Reading the Tea Leaves

 

When the primary results started coming in last night, James Carville put a post up on CNN.com that deserves attention.  Here is how it began:

A long time ago a great three-time governor of Louisiana, Earl Long, said about Jimmie Davis, the two-time not very good governor of Louisiana, “You couldn’t wake up Jimmie Davis with an earthquake.”

As I go around the country and see various Democrats and talk to them on the phone, honestly I’m beginning to think that we have become the party of Jimmie Davis.

Carville’s point was simple. “Wake the you-know-what up, there is an earthquake. You think that Democrats around the country are going to win — as I hear time and time again from people on the street. Democratic fundraisers, activists, supporters, and even politicians alike have somehow collectively lapsed into the sentiment that the president is going to be reelected and that we have a good shot to take the House back while holding the Senate. I ask: What are you smoking? What are you drinking? What are you snorting or just what in the hell are you thinking? Look around the world — do you see any governments or incumbents winning any elections out there? Did it happen in small elections in Germany or Britain, big elections in France and Greece or how about huge elections in the United States in 2008 and 2010? Please folks — wake up!”

He is surely right. In November, there is going to be an earthquake, if Mitt Romney and the Republicans have the wit to take advantage of it. Obama and the Democrats are going to go the way of Sarkozy and the Gaullists in France and of PASOK and New Democracy in Greece. If you have any doubts, look at what happened yesterday in Indiana and West Virginia. In the former, a thirty-year-veteran of the Senate was defeated in his fight for re-nomination by his own party by a margin of twenty percent. In the latter, a convict residing in a federal prison and running for the Democratic Presidential nomination against Barack Obama received forty-one percent of the vote. These were anticipatory tremors, and they ought to wake up Mitt Romney and those staffing his campaign. It proves a point I have made repeatedly in the last three years: We are not living in normal times, and the conventional wisdom does not apply.

In normal circumstances, the rule of thumb is that one runs to the right in the Republican primaries, and one then moves to the center for the general election. That is surely what Romney’s team – with its Etch-a-Sketch planning – has in mind. They and he are the exemplars of conventional thinking. They believe that the American people are half-asleep and stupid to boot. Watch this video if you have any doubts, and weigh the fact that Eric Fehrnstrom is still a senior adviser to the Romney campaign:

There is one problem with Fehrnstrom’s calculation. Those most likely to vote in November are not half-asleep, and they are not stupid. As a consequence, in today’s circumstances, the center cannot hold. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have polarized American politics. They did so deliberately, and they woke up the American people and paid a terrible political price.

When the so-called stimulus package was jammed through the House and Senate early in February, 2009, the Democrats did not court Republican votes. Instead, they spurned them. In a spirit of vengeance, Pelosi denied the Republicans earmarks in the package, and, with a single exception, the Republicans in the House got their backs up and voted against it.

Obama, Pelosi, and Reid conducted affairs in the same high-handed manner when they forced through Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. The result was not only that they stirred up the Tea-Party Movement. It was also that they put the Republicans in a perfect position to absorb and profit from that impulse. They took a party ready to jump on the bandwagon and gave it the semblance of backbone.

I say that the Republicans were ready to jump on the bandwagon, and I use the word “semblance” for a reason. Three years ago, on 2 May 2009, well after the Tea Party had gotten off the ground, Jeb Bush met with Eric Cantor and Mitt Romney at a pizza parlor in Arlington, Virginia to launch the National Council for a New America. According to The Washington Times, in his remarks,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it’s time for the Republican Party to give up its “nostalgia” for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.

“You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don’t like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that,” Mr. Bush said.

The former president’s brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama’s message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.

“So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it’s great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause,” Mr. Bush said.

This was a message intended for the Tea Party, and at the time neither Romney nor Cantor distanced themselves from what Jeb Bush had to say. They wanted no part in the eruption taking place.

