Category Archives: Republican Party

Bill Kristol: Pence for Senate

Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard is encouraging Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) to challenge Sen. Evan Bayh in 2010. On the publication’s blog, Kristol notes Pence’s statement on the health care bill, and suggests he is an “obvious challenger” who “could make the race competitive.” Against the popular Bayh, that would be a big deal to the GOP.

Kristol has a good point, and at first glance it would be great if Pence challenged Bayh. He would, as Kristol notes, make it competitive, and this would be a major pickup nationally for Republicans. However, I’m also thinking about Pence and what’s best for his long term impact. Does this make sense? You tell me.

Although…Kristol outlines the potential personal rewards for Pence if he were to run and be successful:

“An articulate, conservative first-term Senator who had knocked off a “safe” Democrat in a state Obama carried in 2008—that would be something…for Pence, for the GOP, and for conservatives nationwide.”

I have not talked with anybody from Indiana about this, although obviously at some point along the way you would have to think that Pence’s camp would have considered this. Does the current national atmosphere and Bayh’s vote to nationalize health care now make him more likely to jump in?

The more attractive statewide race might seem to be the governorship in 2012. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, will be term-limited out at that point so it will be an open seat.

Serving as governor as opposed to senator is often a naturally more attractive proposition for a public servant – it’s kind of like being the big fish in a small pond as opposed to a small fish in a big pond. Plus, presidential candidates typically benefit from gubernatorial experience: it gives you a chance to demonstrate executive leadership, while avoiding accumulation of a lengthy vote trail to criticize during an election.

That being said, Pence does seem to be a natural legislator, enjoy taking on national issues, influencing the direction of the Republican Party, and a successful Senate run would allow him to step up earlier than the 2012 gubernatorial race. But it’s also not as if you still can’t stay relevant nationally as governor of a state – after all, look at Daniels.

Like I said, there are a number of factors at play here, and I don’t pretend to have any special insight on any of this.

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Do not mistake conservatism for competence

Today, a post on an important topic for the future of the GOP.

That is the current tendency of some among the conservative base to see conservatism as a substitute for competence. It is not. Or passion as a substitute for pragmatism and professionalism. Again, not the same. All of these are good things. Yet they are not the identical or interchangeable, and ought never be confused as such.

top-bannerOver and over, I see people make the case for Sarah Palin because she is a “conservative” leader. A “visionary” even, as Claude Sandroff ridiculously asserted in the American Thinker today. These same energetic advocates either shrug off her demonstrated weaknesses or worse, deny them or ignore their relevance completely. This is not only illogical, but suicidal politically.

There is nothing wrong with Sarah Palin’s conservatism – as far as it actually serves as the basis of her intellectual formation. The only problem is, if you don’t actually have much of an intellectual formation, how conservative could you actually be? That is to say, Palin has never distinguished herself as a serious thinker on major policy issues. Facebook notes don’t count. Anybody could’ve written those. So why are people so jazzed about her?

She’s hot, yes. Absolutely. And that helps, as it should. An appealing image is always going to be a plus in winning the public. She’s got a nice life story. A winsome young Sarah married her high school sweetheart, and from nearly every appearance has been an active, loving parent. She’s tough, too, as all the while she was rising to the top of state politics, a tough and tricky business no matter where you are. And she’s conservative – again, as far as you can say she actually has a substantial and coherent political worldview.

All of these things are great. As I must repeat in every Sarah Palin post – I like Sarah Palin. Nothing against her whatsoever. She is an impressive and dynamic woman, and probably even a good soul. Undoubtedly she has been unfairly maligned by some.

However, it is painfully obvious to any reasonable and honest observer that she was not ready for the national stage in 2008. Not ready to lead a movement, not ready to lead a nation (not that the current occupant is). She was dynamic and inspired, but not in the way that mattered most: as an assertive and authoritative voice on a range of serious foreign and domestic policy issues.

There’s no doubt that on the issues she’s interested in and takes positions on, she’s genuine and emphatic in those positions. The GOP needs that kind of principled authenticity. However, we also need somebody who beyond merely personifying traditionalist political impulses, presents grounded and nuanced understandings and arguments for the broader conservative agenda.

