2016: The GOP Rapture Cometh

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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125 Responses

  1. FYI – I’m going to be unavailable to respond to comments most of the day, but I’ll do my best to catch up tonight.Report

  2. NewDealer says:

    Good essay. I think you are right about how to view American political parties but it takes a long time for these marriages of convenience to end. Support for Civil Rights might have destroyed the old Solid South but it took decades. Possibly until 1994 or later. There are probably still some old-timers around who can’t bring themselves to vote Republican.

    Likewise, the GOP’s marriages of convenience have been on a long-slow decline. The Northeast Rockefeller Republicans are a dying breed. North Hampshire flirted with the Tea Party GOP in 2010 but they proved extreme enough to get kicked out of office in 2012. Who knows what will happen in Maine when Collins retires but I can’t imagine she will be replaced by another Republican easily.
    Same with Christie as governor of NJ.

    I’ve always been perplexed by Connor Friersdorph’s (sp?) support/admiration for Rand Paul. Your description of him as being a member of the old Robert Taft right is correct to me. Connor seems like someone who does believe in social liberalism and is not a declinist, so it is hard for me to understand his largely constant defense of Paul against Christie.

    Isolationism is probably on the rise and this includes the left. My stance as a non-military interventionalist is probably a bit out of fashion here. I think the U.S. should participate in world affairs and isolationists often sound unwittingly like America Firsters.

    My liberalism makes me more sympathetic to Christies support of security and stability though for different policies and means. I support more economic stability and security. There has to be a better way than constant cycles of boom and bust.Report

    • j r in reply to NewDealer says:

      I’ve never read Friedersdorf as being particularly supportive of Rand Paul. Rather, he seems more intent on using Paul to point out the inconsistency of progressives who support Obama from a “lesser of two evils” justification.Report

  3. J@m3z Aitch says:

    The whole post is good, but I want to particularly single out your first three paragraphs (can I “single” out three things simultaneously?) for high praise.Report

    • Thanks, James – that means quite a bit, actually, as I struggled like hell with how to write those paragraphs, which essentially seek to summarize a good chunk of my blogging and commenting over the last six years. Coming from a political scientist such as yourself, this is especially meaningful.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Well, I was thinking what a good political science approach it was, and how I doubt I could have written it half so well (of course I don’t do American electoral politics much, but still…). I wish the more famous talking heads and op-ed writers would make that point half so clearly.Report

    • I also found those paragraphs insightful. My one quibble with them is that they don’t seem to acknowledge path dependence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_dependence

      A coalition could exist long after it has outlived its usefulness. From the paragraphs as written, I got the sense that as soon as a coalition no longer has enough to hold itself together and a better one can be formed it will be. My suspicion (presented absent evidence) is that a new coalition will form only when it is dramatically more coherent than the prior ones.Report

      • A good point. I should mention that while shorthand requires me to talk about this as if it is well-defined and can happen quickly, the reality is that it’s all a very gradual process. Indeed, one argument I’ve made in the past, mostly at my old blog, is that the GOP’s existing coalition started to outlive its usefulness around the time that the Berlin Wall fell. Gingrich’s Contract with America (which in many ways was a conscious and temporarily successful attempt to avoid the pitfalls I described here) and the Clinton scandals helped keep it cobbled together, as did the early stages of the War on Terror, but I think once the focus started to turn to substantive domestic policy again, the seams started to unravel.

        I’d also generally agree with your suspicion that dramatically greater coherence is probably required before substantial addition of new coalition elements can occur.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    Rand Paul as Paleocon gets me to realize that Paleocons are evolving too.

    Paleocons used to mean “pre-New Deal” conservatives like Coolidge. Then they meant “pre-War on Poverty” conservatives like Eisenhower.

    Now “Paleocon” seems to mean “Reagan Republican”.

    Will “Paleocon” someday mean “Compassionate Conservative”? I should live so long!Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

      I don’t think I can agree with this, actually. As much as Reagan’s actual views have gotten distorted by conservatives, I don’t think it can realistically be argued that Rand Paul has much in common with him – Reagan’s worldview was famously optimistic about America, his views on the sanctity of defense spending were antithetical to Paul’s, and of course he was responsible for a ginormous expansion of the War on Drugs, amongst other things. Eisenhower may be marginally more appropriate as a comparison, but I’m a bit skeptical of even that.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        If there’s one thing Eisenhower was, it’s an institutionalist.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Ah, I see. I had misread what you said and thought that Rand Paul was *NOT* willing to cut military spending.

        The fact that he is willing to cut it is actually a pleasant…ish… surprise.

        My personal hope for Rand Paul is not that he run for President (I reckon he’d likely lose unless running against Biden or something) but that he stay in the Senate and keep abusing the filibuster in the old school style and keep asking questions that make the executive (whichever party s/he happens to be from) uncomfortable.

        (He gave an interesting speech a few weeks back in which he was talking about the Middle East and he asked why we’re giving so much money to countries hostile to Christianity… and I gave a low whistle.)

        He’s found his perfect level of competence. He ought to stay there.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I don’t think Rand would be particularly supportive of the war on drugs. Some of his biggest backers here in Kentucky owned head shops (I still sometimes have dinner with them), and one of the most infamous ads against him was about how he made a girl worship a Buddha bong.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        One of the stories about Obama’s “Choom Gang” days was about how he’d jump the circle and steal another hit off the joint they were passing around and yell “INTERCEPTED!”

        Which should not only offend people who are opposed to drug use but should offend people who support it.

        And, today? I read that the Feds did a raid on some Michigan dispensaries a couple of days ago.

        Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        he made a girl worship a Buddha bong

        Is that what they’re calling it these days?Report

      • In Obama’s defense, I don’t think he ever claimed he would do anything other than extend the drug war. He talked about smoking pot to earn cool points with the youngins, not to indicate future policy actions.Report

      • Vikram, the administration did imply that it was not going to go after medicinal marijuana operations (the Ogden Memo).Report

      • Oh, I forgot about that.

        I had been more thinking of his TV interviews where he bragged about having smoked.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Palaeocon” has always meant the same thing: crank with a bad attitude. And proverbially good and original.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    When it comes to Chris Christie, though, I wonder a handful of things. TVD pointed out that Christie had alienated a fairly important segment of the Republicans. That this was not a fault of Christie but of the easily offended segment in question seems irrelevant compared to the question of whether this segment has gotten over it (and/or is likely to be over it by the time comes).

    If his willingness to work with Obama remains something that irritates this segment, Christie will be painted as one of those guys who will reach across the aisle and work to pass even more Democratic Legislation (No Child Left Even More Behind, Medicare Part E) without doing much to move the football in any conservative direction.

    How much influence does the smoke-filled room still wield? I imagine that there are a non-zero number of folks in there who sneer at the thought of Christie ever leaving Jersey…Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

      This is a big part of the reason why I think Paul is more likely to win the nomination. However, Paul’s status as a frontrunner probably actually helps Christie quite a bit, as Paul’s own heresies provide Christie with lots of openings to play the “more conservative than thou” card in an effort to rehabilitate his image in the party nationally. Add to that the fact that it’s still almost three years until the primaries and that Christie’s going to have no problem raising boatloads of cash with which to point out his considerable conservative bona fides (a major contrast with Giuliani, who had basically no conservative bona fides). Finally, consider the existence of open primary states and that Christie is going to have relatively little competition in the “blue state” GOP primaries.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        For the record, in my strange internal political calculus machine, having Paul win the nomination would be the worst possible outcome for the country in the mid term, because he’d lose in a national election and this would be seen as a repudiation for his unorthodox views rather than a repudiation of his orthodox ones.

        Whereas if Christie fails, I see the opposite.

        In either event, I think it’s unlikely for the Democrats to lose in 2016, barring outside influences or a significant change in Fed policy… even given that they have done no candidate-searching of their own and seem pretty likely to default to Hilary, which I think would be a strategic mistake.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I ultimately don’t think this is reason to avoid nominating Paul if he emerges as the leader of that part of the party, because such nominations have great solidifying and consolidating effects in the party. Nevertheless, you’re right that a Goldwater-style loss (not the magnitude but the kind of perceived rebuke to the ideology) would then set the agenda back. But in this case, if we’re right about Paul’s limitations as a national leader, it would be more a function of candidate, if it were to happen like that, than I think Goldwater’s defeat, which was a function of the country not be ready for the ideology, was. IOW, it would be avoidable.

