Rejoice! Rejoice! Victory, oh Victory!

 

shutterstock_158132165The most common form of contemporary conservative electoral argument is flawed in its premise. They argue that we don’t win elections because we don’t follow their advice (give up on social issues / double down on social issues / the same for fiscal issues and/or foreign stuff / use stronger language / use more moderate language / educate the public on abstract issues / stop talking about abstract issues / talk about gaffes more / talk about gaffes less).

In fact, we win elections. We run the legislature in most states, reaching a level of (small d) democratic control rarely seen in American history. We have most governor’s mansions, again, right at the edge of the historical record. We have the House; after decades of suffering from Ike’s neutrality and Watergate, we got it back in 1994 and we’ve mostly kept it. We have the Senate. Even presidentially, we’ve lost just five out of the last twelve races, with the “always losing” argument often resting on the last two. If you decide on the basis of receiving two tails after tossing a coin twice that the coin must be faulty and have no heads on it, you’re probably excessively predisposed that belief.

When people tell you that we’re losing and the only way to win is to buy their snake oil, whether classy snake oil like Arthur Brooks’ or off-brand oils like Mike Murphy’s or Mark Levin’s, they’re wrong in two ways. Firstly, we’re winning, and secondly, many of those who are winning are not from their faction of the party. Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey win in blue-purple states while being unapologetically socially conservative, whatever Murphy might prefer; while Graham, McCain, Murkowski, Capito, Cochran, and Alexander can win in red states despite Levin’s assurances that their path is doomed to fail.

Allied to this is the claim that we don’t win on the issues. Sometimes this is specifically aimed at McConnell and Boehner. In the comments, I’d like people to suggest a Senate leader and speaker who have been more effective at stopping the legislative agenda of a post-war President. I don’t believe that such a man exists. Bush got what he really wanted from Daschle and Reid. Clinton got a bunch of what he wanted from Dole and Newt. Anyone who wants to argue that Reagan and 41 failed to leave a legislative legacy has a tough case to make. And so on. From tax cuts to gun rights to trade agreements to partial birth abortion to bankruptcy to the surge, the Democrats never united in the way that McConnell and Boehner have kept the party together in opposition to Obama, so time and again Bush could peel off enough Democratic moderates to get his reforms passed. Today, pro-choice Republicans refuse to vote for pro-choice bills. Pro-union Republicans don’t vote for pro-union bills. Obama has been reduced to acting through executive orders by the most effective and courageous Republican party leadership in a half century. Obama did pass radical reforms, but only while he had a supermajority; a supermajority that was kept brief between the death of Ted Kennedy and the election of Scott Brown. It’s the united efforts of moderates and less moderate Republicans that has won us our position.

At some level, most of us are aware of this. Over and over again, I speak to closeted McConnell fans who will not admit it in public (some, like James O’Keefe, are open about it if they’re asked, but don’t raise the topic). It’s not cool, and it’s bad for fundraising, to declare that affection. I’ve spoken to people who were coming off a panel discussion angry because they didn’t get to demonstrate their bona fides by attacking McConnell on a point irrelevant to the discussion. Our pundits have overwhelming incentives to bad-mouth our leaders. There’s sometimes almost as little respect for the achievements of our governors and state legislators, although the Constitution gives them the scope to go on the offensive even when there isn’t a cooperative President. Our states are popping and fizzing like mad, deregulating labor, protecting electoral integrity and self-defense rights, closing abortion clinics, cutting taxes, reducing recidivism by expanding religious charitable access to inmates, expanding school choice, shoring up the Constitution with anti-Kelo laws and the like, and finding many other ways of expanding Americans’ freedom.

It’s my belief that America, and the world, were in a precarious state in Reagan’s first term, but that we are in a better position now, and that we were in a precarious state when Ted Kennedy died, but that we are in a better position now. I outline why in posts addressing each of the three legs of the conservative stool and comparing our position to Reagan’s first term and to what one could refer to as the B.M. period of American history (“Before McConnell,” the period of supermajority).

I’ll conclude with a post on the stakes for the upcoming election. We can fix entitlements to make them affordable, but not every party is likely to do so, and even four years would make the problem much harder. We can restore American leadership to the world, but we would have to choose to do so. Almost all the regrettable Court decisions are 5-4, so we can revive our Constitutional fidelity to unprecedented levels, but the good decisions are also mostly 5-4. It is merely likely, not certain, that the shining city on a hill will illuminate the world even more brightly than before.