For its potential symbol and spokesperson to evoke little more than gut level cultural conservatism on a narrow range of issues, yet lack competence in discussing and dealing with issues on the broader national agenda, invites the supposition that conservatism is not a serious intellectual possibility as a set of governing principles, but little more than simplistic rightish populism to be offered up as red meat for rowdy red-staters.

I worked for the McCain-Palin ticket for a time, yet I do not say this as any kind of McCain moderate. After the primary had been decided, I went to work as a local field director because the choice between McCain and Obama for me was obvious and compelling.

It is precisely because I believe that the timeless ideals of conservatism can guarantee strength and prosperity for this nation for years to come that I advocate identifying and recruiting, if necessary, a candidate who is not only conservative, but whose competence matches his or her charisma. Right now, Sarah Palin is not that candidate.

Post Script 2: Rarely, I think, have I used harsh descriptions to describe the personal work of a fellow conservative commentator. I take little pleasure in doing so in regards to Sandroff’s column. I say little, because there is always some pleasure in defining something accurately. Any assessment of the philosophical contribution to the conservative movement and practical contribution to the Republican Party which describes Newt Gingrich as a “hack” in contrast to Sarah Palin, “visionary,” is not only ridiculous but absurd, obscene, and patently offensive.

Post Script 3: On Friday, Dr. Catherine Rymph of the University of Missouri delivered a lecture on the topic of Sarah Palin and the Republican Party. Rymph is a feminist historian so I anticipated a relatively hostile treatment of the subject, but nonetheless she did offer some interesting points of analysis which I hope to discuss on Principally Political this week.

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Gingrich should not run, nor will he

Newt Gingrich

But he still has a valuable role to play…

There’s been some scuttlebutt recently about Newt Gingrich getting into the 2012 race. I love Newt. He is widely regarded as an excellent ideas guy, and rightly so. He speaks on policy issues in ways that I wish a lot more Republican politicians would (or could). But let’s be honest. His time is past.

Hailing from suburban Altanta, Georgia, Gingrich is the former speaker of the House of Representatives. He lead the “Republican Revolution” with his Contract With America in 1994. It was a tidal wave in American politics, a dramatic rebuke and restraint on Clinton‘s initial liberalism that had strayed from his moderate marketing in the ’92 presidential campaign.

Gingrich left Congress in some level of disrepute, having suffered some defeats in key battles with Clinton, lost seats in Congress and ending his second marriage in divorce. He stayed out of the limelight for a while, as was necessary and proper.

In recent years, the former history professor has emerged as an energetic and prolific source of potential solutions – conservative and often innovative – to a wide range of public policy challenges. The country, not to mention the Republican Party, is the better for it.

This is a role for which Gingrich is perfectly suited. Someone who sparks thought and debate within the party and the larger body politic. A man well versed in history and politics to inform and persuade others.  But an ideal candidate he does not seem to be.

For starters, there’s the personal baggage. That doesn’t or shouldn’t necessarily rule him out in and of itself, but the baggage is particularly unsightly in this case. He’s on his third wife, after at least one of the first two relationships ended amidst his infidelity. Calling then-First Lady Hillary Clinton “a bitch” doesn’t help either, particularly when it is your mom who reveals the insult to Connie Chung on national television.

Call me petty or uninspired but I don’t think the American people will take well to a guy whose name is “Newt.” Particularly when followed by “Gingrich.” Yes, the people elected a “Barack Obama,” but despite its exotic flavor it has a nice ring to it and does not call to mind a particular amphibian creature.

But the main reason he should not run is that the Gingrich persona is too strongly associated with the past, when elections are always about the future. Rightly or wrongly, the dynamic, colorful, controversial Gingrich will always be remembered for his role in the events of the Nineties. Add to this the fact that while he may be healthy, the former Speaker is not as young as he used to be, in an age when Americans seem to be leaning towards more youthful presidents (Obama, Bush, and Clinton were all at least moderately young by historical standards).

