Assessing Pryor’s chances in Arkansas

111024_mark_pryor_ap_328Republicans have a solid chance to pick up open Senate seats in West Virginia and North Dakota (write ups on those races will come later).  Their third best chance for a pick-up may be in Arkansas.  Since 2000 Arkansas has been the latest Southern state to take a distinctly rightward turn.  Consider that up until 2000 Arkansas had four Democratic Congressmen, a Democratic Governor and state legislature and two Democratic Senators.  Today, the state has a GOP controlled legislature, one GOP Senator and four GOP Congressman.  Indeed, it is very likely the GOP will take the Governor’s mansion next year and build on their majorities in the state legislature.

Enter Tom Cotton.  A two term Congressman elected in 2010, the GOP cleared the field for their preferred nominee early on.  To understand Cotton’s chances one must understand Arkansas’s electoral history.  Sean Trende at RCP does a pretty good job but I will paraphrase.  Trende posits there were four factors that determined how fast a Southern state moved to the GOP: whether it had a sizable Reconstruction Republican contingent, an urban base that attracted Northern voters, a significant black population and a split in the state Democratic Party.

Arkansas lacked any of these factors and thus the state GOP had few issues to exploit.  This largely explains why Arkansas only went GOP at the Presidential level  from 1964 to 1996 in the wave years of 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988.  At the state level the GOP consistently composed a small minority of the state legislature.  Even more sobering for the GOP was that between the end of Reconstruction and 2008 the state had elected only two GOP Governors: Mike Huckabee served two terms only after rising to the office due to a Democratic scandal and Tim Hutchinson who served a mere one term.

Since the mid 2000’s the state has transformed from a conservative Democratic bastion to a GOP conservative bastion.  The fissures the state GOP could never exploit began to appear.  In both 2000 and 2004 the national Democratic Party ran liberal candidates while the GOP ran a Southerner.  In 2008, the nomination of Barack Obama so accelerated this trend that the state had a PVI of R+14.  In 2010, the GOP exploited this to win 3 of the state’s 4 Congressional districts and defeat Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln by 21 points.  In 2012 they swept the Congressional delegation and took the legislature (albeit narrowly before party defections).

Democratic Senator Mark Pryor has deep roots in the state thanks to his father, former Governor and Senator David Hampton Pryor.  Pryor used his family name to be elected Attorney General in 1999.  Cultivating the image of a conservative Democrat just like his father, Pryor jumped at the chance to challenge scandal plagued Republican Senator Tim Hutchinson in 2002.  Pryor was elected with 54% of the vote.  Again, Trende at RCP has a map of the election results by county but I will summarize with the most important details.

First, Pryor did remarkably well in the Northwest Reconstruction Republican region and second he dominated the then heavily Democratic Southwest and Southeast of the state.  In congressional and state elections today the Southwest and Southeast of the state has become more swing than uniformly Democratic.  Pryor was helped by the fact that his father represented the region before he became Senator.  It is not a stretch to say his strength in this area of the state scared off any competition in 2008.

In 2008 John McCain carried a strong majority of these counties.  Blanche Lincoln’s failed reelection bid in 2010 also showed that this strength has largely disappeared for Democrats at the federal level.  Lincoln struggled to win more than several sparsely populated counties in the region.  Even though a strong majority of the state’s Democratic legislators hail from this region their numbers have dwindled since 2008.

All this poses problems for Pryor heading into 2014.  The realignment that has occurred in the South, and especially Arkansas in the last half decade, is not just ideological but also generational.  Rural conservative Democratic voters sons and daughters are Republican conservatives.  This also means that as the older, white Democratic voting bloc in the state shrinks the Pryor name means less and less.  Consider that David Pryor’s last run was in 1990, voters as old as 42 would never have had a chance to vote for him.  Younger voters in Arkansas are also far more Republican than other states.  In 2008 John McCain tied Obama among 18-29 year olds at 49%.  In 2010 18-29 year olds gave Lincoln 40% of their vote compared to 51% for Boozman.