        So to me, the clearly better alternative is to try to recruit slightly more seasoned talent to represent this part of the party. Unfortunately, a great deal of the institutional brains, muscle, and dollars still lie with the institutionalist wing, to use Mark’s phrase. But as I say below, I think real national-level talent aligned with the populist conservative wing (that’s actually the main context in which I view the Pauls – not so much as libertarians ut as a familiar kind of conservative western populist which just happens to have a libertarian streak, just with that streak sort of tuned up in Rand via association with the modern think-tank establishment) is emerging.Report

      • I get what you’re saying, but I think the obvious counterpoint would be Barry Goldwater.

        I don’t think it much matters how the loss is perceived in the media so much as it matters who is left in the party after the loss. Paul would almost certainly get routed, but the reason he’d get routed would in no small part be that his nomination would be the last straw for many/most of the remaining institutionalists that have historically defined the party in the Northeast and Rust Belt, many of whom would switch over to the D side to support HRC or, if he won the nomination, Andrew Cuomo (with whom Christie has said that he agrees on 98% of the issues). When you leave a party, you lose influence over its direction, and the party can go looking for someone else to replace you who maybe fits a little bit better with its increasingly streamlined narrative.

        If that happens, then 8 years from now, when Obamacare has become taken for granted rather than a source of ongoing controversy, I can definitely imagine a situation in which the GOP looks even more like a populist party with a significant component of people we’d today consider hipster liberals in addition to the rump of the current GOP base, perhaps with someone like Justin Amash as a flag-bearer.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        The truth is, the real frontrunner isn’t Paul nor Christie. It’s Ted Cruz. Everything he’s done since he entered the Senate has been mainly done to piss off people to the left of Olympia Snowe and while he talked about NSA scandals, he’s really focused on Benghazi and your average GOP primary voter will care alot more about that, especially if 2016 is the Hillary Coronation Tour on the Democratic side.Report

      • trumwill mobile in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Jesse, we’re taking about the party whose last three nominees were the Compassionate Conservative, the Maverick, and The Former Governor of Massachusetts.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Agreed, Jesse. Ted Cruz has the look to me a of dude who is in this thing (politics) not to mess around with productive ideological debates or even rewriting the political narrative of the party. He looks like he’s in it to kick some a$$.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Senators Jane Norton, Mike Castle, David Dewhurst, Charlie Crist, Richard Lugar, Trey Grayson, and Sarah Steelman would disagree with your premise this is the same Republican Party as the Bush/McCain Era, at least when it comes to primaries.

        Romney only won the nomination because he went hard-right himself and basically pretended like he never actually was Governor of Massachusetts and was against the largest group of hucksters, frauds, and nincompoops in modern Presidential primary history and he still almost lost his front-runner status half a dozen times.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        That’s also a fair point, though, Will.

        And before that, the Senate Stalwart, and then the Pro-Choice Connecticut CIA Director.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Romney only won the nomination because he went hard-right himself

        I don’t buy it. The real right never–NEVER–bought Romney’s pretense at being hard-right. (I think the only folks that bought it were maybe the hard left.) He won because the big money was scared of the hard right and the hard right couldn’t mount a candidate that didn’t self-destruct.

        Whether that dynamic continues in 2016, well, I don’t have that crystal ball. So I’m not willing to argue against your view of 2016.Report

      • There’s definitely not any difference between choosing a nominee for a senate seat from Delaware and nominating a presidential candidate. None at all.

        Look, to believe that Cruz is the guy, you have to handwave away almost the entire history of the modern GOP presidential nominating process.

        Who cares if Romney played to the right? Nobody else can in 2016? You can’t tell me they’re looking for authenticity and won’t tolerate anything else. They nominated Mitt Romney.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I should clarify, I didn’t mean to agree he’s the frontrunner now (though I did). He’ll have to get past Paul and Christie to get there. But he’s to me a much more serious-looking politician who, if he can get half a handhold on the cliff-face, will be able to eat Rand’s lunch in their part of the party on the campaign trail.

        Yes, that’s what I said. He’s going to eat his lunch. On a cliff-face. On a trail. At a party. With metaphors for dessert.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Wait, so are you saying it likely to be Christie, Will? Because Rand Paul doesn’t survive your gauntlet here any better than Cruz does, AFAICT.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Mike Drew, I don’t think that Goldwater style loss would be perceived as an ideological rebuke by the conservatives. Even back then, when you had larger number of moderates and liberals in the Republican Party, the conservatives still maintained that they were posessors of the truth and fought on till the achieved victory within and without the GOP. Conservatives have few if any competing ideologies within the GOP that will drag the GOP in a more liberal/moderate direction compared to the 1964 Presidential election. I see them interpresting a Goldwater-style loss not as a rebuke of a particular ideology but as a sign of conspiracy against them.Report

      • Cruz’ appeal is pretty limited, I think. He’s at best the last gasp of the boilerplate conservative movement, a smarter Michelle Bachmann or Joe Miller, the quintessential emblem of the party’s current nihilism. If he wins, the nomination, the fever won’t break for at least another four years.

        But I don’t think he can win the nomination. For starters, he won’t have Paul’s well-cultivated infrastructure nor Christie’s bottomless pockets. While he’ll do well with the core of the base, he’ll have virtually no appeal outside of it, while Paul and Christie will have plenty of enthusiastic support outside of the base and – especially Paul – a fair amount inside of it. And remember – that base is shrinking as it quite literally dies off.

        It’s also noteworthy that he’s currently trailing HRC by 5 points in “Deep Red States.” http://blog.chron.com/txpotomac/2013/08/ted-cruz-trails-hillary-clinton-by-16-points-in-presidential-poll-by-20-in-swing-states/

        Obviously some of that is due to name recognition, but Rubio’s name recognition is probably not much better, yet he beats Hillary by 6 points in those states. It’s one thing to nominate a candidate who’s a longshot to win; it’s quite another to go so far as to nominate someone who potentially may lose all 50 states.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @James – I largely agree with you, that without the giant pile of money and the fact his opponents were incompetent, Romney likely would’ve lost the nomination. But, I do think the fact he basically repiduated Romneycare and went hard-right on immigration helped him survive the attacks from Gingrich/Cain/et al. If Romney had been even 2008 Romney, I don’t think he could’ve survived a primary, even with his SuperPAC Death Star.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        it’s quite another to go so far as to nominate someone who potentially may lose all 50 states.

        Purely as a political observer, that would be an awesome event.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Richard Lugar…would disagree with your premise this is the same Republican Party as the Bush/McCain Era, at least when it comes to primaries.

        It’s important to remember that all politics is local. I can’t speak to the others you list, but I can speak to the Lugar primary loss. It was as much about his age and “what has he done for Indiana lately” (he was a great national/international statesman, but not so noticeably focused on specific state interests) as it was about Tea Party politics.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        So another lieberman without the… cowardice?Report

      • Michael, I have my doubts about all three of them, but I have the least doubt about Christie.Report

      • Jesse, we’re taking about the party whose last three nominees were the Compassionate Conservative, the Maverick, and The Former Governor of Massachusetts.

        The social conservatives in particular are hamstrung by the current delegate allocation structure. Romney did well in blue states and blue counties in the red states. Too many of those red states did proportional allocation, so the social conservative du jour would win the state, but Romney would get a good-sized chunk of delegates from the more urban areas. Several of the big blue states, OTOH, were winner-take-all, so Romney could sweep up almost all the delegates in a California or New York. It was not uncommon on days with multiple primaries to see Romney win one, lose several, and wind up extending his delegate lead.

        I don’t see this changing in the future. Among the other schisms in the Republic Party, there’s an urban/rural divide. To pick an example, I think the Atlanta Republicans would scream bloody murder if the state party in Georgia attempted to take away proportional allocation.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        A Cruz nomination would be an absolutely perfect test of how much Birtherism was motivated by racism.

        Dude is from Calgary. Calgary. And would only qualify as natural born because his mother (not his father) was a U.S. citizen. Sound familiar?

        If Cruz can be president then Obama could have been, even if Obama was from Kenya.Report

      • A Cruz nomination would be an absolutely perfect test of how much Birtherism was motivated by racism.

