Mitt Romney leaped into the deep waters of debate over the future course of Republican Party policy Tuesday night in a speech near the shores of New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee where the former GOP presidential candidate has a vacation home.
Mr. Romney, who described himself as a “severe conservative” during the 2012 campaign, appeared to side with the pragmatic wing of his party with most of his remarks, made at a political fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party. In particular, he warned against shutting down the government in an attempt to strip funds from the Affordable Care Act, known informally as “Obamacare."
“I badly want Obamacare to go away, and stripping it of funds has appeal. But we need to exercise great care about any talk of shutting down government,” Romney said. “What would come next when soldiers aren’t paid, when seniors fear for their Medicare and Social Security, and when the FBI is off duty?”
What would come next, in Romney’s eyes, is a predictable political failure: Voters would revolt, Obamacare would get its money after all, and Republicans would be hurt at the polls, as Washington conventional wisdom holds they were following the 28-day government shutdown of 1995 and '96.
“I think there are better ways to remove Obamacare,” he added.
However, he didn’t go on to say what those notional “better ways” were. Rolling back time and electing him, perhaps?
Romney also urged Republicans to rally behind electable candidates, not those who appeal to the party base but frighten moderates. He didn’t name any names here – he did not, for instance, mutter “Sen. Ted Cruz” under his breath. And he did acknowledge that this advice might be ironic coming from someone who billed himself as the electable choice, only to be proven wrong at the polls.
“My guess is that every one of the [2016 GOP presidential] contenders would be better than whoever the Democrats put up,” Romney said. “But there will only be one or perhaps two who actually could win the election in November.”
Conservative GOP leaders and tea party activists were dismissive of Romney’s advice, saying in essence that the speech revealed him as the squish they had suspected all along.
“Romney did not want to fight to repeal Obamacare while he was on the campaign so it is no surprise he would not fight now,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin told the conservative Breitbart News.
“The last person the conservative movement should turn to for winning advice is Mitt Romney,” added For America chairman Brent Bozell, according to Breitbart.
So what’s going on here? Why did Romney feel it necessary to offer remarks he must have known would inflame some in his own party?
Well, for one thing, consider the venue: The Granite State is pretty flinty, but it’s not deep red. As polling guru Nate Silver has pointed out, it’s one of the most “elastic” of US swing states, meaning it’s possible to persuade large numbers of voters to actually change minds and vote for either party. (Non-elastic swing states are just evenly balanced between Democrats and Republicans, with victory hinging on turnout and party enthusiasm.)
In that context, the Mittster was saying stuff tailored to appeal to his actual physical audience. The relatively moderate New Hampshire GOP is unlikely to support brinkmanship in Washington.
In essence, he was also siding with the wing of the party that pushed him to the nomination. He was always the establishment candidate, backed by lists of governors and elected Republicans in Washington. The party leadership in D.C. remains nervous about the defund Obamacare strategy. It’s nonleadership figures such as Senator Cruz of Texas and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah who are calling for the ACA fight.
If he’s going to maintain a role in party politics, as he’s said he’d like to do, it’s unlikely to involve his evolution into a tea party maverick.
Finally, here’s the wild theory: He doesn’t mean it. He believes the threat of government shutdown to end Obamacare might work. But he knows he is now so widely discounted in Republican circles that few will heed his advice. So he’s employing reverse psychology.
“Are we at the point where Romney should tell the GOP the opposite of what he really wants it to do? Might be more effective that way,” tweeted Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake on Wednesday.
There was shock and sadness in Washington Monday afternoon as headlines marked: “An era to end as Post is sold.”
Word that, after 80 years, the Graham family would part with the crown jewel of its empire – the storied but struggling Washington Post – to the tune of $250 million rocked the city. The news that the buyer is Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, who despite his documented genius as an Internet commerce entrepreneur has no experience in traditional print journalism, sent politicos and scribes into analysis overdrive.