It comes, then, as no surprise that, on 30 July 2009, Romney made a concerted attempt to get on board with Obama, penning an op-ed for USA Today, offering the President Republican cooperation in forging a federal healthcare plan for the country modeled on Romneycare. “Republicans,” he promised, “will join with the Democrats if the president abandons his government insurance plan, if he endeavors to craft a plan that does not burden the nation with greater debt, if he broadens his scope to reduce health costs for all Americans, and if he is willing to devote the rigorous effort, requisite time and bipartisan process that health care reform deserves.”

It was not until early August 2009, when ordinary citizens began showing up at Town Hall meetings to denounce the various healthcare proposals under discussion that Republicans, such as Charles Grassley of Iowa, began to recognize that they could not simply ignore or dismiss the concerns raised by the Tea-Party Movement. And even then – as I demonstrated two months ago in a post entitled What Does Mitt Romney Really Think? – Romney was behind the curve.

I would like to believe that Romney finally gets it – that he recognizes that we are living at an abnormal moment in which the old rules do not apply. And maybe he does. But there is clear evidence that the Republicans do not.

I heard a talk at Hillsdale earlier this month on healthcare reform. It was delivered by the point man on this subject in the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. The proposal that he was pushing was nothing more than a revised version of Romneycare. This time, there was no individual mandate, however. This time, in its place, there was a tax break for those getting health insurance that was meant to serve the same function by herding us all into the arms of the health insurance industry. To get an idea of what the Republicans have in mind, take a look at the new plan cooked up by the social engineers at the Heritage Foundation, and keep in mind the fact that its authors are the very folks who invented the individual mandate back in the early 1990s.

YounGunsForLugar1.jpgHere is another indication of what the Republican establishment is up to. In the last couple of weeks, the Young Guns Network run by two aides of Eric Cantor was caught supporting the campaign of Richard Lugar to the tune of more than $100,000. In one mailer, Cantor’s minions urged Democrats to vote in the open Republican primary for the octogenarian, attacking his opponent for wanting to shut down the Department of Education. In another, they attacked Richard Mourdock on environmental grounds. Who needs Democrats, one might ask, when you have the Young Guns of the Republican Party?

YoungGunsForLugar2.png

James Carville thinks that, if the Democrats pull up their socks, they can still win in November. When his fellow Democrats argue that Mitt Romney is a pathetic candidate, he responds,

Actually pathetic is a kind word for Romney and this campaign. Mitt Romney is to presidential campaigns as the Delta House grade point average was to Faber College — the worst in history. I mean, my God, when you hold a press conference to rebut charges that you have a Cold War mentality and then you have foreign policy “experts” talk about Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in “contemporary” terms — really?

I know that the Swiss and Cayman Island bank accounts drive swing voters and independents over the edge. I’ve gotten all of the reports from focus group moderators as to how devastating this is to Romney.

Why a man who knows he is running for president (who claims to know something about the American economy) would for any reason keep money in offshore accounts, I have no idea. And I know that we are going to take him out to the cornfield (like at the end of the movie “Casino”) on the Ryan budget.

However, I fear that all of this will not be enough unless we have real change of attitude about the difficult campaign ahead of us. It has been said that, “Nothing so focuses a man’s attention as the prospect of being hanged.” Look around Democrats — Come November lets make sure that it’s Mitt and his bunch at the end of that figurative rope and not us.

I think that Carville underestimates Mitt Romney’s strengths. Yes, indeed, Romney has his weaknesses, and, yes, he lives to some extent in a bubble. No one in his right mind who wants to be President of the United States would have offshore bank accounts. I am certain that Romney is innocent of wrongdoing. He is a decent, honest, generous man. But appearances matter, and when it comes to understanding how the rest of us see the world, Romney is clueless.

In ordinary times, this would be fatal to his candidacy. In the end, however, I doubt very much whether anyone will much care this year. When people are thinking about the economy, the deficit, and Obamacare, it will be hard for the Obama campaign to demonize an earnest, sober, obviously honest, good-looking turnaround artist like Mitt Romney.