        Or partisanship.

        If Cruz can be president then Obama could have been, even if Obama was from Kenya.

        I don’t believe that’s true. If Obama had been born in Kenya, his mother would not have met the “five year requirement” that would have automatically conferred citizenship. Cruz’s mother did.Report

      • Mark – I could be wrong about Cruz, he just seems like a pretty serious hombre to me, and as far as I’ve seen is pretty robustly stating the small-government case. But perhaps his other positions don’t put him in the right place to lead this part of the party. I don’t think I’m wrong about Paul, though.

        Lee – There are a lot of directions for conservatives to take conservatism in. If Paul were nominated and lost soundly, there could be a reaction within the party that going in the direction he wanted to go was a failed experiment and that a different style of conservatism is the way forward. IOW, Paul doesn’t represent ‘conservatism” in the same way that Goldwater did, because the movement has flowered since then, so you’re right that it wouldn’t be a rebuke to conservatism, but it might be a rebuke to the part of conservatism that Paul represents, if only a temporary one. It could also just be seen as a rebuke to Paul himself. Either way, I think it’s in the party’s interest to seek another standard-bearer, even if Paul’s ideology appeals to them.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Cruz has the stench of Joe McCarthy trailing him around.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I don’t think that is quite right. Ann Dunham was only 18 and thus not in the U.S. for five years before BHO was born.


        “No less than the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website indicates the ground rules for eligibility for children born out of the country. At this link, and on the third entry it clearly states in the case “that One parent is a U.S. citizen at the time of birth and the birthdate is before November 14, 1986 but after October 10, 1952″ that a child born out of the U.S. is a citizen if the mother lived five years in the States or with her parents engaged in governmental activities abroad after the age of 14. For children born after 1986, the mother need live in the States only two years after the age of 14. In this scenario, Obama’s mother, only 18 at the birth of her son, would not have been able to pass citizenship onto her son.

        However, the rules are less strict if the child is born out of wedlock and the mother is a U.S. citizen who lived at least one year in the States prior to the birth overseas. Obama’s father never divorced his Kenyan wife, thus making his marriage to Obama’s mother invalid in the extremely hypothetical scenario that he was born in Kenya. So, even in this flight of fantasy, her citizenship would carry over to the child, who, assuming everyone continued to live abroad, had until the age of 21 to decide whether to keep his/her citizenship. In the case of Obama, he was living in the states at the age of 21, not in Kenya or Indonesia, the latter of which country he actually he resided in as a small child, due to his mother’s second marriage.”


      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Will and Shazbot,

        The “natural born citizen,” rule is a constitutional principle. Therefore, I’d argue, it’s the federal judiciary, not either the legislature or the executive, that determines what constitutes natural born citizenship. It’s no different, I propose, than the legislature or executive attempting to define cruel and unusual punishment or due process.Report

      • Shaz, that’s interesting. Especially since the notion that Obama’s parents weren’t actually married was something that was pushed and harped on mostly by the same unhinged right that refused to believe that he was born in Hawaii.

        To be honest, I am not sure how it would have worked out legally if Ms. Dunham had married but Obama Sr. were still married in another country. Any divorce lawyers here want to chime in?Report

      • James,

        That seems reasonable enough to me. I’d agree with it more thoroughly if more people had standing to take it to court. About the only thing I agreed with the birthers on is that the cases should not have been thrown out for lack of standing. We all have standing on the eligibility of our chief executive.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        Agree one hundred percent.

        But any such case would have to say something similar about The hypothetical Kenyan-Born-Obama and the actual Ted Cruz. Both were born outside the U.S., had fathers who were non-citizens and mothers who were clearly natural born citizens (whatever that means) and long term residents.

        The 5-year rule that Will cites is likely irrelevant for the definition of “natural born citizen,” so I stand by my claim. (Even if it were the standard, the actual standard that immigration follows probably allows Dunham in as much as Cruz’s mom.)

        Will the tea-party Birthers vote against Cruz as an illegitimate candidate? No.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        And this is proof that Birtherism is caused by either racism or, as Will pointed out, blindly insane partisanship, or both.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I also think it is unclear whether the fact that Dunham was 18 (and thus not 14+5 years in the U.S) when Obama was born matters, given that she loved in the U.S. after Obama was born. (Immigration lawyers can weigh in.)

        That is, if Obama had been born in Kenya, and the when he was 3, his 21 year old mom went to immigration and asked for Obama to be given citizenship, I suspect they would give it to him. (Again, immigration lawyers should weigh in here, because surely these cases occur.) His mom was on “vacation” (plotting to have the world overthrown with her demon baby) and she is now a natural born citizen, or just plain old citizen, with more than 14 years and more than 5 after the age of 14, so he is now a citizen via his birth.


      • Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Eh, it’s not like if they argued “I ain’t gonna vote for no frostbacks!” that there wouldn’t be some way to call them racist anyway.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Also, the piece I cited doesn’t say that they never got married in the sense of being together and having a ceremony, just that the marriage could be declared legally invalid. So it isn’t tied up with any crazy right-wing Birtherism, amd there is no irony there at all.Report

      • Luddite J@m3z in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        We all have standing on the eligibility of our chief executive.

        A few thousand lawsuits would be an ideal way to paralyze the presidency. When did you become such a radical libertarian? 😉Report

      • Shaz, I suspect that they would give it to him, too. I am actually on record as saying that even if he was born in Kenya, and even if he shouldn’t have been granted citizenship, and the whole thing was a fraud perpetrated by his mother, that it should not bar Obama from the presidency because, even in the worst case, it was a fraud perpetrated by his mother and he has lived his life as an American citizen.

        Even if Obama Sr. was married, does our government automatically invalidate a marriage over here even if the previous marriage isn’t an American one and there is no complainant? That’s why I am curious if we have any marriage lawyers here. I believe there are circumstances where a marriage isn’t immediately undone because a previous divorce turned out not to have been finalized, for example.

        At the same time, I see the potential for room to argue that he’s not eligible that simply doesn’t exist with Cruz. It’s a thin argument, and one I believe based on expedience than actual conviction, but it’s there . Even if it turns out that the Dunham/Obama marriage was invalidated, that doesn’t necessarily prove anything, because the birther may not know about that or may not believe that to be the case, so it wouldn’t necessarily tell us about their state of mind.

        None of this is to say that I don’t at least partially agree with your initial comment. I think it would demonstrate the likelihood of something if nobody raised an eyebrow with Cruz (particularly if they were trying to define “natural born citizen” to having been born in this country, which some of them did). But it falls short of proof, in my mind. (Even of it being a matter of partisanship, which I suspect to be the riding factor for most – though I do believe race to be a factor as well for many.)Report

      • @Jaybird,

        (A) I basically judge it by the following. If it were a black Republican, would they have responded the same way? Some would, but most wouldn’t. Indicating to me that race is not the driving factor for most.

        (B) If it were a white Republican, would they have responded the same way? A much smaller group would respond the same way (smaller than in A). Indicating that race may not be the driving factor, but certainly is a factor for some.

        (C) What if it were a white Democrat, would they have responded the same way? Well, I think a group larger than A would have responded the same way. That’s why I am inclined to attribute the bulk – but not all – of it to partisanship.

        An acceptance of Cruz would validate my views here in my own mind, but fall short of proving them to someone who doesn’t already believe what I believe.Report

      • @luddite-jm3z I’m not a lawyer, but I think there would be a way that, after the first lawsuit, to have it declared as fact that there is no legal reason to believe that Obama is not an American citizen and future lawsuits will be summarily dismissed.Report

      • Will: The only mechanism of which I’m aware that would really permit for that would be a class action lawsuit. The reason is that you can’t prohibit a party from litigating something based on a proceeding in which they never had an opportunity to participate, nor would you want to – there’s all sorts of problems this creates, ranging from due process concerns to the ease in which collusive lawsuits could be filed to permanently immunize a defendant.

        Class actions are the only exception to that rule that I can think of, and they probably wouldn’t apply here – any action would necessarily be seeking declaratory relief only, so there’d be pretty much no reason for a plaintiff’s attorney to go through the extra effort to seek class certification; in fact, since this would purely be a politically motivated suit, there’d be a strong disincentive to seeking class certification because any attorney bringing the suit would want to allow others to bring suit if/when the attorney’s own suit failed.