Gingrich has made some noises himself recently about running. His line is essentially that if there’s a conservative philosophical gap in the GOP primary field, that will be reason for him to run, and if there’s not, then he won’t. That’s all well and good. But realistically speaking that gap – I don’t think – will be there. After all, we saw at least several solid conservatives run in 2008: Mitt Romney, followed at varying distances and for varying reasons by Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter.

I think Gingrich knows he won’t run, either. He understands the odds stacked against even a capable contender, the grueling nature of a lengthy campaign, and what he would have to leave behind in terms of the good life he has now built as an analyst and advocate. However, by lightly fanning the flames of a potential bid, he keeps his stock high and attention focused.

I’ve been in politics too long to be bothered by any cynicsm in that kind of strategy. I say more power to him. Because the man and his ideas more than merit the party’s and the nation’s attention.

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Looking back on the McCain campaign

Nothing novel here, but I was just watching a few 2008 presidential campaign ads on YouTube, and thinking once again how much of a mistake it was for John McCain to wait to challenge Barack Obama directly and assertively on so many things – namely his dubious and long-standing associations (Ayers, Wright, Acorn, Frank Davis, etc.), and his obviously radical worldview.

Yes, some people raised their voices early in opposition to Obama, but for a while McCain was quite reluctant to personally delve into the fray (by that I mean the candidate himself and the campaign proper on his behalf). I don’t know that anything could have tipped the scales in his favor – it was destined to be an absolutely horrible year for Republicans – but it seems that an honest and aggressive portrayal of the real Obama would have truly given the GOP a chance.

With nearly every move he makes, Obama proves to us (as if we needed any more proof) just exactly who he is. A driven collectivist who is little interested in honest debate on the issues; constantly inclined to demagoguery; supported by endless, self-aggrandizing stagecraft;  willing to misrepresent and belittle opponents. All this we are seeing on health care right now.

I worked on the McCain campaign because I strongly believed he was a far superior choice than Obama. Now that the latter has been elected it will be tougher to use what should be credible ammunition against him (again: Ayers, Wright, Acorn, Frank Davis, et al) the next time around. Nonetheless, a candidate’s (even an incumbent’s) political biography is always relevant – and there will also be a record to dissect in 2012.

We need a tough opponent who is not afraid to attack Obama, who knows how, and who is ruthlessly effective at it. At present I tend to think Mitt Romney might be the right man for the job, but I’m open to all ideas. Joke all you want about him being a plastic model of perfection – the man’s constitution is marked by discipline and assertiveness at its absolute core.

In any event, every day the Obama administration remains in power is another confirmation that McCain erred gravely in not getting tougher, sooner. Did he think it above himself? Did he think it wouldn’t be necessary because ‘surely, the people would learn about these things otherwise and make the obvious negative judgment on their own.’ And how exactly would that happen – through the mainstream media? Right. Because the media are always going out of their way to help Republican presidential candidates.

Obviously, getting tougher sooner was a necessary but not necessarily a sufficient condition for victory for team McCain (I’m leaving Palin out of the equation for now….she was an effective attack dog in some cases, particularly at her convention speech). Generally speaking, contrasts are necessary, and McCain on too many issues simply did not contrast vividly enough with Obama. So who knows how getting tough would’ve panned out. With the benefit of hindsight, one thing’s sure – it probably would’ve yielded better results than what we got otherwise.

Sigh….just a few thoughts here, offered way past my bedtime.

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Filed under 2012 Presidential Election, Barack Obama, Republican Party

Palin the gift that keeps on giving (for Democrats)

Sarah Palin. What could have been? Perhaps we’ll never know.

I don’t mean to pick a fight here or poke a finger in anybody’s eye, but I think the conversation about Sarah Palin is important. As long as there are a lot of folks out there in the Republican Party who remain convinced that Palin is the greatest thing since sliced bread, well, there’s some friendly persuasion that needs to take place. The conversation is important not just because Palin remains politically relevant for the time being, but because there will be other Palins in the future.

Gov. Sarah Palin seems like a terrific individual and an accomplished woman. She’s the type of woman whose authenticity and personal dynamism has probably attracted her many friends over the years, and many personal admirers. She even possesses beauty in addition to these other traits, and that – whether feminists recognize this or not – makes her something special, enhancing her unique appeal as a person.

