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Entries from August 2011

Bush Donors Have No Feud With Perry

August 18th, 2011 at 9:45 am 25 Comments

As Rick Perry’s campaign begins, the supposed feud between the current Texas Governor and former President George W. Bush has become a commonly accepted piece of knowledge. But a closer look suggests that any such conflict is confined to the aides and advisers of the two men – not to their larger political organizations. When it comes to donors in particular, the Bush and Perry networks have extensive overlap.

It has been said that Perry will struggle among Bush donors because of bad blood that goes back to when Bush and Perry were running for governor and lieutenant-governor. “Perry can’t count on Bush’s money network because of strained relations between the two political camps,” wrote the Dallas Morning News, quoting an anonymous source close to Perry.

Not so, says Barry D. Wynn, the former Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and a top fundraiser for President Bush. “I see a lot of overlap between the Bush and Perry [campaign donors]. Clearly, the most overlap of any of the other campaigns,” Wynn told FrumForum.

Wynn was in Austin last month during a widely publicized meeting of potential Perry donors. “I went down to Austin, and did see some of the [donors] meeting there,” said Wynn. “The people that I met were pretty much all in the Bush camp when he ran for president twice, even going back to his father.”

Gregory Slayton, whom President Bush appointed as ambassador to Luxembourg from 2005 to 2009, told Politico last week that he was leaving the Pawlenty campaign for Governor Perry’s, and was taking former Bush donors with him:

Slayton, a Bush ranger who raised for McCain in 2008, told POLITICO on Thursday that he plans to back Perry — and that he’s taking about 100 friends and allies across the country with him to support the Texas governor. The group includes several other Bush rangers, Slayton said.

Wynn told FrumForum that he was likely to support Governor Perry after Labor Day (he has promised to stay neutral until then). Asked to explain Governor Perry’s appeal from the mind of a Bush donor, he said that although the two men have different upbringings, their appeals are similar. “Stylistically, these guys are very, very different… a cotton farmer from West Texas, and an Andover, Yale, Harvard fellow… [but] the foundation of Bush’s support was pro-business folks, geared towards economic development… it seems to be Perry’s campaign too,” he said.

Others put it differently. “At some level, it’s good business for anyone in the private sector to support candidates that are running for federal office. In a lot of cases, they don’t feel that they need to choose to be in one camp or another – they can be in both,” said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin and Washington, D.C. based political strategist.

Many donors just don’t have anything invested in the feud, said former top Bush aide Mark McKinnon. “I think some donors gave to Bush because they were friends of his or the family.  I think most donors gave to him because they thought he would win the nomination. Perry may not get the former, but he’ll get the latter,” he told FrumForum. “Perry is not going to have any trouble raising money.”

The alleged bad blood between Governor Perry and former President Bush dates back to the 1998 when Bush was running for governor and Perry was running for lieutenant-governor.

“Bush had token opposition and wanted to get a really big win, and also wanted to win a majority of Hispanics. Rove’s team didn’t want to go negative at the end, because that would suppress Hispanic turnout in places where Bush was going to get some crossover votes,” explained Mackowiak, a Republican strategist who previously worked for Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson.“There was a difference in the strategy, of what the Lieutenant Governor campaign wanted, and what the Governor’s team wanted.” Perry was in a much closer race than Bush, and ended up going negative on their Democratic opponent despite the wishes of Karl Rove and the Bush camp. And so a legendary feud was born.

But with Bush in retirement – and Perry seizing the spotlight – the old conflicts mean little to donors and activists who see in Perry a new opportunity to regain influence within the national government.

What Has Perry Done for Hispanics Lately?

August 17th, 2011 at 12:56 pm 59 Comments

As Governor Rick Perry begins his presidential campaign, Hispanic voters open to the idea of voting Republican are wondering which Rick Perry will show up.

In Texas, Hispanic voters concerned about immigration issues and undocumented immigrants have witnessed two Perrys: the good Perry who signed the Texas DREAM Act, and the bad Perry who aggressively pursued sanctuary cities legislation.

