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Stories by Bryce McNitt
Bryce McNitt has been writing since 2007, when he blogged about his bicycle tour from Minnesota to Mississippi. He has since blogged on foreign affairs, GOP politics, and American culture, for multiple websites, and has been blogging at FrumForum since 2010. Bryce recently graduated from The George Washington University with a Master of Public Policy. The opinions expressed in his blogs are solely his own.
The dust has now begun to settle after the firestorm that was the Waterloo column, an argument that unleashed a tumultuous, passionate, and sometimes nasty debate over political strategy within the GOP. The debate was a necessary one, and did much in the way of illuminating the need for more strategic depth within the party. However, it also often degenerated into hyperbole, and worse, personal attacks that clouded the debate and stunted the opportunities for learning and growth that are so crucial to a defeated entity.
As much of the debate focused feverishly on the immediate implications of the healthcare fallout, the promises to repeal and replace, the threats of zero future GOP cooperation, and the rallying cries to the 2010 midterms, little attention was paid to the long-term implications of the bill’s passage. It is now clear that the bill cannot possibly (as a fact of math) be repealed before 2013 at the earliest, and more likely 2017, if it can be repealed at all (which it likely cannot be). Furthermore, in that interim period the bill will have begun to be implemented. This will change the game completely.
Why? Because individual policy preferences do not only inform policy, policy informs individual preferences. People build their lives around policy expectations, interest groups are created, income patterns change, and more simply, people get used to it. As a graduate student at George Washington University, I come across many studies related to how individual preferences are affected by political and policy regimes. One in particular caught my eye.
The title of the 2007 study is Good-Bye Lenin (Or Not?) The Effect of Communism on People’s Preferences. Let me first say that no, I am not comparing the passage of Obama’s healthcare plan in any way to communism in East Germany, however, the study offers interesting insights into how people adjust to changes in policy regimes. The finding was that, far from turning sharply against heavy state involvement in social well-being, the experience of East Germans under communism actually increased their preference for state intervention significantly during the 45-year existence of the communist regime. In 1997, seven years after reunification, East Germans were about fifteen percent more likely to favor a strong state than West Germans. By 2002, that gap had narrowed by about four and a half percent. The study estimated that if that trend continued at a steady pace Germans would once again share a homogenous opinion regarding a strong state presence within 20 to 40 years of reunification. That’s a cycle lasting up to 85 years, from separation to reunification, to re-assimilation. The power of this study is that it shows that a homogenous society experienced sharp divisions in political preferences not due to geographical, income, or other factors, but to experiences under different regimes.
Although we are not in any danger at all of enduring a communist dictatorship, the study sheds insight on the possible long-term implications of the idea that the final version of the bill included a more central role for the government in healthcare than it could have. This means that while the GOP is waiting for sufficient congressional representation to re-reform healthcare the pendulum of individual preferences will swing farther to the left than it otherwise would have, and it will take longer to push it back. This, occurring while the United States is careening headlong into a fiscal crisis so severe that it could change the face of the nation, and perhaps of globalization as well.
Should the Waterloo thesis prove correct, then whatever short term gains the GOP may derive from healthcare in 2010 may be negated by the long-term cost to conservative priorities in the future. After the New Deal was struck, it took 40 years for the process of deregulation to begin under Carter, and accelerate under Reagan. The idea that a similar experience could be avoided, at the cost, possibly, of short-term political gain is a crucial thing to consider. Now that tempers have eased, it’s time to soberly re-assess the game plan.
Tim Pawlenty rolled out the “Pawlenty Seven”, a list of national Republican 2010 candidates, this evening during his first “Facebook Town Hall” event. They are: Tim Burns in Pennsylvania’s 12th district, Bob Dold in Illinois’s 10th, Sean Duffy in Wisconsin’s 7th, Charles Djou in Hawaii’s 1st, Pat Meehan in Pennsylvania’s 7th and, on the Senate side, former Rep. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Gov. John Hoeven (N.D.).
