Posts Tagged ‘ conservative ’

GOP Presidential Candidates Series: Rick Perry

(For past entries in the series, see: Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty)

Time for another entry in the series, and today we look at Texas Governor Rick Perry, the most recent entrant into the Republican nomination contest. Perry’s campaign image is based on two claims:

1)  He is just as credible a candidate as Mitt Romney, which means he is a strong, smart leader who can beat Barack Obama, and 2) He is more conservative than the flip-flopping Mitt Romney. If Perry can successfully portray himself as fulfilling both of those claims, then he will win the Republican nomination. Initially, it looked like Perry had both qualities down. Now, it appears there are some serious holes in Perry’s narrative.

Perry’s policy and stances on the issues

Perry has dense ties to the Tea Party. They like his staunch fiscal conservatism, no-apologies attitude and his strong religious faith. Perry is very well known on the faith side, having declared three “Days of Prayer for Rain in Texas”  during that state’s historic wildfires. He also hosted a huge, evangelical, semi-political prayer rally right before he declared his Presidential candidacy. Clearly, he sees no problem with using his public office to promote his faith.

Perry also double checks the boxes on many key conservative issues. As the Governor of Texas, he has presided over more executions than a Chinese official at a pro-democracy rally. Conservatives seem to love that. He is also a huge supporter of gun rights. Notably, he jogs with a pistol at his side and has used it to shoot a coyote that looked at his dog funny.

Rick Perry has frequently used belligerent words to describe Social Security, calling it a “Ponzi scheme.” On this issue, his differences with the rest of the GOP field are probably more fluff than substance. Romney has criticized Perry for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, but they both want to seriously scale back or transform the program, so there’s really no difference in substance between the two.

Perry does not have a detailed economic plan, like most of the candidates in the field. He prefers to say that Texas is his economic plan. Perry is trying to say that because Texas did better than many states over the past few years, that shows Perry could improve the US’s economy. Going along with that, he likes to take credit for the fact that half the jobs created in the US over X period of time were created in Texas. While its not clear that Perry had anything to do with his state’s job creation over the past few years, this is an important point in Perry’s campaign and it needs to be honestly assessed.

Ezra Klein breaks down the why and how Texas has been adding jobs over the past few years. Apparently, “almost half of the state’s job growth came in the education, health care, and government sectors. Notice a pattern? These are all sectors that depend, at least in part, on government support.” Another 13 percent of  Texas’ jobs have come from the oil and gas  industries. So is Rick Perry planning to boost government spending and suddenly uncover oil and natural gas deposits across the US when he becomes President? Hell no. The dirty little secret is that Texas had more jobs than other states (in part) because Texas government spending actually increased  from 2008-2012. But Rick Perry has promised to slash spending if made President. For those keeping track so far, Perry either can’t or won’t replicate a solid three-fifths of the “Texas miracle” when/if he becomes President.

So what about the rest of Texas’ job growth? Most of that can be attributed to Texas fast population growth over the past few years. More people in the state=more need for goods and services=more jobs. Another factor is the fact that the housing bubble was much smaller in Texas than it was in the rest of the country, thanks to plentiful land, high property taxes and surprisingly strict regulations on lending. Again, is Rick Perry going to recommend increasing immigration into the US and adopting strict regulations on banks? No. So its unlikely that he will bring these facets of the “Texas miracle” to the national stage.

“But what about business climate??” you scream. I’m sure that Texas’ low taxes and generally light regulations have contributed to growth in that state on the margins. But they have contributed much less than the other factors mentioned above. Strong demand trumps a good business climate any day of the week and there has been comparatively strong demand in Texas for the past few years  which has drawn in jobs.

In short, there’s really no evidence that low taxes and fewer regulations would bring the United  States’ economy any of the relative economic success that Texas has enjoyed. A lot of factors contributed to the “Texas miracle,” the least of which was low taxes and few regulations. When you also take into account that Texas leads the nation in percent of workers with minimum wage jobs, in percent of people without health insurance and is the sixth-most impoverished state in the nation, the Texas miracle starts to look like a Texas tragedy.

On most social issues, like abortion, guns, gays and religion, Perry is a conservative’s conservative. On other issues he has taken some bold stances that are against the norm in conservative politics. He wisely tried to get young girls inoculated against HPV and he has been quite moderate in his treatment of the state’s Hispanic population. Texas has not pursued an Arizona-style anti-immigrant law, while Perry signed a law giving the children of illegal immigrants access to Texas’ universities at the cost of in-state tuition. However, Perry has signed a bill requiring photo IDs to cast a vote, which will limit the poor and elderly’s access to the ballot box, with no apparent positive benefits.