Second, Pryor cannot unmake the modern Democratic coalition.  As the party has become more liberal, upscale and urban, it has paid a price with rural white voters.  Trende wrote a piece on this here.  Pryor in 2002 carried the rural vote, albeit narrowly.  Yet in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2012 the GOP Presidential nominee or Senatorial nominee easily carried the rural vote.  Pryor might be wishing his party had not passed Healthcare Reform with 60 partisan votes because his vote could be considered the deciding vote for the law.  Rural voters in particular dislike the law because they fear it will make doctors run to large metropolitan hospitals.  As Trende also points out, Pryor voted for immigration reform in a state where Hispanics are a small minority.

Third, any midterm environment would be hostile to a Democrat in Arkansas.  For Pryor it is a demographic and strategic nightmare.  Lincoln lost her reelection in 2010 by 21 points in the last midterm. Furthermore every single demographic and age group was far more Republican that year than 2002 and 2006.  Even considering that 2010 heavily favored the GOP nationally and Lincoln was a weakened incumbent cannot discount the results.  Pryor also has to be concerned with the fact that absent Obama on the ballot African-American turnout may drop in the Mississippi delta area of the state.

Lastly, the quality of his opponent matters.  Cotton is a former Harvard Grad meaning he can connect with suburban Republicans in the Northwest of the state.  He has a military background allowing him to connect to rural voters on cultural appeal.  Finally, Cotton represents the Southeast of the state in Congress and carried it by a massive margin in 2012.  This means if Pryor is to win reelection he must win or at least fight to a draw in Cotton’s district and make inroads with voters in the North and drive African-American turnout in the Mississippi Delta and Little Rock.

Pryor can point out Cotton’s weaknesses.  He voted against the Farm Bill and Student Loan Reform, suggesting he might be to libertarian for the state.  Pryor has also broken with the President on smaller pieces of legislation.  And of course, constituency services matter.  Still, the vast majority of voters in the state disapprove of the President and an August 6th Republican survey from Harper showed Cotton leading 43%-41% with 16% undecided.  More concerning for Pryor was that only 38% of voters viewed him favorably and 40% did not.  A plurality, 42% of voters disapproved of his job performance compared to 32% who did.  Lastly, 48% of voters in the state identified as conservative and only 11% said Pryor was conservative.  For his part the poll found Cotton had a 34% favorable rating compared to 26% who did not.

Republicans should not assume this seat is in the bag.  Pryor has quite a war chest and outside groups have vowed to be involved in the race.  Still, Cotton is an impressive fundraiser and is quite fortunate to start out a race tied with the incumbent.  If anything, this should make the GOP invest in the race and give the state an all Republican federal delegation in 2015.

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Two roads to victory in Virginia

Cuccinelli_McAuliffeOver the next few weeks I am going to explore a series of gubernatorial and Senate races for 2013 and 2014.  Due to my Masters collegiate schedule and the research required (think demographics, exit polls and geography, precinct level data, etc.) the articles may be infrequent.  My apologies ahead of time.  So with that said I would like to start by analyzing the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race.

Virginia has not elected a Governor of the same party as the President since the 70’s.  Yet if polls are to be believed it appears that trend is about to change.  Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a narrow lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the race.  As both candidates head for the home stretch with the election a mere six weeks away, they should concentrate on their strengths.  In other words their bases.  Both candidates are deeply unpopular with Independents so it may be demographics and geography that determines the race, not partisan labels or ideology.

I want to focus more on geography and voting trends each candidate can exploit, not write another article on the particulars of the race thus far.  Certainly Cuccinelli’s ties to scandal plagued Governor Bob McDonnell hurt him as do McCauliffe’s ties to Greentech and a federal investigation of said company but they seem to be cancelling each other out.

