Saturday, January 31, 2015

Romney Out

Mitt Romney announced yesterday that he won't run after all.  At Bloomberg, Mark Halperin offers some intriguing, if vaguely sourced, observations:
People close to the former governor say he believed he would beat Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup if the election were held today. But, like many election watchers, Romney anticipates a vicious Republican nomination fight that will damage and deplete the ultimate winner, while Clinton, virtually unchallenged for her party’s nomination, will be luxuriantly free to squirrel away hundreds of millions of election dollars and step into the general arena, rich and refreshed, against a shattered GOP nominee.
In public, Romney says nice things about Bush...
But those familiar with Romney’s thinking as he's been contemplating a run and over the years say that he has held a jaundiced view of the former Florida governor dating all the way back to his handling of the Terri Schiavo case, and has come to see Bush as a non-entity in the 2016 nomination contest. Romney is said to see Bush as a small-time businessman whose financial transactions would nonetheless be fodder for the Democrats and as terminally weighed down with voters across the board based on his family name. Romney also doesn’t think much of Bush’s political skills (a view mocked by Bush’s camp, who say Romney is nowhere near Bush’s league as a campaigner). Romney also considers Bush the national Republican figure who was the least helpful to him during his last run for the White House, a position that has darkened Ann Romney’s view of Bush as well.
Nate Cohn writes at The New York Times:
In renouncing a new run for president Friday, Mitt Romney becomes the first big casualty of the invisible primary — the behind-the-scenes competition for donors, endorsements and campaign operatives.

It is now clear that Mr. Bush, despite his weaknesses, has attracted much of the support that Mr. Romney wanted. The highest-profile example is David Kochel, a former Romney official who was selected Thursday as Mr. Bush’s national campaign manager. My guess is that many more will follow.

The candidate most obviously hurt by Mr. Romney’s withdrawal is Rand Paul, who was probably counting on a fairly divided field in New Hampshire to win an early primary. It will be much harder to win New Hampshire with less than about 30 percent of the vote — something Mr. Paul could feasibly pull off.
Rebecca Ballhuas, Heather Haddon and Josh Dawsey report at The Wall Street Journal:
“It would be such a tough thing to do to tell either one of them ’no,’ ” said Barry Wynn, a top fundraiser for Mr. Romney in 2012 and for former President George W. Bush. “I don’t know what I would have done. This would have been a very difficult decision to make.”
Mr. Wynn said he now plans to throw his support behind Mr. Bush.
His decision echoes the choice many donors are making in the wake of Friday’s news. Dirk van Dongen, who raised nearly $1.5 million for Mr. Romney’s campaign in 2012, said the Republican fundraisers he had spoken with in recent weeks were conflicted over backing Mr. Romney or Mr. Bush. “Some of them said, ‘Hey, I’d be with Jeb Bush except for the fact that I need to know what Mitt Romney is going to do.’"
Following Friday’s announcement, Mr. van Dongen said, “presumably those people will now sign onto the Bush initiative.”
“It simplifies the calculation,” added Mr. van Dongen, who said he committed to back Mr. Bush even before Mr. Romney said he was considering a bid.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Democratic Weakness, GOP Strength

Why can Hillary Clinton coast? At The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost writes:
[The] Democratic bench is now so thin that the party cannot even give its voters a real choice. At this point, the only three other candidates seriously considering the race are: Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor who is decidedly lackluster; Jim Webb, the quirky one-term senator who -- oh by the way! -- used to work in the Reagan Administration (Democratic voters will love that); and Bernie Sanders, who does not even call himself a Democrat (he’s a socialist).