Does this transition provide a glaring sign of the nearing end for print, the demise of which has been heralded for at least a decade as other city papers have been sold by devoted family dynasties to journalism novices whose focus is the bottom line? Or, once the obituaries of the Post ‘as we knew it’ are processed, might there be a silver lining here?
Opinions are mixed.
“Bezos re-Kindles hope at WaPo,” wrote Politico.
The Atlantic called the sale, “A moment that will define an era’s upheaval in journalism.”
In the hours after the announcement, shares of the Washington Post Co. climbed to $599.85, their highest level in almost five years, according to Reuters. A glimmer of hope.
What seems to be consensus across these and other diagnoses, and is reflected in the market’s response, is that the paper, as it was, would not have lasted. It was hemorrhaging cash and losing readers. Growth in advertising revenue proved elusive. And while the Grahams had over the years sought to boost the company’s portfolio by acquiring other money makers – notably the test preparation outfit Kaplan Inc. – it wasn’t enough to offset red ink since 2008 from the newspaper division.
Physically, the paper was downsized. Domestic bureaus were shuttered. And a refocus on online traffic became paramount. No shock here, the whole industry is facing the same reality, and, though far from extinct, enterprise stories, elegant long-form works, and overseas reporting have begun to be eclipsed by blogging and vlogging and the quest for more and more content at a lower cost.
Still, of course, the paper that took down a president broke big news stories – recently making its mark in reports on the government’s domestic surveillance programs – and won prizes. All while it has faced challenges from newer, faster outlets, such as Washington rival Politico, to stay ahead on the city’s political news stories.
The announcement came as a surprise to staff. In the newsroom, there were tears and applause of gratitude, acknowledgements that for Donald Graham, chairman and chief executive of Post Co., and Katharine Weymouth, the paper’s publisher, options were limited.
“Everyone who was in that room knows how much Don and Katharine love the paper and how hard this must have been for them,” said David Ignatius, a veteran Post columnist.
Mr. Bezos – who is buying the paper himself, it will not be part of the Amazon empire – has proved a master of reinvention, expansion, and foresight. Once, buying books online seemed a foreign process, but now, in large measure because of Bezos, we click many of our purchases instead of strolling into the neighborhood store. He also has a record at Amazon of investing for the long term, even in the face of sustained losses.
In a statement to the paper’s employees, Bezos acknowledged the “apprehension” the staff must feel and assured Posties that the paper’s values “do not need changing.”
“The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not the private interests of its owners,” he said. “We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes.”
But Bezos plans to stay in Seattle, and he says he will not lead the day-to-day operations of the paper. He is keeping the current management team, which includes Ms. Weymouth and editor Marty Baron, in place. How long that will last is anyone’s guess.
Shouldn’t an owner live and breathe the city in which the publication is rooted? Isn’t that part of the grand history of this and other vibrant outlets, that its leaders understand the news and feel invested in its coverage because it’s happening around them?
The purchase also represents less than 1 percent of Bezos’ wealth; Forbes estimates his net worth at $28 billion. Hardly an all-in, do-or-die proposition for the businessman. The Post, meanwhile, is in its seventh consecutive year of declining revenues. The Grahams needed a golden parachute for the publication, a chance at rebirth without the massive cost-cutting required, even if the path forward with Bezos at the helm seems wholly uncertain.
What then is Bezos’ plan? How important will it be to make money over the long haul? Is this a vanity exercise, a side investment that gives him influence in Washington? Under his guide, how will the paper cover the many key policy matters that impact the bulk of his business, from tax policy and privacy concerns to trade to worker issues?
All important questions whose answers aren’t yet apparent.
Bezos is the second business tycoon of late to dip a toe into the news business. Word came just last weekend Boston Red Sox owner John Henry purchased The Boston Globe from The New York Times Company for $70 million. Financier Warren Buffett, who served on the Post's board for more than two decades, purchased the Omaha World-Herald in 2011.
But reporters in other newsrooms might caution against the billionaire solution as cure-all, even as other options for survival seem untenable. Real estate magnate Sam Zell is widely regarded as having run the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune publications into the ground after he bought the Tribune Co. They are functioning, but shadows of their former selves after being mired in bankruptcy proceedings for years.