Historically, Virginia has been a reliably red state.  From 1968 to 2004 the state voted Republican for President in every election.  Even when Republicans ran subpar candidates such as Gerald Ford and Bob Dole the state stayed with the GOP (though not my commanding margins).  This strength in the state for the GOP was fueled by blue-collar whites in the Southwestern and Southeastern regions of the state voting GOP for President but remaining Democratic at the local level.  Until recently the suburbs of Norfolk, Loundon and Prince William counties were considered swing counties.  Since the 2000’s however they have moved uniformly to the left.

Despite GOP strength in the state since the late 60’s at the federal level, control of the Governor’s mansion alternated between the two major parties.  For the most part, Democrats were smart enough to run candidates for statewide office that reflected at least a majority of the values of conservative whites.  In both 2001 and 2005 Democrats ran smart, charismatic, moderate to conservative candidates in Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (ironically both now represent the state in the US Senate) who could win conservative whites and the liberal/moderate Northern suburbs.  In the 90’s when Democrats ran candidates from the Northern suburbs they were crushed.

In 2009 Democrats sought to recreate their success from 2001 and 2005.  Instead of settling with Clintonite and adopted Virginian McAuliffe, the party went with Southern Democrat Creigh Deeds.  Republicans backed Bob McDonnell.  What resulted was a bloodbath.  McDonnell won with over 58% of the vote and even captured the moderate/liberal counties of Prince William, Loundon and Fairfax.  Whether in a neutral environment such as 2013 this feat can be accomplished is unlikely.  The circumstances that drove the 2009 race are noticeably absent and Republicans are running a much less charismatic and appealing candidate this year.

The largest takeaway for the GOP from the 2009 gubernatorial race is it solidified their control of Southwestern Virginia at every voting level.  These same voters election of a new Republican Congressman in 2010 was anticlimactic only.  In 2012 this did not matter as Tim Kaine won the state’s open Senate seat and President Barack Obama captured its 13 electoral votes. Their victories came off the backs of massive victories in Fairfax, Prince William and Loundon counties.

Using what we have gleaned above it is easy to see why both campaigns have proceeded the way they have.  McAuliffe’s campaign has largely targeted North Virginia while paying little attention to Southwest and Southeastern Virginia.  Airing a few ads does not show a genuine interest in courting culturally conservative and white voters.  Cuccinelli’s campaign has been forced to take the tougher route,  Be conservative enough to drive turnout in Republican areas of the state and appeal to enough Northern Virginia voters to hold down McAullife’s margins in this region.

So far polls show Cuccinelli has been unable to do so.  Likely part of this is due to the simple fact these counties have drifted left and left leaning suburban women are more likely to be moved by arguments on social and cultural issues.  None of this suggests however Cuccinelli is down and out.  In surveys he is within striking distance and is holding down his base and winning Independents.  However, his problem seems to be demographics and turnout.  Without stronger support from women or the non-white population, of which he seems to have maxed out in safe GOP areas he is likely to lose a close race.

Two more debates could move the needle in the race but both candidates are deeply unpopular.  Geography and demography seems to be moving this race and that is to McAuliffe’s benefit.  In 2012 Northeast Virginia made up over 30% of the state vote and it gave Obama the state.  It also was far more diverse than the rest of the state.  McAuliffe is trying to motivate these voters to turn out in even small numbers.  But if these voters stay home and Cuccinelli’s base turns out he could be carried to victory on the backs of conservative whites.

Can the DNC continue to be relevant?

cratic-national-conventionThe RNC and DNC have traditionally been the kingmakers in their parties.  Before there were Super PACs and Third Party Groups, even before there were PAC’s, the National Committees dominated the parties.  They hand-picked Presidential candidates, after primaries were established they funneled money to their preferred candidate and spent vast amounts on choreographing the National Conventions.  Oh how times have changed.  Since the 70’s and federal campaign reform the Committees have seen their influence be slowly whittled away.