Pawlenty remarked that these candidates shared his “common sense approach to governing” and that together they would work to stop the out of control spending in Washington. Interestingly none of these candidates are incumbents, a likely move, as Chris Cillizza noted earlier today, “aimed at reinforcing his outsider status within the party.”
Perhaps most notable on this list is Pat Toomey, who largely can be credited with Sen. Arlen Specter’s jump across party lines last year, due to speculation that he could not defeat the more conservative Mr. Toomey in the 2010 primary. Toomey’s challenge cost the GOP a crucial Senate seat in 2010, one that could have been used in the GOP’s all out fight against healthcare. Should Toomey fail in his bid against Specter the entire enterprise would be a resounding defeat for the GOP.
After endorsing his seven candidates, Pawlenty took questions from the audience, establishing positions on a variety of issues including healthcare, national security, immigration, budgeting, and past GOP failures.
He struck familiar notes on these issues, repeating his charge that the GOP has been guilty of “hypocrisy” and been spending like Democrats, and have only themselves to blame for failures in 2006 and 2008.
On national security, Pawlenty ripped Obama for reneging on the U.S.’s missile defense initiatives in Poland and the Czech Republic, remarking that this was “troubling to our allies.” He charged the president with being “overly concerned with being popular” and suggested Obama should be “more focused on being respected” and make America’s safety the first order of business. He went on to add that the administration is unwisely expending resources on providing KSM with a civilian trial, when those resources could be devoted to stopping those who are plotting attacks.
To solve budgeting problems, a familiar topic for Pawlenty, he endorsed the use of Zero Based Budgeting – a tool that analyzes each government spending program from the ground up, (the norm is to mostly evaluate the margins) and Sunset Legislation, which puts expirations on laws, forcing their re-evaluation during renewal.
Perhaps what is most notable about Pawlenty’s “townhall” is his impressive show of technological savvy. He has proven himself as an effective fundraiser, raising $1.3 million in the last three months of 2009. Tonight, he unveiled a widget on his Facebook page that allows users to easily donate to candidates he has endorsed, a “one-stop-shop” of sorts. Pawlenty’s impressive ability to raise money could win him many allies within the party in 2010, which could set him up for significantly bigger national exposure in 2011.
While his name recognition and status has not budged much with his early 2010 media forays, his political fortunes may be improving because of the withering of the GOP field. If Romney cannot credibly dissociate himself from Obamacare he could face a terrible backlash in the lead-up to 2012, and Sarah Palin has further reduced her chances of a credible bid with her new reality TV venture. Perhaps the combination of savvy fundraising techniques and simple inertia will be the force leading Pawlenty forward in 2010.
Could Pawlenty’s remarks last night to a room full of AIPAC activists mark the beginning of a conservative departure from the Reagan foreign policy paradigm?
At first glance this would seem preposterous. Pawlenty alludes repeatedly to Reagan’s combination of pressure and engagement, and explicitly defines regimes and dictators who are enemies of freedom and democracy. In this sense there is no deviation. However, Pawlenty briefly expounds upon the way in which the U.S.’s budgetary woes are infringing upon our freedom of action:
But we should also realize that now more than ever, our national security is imperiled by America’s out of control spending. We do not have much leverage over places that prop up our economy by buying our debt. These issues are related and we must as a nation face these difficult facts.
Difficult indeed. These comments signal a major departure from Reagan-era policy that relied on running major budget deficits, in the shape of military spending, to apply the “pressure” side of the U.S.’s relationship with the Soviet Union. Pawlenty touched upon the fact that America cannot for much longer rely on deficit spending (of any kind) and still secure its foreign policy objectives, indeed it already must be wary of biting the hand that feeds it. Pawlenty’s platform then seems to recognize the passing of the paradigm that brought us the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was employed during the second Bush administration (think Cheney’s claim that “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.”), and alludes to a new era that will focus on fiscal responsibility as the means by which to achieve national security initiatives.