        To my knowledge – though I haven’t looked into this, and it’s not something that would be likely to come up with any kind of frequency outside the context we’re discussing here – a defendant can’t force a plaintiff to litigate as a class action. We probably wouldn’t want that to be allowed in any event since it raises the strong likelihood of collusive lawsuits and/or could be strategically gamed by defendants who would look for the weakest possible plaintiffs’ attorney and then make their case the class action.

        Last but not least, in order to sustain a class action, a plaintiff needs to first get certified as a class, which is a complicated, difficult, and potentially expensive – for both parties – process. Even then, you’ve got to give notice to everyone in the “class,” and everyone in that class needs to be given the opportunity to opt out of the class such that they would not be precluded from relitigating the issue; on top of that, the only people precluded from relitigating the issue would be people in the certified class.

        Since this would be a declaratory judgment case with purely political motives, you can rest assured that every lawyer who would ever even consider litigating this on their own would opt out, since there’d be no benefit to them whatsoever of remaining in the class, nor any costs to opting out. Additionally, it’s quite unlikely that you’d ever get a judge to actually certify a class in a case like this in the first place, and if you did, it’s even less likely that the certified class would be defined so broadly as to literally include every American citizen.Report

      • @mark-thompson So if a court rules that Barack Obama was in fact born in Hawaii and there are no grounds to believe that he is not a citizen, that future lawsuits trying to prove that he was not born in Hawaii can be relatively easily dismissed?Report

      • I’m not sure I understand your question the way that it is phrased, but what I’m saying is that to my knowledge there is no workable mechanism other than standing that would allow cases like this to be easily dismissed without any costly discovery even after it had been adjudged in a given case that Obama is in fact a natural born citizen.

        In all honesty, I can’t think of any way of allowing standing for a case like this that wouldn’t either create an endless series of lawsuits or require the creation of rules under which the cure would be significantly worse than the disease. While some states have dispensed with standing requirements for purposes of challenging the constitutionality or legality of a statute or government action, such suits can to my knowledge usually be disposed of “on the papers” without any discovery and thus presumably aren’t much more burdensome than a motion to dismiss, which is how you’d dispose of a case on standing grounds in any event. But in a case like this where you’re alleging the existence of particular facts that you insist are not a matter of public record, standing grounds are about the only way I can think of to avoid an endless cycle of litigation in which each case needs to go through at least some limited discovery.Report

      • @mark-thompson You addressed my question. Thanks. It just seems screwy to me.

        It seems to me that if Bob Blake sues Barack Obama on the basis that he was born in Kenya, and the courts establish that he was born in Hawaii, then John Jones should not be able to sue on the basis that Barack Obama was born in Kenya unless they can provide new evidence to that effect. Now, if Jones wanted to sue on the basis that Obama renounced his citizenship in Indonesia, that’d be okay, until it was established that no such renunciation occurred or, in the more likely absence of the ability to prove a negative, what subsequent litigants would have to demonstrate for the issue to be revisited.

        I believe you when you say that this isn’t possible. It just strikes me as a hole in the system. One that denying standing may plug, but not a case where I am satisfied that standing shouldn’t exist on the basis that he is only our head of state, chief executive, and so on. Maybe I’d feel better if I understood who precisely did have standing for that lawsuit, because it seems to me that nobody except maybe John McCain did. State Secretaries? Bob Barr?

        Seems bizarre to me that, even though it seems quite obvious to me that Obama was every bit as qualified to be president as McCain and Romney were, it’s unclear how one would go about challenging a guy who is not actually qualified to be president or vice president, which was a question with regard to Dick Cheney. (I am unsatisfied by the assertion that it’s up to the voters and electors to ferret that out).Report

      • First, in terms of who has standing, I could probably make an argument that – at the appropriate time a rival candidate could have standing to challenge eligibility. Maybe a member of the Electoral College? Before the election, certainly it would be appropriate for a rival candidate to challenge eligibility for the ballot.

        But once there’s been an election and the President’s been sworn in, allowing challenges to the President’s eligibility to hold that office is extraordinarily dangerous – the effects of an adverse ruling would create a massive Constitutional, economic and social crisis: (1) how could a federal district court possibly enforce such a ruling? Would it even have the Constitutional authority to render such a ruling? (2) What happens to the millions of actions of the federal government that occur after inauguration but prior to final judgment removing the President from office? It seems to me that they’d all have to be rendered a nullity, since the authority of every federal actor, from the cabinet secretaries down to the lowest-level bureaucrat, is derived from the authority of the President. If the President was ineligible to serve in that capacity, then he must be viewed as having never taken office, thereby rendering the office of the Presidency technically vacant. (3) Who would become the new President? Can the Vice President inherit the Presidency if there is no Presidency to inherit?

        In terms of your confusion over why a judicial determination as to the President’s eligibility wouldn’t be binding on other potential plaintiffs, think about it this way:

        Assume for the sake of argument that Obama was ineligible under such a system. The first person who sues him, though, is totally incompetent; better still, maybe it’s someone friendly to Obama looking to take a dive. When that suit gets resolved in Obama’s favor, under your system, it would be binding on all future parties looking to challenge his eligibility – maybe even including people who would have standing under current standing jurisprudence.

        But this is also a very specific and unusual case, and I’m not sure how you could make a rule that would cover this case without causing even worse problems in tens of thousands of fairly mundane, everyday cases. If we generalized this rule, it would wind up allowing a corporate or government defendant to just have a case dismissed because of a separate lawsuit filed by someone the plaintiff never met or even heard of and who suffered a wholly different injury due to a given policy, practice, action, or product.Report

      • Mark, I actually somewhat sympathetic to the timing argument, provided that it wasn’t after the inauguration due to stalling tactics on the part of the defendant or that it wasn’t a case where suing prior to the election would be prejudicial and suing after the election is too late. I am wary towards “It can’t be done this way…” when there is no answer to how it can be done. (I’m not accusing you of that, rather I am recalling previous conversations on the matter.)

        With regard to my thoughts, it isn’t quite as you describe. It’s not that a first lawsuit would foreclose the possibility of any other lawsuit or any other lawsuit with that argument. But it would at least set the stage that subsequent lawsuits would need to establish that they are offering something significant that the first lawsuit didn’t. In the case of the birth certificate, the first plaintiff might require the production of the long-form birth certificate, but the second plaintiff would need to demonstrate that the LFBC is wrong. If there is a worry about subsequent lawsuits, there would be some sort of benchmark for what the next plaintiff would need to be able to do in order to sufficiently match the defense’s evidence that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii. I’m not sure it could be done. Where I could see a problem is Indonesia and citizen-renunciation. I could see a situation where subsequent plaintiff’s keep finding some new “witness” in Indonesia. If there is a hole in my plan, it’s that.

        And yet… I don’t know that “There could be too many plaintiff’s” is, in and of itself, a valid reason to deny standing when we’re talking about something on a scale where a whole lot of people would be affected by the fraud or whatever. Intuitively, something seems wrong about that. Now, that would and did make things easier on one level. On another level, though, this thing persisted in part because there never was any definitive judgment on the matter. And I am sympathetic to the notion that, you know, there should be.

        In that sense, I am down with Hanley’s idea that eligibility is simply something that the courts should decide. But for that to work, the courts need to be able to make the determination on a basis other than “Nobody who isn’t the other party’s nominee has standing.”

        Given that this is a special case, I don’t know, maybe we simply add a procedure to get this out of the way. Between George Romney, John McCain, Dick Cheney’s vice presidency, Ted Cruz, and Barack Obama, maybe we just have a process so that the doubters can get their day in court and we can get it done with quickly. A new power for the court, which I am generally loathe to give them but here would make sense: The power to declare the eligibility of candidates when there is a constitutional question.

        There is a “Who’s the plaintiff” question, though in lieu of the class action lawsuit way around this, maybe there could be by way of amicus briefs that can be considered even if the plaintiff is particularly weak?