Why are the only three challengers such fourth-raters? Peruse the sitting governors who are Democrats. Don’t worry, it won’t take you very long. You’ll see that none of them could be serious contenders. They either hail from small states, were just recently elected, were barely reelected, or arequirky/problematic.
Now take a gander at the party’s Senate caucus. If you squint really hard you might imagine some of them could be presidential material, but not really. The overwhelming majority are too old, too dull, too new, or barely won reelection. Elizabeth Warren is the only exception out of these 45 senators, and she looks like she is not going to run.
The media, in their relentless focus on the micro-political cycle (not to mention their eager cheerleading for the Democrats), are representing the party as being in a strong position. “Obama is up in the polls (a little bit)! Hillary is going to raise lots of money! They’re back!”
But look past those two, and you see precious little in terms of quality would-be candidates. On an aggregate level -- combining House, Senate, state governments -- the Democrats have not been so weak since 1928.
Chris Cillizza writes at The Washington Post
Everyone knows by now that 2010 and 2014 were very good to the Republican Party. What they don't understand (or understand well enough) is just how good. Yes, Republicans now control the Senate and have their largest majority in the House since World War II. But it's downballot (way downballot) where the depth of the Republican victories over the past three elections truly reveal themselves -- and where the impact will be felt over the long term.
In the past three elections, Republicans have gained 913 state legislative seats, according to calculations made by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia. Here are Sabato's figures in chart form -- and with historical comparisons -- via GOP lobbyist Bruce Mehlman.
Now, there are more 7,000 state legislative seats in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which makes that 913 number slightly less eye-popping. Still, the Democratic losses between 2010 and 2014 amount to 12 percent of all state legislative seats nationwide.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

House Republicans Rule in the Non-Majority-Minority Seats

Ronald Brownstein writes at National Journal:
In the new Congress, Democrats will hold 99 of the 117 seats in which minorities constitute a population majority. But their performance is much less impressive in the band of seats just above, and below, the national average in diversity. In the new Congress, Republicans hold a slight 23-19 edge in the districts where minorities represent above 40 percent and not more than 50 percent of the population, and a broader 48-28 lead in the seats where minorities represent above 30 percent and not more than 40 percent of the residents.
The key to the Democrats' loss of Congress, as we reported here, is their near-total collapse in heavily white seats, particularly those blue-collar places with fewer white college graduates. But in their struggle to regain a majority, these modestly diverse districts represent a critical target for Democrats—as a historical comparison makes clear. In the new Congress, Democrats will hold 146 of the 235 seats where minorities equal at least three-tenths of the total population, or 62 percent. That's down significantly from the 84 percent they controlled of the 109 seats that fit that definition in 1993.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Four GOP Brackets

Charles Cook identifies four brackets in the GOP nomination contest:
First there is the establishment bracket, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and possibly former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney competing for that semifinal slot. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina would likely fit into this group. GOP nominees traditionally come from this bracket.

Then there is the conservative governor/former governor slot—with, potentially, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker competing, all seeking to be non-Washington and non-Congress candidates, but each with more conservative, or at least better conservative, credentials than Bush, Christie, or Romney. In this anti-Washington environment, being able to say that you effectively governed, in contrast with Congress and Washington, certainly has some advantages among the non-purist conservatives.
In the third bracket are the more identifiably tea-party candidates, principally Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, but also former Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, possibly former 2008 vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and even real-estate mogul Donald Trump (though both Palin and Trump are unlikely to make it past the first lap if they end up entering at all). This bracket is for the "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" conservatives.
Finally, there is the social, cultural, and religious conservative bracket, made up primarily of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, tapping into the same feelings as the third group but with a distinctly moral dimension.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Fight for the Middle Class