Moving forward Pawlenty’s platform may look like this: fiscal responsibility in the form of budget balancing amendments and policies as the foundation on which to build domestic reform initiatives and ensure freedom of action on national security objectives. Conservatives, for some thirty years now have not adhered in any way to the second part of this paradigm, and even diverged from the former part during the last GOP administration. This type of platform is a recognition of the revolution currently underway in the conservative movement, where ground zero for protecting freedom and democracy is now centered within our own borders. In practice, such a platform would see American power shrink in the short term as it tackled the looming entitlement crisis, and then recover as it gained the ability to self-finance its military and other security objectives.
This new paradigm has yet to be explicitly defined, and perhaps Pawlenty himself is not entirely aware of the magnitude of the divergence he is alluding to here. But it is increasingly clear that the methods of the Reagan era, the actual mechanics of it, will no longer yield satisfactory returns. The question now is if conservatives will accept a new direction that reconciles their desire for a strong U.S. foreign policy with strong fiscal responsibility, two goals that have been and for now continue to be wildly divergent. If they are willing, the result will be the most significant rethinking of foreign policy by the GOP in some 40 years.
Mitch Daniels easily has the most impressive 2012 campaign strategy of any contender in the field. It’s simple: REFUSE TO RUN. When that’s not enough for your admirers, employees, and former employers, and you’re tired of all their pestering: reluctantly agree to possibly run if there is still time once you’re done with what you’re working on right now, but “just to get them off [your] back”. What next? Grudgingly accept the GOP nomination? Begin 2013 inauguration speech with “Well, I tried my hardest not to do this, but no one would let it be so…”?
All humor aside, Daniels’ latest budge toward a 2012 bid belies more than a healthy distaste for jumping into the ring before he’s good and ready. It may speak to conservative and GOP dissatisfaction with the current field of candidates. In January Daniels took fifth in a GOP insider poll of possible 2012 contenders, and even mustered a couple of percentage points in the CPAC staw poll – all while firmly sticking to his NO WAY strategy, and with minimal media exposure. The continued prodding by the likes of George W. Bush (which Daniels wisely downplayed) and the fantasizing by George Will of a Daniels/Ryan White House speaks to the fact that many feel Daniels is the best man to actually produce effective, conservative, results for the country.
Daniels, should he choose to make a move at some point in the future, stands on good ground. He is admired by party insiders, conservative intellectuals, and even hard-line activists like RedState’s Erick Erickson. With such a firm foot on the base, and a record of impressive results as Governor of Indiana, he could be in a position to make a national push without worrying about trouble on the right. If he does make a move it probably won’t be until after November, or at least that’s what he says. Then again, if people keep bugging him he might have to act sooner, just to get them off his back.
Pawlenty, in the last week, has begun rapidly diversifying his message. In his Friday Esquire interview he set the record straight on why the GOP crumbled after 2004 (I guess it wasn’t ACORN’s doing after all), revealed his personal story and how he found his politics through it, and showed that he put the breaks on Minnesota’s big spending ways. Now, with his Sunday Washington Post op-ed, and last night’s appearance on Greta Van Susteren’s show, Pawlenty is answering Obama’s call for Republican ideas to be brought to the February 25th bipartisan healthcare summit.
The op-ed lists five ideas for bringing down healthcare costs, which for Pawlenty is the real menace behind the shortage of coverage in the nation. These ideas will all sound familiar to conservatives, they’ve been kicked around for a long time now – but perhaps what sets Pawlenty’s retelling apart is that he’s already put some of them into action in Minnesota. For instance, he has created cost incentives for state employee health coverage, and seen them work. If insured state employees want to go to high cost, mediocre quality clinics they will have to pay more, and if they want to go to efficient, quality clinics they will pay less. In the past five years state employee premiums have been more or less frozen.
These sorts of accomplishments are some of Pawlenty’s biggest assets moving forward. Another example: his ability to slow biannual state spending increases to 4%, down from the 21% of the preceding 42 years, speaks directly to the anxieties of many Americans – and, to turn an old phrase, has saved Minnesota from looking like California. His move to finally start speaking about some of these things on sizeable platforms will broaden his appeal to conservatives and moderates alike.
