Why I think Bill Frist is not serious

I just wrote something on Bill Frist and I got an email from, presumably, a Frist fan asking why I don’t take Frist seriously. He pointed me to a positive review by Hindraker and by a guy who went to Princeton. Ed from Captain’s Quarters was also there and has transcripts of the meeting here and here. So first, let’s state the obvious. Bill Frist is an impressive guy. You don’t become one of the leading people in the world in multiple fields without being an impressive guy. Hindraker and TigerHawk agree.

The question is his qualifications as a candidate, campaigner, and a leader. First, of all, National Journal just published their new WH 08 rankings. What did they say about Frist, from the “The Rest” category:

He’s got a big problem in Tennessee: Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. is not going away, and if he pulls the upset, Frist’s fledgling ’08 ambitions are toast. On the bright side, Bill Gates will gladly bring Frist into his fold, and he could probably do more to restore his public perception through philanthropy.

That last is particularly damning.

First, what are Bill Frist’s negatives and do people know about them? This is what people seem to have against Bill Frist:

  1. Conservatives don’t like him because of his vocal position on stem-cell research and the sense that he did not push through judges. I live in Washington, and most conservatives think that Bill Frist has been a disappointment.
  2. With one of the largest GOP majorities in modern Senate history, he has not really accomplished much as leader.
  3. Furthermore, the Senate has been viewed as largely unreliable by conservatives.

Now, it appears that most voters don’t know this. A recent IA poll indicated that 32% of IA GOP voters have a favorable view of him, and only 5% have an unfavorable view. And 34% know nothing, so he has room to grow.

In fact, Chris Cilliza points out that he should take comfort in this poll. But the way that I read it was that he came in 3rd by being the most well-known GOPer who was not Giuliani, McCain, or Pataki. In other words, he was the most well-known non-New Yorker or McCain.

Second, ultimately, I believe that the 2008 primary is going to be about security and keeping the moral conservative base satisfied. Does Frist have any national security experience other than being a majority leader?

On this, Hindraker says:

Frist is deadly serious about the war on terror, the pre-eminent issue of our era. He tells a chilling story of receiving a call from President Bush a week before the recent British airline bomb plot was disrupted.

My sense from reading the Iran part of Captain Ed’s transcripts is that he is competent (and gets briefed on everything as Majority Leader). But does he have any vision? Perhaps more important, does he have any backbone? He will be subject to lines like, “You can’t trust Bill Frist to stand up to Islamofascists. He couldn’t even stand up to the Democrats.”

Third, what gap does he fill in the current field? Let us say that the field is McCain, Romney, Giuliani, and Huckabee. People voting on national security will almost certainly vote for Giuliani or McCain, so his voters will likely not have that as their first priority. He has some credibility as a social conservative, but his failure with judges and stem cell will be striking. Voters whose first priority is moral issues will almost certainly go with Huckabee, Brownback, or — perhaps Romney, if he can sell his evolution. If your issue is being a manager (then you probably don’t have the time to vote in an Iowa caucus…), probably Romney has the best creds, unless the Big Dig thing really begins to bite.

So where do you go?

And, fourth, and finally, is anyone taking him seriously? He was just in Alabama, now an early primary state. A friend was there and said that people weren’t really taking him seriously as a candidate. And he doesn’t have an operation there (note that McCain picked up the AG yesterday). A little in Iowa, perhaps. Does anyone think that he will do well at all in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Michigan? How would it actually work?

So, count me skeptical. Real skeptical.

Frist using 2008 volunteers in 2006

Bill Frist tried to take a little credit for tracking down the missing holding Senator. Note how he praises his volunteers:

Led by sites like PorkBusters, TPM Muckraker, and GOP Progress, online activists across the political spectrum have worked to clear away the obstruction against this bill through hard work and the process of elimination. While the count is still climbing, they have publicly received a response from 89 Senators regarding the secret hold – and I’m proud to say that members of my online grassroots organization, the iFrist Volunteers, have made a major contribution to this effort in calling Senators and securing their promise they have not held up the bill, nor will they hold up the bill. The growing success of this effort perfectly demonstrates the value of the database that S. 2590 would create … because it proves that Americans with a passion for citizen journalism and empowered by technology can cooperate across party lines to make a real difference.

This is a big deal. He is trying to use his volunteer organization now to help his future candidacy. (Does anyone take that candidacy seriously??) Now why is this useful?

Hotlineblog said that it is a way to “train” volunteers for 2008. I think that it is as much about using the tool to identify and reward volunteers (and maybe turn them into campaign staff). They address this more directly in their comparison of MyGOP to the DNC’s PartyBuilder:

Most important is to check out how each party gathers information about the user. The RNC has different logins for different features, such as the blog, personal homepage and volunteer recruitment center. It’s a model for different levels of engagement and getting lots of names without shoving committment into a user’s face — and typically getting a larger drop-off rate in return. The DNC takes a different approach. By singing up with Party Builder, the DNC gets basic information in the login and then collects information through the user’s profile, signed petitions, signed letters to the editor and their network/group memberships. So why do we care? These users are the party’s next loyal supporter and volunteer. And how much information the parties have on these folk will determine the strength of their online activism in ’06 and ’08, which is conveniently transferable to field staffs across the country.