Campaign Reform in 2003 was supposed to solve the problem but it instead made it worse.  To avoid McCain-Feingold, hundreds more PACs were created.  Compounding the problem was the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that overturned limits on corporate and third-party spending (this means unions are included).  Yet despite this the RNC has flourished.  It has helped the Committee has been led by a strong Chairman in Rence Priebus who has had to pick up the pieces after the disastrous tenure of Michael Steele.

The DNC has gone the opposite route.  Extremely strong until 2008, the Committee helped fund and provide infrastructure for massive Congressional gains for Democrats in 2006 and 2008.  But for its success the DNC has been largely impotent since.  The reason is simple.  Barack Obama’s campaign apparatus, Organizing for America, has and continues to suck up donor dollars away from the DNC.  Take the latest campaign finance report from the respective Committees.

According to Roll Call, “The Republican National Committee reported it had receipts of $6,762,822 and disbursements of $6,520,165 during August,leaving $12,510,182 cash on hand on 8/31, with no debts. The committee raised $3.5 million from contributors giving $200 or less.  Democratic National Committee reported receipts of $4,297,231 and disbursements of $4,806,960 during August, leaving $3,634,122 cash on hand, with $18.2 million in debts outstanding. The committee raised $2.2 million from contributors giving $200 or less.”

This is not an isolated occurrence.  Since Obama became President and Priebus took over as head of the RNC, the RNC has vastly out-raised the DNC and has been debt free in every quarter except one.  For sixteen straight months the RNC has out-raised the DNC.  Just looking at the numbers above the DNC essentially is $15 million in debt while the RNC is over $12 million in the black.  This is occurring at a time when the DSCC is outraising the RSCC and the DCCC is consistently out-raising the NRCC.  So beyond Obama what explains this?

Part of it is leadership.  Priebus is an excellent fundraiser while the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, not so much.  Second, the RNC has done much to repair its image with major donors.  This helped it raise cash in 2012 while Obama’s Organizing for America sucked up dollars that would traditionally go to the DNC.  Third, the RNC simply has been more effective of late than the DNC.

The RNC has invested heavily in GOTV efforts, social media technology and party infrastructure.  By contrast the DNC has largely left much of this to Organizing for America.  This raises the question of whether the DNC can remain relevant in the future, especially if Organizing for America becomes a permanent arm of the Democratic machine?

The cash strapped DNC seems unlikely to be relevant in the near future.  Enmeshed in debt, the DNC appears largely focused on reducing its debt.  It also has fallen behind the RNC in technology, GOTV efforts and a donor base.  This has shades of the 80’s all over it when the RNC’s direct mail campaigns ravaged the DNC.  The DCCC and DSCC may be able to pick up the slack due to their out-raising their GOP counterparts.  But they do not have the resources to invest in party infrastructure.  With a number of swing state Governorships up next year this could adversely impact the party’s chances in many of them.  Longer-term, if Organizing for America, fades away after Obama the DNC will likely be fine.  But unless something changes is unlikely to be able to impact the 2016 race.

The Generational Divide Revisited

111004103034-rushkoff-occupy-wall-street-story-topA recent article got me thinking about America’s vast political divide.  A few weeks back I published a trilogy of articles on the divisions in this country with an emphasis on the generational divide broadcast in recent elections.  I want to revisit these thoughts and add a few new thoughts here in this post.

My last article concluded with the thought that the modern issue set American voters associate with their voting habits could change over time.  Indeed, on gay marriage the issue set is changing as both parties have moved quite rapidly to embrace it.  Of course our modern issue set is not the only thing that has impacted our politics.  The terrorist attack of 9/11 brought national security to the forefront. Demographic changes and the economic collapse of 2007 have also deeply impacted our politics.

Yet these examples are not enough to explain America’s generational political divide.  Perhaps a political theory is in order.  Or two.  In electoral/demographic political circles there are two schools of thought on what shapes generational voting patterns.  The first is what I term the “Presidential Impact” Theory.  Under this theory, young voters preferences are formed depending on how the current President is doing.  For example, if you grew up under Reagan you are likely to be a Republican.  If you grew up under Clinton you are likely to be a Democrat, though perhaps less liberal than “New Democrats.”