The Post deal will be finalized within 60 days, according to the paper’s reporting. In Washington and across the industry, those interested in the survival of print or, more realistically, its evolution into a viable new media provider of quality journalism will be watching closely what happens at the paper. For those who care about meaningful reporting and storytelling, Bezos must prove himself able to make money without sacrificing those key markers of the Post’s legacy to date.
A cyber-age steward of an old media giant. The match hasn’t worked out in other venues yet. But here’s hoping it might.
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton said on Monday that she’s decided to live a more “purposely public life,” after years of avoiding the glare of publicity as much as possible.
In an interview with CNN in Rwanda, where she’s doing humanitarian work with her family’s foundation, Ms. Clinton made clear she’s not contemplating a run for political office. She talked instead about “changing market dynamics” in underdeveloped nations and the need to continue to fight to improve the lives of underprivileged children. She sounded as if she were contemplating a more visible role in nonprofit, do-good initiatives.
Well, maybe she’s just not contemplating a run for office at the moment. She said she’s happy to be living in a city (New York), state (New York, duh) and country “where I really believe in my elected officials, their ethos and their competencies." But she added that “someday, if either of those weren’t true, and I thought I could make more of a difference in the public sector, or if I didn’t like how my city or state or country were being run, I’d have to ask and answer that [running for office] question."
Let the wild speculation begin! Chelsea’s going to run for mayor when Anthony Weiner drops out! She’s going to run for Senate when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York is appointed Secretary of Publicity in the Hillary Clinton administration! She’s going to run for the White House in 2020 against the incumbent Republican, President Rubio!
OK, we have some actual thoughts on this matter, though.
The first is that Chelsea, in political terms, is not her father’s daughter. She is more like her mother. Would the young Arkansas politician Bill Clinton have talked about “ethos and competencies”? No, we don’t think so either. That sounds like Hillary. Also, by the time he was Chelsea’s current age, which is 33, Bill was already governor. He was president at 46, if you forget. It’s too late for Chelsea to be that sort of wunderkind.
Second, a corollary: It doesn’t look like she’s burning for office or a campaign. Like her mother, she might work her way up from the inside and start from relative heights. She sounded a bit as if she might answer the call if New York Democrats get into a bind about a candidate for higher office. But City Council? Don’t hold your breath.
Third, it all depends on 2016. If her mom runs for president and wins, her future will veer sharply into directions it’s hard to predict today. But if her mom doesn’t run, or if she loses, suddenly Chelsea will be the face of a new generation.
That’s already happened with Republicans, a bit. Liz Cheney is running for Senate in Wyoming, after all. The next generation of Bushes is starting to make noises about public office.
Dynasties: They’re not just for Great Britain.
“Laugh all you want at the royal baby, Americans who will one day vote for Sens. Liz Cheney, Beau Biden, Chelsea Clinton, and George P. Bush,” tweeted Politico senior political reporter Alex Burns late last month.
Governor of Texas or another term in the state Senate?
Wendy Davis, a rising Democratic star in the Lone Star State, narrowed her campaign choices to those two Monday in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, telling reporters afterward she'd announce which one she’s running for “hopefully in just the next couple of weeks.”
State Senator Davis shot to national fame on June 25 during an epic 13-hour filibuster in the Texas Legislature over restrictive new abortion regulations. Her effort killed the legislation, only to see it passed when Gov. Rick Perry (R) called another special session.
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Still, Davis is now a hot political commodity, and it’s not hard to imagine her seizing the moment and going for the open governor’s seat. Governor Perry is not running for reelection. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is favored to win the Republican nomination.
Davis would face an uphill battle in a state that has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Indeed, polls show Davis well behind Mr. Abbott in early matchups. Abbott reportedly has almost $21 million on hand, compared with just $1 million for Davis. (She held two fundraisers in Washington on July 25.)
