On Monday I wrote about Mitt Romney’s problems in his effort to become the True Conservative Alternative in 2008 to John McCain and Rudy Guiliani, and suggested there may be a bit of a vacuum on the Right. Since politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, I suspect there will be a lot of trial balloons getting hoisted in the months ahead for dark horse candidates who could theoretically seize the mantle of the Conservative Movement. Indeed, it’s already happening.The latest name to emerge is Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, who has been quietly working as head of–and presumably a lobbyist for–the national Life Insurance association since leaving office in 2003. Keating’s a Catholic and certified Right-to-Lifer with big-time law enforcement credentials, having been an FBI agent back in the day, and Associate Attorney General under Reagan. Interestingly enough, his resume boasts of service in an FBI anti-terrorism effort in the early 1970s. It’s hard to have gotten onto the anti-terrorism bus much earlier than that.Keating achieved some national notice during the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, and was briefly on George W. Bush’s vice-presidential short list in 2000. He’s not exactly Mr. Charisma (he apparently has a bit of a problem with uncontrolled rage), but again, we’re talking about a conservative movement that’s exploring the bottom of the barrel looking for that unspoiled apple.Speaking of the bottom of the barrel, conservatives could always resort to Newt Gingrich, who is already more or less into the race. His main calling card is his claim to be the man who launched the very Republican Revolution in Congress that his successors allegedly betrayed, which nicely echoes the rationalization that so many conservatives are making in dismissing the ideological implications of the 2006 elections. To burnish his national security credentials, ol’ Newt has become a cheerful and outspoken advocate of the idea of morphing the Global War On Terrorism into a rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ World War III, with potential invasions of Iran and North Korea to ease the pain of Bush’s Iraqi fiasco. (Way back in the early ’80s, Gingrich spent some time urging state legislatures to adopt Lessons of Granada resolutions to celebrate that famous victory as an antidote to the Vietnam Syndrome; this is a guy who knows the value of starting wars to cheer people up after military defeats).On the down side, the Newtster has a few problems, including his serial marriages, his really bad Civil War novel, and his record as Bill Clinton’s punching bag during the last half of the 1990s. But hey, you can’t blame the guy for trying.Indeed, Newt makes a lot of sense as compared to yet another retread who’s talking about running in 2008: former Virginia governor and RNC chief Jim Gilmore. In case you’ve forgotten him, Gilmore’s the man who got himself elected as governor in 1997 on a completely irresponsible tax-cut proposal, and then created such a fiscal mess in Richmond that Republicans split and Democrats won two straight gubernatorial elections. The first Democratic win, by Mark Warner in 2001, occured when Gilmore was running the national Republican Party. Gilmore was unceremoniously dumped as party chair after GOPers lost both of the 2001 gubernatorial races.So why is this guy maybe running for President? Here’s Adam Nagourney’s report in today’s New York Times: “‘A void exists,’ Mr. Gilmore said in an interview. ‘There is just no conservative right now who can mount a national campaign.'”That’s what I’ve been telling you.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
It’s one of the more comical aspects of the deadly serious game of chicken that House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, but it’s worth pointing out, as I did at New York:
As the United States lurches toward a possible debt default thanks to House Republican hostage-taking on legislation needed to extend or suspend the debt limit, it’s increasingly evident that (as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed) the hostage-taker is strangely reluctant to name a ransom. Indeed, the initial Democratic strategy in this complicated chess game was simply to force House Republicans to say exactly what kind of spending cuts they propose to make in exchange for allowing a debt-limit measure to wobble its way to Joe Biden’s desk.
It’s easy to mock GOP lawmakers for the brainlessness, or maybe cowardice, of their effort to make Democrats identify the spending cuts their opponents want. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell tans the elephant’s hide with considerable panache:
“Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can’t identify what any of those demands are.
“They say they want to reduce deficits — but meanwhile have ruled out virtually every path for doing so (cuts to defense, cuts to entitlements, wiping out nondefense discretionary spending, or raising taxes). …
“Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut ‘wasteful spending’ … but can’t agree on what counts as ‘waste.’”
In so quickly reaching this predictable dead end in answering the world’s easiest math problem, Republicans have one plausible line of defense: It’s how much of the public feels about fiscal matters as well. They really don’t like deficits and (especially) debt. But they really don’t like the kind of spending cuts that Republicans are talking about either (tax increases, of course, are categorically off the table for the GOP and have been since the George H.W. Bush “Read my lips: No new taxes” debacle).
A September 2022 poll from the deficit scolds of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that Americans are up in arms about all the borrowing:
“A 31-month high of 83% of voters are urging the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the national debt, with the biggest jump among those under age 35 (8 points to 85%).
“More than eight-in-ten voters (81%) also said that their concern about the national debt has increased. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 65% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.”
From 40,000 feet, all that red ink looks pretty alarming, it seems. More recently, this very week, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal found a majority of Americans stamping their feet about it:
“Most Americans oppose raising the federal debt ceiling without accompanying cuts to federal spending, a new RMG Research poll finds.
“Sixty-one percent of 1,000 registered voters in the survey said Congress should either raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts (45%) or refuse to raise the ceiling at all (16%). Only about a quarter (24%) said Congress should raise the ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.”
To House Republicans, the great symbol of runaway spending is the “monstrous” $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. Many of them claimed during the fight over Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid that “the American people” were outraged by the measure despite the fact that it cleared the Senate, House, and White House. Perhaps they were thinking of a Twitter poll conducted by Elon Musk that showed that 75 percent of respondents opposed the omnibus bill.
The sad truth is, however, that the more specific you are in identifying items in one of those “monstrous” bills, the more support they command from the public. In 2021, Gallup published a summary of public-opinion research on what was then a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Democratic budget-reconciliation proposal (soon whittled way down to $2.2 trillion and then to a net-negative figure in the ultimately enacted Inflation Reduction Act) and found that its provisions were very popular despite the debt they required:
“[S]everal recent polls … ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, ‘Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?’ and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: ‘A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support.’ The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed …
“A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the ‘reconciliation’ procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn’t seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it — similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.”
So the minute you get into the particulars of Democratic-proposed spending bills, public concerns about debts and deficits tend to fade. And oh — there’s another problem for Republicans on the fiscal front: voters like the idea of higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to pay for popular spending measures.
The lesson for Republicans is clear: Their crusade for fiscal discipline is popular, so long as it is very general and you exclude higher taxes on the rich as a possible solution. No wonder politicians like McCarthy want Democrats to be the ones who name the GOP’s price for letting the U.S. economy get through the year without calamity.