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The Daily Strategist

April 1, 2015

No, Conservatives Are Not Waving White Flag in the Culture Wars



One of the memes we are now hearing is that progressives are being churlish and perhaps even self-destructive in resisting "religious liberty" statutes like those enacted last week in Indiana because, after all, they represent a face-saving device, or even "terms of surrender," for the Christian Right. I addressed that seductive but misleading argument at some length today at the Washington Monthly:

If you want a good example of what cultural conservatives are telling themselves about the backlash over Indiana's... "religious liberty" law, there's none better than the pity party Timothy Carney held at the Washington Examiner yesterday afternoon:
[O]ur culture is speeding down the icy Left slope of the cultural mountain, and a few conservatives are now dragging their hands on the ice to slow the acceleration -- and the Left is crying that this will send us catapulting back uphill.

Religious liberty is the terms of surrender the Right is requesting in the culture war. It is conservative America saying to the cultural and political elites, you have your gay marriage, your no-fault divorce, your obscene music and television, your indoctrinating public schools and your abortion-on-demand. May we please be allowed to not participate in these?

I don't know if actual tears were falling on the keyboard as Carney typed this column, but he certainly wants to give the impression that he speaks for a poor, persecuted minority that has no interest in controlling anybody's behavior but its own.

Which is, of course, complete hooey.

Yes, conservatives have little choice but to accept legal and political setbacks over marriage equality, but they're making it as clear as ever that given the opportunity they'd reverse those trends, ban gay marriage all over again and probably bring back the sodomy laws to boot. Look at the huge field of Republican proto-candidates for president. Do any of them actually support marriage equality? Sure, they'll not talk about it or mumble about it being a state matter or engage in various other evasions, but they're a long way from "surrendering." And that's even more obvious on the abortion issue where (a) the only meaningful difference among 99% of Republican politicians is about whether 99% or 100% of abortions should be banned; (b) Republican controlled state governments are beavering away at new restrictions that strike mainly at the availability of any abortion services; and (c) the right to choose hangs by a thread in a Supreme Court that any Republican President would be lynched for failing to tilt with his or her next appointment into a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

All this weepy talk of being attacked while trying to surrender also misses the even more obvious point that conservatives are hardly impotent politically; they do sorta control Congress and a majority of states.

So no, there's no real "surrender" going on here, and Lord knows conservatives aren't withdrawing from political combat; otherwise Carney would have punctuated his long whine by quitting his job. What they are doing is better understood as a strategic retreat: unable to outlaw or (increasingly) even to stigmatize gay behavior as a matter of law, they're working to protect private discrimination. It's what a big part of their constituency expects of them, and it's the obvious next front--not some sort of Appomattox--in the culture wars.

As it happens, it may not even be necessary for Democrats to stiffen their own spines on this subject, since Republicans are drawing friendly fire from their corporate allies on "religious liberty" laws that just aren't good for business. But don't cease fire until you see the whites of their flags for real.



New Blue Dogs Few and Mellow



Derek Willis's "The House Democrats Who Are Voting With Republicans More Often" at The Upshot can be read as an update on party unity. Among Willis's observations:

A small group of House Democrats has begun moving to the right in the current Congress, breaking from a majority of colleagues on votes that pit lawmakers from liberal areas against those from more rural and conservative districts.

The lure of a Senate seat, which in many cases requires shifting from a narrower ideological focus to a broader one, and the threat of a well-funded challenger are among the reasons for this this shift.

A few members of this group, which numbers fewer than a dozen, are congressional veterans like Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who survived a tough challenge in 2014 and is voting with a majority of his fellow Democrats 64 percent of the time, down slightly from the previous Congress.

What is most striking here is that "fewer than a dozen" is a pretty small faction. Take it as either a reassuring affirmation that Democratic Party unity is fairly impressive in 2015, or alternatively that there is a need for more healthy dissent within party ranks. Willis cites slipping party unity scores for them in recent years, though not dramatically in most cases.

Party disagreements among Democrats tend to be between moderates and liberals, while Republican bickering seems to be more between right-wingers and the extreme, fever-swamp types in the GOP, exacerbated no doubt by the size of the GOP presidential field. The "thunder" on the right seems increasingly shrill in comparison to internal debates within the Democratic Party.

The Dems identified by Willis disagree with their party over a few key issues, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, but Willis reports that "there are limits to their willingness to cross party lines. No Democrats voted for full [ACA] repeal in February, and none voted for the Republican-written budget that also repeals the law." Most of the new House blue dogs identified by Willis come from the far west.

In terms of percentages, the numbers seem more or less in line with the percent of Senate Democrats who occasionally stray from the fold in key votes. Also noteworthy is the tame tone of their dissents with the majority of the Party, common to dissenters in both houses.

