Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consternation is overheard in the lounge of the Dead Elephant Society. The pukka sahibs have finally noticed -- the natives, it seems, are restless.

Conservatives roar; Republicans tremble


Many top Republicans are growing worried that the party’s chances for reversing its electoral routs of 2006 and 2008 are being wounded by the flamboyant rhetoric and angry tone of conservative activists and media personalities, according to interviews with GOP officials and operatives.

Congressional leaders talk in private of being boxed in by commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — figures who are wildly popular with the conservative base but wildly controversial among other parts of the electorate, and who have proven records of making life miserable for senators and House members critical of their views or influence.

Some of the leading 2012 candidates are described by operatives as grappling with the same tension. The challenge is to tap into the richest source of energy in the party — the disgust of grass-roots conservative activists with President Barack Obama and their hunger for a full-throated attack on his agenda — without coming off to the broader public as cranky and extreme.

Mitt Romney has purposely kept a lower profile and stuck to speeches on specific policy issues, in part to avoid the early trade-off between placating party activists and appearing presidential. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one of the most active potential opponents for Obama in 2012, said that media portrayals of a narrow-minded party could make it harder to attract the middle-of-the-road voters needed to make the GOP a majority party again.

“The commentators are part of the coalition, not the whole coalition,” Pawlenty said in a phone interview. “The party needs to be about addition, not subtraction — but not at the expense of watering down its principles.”

“We need more voices,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of the party’s up-and-coming leaders. “Our party’s challenge has been that we need to be more inclusive — we need to attract the middle again. ... When one party controls all the levers of power in Washington, they’re going to try and villainize whoever they can on our side. It gives us an opportunity now to try and harness the energy and point it in a positive direction, so that we can attract the middle of the country to the common-sense conservative views that we have been about as a party.”

Political operatives of all stripes like to fancy themselves as coolly controlling practitioners — who can shape public images and direct the activities of party regulars from their perches in Washington.

But the reality of the GOP during the Obama presidency is that the party’s image and priorities are in many ways being imposed on Washington — driven by grass-roots energies that lawmakers and strategists can scarcely control.

At the same time, there are powerful incentives for Washington politicians to play to the crowd and bow to the influence of commentators like Beck, who at the moment is far more famous than any of the GOP’s congressional leaders.

When Republicans such as Rep. Phil Gingrey have complained about these figures in public, most have quickly apologized in the face of outraged phone calls and e-mails from conservative activists.

House and Senate Republicans both seized on the issue of federal funding for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now after Obama critic Andrew Breitbart launched the controversy on his site with video of two people posing as a pimp and a prostitute in the group’s offices.

As vividly illustrated by Rep. Joe Wilson, elected Republicans are seeing the benefits — national media attention and fundraising — from embracing the trash-talking style of talk show hosts. Wilson went from being a little-known member of the House minority who had repeatedly failed to get on the A-list committees to a cause célèbre for the right wing because he shouted “You lie” at Obama during a joint session of Congress.

Though he apologized to the president through chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Wilson moved quickly to exploit his brush with fame, posting Web videos to raise money, appearing on Sean Hannity’s show, getting a coveted invite on “Fox News Sunday” — and even being asked to raise money for some of his conservative colleagues. Most rank-and-file Republicans have to spend hours on the phone pleading for money and relish the chance to be taken seriously by a major Sunday show.

But some Republicans worry the party could squander an opportunity to capitalize on voters’ concerns about Obama and the Democratic Congress because they come off looking shallow, sharply partisan or just plain odd to persuadable voters.

Warning of the influence of the Fox host, who recently accused Obama of racism against whites, George W. Bush White House veteran Peter Wehner wrote last month: “Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment and anger — the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.”

Still, these concerns apparently are not powerful enough to prompt most elected Republicans to take public stands against the rhetoric coming from the web of conservative talk show hosts, websites and public activists.

Ed Gillespie, who was counselor to Bush and has started a conservative group called Resurgent Republicans, said his polling shows rising numbers of persuadable voters who are growing disenchanted with the Obama administration’s policies but nevertheless remain invested in the president.

“Our party has to bring those voters along with a critique of policies, not the kind of harsh rhetoric the left used against former President Bush,” Gillespie said.