        As I’ve said, I don’t agree with the birthers on much of anything. I’d be siding with Obama even if he was born in Kenya and even if Obama Sr. hadn’t been married in Kenya. But here… I do think they have a point. I’m sure the situation is as you describe. I’m not yet convinced that it is the best solution. I don’t know that I can be convinced that it is a good solution (and that, really, I have no right to expect that my president is qualified for the office and am not sufficiently affected by it to have standing).Report

      • … Or maybe I am just going about this the wrong way. Maybe the solution actually does rest with the states, to a degree. The courts just providing parameters. Which is to say that the states can, before putting candidates on the ballot, require some degree of proof of eligibility. The courts would determine what proof can reasonably be asked to ascertain eligibility (in other words, they can ask for a valid state birth certificate, but they cannot declare the state-issued “short-form” birth certificate invalid because it is valid. And the candidates fight it out with the states, which I suspect would come to quick rulings and say things like “Yes, that is a valid Hawaiian birth certificate” and “Yes, the Texas electors can consider Dick Cheney a resident of Wyoming” and so on.

        Arizona, I think, tried to set up requirements. A lot of people were mad. And, if I recall, Arizona’s demands were unnecessarily onerous. But I remember the criticism being that they had the gumption to make any demands at all. Which I would be okay with that being wrong, as long as the eligibility could in fact be determined or challenged somewhere. If not the courts (through the sort of litigation that was tried) for the reasons you describe, then somewhere. Somewhere, so we can pick up and move on. Something I can more easily defend than what we seem to have at the moment.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Jaybird says:

      I see them interpresting a Goldwater-style loss not as a rebuke of a particular ideology but as a sign of conspiracy against them.

      A loss of that magnitude has only been had three times in contests between candidates running de novo; the last time was in 1952. Each time, it was the incumbent political party which was repudiated. It helps in generating that for the opposition to preside over an economic catastrophe. If you are the opposition, it helps to nominate the national icon.Report

  6. Michael Drew says:

    Mark, I think you are right about this moment if Paul turns out to be a stronger figure than it currently looks to me like he is. Between Christie and Paul, right now I only see one man who has the political heft (sorry) to be the leader of a party trying for the kind of reinvention you’re talking about (and that is sorely needed). And unfortunately, I think that man would lead the party in the wrong direction from where its interests lie – both as a matter of providing a coherent agenda (though I have my doubts about how positive that would be; I think the natural and most fruitful political cause for the GOP now remains opposition to and rollback of liberal and fusionist programs, from Obamacare to Medicare Part D to the War on Terror, but they still have work to do to et there consistently), and as a matter of staying in touch with its base.

    But I just don’t know if Rand Paul is the guy who’s going to be able to get them there. He has critic not leader written all over him for me. There are other figures who I think seem up to the task even if they haven’t captured grassroots conservatives’ imaginations quite like Paul with his Senate grandstanding and so forth have – foremost among them Rubio who now appears hobbled by a failed strategic choice (from a party perspective) around a piece of “positive” agenda-setting, but also Ted Cruz, who just seems to me like he has the commitment to politics itself that is necessary in someone who can really lead a party in the way you’re talking about, even if he’ll have to sand a few of the rough edges off first before assuming that role. Somehow, I just don’t see this capacity in Paul.

    But if the right figures can take the mantles for the visions that are clearly on display in the Paul-Christie struggle, I think you’re certainly right that the basis for this kind of redefinition is now pretty much established.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Michael Drew says:

      He has critic not leader written all over him for me.

      I very, very much agree with this.Report

    • I’m not sure I necessarily disagree with you here – see my comment above. It’s not so much that Rand would necessarily need to lead the GOP to a new platform as him being a transitional figure sufficiently toxic to the northeastern factions of the party to get them to leave for good, taking their ability to influence the party along with them.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        And Rand basically said as much last week, if I recall – basically, take a hike, Northeast GOP. We don’t need ya.

        I wonder whether that really in the end is a wise choice if it’s not forced on the party, but it doesn’t really matter what I wonder about.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Basically, take a hike, Northeast GOP. We don’t need ya.

        Yes, pissing off the money usually works well as a long-term strategy goal.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Hey, they’re trying to win an election. The last thing they need is big money and more constituents!Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I think Rand Paul is very much aware that he is most effective as a critic and not a leader, and any attempt at Presidential nominations is merely to bolster his standing as a critic, rather than a real attempt to assume a leadership position.

        Pissing off the money is a way of hedging that bet.Report

      • …basically, take a hike, Northeast GOP. We don’t need ya.

        When you write off the Northeast, though, you also end up in a position that probably writes off Illinois, Minnesota, the West Coast, and possibly Colorado. Which all adds up to a very sizable number of delegates. It is not clear, at least to me, that a Republican can win the nomination if he/she writes off the blue state and blue county Republicans. After all, Romney won the nomination by appealing to blue state and blue county Republicans.Report

  7. Kazzy says:


    Would you make any comparison between McCain and Christie, at least in terms of how they are perceived? I remember a short period of time (early 2000’s maybe?) where McCain was looked very favorably upon by liberals. He was seen as a moderate, someone who was not hidebound by partisanship, and the type of guy that Democrats and liberals should try to work with. Of course, this was not really the case.

    Christie, similarly, is seen by many on the left as being fairly moderate. Hell, he won NJ… handily! Do you think liberals who look favorably upon him now would be in for a rude awakening were he to make a national bid?Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

      I’m not sure I would personally draw the comparison between McCain circa 1999-2000 and Christie today, but it’s a comparison that I understand. Certainly there’s more similarities than differences on their substantive positions.

      In terms of whether liberals will be disappointed by Christie nationally, I’d say that self-identified liberals will definitely be disappointed, but not the sizable numbers of Democrats that identify their ideology as “moderate” in most surveys, the folks who make up the base of support for the Cory Bookers and Andrew Cuomos of the world. Their substantive differences with Christie are likely to be fairly few, and I view the use of the word “moderate” to describe those positions as inappropriate – as I’ve tried to show above, there’s nothing “moderate” about the worldview that ascribes to these positions.

      Many of the folks in this group would historically be Republicans had the party not been compelled to push the culture wars and the fear based narrative I describe in the post. For instance, for all of New Jersey’s reputation as a deep blue state, the reality is that it voted heavily for every Republican Presidential nominee between 1968 and 1988, inclusive, going to Clinton in 1992 by only 2 points thanks to Ross Perot getting most of his votes in the state from GOP strongholds. IIRC, for awhile in the mid-90s, the GOP had a monopoly on the elected branches of state government after Christine Todd Whitman beat Jim Florio thanks largely to a conservative inspired taxpayers’ revolt.

      In fact, NJ was considered a bellwether state for most of the elections prior to 2000, going with the winning party in all but I think two of the elections beginning in the late 19th century, with both deviations being in favor of the Republican candidate.

      Since it’s always been a state with an extremely heavy immigrant population and diversity, it’s shift to the Dems the last 20 years can’t be explained by demographic changes. What’s happened is that the GOP’s narrative has alienated an awful lot of traditionally Republican groups who’ve moved over to the Dem side.Report

      • I view the use of the word “moderate” to describe those positions as inappropriate – as I’ve tried to show above, there’s nothing “moderate” about the worldview that ascribes to these positions.

        I submit that Mark’s definition of “moderate” is someone’s whose views lie between the extreme views held by people on a particular issue.

        I think those who call Christie moderate are using a definition that instead means someone who holds views that belong to more than one coalition. “Christie agrees with Democrats on some things, therefore he is a moderate.”

        I tend to prefer Mark’s definition, but I’m unable to articulate why. (I tried just now and deleted it.)Report

      • You read me correctly.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Thanks Mark and Vik.

        Despite hailing from the Garden State, I’m not that well versed on Christie, which is why I refer more to perception than reality. I haven’t lived there since I was 18 (2001) though have lived in the broader NYC area for 5 of the next 12 years, including now.

        I tend to identify as a liberal because the culture wars so turn me off that I can’t embrace conservatism. However, as I’ve demonstrated here, I am not dogmatic about my liberalism and often find myself at odds with all the “good liberals”. Christie appeals to me… or at least did… what I’ve read here about his views on civil liberties and defense spending give me great pause.

        Also, I’m not sure if it came up elsewhere in the thread, but Paul’s dig at Christie’s weight was appalling.Report

    • ScarletNumber in reply to Kazzy says:

      Hell, [Christie] won NJ… handily!

      Point of Fact: Christie won 48-45. For a NJ Republican that might be “handily”, but generally speaking it isn’t.