The other theory, what I coin the “Political Environmental Impact” theory, posits that voters habits and preferences are formed by the environment of the times. So if you came of age at a time of the financial crisis you are likely to be more liberal as opposed to being more conservative if you grew up during the Reagan-Clinton years when the economy largely hummed along with few major glitches.

Both of these theories can explain some of the recent trends in American politics.  The voting habits of young voters since 2004 has been increasingly Democratic.  Most young voters in surveys identify this as because of the financial crisis.  On the other hand these same voters still blame Bush for the bad economy, though they are tiring of Obama’s economic policies as well.  So they identify what has shaped their views and show they are predisposed to policies advocated by the party that preaches social welfare.

It is little secret older voters are more conservative than their younger counterparts.  On a range of issues both social and economic, younger voters are decidedly more left.  After 2012 these voters drove the national conversation to what the nation may be in the future, as well as the usual “The GOP is doomed” theory from a number of leftist columnists and analysts.  What is less discussed however are two important considerations.

1. Share of the electorate: Millennials made up a huge share of the electorate in 2012.  Their size and voting patterns handed Obama the White House.  Yet, Millennials are increasingly saying they are disenfranchised and do not view traditional forms of civic participation in high regard.  For a voting bloc that many posit will reshape America (see hyperlinked article above) this is not a good way to do so.  Also keep in mind that in 2012 younger voters leaned more to the right than 2008.  It might be only 8% points but that is a notable shift.  If the shift continues in 2016 it could mean the next generation of younger voters are entering politics and not in as left a way as their counterparts.

2. Course Correction: Assuming for the moment that Millennials remain extremely left of center and continue to swing elections in that direction, with accompanying leftist policy victories.  Assuming this the question must be asked how the next generation, the Facebook Generation, will behave in response?  Throughout American political history generations have always had distinct differences between one another.  Baby Boomers have a distinctly different world view than the Depression Generation, ditto Generation Y and Generation X.  If the pattern holds up one can expect their to be a backlash, in some form, to the Millennial Generation’s leftist course.  Whether this is good or bad for the country’s two major political parties depends on how they respond.

These are important factors to consider in any scenario envisioning the future of politics.  Sadly, they are often lacking in any analysis.  As I have said before, politics does not stay stagnant.  Issue set changes, events can roil the political environment and political coalitions come and go.  This is a reason why I laugh at the idea that a political party or even ideology is doomed.  Politics has proven far to unpredictable to assume a consistent result far into the future.  Think anybody from FDR’s tenure could imagine 68-92 when the GOP dominated the electoral landscape?  Not likely.

Ideologically, there is a vast gap between Millennials and other generational groups.  That gap could well be seen again when the Facebook Generation comes of age.  And if they do not agree with the for now left leaning inclinations of the Millennial Generation, in several short years we could be talking about how they are overwhelming the electorate and driving the national political dialogue.

West Virginia Senate race could now be interesting

AP101102170533-11365089461Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s entrance into the West Virginia Senate race was met with delight by national Democrats while Republicans stayed mum.  Since early this year Republicans have coalesced around their nominee, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (WV-2).  Senator Jay Rockefeller soon after announced his retirement and until last week Democrats scrambled to find a nominee capable of challenging Capito.  In Tennant they believe they have such a nominee.

Both Tennant and Moore have their issues as well as strengthen.  The most obvious strength for Tennant is that she has been able to hold a largely non-partisan office and ingratiate herself to state voters (at least those who know her).  Tennant has also not been in DC which may allow her to run as the anti-Washington candidate.  On the other hand Tennant has obvious liabilities.  She is running in a state that voted for a subpar GOP Presidential candidate by 27 points over Obama.  Also, the policies her party’s President are pursuing are anathema to her state’s economic and ideological interests, particularly relating to environmental and energy policies.