All in all, at this political moment Democrats are more unified than is usually the case, and unlike Republicans, they are not bitterly riven about a host of social and cultural issues. Hillary Clinton's unusually high popularity in opinion polls may be more a reflection of Democratic unity on issues, despite a significant percentage of Democrats who prefer Elizabeth Warren and other candidates. At this juncture it seems a safe bet that an overwhelming percentage of Democrats will rally behind the presidential nominee, whoever it may be, and the positive effects will also be felt down ballot.


March 31, 2015

Creamer: Tribute to a Stand-Up Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

Friday, Senator Harry Reid announced he would step down at the end of this term -- ending a decade-plus of strong, effective progressive leadership of Democrats in the Senate.

His announcement set off a wave of speculation about who would run to succeed him as Senate Democratic Leader.

Most observers believed the announcement would serve as the starting gun for a year-and-a-half-long struggle between former roommates Dick Durbin of Illinois, the whip who is currently number two in the Democratic leadership, and Chuck Schumer of New York, who occupies the number-three spot.

Handicappers rated the race a toss-up. Durbin is widely regarded by his colleagues as a super-effective and politically generous leader and progressive champion.

Schumer is an effective bulldog who fights hard for his positions and helped many of his colleagues get reelected during his tenure as the chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

But the prospect of a prolonged Schumer-Durbin battle cast a pall over the coming campaign by Democrats to retake control of the Senate in 2016.

So late Thursday night, after hearing of Reid's plans to retire, Durbin went to Schumer and told him that in order to prevent the divisive, distracting battle, he would not challenge Schumer for the leader position and would instead run again for his post of Democratic whip.

That was classic Dick Durbin. Durbin is an ambitious and successful political leader. But when the chips are down, he has always put the interests of his colleagues and the Democratic Caucus and his commitment to progressive values ahead of his own narrow personal interests.

That is precisely why Durbin is so beloved by his fellow senators, and why progressives of every stripe are thrilled that he will likely remain second in command among Senate Democrats.

Progressives view Durbin as an unwavering, relentless champion. And his reputation is well-deserved.

In the late 1980s, when he still served in the House, Durbin, like everyone else, flew back and forth to Washington on airplanes that allowed onboard smoking. For those too young to remember, this may be hard to fathom, but about half of every airplane was designated as the "smoking section." In fact, back then, when airlines served in-flight meals, they often included a three-pack of cigarettes right on the tray.

Of course, when a bunch of people light up in a small, cylindrical tube hurtling through the sky, the smoke on one end of the cabin does not stop at an invisible wall. It fills the airplane, forcing second-hand smoke on the entire flying public. That was back when tobacco industry "scientists" claimed that smoking had nothing to do with lung disease and cancer.

For years many air travelers complained. Durbin decided to change the law.

Against what seemed at the time to be impossible odds, he won. And it was the beginning of the end of the tobacco industry's reputation as an unbeatable, dominant power in the United States Congress.

Next time you fly an airplane and can breathe freely, thank Dick Durbin.

That battle was just one of many.

Years later a group of young, undocumented immigrants came to meet Durbin after he'd become a senator. They explained that they had lived their entire lives in the United States since being brought here by their undocumented, immigrant parents. They had been educated in America and wanted to make contributions to the only country they had ever known. Yet they were subject to deportation, could not serve in the military and in many cases were unable to go to college.

As a result of the meeting, Durbin, who had long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, authored and championed what became known as the DREAM Act. And when it failed to pass the House, he worked with President Obama to help craft the president's 2012 executive action that allowed "Dreamers" to live and work in America and protected them from deportation.

Durbin is tough. He has joined Elizabeth Warren as a nemesis of the big Wall Street banks whose recklessness sank the world economy in 2008.

Continue reading "Creamer: Tribute to a Stand-Up Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin" »


March 30, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten examines "Why Harry Reid Chose Chuck Schumer," while The Nation's John Nichols explains why "Harry Reid's Replacement Must Be Progressive and Effective."

Meanwhile, National Journal's Andrea Drusch profiles Catherine Cortez Masto, "The Woman Harry Reid Wants to Replace Him in the Senate."

Associated Press reports on "Florida Democrats Look For A Way To End Election Woes," and notes: "Then there's money. Florida has 12 million voters and 10 media markets. It costs millions to get a message across the state and Democrats have been badly outspent in non-presidential years. Obama had the money to win in Florida, but that doesn't help two years later when the governor and Cabinet seats are on the ballot...There just is no short-term answer to our money problem," said Screven Watson, a Democratic political consultant. "The gubernatorial candidate has to be able to raise 40 to 50 million (dollars), and I don't see anybody out there right now that can do that. Nobody."