Published in Domestic Policy, Politics
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  1. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    James seems to point out that the glass is either half full or more than half full for the cause of conservatism.

    There might be reasons to be optimistic at times, but I think the reason many conservatives are pessimistic has to do with something that Ricochet contributor Paul Rahe pointed out on the Hugh Hewitt Show a few hours ago.  He says that the United States is living under the equivalent of an executive dictatorship.  I had previously read many times that the federal government transformed during the time of FDR.  However, Dr. Rahe says that is just has to do with the size of government and the number of its executive agencies and the unwillingness of Congress, states, or judges to stop this executive dictatorship.

    That means that the only elective office that really means much anymore is the presidency.  Due to the electoral college map, Republicans seem to have trouble winning the one office that means anything anymore.  Of course, that could change, but certain states seemed to be lost to the Democrat Party for forever.

    Just think of senators like Jim DeMint that leave office to try to have even more power — outside of government.  Something like that would not have made sense a few years or decades ago, although there was once a history of congressman leaving office after only one or two terms a century or more ago.

    Executive dictatorship — vote for the enlightened despot or the unenlightened despot…

    • #181
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Cloaked Gaijin: He says that the United States is living under the equivalent of an executive dictatorship.

    Back during the Nixon days Democrats thought that was a bad thing.  Now they like it.  Funny how that works.

    And during the Bush days a lot of Republicans defended the concept.

    • #182
  3. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    James Of England:

    Mark: It will hurt repeal efforts and the GOP leadership knows it.

    Not necessarily. A key element of Walker’s Obamacare repeal and replace plan, for instance, is that the legislation can be passed through reconciliation, which means that it has to be budget neutral. That’s a lot easier if you’ve already removed the Medical Device Tax. I believe that this is true of Rubio’s plan, too, and will likely be true of all GOP proposals.

    I’m sure you can see why we can’t talk about this, too, but there are often motivations behind policymaking that aren’t cowardice.

    No, its really bad strategy if you are serious about repealing Obamacare.  You will need the biggest coalition possible, particularly since the Dems passed Obamacare in such a way as to give the insurers and pharma a financial stake in its success.  You start to peal off potential supporters for change and you undermine the ability to put that coalition together.

    I don’t accuse McConnell/Boehner/Jeb Bush of cowardice.  At this point it is clear to me they are pursuing policies they believe in.  They just happen to be different than mine.  I supported these type of guys for years but am now fed up.

    • #183
  4. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Mark — but there’s more than one way to build that coalition, and more than one way to predict the politics.  Maybe repealing the medical device tax would make people think “Oh, we got rid of that, Obamacare is less bad than it used to be, we can live with that.”

    Or maybe it will make people think “Wow, the Democrats passed a really bad law with things like that in it.  Glad that part of it is gone.  Did you hear about this other really bad part, and this one, and this?  Maybe we should give this Republican nominee who wants to get rid of the rest of it a chance.  His new plan doesn’t include that kind of craziness.  It makes sense to me.”  Putting various bad aspects of the law front and center further undermines the whole law.

    And then again, maybe some Republicans want to get rid of the medical device tax while they can because it’s bad law and they think in principle they should scrap it while they can, without trying to game out the future politics.

    I think your case against repealing the tax is reasonable, though I’m not fully convinced, but it’s a huge stretch to claim that trying to get rid of the one really bad thing they actually can proves they’re not serious about getting rid of the rest of it.

    • #184
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Leigh:Or maybe it will make people think “Wow, the Democrats passed a really bad law with things like that in it. Glad that part of it is gone. Did you hear about this other really bad part, and this one, and this? Maybe we should give this Republican nominee who wants to get rid of the rest of it a chance. His new plan doesn’t include that kind of craziness. It makes sense to me.” Putting various bad aspects of the law front and center further undermines the whole law.

    And then again, maybe some Republicans want to get rid of the medical device tax while they can because it’s bad law and they think in principle they should scrap it while they can, without trying to game out the future politics.

    I think your case against repealing the tax is reasonable, though I’m not fully convinced, but it’s a huge stretch to claim that trying to get rid of the one really bad thing they actually can proves they’re not serious about getting rid of the rest of it.