Somos Republicans, which claims to be the largest Hispanic Republican group in the nation, named Rick Perry the most Hispanic-friendly politician in the nation for 2010. “He stated that Arizona’s harsh, anti-immigrant law wasn’t right for Texas – so we wanted to give praise where praise was due. Remember, he said that during a year where anti-immigrant sentiment reached a fevered pitch,” said DeeDee Garcia Blase, the group’s founder.

Governor Perry has continued to support the Texas DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition for college, even as he runs for president. “To punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about,” he said recently to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

In the past, Perry has also stood up to Tom Tancredo, who wrote an opinion column last week saying that the Texas governor is “not a true conservative” because of his immigration policy. Tancredo also claims that Perry once called him a racist. The animosity between the two is sure to bode well for Perry among immigrant groups.

Perry’s support for these causes has served him well among Hispanic voters – at least for a Republican. “Perry earned, according to their internal polling, about 36% of the Hispanic vote [in the last Texas gubernatorial race]. According to CNN, 38%… the key with the Hispanic vote in Texas is that if you get over 35% of the Hispanic vote, you can be competitive,” said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican consultant and the author of Los Republicanos: Why Republicans and Hispanics Need Each Other.

But fast-forward to this year, and Blase’s immigrant-focused Republican group has determined that Perry is only in the middle of the pack. “We’d give him about a ‘B’,” she said. “He was downgraded to a ‘B’ because he introduced an emergency sanctuary cities bill. People were wondering: ‘what was the emergency?’”

The uncertainty over what Perry will say about immigration in the 2012 campaign is giving Somos Republicans pause. “We are not yet ready to endorse him, because he could take a harsh turn on his stance on immigration before 2012, preventing us from doing that,” said Blase.

But going deeper, Leslie Sanchez tells FrumForum that Perry’s appeal to Hispanic voters can – and should – stretch beyond traditional issues of immigration policy.

“There is a lot of fluidity right now in how Hispanic voters are looking over their own political ideology. The [notion] that Hispanic voters are going to be Democratic because they are only thinking of open-borders, amnesty and full citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a false stereotype… like other voters Hispanic voters are concerned about jobs, their families – and they have a real commitment to military service,” she said.

In fact, Sanchez said that there is a growing constituency of Hispanics that would tune into Perry’s message if he were to focus on enforcement. “It’s more complicated – there are increasing numbers of second- and third-generation Hispanic voters that are pro-enforcement and really want to support the idea of legal immigration,” she told FrumForum.

But for Hispanic Republicans who might be closer to the party’s middle on other issues but are staunch advocates for undocumented immigrants, the last few years have been disillusioning.

The Republican Party appears to be trending away from them. Even Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a superstar amongst Hispanic Republicans, has been a disappointment. “Things have gotten bad – when Marco Rubio decided to sponsor Texas Senator Lamar Smith’s national E-Verify system, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” said Blase.

Perry’s record is one of unclear motives: some of his actions suggest that he is genuinely concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants in Texas. But he may be driven at least as much by an eagerness to serve Texas employers seeking low-cost labor from these same immigrants. With a presidential campaign less pressed by that imperative, will his tune on immigration change?

In the eyes of immigrant groups, Perry has shown a propensity both for acts worthy of praise and acts that lead to disappointment. As they watch the 2012 presidential campaign unfold, it is still unknown exactly what stance Rick Perry will take.

Mitt Romney: Goldbug?

August 13th, 2011 at 11:04 am 25 Comments

Romney’s campaign filed FEC reports indicating the candidate’s personal wealth to be between $190 million and $250 million. The most important sentence is buried in this Los Angeles Times article:

“The couple owns between $250,001 and $500,000 in gold.”

Pawlenty and Bachmann Spar in Iowa Debate

August 11th, 2011 at 8:11 pm 77 Comments

A spirited debate tonight on Fox News, but one where the winner ultimately turned about to be someone who said the least substantively.

Frontrunner and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney escaped unscathed – no one seriously challenged him, and with expectations that he would be targeted, this alone makes him the winner.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman didn’t have the spark he needed to bring to the debate. While he deserved credit for standing up for gay civil unions – a politically suicidal move in Iowa – he didn’t do so assertively. Asked by the moderator why those who oppose civil unions are wrong, Huntsman said, “they’re not wrong,” and that states should decide. But the converse of that statement is, “I’m not right!”