At The Upshot Brendan Nyhan argues that "Republicans Have Little to Fear From a Divisive Primary."

At ThinkProgress Alice Ollstein explains why "California Looks To Take A Page From Oregon's Voter Turnout Playbook." Says Ollstein: "...Such a move in California could sweep millions into the political process...the nearly 7 million eligible but unregistered voters in the state, many of them low-income, people of color, and younger Californians -- whose participation rates are in the single digits."

Huckabee outs his strategy on "Face the Nation": ""I think the untold secret is a lot of the support that I have, and that I anticipate I will have, is from the working-class, blue-collar people who grew up a lot like I did - not blue-blood, but blue-collar..."

More evidence that Democrats can cite in making a case to voters that democracy itself is under siege by Republicans, who protect only the wealthy: At Talking Points Memo Brendan James reports on a new Princeton study which finds that "U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy." As James explains, "Asking "who really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power...Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters."

Robert Kuttner's post, "The Dance of Liberals and Radicals: As LBJ and MLK needed each other, so does today's left-of-center establishment need the leftist vanguard--and vice-versa" at The American Prospect puts Democratic Party politics into some much-needed perspective, all but lost on too many commentators these days. As Kuttner writes, "Which role the state plays depends on the balance of activism. As current politics reveal all too vividly, government's default setting in a capitalist economy is to serve the wealthy and the powerful. Liberals can write policy proposals to their hearts' content. But unless they are backed by radicalism on the ground, they are playing in a sandbox...Policy is frozen politics--the legacy of an earlier era and earlier political struggles. But policy can always be reversed by elites. That's why it takes hot politics--liquid politics, current politics, radical politics--to defend and refresh policy."

Political map afficionados should peruse "Daily Kos Elections presents our fully interactive visualizations of the 2014 federal elections."


March 28, 2015

For many Neo-Cons the real objective of bombing Iran's nuclear sites is to build support for an invasion. For this, a failure could be more useful than success. That's why they seem untroubled by the unrealistic assumptions on which they rest their case.



America is now witnessing the beginning of a mini-boomlet of calls for a large scale aerial bombing campaign aimed at crippling or destroying Iran's nuclear installations. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies have taken to the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post to press the case that a bombing campaign is the best way to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.

As it happens, both of these authors have advocated exactly this same course of action at various times in the past, a fact which weakens their assertion that a bombing campaign is uniquely necessary at this particular moment in history and must be undertaken without the slightest delay.

However, the various optimistic assumptions that are embedded in their advocacy of a bombing campaign have provoked even greater skepticism. These assumptions include:

• That heavily bunkered and widely dispersed installations built over more than a decade for the precise purpose of withstanding "bunker busting" bombing attacks can be effectively crippled or destroyed by U.S. bombing.

• That the aerial bombing of installations, some of which are within visible distance of Tehran and other major cities and the destruction of which would produce radioactive dust particles similar to those produced by a terrorist "dirty bomb" are more likely to make the Iranian people rise up and overthrow their own government rather than to unite behind it in opposition to a foreign attack.

• That while a bombing campaign is universally agreed to only be able to temporarily delay and not permanently end Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon, the U.S. can solve this problem by bombing the country's rebuilt nuclear installations over and over again every few years (The Israelis cynically call the military strategy of repeated attrition attacks against potential threats like this one "mowing the lawn.")

• That a bombing campaign against Iran will not produce a vast wave of terrorist action against the US but rather a smaller number of manageable attacks that a resolute American populace will be willing to accept as the price that must be paid for fighting "the war on terror."


A wide variety of global strategy organizations have produced studies estimating the likelihood that a bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear installations might actually have some or all of these results. They include:

The Council on Foreign Affairs

The Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Wilson Center

Congressional Research Service

Institute for Science and International Security

And Foreign Policy in Focus

Suffice it to say that not one of these analyses considers it likely that all four of the optimistic assumptions noted above would simultaneously prove to be correct. In fact, such an outcome is generally viewed as having more in common with the likelihood of drawing an inside straight four times in a row. There is widespread agreement with the view that Kevin Pollack of Brookings Institution (an analyst generally viewed as a military "hawk,") presented in his 2013 book "Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb and American Strategy." The London Economist summarized his conclusion as follows:

An American air strike would certainly be more destructive [than an attack by Israel alone]. But, in the medium term, it might not be all that much more effective. Although it would wreck lots of machinery, Iranian know-how would survive. Iran would probably quit the Non- Proliferation Treaty, stopping international inspectors from monitoring its subsequent pursuit of a weapon...

...Mr. Pollack argues that evidence of Iran's continued defiance would present America with a horrible choice: defeat over a vital national interest, or an impossibly daunting invasion and occupation that would tie up virtually the entire active-duty American army and Marine Corps.

