Republican Pessimism

As Cubs fans know, all too well, you have to develop a coping mechanism. There’s always next year. There has to be, because the Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series in 103 years, a record – actually a record for any major North American professional sports team of any sort. And the last time they were National League champions was 1945 – winning that the same week the Japanese surrendered. But they do have their loyal fans, who always say wait until next year. You have to say something, and that helps you get through the disappointment. And there’s a roughly parallel situation in Cleveland. But they got a first-rate fantasy movie where the Indians win it all – their lovable losers finally win, against all odds. If you’re an Indians fan, late in another losing season, you can always pop the DVD in the machine and watch that. It might help. And in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates have just finished their nineteenth consecutive losing seasons to date, the longest run of losing seasons in North American professional sports history, you have another coping mechanism. There the fans have decided the Pirates are a pretty good minor league team, grooming players like Barry Bonds to move on to the big time, and it’s not that bad to watch games where you see young talent develop, catching them in the enthusiastic young years. It’s a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon.

But how are the Republicans going to cope? One of the resident conservatives on MSNBC – they do have a few – former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, who likes to remind everyone he was part of the young Newt Gingrich Contract-With-America crowd, part of that Republican Revolution that caused all that trouble for Bill Clinton, says the Republicans have pretty much given up on winning in November. Republicans are all thinking this one’s over:

Nobody thinks Romney’s going to win. Let’s just be honest. Can we just say this for everybody at home? Let me just say this for everybody at home. The Republican establishment – I’ve yet to meet a single person in the Republican establishment that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election this year. They won’t say it on TV because they’ve got to go on TV and they don’t want people writing them nasty emails. I obviously don’t care. But I have yet to meet anybody in the Republican establishment that worked for George W. Bush that works in the Republican congress – that worked for Ronald Reagan that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election.

MSNBC did give him his own show, Morning Joe, so he can say what he likes, and Paul Waldman comments:

We should remember that the brand Scarborough has built is as a rebellious Republican, an ideological conservative but straight-talking guy who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, upset the apple cart, annoy his own party, and so on. Saying things like this helps him enhance that brand. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t telling the truth.

And Waldman sees things this way:

It’s possible that 2012 could be the third presidential election just in the last 16 years in which Republicans knew they had basically no chance of winning. Nobody ever thought Bob Dole had much of a shot to beat Bill Clinton, but it was his turn and making him the nominee seemed like the right thing to do after a lifetime of service to the Republican Party. He lost by eight and a half points, in an election that was never close. In 2008 the polls were a lot tighter for much of the race, but in the end Barack Obama spanked John McCain by 13 points.

It’s still quite early, and the election will have ups and downs. I’d even guess that at some point, Romney will actually pull ahead in tracking polls. But what’s interesting here is Scarborough’s contention that the Republican establishment has already given up. That can’t be good for Mitt.

But George Will was suggesting the same thing a month ago:

On that evening 48 years ago – it was still summer, early in the presidential campaign – Buckley, whose National Review magazine had given vital assistance to Barry Goldwater’s improbable capture of the Republican nomination, addressed the national convention of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom. Buckley told his fervent acolytes that “when we permit ourselves to peek up over the euphoria” of Goldwater’s nomination, we see that it occurred “before we had time properly to prepare the ground.”

He then sobered his boisterous audience: “I speak of course about the impending defeat of Barry Goldwater.” He urged “the necessity of guarding against the utter disarray that sometimes follows a stunning defeat.” Goldwater’s doomed campaign should, Buckley said, be supported because it plants “seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future.” They did, 16 Novembers later.

Buckley understood the possibility of constructive defeat. He also understood the need to economize conservatism’s energies.

And he goes on to argue that time has come again – Obama will be reelected – so it’s time to work on laying the groundwork for later success. Concentrate on the House and Senate:

If Republicans do, their committee majorities will serve as fine-mesh filters, removing President Obama’s initiatives from the stream of legislation. Then Republicans can concentrate on what should be the essential conservative project of restoring something like constitutional equipoise between the legislative and executive branches.

Such a restoration would mean that a reelected Obama, a lame duck at noon Jan. 20, would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm. Granted, he could veto any major conservative legislation. But such legislation will not even get to his desk because Republicans will not have 60 senators. In an undoubtedly bipartisan achievement, both parties have participated in institutionalizing an extra-constitutional Senate supermajority requirement for all but innocuous or uncontroversial legislation. This may be a dubious achievement, but it certainly enlarges the power of a congressional party to play defense against a president.