“Without a good slice of the independents, we are doomed,” said former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

The only Republicans standing up to Beck and other conservative activists right now are familiar iconoclasts like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and New York Times columnist David Brooks — both of whom are distrusted by many Republicans for their frequent departures from conservative orthodoxy.

Graham, earlier this month, mocked Beck’s famous on-air cry and warned that the Fox News talk show host is “not aligned with any party as far as I can tell. He’s aligned with cynicism.” Not long afterward, he was heckled by conservatives at a political event back home.

Brooks, a Republican who has written both favorably and critically about Obama, amplified Graham’s concern with the party’s obsequious relationship with Beck and Limbaugh. “It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness,” he wrote. “It is a story as old as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.”

Allies of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have detailed for POLITICO how the former GOP presidential nominee is dismayed with the direction of the party and put an unusual amount of time and effort into trying to push the party in a more centrist direction.

All three figures are often irritants to establishment Republicans — but in this case, many Republicans said privately they were in agreement that they need to move beyond the hard-core right to succeed.

But this critique goes to a major fault line within the party. Many activists believe the party lost because McCain failed to present a clear and genuine ideological contrast — and that the party abandoned principles through excessive spending during the Bush years.

The debate means the argument over whether outspoken talk show hosts are reviving a beaten party or trashing its brand is likely to persist through the 2010 midterms and into the 2012 presidential primary.

On the one hand, the GOP seems to be surging a bit as it sharpens its attacks. The party is doing better than it has in recent history when it comes to generic matchups for the 2010 midterms. Beck, other Fox News commentators and Breitbart are clearly landing some punches on Obama.

Their efforts helped stoke turnout at the August town halls, forced the mainstream media and Obama himself to reckon with a scandal at ACORN and incendiary comments and led to the resignation of green jobs czar Van Jones.

On the other hand, the party’s image more broadly remains in the dumps. An ABC News/Washington Post poll this week found that only 20 percent of those surveyed consider themselves Republicans. A larger study by the Pew Research Center this spring captured a similar trend: The share of independents in the electorate is the highest in 70 years (36 percent), while the share of voters who call themselves Republicans is the lowest in 30 years (23 percent, compared with 35 percent for Democrats).

Republicans in Congress are even more unpopular than the very unpopular Democrats who are running the House and the Senate. This suggests something has to change for a true GOP resurgence to take place.

Karl Rove, the chief political strategist for Bush, said impressions of the Republican Party as a captive of a fringe reflect “a cynical and dismissive and small-minded view of who the American voter is.

“The question will be whether the Republican candidates next year can talk about a lot of kitchen-table issues and the deficit and spending,” Rove said. “Rush Limbaugh won’t be on the ballot.”

This big tension is playing out in a smaller way in the special election in upstate New York. Congressional leaders are backing moderate Dede Scozzafava, despite her liberal views on abortion and other issues, because they think she has the best chance of winning this swing district. Conservatives, including many who participated in the much-publicized “tea party” protests, are convinced she is insufficiently Republican, so they are throwing their support and money to third-party candidate Doug Hoffman.

The result: Polls show the Republican vote could be so split that a lackluster Democratic candidate could pull off a win. If Republicans blow this race, it will leave the GOP holding only two of New York’s 29 House seats. A decade ago, it had 14, most of which were occupied by Northeast moderates who no longer feel welcome in the party and were voted in by independents who remain very skeptical of the party’s policy solutions.


Tangalor said...

Let them hang themselves.

I'm tired of the 'democon/republicorp' paradigm. Things are shifting in big ways, and none of these twits seems to realize Americans want more than an empty promise and some Vaseline.

Give them some more rope.

Toaster 802 said...


Lets move on. History has.

rexxhead said...

"... but not at the expense of watering down its principles.”

The GOP has principles?? I'd like to hear Steele (for example) elucidate them. That should be good for a laugh if nothing else.

"... the common-sense conservative views that we have been about as a party.”

... but not since about 1894.

"Republicans in Congress are even more unpopular than the very unpopular Democrats who are running the House and the Senate."

Sounds to me like a golden opportunity for some other party.

jpr9954 said...