Given the widespread skepticism that exists about the probability of success of a bombing campaign, the breezy, "let's go for it" optimism expressed in the commentaries of both Bolton and Muravchik seems rather odd. But the most plausible explanation is suggested by nature of the choice indicated in the quote from Pollock above.

Even before 9/11 the fundamental view of the Neoconservative lobby was that America would ultimately need to plan and execute a full scale ground invasion of Iran to achieve "regime change" i.e. the overthrow of the ayatollahs and their replacement with a pro-Western government. The reason the initial target neoconservatives selected in the Middle East was Iraq was because the 1991 US invasion revealed that the country was in essence completely defenseless against a massive U.S. tank and armored infantry attack. Once Iraq was occupied, neoconservatives argued, it could then be converted into a giant network of military bases, storage depots, ammunition dumps, staging areas and gargantuan airfields so that vast columns of Abrams M1A1 tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles could be launched into Iran, supported from the air by hundreds of Apache Attack Helicopters, F-15's, A-10 Warthogs and B-1 bombers.

There was nothing particularly secret about this strategy. That part of it which was not published in think-tank monographs and magazine articles in the conservative journals between 1996 and 2003 was gleefully blurted out over Starbucks cappuccinos and cocktail party canapés to solid progressive journalists like Josh Marshall, John Judis and others who then dutifully reported virtually all of its major elements to their readers. The Neo-conservatives' widely discussed power-point slide presentations which showed the proposed targets of future military actions invariably included Iran as the ultimate prize. Their well-known slogan was "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran."

Seen from this perspective, an aerial bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear installations, regardless of whether it is successful or not, will materially help to establish the political foundation for putting "boots on the ground" in Iran later on. In fact, the paradoxical fact is that a bombing campaign would actually be more effective for this ultimate purpose if it failed rather than if it succeeded. A bombing campaign that did not achieve its objective would become the proof that a ground invasion was absolutely indispensible. The predictable wave of terrorist attacks launched against U.S. targets in retaliation for the bombing would "stiffen the spine" of the American people and create the necessary patriotic and martial spirit to provide popular support for a ground invasion. And, as Pollock noted, Iran's continued defiance would present America with the specter of defeat and humiliation over a vital national interest if it did not redeem its reputation with a successful ground invasion.

In short, if the ultimate objective of a bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear installations is actually to build political support for a future ground invasion of Iran, a bombing campaign that fails to achieve its objective could be substantially more useful than one that succeeds. It is therefore not greatly surprising that the advocates of a bombing campaign seem so breezily unconcerned about the unrealistic assumptions upon which their case is based.


March 27, 2015

"Flat Tax" Redux: a Primer



It occurred to me yesterday that we were hearing less about "tax reform" on the GOP presidential campaign trail than we were about that old chestnut, the "flat tax." So I figured I'd do a quick explainer at the Washington Monthly for those confused by the various forms of this bad idea:

Technically speaking, all a "flat" tax means is that whatever is being taxed will be taxed at uniform rates. So the very concept pretty much rules out progressive taxation. "Flat" tax advocates who also emphasize "simplicity"--you know, a tax form you could print out on a post card--are generally alluding to a wholesale elimination of exemptions, deductions and credits, which gets rid of a lot of special-interest provisions along with a host of provisions aimed at reducing or eliminating income taxation on the working poor. If rates are "flattened" too, the net effect would be huge tax breaks for upper- and upper-middle class folk and big tax increases for the poor. Some of these proposals, of course, also casually exempt corporate or investment income from taxation, so the regressive effect is even greater than first appears.

Then you've got "flat tax" advocates who simultaneously want to move from income to consumption taxes, which is generally the case with people who talk about "abolishing the IRS," insofar as merchants would be collecting the taxes rather than a federal agency. This approach is even more regressive than a "flat" income tax, since everybody's got to "consume," but poorer people spend a higher percentage of their income covering essential living needs (yes, it's true some progressive countries, mainly in Europe, depend heavily on consumption taxes, but they deliberately offset them with redistributive spending programs, which is not what our Republicans have in mind).

A lot of these ideas get jumbled together in politicians' rhetoric, as Paul Waldman noted the other day at the Prospect:

[A]lmost every potential GOP presidential contender has at the very least expressed support for tax flattening, and most of them have come out and endorsed a flat tax.

But the details are hazy and often contradictory. Ted Cruz, for example, has endorsed both a consumption tax and a "flat" income tax (Mike Huckabee is the one consistent consumption tax proponent). Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal have all indicated support for a flat income tax. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have spoken of a flat income tax as a "goal."

The political motive for such talk, or at least so I think, is to do two things: first, it offers an alternative, less unseemly way of talking about upper-income tax rate reductions, and second, it sneakily scratches the itch of conservative "base" anger at the "lucky duckies" who are too poor to pay income taxes under the current system.