The politics of Rick Perry’s campaign

As I’ve already written, Perry came into the race with a lot of promise and a full head of steam. He was going to be the candidate who could rally the support of both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, while using Texas’ economic record as a bludgeon against Barack Obama in the general election. After his abysmal performance in the past few debates, Rick Perry is slipping in the polls  and people have raised serious doubts about his preparation and ability to be President. Some commentators have already thrown Perry in with the other “crazy” candidates of this cycle (Bachmann, Newt Gingrich).

Obviously, Perry has to do whatever he can to shake off this characterization, but the damage might already be done. Polls show Perry dropping and there is talk that Chris Christie might enter the race while Herman Cain is rising. People have moved on from Perry and he is now coming off as somewhat of a fad. It will be interesting to see where the campaign goes from here. There’s not another debate scheduled for awhile, so that gives the candidates time to message and spin. No matter what happens in the interim, Perry has to pull off a stunning performance in the next debate to turn his ship around. He has a legendary campaign manager and has never lost a race, so a comeback is within the realm of possibility.

As far as how he stacks up in a potential match-up with Barack Obama, Perry polls worse than Mitt Romney. It seems that the general public isn’t ready for another swaggering, fact-averse Texas governor in the White House, so soon after the last one ended in disaster.

Though he’s made some reasonable decisions, Perry’s economics are more of the same old Republican boilerplate. He didn’t learn a thing from his time in Texas that could help the rest of the country. I’m a fan of secular politics. While Perry’s faith-based grandstanding doesn’t bother me as much as it does many people, it certainly doesn’t endear him to me at all. The last thing this country needs is more culture wars and wedge issues. Rick Perry seem to be all bluster and no substance.

What Mitt Romney has to do to win the nomination

Mitt Romney has a problem. A solid majority of the Republican base does not want him to be their nominee  for President. He has been either the most or second-most popular Republican in the field since this campaign began, but that hides his underlying weakness. The conservative  base of the Republican Party does not trust him because only a few years ago he was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-stem cell research and pro-universal healthcare. *Miraculously,* Romney had a change of heart on these issues as soon as he started running for President, but that doesn’t fool most conservatives (nor should it). These are among the several reasons why there is a solid bloc of Republicans who are searching for someone, anyone to nominate but Mitt.

For the purposes of this discussion, there are two principle blocs of Republican voters. There is the establishment wing of the Party, who comprise the staunchly pro-business, pro-defense Republicans and most of the moderates in the party. The other wing is the conservative wing. This part of the party is dominated by socially conservative evangelicals and the economically conservative Tea Party. Mitt Romney does very well with the former and very poorly with the latter. For an illustration, let’s look at the poll data:

Romney and Jon Huntsman are the two current candidates who appeal to the establishment wing of the party, while all the rest more or less appeal to the conservative wing of the party(with the exception of Ron Paul, who appears to have his own constituency). Note that there are far more voters in the “conservative” wing than in the “establishment” wing.

Romney has maintained a fairly constant level of support between 15 and 25 percent of the Republican electorate. Romney’s support rose from about 17 to 25 percent early in the summer after Mitch Daniels, another contender for the establishment vote, announced he was not running. Romney maintained 25 percent support through the summer. Crucially, the rise of Bachmann this summer did nothing to dampen Romney’s numbers. This appears to indicate that few of Republican establishment deserted Romney to support the rising Michele Bachmann.

Romney did start dropping once Rick Perry entered the race. Perry was initially billed as the one candidate that could unite the establishment and conservative wings of the party. After his poor showings in the debates, Perry has dropped somewhat and Romney has risen. That tells me that Romney’s establishment defectors have retreated from the Perry camp, back to Romney. It also seems that Perry’s debate flubs don’t bother the conservative wing of the Party.

So what do all these roving poll numbers mean for Mitt Romney? First they show that Romney has a base of support such that about 15 percent of Republicans definitely think he should be the next President. Second (and more importantly), three-quarters of the Republican electorate desperately want someone other than Romney to be the Republicans’ nominee. Look at how his support dropped by a third at the mere prospect that there could be a  nominee who was just as respectable as Romney, but twice as conservative!