Tennant is not the only Democratic nominee that will have to confront her party’s hostile stance to traditional sources of energy.  In Kentucky, SofS Alison Grimes is running against Mitch McConnell.  One of her fundamental issues will be distancing herself from the President’s stance on energy.  Eastern Kentucky is heavy on coal production.

Moore, the daughter of former West Virginia Congressman and Governor Arch Moore, has a strong brand in the state built upon her father’s reputation.  In a way her brand is predicated on taking votes that annoy national conservative groups but please West Virginian interests.  For example, she voted for both the Auto Bailouts and TARP which has ensured that the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity will not support her candidacy and will likely oppose it.  But so far Capito has no major primary challenger.  With a strong statewide brand that has also helped insulate her from criticisms against DC Republicans she is in prime position to win the seat for Republicans.

Moore does have weaknesses though.  Her weakness with national conservative groups could prove to not be a positive if these groups find a strong nominee to primary her.  If they do it also would mean she might have to badly deplete her $2.35 million warchest.  Secondly, Capito is largely a known commodity only in her central West Virginian district.  Her money might ensure she can create a positive impression of herself to voters just becoming familiar with her but it also means she needs to spend time and money to court voters she might not have had to if she was a statewide politician.

Despite the weaknesses of both candidates the national parties are bullish on their nominees.  Democrats contend Capito’s tenure in DC will be a stark contrast to Tennant’s problem solving ways in West Virginia.  They cite her work to slash the state budget and work across party lines to forge compromises.  Republicans however cite Tennant’s partisan label will be to much to overcome in the age of Obama.

With Tennant’s entrance into the race a total of five former or current Secretary of State’s are running for Senate seats,  Some have better chances than others.  But in a time of highly ideological polarization at the federal level it is much easier to run for a different kind of statewide office, such as Secretary of State.  In those races voters have traditionally used a different set of standards to evaluate potential candidates.  Some past examples of this would be Washington State having a GOP Secretary of State and all other statewide officeholders be Democrats.  A current example would be Colorado having a GOP Secretary of State and all other statewide officeholders being Democrats.

But federal races are different.  Voters evaluate candidates largely on ideological grounds and not on the same criteria as statewide races.  If this is the case than Tennant will have to run far to the right of the President and perhaps even Capito.  Capito’s positioning of herself as a centrist means she could be vulnerable to this.  That said, West Virginia voters are unorthodox conservatives and Republicans that may favor Capito’s centrism over Tennant’s conservative Democratic tendencies.

Capito starts the race with a massive money advantage.  Pro-choice groups such as Emily’s List have vowed to support Tennant but West Virginia is widely pro-life.  Tennant may welcome their money but not their visible support.  Centrist Republican groups such as Mainstreet Republicans PAC have vowed to help Capito if the race looks competitive.

The first poll on the race, released in late August before Tennant declared show Capito leading 45%-40% with 15% undecided.  However, as a Republican strategist advised, the poll was taken before the race had really begun.  Capito has time and money on her side to define Tennant before she has the resources to respond in kind.

All these factors combined could make West Virginia an interesting race.  On the other hand, Capito could open up a wide lead or Tennant could surprise and overcome the many hurdles to her candidacy.  We will know one way or the other in 13 months.

Going green would be a boon to the GOP

smokestackIt is no secret the modern GOP is hostile to the idea of climate change and green living policies.  As a result, many voters tend to associate the Democratic Party with environmentalism and the GOP with business.  In reality, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  However, Republicans have since Reagan been content to live with the inaccurate perception.  After-all, in most elections few voters after the fact have identified the environment as key to their part.

Yet by allowing this perception to persist the GOP has essentially ceded the issue of the environment to the Left.  Inevitably what the country gets is green policies and regulations that jack up energy costs, burden business and boost crony capitalism.  It does not need to be this way.  If the GOP could find a way to convince its climate change skeptics to embrace free-market policies the party would benefit in two ways.  First, it would galvanize business to create new green technologies and thus widen the tax base and employ workers.  Second, it would help the party shed the anti-environmental label.