The other thing about "flax tax" ideas is that they aren't going to happen, less because Democrats oppose them than because the numbers don't add up and/or half the population would get openly and egregiously screwed. But that doesn't stop the gabbing about them.


Obamacare Diss Ploy Backfires Big Time



Republican Congresswomen Cathy McMorris Rodgers apparently had nothing better to do with her time than hatch a facebook scam bashing President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act. So she requested her constituents to submit Obamacare slams. But Jen Hayden reports at Daily Kos that it didn't go quite as planned. Some examples:

I work for cancer care northwest. We actually have more patients with insurance and fewer having to choose treatment over bankruptcy. Cathy, I'm a die hard conservative and I'm asking you to stop just slamming Obamacare. Fix it, change it or come up with a better idea! Thanks

My daughter is fighting for her life with stage 3 breast cancer! We are about to enter a second go round of diagnostic procedures and possibly more treatment after two full years of treatment! So yah! The ACA is more than helping! I resent that our rep thinks the only problems involve her personal story!

My story is that I once knew 7 people who couldn't get health insurance. Now they all have it, thanks to the ACA and President Obama, and their plans are as good as the one my employer provides--and they pay less for them. Now, that's not the kind of story you want to hear. You want to hear made-up horror stories. I don't know anyone with one of those stories.

And now my daughter, diagnosed with MS at age 22, can have insurance. What do you plan to do with her?

Obama Care saved us when my husband was unemployed and we couldn't afford coverage. We might have been ruined without it. My husband could not have had the eye surgery needed after an accident. So grateful.

The Republican solution to the Affordable Care Act? Let people drown in debt, clutter our emergency rooms, and die from lack of coverage due to pre-existing conditions. No thanks, "Congresswoman". Some of us care more about our fellow Americans than trying to bash the President. Keep trying to scare your followers with phony horror stories, though

Hey, maybe Rep McMorris Rodgers could get Sen. Ted Cruz to submit something.


How Cruz's Sour Tea Fuels GOP Agenda



From TPM Cafe's "How Bush-Appointed Ivy Leaguer Ted Cruz Became A Tea Party Darling," by Vanessa Williamson, co-author, with Theda Skocpol, of "The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism":

Ted Cruz, who has become one of the Tea Party's most prominent voices, has officially announced his bid for president. But how is it that a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, a Bush appointee, can pass muster as the standard-bearer for a movement that is supposed to represent anti-elitist, anti-establishment, "real America"?

To understand Cruz's role in 2016, one must recognize that the Tea Party in Washington today is a not an insurgency from below. It is a realignment within the Republican establishment that has committed the party to a position of extreme non-compromise. As Megyn Kelly pointed out yesterday, Ted Cruz has put himself at the vanguard of that strategy. The willingness to naysay, more than any policy position or connection to the conservative grassroots, is what distinguishes him from other Republican presidential hopefuls.

Let's remember: The Tea Party, more than an organization or even a movement, was a political moment. In early 2009, the person and the policy proposals of President Barack Obama galvanized grassroots conservatives. But, after the exceptionally unpopular President Bush left office, the Republican brand was toxic and the party leadership was in disarray. Encouraged by conservative media, rank-and-file Republicans built ad hoc local "Tea Party" groups to oppose the new president's agenda. There was plenty of room at the top for any Republican who could seize the "Tea Party" momentum.

At the national level, those who profited were rarely actual newcomers. Instead, longtime conservative insiders like Dick Armey and Jim DeMint became "Tea Party" leaders. Although the adoption of the Tea Party name and symbolism gave a sense of novelty to this intra-party realignment, there is nothing new about the rightmost wing of the Republican Party except its ever-increasing authority.

Today, we are reaping the candidates the Tea Party has sown. One of these is Ted Cruz, whose 2012 campaign received support from several major players in the Tea Party field, including Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund and Dick Armey's Freedom Works, as well as other longtime funders of the far right, like the Club for Growth. These players aren't new, but their degree of power is; the Republican Party has been growing more conservative for decades, and the Tea Party was only the latest step in that direction.

For the rest of Williamson's TPM Cafe post, click here.


March 26, 2015

Christian Right May Be Splintering in 2016



I'm second to no one in warning against wishful-thinking claims that the Christian Right (or for that matter, its Siamese Twin, the Tea Party) is dying or losing influence. But it does appear these folks are in a strategic muddle that could limit their impact on the 2016 Republican nominating contest, as I speculated at Washington Monthly:

One emerging irony of the 2016 GOP presidential nominating cycle is that the Christian Right may have too many options for its own good.