      The last Republican to crack 50% in NJ was GHWB in 1988; he beat MD 56-43.Report

  8. ScarletNumber says:

    Christie hail[s] from the only state to vote for McClellan.

    1) McClellan was from NJ.

    2) KY and DE also voted for him. They were border states, but never joined the CSA.Report

    • Whoops, thanks for pointing out that error. Was McClellan really from NJ? I always understood him to be from Philly, and the earliest connection I can find of him residing in the state was when he was assigned to Trenton by the War Department after Antietam. He eventually became governor, obviously, but that was long after he lost to Lincoln.Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Yes you are correct that GM isn’t a New Jersey native. Ironically AL carried South Jersey while GM carried North Jersey, even though GM is a Philly native.

        NJ obviously took to GM though, eventually electing him Governor as you mentioned.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    Here’s who worries me: Huckabee.

    He’s charismatic, he can carry the South, he can talk to people on the fence, his Christian bona fides are impeccable, and I don’t see him losing to Clinton.Report

  10. Michael Fox says:

    I agree with Mark Thompson that the “Democrats’ decision to adopt a civil rights platform in 1960 and 1964 despite the knowledge that it would destroy the party’s southern dominance” was a watershed moment. It was also an act of enormous political courage. Conversely, the decision of the Republican Party to welcome and embrace those Democrats, primarily in the South, who opposed civil rights for Black Americans was the most despicable and vile action by a political party in American history. That decision is really what gave the birth to the modern Republican Party, and it is also the source of its current ills. Governor Christie could probably repudiate the racists and still win re-election. Senator Paul could not. Neither of them, nor any other GOP candidate, could repudiate the racists and win a national election as a Republican.Report

    • ScarletNumber in reply to Michael Fox says:

      This is why I laugh when people like Ann Coulter harken back to before the realignment as proof that the Democrats are racist and the Republicans are not.Report

  11. North says:

    Stellar article Mark though I suspect that no GOP partisan would find any solace in even your most optimistic predictions. What I’m reading from this is you think that the GOP is finally beginning to move towards having an internally consistent and arguably relevant new internal coalition.

    That’s great for the party in the long term but in the near term there’s not much sunshine there. The platform outlines you laid out for instance look like pretty toxic stuff politically in the immediate and near future electorate; they alienate significant current GOP interest groups while holding only marginal immediate appeal to low info swing voters. So while in the long term they could represent a new birth for the party in the immediate term they’d probably result in consistent electoral losses.

    Now obviously if you’re on a sinking ship swimming to land is a logical option but that expanse of cold dark water in between can be daunting. Politicians are short term creatures and I suspect that many in the GOP would prefer to adjourn to the opulent dining room and fight for space on the sinking ship as opposed to giving it up to start anew.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to North says:

      Absolutely it’s probably bad news for the party in the near-term, especially if Paul comes out on top (I think Christie’s platform probably helps the party finally make gains in the northeast again even as it starts to siphon off some of its dominance in the south and mountain west). But at some point the party just isn’t going to have a choice – if it sticks with what it’s been doing, it’ll be the final death knell for the party in the northeast, and thus for a huge chunk of its funding, and probably will increasingly cost it a lot of its support in the Rust Belt and Great Lakes regions. It also will fail to capitalize on the potential influx of Paulite voters.Report

  12. BlaiseP says:

    The Republicans need an LBJ figure with the willingness to worm the hog. The GOP simply must reinvent itself if it’s to survive for the next few decades, exactly as the Democratic Party needed to reinvent itself in the 1960s. The last big tectonic shift in the GOP was under Newt Gingrich and it really didn’t pan out to anything substantive.

    Trouble is, I don’t see any such LBJ figure with enough pull in Congress to make such changes. The GOP will go on being anti-everything and the Tea Partiers will continue to weaken them like so many termites.Report

    • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

      If Reagan used to be a Democrat, I predict the next Republican Leader to be a technocrat from the Democratic Party.
      May take a while to get there, but once the creative class gets done remodeling the Democrats, I figure they’ll be bored enough to go fix the Republicans too.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

        Won’t happen. The GOP has spent the last three decades defining itself as not-Democrat, burning its heretics. They can’t even say “Democratic Party.” Look at how they’re treating Christie, who’s hardly an exemplar of comity and good will.

        No, the future of the GOP is probably something akin to what became of the old Tory Party. They’ll still be called Republicans but the Tea Partiers, the populists and the Religious Righters will form an alliance against the actual Conservatives, as many did against Robert Peel when the Conservative Party was formed. From Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto of 1834

        Then, as to the spirit of the Reform Bill, and the willingness to adopt and enforce it as a rule of government: if, by adopting the spirit of the Reform Bill, it be meant that we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation; that public men can only support themselves in public estimation by adopting every popular impression of the day, – by promising the instant redress of anything which anybody may call an abuse – by abandoning altogether that great aid of government – more powerful than either law or reason – the respect for ancient rights, and the deference to prescriptive authority; if this be the spirit of the Reform Bill, I will not undertake to adopt it. But if the spirit of the Reform Bill implies merely a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances, – in that case, I can for myself and colleagues undertake to act in such a spirit and with such intentions.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:

        Maybe it’ll go the other way. If the GOP gifts the Democrats all their current and developing Northeastern talent, it seems pretty plausible that it could.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

        The Obama and Clinton administrations have been characterised by a strange, abstract sort of charmlessness at a policy implementation level. Take the labels off both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, just look at the bills they signed — it’s hard to tell either of them from what a Moderate Republican would have backed in the same situation.

        If the GOP has been driven right-wards, it’s really been a retreat. To distinguish themselves from these two centrist Democrats, (both of whom annoyed their lefty faithful), the GOP has been obliged to back away from positions they once held themselves: look at PPACA. For godsakes, it’s exactly what the GOP were proposing under Bill Clinton. Why are the GOP screaming about it now? Because they have to. It’s all about issuing distinguishing messages.

        The Democrats have always run somewhat left of their actual governing positions. They draw the GOP into their cleared fields of fire and demolish them there. Romney never knew what hit him.

        I think you’re right, Michael. The GOP has no use for practical people any more.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        PA Republican machine wants someone better than Toomey. They actually liked Spector, and want more decent folk who know how to govern, first, and play politics second.

        It’s just as possible that the Southron/ChristianConservative/BusyBodies will get thrown to the wind.

        The Republicans can’t win without ’em? Too bad, they won’t win with ’em either. Let the country have a three way split, and to hell with the busybody chorus.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

        The Democrats used to think they couldn’t win without the Solid South either. Cost them dearly to Get Right and quit pandering to those inbred racists — but they were better for it.Report

  13. John Thacker says:

    But in his use of empathy for his constituents, his preference for seeking to make existing programs more effective rather than seeking to eliminate them, his clear distaste for economic libertarianism, his willingness to support private sector unions, and his contempt for the culture wars, he is neither a “squish” nor a prototypical movement conservative Republican, but rather something else entirely.

    I have a difficult time viewing this package of beliefs (including the defense beliefs listed above) as much different than George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” except that Chris Christie has a different accent and manner of speaking. Is it really such a radical transformation? Especially if you consider how George W. Bush was talked about when he was a Governor running for the Presidency, as opposed to the view of him after taking office.Report

    • A fair point, although it’s not so much that it’s a radical transformation – it’s not – as it is a matter of it being inconsistent with boilerplate movement conservatism at this stage, combined with a strong opponent providing a clear contrast.Report

  14. Tim Kowal says:


    This is a worthy exposition of the thesis you advanced in our previous discussion about 20th century Republican moderates. While I reserve the same general reluctance to the argument that political parties are mere “marriages of convenience amongst cultural and economic interest groups,” let me seize on some of the premises you articulate here.

    You say that the problem any political party faces is that “eventually the party succeeds in enacting key elements of its agenda,” bringing its “secondary or tertiary interests” to the fore. Because those interests “may not be consistent with the narrative” and even “hostile” to some of the parties’ internal coalitions, the narrative and even the party itself become incoherent. That’s certainly plausible as stated, but it leaves me wondering: what “elements” of the GOP’s “agenda” do you take to be both “key” and “succe[ssfully ]enact[ed]”? I struggle to even offer possible examples because I also don’t have a grasp on what you take as the relevant time frame. That is, should we mine the first Republican Party Platform of 1856 for its “key elements”? Or one of its various reconstituted iterations in the late 19th century or early 20th century? Or is only the postwar period of relevance to us, when Republicans were well-behaved and habituated to Democratic dominance?