But if Mitt Romney and the Republican candidates really want to win – above all, if they want to be able to govern after winning – they will have to recognize that 2010 was a far better indicator of what is possible in 2012 than was 2008. When the mainstream media falls silent, we are all apt to forget. But, in 2010, the Republicans on the state level showed a strength that they had not demonstrated since 1928, and they did so because, at least rhetorically, they embraced the principles of limited government. To sustain what they began in 2010, they will have to do more than pay lip service to the principles underpinning the American regime. They will have to articulate those principles and accentuate the differences distinguishing them from the party that openly and enthusiastically embraces the administrative entitlements state.

The Republicans of Indiana and forty-one percent of the Democrats in West Virginia voted yesterday to say that they have had enough – that they want things changed. How long will it take the Republican politicians in this country to catch up with the American people? If Mitt Romney makes it clear that he understands, he will win by a landslide, and the Republicans will take the Senate, perhaps with sixty or more seats, and gain further strength in the House. If he runs a timid, milquetoast campaign, as is his wont, everything will be up for grabs. If he offers the American people a choice, they will make it. If he hints that he is not really a Republican, that he is a progressive just like the Democrats, as he did when he ran for the Senate and for the Governorship in Massachusetts,  he might squeak by. And, then again, he might lose. No one warms to a tepid candidate.

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  1. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland

    New Mexico now has a great governor, Susanna Martinez, who achieved a nominal cut in spending (obviously, an even bigger cut in real dollars); $22b in 2010, $21.5b in 2011, both figures in nominal dollars. She’s also tough on crime and illegal immigration (she was a DA before). Although it would be kind of cool to have two NM governors in the race this cycle, after another came 4th in the 2008 Democratic primaries, she gave the most definite “no” I’ve ever heard in response to VP inquiries.

    She said that her developmentally handicapped sister wouldn’t be happy to move and she had to stay in New Mexico to look after her. While I’m sure the Vice-Presidential budget would stretch to giving her sister a pretty great life, so it’s not too substantial a problem, politically, after saying that, I can’t imagine her being able to change her mind.

    • #31
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    @EThompson
    Paul A. Rahe

    Carville’s point was simple…  Look around the world — do you see any governments or incumbents winning any elections out there? Did it happen in small elections in Germany or Britain, big elections in France and Greece or how about huge elections in the United States in 2008 and 2010? 

    Carville’s point may have been simple, but it is certainly not well grounded in rationality or truth. The election in France was about nothing but government- big, intrusive, nanny-state government.

    • #32
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    @ScarletPimpernel

    Now that we’ve read the tea leaves, the next step it to brew them to give us a boost in the fall.

    • #33
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    @Landfall

    I agree with the OP and believe Romney would be wise to choose Paul Ryan as his VP and embrace and push Ryan’s choice of two paths argument as the linchpin of his campaign. The people are ready to make this choice.

    • #34
  5. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    EThompson

    Paul A. Rahe

    Carville’s point was simple…  Look around the world — do you see anygovernmentsor incumbents winning any elections out there? Did it happen in small elections in Germany or Britain,big elections in Franceand Greece or how about huge elections in the United States in 2008 and 2010? 

    Carville’s point may have been simple, but it is certainly not well grounded in rationality or truth. The election in France was about nothing but government- big, intrusive, nanny-state government. · 

    Good point. Looking back in history, 2004 was a change year in Europe, too, with Greece knocking out PASOK after 11 years, Spain throwing out Aznar, Austria taking a sharp turn leftward. Taiwan kept its leadership, but this was a confirmation of the last election, when the KMT ended a half century of unbroken rule, India kicked out the BJP and Suharto’s old party returned to power in Indonesia. Exciting year of change.

    This year, the German President was a compromise insider choice, the KMT remained, as did South Korean Saenuri. Mexico will probably change for the worse, but for global elections it’s a normal year. Canada just entrenched its conservative majority.