Seventy-five percent of Republicans want someone other than Romney to be their nominee. If a credible conservative can consolidate that vote after the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina primary (even assuming Romney wins New Hampshire), then Romney is in big trouble. Once their first-choice candidates drop out, Santorum, Bachmann, Cain and Gingrich supporters will look to support another conservative candidate, rather than Romney.

To win the nomination then, Romney has to either win over conservatives who seem to want anyone but him (not likely), OR he has to prevent a credible conservative challenger from emerging. Right now, Romney’s greatest strength is that he can say this: “I can beat Barack Obama.” If there is anyone else in the field who is both more conservative than Mr. Romney and can also say that, then they will win. Romney’s path to victory is as the last man standing.

The end of Michele Bachmann’s candidacy

I’m calling it right now. We have just seen the end of Michele Bachmann’s Presidential candidacy. Yes, technically she is still running for President and will continue to do so for some time. But, she is no longer one of the major players in the Republican field and has basically zero chance of being the Republican nominee.

How did this happen? The death knell was Florida’s Republican straw poll results. But that just capped off a long drop that started when Rick Perry entered the race in early August and was furthered by Bachmann’s bad debate performances and gaffes on the campaign trail.

Bachmann was once the leading “anti-Romney” candidate in the field. For a period of time, she was the candidate that conservatives and Tea Partiers looked to to carry their banner in the race. Conservatives and the Tea Party, as a whole, have never really trusted Mitt Romney and would obviously prefer that one of their own be the party’s nominee. For awhile, Bachmann was the right’s preferred candidate. Now, they have a new champion, Rick Perry.

As you can see from RealClearPolitics’ poll data chart, Perry’s rise took a significant amount of support from Bachmann and also, seemingly,  Herman Cain. Right now in national polling, Bachmann is sitting just below Ron Paul and just above Newt Gingrich. In other words, she is only as popular as candidates No Hope and Without a Prayer. She is done.

The Florida straw poll results show that the passion for a Bachmann presidency is gone. Straw polls are dominated by the most hardcore conservative activists and voters and can indicate the base enthusiasm for certain candidates. Bachmann finished in dead last in Florida, right behind Jon Hunstman. Let me repeat, Bachmann garnered less votes in this ultra-conservative contest than Jon Huntsman.

Now many of you will say “well, Bachmann wasn’t even participating in this contest, so its no surprise that she didn’t do well.” That is partially true. She would have done better had she put resources in the contest, but why didn’t she? The high-water mark of the Bachmann candidacy was her win in the Iowa straw poll. Certainly, if she had won this straw poll, that would have kept up her momentum. Ah, but there’s the rub. Bachmann didnt think she could win this contest. It wasn’t some accident that kept her from participating,  it was the reality that she would have been embarrassed even more by the loss if she had participated. So, her campaign decided to save face and punt on this contest. That begs the question: if Bachmann can’t even win these conservative straw polls,  what chance does she have in the primaries?

There’s also the fact that many candidates do well in straw polls, even if they are not directly participating in them. Perry (or “Parry”) made a good showing at the Iowa straw poll despite not being on the ballot. Romney finished in third in the Florida straw poll  and, like Bachmann, he wasn’t participating in the contest. If  Bachmann’s support has dried up at these kinds of events to the point where she comes in dead last and is too scared to even participate, then she has no chance of going anywhere in this campaign.

Recent events just underscore that Bachmann was no more than a late summer flash in the pan. Now watch as she just fades out of the conversation…

If the Tea Party loves the Constitution so much, what are all these proposed amendments?

One of the myths surrounding the forming of the Tea Party in 2009 is that thousands or millions of Americans were horrified by how far the US government had strayed from the Constitution. These patriots wanted their government to “return” to a strict adherence to the words of the US Constitution. As explained by Freedom Works, a Tea Party group,

“The Constitution of the United States was promulgated and enacted by the most knowledgeable political philosophers and citizen-politicians in the history of the world… Starting with the Constitution, the law prevails, not the proclamation or arbitrary decision of a ruler, government bureaucrat, the enforcer or judge…

Without a doubt, this renewed interest in the Constitution has occurred because Americans know the federal government is out of control.  Outraged by corruption and special interest politics, Americans want smaller and limited government.”

Rather than being “outraged by corruption,”  it seems many Tea Partiers took a look at the Constitution and were outraged by what they saw there. For a group that seems to view the writers of the Constitution as demi-gods, Tea Partiers have a lot of proposals to change  what’s written in the Constitution.