(just to make it clear, the RNC gets this information, just differently) And that is why iFrist is so interesting. He is both getting mileage out of his volunteer base now, keeping them engaged (got a volunteer, give them something to do!), and figuring out which ones deliver and need to be promoted within the campaign. That’s very smart.

Broder on Dem calender shuffle

David Broder — a fellow University of Chicago alum — wrote a great article on the Dem calendar shuffle which I have written on here and here. First he points out the history of Dem calender rule-changes:

This way lies madness, and madness is what the Democrats have wrought. When they started tinkering with their rules after the 1968 election disaster, they unleashed a fierce competition among the states to be at the head of the line, where the contests have the greatest impact on weeding the field and crowning the eventual winner.

He also points out that the diversity argument is the kind of thing that leads to the Balkanization of the party that Democrats are often accused of:

This Democratic version of affirmative action leaves a lot to be desired. Unions are a major source of Democratic votes and money. Maybe Rhode Island should be rewarded for being a stronghold of union activity at a time when labor elsewhere is beleaguered. And gays vote Democratic; shouldn’t the states that are home to San Francisco and Key West be allowed to vote early? And if Jewish contributors keep the party solvent, shouldn’t New York be up there with the other pacesetters?

He uses the standard New Hampshire argument that they are uniquely qualified to do vet presidential candidates:

Historically, New Hampshire has fulfilled that responsibility. Voters there — in both parties and especially among the numerous independents who also vote in the primary — take their role seriously. They turn up at town meetings and they ask probing questions. So do the interviewers at local papers and broadcast stations. So do high school students.

For McCain, is campaign finance the new abortion?

There’s a great argument going on at Ankle Biting Pundits about John McCain. Bull Dog Pundit has argued that conservatives will never trust McCain because of campaign finance and a set of other issues. But like many activists, his real bile is about BCRA. (it really does make my life harder)

Patrick Hynes, who does work for Straight Talk, says that his issues are abortion and GWOT and that, of the serious candidates — and I note that he excludes Newt from this list — he has to support McCain. I have argued that these will be, loosely, the most important positions for the GOP electorate in 08.
So let’s look at this argument. BDP takes BCRA/CFR as McCain’s great apostasy:

The McCain-Feingold CFR Act is quite simply the biggest assault on our 1st Amendment right of free speech in the history of the country. Why John McCain and the people who voted for this disgraceful bill (and President Bush who signed it) are so damned afraid of being criticized before an election is beyond me.

Now, BDP makes the argument that there are other issues:

But there’s much about McCain’s positions that give me pause. His proposal for illegal alien amnesty (and that’s what it is) …. His joining the “Gang of 14″ …. His refusal to go along with extending the Bush tax-cuts….

However, he argues that these aren’t show stoppers:

However, all of those disagreements are basically “political” in nature.

So his position is that CFR/BCRA is really a show stopper:

But his “signature” bill – CFR – cuts to the very core of our most basic freedom. That is simply unforgivable.

Are voters really going to vote this as a single-issue, like they do with abortion and other moral issues? CFR was clearly an issue in the 2000 election, but mainly as a way to motivate groups like the Christian Coalition and RTL to attack McCain on those issues.

Another Giuliani Problem: Endorsing Cuomo

Today the NY Times ran an article about Bloomberg not endorsing Faso:

Dealing a symbolic blow to Republicans’ hopes of holding on to the executive mansion in Albany, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that he would not make any endorsement in the race to succeed Gov. George E. Pataki.

Now this makes a lot of sense. Faso stands no chance whatsoever. And Bloomberg has to run for re-election some day. However, the article goes on to note one of the problems that some Republicans have with Giuliani:

Mr. Bloomberg’s predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, famously crossed party lines to endorse Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in 1994, only to see Mr. Pataki win in an upset. Relations between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Pataki were strained for years.

One of the questions that Giuliani will have to answer over the next year is: Can he be a leader of the party? I have argued that that is one of the most important tests of the pre-primary.

And think about this talking point: In the year of the Republican Revolution, Giuliani was with the Democrats.

Republicans Need Volunteers

As we noted earlier, Right Wing News has an analysis why Rudy may not be acceptable. Ann Althouse argues that those reasons make him more attractive to her (self-consciously in the middle). She says:

But what about the potential to appeal to people like me who are in the middle? What I like about Giuliani is his ability to embody the strong national security position and to argue for it in clear, persuasive terms, without bringing along that social conservative baggage. All those people who vote for Democrats, are they doing it because they are into the party and all it seems to stand for? Or are they put off by the social conservatives on the other side?

Consider this next to the news that the RNC is sending volunteers to Chafee. Why? Because they believe that they have a way to turn volunteers into votes.

But the thing is, who is going to volunteer for Giuliani? Republican campaigns are full of right-to-lifers, gun guys, home schoolers, etc. These people make the phone calls and knock on the doors that make the difference in these elections. To the extent that moderate Republicans lose, it is because they don’t have these volunteers.

I look at a Giuliani presidential candidate and think: who is going to be the big volunteer base. More importantly, who is going to be his primary volunteer base?