Nevertheless, Democrats are eager for her to run for governor in a red state they believe is on the road to becoming a “purple” battleground, as the state’s Hispanic population grows. Politico reports that Davis has had conversations with the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), which helps Democrats get elected governor; Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) of Vermont, the chairman of the DGA, called Davis to congratulate her after her filibuster.
“I’m thinking very carefully about it for myself and my family,” Davis said after her press club speech. “Obviously, it’s a huge task to take on, and I want to make sure that it’s the right thing for me, and also that it’s something that hopefully our state would want to see.”
In her address, Davis took her message beyond the confines of reproductive rights, highlighting “the importance of having a voice” on a range of issues: from the state’s “very underfunded public school system” and the fights for equal pay for women and consumer reform to the needs of returning veterans and the importance of building bipartisan coalitions.
“For all the rhetoric about big government and small government, I think that the majority of Texans just want to see good government,” she said.
Davis acknowledged that her filibuster has opened up new possibilities for her in Texas.
“It isn’t just about reproductive rights, though that day was about reproductive rights,” she said. “It’s about the vacuum of leadership that’s happening there. It’s about the failure of our state leaders who are currently in power to really be connected to what families want to see.
“Whether it’s the dramatic number of folks in Texas who don’t have health insurance, whether it’s the dramatic defunding of public education, which has put us into a battle in the court system in Texas for the last year and a half or so, whether it’s a failure to invest in higher education, Texas really isn’t listening to families.”
Davis feels so passionately about education, she said, because of her own story. She and her three siblings were raised by a single mother with a sixth-grade education. By the time Davis was 19, she had married, given birth, and gotten divorced.
“I was always on the brink of a financial disaster back then – a flat tire meant having to choose a belonging to pawn at my local pawn shop,” she said.
Determined not to raise her daughter in poverty, she enrolled in community college, then transferred to Texas Christian University, and ultimately earned a degree from Harvard Law School.
Now she’s being asked whether she would consider running for vice president with Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We’ll have to find out whether Hillary is planning to run for president,” Davis responded to an audience member at the press club.
Davis was also asked about whether fellow Texan Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of the late former Gov. Ann Richards (D), should come back and run for office statewide.
“I would welcome her back to Texas,” Davis said. “I’ll sign up for her campaign if she wants to run.”
And what will become of the pink running shoes she made famous – the ones she wore during her filibuster?
“To the horror of a couple of people on my political team, I immediately put them back on and started running on the trail again with them,” Davis said. “At some point before they completely fall apart, I’ll set them aside, because they’ll be a memory that I will treasure forever.”
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On average, respondents rated Governor Christie, a Republican, at 53.1 degrees on a notional thermometer meant to measure the warmth and favorability of their feelings toward major US political figures. Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, came in a tick behind, at 52.1 degrees.
“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s score is not surprising given her lengthy political career and especially strong support among Democrats and women,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement. “But Gov. Christie’s rating is impressive given that his experience – less than four years as governor – pales compared to Mrs. Clinton’s résumé.”
A surprising third in the Quinnipiac survey was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts, who ranked at 49.2 degrees. President Obama was tied for fourth, at 47.6, the same hotness quotient earned by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York.
Sixth was Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, at 46.8.
The lowest-ranking, coolest politicians were all congressional leaders. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was 38.4, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell at 37.5, House Speaker John Boehner at 36.7, and Senate majority leader Sen. Harry Reid a frigid 33.8. Wow, barely above freezing.
OK, we’ve got some comments here. First, this is a clever way to rank public figures, and it gets attention in the summer, but it’s kind of a stunt. It’s like a Bruce Springsteen Christmas song. As a one-off it’s nice, but let’s not make it a habit.
Second, “hot politician” is an oxymoron to many Americans. We had to say that.
Finally, the results of this survey are squishy for all but the top figures. That’s because the percentage of respondents who said they did not have an opinion about the relative hotness of many of the listed politicians was so high.
For example, virtually all the respondents had an opinion about Mr. Obama. But 21 percent answered “do not know” when asked their hotness rating of Christie.
We’re sure Quinnipiac’s numbers are accurate. We’re just saying, how hot can you be when one-quarter of Americans don’t really know who you are?