Huntsman was also asked about why he hadn’t put an economic proposal on the table yet, and his answer sounded shaky. The former governor said that he had only been campaigning for six weeks – not an acceptable answer for someone who is running to president of the United States.

The most talked-about answer that Rep. Michele Bachmann gave would have to be when she was asked what it meant to be submissive to her husband, a question asked by the Washington Examiner’s Byron York. The question was greeted by boos in the crowd, but Bachmann took the question with poise and said that ‘submission’ meant respect for one another.

Ron Paul said he was unconcerned with Iran obtaining a nuke, and suggested that he wasn’t necessarily opposed to slavery – in the hypothetical that a state would be free to legalize it – just that it was out of style and wouldn’t be implemented nowadays.

Pawlenty – what to say? He made a few zingers at the beginning and took some shots at Romney and Bachmann. But his performance fell far short of what it needed to be – the aggressiveness and assertiveness he needed to bring to the table was lacking. A disappointing showing this weekend will be one of the events of his campaign.


For the most recent polling of the Iowa caucuses, click here.

RCP Average: Bachmann (26%), Romney (22%), Pawlenty (8.2%), Paul (7.4%), Cain (6.4%), Gingrich (4.6%), Santorum (3.8%).

Pre-Debate Analysis:

Tim Pawlenty

Conventional wisdom says that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty needs a win in Iowa to stay competitive in the race. With the news that Rick Perry is running for the Republican nomination, Pawlenty faces the challenge of proving that he can distinguish himself in the packed field.

Looming large over Pawlenty’s involvement in the debate tonight will be the memory of how he backed down during the New Hampshire debate. Here’s a refresher: the Sunday before the New Hampshire debate in June, Pawlenty had gone after Gov. Mitt Romney’s health care plan, styling it ‘Obamneycare’ on Fox News Sunday. During the debate, Pawlenty was asked by CNN’s John King why he chose that term – Pawlenty demurred, instead referring to his achievements in Minnesota, and opponents attacked him on this as a supposed sign of weakness.

No doubt Pawlenty will be thinking of these criticisms tonight – so watch for him to come out swinging aggressively.

Michele Bachmann

The most recent poll for the Iowa caucuses, by Rasmussen Reports, had Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann ahead of the crowded pack – even though Mitt Romney leads nationally. As one of the front-runners to winning the Ames straw poll in Iowa, she has to keep an even hand and fend off attacks – some of which may come from two scathing profiles written of her in the past week, one written in the New Yorker, the other in Newsweek.

Rep. Bachmann outperformed expectations during the New Hampshire debate by giving short, crisp answers to debate questions. In New Hampshire, she put plenty of emphasis on her 23 foster children – watch for that trend to continue today.

Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be on the defensive this evening – as the national front-runner for the Republican nomination, he has more than a few targets on his back. So far, criticism of Romney has not stuck – despite his many vulnerabilities.

Watch for him to emphasize his business experience over his political experience – something that he’s angling for in order to win votes from small businessmen and entrepreneurial-minded voters.

Since Tim Pawlenty has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from the last debate, expect him to have to fend off some aggressive criticism from the Minnesota Governor. Romney’s campaign has been low-key, and one should expect that his debate performance tonight will be as well.

Ron Paul

Texas Congressman Ron Paul is expected to place well on the Ames Straw Poll, and his supporters are boisterous crowd members, judging by previous debates and public appearances.

As always, watch for the most libertarian member of the debate group to flow against the typical answers of the rest of the debaters, especially on the issues of drug legalization, monetary policy and the Federal Reserve, as well as American involvement abroad.

Herman Cain

The former pizza magnate performed surprisingly well during the last debate in New Hampshire – a Fox News focus group almost unanimously declared him the winner of the debate. His style has been slim on substance, however – many of his answers are merely other questions. This is a chance to show he’s been reading up on policy and politics, and show that he really has the intellectual abilities required to become president. For whatever you might think of him, his populist style of debating appears appealing to a substantial portion of the Republican electorate.

Jon Huntsman

The former Utah Governor has failed to spark excitement amongst Iowa Republicans, and will mostly be speaking to a national crowd when he debates this afternoon. The question for him will be whether he can encourage grassroots Republicans to get excited about his candidacy, which up until now has been struggling. He has been promoting himself as a moderate Republican, but the key for him will be to show moderation in policy, but not in temperament.