Of course this is easier said than done.  Republicans have been defined on the issue by what they have opposed than what they have proposed.  A recent example would be 2009 and 2010 when Republicans in the Senate helped kill Cap and Trade.  Cap and Trade is the definition of the liberal idea of fixing climate change.  Enrich a few big companies, force the rest out of business, and allow energy costs to skyrocket as a result.  Obama’s regulation heavy energy policies have set the stage for the GOP to take the lead on the issue and present an alternative.

Republicans plans should be much simpler.  Republicans could propose tax breaks for not just wind and solar but also natural gas and fracking, not electric car companies like Tesla that get $450 million to make a car that gets 100 miles on a charge before it switches over to its gas engine.  Republicans should also propose a carbon tax swap on businesses and individuals.  This would be revenue neutral so the party could embrace it as innovative without raising taxes.  The party could also benefit by providing individuals tax breaks for taking environmentally friendly actions.

The US does not need to go this road alone.  Imposing a carbon tax on imports and lifting it on exports would provide an incentive for our major trading partners, like China and India, to enact a similar carbon price in their economies.  Yet, under Democratic policies we seem bent on going it alone.  This will/has led to businesses shipping jobs and money overseas in greater and greater numbers.

A Republican model to combat climate change and improve the environment should be largely predicated on personal responsibility and accountability.  Government can certainly incentivize certain actions and create a climate for business to thrive but it should not be in the business of what it is now: enforcing compliance through heavy handed regulation.  This has already led to less income and more pollution.

A GOP plan based on self-reliance, a revenue neutral tax swap and providing incentives for business and individuals to be environmentally friendly would be a winning plan.  No longer would the GOP be defined by what it opposes but by what it proposes.  And as a result the GOP would upset the perception of political stances on the issue and make many voters rethink their image of the GOP.  For the party this can only be considered a boon.

Republicans are just fine not following Democratic advice

christie-louisianaProminent Democrats just cannot help themselves in trying to diagnose the GOP’s problems.  Much as Democrats struggled from 1968 to 1992, they now claim the GOP is largely in the same boat.  The latest Democrats to weigh in are Wiliiam Galston, a former Clinton Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy and Elaine Kamarck who helped the Clinton author his “Reinventing Government initiative.

In a nutshell their article, posted Sunday (the CO state senate recalls have had my attention of late), boils down to three variables.  The GOP is to fundamental, just as Democrats were between 1980 and 1992.  The GOP still believes all it needs to do is mobilize its base, just as Democrats believed and  the party sees itself as fine due to its “Congressional bastion” in the House.  Democrats had a similar majority in the House and Senate until 1994 (ironically they have no explanation for why this occurred under a Democratic Presiden).

Explanations like this are becoming more canned each day.  None of what is cited by Galston and Kamarck is new. But it is notable what they ignore.  In the final piece of their article they do not name one potential GOP contender for President who can reform the party.  Instead, their answer falls along the lines of the next nominee must “repudiate the extremism of their party.”  Never-mind many people are waiting for the President to do the same among his party faithful but somehow he always ends up agreeing with them.  Might explain why he has a 45% approval rating.  Regardless, I want to explore their points in a little more detail below.

1. GOP Fundamentalism: Galston’s and Kamarck’s point is made here not by what they say but what they did not say.  By saying the GOP needs to denounce its more fundamentalist members (I suppose those bastardy pro-life voters) the inference is the Democrats do not face the same problems.  I suppose this can be explained away by the fact that Galston and Kamarck think their party is mainstream because of its electoral victories.  Perhaps.  But Democrats have had their share of fundamentalist candidates.  Remember Dennis Kucinich who was a self-identified Communist?  How about Senator Bernie Sanders in Vermont who identifies as a Socialist?  References to the extremes of their party are absent.  Pointing this out does not mean Galston and Kamarck do not have a point however.  It is certainly true the GOP cannot nominate a fundamentalist to be their nominee.  But of the last three GOP nominees for President it is hard to argue Bush, McCain or even Romney were fundamentalists or extremists.  Indeed, if one doubts this you can see that Romney was identified as ideologically closer to the average voter than Obama according to election polls.  Of course that did not help Romney in the end.