You do what you can, when you can:

From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, Republicans have a rising generation of potential 2016 candidates. This does not mean conservatives should be indifferent to the fate of this year’s nominee, and it is perhaps premature to despair of Romney’s and Santorum’s political aptitudes. Still, the presidency is not everything, and there will be another election in the next year divisible by four.

It’s the wait-until-next-year Cubs coping strategy. Will, who has also written extensively about baseball, is a Baltimore Orioles fan by the way – but he gets it.

But William Kristol doesn’t:

I’ll concede that contest is getting close to over as well. Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the GOP nominee. Rick Santorum is entitled to stay in the race, and to offer voters in the remaining states an alternative. But it’s probably time for him to do what Mike Huckabee did in similar circumstances in 2008 – basically to stop attacking the almost inevitable nominee, and instead to adjust his own message going forward to a positive and issues-based one.

He thinks that Romney could, possibly, maybe, somehow pull this off:

On the surface, he can go through the motions of finishing up the nomination campaign, using his current team and delivering his familiar message. It will look like business as usual. But beneath the surface, Romney should be quietly but purposefully developing a new and much improved business plan for the fall. Absent adjustment, Romney’s effort to unseat the incumbent president now feels destined to recapitulate the losing efforts of Bob Dole in 1996 or John Kerry in 2004. But the good news is that Romney is cold-blooded and hardheaded. He didn’t put himself through all this to run a respectable losing general election race. He may be more willing and able than most politicians to change his team, to challenge conventional thinking, and to invite fresh ideas for the conduct and strategy of his fall campaign.

What? We get another Mitt Romney, a third one, after the Massachusetts Moderate and the Severe Conservative? That might not fly. The best you can hope for is that all the clever new voter-ID laws Republicans have passed in so many states keep blacks and Hispanics and young folks from voting at all. But even that just ran into trouble:

Prompted by a petition campaign by the progressive advocacy group Color of Change, Coca-Cola has pulled its support from ALEC, a right-wing corporate-funded front group which has been pushing voter restriction efforts around the country. The company released this statement moments ago:

“The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our Company and industry.”

The Center for American Progress explains the ALEC role in voter suppression:

ALEC charges corporations such as Koch Industries Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and The Coca-Cola Co. a fee and gives them access to members of state legislatures. Under ALEC’s auspices, legislators, corporate representatives, and ALEC officials work together to draft model legislation. As ALEC spokesperson Michael Bowman told NPR, this system is especially effective because “you have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters.”

ALEC wrote the 2005 Florida Stand-Your-Ground law for the National Rifle Association, which the NRA got the legislature to pass. They’ve been found out:

Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization – that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. …

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

That’s Paul Krugman of course, being unhappy. But since that column, and a few others, the American Legislative Exchange Council is on the run. And some of the voter-ID laws they wrote for legislators are now going down too, even if many lifelong voters have been denied the vote for the first time in their lives. This isn’t over, but the ground is shifting, slightly. And as it does the Republicans will get more pessimistic. If you can’t keep the wrong people from voting, how can Mitt win? Maybe George Will is right and it’s time to use the Buckley strategy – plan for 2016, or 2020, or whenever.

But you don’t throw away votes. That’s stupid, but Joan Walsh sees that happening:

Everyone practices a little bit of self-delusion, every once in a while, when it comes to the opposite sex. But Mitt Romney and the folks around him are living in a dream world when it comes to women. Clearly female voters are just not that into Romney – and his troubles get worse by the day.

It’s not that Romney’s backers don’t see the problem. Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich counsels patience: Women will warm to Romney once they know his “real views” on the issues. This comes just after Ann Romney quipped, “I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.” Note to Romney team: Having “supporters” continue to suggest that we don’t yet know Romney’s “real views,” with or without Etch-a-Sketch metaphors (or icky zipper imagery), isn’t helping your guy, with anyone.

And she does mention female Romney surrogates like South Carolina fetching young governor, Nikki Haley, and New Hampshire’s senator, Kelly Ayotte, “trying to minimize the role the damaging birth control battle will play among women in November.” Nikki Haley said women don’t care about contraception and Ayotte insisted Romney will do just fine in November because “women voters very much care about the state of the economy.”

But Walsh isn’t buying that:

Let me concede something to Romney’s defenders: His troubles with women aren’t mainly about contraception. They’re mainly about Romney.