    • #35
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @EThompson
    James Of England

    EThompson

    Paul A. Rahe

    Carville’s point was simple…  Look around the world — do you see anygovernmentsor incumbents winning any elections out there? Did it happen in small elections in Germany or Britain,big elections in Franceand Greece or how about huge elections in the United States in 2008 and 2010? 

    Carville’s point may have been simple, but it is certainly not well grounded in rationality or truth. The election in France was about nothing but government- big, intrusive, nanny-state government. · 

    Good point. Looking back in history, 2004 was a change year in Europe, too, with… Spain throwing out Aznar

    Thank you for mentioning one of my all-time heroes who I had the good fortune to meet here in Florida shortly after the defeat of his party. He is the bravest of the brave and most dedicated to the cause of freedom!

    • #36
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    @Guruforhire
    Viator: There has been a lot of talk about the Social Security Trust Fund.  But let’s look at some other trust funds no one has ever heard of –  the Federal Employee Retirement Fund (FERS) and the Military Retirement Fund (MRF) – each bigger than the SS Trust Fund.

    Since this is a discussion about military funding let’s concentrate on the Military Retirement Fund.  Like much government bookkeeping – all governments, not just the US government books – it is rife with, to put it politely,  misdirection and wishful thinking.

    Note the fund is predicated on expectations of 5.75% interest income but thanks to Federal Reserve Bank policies – QE, financial repression – it, like all creditors and pension funds, is receiving close to 0%.

    The unfunded liabilities of the MRF is currently $1.3 TRILLION. It could easily be as much as $2 TRILLION in ten or so years.

    Even in present Washington, DC a trillion here and a trillion there still add up to real money.  These trillions of red ink appear nowhere in those graphs referenced above or discussions of military spending which is currently about $685 billion.

    All these funds are frauds.  You cant lend money to yourself.

    • #37
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    @flownover

    A point of order first: are we supposed to whisper to each other as we stand here together in the choir ?

    Resignedly, I worry more about the last six weeks of the news cycle prior to election being manipulated by a media that is totally in the bag for the Obama.  And then the litigation that has become inevitable for democrats and speculative for Republicans. When Ashcroft didn’t protest the Carnahan ( dead for a couple days already) win,  it was a white flag . 

    They are going to protest it, they are going to try and steal it, and we have an aversion to getting down in the gutter to pickup a brand new quarter, much less the country.

    • #38
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    @WesternChauvinist

    There’s some evidence that someone somewhere in the Romney campaign has a clue as to what you’re addressing, Prof. Rahe. The fact that Romney’s victory speeches after he’d pretty much secured the nomination started to sound conservative, indicates that someone knows Romney has to offer a choice other than Democrat-lite. I don’t follow the polls closely enough to know how this impacted Romney’s standing in the national polls, I only know Romney gained significantly in my internal polling.

    • #39
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    @Gretchen
    Paul A. Rahe

    I heard a talk at Hillsdale earlier this month on healthcare reform. It was delivered by the point man on this subject in the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. The proposal that he was pushing was nothing more than a revised version of Romneycare. This time, there was no individual mandate, however. This time, in its place, there was a tax break for those getting health insurance that was meant to serve the same function by herding us all into the arms of the health insurance industry.

    This is tangential to your main point, I know, but it is a matter of concern and I must be missing somethng. Why would it be bad to have a tax deduction for individually purchased health insurance? People who get it through their employer do not pay taxes on that benefit. Why should people, such as the self-employed, who spend upwards of $12,000 a year of their own money for health insurance not be able to take a deduction?

    • #40
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    @donaldtodd

    When I left the Republicans I understood one thing: The Republicans could earn my vote, and the Democrats could not.  However I wasn’t in the mood to take whatever the Republicans were shoveling at that time (and at this time) and my vote is not yet earned.

    Maximum Freedom, Minimum Government is not enough to merit my attention as a moral conservative.  The Libertarians don’t have what I want.

    Maybe we need a conservative party?.  Being a social/moral, economic and defense of our country conservative,  I’d join that and I’ll  even contribute money to that.  Where do I sign up?

    • #41
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