Presidential Candidates at Value Voters Conference

The Family Research Council is holding a Value Voters conference in September.

A number of Presidential candidates are confirmed as speakers, including George Allen, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee. President Bush and John McCain have been invited but not yet confirmed.

Interestingly, Rudy Giuliani has not been invited. This sort of thing will continue to occur, and that is why we continue to believe — and agree with the Romney campaign — that he will not be a candidate, in the end. (more on that here and here)

Motivating Conservatives, Security, and the 2008 Presidential Race

RightwingNews has (yet) another summary of the case againset Giuliani for the conservative GOP primary electorate.

While we agree that there are many things that are damning in the eyes of the electorate, we think that, to some extent, people are asking the wrong questions. I think that Chuck Larson gets it right in his discussion of McCain on Fox yesterday:

But from my perspective, the most important issue, whether it’s 2006 or 2008, is going to be national security and the global War on Terror. And Sen. McCain recognizes that we must win this war for our own nation’s security.

Now Larson is one of the leaders of moral conservatives in Iowa, but in the 3 reasons he gives for supporting McCain, his first is fiscal, his second in moral issues, but he thinks that McCain’s primary advantage is the war and security. This jives with what the RNC is telling people about motivating the base in 2006:

Ranking at the top of what will motivate Republicans in 2006 is dealing with the foreign threats to our national security and supporting the President’s leadership in the War on Terror. … A huge 87% of the Base expresses extremely strong feelings about one or more of these issues. …

For these three global War on Terror message areas, 93% of the Republican Base holds
extremely strong feelings about one or more of them.

Cultural Values. … An impressive 86% of the Base has extremely strong feelings about issues dealing with cultural issues – second in coverage to only the global War on Terror.

In other words, the big issues are security and moral issues. Fiscal issues, immigration, taxes, etc. all come far lower in the priorities. (interestingly, the RNC memo does not mention immigration at all. There could be a number of explanations for that. One of the simplest is that it is an issue that the leadership is divided on or might make voters angry. Another is that people probably won’t vote on it)
What we really think that means is that candidates have to pass a litmus test for conservatives (is he with us on abortion and other issues?) and then security and other issues will differentiate the candidates. Moral issues get people into consideration, not pick the candidate. We think that the recent Hotline/Diego poll makes this clear. GOPers #1 issues are terrorism and Iraq. Dems are Iraq (against) and jobs.

Therefore, we think that GOP primary voters are going to be asking “Which acceptable conservative do we want to lead the war on terror?” What does this mean for 08?

  1. If caucusgoers and primary voters are informed about Giuliani, he is going to struggle a lot. Giuliani has been doing great in the polls recently. However, the recent Iowa poll noted that 2/3rds of Iowa caucus voters will not support someone who doesn’t share their position on abortion. Will that hold? And who will tell the story on Giuliani? Clearly that is what RightWingNews is trying to do. And why don’t people ask if they are familar with Giuliani’s position on abortion, gay marriage, etc.? That would really tell us about his level of support.
  2. Romney’s greatest problem is that he has no record on the War on Terror or foreign policy. None. Even if people like him on gay marriage or healthcare or management, I predict that they will have a lot of trouble seeing him as Commander in Chief. Sure he can run the country, but can he lead it? Northeast liberals elect Republicans because they can manage and their legislatures can slap them down if they try to do something too far off the reservation.
  3. Newt Gingrich passes both tests. But will GOP voters think he is electable?
  4. McCain is the winner in this framing. He is probably acceptable to most conservatives (and he is finding people who will say “trust us, he’s fine”) on moral issues and he is a clear leader on the War (and I don’t mean Iraq).
  5. Everyone else is an also ran. Although people who vote for the most morally conservative candidate will have a choice between Huckabee or Brownback. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Therefore, until Romney gets a national security reputation of some sort or polls indicate that Giuliani can overcome his issues with social conservatives, McCain really is the front runner… And Newt Gingrich is the powerful challenger.

Further sign of Dem shift to the left

Sebastian Mallaby has a great article about Dems and Walmart in today’s WaPo. A killer quote:

The truth is that none of these Democrats can resist dumb economic populism. Even though we are not in a recession, and even though the presidential primaries are more than a year away, the DLC crowd is pandering shamelessly to the left of the party — perhaps in the knowledge that the grocery workers union, which launched the anti-Wal-Mart campaign, is strong in the key state of Iowa.

For a party that needs the votes of Wal-Mart’s customers, this is a questionable strategy. But there is more than politics at stake. According to a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research by Jerry Hausman and Ephraim Leibtag, neither of whom received funding from Wal-Mart, big-box stores led by Wal-Mart reduce families’ food bills by one-fourth. Because Wal-Mart’s price-cutting also has a big impact on the non-food stuff it peddles, it saves U.S. consumers upward of $200 billion a year, making it a larger booster of family welfare than the federal government’s $33 billion food-stamp program.

We have commented about this shift in the Dem’s calendar change. We also think that Hotlineblog’s piece on Huckabee makes a great comparison piece to think about the pressures on the parties as they fight for the working class.