Entries Tagged as 'GOP primary'

Trump’s Birther Obsession

David Frum March 28th, 2011 at 2:46 pm 158 Comments

Question to discuss: Is Donald Trump crazy? Or does he just hold a very, troche very, very low opinion of the Republican primary voter?


For GOP Nominee: 2012 Win Won’t be Enough

March 25th, 2011 at 6:45 pm 28 Comments

Any Republican contemplating running for president in 2012 has two formidable obstacles: November 2012 and what happens starting January 2013.

For the first obstacle: Republicans should not underestimate Barack Obama. He’s a vicious political fighter who seems to get a thrill from the campaign for power. His political team proved itself a master of media narratives in 2008, and many in the media will be willing to give Obama an assist against any Republican opponent. The president has already somewhat turned around his poll numbers from the nadir of November 2010; Republicans should keep an eye on that trend continuing. Moreover, recent polling shows him with a significant lead over a generic Republican in 2012.

Obama’s approval rating may still be under 50%, but Republicans would be premature in expecting a cakewalk in 2012. One of the big lessons of 2010 is that candidate quality does matter. There were numerous statewide races in 2010 that, by many metrics, Republicans should have won–but ended up going Democratic. If a Republican candidate cannot close the deal with voters, Barack Obama could end up being reelected, even with a sub-par economy and middling approval ratings.

If a Republican does win the presidency in 2012, he or she will have a host of problems to face. A Republican president in 2013 would likely inherit the longest-running economic stagnation since the Great Depression. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have witnessed a massive expansion of the federal government; if a Republican president is serious about paring this government back, a lot of work lies ahead.

In the past, I’ve suggested some avenues for a rethinking of Republican policies, and what follows are some thoughts (in no particular order) about qualities a Republican candidate should possess, for both a successful campaign and a successful administration.

Articulate a vision. John McCain struggled to articulate a comprehensive vision for his campaign or a McCain presidency, a weakness Obama eagerly exploited. The “vision thing” is often crucial for successful presidential campaigns. This vision may not be enough (see Goldwater, Barry), but it is important, especially if a president wishes to build a longer-reaching legacy. There’s a fine line between a vision and a mere slogan, and it was not always clear on what side of the line George W. Bush’s notion of “compassionate conservatism” stood. Still, Bush was able to conjure some kind of purpose to his campaign. A successful Republican candidate in 2012 will have to do the same thing.

Take on the map. A candidate who has to reach for the “Bush” states is probably a candidate the party would be better passing by. Yes, a candidate could win with those states in the end, but those states should more be viewed as a last-ditch firewall than a goal. And it’s worth noting how fragile the Bush coalition of the 2000s was: the loss of one closely contested state (Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004) would have cost Bush the White House. One of Obama’s greatest electoral strengths in 2008 was his ability to open up the map for Democrats; this led to an Electoral College victory greater than any Republican has enjoyed since George HW Bush in 1988. The actual contours of the new GOP coalition might vary depending on the eventual candidate. But there’s no reason to write off states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota, or Wisconsin. Some of these states recently elected a Republican senator in 2010. And the GOP also needs to keep its eye on states Bush barely won (or didn’t even win in both elections): New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada, to name a few.

Lower the temperature of social issues. This is not the same thing as surrendering on social issues. Social conservatives are a key part of the Republican coalition; many socially conservative positions are among the more popular parts of the GOP platform. Moreover, there is, I think, an often undervalued theoretical affinity between social conservatism and fiscal conservatism. But one can argue for socially conservative positions without sneering at those who disagree with them. Dualisms like “Heartland Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elitists/Fake Americans” (or suggestions that Republicans don’t deserve the freedoms of the Constitution) are probably better left behind. A game-changing Republican presidential candidate will need to be able to show that he or she respects the views of a variety of other Americans, even if he or she doesn’t always agree with them.

Remember managerial competence. Unfortunately, the challenges that face this nation cannot be dissolved with a few easy votes or executive orders. Repealing Obamacare will not be enough to stabilize the nation’s healthcare system; cutting earmarks will not restore the nation’s fiscal health. In order to be successful, a Republican president has to have the ability to recognize and promote competent bureaucrats. The White House must be part of the “reality-based” community if it is to succeed.

