In an ongoing losing effort to keep my paper files in order, I looked into a folder entitled “Republicans,” hoping to be able to throw some stuff out. Instead, I encountered some gems!
1) Gingrich et al. v. Romney, 2011-12
A year ago, I clipped out an AP article entitled “Gingrich campaign sees ‘desperation’ in Romney’s camp” (Daily Local, 12/10/11). It’s online under the title “Newt Gingrich Campaign Hitting Back At Mitt Romney,” Huffington Post, 12/9/11, beginning:
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign hit back at GOP rival Mitt Romney on Friday, saying criticism by the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign seemed desperate.
“What we’re seeing from Mitt Romney in Boston is desperation and panic and I think that’s going to be very frustrating to people moving forward,” said Iowa state Rep. Linda Upmeyer, one of Gingrich’s surrogates here….
And as we well remember, back and forth it went, with Republican candidates calling each other all sorts of names, until Mitt Romney staggered forth from the ring victorious or, perhaps better put, the last one standing.
That primary didn’t help Romney at all. If he had been allowed to coast along, making judicious modest references to his time as Massachusetts governor without having to tack hard right to fend off the crowd hanging out over there with Newt and Rick, he might not have looked like such a chameleon when he came out as a centrist on the day of his first debate with Obama.
Primaries are often thought to be an ideological liability, and of course they eat up money. On the other hand, the 2008 Clinton-Obama primary doesn’t seemed to have hurt either candidate’s image, and may well have called favorable attention to them and their ideas. Of course, they didn’t call each other “desperate” either.
In 1980, George H. W. Bush denounced Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economic philosophy as “voodoo economics”–but that didn’t stop him from becoming Reagan’s running mate and successor… which in turn didn’t stop the term “voodoo economics” from having a long and successful afterlife (612,000 hits in google).
Yes, primaries count.
2) Rep. Pitts as soothsayer for liberty, 2005
Continuing to sort through my “Republican” file, I came across “Freedom on the march once again” by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-16), Daily Local News, 1/25/05. Bush just won a mandate, he explained.
(The 2004 result was 286 electoral votes for Bush to 251 for Kerry; more recently, some Republicans have been saying that Obama’s 2012 victory, with 332 electoral votes, was not a “mandate”; go figure.)
Then, Pitts walks into a land mine he should have known to avoid in print:
Today, the American soldier fights to change the old system of violence and oppression in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Their effort is not meant to build an empire or annex new colonies. Our goal and their mission is to destroy long-standing oppression in these nations and allow the people in these parts of the world to join us at the table of liberty.
Two full presidential terms later, we are seeing how that is playing out as another 2012 campaign issue that did not bring credit to the Bush mission, supported by Pitts, to nation build in the Middle East.
3) Republican outreach to voters, 2005
In the same context of Republican euphoria around the time of George Bush’s second inauguration, I found “GOP chief sets plan to expand” by Ron Fournier, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/20/05 (sorry, can’t find online). It quotes 2004 Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman, then becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee:
“We can deepen the GOP by identifying and turning out Americans who vote for president but who often miss off-year elections and agree with our work on behalf of a culture of life, our promoting marriage, and a belief in our Second Amendment heritage,” Mehlman said, referring to the party’s opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and gun control.
We saw how at least two of those three positions came back to bite the GOP in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, Ken Mehlman (a very smart strategist, whom I heard speak in the spring of 2005) abandoned at least one of those positions. In “Former G.O.P. Leader Says He Is Gay” by Michael Luo, New York Times, 8/25/10:
Ken Mehlman, President George W. Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has revealed that he is gay and is working to advance the cause of same-sex marriage….
4) Government of merit or money?, 2004
Working back in time, I find my clipping “A third of Bush’s top fund-raisers for 2000 got posts” by AP reporter Sharon Theimer in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/19/04:
One-third of President Bush’s top 2000 fund-raisers or their spouses were appointed to positions in his first administration, from ambassadorships in Europe to seats on policy-setting boards, an Associated Press review found….
Well, that doesn’t sound good to people of any party who believe in the merit system of appointing public servants, does it? And the appointees were almost all men, which doesn’t help the “old boy network” image either.