That’s what’s really in the polls, if you look at the internals:

The latest Gallup poll shows how bad things have gotten for the former Massachusetts moderate. He now trails President Obama in 12 swing states, largely because of the defection of independent women. Female independents now back Obama 51 to 37 percent – and that’s a 19-point swing just since the end of 2011, when they preferred Romney. But here’s a little data point for Haley: Only two in 10 independent women polled by Gallup even knew Romney’s stance on contraception. Those who did disagreed with Romney 2-1. More independent women – four in 10 – knew about Obama’s contraception position, and they were divided about evenly. Still, 60 percent didn’t know either candidate’s stance. That suggests contraception matters, but it’s not the only thing driving independent women away from Romney and the GOP. But that’s not good news for Republicans, either.

It’s all in how you look at things:

Ayotte is right: Women care about the economy. And that’s hurting Romney in two ways. First, the economy is getting better, which always helps the incumbent, with both genders. But also, women have been more reliable Democratic voters since the age of Ronald Reagan largely because they support safety net programs and they dislike candidates who pledge to eviscerate them. Paul Ryan’s budget, which Romney thinks is “marvelous,” shreds the safety net into lint, and it will turn off at least as many women as the GOP’s contraception policies.

But yes, women might like Romney better if they knew his real views. But he doesn’t seem to have any:

The man who once supported abortion rights because a relative died of a botched illegal abortion, whose wife gave money to Planned Parenthood, and who signed Massachusetts’ innovative universal healthcare plan might well have fought Obama among women voters. But that guy is long gone. In his place is a man who will say virtually anything to get elected.

Women know that guy, and they don’t like him. I’m not sure what Ann Romney sees when she “unzips” her husband, but the man who’s running for president is a turn-off.

Well, see this – Top Romney Surrogate Donald Trump Offers To Expose His ‘Very Very’ Impressive Genitals. Nope, they don’t get it.

And Amanda Marcotte is still thinking about what Nikki Haley said:

Beyond the strangeness of the assertion – women don’t care about a vital medical service that 99 percent of them use on and off throughout their lives – the statement was something of a non sequitur. Yes, women care about jobs and families, which is why they care about contraception. I realize the conservative framing of contraception as if it were nothing more than an elaborate sex toy, like a vibrator or a piece of lingerie, confuses the issue, but in reality, women make contraception decisions precisely because they care about jobs and family. If I were to list the two main reasons unintended pregnancy is something I prefer to avoid, I’d say “jobs and family.” Women delay and limit child-bearing mainly so they can do better in their jobs and have a more harmonious family life. Her comment made about as much sense as saying: “Women don’t care about the weather. They just want to know if the conditions outside call for a jacket or not.”

But consider the source:

Of course, Haley may just be looking at this issue with blinkers, and when she says “women,” she means “women like me,” i.e., conservative. It is true that conservative women are less supportive than women as a whole of attempts to make contraception access easier. That’s because the war on women is just as much about class as it is about gender. Republicans are mostly staying away from open calls to restrict legal access to contraception, and are concentrating instead on attacking women’s ability to afford it, by demanding an end to government subsidies for low-income women and throwing a fit that women’s insurance might cover contraception instead of forcing them to pay out of pocket. For women for whom $50 or $100 a month isn’t very much money, this sort of thing probably doesn’t matter. In fact, for many conservatives, it’s clear that they believe protected sex is a luxury that should only be available, like fine champagne or HBO subscriptions, to those who can afford it. This belief works in conjunction with backward views of women’s roles to create the current war on women.

But all you need to do is widen the context:

Where I think Haley really fails in her analysis is in understanding how middle-class entitlements work. I suspect she thinks “women don’t care” about contraception, because she imagines an immoveable middle class hostility to the poor. But while the very rich are often willing to pay more if it means screwing over the lower classes, that’s not actually true of the middle class. That’s why the most politically secure entitlement programs created by Democrats are those that help the middle class and the poor alike: Social Security and Medicare being the best examples. Middle-class people aren’t willing to give up a benefit just to hurt the poor most of the time. And so I imagine it will be with copay-free birth control. Middle-class women may be better able to afford $50-$100 a month in pills, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually going to want to pay it if they don’t have to, just to keep poor women from getting their slice of the non-procreative-sex pie.

So it may be that Mitt and the Republicans are doomed. But an answer did present itself back in 2007:

An October 2 New York Observer blog post featuring excerpts of an interview with right-wing pundit Ann Coulter quoted her as saying: “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.”

Well maybe the American Legislative Exchange Council can come up with something – you know, write a law for various state legislatures, well-greased with a lot of lobbying money, to pass. That now may be the Republicans last best hope, although the constitutional details could be a little tricky. No, it’s probably best to cope with all this like a Cubs fan. Wait ’til next year.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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