Be willing to experiment. Government policy is often less about blind obedience to absolutes and more about being able to muddle through. Contrary to the wishes of some, the president–even at the peak of power–does not have a totally free hand to write policy. Various Congressional factions, public interests, and bureaucratic inertia all shape policy. Moreover, many policies can lead to effects completely unanticipated by their designers. All these facts will require an administration to be fluid, resourceful, and flexible. It’s worth noting, though, that flexibility in means need not require an empty faith in political ends. One can still have deep principles and be flexible in applying them.

Fight the big battles, even if they cause you to lose the small ones. Barack Obama did not win every news cycle as a candidate in either the primary election or the general. Yet some of these daily losses led to his overall victory. Consider, for example, the flap about his willingness to meet with the leaders of countries like North Korea and Iran without preconditions during the primary battle of 2007/2008. The Clinton people hit Obama hard on this, and he endured some rocky coverage in the media, but this admission also illustrated Obama’s break with some of the rhetorical tendencies of the Democratic past, at least during that part of the campaign. This break in turn helped solidify his image as the “change” candidate in a cycle in which “change” was very hot. A candidate, Republican or Democrat, must be willing to take the heat of taking a strong stand at times. This willingness to face criticism can strengthen the image of a candidate’s inner fortitude and also can allow the candidate to push the parameters of public debate.

The political pendulum has swung fairly wildly from one party to the next in recent years. It remains to be seen how much the Republicans will be able to make good on their significant gains in 2010 for the presidential race in 2012. There is the real possibility of a major victory in November of next year, but there is also the possibility of a major disappointment–in that month and in the months after it. The GOP currently has the benefit of a wide-open field, and Republicans should welcome this opportunity for debate, trial, and exploration.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Pawlenty Aces His Screen Test

David Frum March 21st, 2011 at 10:04 pm 36 Comments

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How much do I like this Tim Pawlenty exploratory video? I like it a lot.

Let me count the ways:

  1. I like the way Pawlenty talks about economic hardship from the inside out.
  2. I like the way he focuses on the broad national priority — jobs and prosperity — and identifies Republican ideas — limited government, tax relief — as effective means to serve national ends.
  3. I like his praise for his state as a laboratory of positive ideas. Northern Republican governors should express pride in their states’ accomplishments as unabashedly as southern and western governors do.
  4. I like his reference to Lincoln and the nod to the Republican tradition of advancing equal rights under law.

I like finally that the production values in this latest value serve the message – rather than crowding out the message as in some of the earlier Pawlenty videos. This video looked sleek and smart and modern, which is by the way how the Republican party ought to look.


T-Paw: The Generic GOP Choice?

David Frum March 18th, 2011 at 12:12 pm 37 Comments

Real Clear Politics offers a clear summation of the Kristol-Barbour spat.

But it’s easy to read this story upside down. The real news here is not the Kristol-Barbour falling out. It is the Kristol-Pawlenty falling in.

As for Pawlenty, he seems to be a sincere Reaganite, and has been for quite a while. What’s interesting is his leaping at the occasion to get in a little dust-up with Barbour. This suggests a degree of nimbleness and boldness that speaks well for his prospects to move from the second tier to the first. You could do worse than run as the heir of Reagan-Bush-McCain hawkishness, against a weak and dithering Obama administration, and you could do worse than bet that at some point in the primary process voters will remember they’re electing a commander in chief, not just (important as the budget issues are) an OMB director.

This is the same Tim Pawlenty who clears every utterance on tax policy with Grover Norquist, who has called for the reinstatement of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, and who has repudiated his own prior leadership on climate change. (“Have I changed my position? Yes.”)

What we are witnessing is the unfolding of a Pawlenty campaign strategy to occupy the spot that once seemed reserved for John Thune: the most generic of all Republicans, the sole remainder after every constituency in the GOP has exercised its veto: the tax people, the life people, the gun people, the defense people, the anti-Obamacare people, etc. etc. etc. Along the way, a successful, pragmatic Midwestern governor has had to reinvent himself, down to his own voice and accent.

Bill Kristol describes this as Reaganism. But Ronald Reagan imposed himself on a party, he was not the product of a party. Pawlenty’s current strategy might more aptly be compared to that of Reagan’s 1984 opponent, Walter Mondale: the party’s least objectionable man, or rather the man least objectionable to everyone in the party with the power to express an objection.