    For the same reasons Bill Voegeli articulated, I remain skeptical at swooning over “moderation” in politics. Clarity is to be preferred over agreement. Moderation seems too closely aligned with nihilism – nothing really matters anyway, so just cut a deal. Missing from your formulation, I fear, is any place in political parties for statesmanship, in which case politics becomes nothing more than salesmanship, turning governing into pitching. Moderates are fond of citing President Eisenhower’s defense of certain big government programs (“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”) But missing always is the context that places the statement in the service of statesmanship: Eisenhower was firmly committed to the principle that it is “a dangerous trend when [the country] permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions.” “But,” Eisenhower went on:

    to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything—even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. [Emphasis in the original.]

    It seems clear that Eisenhower was not talking about “attain[ing ]success” for his party, but instead for the country. Thus, in the wake of the shakeup in governmental institutions under the Depression, New Deal, and World War II, Eisenhower was not about to put the nation through another great shakeup in a shorter timeframe than the people would accept – even to achieve his party’s principles.

    But that doesn’t mean never. By the 1980s and ‘90s, it did indeed appear that the people were tired of the status quo of Democratic rule and Republican moderation. The GOP has held the House decisively since 1994 after the tenure of moderate Republicans in that body was largely over. And though the GOP has lost two presidential elections in a row, it was to a Democratic candidate with enormous personal appeal, largely non-transferrable to successors, and after putting up moderate GOP nominees.

    GOP moderates achieved the “key elements” of their agenda – politely facilitating the key elements of the Democratic agenda. With nothing left to do, they now largely lose.

    So yes, the GOP does have some work to do. And in some respects, I am concurring in parts of your judgment, though obviously for different reasons.

    As for the potential candidates you survey, Christie seems to fit the bill. He obviously has firm beliefs and yet seems capable of governing. I’m less sure about Rand Paul. He seems like more of an ideas guy – fine to have as an advisor, but not at the helm. Like his father, he also tends towards self-marginalizing activism. He will continue to stand for a libertarian faction in the GOP, but I don’t see that faction threatening to “tear [the party] asunder” anytime soon.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Clarity is to be preferred over agreement

      But I thought you liked the U.S. Constitution?Report

    • That’s certainly plausible as stated, but it leaves me wondering: what “elements” of the GOP’s “agenda” do you take to be both “key” and “succe[ssfully ]enact[ed]”?

      In my theory, the GOP’s coalition was fundamentally premised on anti-Communism. Obviously, the lion’s share of this narrative fell apart with the Berlin Wall. But also within this umbrella, one was able to fit all sorts of things like deregulation, the whole “Christian America” vs. “godless Communism” them, etc. This narrative helped give it a huge structural advantage for at least 20 years. But the end of the USSR obviously destroyed the utility of most of that narrative, and it can’t be ignored that boatloads of deregulation and tax cuts occurred in the interim, as did – a few years later, thanks to Newt’s well-conceived “Contract with America” band-aid on this problem – welfare reform. It’s easy to forget, but even with Obamacare (which Christie and many/most of those who share his narrative vehemently oppose) the economy is far less centrally planned than it was in 1960, and definitely less than it was in 1972 (lest we forget, Nixon actually implemented price controls). Social conservatives didn’t get much out of the deal on the federal level other than perhaps the War on Drugs, but got quite a bit enacted on the state level; regardless, the other successes obviously removed most of the glue that would have provided an incentive for other elements of the coalition to go along with social legislation that was noxious to their previously secondary and tertiary interests.

      I remain skeptical at swooning over “moderation” in politics. Clarity is to be preferred over agreement. Moderation seems too closely aligned with nihilism – nothing really matters anyway, so just cut a deal.

      This is one of my central points though – there’s actually nothing uniquely “moderate” or “extreme” about either Christie or Paul’s agendas or ideology, even if Christie is painted as a “moderate” and Paul as an “extremist,” at least not to the extent this is how “moderation” is defined. Instead, they each possess clear and distinct ideologies that appeal to vastly different swathes of the GOP’s electorate. In each case, those ideologies allow for some policy preferences consistent with the interests of most of the existing GOP coalition, but they also demand policy preferences that appeal to as large a swath of the Democratic coalition as they do to the existing GOP coalition.

      Indeed, what I’ve tried to show is that in many ways, it is orthodox movement conservatism that is a set of squishy compromises masquerading as an ideology. Which is ok – that’s necessarily true of all political coalitions in my view – but the problem is that those compromises no longer fit within a consistent narrative: for instance, the conservative movement purports to be all about small government, yet supports ever-higher defense spending; purports to be anti-deficit, yet refuses to consider even the most modest of tax increases; purports to be the defenders of religious liberty yet seeks to prohibit litigants from agreeing to privately arbitrate claims under sharia law and to prohibit the building of mosques whereever possible; purports to be the defenders of other forms of individual liberty, yet takes little umbrage at domestic spying and, under Bush, warrantless wiretapping.

      The GOP has held the House decisively since 1994 after the tenure of moderate Republicans in that body was largely over. And though the GOP has lost two presidential elections in a row, it was to a Democratic candidate with enormous personal appeal, largely non-transferrable to successors, and after putting up moderate GOP nominees.

      I think one needs to be careful about reading too much into this. First, my theory does not dispute that even as a coalition is falling apart, it can still win elections, though obviously it may become progressively more difficult – in a two party system, there will always be quite a bit of power in being “not the other guy.” Second, control of the House needs to be taken with a grain of salt given the effects of incumbency and gerrymandering – and not just partisan gerrymandering; it can’t be ignored that in many ways the GOP is actually the beneficiary of majority-minority racial gerrymandering since the effect of majority-minority districts is to concentrate pro-Dem voters into a single district. Third, the GOP’s control of the House has not been wholly constant – it did after all lose the House from 2006-2010, and for most the time it’s been in control, its margin has been historically slim, less than 30 seats not including the last two elections. And even in those last two elections it needs to be pointed out that Democrats actually received more votes for Congress in 2012 than did Republicans, but because of the aforementioned gerrymandering, Republicans were able to maintain a 33 seat advantage.

      And though the GOP has lost two presidential elections in a row, it was to a Democratic candidate with enormous personal appeal, largely non-transferrable to successors, and after putting up moderate GOP nominees.

      I’m not at all certain that Obama did better than other Dem candidates would have done – as I mentioned above, Democrats actually received more votes for Congress in 2012 than did Republicans, and most analyses I’ve seen have indicated that Obama actually underperformed in 2008 compared to what would have ordinarily been expected based on the state of the economy. And while the McCain of 2008 could reasonably be painted as a moderate under any definition, I don’t think the same can reasonably said of Romney, who after all had received the endorsement of most of the movement conservative establishment in the 2008 primaries. Given the narrowness of both of Bush’s victories, I’ve very much come to the view that the Democrats have built up a sizable structural advantage in the EC since 1994, much as the GOP held such an advantage throughout the 70s and 80s.

      I’m less sure about Rand Paul. He seems like more of an ideas guy – fine to have as an advisor, but not at the helm. Like his father, he also tends towards self-marginalizing activism. He will continue to stand for a libertarian faction in the GOP, but I don’t see that faction threatening to “tear [the party] asunder” anytime soon.