Rick Santorum

The former Senator from Pennsylvannia is running on social issues, something that he should have an audience for in Iowa. But he’s been unable to pick up the mantle of, say, Mike Huckabee. His latest hit? When Texas Gov. Rick Perry – now reportedly announcing his run for the presidency this Saturday – told a crowd that New York’s gay marriage law was a state rights issue, saying, “that’s their business, and that’s fine by me.” Santorum was quick to respond, saying, “it IS our business, and that’s NOT fine by me.” Watch for Santorum to draw parallels between morality and economics whenever he can, a la Huckabee.

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is still running for president? The former House speaker’s campaign has suffered a meltdown – everything from communications failures, like calling the Paul Ryan budget – which virtually every House Republican supports – “radical”; to his entire senior staff resigning on one day in June.

He’s going to need to do something spectacular to reboot his campaign – and even that may not achieve much of anything. Some may scoff at ‘conventional wisdom’, but the prevailing mood of the press corps and strategists does have a substantial effect on aspects of the campaign, like fundraising. With a bad reputation around his neck – it seems as if Gingrich is a ‘dead man walking’.

Priebus’ Big Wisconsin Win

August 10th, 2011 at 7:00 pm 21 Comments

Chalk up another win for Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.

The four Republican victories in the Wisconsin recall elections means that the GOP maintains control over the state senate. But for Priebus, this was something more personal – he has strong ties in Wisconsin, as the former chairman of the state GOP.

While he was running for the RNC chairmanship, Priebus would frequently make reference to the GOP’s victories in Wisconsin, name-dropping Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker as evidence of his accomplishments.

A week ago, Priebus said that the RNC was “all in” on the Wisconsin recall. If the Republicans had suffered the loss of the state senate, so too would the RNC have suffered a loss of prestige. Familiar questions about whether the RNC remains relevant would have bubbled up. But they haven’t, and Priebus should get some credit for it.

The Republican victory in Wisconsin caps off a calm seven months for the RNC chairman, who has sought to rebuild the institution’s credibility after a tumultuous tenure under Michael Steele.

Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, who is affiliated with the conservative group American Crossroads, and competes with the RNC for funds, said that Chairman Priebus had “saved the Republican National Committee … the RNC is once again a driving force in Republican messaging.”

Indeed, one can see that in the themes Republicans choose to criticize President Obama on – for example, the ‘fundraiser-in-chief’ message that the RNC has been pounding for months.

But despite his victories, Priebus still faces a formidable challenge in fundraising, which has been less than stellar. The RNC raised $6.7 million in June, putting their six-month haul at $36.6 million – less than the $38.2 million that Michael Steele raised in his first six months of the 2010 cycle.

The good news is that the big donors are back – Priebus announced that major donors have already given more than in 2009 and 2010 combined. But rank-and-file small-dollar donors still haven’t been convinced to return.

There’s been no drama in the last seven months – a welcome relief for some RNC members who felt that Steele’s tenure was too focused on the man, and not enough on the messaging. But the RNC remains mired in debt – $17.5 million as of June 30 – and there remains a long road ahead.

Perry’s Highway to Nowhere

August 9th, 2011 at 12:15 am 67 Comments

On Saturday, Texas Governor Rick Perry will announce that he intends to run for president. Perry will bring a lot of conservative rhetoric to the GOP field, but what about his actual record? The truth is, not all of Perry’s policies have been successful and some of them may not fit the Tea Party’s definition of “conservative.”

Over the last decade, Perry saw his most ambitious transportation infrastructure plan, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), torn apart in the state legislature by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Although his plan for a massive 4,000 mile superhighway proposal did not succeed, the governor’s conduct over a decade between his plan’s proposal and collapse can lend us insight into the scope of his vision, the thinking behind his governing, and the way he handles those who oppose him.

The project might give pause to those who are inclined to support Perry should he run for president. The TTC project was more Lyndon B. Johnson than Ron Paul since it was a massive government undertaking. Although it was proposed to be financed largely by private equity, it also relied on federal funds and the widespread use of eminent domain.