Will this be his strategy moving forward? To promote his sensible and effective record and personal story on one hand, and trumpet a balanced budget amendment that can never come to fruition but will satisfy the angry parts of the base? If so it may be the strongest compromise a prospective 2012 GOP candidate can make between promoting realistic reform and appeasing the irrational desires that, in a democracy, cannot be ignored.
Oh, the Republicans had their shot not long ago to address the real needs and concerns of everyday Americans, and they blew it. I think that’s mitigated by the fact that we had a terrorist incident, there is a war, and there was a lot of proper focus on those issues, but over the time that they were there and had the leadership opportunity, they blew it. We got fired for a reason.
Tim Pawlenty has come out guns blazing in a new interview with Esquire. Temporarily shelving his talk of Ponzi-schemes and balanced budget amendments Pawlenty instead focused on talking about himself, his experience in Minnesota, and making an honest – and very critical – assessment of his own party.
When asked what went wrong with the GOP, Pawlenty was candid, “they didn’t do what they said they were gonna do” he remarked. Pawlenty framed politics in market terms, asserting that the GOP didn’t produce the product that consumers wanted, so they purchased products from their competitors. He even went on to observe that, although Republicans have made significant gains in recent special elections those who voted for Obama are “not necessarily back to supporting Republicans, but they’re available for us to persuade, and that’s a huge opportunity. Our opportunities for 2010 are tremendous.”
Perhaps more significant was, finally, Pawlenty discussing himself. Who he is. What circumstances he came from. How he came to identify with his politics. These details have been entirely absent in his previous forays, which featured tough sounding rhetoric that often fell flat and sounded unconvincing. Pawlenty tied his experience as a blue collar suburban youth to his understanding of what people want and how to govern those wants in a sensible way.
This is probably Pawlenty’s best national showing to date. He has finally taken a tough, independent – I will avoid the word “rogue” – stance inside of his own party, distancing himself from the failed ‘have your cake and eat it too’ record from the past administration. He has also done this without going to his bread and butter slogans from the past several months. Can we expect him to drop these slogans and bolt in this new direction? Probably not, but if he can begin to maximize this kind of exposure, he will at least provide vital substance to those just learning about him, when they come to take a closer look.
Is Tim Pawlenty’s budget amendment crusade reaping dividends? Pawlenty has recently made a slew of appearances on Fox News, and written several op-eds (including yesterday in Politico) touting his new idea. The painfully obvious shortcomings of this idea have been discussed at length here, and have slowly picked up more criticism – yesterday from Bruce Bartlett at Capital Gains and Games, and seconding Bruce, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic.
Yet, whether he is ready for primetime or not, he is making some serious moves in the fundraising arena. Pawlenty raised $1.28 million in just the last three months of 2009, compared to Romney’s $1.6 million and Palin’s $1.4 million in the last six months of last year – that’s about double the pace. This impressive showing prompted RedState to pronounce him “hands down, the frontrunner” in the cash game leading up to the nomination.
This respectable trend begs the question, is it the budget amendment crusade that is driving all of this? There are several scenarios to consider:
1. Pawlenty, of all the 2012 hopefuls, has by far focused most heavily on the budget. By doing this he has tapped into growing conservative and independent disdain for a big-spending, big-deficit progressive agenda that has not been able to wrestle down unemployment, or spur serious economic growth. Pawlenty was most recently vindicated on this point when Obama buckled to budget trepidations in his SOTU. In this scenario it is simply the diagnosis of the disease that has garnered him support, and not the medicine.
2. Pawlenty’s focus on amending the constitution has inspired his recent surge in support. In this scenario it is belief in the medicine that is pushing things along.
3. Pawlenty’s support has little to do with his current stumping. It is instead grounded in his clean and respectable record as governor of a left-of-center state, and the perception that he could bridge the gap between conservatives and independents and lead the GOP back into the White House.