There are no likely candidates who dissent--as did, say, Rudy Giuliani in 2008--from the Christian Right's core positions. So far, there's no one who will even criticize the Christian Right--as did John McCain back in 2000 when he gave a speech comparing Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Meanwhile, there are two probable candidates that did extremely well with this constituency in past presidential contests (Huckabee in 2008, Santorum in 2012), another who had sizable elite Christian Right support during the brief period he was viable (Rick Perry), two who are egregiously pandering and panting for such support right now (Cruz and Jindal), and one who for all his shortcomings in their eyes, is still closely associated with one of the emotional high points of recent Christian Right history, the Terri Schiavo affair. There's not much Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have done to offend these people, though they may be disliked for other reasons.

But while nobody can ignore or diss Christian Right voters or their actual or self-designated leaders, their very prosperity within the GOP makes it less likely they can have the impact on the contest some want. Indeed, as Trip Gabriel shows at the New York Times today, Christian Right leaders are deeply divided over whether it makes sense to unite around a particular candidate, and almost certainly even more divided over the identity of their champion if they had one. War horses like Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer and Richard Viguerie are scheming to force some sort of collective decision. But others aren't buying it:

Some on the Christian right remain skeptical of the effort to settle on a single socially conservative candidate. Similar attempts in 2008 and 2012 collapsed because no consensus was reached, they say. And it is unclear what impact an endorsement by national social conservatives would have on a primary competition that will probably be driven by gobs of outside money, debate performances and long months of retail campaigning.

"I think it's a useless process," said David Lane, who arranges expenses-paid meetings of conservative pastors to hear from potential candidates, most recently at a gathering in Des Moines where Mr. Cruz and Mr. Jindal spoke. "My goal is to give the constituency access to candidates, then let them decide."

You could call this a portfolio strategy, I suppose. But Lane is also at the center of another dispute among Christian Right folk, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, following Sarah Posner's analysis: one between old-school culture warriors like Lane and a new breed of quieter leaders focused on less abrasive advocacy for the defensive-sounding "religious liberty" cause.

Now while these complicated dynamics may well splinter the Christian Right during the Republican primaries and limit their leverage if not their influence, there's nothing about what I've written that suggests they will not overwhelming support the GOP presidential nominee, with varying degrees of pandering required to get them to take on the party yoke again depending on that nominee's identity. This remains an important Republican faction, even if it cannot get it together to dictate a presidential nominee.


Political Strategy Notes



In the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, the majority rejected a lower court decision that upheld redrawing of state legislative districts packed African American voters into a small number of districts. Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with the progressives. Ian Millhiser reports at ThinkProgress: "Though the Court's decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama does not necessarily ensure that the state's maps will be struck down, it rejects a lower court's reasoning which upheld the unusual, racially focused method the state used in drawing many of its districts."

Sue Sturgis of Facing South has a by-the-numbers take on "The fight to restore the Voting Rights Act," including this look at voter suppression, Texas-style: Number of days Texas officials waited after the Shelby ruling to announce that they would implement that state's strict photo ID law, previously blocked by Section 5 because of its discriminatory racial impact: 0...Number of registered Texas voters without proper photo ID, according to early assessments: 600,000 to 800,000...Number of those voters who are Latino: over 300,000."

Marking the fifth birthday of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama zinged the GOP's response, as NYT's Michael D. Shear reports: "We have been promised a lot of things in these past five years that didn't turn out to be the case," Mr. Obama said. "Death panels, doom, a serious alternative from Republicans in Congress...When this law was passed, our businesses began the longest streak of private sector job growth on record. Sixty straight months. Five straight years. Twelve million new jobs...It's working, despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund and defame this law."

Huffpollsters Ariel Edwards-Levy, Janie Valencia and Mark Blumenthal note that "In 2014, our computation of the NCPP [National Council on Public Polls] statistics finds a rate of error in final week polls (2.2 percentage points) slightly higher than in 2006 or 2010, but slightly lower than 2002....While polling averages in Senate races appeared to miss by more than usual, broader measures of polling error were roughly in line with previous midterm elections, and the 2014 Senate polls collectively predicted the correct winners in all but one race."

CT Gov. Daniel Malloy, Incoming chair of the Democratic Governors Association, has some provocative thoughts on Democratic messaging strategy going forward. As Buzzfeed's Evan McMorris-Santoro reports, quoting Malloy: "You put together that [the GOP] is the party that wants to control your body, wants you work 35 or 40 hours per week and live in poverty, and, by the way, doesn't want you to have access to health care," he said. "You put those three things together? That's a pretty powerful argument...Accept the Republican Party model that you're constantly in an election," Malloy said. Democrats "thought they could take a vacation" when they needed constant, persistent campaign-style messaging."