Most importantly, Perry proposed the boldest infrastructure project in Texas history – and failed to get it passed. Whatever one’s thoughts might be on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s healthcare policies, he was able to get his landmark proposals through.

Perry’s Grand Vision – The Trans-Texas Corridor

In 2002, Governor Rick Perry confronted a gargantuan challenge – with the population of Texas doubling over the next few decades, how could you upgrade infrastructure to meet their needs? The revenues certainly weren’t there – in 2007, for example, Texas’ transportation budget included only enough money to maintain existing roads, and none for expansion. Undoubtedly, this was insufficient for a state which sees a net population growth of one thousand people per day.

“It is a really big problem in Texas because the funding is not really there, and the solutions available are all really bad. You could raise taxes… but Governor Perry would never, never do that,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas-based Republican strategist.

Perry met this grand challenge with a grand solution: The Trans Texas Corridor. The TTC would have been a fifty-year build-out of a 4,000 mile superhighway system, with routes for cars, separate lanes for trucking, space for freight rail, and still more room for high-speed passenger rail. And if this were not enough, the TTC also included utility corridors for electric lines, transmission lines and pipelines that would have run parallel to the roads. All told, the superhighway would be up to 1,200 feet wide, and every mile of highway would require well over two hundred acres of land.

The TTC would route traffic around urban areas, allow for faster movement of goods, and route hazardous freight routes and pipelines out of populated zones. The TTC addressed “concerns that pipelines built through urban areas were carrying hazardous materials, and there was also the prospect of train derailments near schools and sensitive areas,” said Steven Polunsky, the director of the Texas legislature’s Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security from 2006 to 2010.

Proposal and Collapse

The project actually required minimal public funding from the state, relying on federal grants as well as bonds that were issued in expectation of future revenues from tolls.

But opposition rallied against the TTC for other reasons. It was revealed that a large portion of the corridor would be planned by a Spain-based company called Cintra, and some people objected to the foreign involvement. Others were repulsed at the prospect that their land could be seized for the project – and given the scope of the project, a large number of individuals were potential stakeholders.

“It was basically going to be a superhighway, that a foreign company was going to build, that was going to require the state to seize some of that land, some of which have been ranches that have been around for generations,” said Mackowiak.

Still others opposed the privatization of the highway system. “I contend that Texas is rich enough to build its own highways,” Republican State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, a legislator known for her outspoken opposition to the proposal of her own party’s governor, told FrumForum, adding, “I’m from a rural area, and the amount of land that [the TTC] was going to take from us was incredible.”

Steven Polunski, who served in the state legislature on the Transportation Committee at the time when the TTC was being considered, recalls the xenophobia and misinformation that was evident at one public forum considering the corridor: “This woman said, ‘My home has been in my family since we got it in the Spanish land grant, and I’ll be damned if I give it back.’ There was actually a perception that because of the [Spanish] participation in the finance aspect, that the road itself would be foreign territory.”

But the grand vision for superhighways built through Texas was most damned by environmental regulations. The environmental concerns of such a large project were one thing – the noise from the highway would render areas up to a mile away uninhabitable, for example – but the real roadblock was the process.

“The National Environmental Policy Act makes you look at viable alternatives… they will pick several [routes], then focus in on two, three, four, five … rather than just picking one route,” explained Dr. Jim Rogers, the program director for Environmental Science at West Texas A&M University. “What is going to happen when you do this is that you have all sorts of potential stakeholders, and a lot more people to deal with.”

Indeed, the vast majority of Texas’ 254 counties were potentially affected by this project. The grassroots pushback was enormous. “This is pre-tea party. I actually think the beginnings of the tea party started, in a way, here in Texas through the gatherings in opposition to the plan,” said State Rep. Kolkhorst.

“There was a lot of uncertainty. Where is it going? No one could say where it was going,” said Polunsky. “Is it going over your farm? Is it going over the Burger King? And so you had a lot of people out there saying, ‘wait a minute, my farm could be at risk! My business could be at risk! My home could be at risk!’” By 2006, the Texas Republican Party’s platform called for the immediate halt of TTC planning, in open defiance of the party’s governor.

“These concerns eventually outweighed the legislative ability, or will, to advance it any further. So ultimately the plans were, one by one, stripped,” said Polunsky.