    I’m in favor of doing the right thing when the opportunity arises.  Republicans have strategized themselves into defeat too many times. Leaving the device tax in place just so they can build more of an opposition coalition sounds like a cynical ploy, which would have the effect of convincing people that the GOP just wants to play political games rather than help people.

    • #185
  6. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    The Reticulator: I’m in favor of doing the right thing when the opportunity arises.  Republicans have strategized themselves into defeat too many times. Leaving the device tax in place just so they can build more of an opposition coalition sounds like a cynical ploy, which would have the effect of convincing people that the GOP just wants to play political games rather than help people.

    I can understand the opposing argument– that if Republicans cherry-pick all the most unpopular parts of the bill and get rid of them one at a time, we could be stuck with just the parts people like.  I don’t think that will happen, and anyway your position is my inclination too.  If you really, genuinely think something is horrible, you do whatever you can to stop whatever part of it you can whenever you can.

    • #186
  7. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Leigh:

    The Reticulator: I’m in favor of doing the right thing when the opportunity arises. Republicans have strategized themselves into defeat too many times. Leaving the device tax in place just so they can build more of an opposition coalition sounds like a cynical ploy, which would have the effect of convincing people that the GOP just wants to play political games rather than help people.

    I can understand the opposing argument– that if Republicans cherry-pick all the most unpopular parts of the bill and get rid of them one at a time, we could be stuck with just the parts people like. I don’t think that will happen, and anyway your position is my inclination too. If you really, genuinely think something is horrible, you do whatever you can to stop whatever part of it you can whenever you can.

    I don’t think the cherry picking strategy is bad in all cases.  I do think it bad in this one.  As I said there are now large interests aligned with the continued existence of Obamacare, including those of large parts of the business community that the GOP leadership toes the line for.   We need to take a lesson from what the Democrats did in building that coalition.  And I remain convinced that if the GOP leadership goes ahead with this it is indication of what they really think about repealing Obamacare.

    • #187
  8. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Mark: And I remain convinced that if the GOP leadership goes ahead with this it is indication of what they really think about repealing Obamacare.

    Do you extend that conviction to all the conservatives who will likewise vote to repeal it because they think it’s a bad thing?  Paul Ryan, for example?  Ryan is as solid on Obamacare as a rock.  If he’s one of the people pushing this, he’s doing so out of conviction.

    We complain and complain that the Republicans don’t do anything and now, when they try to do one of the few things actually in their power, we’re going to say it’s proof they aren’t really sincere?

    • #188
  9. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mark: I don’t think the cherry picking strategy is bad in all cases.  I do think it bad in this one.  As I said there are now large interests aligned with the continued existence of Obamacare, including those of large parts of the business community that the GOP leadership toes the line for.   We need to take a lesson from what the Democrats did in building that coalition.  And I remain convinced that if the GOP leadership goes ahead with this it is indication of what they really think about repealing Obamacare.

    I agree that there are large business interests lined up with the Obamacare. I suspect, though, that Walker’s strategy, if it’s what I believe it to be (and I don’t have anything to link for this), would leave that as an acceptable obstacle.

    That is, the Ryan Plan is an intrinsic part of the Walker Obamacare replacement. As such, I suspect that he’ll combine them. The election would be run on that platform. The lame duck period would be spent crossing the ts and dotting the is. Almost every Congressman has voted for the Ryan Plan. Almost every Congressman has voted to repeal Obamacare.  We’re likely to still have a dominant House majority, which would mean that we could lose some and still have it pass. We can do even better if we can bribe a Democrat or two to help (which would also be symbolically helpful, and there’s 15 blue dogs left to recruit from). It should be published by December 1st, and voted on in the first week of session. We’ve had large House majorities for both aspects of the bill, there’d be an electoral mandate, and it seems unlikely to me that there would be any difficulty.

    The Senate is another story. To get it through that, we absolutely have to have it being moved through reconciliation. Even then, we’d need to get just about every senator to vote for it. In 2013, the Ryan plan failed in the Senate with Cruz, Lee, Paul, and Heller voting against it because it didn’t go far enough; my hope is that most of them would grow the heck up, partly because the campaign should see them supporting it through the election. Heller and Lee seem almost certain to come on board, and I’d put greater than 50% odds on each of Cruz or Paul supporting the election of the nominee.  Collins voted against because it went too far. None of the 2014 freshmen seem likely to be a problem.