Poll analyst Alfred J. Tuchfarber writes at Sabato's Crystal Ball that Dems face six major challenges in the 2016 elections, including African American turnout after Obama, the rarity of Dems winning three presidential elections in a row and the increasing influence of high-turnout white seniors, among others.

At The Charleston Gazette, James A. Haught has a stat-rich profile of religious commitment in America. One nugget: "Those who don't attend church generally are more tolerant of gays, more welcoming of blacks and Hispanics, more supportive of women's right to choose, more approving of the public safety net. In other words, they tend to back compassionate progressive values -- and they have become the largest single group in the Democratic Party base...Sociologist Ruy Teixeira predicts they will boost Democratic politics in coming decades and turn America more liberal. But they're somewhat less inclined to vote. A couple of years ago, Dr. Teixeira wrote about America: "In 1944, 80 percent of adults were white Christians. But things have changed a lot since then. Today, only about 52 percent of adults are white Christians...By the election of 2016, the United States will have ceased to be a white Christian nation..."

National Journal's Andrea Drusch previews a potentially-divisive Democratic primary in the race for U.S. Senate, featuring a "young, charismatic centrist," Rep. Patrick Murphy vs. Alan Grayson, "one of the party's foremost firebrands."

Dems have a thin range of available leaders in IN for the 2016 open U.S. Senate seat --- with one big exception. So, Run Evan Run!






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



April 1: No, Conservatives Are Not Waving White Flag in the Culture Wars

One of the memes we are now hearing is that progressives are being churlish and perhaps even self-destructive in resisting "religious liberty" statutes like those enacted last week in Indiana because, after all, they represent a face-saving device, or even "terms of surrender," for the Christian Right. I addressed that seductive but misleading argument at some length today at the Washington Monthly:

If you want a good example of what cultural conservatives are telling themselves about the backlash over Indiana's... "religious liberty" law, there's none better than the pity party Timothy Carney held at the Washington Examiner yesterday afternoon:
[O]ur culture is speeding down the icy Left slope of the cultural mountain, and a few conservatives are now dragging their hands on the ice to slow the acceleration -- and the Left is crying that this will send us catapulting back uphill.

Religious liberty is the terms of surrender the Right is requesting in the culture war. It is conservative America saying to the cultural and political elites, you have your gay marriage, your no-fault divorce, your obscene music and television, your indoctrinating public schools and your abortion-on-demand. May we please be allowed to not participate in these?

I don't know if actual tears were falling on the keyboard as Carney typed this column, but he certainly wants to give the impression that he speaks for a poor, persecuted minority that has no interest in controlling anybody's behavior but its own.

Which is, of course, complete hooey.

Yes, conservatives have little choice but to accept legal and political setbacks over marriage equality, but they're making it as clear as ever that given the opportunity they'd reverse those trends, ban gay marriage all over again and probably bring back the sodomy laws to boot. Look at the huge field of Republican proto-candidates for president. Do any of them actually support marriage equality? Sure, they'll not talk about it or mumble about it being a state matter or engage in various other evasions, but they're a long way from "surrendering." And that's even more obvious on the abortion issue where (a) the only meaningful difference among 99% of Republican politicians is about whether 99% or 100% of abortions should be banned; (b) Republican controlled state governments are beavering away at new restrictions that strike mainly at the availability of any abortion services; and (c) the right to choose hangs by a thread in a Supreme Court that any Republican President would be lynched for failing to tilt with his or her next appointment into a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

All this weepy talk of being attacked while trying to surrender also misses the even more obvious point that conservatives are hardly impotent politically; they do sorta control Congress and a majority of states.

So no, there's no real "surrender" going on here, and Lord knows conservatives aren't withdrawing from political combat; otherwise Carney would have punctuated his long whine by quitting his job. What they are doing is better understood as a strategic retreat: unable to outlaw or (increasingly) even to stigmatize gay behavior as a matter of law, they're working to protect private discrimination. It's what a big part of their constituency expects of them, and it's the obvious next front--not some sort of Appomattox--in the culture wars.

As it happens, it may not even be necessary for Democrats to stiffen their own spines on this subject, since Republicans are drawing friendly fire from their corporate allies on "religious liberty" laws that just aren't good for business. But don't cease fire until you see the whites of their flags for real.


March 27: "Flat Tax" Redux: A Primer

It occurred to me yesterday that we were hearing less about "tax reform" on the GOP presidential campaign trail than we were about that old chestnut, the "flat tax." So I figured I'd do a quick explainer at the Washington Monthly for those confused by the various forms of this bad idea:

Technically speaking, all a "flat" tax means is that whatever is being taxed will be taxed at uniform rates. So the very concept pretty much rules out progressive taxation. "Flat" tax advocates who also emphasize "simplicity"--you know, a tax form you could print out on a post card--are generally alluding to a wholesale elimination of exemptions, deductions and credits, which gets rid of a lot of special-interest provisions along with a host of provisions aimed at reducing or eliminating income taxation on the working poor. If rates are "flattened" too, the net effect would be huge tax breaks for upper- and upper-middle class folk and big tax increases for the poor. Some of these proposals, of course, also casually exempt corporate or investment income from taxation, so the regressive effect is even greater than first appears.