      My point here is more that, if he were to win the nomination, it would be the end of the declining, but still significant, institutionalist wing of the GOP – that wing of the party shares virtually nothing in common with Paul and he certainly lacks the charisma to cover up those disagreements. But he’s nothing if not shrewd and unlike his father, his activism seems to have actually improved his standing with a big chunk of the grassroots even as it has angered movement conservative leaders of the “strong defense” faction. He’s currently got a slight lead in a lot of the early primary polls; obviously, such extraordinarily early polls need to be taken with a huge grain of salt, but it also can’t be ignored that he is going to inherit his father’s substantial campaign infrastructure, giving him a ground game unrivaled in GOP primary history. He’s also got a vastly better relationship with movement conservative leaders and conservative politicians than does Christie, meaning that as other would-be nominees gradually drop out of the race, he’ll have the inside track on their support.Report

      • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Mark. I’m inspired to review my modern political history sources and maybe write a post in further response to continue the dialectic. But I will say that the “compromises” you cite – which I take to be your examples of the “hostile” and “inconsistent” “secondary and tertiary interests” referenced in the second paragraph of the OP) are easily answered. “Small government” and “defense” are not in any particular tension. Since the founding, the distinction between foreign and domestic has been well understood. The anti-deficit/tax increase argument is semantics. Taxes/revenues, cuts/savings, cutting government/slowing the rate of growth. There is simply too much fog here to make any kind of persuasive argument that Republicans writ large are confused about what they believe, i.e., that government shouldn’t spend more than it receives in taxes, and that it shouldn’t demand more taxes unless necessary. While it may be entertaining to poke fun and imagine that the simple rubes don’t understand arithmetic, the truth is that most people are unconvinced the government can’t find money somewhere else than by taxing them. Not unreasonable given recent trends. Government has indeed been finding that money somewhere else: The Federal Reserve. We’re now just beginning the long re-education process that that can’t go on forever.

        The examples of sharia law and wiretapping are valid, but these are things being sorted about in the very forums the left despites – talk radio and other conservative publications. Here in Orange County, we hosted a Federalist Society debate on the “9/11 mosque,” and have had other speakers discuss sharia law. At any rate, it’s relatively minor given the very large project of restoring and defending religious liberty that the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans do agree on. The proper response to the NSA’s data-collection enterprise is also being meted out among conservatives, as I hear different Republican leaders offering different perspectives on the radio every week. Incidentally, there’s no unanimity among Democrats either, it appears. Rightfully so. It’s the age-old question of liberty versus security.

        There may be examples of issues that threaten to rend the party by the mere force of their philosophical inconsistencies. But in my opinion, the examples you offered are not among them.Report

      • Very quickly:

        Even to the extent a consistency can be found between these items, it can only be by finding exceptions to the narrative (in the case of defense spending) or narrowing the narrative in a manner that leaves no flexibility to address particular problems while also inherently excluding people who bought into the broader narrative but cannot necessarily by into a narrow narrative (in the case of taxes). With sharia/mosque construction and wiretapping, etc., there may be a significant debate going on now within the party, but that was certainly not the case just a few years ago (actually, on the sharia/mosque issue, that there was a need for a debate at all is pretty appalling, but that’s just me); that the debate is finally starting to be had is a sign that the rifts I’m pointing to are finally starting to be exposed in the coalition; were that not the case, I’d not have been able to write this piece and Rand Paul would not have been able to develop a sizable following within the party.Report

      • Also keep in mind that a number of northeastern Republicans have already come very close to leaving the party over the party’s response to Hurricane Sandy (and some especially powerful donors actually did leave it); if the party starts to turn against them on national security issues while doubling down even more on fighting the culture wars, there will be virtually nothing left to tie them to the party.Report

    • North in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Tim the GOP has achieved several of their basic policy objectives from the Regan era.
      Communism is dead and gone, so dead and gone that it doesn’t even exist as an ideological force even on the leftmost wings of the GOP’s opponent party. That’s like –the- defining crusade of the GOP now concluded victoriously.
      Taxes are historically low. Admissibly this has been achieved primarily through deficit spending but that’s a GOP goal that has been achieved.
      The social spending programs, particularly welfare, of the 70’s and 80’s have been enormously reformed and rejiggered. The changes were mostly done in conjunction with Dems but this is also a GOP goal that was achieved.
      The Dems are now an unabashed pro-market party, if anything they’re as cozy and comfortable with business as the GOP has ever been. Organized labor is weaker than it’s ever been since the new deal.

      I dunno, I’m not an expert but it seems to me like the GOP has enacted a lot of their economic agenda though I’ll admit it’s been overshadowed by their near total and massively sweeping defeat on the social side of things.Report

  15. Burt Likko says:

    Paul has two significant issues to resolve before he can become palatable to the nation as a whole — first, as Mark points out in the OP, his tap-dancing on same-sex marriage, and second, his continuing inability to reconcile overwhelmingly popular civil rights legislation and minimalist view of permissible Federal intervention in private transactions against his assertion that rollbacks of civil liberties are a benchmark of American decline that must be reversed. Christie has easy ways to address both of these with his trademark blunt candor.

    The real problem I see for Christie is that where Paul could get the nomination, Christie may have too many contradictory lessons to learn from the Guiliani campaign about how and why Republicans from the northeast fail to impress in the midwest and south. Granted that Rudy! made some serious tactical mistakes and failed to find solutions to problems of his own personal baggage which Christie lacked, but the fundamental issue Rudy! faced, and which Christie will face, is that the political necessity of reaching working compromises and working relationships with groups and people demonized by the core voters from most of the early primary states will always taint any politician holding executive office from that area.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Christie’s ham needs some more time in the curing shed. Like Giuliani, it was a disaster which brought Christie into the spotlight and not all of that attention was welcome. Christie just isn’t enough of a True Believer to bring in the GOP faithful.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Eh, Christie was in the spotlight long before Sandy – lest we forget, there was a sizable “Draft Christie” movement during the 2012 primaries and he was a Tea Party folk hero thanks to his busting of the public employee unions, especially the teachers’ union, not to mention his budget austerity and decision to kill the ARC project. He was widely perceived as someone who was fighting for conservative principles in a deep blue state who nonetheless managed to maintain strong approval ratings. Even before Sandy, he was considered an overwhelming favorite to win reelection.

        Sandy mostly just moved his approval rating into the stratosphere.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Well, yeah, that’s true, Christie was on the radar before Sandy. But considering the wretchedness of the GOP candidates in 2012, saying Christie would have been better than any of the passengers in that clown car is not saying much.Report

  16. Scott Fields says:

    Regardless, as long as one of these two bannermen wins the nomination in 2016, the nihilism that has all too frequently characterized the GOP these last few years should finally be lifted, replaced by a narrative actually capable of governing.

    I’m not convinced that the bannerman for the party in 2016, whoever that may be, will bring about any re-calibration of the GOP coalition, Mark. Despite the extensive and demonstrative rounds of hand-wringing following Romney’s loss, here we are a year later with Republican senators threatening government shutdown AGAIN and efforts to moderate on immigration look sure to die in the House. A GOP standard bearer coherent on capable governance could end up being a harbinger of change, but the end of the party’s nihilism will have to play out through heavily gerrymandered House districts and in the various Republican controlled statehouses. I suspect Republican stage legislature overreach (see Wendy Davis in Texas) will be what ultimately forces change.Report

    • My response to this would be that Romney was exactly the type of boilerplate candidate needed to keep the coalition together even while failing to change it – someone who stood for everything “conservative” all at once, and therefore stood for nothing. His loss showed how the coalition is shrinking and losing power, but it said little about which constituencies the GOP needs to stop pandering to, and more importantly did nothing to scare off any given constituency.

      What needs to happen for the party to change is for it to nominate someone who is so incompatible with one or more significant GOP constituencies that those constituencies just quit the coalition for good so that the party can stop trying to include their interests in its platform. Basically, they need someone polarizing enough within the party to make the rifts in the party obvious to everyone. Otherwise, the party and its constituencies can go on pretending that cleek’s law is a workable governing philosophy.Report

      • Scott Fields in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Thank you for the response, Mark. I understand the theory and I agree wholeheartedly that a rift within the party that permanently drives away a faction or two of the coalition is a prerequisite to substantive change for the GOP.

        I’m just questioning if the person who becomes the standard bearer for the party in the next Presidential election will be the impetus for the shearing away a section of the Republican glacier. I think we’ve all heard the “I didn’t leave the Party, the Party left me” speech from time to time and my impression has been that the speaker doesn’t refer to Candidate X (with his poisonous ideology Y) being the nominee as the final straw, but rather the rationale is tied to some policy position, say restrictions on the teaching of evolution in schools, that is gaining hold broadly in the party.Report

      • Absolutely. In this case, though, I’d argue that nominating one or the other of these two men would be the equivalent of the party adopting a whole bunch of positions noxious to a sizable faction of the party.Report

      • Scott Fields in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Either of these men in the race will stir the pot, no doubt.Report