Probably there are elements of all three in Pawlenty’s recent surge, but he could be in trouble if there is genuine support for his amendment proposal, or if it develops down the road. If supporters are touting his new medicine it is only a matter of time before they read the warning labels and realize it will never pass muster. The more cemented Pawlenty becomes to this sort of proposal the higher his risks in the future. Even if a dramatic proposal such as this gains him populist credibility and helps his coffers in the short term, he must preserve the ability to be versatile in the future and talk real sense to the nation as a whole.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty must have felt a sense of vindication last night on Fox News when, mentioning his op-ed in the Daily Caller, he was asked about President Obama’s proposal for a three year budget freeze. Obama’s proposal would affect non-security discretionary spending beginning with the 2011 budget, which would be higher than that of 2010, but then remain frozen until the end of 2013.
“It’s kind of like somebody eating three Big Macs and then deciding they are going to control their weight by ordering a Diet Coke.”
First, that’s a pretty good line. Pawlenty could use more lines like this; it might ameliorate his “boring” problem.
Second, he’s right. Freezing non-defense discretionary spending, which the CBO projected to grow by $35 billion in the next five years, will accomplish almost nothing meaningful, especially in the wake of bank bailouts and a stimulus package recently estimated to total $826 billion. Federal tax rates are currently at a 60-year low, while spending is at a 60-year high and still climbing. To tackle the budget deficit in any meaningful sense, something has to give – something more significant than freezing a small part of the skyrocketing federal spending.
Pawlenty then, true to form, pressed forward, asserting that what we need is not to freeze spending; we need to cut it, and then pass a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution. I’m still highly skeptical that his constitutional amendment idea is going to pay the political dividends he must be banking on; that point aside, Pawlenty is on the right turf here. He is not afraid to talk about the real 900-pound-gorilla in the room, the $65 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities, which if not dealt with – soon – will sink our fiscal ship.
Public anxiety about budget deficits will continue to grow, perhaps even more rapidly, when unemployment begins to subside and families are less concerned about making ends meet. If things play out this way, Pawlenty will be in a good spot; however, my hope is that he has something more realistic than a constitutional amendment to offer when the time comes.
On Tim Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC homepage you’ll find first a banner congratulating Scott Brown on his momentous win last night. It then fades into a second banner that encourages you to sign a petition for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. T-Paw and every other 2012 and 2010 candidate will try to get in front of the Scott Brown parade, but it seems that Pawlenty may have missed what the parade is about.
Brown won because he was able to touch upon independent and Republican distaste for Obama’s healthcare reform, and show that Democrats were already out of touch with the national mood on issues like stimulus spending and bailouts. But Pawlenty’s response to Brown’s victory is something like this: “Great job Brown you proved that America doesn’t want an expansive and meddlesome central government… now let’s change the Constitution!”
Wait, what? If Brown is capitalizing on America’s, even deep blue state America’s, distrust of government playing too heavy a hand, what logic connects that success with amending the Constitution for a balanced budget– which would send shockwaves through the economy and potentially relegate the toughest budgeting decisions to the Supreme Court. America needs reform, the GOP must champion it, but it can’t look like this. If Pawlenty wants to jump in front of the parade, it might pay to first think about how it got moving.
Former Senator Norm Coleman has announced, on his Facebook page, that he will not run for governor of Minnesota this year. In his statement, Coleman noted that “this is not the right time for me and my family to conduct a campaign for Governor.”
As recently as last Friday, Minnesota news sources were asserting that it was all but a done deal that Coleman would run and easily take the nomination for the GOP. His exit leaves four potential GOP contenders remaining, none of which have strong statewide name recognition, much less national name recognition. House Minority leader Marty Seifert and Rep. Tom Emmer are now considered the top contenders for the spot.
What now? The GOP is left with a weakened and mostly unknown field of candidates while the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party still has a field of at least ten candidates, including former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback. Perhaps Coleman’s exit will prove a boon for the Minnesota GOP in the long run, not so much because he was unloved by state conservative voters, but because he is still thoroughly despised by liberals after the acrimonious senate recount last year.