For Senator Cruz, 60 percent of respondents answered “don’t know.” And Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) may need to get moving if he really wants to run for president. While his hotness rating was a middle-of-the-pack 45.7, a very high 78 percent of respondents said they did not know him well enough to offer an opinion.
Senate minority leader MItch McConnell has a new ad out Monday that hits hard at a Kentucky Senate election opponent. But the opponent in question isn’t Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s Matt Bevin, a tea-party-supported candidate who’s running against Senator McConnell in the Republican primary.
Hmm. Is Team McConnell worried that Mr. Bevin, a wealthy Louisville businessman, was impressive at the big Fancy Farms, Ky., political picnic over the weekend? Veteran political reporter Howard Fineman judged Bevin to be “poised and focused."
Perhaps that’s because Bevin, though a political novice, got off some of the best and toughest lines at the event.
RECOMMENDED: Eight open US Senate seats in 2014
“I’m not going to run to the left of Mitch McConnell. I’m not going to run to the right of Mitch McConnell. I am going to run right over the top of Mitch McConnell,” Bevin said.
Anyway, back to the McConnell attack ad: It repeats the McConnell campaign’s long assertion that the self-described job creator is in fact “Bailout Bevin," due to the fact that he got state money to help rebuild his family bell factory after a devastating fire.
That’s Connecticut state money, by the way, since that’s where the factory is located.
The new ad adds an extra layer to this story, charging that Bevin’s business failed to pay taxes at least eight times, and was the “No. 1 tax delinquent” in its area. Plus, it adds that Bevin failed to pay taxes on a million-dollar home – in Maine.
“Bailout Bevin. Not a Kentucky conservative,” says the ad’s text at the end.
If nothing else, the fact that McConnell felt it necessary to spend money to take on his primary opponent so early shows that he’s worried about being squeezed from both sides of the political spectrum.
Most observers still say he will have little difficulty winning the GOP primary. He’s got the support of his fellow Republican Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, himself a tea party star. Bevin is an amateur taking on a hardened pro. According to an Aug. 1 Wenzel Strategies poll, McConnell is leading Bevin by a margin of nearly 3 to 1.
But polls show McConnell in a tight race with Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic secretary of State. If a nasty primary lowers McConnell’s favorability ratings further, and marks him as vulnerable, that could hurt him in the general election in fall 2014.
The Grimes campaign released a Mellman Group poll on Monday showing her ahead of McConnell by two points, 44 to 42 percent. McConnell has a strongly negative job rating, notes the Grimes-sponsored survey, while Ms. Grimes is in net positive territory.
Of course, Grimes has yet to face a campaign's-worth of negative McConnell ads, which might drive those ratings down. And Kentucky remains a red state. That means Grimes continues to face an uphill battle, no matter what the early numbers show.
RECOMMENDED: Eight open US Senate seats in 2014
Martin O’Malley made it fairly obvious over the weekend that he’s running for president, or at least pretty darn close to deciding in favor.
Here’s what the Democratic governor of Maryland told reporters at the National Governors Association meeting in Milwaukee, according to The Washington Post: “By the end of this year, I think we’re on course to have a body of work that lays the framework of a candidacy for 2016.”
Governor O’Malley is youthful but not too young (now in his 50s), personable, and lauded for his executive skills, both as mayor of Baltimore and now a two-term governor. Still, his comment was a bit surprising. Most people hide their ambition a little more effectively this early in the cycle. But O’Malley is nothing if not ambitious. And the 2016 campaign is already well under way, especially on the Republican side.
And it may well be that O’Malley needs to be this open about his intentions to garner media attention and create buzz amid all the Hillary-mania. So what about that, anyway? If former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to run, and the betting inside the Beltway is that she will, then why should anyone else even bother?
Two reasons: First, O’Malley could wind up being her running mate. Presidential nominees often select someone who has been tested on the national stage during the primaries – especially the debates – as their No. 2. Barack Obama picked Joe Biden. John Kerry picked John Edwards. Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush.