    It’s not clear how big a margin we’ll need. If we lose 0-1 seats, or we gain seats, we can lose Cruz, Paul, and Collins without gaining any Dems and still make it. To get the scheme that we want through reconciliation, we probably need to have the tax gone ahead of time. We obviously can’t manage it without reconciliation. I don’t think that there’s a senator who is likely to vote no due to business pressure (name one if you disagree).

    If we don’t have the votes even with reconciliation, then the benefits that the medical device tax might have as an incentive for people to vote can probably be more effectively maximized if they’re targeted better. Obama targeted his incentives to win, and there’s no reason to believe that our targets should be precisely the same. It seems highly plausible to me, for instance, that if we have to make space for a $30 billion incentive, it should be more focused on the wellbeing of the residents (including corporate residents) of West Virginia, Maine (King as much as Collins), Florida, Indiana, Colorado, or New Mexico.

    • #189
  10. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    I’d forgotten that Cruz had voted against the Ryan Plan.  I can forgive that sort of maneuver when you’re in opposition and the vote is really theatrics anyway — you’re just showing where you stand.

    But if they vote that way with a President Walker (or Generic Republican), when it’s finally clear that the most conservative deal possible is on the table and the consequences of getting nothing are dire, that is shamefully irresponsible.  At best, it means that the President has to negotiate with the people to their left and we end up with a worse deal; at worst it means we get nothing at all.

    I hope Cruz et al will see it that way.

    • #190
  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Leigh:I’d forgotten that Cruz had voted against the Ryan Plan. I can forgive that sort of maneuver when you’re in opposition and the vote is really theatrics anyway — you’re just showing where you stand.

    But if they vote that way with a President Walker (or Generic Republican), when it’s finally clear that the most conservative deal possible is on the table and the consequences of getting nothing are dire, that is shamefully irresponsible. At best, it means that the President has to negotiate with the people to their left and we end up with a worse deal; at worst it means we get nothing at all.

    I hope Cruz et al will see it that way.

    Cruz’s book is sort of reassuring on that point. He schmooozes and compliments all kinds of squishy establishment figures; SCOTUS justices, Paul Clement, numerous squishy Senators, etc. He repeatedly emphasizes his lack of disagreement over substance. It’s my sense that voting to keep Obamacare and prevent entitlement reform would be one of the few things that could get him successfully primaried, and that that is by far the most important consideration in his life. So, I think he’s likely to go along with it, although he may scream and shout a bit. That would be fine; there’s a 20 hour maximum fillibuster period on reconciliation, so so long as he votes right at the end, complaining is acceptable.

    Paul, similarly, has burned his non-McConnell bridges in this run; there’s no end to the wailing of libertarians about him. If he voted against, he’d be toast. There’s not a lot that would withdraw McConnell’s patronage, but this would be one thing.

    • #191
  12. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    James Of England:

    Mark: I don’t think the cherry picking strategy is bad in all cases. I do think it bad in this one. As I said there are now large interests aligned with the continued existence of Obamacare, including those of large parts of the business community that the GOP leadership toes the line for. We need to take a lesson from what the Democrats did in building that coalition. And I remain convinced that if the GOP leadership goes ahead with this it is indication of what they really think about repealing Obamacare.

    I agree that there are large business interests lined up with the Obamacare. I suspect, though, that Walker’s strategy, if it’s what I believe it to be (and I don’t have anything to link for this), would leave that as an acceptable obstacle.

    That is, the Ryan Plan is an intrinsic part of the Walker Obamacare replacement.

    Which Ryan plan are you referring to?  I think Ryan is sincere but in 2012 found him shockingly naive politically.

    • #192
  13. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mark:

    James Of England:

    Mark:

    That is, the Ryan Plan is an intrinsic part of the Walker Obamacare replacement.

    Which Ryan plan are you referring to? I think Ryan is sincere but in 2012 found him shockingly naive politically.

    There’ll be a House Budget put forward next year that will have the central planks being the same as they have been for the past few years, with the key elements being spending cuts, tax cuts, and Medicare and Social Security reform.

    I agree that Ryan didn’t add a lot of value on the stump. He was needed to shore up support from the conservative media, which is one of the most depressing things about that cycle.