In 2007, State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst authored and passed what she deemed to be the “kill-shot” that ended the viability of the TTC – a two-year moratorium on private equity funding for transportation infrastructure. This year, Kolkhorst carried the bill which formally struck the TTC from Texas state law.

How Does This Failure Affect Governor Perry?

The problems that Governor Perry was trying to address in 2002 – the lack of transportation infrastructure for a fast-growing state – remain today, in large part due to the collapse of the TTC project. No doubt Perry would be touting the infrastructure project as a conservative accomplishment if it had not been abandoned – so why shouldn’t he deserve blame now for his failure to get it done?

Some don’t think that the TTC will be an issue in a Perry presidential campaign. “This is one of six or seven issues that opposition researchers will dig into and look at, and candidates will try to attack him on… [but] I don’t think it will have much resonance,” says Mackowiak. “It didn’t happen – the resonance of an idea that you put forward but didn’t actually become an actual policy is nowhere as resonant as something you did that didn’t work.”

But the fact that it didn’t happen could also be a criticism. If one of the largest projects Perry set out to accomplished turned out to be a failure, what does this say about the potential presidential candidate?

Further, it does seem hypocritical that a governor who once mused about secession would be so open to federal grant money. “He is like a lot of conservative governors, who criticize and rail against the federal government when they are actually on the federal gravy train, and happy to ride it… Perry had a whole office – the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations – that tries to grab federal grant money,” notes Chris Edwards, director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. In fact, the TTC plans for funding included lists for federal grants that could have been used to construct the corridor.

To be sure, questions about why Perry – an adamant states-rights advocate – would be so accepting of federal funds might arise. Property-rights activists could quite fairly question Perry’s willingness to use eminent domain to appropriate massive tracts of land. Still others might question his willingness to allow foreign investment in the project. “It’s a hard message for him to communicate,” concedes strategist Matt Mackowiak, who says he would be supportive of Perry if the governor decided to run for president.

On the positive side, the process showed how Governor Perry’s style – that even those who oppose him show him respect. Kolkhorst, a Republican who vehemently dissented from her governor’s plan, notes that she “respects Governor Perry’s grand visions,” even though “it was a battle.” Despite any tension that might have existed between herself and the governor, she admired his style. “We had heated conversations about my opposition, but in the end he respected the legislature’s direction. It takes a pretty big man to say, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do this. The Trans-Texas Corridor is dead,’” said Kolkhorst.

But even with this considered, the failure of what could have been a landmark piece of legislation is no credential a presidential candidate wants to have. Romneycare might be a disaster from a strategic perspective, but Governor Romney did at least show his ability to get a signature achievement into law. What about Gov. Rick Perry?

The NAFTA-Muslim
Brotherhood Link

August 7th, 2011 at 1:14 am 66 Comments

What would happen if two of the most notorious conspiracies of the last decade converged to create a super-conspiracy?

As you might recall, writer David Horowitz condemned CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) this year for the inclusion of Suhail Khan, a Muslim conservative who was a senior political appointee during the Bush administration.

Horowitz claimed that Khan had allegiances to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the Brotherhood had been “wildly successful in its plan to become part of America’s civil culture and infiltrate the institutions of America’s civil governments.” That is the first conspiracy theory.

The second conspiracy theory is the belief that there is a plan to build a NAFTA superhighway through Mexico, Canada and the United States that would be the first step in the inevitable loss of American sovereignty through the formation of a North American Union and the creation of the ‘Amero’ currency. This conspiracy has been promoted by conspiracy-peddler Jerome Corsi.

(For some reason, the NAFTA superhighway is always drawn on maps featuring a critical juncture in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is puzzling.)

The link between these two conspiracy theories was something I discovered in the course of reporting on a story on the Trans-Texas Corridor, a now-defunct project that would have involved the construction of a massive highway that would facilitate trade, rail and utility routes through Texas while bypassing urban centers.

It turns out that Suhail Khan was an Assistant to the Secretary for Policy at the Department for Transportation while the Trans-Texas Corridor was being considered.

There’s the connection – Muslim infiltration leading to the formation of a North American Union! Imagine what havoc the confluence of these two theories could wreck on those vulnerable to these types of ideas!