If Ms. Clinton is the Democratic nominee in 2016, then it would make sense for her to select a white guy as her running mate. The unofficial rule in putting together a ticket is that you break only one glass ceiling at a time. (That’s one possible reason President Obama didn’t put Clinton on the ticket with him in 2008, among many.) Clinton would be the first female nominee for a major party, so putting a fresh-faced white-male governor on the ticket makes sense.
Clinton would be on the older end as a nominee, so going for a youngish running mate also makes sense. It introduces a new generation of Democratic leadership to the country.
The second reason for O’Malley to run against Clinton is that she might stumble. There are no guarantees in politics, as she discovered when she ran the first time, in 2007-08. When she announced her first campaign, she was the odds-on favorite. Then upstart Obama came along and outdid her with his charisma and superior campaign strategy.
Nobody is perfect on the stump, and Clinton could make a campaign-ending mistake. Or something could come out about her tenure at the State Department – Benghazi, anyone? – or in the Senate or as first lady.
Clinton isn’t likely to let us know her intentions by the end of the year. Given her universal name recognition and fundraising power, she doesn’t need to. She can wait at least until the beginning of 2015. So under O’Malley’s timeline, he will effectively announce, or close to it, before he knows what Clinton is doing.
In announcing early, O’Malley could also be hedging his bets that Clinton might not run. And in that event, the field would be wide open.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Representative Ryan said he was not in favor of shutting down the government as a way of forcing Democrats to repeal President Obama's health-care law – a political tactic some Republicans, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have advocated. Instead, he said "there are more effective ways of achieving that goal" – though he was not asked to name any.
What is remarkable about the debate is that Democrats aren't going to repeal Obamacare. Ever. Nor does the Republican Party have any conceivable political lever to make them do so. A government shutdown will not defund Obamacare, nor will it likely change anyone's opinion about it.
And yet many Republicans are undaunted – and with good reason.
More than the debt-ceiling debate of 2011 or this year's angst over the sequester, the current talk of resorting to a government shutdown to defund Obamacare speaks to the changing character of Capitol Hill.
What has changed is the calculus of congressional politics.
The legislative process has always been about numbers. Generally, the numbers that have meant most are vote counts – does a bill have the votes to pass? Party leaders were voter-herders – astute in measuring support for a bill and sometimes artful in their ability to navigate it to passage – and their party whips helped make sure the cattle stayed in line.
There are those in Congress who still play by these rules, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky among them. But the new breed of legislator puts a different number first.
Senator Cruz hinted at this new math in speaking about repealing Obamacare to Young Americans for Liberty in Arlington, Va., Wednesday.
"Right now, we don't have the votes.... I'm going to be perfectly candid, we can't win this fight," he told the 300 libertarian students. "The only people who can win this fight are you. The only way we win this fight is if the American people rise up in overwhelming numbers and demand our elected officials to do the right thing and stand for principle."
Despite Cruz's plea, demographics suggest Young Americans for Liberty and like-minded voters can't change Congress enough to make a repeal feasible. There just aren't enough of them. But demographics do suggest that they can play a decisive role in determining their next Republican candidate for Congress during the 2014 primaries.
And that is the math that fuels Cruz – or at least ensures that his shutdown-the-government views must be taken seriously by the Republican establishment (a.k.a. those still playing by the old rules). The political polarization of America has, particularly among Republicans, replaced the old bean-counters with ideologues who are less interested in vote counts than standing fearlessly for their constituents' demands, even if that is at odds with legislative realities.
Cruz and his cohorts are simply seeking any legislative means at their disposal to do what the voters who elected them desperately want them to do: end Obamacare. The fact that there are no viable legislative means at their disposal is less important than the attempt, because in their states, the Republican primaries virtually decide the winner, and failure in a noble cause is seen as better than accession to a hated one.
With voters in red states by all appearances angrier than voters in blue states, the race to the right has become a mad dash, and Cruz is leading the pack.