5) Protecting Tom DeLay, 2001
Then I enjoyed casting my eyes back to “GOP lawmakers alter House rules to protect DeLay” by Richard Simon, an AP story about the then House majority leader in the Inquirer, 11/18/01 (can’t find online), whose subtitle sums it up:
With three allies indicted, legislators lifted a rule that could have forced him to give up a top post if he also were indicted
All in vain, because according to Wikipedia:
On November 24, 2010, DeLay was found guilty by a jury in Austin (Travis County), Texas, of conspiracy to commit money laundering and making an illegal contribution.] He was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison and 10 years probation on January 10, 2011….In 2011 and 2012 to date, Delay has been out on bail pending his appeal….
The article quotes a politician who has stood the test of time and temptation better than her predecessor:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Dalif.), who was among those assailing the rules change, said, “Clearly the Republicans do not care about the integrity of their party or the poor example they set for the nation.”
5) Carville and Greenberg, 2005
So what has been going on, in this gradual national disconnect between the Republicans and the voters?
Dated shortly after the Pitts and Mehlman clippings cited above, I find a 3/30/05 memo from Stan Greenberg and James Carville of Democracy Corps, entitled “RE: THE STATE OF THE REPUBLICANS: Survey on Public Thinking”(sorry, can’t find online).
These are very good analysts (among other attributes, Carville was Bill Clinton’s chief strategist) who have their finger on the pulse of public opinion. In that analysis from
7 years ago, they run through various attributes that voters associated with the two major parties. Then, we come to “Sources of Republican Vulnerability.” It sounds so amazingly like the 2012 presidential campaignissues that I think people other than me must have been reading it this year… and the Obama campaign team were talking to the Clinton people.
Here, from the March 2010 survey, are the main points on “Republican vulnerability”:
“The starting point for the Republicans is their weakness on being “for the middle class.” A meager 44 percent think that describes them — 13 points below that for the Democrats — and that is the source of almost everything else that drags them down….
Here are the perceptions “where the Republicans seemed in trouble”:
“The Republicans are not for the average person…”
“The Republicans do not champion the public interest….”
“The Republicans put the needs of big corporate interests ahead of the ordinary citizen….”
“Though the Republicans are strong on moral values, only half the voters think Republicans share their values and priorities….”
“Republicans may be going too far in pushing their religious conservative agenda….”
“They are not heralded for their economic policies….”
“They are not heralded on the environment….”
“They are not heralded for how they relate to the world….”
“They are the establishment….”
Does all that sound familiar? It sounds to me like the case of Obama v. Romney in miniature.
6) “W’s Labor Day Vacation,” 2005 (cartoon from Political Humor, About.com)
I do enjoy political cartoons, which often are so much more succinct and memorable than words. Some of them aren’t very nice, but some words aren’t either. I am inserting this one, from the same folder, because it shows so well how the anti-Bush side followed up on the Carville/Greenberg remarks on Republicans not connecting with “the average person” (and really, Hurricane Katrina was a significant event in American discourse about the role of government in the everyday life of ordinary people).
7) “How the Republicans Got That Way”
“How the Republicans Got That Way” by Sam Tanenhaus, The New York Review of Books, 5/24/12, a review of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party by Geoffrey Kabaservice.
Tanenhaus passes in review a half-century of evolution (pardon the word) within the Republican party, tending toward the decline of the moderate wing and reinforcement of the radical right wing–whence Romney’s problem in 2012: those two adverse wings could no longer hold him, and perhaps not any candidate, aloft.
The review article, written just after Rick Santorum withdrew from the presidential race, is full of insights, of which I’ll quote just one:
In 2008, when Obama and Hillary Clinton battled through the primary season, their debates offered a primer on Democratic policy in areas ranging from health care to nuclear proliferation. The Republican debates in 2012 instead had the atmosphere of antigovernment revival meetings. When Romney recently said, in one of his many gaffes, “I’m not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there,” he betrayed not callousness so much, perhaps, as indifference to broad questions of economic disparity and social injustice that still concern much of the public.
And so we return to my initial thought, that the Democrats benefited from a hard-fought primary in 2008 and the Republicans suffered from one in 2012.
Could it be that Democrats are just better at publicly weighing ideas in a reality-based context—and that the majority of voters appreciate that quality?
Nationally, that is. The news doesn’t seem to have trickled down yet to the majority of Chester County voters, who remain very ambivalent and continue to give favorable grades to Republican candidates below the statewide level.
Did I mention, there are more elections in 2013, and 2014, and so on ad infinitum?