Of course, I’m a Canadian, so don’t take my word for it.

Tea Party Turns on Debt Compromisers

August 2nd, 2011 at 2:42 pm 39 Comments

There goes another lazy narrative. Fifty-nine Republican House freshmen voted ‘yes’ last evening on a debt ceiling compromise, making up about 68% of the freshmen class. In the 60-member tea party caucus led by Rep. Michele Bachmann, 53% voted in favor of the compromise.

But what will be the consequences of a ‘yes’ vote on the compromise deal?

Those who voted in favor of the debt ceiling deal will have a mark against them in the ever-increasing number of Congressional ratings.

Heritage Action, the activist sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, put out a ‘key vote alert’ yesterday opposing the debt ceiling deal:

“Heritage Action opposes the Budget Control Act of 2011 and will include votes in both the Senate and the House as key votes in our scorecard.”

Similarly, the Tea Party National Congressional Scorecard will mark as pass/fail every Congressman in the 112th Congress, and the “debt ceiling giveaway” is a ‘fail’, said Tom Trento, the National Security Chairman for the Tea Party National Convention, and the person who runs the grading system.

FrumForum contacted the American Conservative Union, the creators of the ACU Congressional Ratings, and was told that no decision has been made yet on whether the vote will be included in their calculations. The ACU lifetime ratings are often used by candidates hoping to use the indicator as a sign of their adherence to conservative values.

Further, conservative groups are already calling for those who voted for the debt ceiling compromise to be challenged in a primary.

The Tea Party National Convention this fall “will focus on recruiting conservative primary challengers to guilty House GOP RINOs and frosh,” said Trento.

The debt ceiling compromise was “political suicide,” said Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, after the vote. “We put them in power and now we’re asking ourselves, ‘Why did we do that?’”

In addition, The Hill reported yesterday that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who had previously promised that he would not endorse opponents to fellow Republican senators, might change his mind because of his outrage over the terms of the debt ceiling deal.

“He’s already opened the door to changing that policy in terms of supporting people in primaries — this deal could bring him to the point where he says he’s not going to make any guarantees,” said The Hill’s source.

In the end, the reward for spending months trying to work out a deal and withdrawing the United States from the brink of an economic calamity may well be a primary challenge from the right, and quite possibly a ticket home.

For example, Rep. Allen West, seen by many as a tea party favorite, was among those who voted in favor of the compromise bill – and now he’s being targeted by tea party groups who see him as a sell-out.

“One minute they’re saying I’m their Tea Party hero, and three, four days later I’m a Tea Party defector; that kind of schizophrenia I’m not going to get involved in it,” West said in consternation on Laura Ingraham’s talk radio show.

Is Romney Pulling a Limbaugh?

August 1st, 2011 at 6:23 pm 31 Comments

How seriously are outside conservative groups opposing the debt ceiling compromise negotiated in part by Republican Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell?

Not very seriously, it seems. Ultra-hardliner Erick Erickson, the proprietor of, appeared to praise the compromise just days after he said he could offer “no absolution” on a debt deal.

We’re not going to get a better deal now. The GOP is scared of its own shadow. At least, however, at least . . . at least we may get some real entitlement reform.

Lastly, the tears of the left on this are delicious. For that alone, I want to support this deal. But because of the foregoing reasons, I can’t support this deal. However, it could be worse.

Rush Limbaugh came out with a very similar tone this afternoon on his talk show. In the first few minutes of his show, Limbaugh stated that “I’d love to support [the compromise deal]… there are supposedly no tax increases in it,” before eventually going on to say he doesn’t actually support the plan.

The wishy-washy criticism is telling – it suggests that even hard-line conservatives like Limbaugh and Erickson understand the power of their influence, and the consequences of their actions.Could it be that somewhere, beyond all the rhetoric of the previous months, they understand the repercussions of lobbying hard against the compromise? That in such a frenzied and rushed scenario, they recognize that a harder line in opposition to the deal could change a few ‘yes’ votes into ‘no’ votes, and cause a real blow to the U.S. economy?