    Anyway, yes, Ryan isn’t great at doing the politician thing, but it’s a pretty good budget and it’s had the explicit support of just about everyone in Congress. Well, on our side.

    • #193
  14. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    James Of England: Anyway, yes, Ryan isn’t great at doing the politician thing…

    Except in his own district, which he always wins by very comfortable margins but which is quite capable of voting Democrat.

    Ryan’s quite straightforward about the fact that he’s a policy guy, not a politics guy, though he’s such a fluent speaker that it’s easy for the casual observer to not realize that.   I think he wins locally because people realize he’s sincere.  Over the years I’ve read profiles by pure fans, by critical allies, by cynical journalists, by people who hate him — and ultimately they all show the same man.  He rings true.

    He could have run for President and didn’t.  He’s into making a difference, not gathering huge admiring crowds, and he knew his own strength.

    • #194
  15. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    James Of England:

    Mark:

    James Of England:

    Mark:

    That is, the Ryan Plan is an intrinsic part of the Walker Obamacare replacement.

    Which Ryan plan are you referring to? I think Ryan is sincere but in 2012 found him shockingly naive politically.

    There’ll be a House Budget put forward next year that will have the central planks being the same as they have been for the past few years, with the key elements being spending cuts, tax cuts, and Medicare and Social Security reform.

    I agree that Ryan didn’t add a lot of value on the stump. He was needed to shore up support from the conservative media, which is one of the most depressing things about that cycle.

    Anyway, yes, Ryan isn’t great at doing the politician thing, but it’s a pretty good budget and it’s had the explicit support of just about everyone in Congress. Well, on our side.

    I appreciate the work Ryan has done on the budget.  My question about his plan was whether he had made a specific proposal on replacement of Obamacare.  I know he had proposed a plan regarding subsidies if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way in the case this June but that did not deal with Obamacare as a whole.

    • #195
  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mark: I appreciate the work Ryan has done on the budget.  My question about his plan was whether he had made a specific proposal on replacement of Obamacare.  I know he had proposed a plan regarding subsidies if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way in the case this June but that did not deal with Obamacare as a whole.

    AFAIK, Walker is the only candidate who has released a detailed replacement for Obamacare, but it dovetails closely with the Ryan Plan, which Walker also supports/ never shuts up about; the Ryan Plan deals with the parts of the replacement that the Patient Freedom Plan doesn’t. It was that two part plan that I was referring to. I imagine the other candidates will produce similar things as the cycle progresses.

    • #196
  17. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Leigh:

    James Of England: Anyway, yes, Ryan isn’t great at doing the politician thing…

    Except in his own district, which he always wins by very comfortable margins but which is quite capable of voting Democrat.

    Ryan’s quite straightforward about the fact that he’s a policy guy, not a politics guy, though he’s such a fluent speaker that it’s easy for the casual observer to not realize that. I think he wins locally because people realize he’s sincere. Over the years I’ve read profiles by pure fans, by critical allies, by cynical journalists, by people who hate him — and ultimately they all show the same man. He rings true.

    He could have run for President and didn’t. He’s into making a difference, not gathering huge admiring crowds, and he knew his own strength.

    Sure. Sorry, didn’t mean to knock Ryan; he’s good at what he does, and you’re right that that includes some political stuff. When I said that he was selected to win over the conservative media, the only reason that that could work was because he’s been good at seducing them, too. I’m more than a little happy about the thought that if I spend enough time in southern Wisconsin, I’ve got to run into him eventually, right?

    • #197
  18. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    James Of England: Sure. Sorry, didn’t mean to knock Ryan; he’s good at what he does, and you’re right that that includes some political stuff. When I said that he was selected to win over the conservative media, the only reason that that could work was because he’s been good at seducing them, too. I’m more than a little happy about the thought that if I spend enough time in southern Wisconsin, I’ve got to run into him eventually, right?

    I didn’t take it as a knock, he kind of says that himself.  It’s just interesting that someone who really isn’t a natural politician wins where he does.

    If you’re actually in Ryan’s district, he does local town hall meetings reasonably regularly.

    @Mark — my impression is that Ryan is actually working on a proposal.  If it follows the same lines as what we’re seeing from Walker and Rubio, we’re looking at a very broad, very credible consensus, and this could actually happen.

    If we can nominate someone other than the guy who thinks socialized medicine works incredibly well.

    • #198
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