At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green writes:
Substantively, the SOTU was a speech that a major part of the country liked, even if it made House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans cringe. For the Republicans, that’s a problem, especially if the only thing Republicans have to offer the middle class is entitlement reform, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in the run-up to the State of the Union.
In a pre-SOTU statement, McConnell beseeched the President to “allow us to save and strengthen Medicare,” and to “cooperate with both parties to save Social Security.” In other words, make sure both parties have their hands on the dagger and no one will get blamed.
McConnell’s prescription is a recipe for alienating the GOP’s electoral base, which is chock full of retirees and voters north of 50. Green eye shades and the worn eraser of an accountant’s pencil don’t win elections, and angry seniors can wreak havoc on presidential aspirations.
Rather than gunning for Medicare, the Republicans should pick up on some of threads in Obama’s speech, while taking a hard line against tax hikes. The GOP should bash the President for looking to undercut saving for college and 529 accounts, and also push for a reduction in payroll taxes. The fact is that most Americans pay more in Medicare and Social Security taxes than in income taxes. And if wonks and purists criticize simultaneously sparing benefits while cutting taxes, just point out that being pro-middle class and pro-worker is about rewarding their efforts and lessening their burdens.
Republicans should seize on the President’s invitation to fund precision medicine to combat cancer and diabetes, and expand that war to fight Alzheimer’s and autism. They should also embrace rebuilding our infrastructure. In addition to new jobs, infrastructure is a cornerstone of commerce. If building a rail system was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, and forging a national highway system was all right with Ike, then the GOP should treat infrastructure as part of its own patrimony.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Walker in Iowa

Cameron Joseph reports at The Hill:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) delivered a fiery speech in Iowa on Saturday, wowing the conservative crowd with a passionate argument for small government and his own lengthy resume.

The Wisconsin governor, in rolled-up shirtsleeves, paced the stage as he blasted big government and touted a long list of conservative reforms he's pushed through in blue Wisconsin.
The governor also showed a rhetorical flourish that's largely been absent from his previous campaigns, drawing the crowd to its feet multiple times.
"There's a reason we take a day off to celebrate the 4th of July and not the 15th of April," he said, almost yelling as his voice grew hoarse. "Because in America we value our independence from the government, not our dependence on it."
Walker's speech had something for every element of the activist crowd. The governor touted his three victories over Democrats and recall win as well as his state-level education reforms. Each new policy he helped pass drew cheers: Voter ID laws, education reforms, tax cuts and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Problems of the Legacy Candidates

At The Washington Examiner, Byron York lays out 12 keys to understanding the GOP presidential contest. Several involve the legacy candidates, who have either run before (Romney, Huckabee, Santorum) or, in Bush's case, have a family history.  It is hard to put the band back together:  times change, people move on.
Romney loyalists are deeply ambivalent about another run. A remarkable number of former Romney staff and supporters admire him tremendously and remain steadfastly loyal. They have told him as much on a number of occasions over the last few years. But now some worry that Romney has perhaps misinterpreted their heartfelt expressions of support as encouragement to run again in 2016. They still believe he would be a good president, but they do not think it will be possible for Romney to rid himself of 2012 baggage in order to get the clean start necessary to run a winning campaign.
The Bush family network isn't as strong as some believe. There has been much talk of the vaunted Bush political machine, which is said to give Jeb Bush a big advantage even before the 2016 race officially begins. Jeb Bush himself has been calling donors and has told some of them that he hopes they will again support "the family." But the fact is, it has been a while since the Bush machine was in operation here in Iowa. It was last up and running in 2004, for the re-election of George W. Bush, and last at work for the caucuses in 2000, for W's first run. For the 2016 race, that means the machine has been out of action for a long time. Many Bush donors from 2000 and 2004 became Romney donors in 2008 and 2012. They have conflicted loyalties, and not all of them will rejoin the family.
Rick Santorum is in very bad shape. One would think the former Pennsylvania senator, as the (narrow) winner of the 2012 caucuses, would have a lot of standing for another race. He doesn't. Many Republicans believe Santorum's earlier success was the result of a set of peculiar circumstances involving a weak and fragmented 2012 field. They admire how hard he worked that year, traveling around Iowa with a thoroughness and intensity that no other candidate could match. But they don't see it happening again with a stronger field in 2016. And they don't see Santorum surviving a loss in the state he won before.
York notes that Rick Perry has a slim chance.  Another point about Perry:  last time, much of his money came from Texas business interests eager to court the favor of the incumbent governor.  Now that he is out of office, a lot of that money will evaporate.