UPDATE: A special message to reader Couchmaster: I did not “rip” NPR for doing the Pawlenty accent story. I made a joke that this kind of reporting would further motivate Republicans to attack their funding. I should have remembered Bob Bartley’s rule of journalism: Never joke in print, you can always count on 20% of the readers not to get it.


Palin Slides Among Republicans

David Frum March 16th, 2011 at 8:11 am 36 Comments

The Hill reports:

Palin’s unfavorable numbers with Republicans are at an all-time high in the new ABC/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, which shows other top Republicans like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, [and] former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with more encouraging numbers.

Palin has a 58 percent net favorable rating from Republicans, and a 37 percent net unfavorable rating. While that rating is still positive, it’s the worst rating she’s had with Republicans since she emerged on the national stage; her previous low was 63-31 percent.

As the saying goes: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.


Watch Frum: Walker Will Be a Hero to GOP Governors

March 10th, 2011 at 6:12 am 79 Comments

Wednesday night, David Frum appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word.  Frum and host Lawrence O’Donnell discussed whether probable GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich could win the support of values voters and whether the fallout from Wisconsin’s budget fight may make Gov. Scott Walker a player in the 2012 GOP race.


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Newt’s Family Values Problem

David Frum March 8th, 2011 at 4:14 pm 71 Comments

Pete Wehner tries to assess how much past marital infidelity will hurt Newt Gingrich’s presidential chances.

Many of the rest of us are on a continuum when it comes to deciding how much infidelity should matter in the selection of a president. Facts and circumstances are crucial. Was the infidelity an isolated instance or a chronic pattern? Were the transgressions long ago or recent? What levels of deception and cover-up were involved? What was the position of authority the person held when the infidelity occurred? Was there an alarming degree of recklessness on display? What evidence is there that this person has changed his ways? Has this person shown other worrisome signs when it comes to character and trustworthiness?

These are all fair and interesting points, but they do not address the reason that Gingrich’s personal life has been – and will be – so politically lethal.

It’s not the infidelity. It’s the arrogance, hypocrisy, and – most horrifying to women voters – the cruelty.

Anyone can dump one sick wife. Gingrich dumped two.

And that second dumped wife is talking to the media. From the Esquire magazine profile of Newt Gingrich published in September 2010:

After going to the doctor for a mysterious tingling in her hand, [Marianne Gingrich] was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Early in May 1999, she went out to Ohio for her mother’s birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn’t return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her.

“About what?”

He wanted to talk in person, he said.

“I said, ‘No, we need to talk now.’ “

He went quiet.

“There’s somebody else, isn’t there?”

She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed?

She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. “‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ “

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, “How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he answered. “People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

Who needs oppo research with quotes like those on the record?


Pawlenty: GOP Nominee by Default?

David Frum March 8th, 2011 at 11:08 am 62 Comments

Jonathan Chait reasons his way to Pawlenty as the most plausible GOP nominee for 2012.

Chait is applying the Sherlock Holmes methods: “Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however implausible, must be the truth.”

I’ve reasoned the same way about Pawlenty, as recently as over dinner last night with a group of close political watchers. And yet … predicting Pawlenty feels like reaching the wrong answer on a math exam. You do the calculation and you arrive at the answer, Pawlenty. You think: that can’t be right. You check the formulas. Yes, you have written them down correctly. You repeat the calculation. Same answer. And it still does not feel right.

Pawlenty was a fine governor, and I’m sure he would be a fine president. Yet I have never met anybody who is enthusiastic about him, and I’ve met quite a few of the people who work for him. (I’ve never met Mrs Pawlenty, but I assume she’s enthusiastic about the governor. Certainly the governor is enthusiastic about Mrs. Pawlenty.)

Can you reach the presidency with all around you saying, “He’s fine, he’ll do”?

I suppose you could say that a similar line of argument worked for John Kerry in 2004. But that’s not exactly an inspiring precedent.


Fox’s 2012 Presidential Bracket

David Frum March 2nd, 2011 at 2:19 pm 12 Comments

It would be fascinating to know the process by which Fox News decided that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are running for president, sales and that Sarah Palin, try Mike Huckabee, here and John Bolton are not.