Yet, all of these things do not translate into adequacy as a policy maker or political executive. They don’t hurt, and in fact they could be in great service to her as a candidate and public servant, but they are not sufficient in and of themselves. It takes seriousness. It takes thoughtfulness. It takes a level of intellectual devotion to ideas to lead a successful and sustainable movement that alters positively the future of the country. And Sarah Palin has not demonstrated this sort of psychological character.

I like Sarah Palin. That probably distinguishes me from 90% of her critics. I merely want to point out to movement conservatives and the Republican Party at large that she might be a bright shiny star, but notwithstanding her Arctic origins, she’s no fitting kind of North Star.

The articles continue to come out every day on Palin, and I’ve cherry-picked a few for you from the past week or so. Obviously, there’s hyperbole in some, and I don’t agree with every point of analysis or identify with the spirit of critique of some others. Nonetheless, I’ve become convinced that Palin is not the right choice to represent our party as its next nominee, and thus I want to amplify some of the arguments that are being made against her, something I may continue to do as long as this debate continues.

We’ll Always Have Wasilla, Paul Waldman, The American Prospect

A Farewell to Harms, Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

Sarah Palin’s Bizarre Bombshell, James Antle, The Guardian

In Sonia vs. Sarah, GOP is Doomed, Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail

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Palin not impressing serious conservatives

There are some who will attack Sarah Palin no matter what, there are some who will defend her no matter what, and then there are the rest of us.

In my initial reaction to her resignation, I outlined what I believed – and still believe – to be the bad politics of the decision. And I’m not just offering my analysis of the potential political fallout. I personally believe it was a poor decision, regardless of the ramifications on presidential politics.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s excellent take on the matter. George Will is not impressed, and neither is Charles Krauthammer. The political class at large was stunned at the announcement. Serious, thinking conservatives (and by that I do not mean to surreptitiously imply “establishment” Republicans or “moderates”) are generally not impressed, it seems.

To the degree that they are defending Palin (witness Bill Kristol), it seems to be in a very calculated, cautious, political manner. Rush Limbaugh, a man I will always admire , unfortunately, I think has taken a “circle the wagon” approach when it comes to criticism of a conservative star like Palin. She’s attacked by a lot of people for a lot of wrong reasons, so he feels the need to protect her even from valid criticism, to the point of not even offering his own criticism (that I have heard, at least).

Anyway – we’ll continue to see things shake out on this. The more I think about it, the more I tend to solidify my perspective that this was indeed a poor decision, and an ill-fated one. It’s really too bad, because the woman truly does have a lot going for her.

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Palin shocks Alaska, nation, resigns as governor

I’m thinking, once again, that I need an old typewriter to work on. A typewriter doesn’t freeze and delete the work you’ve just finished, as just happened on my laptop. Plus, I love the tapping of the keys.

I haven’t the spirit to attempt to rewrite this in full, so let me summarize my reaction to the Sarah Palin‘s resignation as Governor of Alaska.

This was an incredibly foolish decision.

  • Most directly, it opens her up to criticism of not finishing the job. She sought and received the trust of the people of her state to serve for four years. Now, she chooses not to honor that commitment.
  • It deprives her of experience that would’ve enhanced her readiness and credibility as a future presidential candidate.
  • Resigning now cheapens her existing experience, allowing critics to suggest she sought the governorship merely as a stepping stone to higher office.

I’ve not been one hoping or encouraging Palin to run, because I don’t yet  think she’s ready. But she could’ve gotten ready.

This is an attractive woman, possessing political ambition and savvy, whose magnetism and appealing life story enabled her to touch a chord with public audiences. Notwithstanding some harsh attacks from Democrats and some former McCain staffers, she has always had an enormous amount of potential.

My prescription for Palin would have been to return home to Alaska immediately after the presidential election, govern to the best of her ability for the duration of her term, all the while studying national policy issues. Then, opt against seeking a second term, and begin laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign.

She may not be over and done with, but I believe this decision has seriously harmed her ultimate chances of ever becoming president. Nonetheless, she has surprised before. Can she do it again?

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