And, of course, RINO Dede Scozzafava was endorsed by the NRA. Not that she is going to be elected but if she were, I predict she would go the same route as another NRA A-lister Kirsten Gillibrand.

suek said...

What's the point of electing a Republican willing to "compromise" so much that they vote with the Dems 90% of the time? You might as well vote for the Dem. At least it would be honest.

To heck with the "wider appeal" - stand for _something_!

If you put politics on a scale of 1-100, then the compromise is at 50. When the Dems have moved so far left that they are at -25, then you have to move to 35 to "compromise" to the same degree. If what you are willing to accept is at 75 on the scale, then 35 just isn't going to cut it.

More and more people are seeing that the Dems have pulled us over to the 35 point, and don't want to be there. The problem is that the GOP has been compromising and compromising until they might as well be Dems. McCain would have made a fine Dem about 50 years ago. Maybe he isn't a Dem today, but he sure isn't a Republican either.

Mike Foster said...

The agonizing death of the party of Lincoln. Pop some corn, pull up a chair - this is gonna be a good show.

Anonymous said...

The republican party is dead. If Graham, McCain and Co. want the carcass, let them have the rotting, maggot infested meat. It's time for a new party.

Anonymous said...

It's all politics with these guys. It's all about how to stay in power. It has nothing to do with ideals. Here's a novel idea: Stand for something - whether anyone will stand with you or not. Of course these guys stand for NOTHING. The only thing they care about is how they can increase their power (over us.) This article proves it. Here'a another example from my hometown: the current leadership of the local republican party were all DEMOCRATS 10 years ago. They were the leadership of the democratic party, then when the voter base turned to be a majority of republicans, they jumped ship and became republicans. These people have no ideals, they just want power.

Anonymous said...

...said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor...“Our party’s challenge has been that we need to be more inclusive — we need to attract the middle again"

No dummy that's what you've been doing wrong.

Jeffrey Quick said...

That's the 2nd time today that I heard Scozzafava being referred to as a "moderate". In what world, pray tell?

Turn that elephant into tankage!

Happy D said...

Just the Rockefeller McCannanites trying to push a Liberalism lite campaign strategy again.
Just for fun they should try campaigning and governing to Reagan's ideals just to see what happens.
I predict the same thing that happened when Kennedy tried them when he was president.
Just Sayin.

^Hawk^ said...

Screw the Republican Party, they are just as responsible for the state of the union as the Dummycrats.


TJP said...

Why, you're wounding them with your flamboyance and angry tone!

Oh, how my heart bleeds; the horrible fate of the Violent Democrats!

Republicanism is alive and well, and growing stronger every year. Beck, Limbaugh and Hannity simply round off the sharp corners of the people's words, then repeat them on the air six months later. To shut out these commentators is to block the GOP's only conduit with reality.

But what do I know? I'm just an ignorant country bumpkin with a keyboard. I am unschooled in the sophisticated art of insulting the electorate for votes. Hell, I'm so angry and stupid I'll probably fill in the wrong circle in 2010, assuming I can find the polling place to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Two Republicans were standing in front of a firing squad and the executioner asked if there were any final requests.

One said, "Have you got a cigarette?" The other Republican said, "Shhh. Don't make any trouble."

III more than them said...

I remember how much Democrats vilified Reagan. They positively hated his politics. Yet, in contrast to his opposition, it appeared to me that Reagan was open and honest about his beliefs. Like them or not, at least the man spoke about them openly, and made his position known. I can respect someone that is honest about his beliefs, even if we have disagreements.

All honest and beneficial agreements are reached only after both sides have truthfully made their positions and desires known. Honesty is to be valued very highly. I personally HATE the lies people use to screw with me.

All I see these last few years is packs of politicians swaying with the winds of opinion, and reconfiguring their platforms to conform.... publicly. They lie and smile, and take what they want. Oh, for someone that would simply say, "This is who I am, and this is what I believe. Shall we work towards something mutually beneficial?"

The GOP is completely wrong in its assessment of this electoral situation. If they were to take a truly Conservative approach, and unashamedly promote it, they would see huge gains in both houses.

Just as in the picture of the dead elephant, they don't have the GUTS.

Which is why they will get their clocks cleaned. No guts, no glory.

bernharg said...