2. Mobilization: Galston and Kamarck point out that conservatives still constitute a larger share of the public than liberals.  However, conservatives do not constitute a majority and thus the GOP needs to reach moderates who recently have turned in greater numbers to the Democratic Party.  In a rapidly diversifying country this is certainly true to some extent.  But remember 2009 and 2010?  On the heels of 2008 when the electorate was composed of only 74% whites and 26% minorities in New Jersey and Virginia the electorates far more closely resembled prior elections.  Whites made up almost 80% of the electorate in both states.  If we look at the partisan numbers we see Republicans made up their largest share of the electorate in New Jersey since the 1990’s and Republicans outnumbered Democrats in Virginia by 4%.  In 2010 Republicans made up a whopping 35% of the electorate (as much as 2004) and whites made up 77%-78% of the electorate.  Democrats made up 35% of the electorate in 2010.  In 2012 this trend reversed back to 2008 with Obama back on the ballot (more Democrats voted than Republicans and the minority share of the vote increased from 2010).  However, there is substantial evidence to suggest many traditionally populist, downscale, white Republican leaning voters sat out the election for certain reasons. Let us also keep in mind that in 2004 moderates made up an even larger share of the electorate than they did in 2012, 45% compared to 41% and Bush won anyways.  Conservatives only inched up from 34% to 35% whiles liberals shot up from 21% to 25%.  Good luck to Republicans winning liberal voters no matter who their nominee is.

3. Congressional Bastion: The history Galston and Kamarck present on Democrats Congressional majority until 1994 is factually accurate.  But their analysis is slightly off.  The GOP certainly won new Southern voters who backed them at the Presidential level but not in Congressional or Senate races.  However, the GOP also won Congressional and Senate seats in more liberal states like Michigan, Minnesota and Delaware.  In 2000 voters threw these new Senators out and replaced them with Democrats again.  Southern voters largely kept their new GOP Congressmen and Senators.  Also, the GOP won new Senate seats in 2000, allowing them to hold a 50-50 tie in the Senate with Vice President Cheney breaking the tie.  I point this out because it shows that while a Congressional majority is rarely guaranteed it often can buck Presidential results.  The reasons for this are varied.  Redistricting gives the controlling party significant leverage to draw safe districts and individual Senators and Congressmen/women can create their own brands that are unique from the national party in their district/state.  Third, voters can rationalize their vote for Senator or Congressperson based on more than ideology as opposed to the President (which is largely ideological).  Galston and Kamarck do not acknowledge any of these factors.

For all the advice that Galston and Kamarck put in their article it seems to boil down to one simple factor.  The GOP needs to be more Democratic to win.  Above I noted how the authors did not mention a single strong GOP nominee in 2016 who is less conservative and more appealing than prior nominees.  That absence is notable because it shows that Galston and Kamarck really do not know the GOP field well.  Both Rand Paul and Chris Christie, are less conservative on numerous issues than prior party nominees.  Paul is more liberal on drug, cultural and foreign affairs while Christie is less conservative on fiscal and social policies.  Both have the potential to remake the way the GOP is seen by the general public.  Similarly, Governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich could give the GOP the appearance of a new, pragmatic, Midwestern based party.  Senator Rubio and Governor Bobby Jindal could help the party make inroads with minority voters they have historically struggled with.

So while I am sure the GOP thanks Galston and Kamarck for their thoughts on helping the party be competitive in the future it is safe to say the GOP can ignore them.  They offer nothing new and ignore the new wave of GOP players that can help the party retake 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.