What makes life hard for Ryan is that he sits somewhere in the middle. His views on strict financial austerity elicit cheers from the ideologues. Yet he is also part old school, using his position as House Budget Committee chairman as a bully pulpit from which to try to move the Congress rightward and toward greater acceptance of his ideas on entitlement reform.
He is an ideologue with real power, and therefore must tread carefully or risk losing either his clout or his aura.
What makes Washington watching so fascinating (if harrowing) at this moment, is that no one really knows which way this will go. Tea party Republicans in the House brought the nation to the brink of a debt crisis in 2011 – and feel they have only the sequester to show for it. For legislators who wanted major entitlement reform, that is a disappointing return.
The House's 40 (failed) attempts to kill Obamacare underscore the stakes as Republicans see it. If, instead of entitlement reform, we simply get another entitlement, the die will be cast and America will be put on the path to becoming another Greece, living far beyond its means thanks to programs imposed upon the people by a massive and expanding government. Liberty will be dead. And the economy won't be far behind.
To ideologues, those are fighting words.
How to wish a “happy 25th anniversary” to one of the most polarizing figures on the American political scene today?
Maybe we should explore his staying power and outsize influence over national discourse.
First, the numbers themselves tell a tale. To the head-knocking disbelief of some and jubilance of others, “The Rush Limbaugh Show” marks a quarter century this week. The conservative instigator is heard on 600 stations by a whopping 20 million people a week, according to a release issued by Premiere Networks.
And brace yourselves, Democrats, the Missouri native has spent more than 1,304 weeks – or 9,131 days or 219,144 hours – as “America’s Anchorman,” the statement indicates. Two-term presidents spend only 416 weeks in office.
We’re guessing Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and a host of other on-air personalities –- some from beyond the grave (Walter Cronkite, perhaps) – might quibble with the characterization. But why has Mr. Limbaugh lasted so long, despite the charged tenor of his talk?
Limbaugh is the original modern partisan scold, drawing frenzied devotion among like-minded friends and fear and loathing among foes, even from those in his own party. To supporters who like what he’s peddling, Limbaugh is a truth teller. He rails against progressive causes and figures, and those GOP officials he views as subpar.
He never holds back in the interest of decorum. The more inflammatory, enraging, or quotable, the better. Disgusting to many, a hero to others.
Usually unapologetic, there are some instances when Limbaugh strides so far over any line of propriety that he’s pushed to walk back his remarks. But the act of him copping to his misstatements only reinforces his powerful place in the national conversation. If he didn’t matter, no one would call for his “I’m sorry.”
One example of the power of Limbaugh’s wide-ranging sway came just last year. In the heat of a national conversation of government funding for reproductive health care, Limbaugh’s declaration that Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke was a “slut” and a “prostitute” for using birth control catapulted her to a prime-time speaking slot at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. President Obama called the young woman, who had testified before Congress and had urged that insurance cover contraception, to register his support. Limbaugh, facing pressure from advertisers, was forced to issue a reluctant apology.
The breadth of his reach has even prompted powerful figures in his party to kowtow to him. Recall when President George H.W. Bush, locked in a tough 1992 reelection fight and having alienated conservatives after reneging on his pledge not to raise taxes, worked to woo Limbaugh (and by extension his base) by inviting him to the White House for a sleepover. The president even carried his bags.
Though the sphere of cable and radio chatterboxes has grown wider, and consumers can choose other outlets from which to ingest their daily partisan blather, Limbaugh remains. He has captivated the conservative base. The CNN story marking Limbaugh’s 25 years is headlined plainly: “At 25, Limbaugh show still rules GOP.”
One analysis of Limbaugh suggests he employs a disc jockey’s “bag of tricks” to skewer politicians.
“Limbaugh’s use of comedy and irony and showmanship are integral to his modus operandi, the judo by which he draws in his opponents and then uses their own force to up-end them,” wrote Wilfred M. McClay in Commentary. “And unless you make an effort to hear voices outside the echo chamber of the mainstream media, you won’t have any inkling of what Limbaugh is all about or of how widely his reach and appeal extend.”