More difficult to understand is the position of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who after a long delay announced Monday morning that he opposed the deal:

“As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped and balanced – not one that opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table. President Obama’s leadership failure has pushed the economy to the brink at the eleventh hour and 59th minute. While I appreciate the extraordinarily difficult situation President Obama’s lack of leadership has placed Republican Members of Congress in, I personally cannot support this deal.”

Almost every other position taken by conservative groups seems easier to comprehend. Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform can sign off on it because there are no certain tax hikes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce can sign off because the alternative – the failure of the compromise bill – would be devastating to its members.

And yet Romney seems to have less cognizance of what his position would mean if actually put into effect than Limbaugh or Erickson. This would make little sense, unless he figures that no one really believes that he opposes the debt ceiling bill, or that he has little influence over its passage.

This evening, Republicans and Democrats in the House are expected to vote on the compromise bill. Seems like we’ve reached an odd juncture when that the more responsible thing to do would be to listen to the better angels of Erickson and Limbaugh – which at least recognize the advantages of the deal – than to Romney’s dismissal of the plan.

Did Boehner Win – or Did Bachmann Lose?

August 1st, 2011 at 12:36 am 15 Comments

The Thursday vote on the Boehner debt ceiling bill was a clarifying moment, and one that should be reexamined as House Republicans now consider how to vote on a deal with the White House, announced on Sunday evening.

Firstly, the Boehner vote served to illustrate what separates those who would never raise the debt ceiling to those who could eventually be persuaded to compromise; those who were all bluster and those who seriously could not be convinced to raise the debt ceiling.

After all, what separates Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, from Rep. Allen West (R-FL)? West, a tea party favorite, voted ‘yes’ on the Boehner budget deal in the face of massive opposition from conservative activists, while Jordan, not especially notable to tea party activists, voted ‘no’.

A key element is that, with a couple of exceptions, the ‘no’ votes reside in overwhelmingly Republican districts where they have more to fear from a primary challenge than a scorned Republican Speaker. Indeed, the average Cook Partisan Voting Index score for a ‘no’ vote was R+11 (see below for full list). Allen West’s district, on the other hand, is a swing district with a D+1 rating.

Tea Party Republicans in less safe districts are sure now to use their vote on Boehner bill as cover against criticism that they were never willing to compromise and raise the debt ceiling. They voted for the Boehner bill, and now can safely vote against the coming bipartisan deal between House Republicans and the White House while being relatively inoculated from criticism that they were unwilling to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstance.

Secondly, the Boehner vote also allows us to reexamine the narrative that conservatives and tea party ideologues are driving the conversation in the House of Representatives. Some said that the delay of a vote on the Boehner bill from Thursday evening to Friday was a sign that the Speaker lacked sufficient support from his caucus. But when it gets down to the numbers, it’s clear that Boehner – not the tea party or conservative caucuses – is the one who is really running the show.

After adding a balanced budget amendment to his bill – a concept which he had already supported under Cut, Cap and Balance – and some of wrangling, Speaker Boehner was able to whip 91% – 218 of 240 – of his Republican conference into supporting a bill that raised the debt ceiling.

How did the tea party caucus – led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) do? Only 12% of her 60 member caucus bucked the Speaker’s wishes.

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) – a caucus of conservative House members – fared slightly worse. Jordan’s Committee was subject to a bit of controversy last week after it was revealed that his staff members were actively encouraging outside conservative groups to target Republicans who might support the original Boehner plan. In the end, only about 10% of the RSC’s members went against the Speaker’s bill. So who is really in charge here?

At the time of this writing, word is that Republicans and Democrats have reached a tentative deal to raise the debt ceiling, and that the plan will be presented to each conference tonight and tomorrow morning. The vote will be a tough one – in the House, both Democrats and Republicans will have to convince about half their conferences to go along with the compromise in order for it to be approve.

But if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that they want the dramatics and tensions to end – at least for a while. House and Senate staff have been working full throttle throughout the entire weekend, with the prospect of 1 a.m. votes hanging over their heads.

“Monday will be fun,” a Republican staff assistant remarked sarcastically to FrumForum after the deal was announced, in anticipation of the number of calls that will be made to the office the next morning.

“I’m just exhausted by all of this, and just want both sides to reach a conclusion. Everybody on the Hill is tired and wants this to be over with,” added a legislative staffer for a freshman House Republican to FrumForum Sunday evening.