday that his organization is already cutting TV and radio ads in Delaware and expects to be on the air by the end of the week. Russell said he hopes to match the support the group offered in GOP primaries in Utah, Nevada and Alaska this year.

This may not be the most strategic spending on behalf of the Tea Party Express. Delaware ain’t Alaska or Utah or Nevada. Alaska and Utah are about as Republican as you get, and Nevada isn’t too far behind. The last time Delaware voted for a Republican presidential contender was 1988. Delaware is a territory where centrism is a key political qualifier for Republican aspirants to statewide office.

And Mike Castle has a record of proven success in Delaware. He’s been winning statewide elections since the 1980s, and has served since 1993 as the state’s only member in the House. Though his record might not be what some of the most conservative Republicans in the country dream about, Castle has proven a fairly loyal Republican and has stood with the party on many (not all) big issues.

Do you know whom Mike Castle would be a lot more conservative than? Democratic nominee Chris Coons. Castle has led Coons in polls taken throughout the year with huge margins.

O’Donnell? Most polls have shown her double digits behind Coons.

There’s definitely a place for O’Donnell in Delaware Republican politics, but gambling on her candidacy may be too big a risk for Republicans in 2010. With Castle, this seat could be close to a guaranteed pickup. With O’Donnell, this race would definitely lean heavily in the favor of Democrats. If Republicans were going into this election with close to fifty seats, it would be one thing to think about gambling in Delaware. But right now Republicans have a long, long way to go to 51 seats. They are in no position to turn their backs on a relatively safe candidate.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Is the Senate Broken?

August 5th, 2010 at 8:15 am 7 Comments

George Packer has an interesting article up at the New Yorker about the (supposedly) broken Senate. Packer’s article assumes that the Senate is horribly, horribly broken, and that assumption colors the whole piece, but he does provide a number of details about the legislative process in the contemporary Senate.

Though some on the left might take this piece as another demonstration of the need to get rid of the filibuster, the filibuster doesn’t actually take center stage in this article. Indeed, many of the procedural problems the Senate now faces (and it does face some problems of that nature) stem from increased partisan animosities, which cause members of both sides to derail debates and appointments using heretofore obscure procedural moves. Indeed, the attempt on the “progressive” front to destroy the filibuster is itself a symptom of these increased animosities, as a temporarily reigning left-wing majority tries to break any hope of minority resistance.

I think the despairing final paragraph of Packer’s article results from a kind of confusion:

The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and healthcare, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances—a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis—that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans’ care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing. Already, you can feel the Senate slipping back into stagnant waters.

There seems to be a presumption here that the Senate should be doing something on these issues. The desire for a government capable of responding to national issues is a laudable one. However, sometimes putting forth no plan for certain types of reforms is better than putting together a very bad one. Many of the policy positions of the current Democratic leadership and the president are both unpopular (see the latest polling for Obama on immigration, for example) and have undesirable results.

The Senate can certainly “address” these issues if “addressing” means passing legislation about it. On plenty of these measures, a centrist majority could easily be found; left-wing insistence and right-wing resistance has thus far prevented action on a number of these issues. This lack of action may, especially from a conservative perspective, be desirable, and there is no reason for members of the center-right to cede their convictions to left-wing radicalism. Compromise is only worth so much.

If “addressing” means solving these issues, that’s a much taller order. Certainly, the Senate did “address” job creation issues when it passed the stimulus. Its success in doing so has fallen far below the initial estimates of the president and his allies. The successful addressing of issues depends upon having effective ideas that are capable of gaining popular support. Perhaps unfortunately for the republic, no easy procedural mechanisms will ensure that these ideas rise to the top.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.