The only reason Limbaugh isn’t an even bigger deal is that he’s “spawned so many imitators,” Mr. McClay suggests.
Although Limbaugh’s star dimmed during the eight years when President George W. Bush was in office and conservatives parted ways on many of his foreign and domestic policies, there came a rebirth with Obama’s election. A new purpose.
Forbes lists the four-times-married Limbaugh as 37th on its list of the world’s 100 most powerful celebrities. The college dropout will take home $66 million this year alone, according to the magazine.
That’s certainly enough coin to buy his own anniversary cake. And there’s a loyal segment of the country’s conservatives who would probably be thrilled to join him for a slice and a toast.
Many might be wondering about all that talk of bacon between two leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Well, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky aren’t exactly beefing about brunch orders.
Like two dogs sniffing each other in a crowded park, they’re testing each other’s mettle in advance of what’s likely to be a jam-packed GOP primary. They’re playing, as some reports suggest, for the “heart and soul of the Republican Party” by engaging in a feud about national security and government spending.
Will Senator Paul and the isolationists lay claim to a fractured and directionless GOP? Or will Governor Christie and the East Coast government-has-purpose centrists win out? With this feud, the politicians are also sampling messages, angling for headlines, and jockeying for position within the field of would-be contenders.
Here’s the quick skinny on the multi-day fracas and how that bacon dig played out:
Last week during an Aspen Institute forum, Christie slammed Paul’s libertarian foreign policy views. He invoked the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, suggesting generally that Paul’s ideology – his opposition to warrantless federal surveillance programs, for example – is “very dangerous.”
“You can name any number of people and he’s one of them,” Christie said of Paul. “These esoteric, intellectual debates – I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”
Paul responded first via tweet: “Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.”
And then Paul accused Christie of being a big spender, happily raking in federal cash after Sandy devastated the New Jersey coastline.
“They’re precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their 'Gimme, gimme, gimme – give me all my Sandy money now.’ ” Paul said, according to the Associated Press. “Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.”
Christie then picked a new battle with Paul over the amount of federal money Kentucky and Garden State receive versus what each respective state contributes to the national pot. As that bickering crescendoed, Paul took to CNN to knock Christie in a way that referenced pork – as well as the governor’s much-discussed weight issues.
“This is the king of bacon talking about bacon,” the Republican from Kentucky said on CNN’s "The Situation Room." “You know, we have two military bases in Kentucky, and is Governor Christie recommending that we shut down our military bases?.… No what this debate really is about is that in order to have enough money for national defense, which I think is a priority for the government, you have to be willing to cut spending in other places, and Governor Christie and others have been part of this gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme all this money.”
Gimme, gimme, gimme a break.
Of course, there’s some substance underlying this squabble. Over the last two presidential cycles, the GOP has increasingly isolated itself from voters in the middle, and some party officials have undertaken an effort to determine how to win back Americans who might favor a responsibly engaged foreign policy but also be fiscal conservatives. Those for whom bipartisanship is not a bad word.
Christie represents one model that might appeal. He was willing to stand with President Obama in the wake of the hurricane, and, just one week before the 2012 election, to tour coastal damage – elevating his national profile and, to many of his colleagues’ chagrin, the Democratic president’s at a critical time. He is out to prove that he is not afraid of collaboration between the states and the federal government and that he could be a new kind of leader for the GOP, one who harkens back to a more sanguine time between the parties.
Paul is a scrapper whose died-in-the-wool conviction that less government is better on all fronts has a strong following among tea party elements of the Republican Party. He wants to show that he would be a commander-in-chief who values civil liberties, a belief inherited from his father, the three-time White House contender who drew a solid block of followers to his bids.
But this back and forth and back again between Christie and Paul, who are expected to be just two of at least a dozen White House hopefuls next cycle, is as much about political posturing – and preening – as it is about conviction. It also may be a test of what's to come.
Though they’ve called an informal truce for now, Christie and Paul both want to be the big dogs in 2016.
They're not having the boys-with-beers photo-op Paul suggested, but the tensions have died down for now.