For instance, I have heard lots of conservatives who would like to change the seventeenth amendment, so that we can no longer elect our Senators. They would rather Senators be elected by politicians in state legislatures.  It seems really strange that a movement which bills itself as the result of “the people” rising up against government wants to take power from the people and hand it to… the government.

Next, there are many Tea Partiers who want to change the fourteenth amendment, which famously gave citizenship to blacks after the Civil War freed them from slavery. It seems that many Tea Party members found out that this provision also gives citizenship to everyone born in America, even the children of illegal immigrants. As Dahlia Lithwick counters, “for many more Americans, the 14th Amendment represents what is best, not worst, about the constitution: its acknowledgement of human dignity and inclusivity, as well as the possibility for self-correction in the interest of forming a more perfect union.” That the Tea Party would seek to change an amendment so central to righting the wrongs inherent in our original Constitution, shows that something is sorely lacking in their world view.

Rick Perry, one of the Tea Party’s favored candidates for President has lain out seven  proposed changes to the Constitution. He  and many conservatives would like to see the sixteenth amendment repealed. The 16th allows the federal government to levy an income tax. Getting rid of this amendment would end one of the only forms of progressive taxation that we have in this country. All that would be left would be regressive taxes, which draw more revenue from the poor and middle class than from the rich. Apparently, all the Tea Party’s talk about lower taxes was only about lower taxes for the rich.

Add in the fact that the Tea Party is also pushing for a balanced budget amendment, and what you have is quite a confusing movement. On the one hand the Tea Party claims that the Constitution is practically a sacred text that deserves to be revered by politicians. On the other hand, Tea Party politicians and activists are claiming that there are many flaws in the Constitution and are actively pushing to amend  the Constitution in many ways. If this were any other movement, news coverage would say that this group was “hostile to” or “actively campaigning against” the Constitution.

I guess it just goes to show you that the Tea Party is no more “pro-Constitution” than progressives are. The Tea Party, like any other group, is pro-the parts of the Constitution that it agrees with, and anti-the parts of the Constitution that it doesn’t agree with.

What taxes do Republicans like?

I’ll save you from having to read until the end: whatever you can say about them, Republicans like regressive taxes and dislike progressive taxes. Or perhaps I should say: all the taxes that Republicans are in favor of draw their revenue disproportionately from the poor (regressive taxes) while all the taxes that they want to abolish draw their revenue disproportionately from the rich (progressive taxes). Either way, if you make something north of $200,000 every year, Republicans (who represent most conservatives now) want to lower your taxes. If you make less than that, then Republicans want your taxes to stay the same or increase. Explained below. Continue reading

GOP Presidential Candidates Series: Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty is conservative to the core. That’s the message his campaign has been screaming from the rooftops. Every single ad, policy proposal, or public statement seems to be designed to tell the Republican electorate that this former 2-term governor of Minnesota is the “real deal” when it comes to conservative bona fides. But no, his campaign will tell you, Pawlenty is not one of the “crazy” conservatives (like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain) that make corporate CEOs and Republican party elites very nervous. He is the kind of candidate that is both exceedingly conservative (let me tell you) and also a dependable good ‘ole boy.

Pawlenty has a long record as a fairly successful and mostly uncontroversial politician. He has risen through the ranks of the GOP, rising from the city council to become governor, while notably foregoing a a US Senate run to make the higher-ups in the party happy. He is unremarkable in demeanor, has taken almost no controversial stances (his past support for cap-and-trade, now repudiated, is a notable exception), has picked limited fights with democrats in the past, and has good relations with the party elite.

In short, Pawlenty is an extremely generic and uncontroversial Republican candidate. In many years, the Republican nomination goes by default to such a candidate.

However, the Republican party already has a default heir apparent for their nomination-Mitt Romney. Romney ran for the nomination four years ago, has  a considerable donor base, experience running a national campaign, high name-recognition and a national network of former supporters  to call on. However, he also has a flaw–the health reform he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts is nearly identical to end-of-the-world law Obamacare!

Hence the Pawlenty campaign’s focus on his conservatism. Pawlenty is trying to present himself as a credible alternative to Romney among voters who are concerned about Romney’s past support for an individual mandate, health reform, abortion rights and gay rights. Pawlenty is showcasing his conservatism at every turn so that he becomes the anti-Romney in this campaign among establishment Republicans and party elites.