It's amazing, to be label as extremist all you have to want is for your elected offical to follow the constitution.
Both parties are so far left that the middle looks like the extreme right to them.

jjet said...

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Eric Hoffer

Welcome to America politics.

The Republicrats versus Demicans "struggle" is designed to obfuscate the purpose of politics- steal as much as you can from the productive and use that money to bribe your way into power so you can can continue to steal as much as you can so you can use that money to bribe...well, you get the drift.

jjet said...

PS: We had a principled man who believes in and is guided by the Constitution- Rep Ron Paul.

We ignored him.

Chickens coming home to roost is all that's left.

M. Simon said...

I think a rebranding is in order. I don't like conservative as a label.

How about "small government Republicans". It is more inclusive.


And: I'm sure you can tear all your weapons down in the dark blindfolded with one hand tied behind your back and reassemble them with your teeth while hog tied.

Would it be too hard to learn a little html so your links are clickable?

M. Simon said...

"If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism." - Ronald Reagan

I'm a small government Republican. And my critter Don Manzullo does a fair job of representing me. He was one of the leaders of the "Drill, Drill, Drill" insurrection in the House about a year ago. He voted against the Stimulator and other similar crap.

He is kind of stupid about the threat the Drug War poses to our liberties but other than that he has a pretty good record.

M. Simon said...

Oh yeah.

Go to your blogspot set up page.

Click on Settings

Then go to Comments and enable Backlinks by clicking on Show.

That way people (and you) can see which blogspot blogs are linking to your posts.

For those who agree you can send kudos (if you wish) for those with questions you can give answers. For those who are opposed: enlighten them.

Anonymous said...

Poor, poor Republicans... their old fogey leadership just isn't sufficiently hip and dynamic to invent new and exciting ways to shed unwelcome constitutional restraints, "recapture the center", and regain the lead (in this race to the bottom).

In my opinion, given the sorry and rapidly declining financial state of the US populace, short-term "pragmatism" will trump long-term principles yet again come next election -- in other words, the majority will vote for the established order to receive more scraps from the banker / Wall Street feast.

Given the above, the nature of today's media networks, and the culturally fragmented nature of the US population, I see no chance of positive change occurring on the national level through the ballot box, from here on out.

I think the best non-insurrectionist hope of people desiring a constitutional government is to establish strong local majorities in "Red States" and to elect right-thinking local government and sheriffs. And to carry out economic activity in a way that minimizes federal taxation exposure, helping to starve that dreadful beast.

Given the history of SCOTUS activity past and recent, I expect the 10th Amendment challenge to the Commerce Clause to be shot down. The justices will not dare do something that would shake the whole crumbling edifice in that manner. They barely agreed that 2A was worth (just a little) more than the paper it was written on. I believe they will continue to legitimize the anti-Constitutional imperative, and thus I see no hope in the courts.

I believe (quite the little Nostradamus, ain't I) that the government will avoid open armed conflict. They know we don't want Ft. Sumter, and they heed the rifles behind every blade of grass, or in every overweight man's gun safe (guilty as charged!), as the case may be. Thus, I suspect we are in for a good deal more of the boiled frog action before things come to a, uh, boil. (Damn these metaphorical entanglements!)

Be that as it may, I still hope that no libertarian votes Republican as "the best of the bad realistic political options". There's been far too much of that in years past. Damn those bastards all to hell. Vote tea party, vote tar and feathers. Too bad everyone's on welfare, so this won't be the majority view.

To summarize my lengthy rant, my prediction for the government plan of action:

1) An irreversible, substantial, but not cataclysmic decline of the American living standards. Inflation, socialism, apple cores from the tables of the rich for everyone!

2) Boiled frog erosion of liberties. A generation brought up with green/collectivist brainwashing, the rifle-toting fogeys largely dying off in the meantime, and the job is as good as done. In the meantime, incremental encroachments and massive deployment of surveillance technology to bag the non-compliant.

I believe the current order has sufficient and growing popular vote to pursue this very course. The spasm of resentment in the mid-terms and 2012 may give Republicans a boost, but we know this to be largely meaningless for the true cause of liberty.

So I leave you with this one question.. if no one wants Ft. Sumter, does the frog get to croak before it croaks, or does it go gentle into that good soup?