Then you've got "flat tax" advocates who simultaneously want to move from income to consumption taxes, which is generally the case with people who talk about "abolishing the IRS," insofar as merchants would be collecting the taxes rather than a federal agency. This approach is even more regressive than a "flat" income tax, since everybody's got to "consume," but poorer people spend a higher percentage of their income covering essential living needs (yes, it's true some progressive countries, mainly in Europe, depend heavily on consumption taxes, but they deliberately offset them with redistributive spending programs, which is not what our Republicans have in mind).

A lot of these ideas get jumbled together in politicians' rhetoric, as Paul Waldman noted the other day at the Prospect:

[A]lmost every potential GOP presidential contender has at the very least expressed support for tax flattening, and most of them have come out and endorsed a flat tax.

But the details are hazy and often contradictory. Ted Cruz, for example, has endorsed both a consumption tax and a "flat" income tax (Mike Huckabee is the one consistent consumption tax proponent). Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal have all indicated support for a flat income tax. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have spoken of a flat income tax as a "goal."

The political motive for such talk, or at least so I think, is to do two things: first, it offers an alternative, less unseemly way of talking about upper-income tax rate reductions, and second, it sneakily scratches the itch of conservative "base" anger at the "lucky duckies" who are too poor to pay income taxes under the current system.

The other thing about "flax tax" ideas is that they aren't going to happen, less because Democrats oppose them than because the numbers don't add up and/or half the population would get openly and egregiously screwed. But that doesn't stop the gabbing about them.


March 26: Christian Right May Be Splintering in 2016

I'm second to no one in warning against wishful-thinking claims that the Christian Right (or for that matter, its Siamese Twin, the Tea Party) is dying or losing influence. But it does appear these folks are in a strategic muddle that could limit their impact on the 2016 Republican nominating contest, as I speculated at Washington Monthly:

One emerging irony of the 2016 GOP presidential nominating cycle is that the Christian Right may have too many options for its own good.

There are no likely candidates who dissent--as did, say, Rudy Giuliani in 2008--from the Christian Right's core positions. So far, there's no one who will even criticize the Christian Right--as did John McCain back in 2000 when he gave a speech comparing Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Meanwhile, there are two probable candidates that did extremely well with this constituency in past presidential contests (Huckabee in 2008, Santorum in 2012), another who had sizable elite Christian Right support during the brief period he was viable (Rick Perry), two who are egregiously pandering and panting for such support right now (Cruz and Jindal), and one who for all his shortcomings in their eyes, is still closely associated with one of the emotional high points of recent Christian Right history, the Terri Schiavo affair. There's not much Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have done to offend these people, though they may be disliked for other reasons.

But while nobody can ignore or diss Christian Right voters or their actual or self-designated leaders, their very prosperity within the GOP makes it less likely they can have the impact on the contest some want. Indeed, as Trip Gabriel shows at the New York Times today, Christian Right leaders are deeply divided over whether it makes sense to unite around a particular candidate, and almost certainly even more divided over the identity of their champion if they had one. War horses like Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer and Richard Viguerie are scheming to force some sort of collective decision. But others aren't buying it:

Some on the Christian right remain skeptical of the effort to settle on a single socially conservative candidate. Similar attempts in 2008 and 2012 collapsed because no consensus was reached, they say. And it is unclear what impact an endorsement by national social conservatives would have on a primary competition that will probably be driven by gobs of outside money, debate performances and long months of retail campaigning.

"I think it's a useless process," said David Lane, who arranges expenses-paid meetings of conservative pastors to hear from potential candidates, most recently at a gathering in Des Moines where Mr. Cruz and Mr. Jindal spoke. "My goal is to give the constituency access to candidates, then let them decide."

You could call this a portfolio strategy, I suppose. But Lane is also at the center of another dispute among Christian Right folk, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, following Sarah Posner's analysis: one between old-school culture warriors like Lane and a new breed of quieter leaders focused on less abrasive advocacy for the defensive-sounding "religious liberty" cause.

Now while these complicated dynamics may well splinter the Christian Right during the Republican primaries and limit their leverage if not their influence, there's nothing about what I've written that suggests they will not overwhelming support the GOP presidential nominee, with varying degrees of pandering required to get them to take on the party yoke again depending on that nominee's identity. This remains an important Republican faction, even if it cannot get it together to dictate a presidential nominee.


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