However, there are also challenges for Pawlenty on the “conservative” front. There are several other candidates in the race who have much stronger conservative  credentials than Pawlenty, among them Bachmann and Cain. If the nomination becomes a race to see who is the most forceful conservative, Pawlenty can’t hold a candle to the charismatic and absolute conservatism of Bachmann and Cain. So, Pawlenty has to present himself as comparable to those Tea Partiers on the conservative front, but much more electable, and with a proven record as a public servant.

If it seems like Pawlenty is defined as a contrast to other candidates, its because that is what his campaign is based on. He is running as everyone’s second-option. He wants to be everything to everyone in the Republican party. Pawlenty’s own story is acceptable, but not compelling, he is conservative, but not unproven and unpredictable. He will be the electable alternative to Bachmann and Cain among conservatives and Tea Partiers and he will be the true conservative for establishment Republicans who may worry about Romney.

Now let’s look at how Pawlenty has tried to showcase his conservatism. He recently released an ad bragging about causing the first-ever government shutdown in Minnesota state history by refusing to sign a budget raising taxes on the richest Minnesotans. Instead, he and the legislature compromised on raising taxes–oops! I mean raising “fees”–on cigarettes (conservatives don’t raise “taxes,”  they increase “fees”). The ad also says he fought unions by causing one of the longest transit strikes in the nation’s history. The ad portrays Pawlenty as a fighter who will harm thousands of innocent people–do anything really– in order to stick it to unions and protect the richest Minnesotans from paying a bit more in tax. I guess the image of a governor who is willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable in order to score cheap ideological points plays well in Republican circles.

Pawlenty was one of the first candidates to urge the government not to increase the debt limit (see? he’s sooooo conservative). Why? He says it will “force hard choices now” and keep America from becoming Greece. Well, doesn’t Pawlenty know that failing to increase the debt limit will mean the government has to discontinue 40% of its spending this year? Does he have a plan to do just that? Absolutely not. No one does. Doing so would be impossible and unthinkable. No one has a plan to do that. Pawlenty says that this “hard  choice” on the debt should involve cutting nothing from defense while “means-testing the cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits,(this is actually a good idea, but it won’t do anything to keep us from hitting the debt ceiling) capping and block-granting Medicaid payments to states,(cutting Medicaid) and moving Medicare to a more efficient, pay-for-performance model (already being done through Obama’s ACA, and no one knows how well it will work).” Note that the savings from these action would NOT solve our debt ceiling problem or even come close to it. But Pawlenty has released a detailed economic plan, so let’s take a look at that.

Pawlenty’s economic plan is sheer madness. Pawlenty proposes to solve all of our nation’s problems by (you guessed it) LOWERING TAXES! Its a plan so incredibly simple, he can’t believe more people havn’t thought of it! In his plan massively lowering taxes on the rich will both solve our deficit problems and launch us into a period of prosperity unknown in modern American history. It will cause 5 percent growth for a decade. Never mind that America hasn’t seen 5% growth for any 3 consecutive years in modern history, let alone 5% growth for a decade. Pawlenty has found the secret: tax cuts for the rich. So what will these magic tax cuts look like? Let’s compare them to the Bush tax cuts:

No one will ever be able to out-conservative Pawlenty on economics. As Ezra Klein says, Pawlenty makes Bush look like Robin Hood. Pawlenty basically looked at the Bush tax cuts and said “the problem with them was that they didn’t give enough money to the rich, if they would only have shoveled MORE money to the top 1%, we would be in an economic paradise now. O, and these tax cuts will actually raise revenue.” How does cutting taxes raise revenue? I don’t know, but that cognitive dissonance makes about as much sense as anything else in his plan. The right-leaning Economist completely trashes Pawlenty’s plan saying

And no matter what party you belong to, you should find it troubling that Mr Pawlenty’s ridiculous economic plan could ever be considered acceptable by a large portion of the population.

But of course Pawlenty has a response to these reality-based critiques of his plan: anyone who doesn’t think it will work just doesn’t believe in America!

Though he has an interesting political strategy, if any of the things that Pawlenty says he wants to happen actually do happen, America is in trouble. I can’t endorse someone who glorifies shutting government down, wants the US government to default, backs the Republicans’ terrible balanced budget amendment, claims to be a serious candidate while laying out completely unfeasible economic plans, and proposes to balance the budget on the backs of the poor while passing massive tax cuts for the rich.

For past entries in the series, see: Herman Cain.