Impact of NY-23 on the 2012 Presidential race

 Today’s Washington Times has a story by Ralph Hallow about NY-23. One of the things Ralph discussed was Newt Gingrich’s struggles with the race. He quotes Newt:

He said Mr. Hoffman’s "rise is a result of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the Club for Growth, Gov. [Sarah] Palin and [Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and virtually the entire national conservative movement joining with Mike Long, whose Conservative Party, a very established organization, which won its first big race 39 years ago."

It is striking to me that Tim Pawlenty is the only presumptive 2012 candidate in that list, unless Sarah Palin really gets in, but there are no indications that she is. After a Presidential primary in which Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee fought out for the conservative mantle (to a stalemate, I might add), they both were absent from this battle.

You see, NY-23 is the first big fight of the 21st century for the conservative movement. It is important to remember that this movement is about moving the to the right by moving its governing coalition to the right. That means, by definition, the Republican Party because it is the vehicle of the center-right coalition in American politics. There can be no doubt that, whatever the result on Tuesday or afterwards, that the leadership of the GOP has been chastened. Marc Ambinder’s analyzes the race and concludes that Scozzafava’s social liberalism was necessary to create the conditions on the ground for the Conservative Party to reach out to national groups. However, ultimately, the Club for Growth, responding to her positions on card-check, the stimulus, etc., funded Hoffman and really made this happen. In other words, the two key components of the conservative movement came together in perfect complimentarity.

So we have the definitional fight for the conservative movement, post-Bush. And only Pawlenty shows up at the fight? But for the movement, the question is as much "are you with us on the fight" as it is "are you with us on issues". Let’s consider how this impacts Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, both of whom declined being in the fight over the last several weeks.

Let’s take Huckabee first. Mike Huckabee not only didn’t endorse Doug Hoffman, Huckabee took $20,000 away from Hoffman’s GOTV effort (which tells me that he isn’t running, but …):

Huckabee, who according to Upstate Committee sources is receiving a five-figure fee in excess of $20,000 for his appearance, has refused to personally endorse Hoffman, who is pro-life and signed the "no-tax" pledge in August before his announced candidacy, and has informed Hoffman that HuckPAC will not support him either. Some Conservative Party officials believe Huckabee’s fee is intended for his PAC. Ironically, the dinner is held to honor conservatives who exemplify conservative principles.

This offers a(nother) critique of Huckabee from the movement perspective. Huckabee is particularly vulnerable here. In 2008, no electorally significant critique damaged Huckabee within his base of evangelical voters. Why? I think that Ramesh Ponnuru nailed it in a discussion of Romney’s campaign:

Romney’s problem was not that he is a Mormon. It was that he is not an evangelical. A strong plurality of evangelicals “would have backed Huckabee against anybody — Mormon, Buddhist, or Catholic,” says another former Romney adviser. “They were voting for one of their own.” To attribute Romney’s loss in Iowa to anti-Mormon prejudice from evangelicals, he says, is like attributing Romney’s victories in Utah and Nevada to Mormons’ hostility to people from all other faiths. But this adviser reaches the same conclusion as his colleagues who blamed anti-Mormonism: Romney should not spend as much time and resources on Iowa next time. 

In other words, the options for Huckabee voters were to go to Romney. Not going to happen. But guess what? Tim Pawlenty is an evangelical. Indeed, during the VP speculation in 2008, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody argued, "Pawlenty may be the one guy to help McCain with working class moderates AND socially conservative Evangelicals." So he can genuinely compete with Huckabee or someone similar to his right.

Ramesh notes that Romney ran as the candidate of the conservative movement (and I would point out that Fred Thompson’s candidacy was about the fundamental mismatch of Romney the man and Romney the candidate of the movement):

All these advisers may, however, be looking at Romney’s options too narrowly. Romney’s strategy in the last campaign was not to run as the social conservatives’ candidate. It was to run as the movement-conservative candidate. Throughout the primary he claimed that he best represented what he called “the three legs of the stool” holding up conservatism, with the legs representing conservative positions on social issues, economics, and foreign policy. The attempt to rally his party’s right made a certain strategic sense. Giuliani and John McCain started the primary season with higher profiles than Romney and, in different ways, represented the party’s left wing. Running to the right thus presented Romney with an opportunity.

Romney, in not playing in NY-23 has, in some important sense, laid the groundwork for a(nother) criticism of him as the candidate of the conservative movement. How can he be the candidate of the movement but duck out on the first major fight of the movement. (2nd, if you count healthcare, which doesn’t cut nicely for Mitt…) Can he really run from the same location that he had earlier? No. This suggests that he is taking the route that Ramesh almost recommends by moving to the left end of the party and/or the establishment. (I distinguish between these)

This time Romney could follow a different path. There are no prospective McCains or Giulianis, no heavyweights from the left or even the center of the party. Instead of running as the movement conservative in the race, Romney could run as a party-establishment candidate who is acceptable to the Right. That strategy wouldn’t require him to move left on the issues. But it would entail, among other things, taking fewer jabs at the other candidates for not being conservative enough (jabbing them for having bad ideas would still be in season). It would entail advertising Romney’s conservatism less. The policies could still be conservative — but he would promote them as good ideas more than as conservative ones. 

 I don’t know how this plays out. Romney running from establishment/left of the party, and Pawlenty running to the right? Perhaps. There’s another angle that Ramesh notes:

To be a strong candidate, finally, Romney has to address one weakness that has not gotten much attention: his lack of appeal to middle-income and low-income voters. The exit polls from the primaries tell a consistent story. In Iowa and Florida, he won pluralities only among those voters who made more than $100,000 a year. In New Hampshire, voters had to make more than $150,000 before they started favoring him. Michigan, where Romney’s father was governor, was the great exception: Romney won among every income group above $30,000 a year. If Romney can’t find an economic message and a way of making it that appeals to middle-class voters, he may as well save his money and not bother running.

Again, we have Pawlenty’s strong suit: reaching out to the middle class and working class.

The field is set. A working-to-middle class Midwestern candidate with strong evangelical roots running against a white-shoe Northeast wealthy candidate with strong western roots. This will be an interesting battle.

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Impact of NY-23 on the 2012 Presidential race

 Today’s Washington Times has a story by Ralph Hallow about NY-23. One of the things Ralph discussed was Newt Gingrich’s struggles with the race. He quotes Newt:

He said Mr. Hoffman’s "rise is a result of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the Club for Growth, Gov. [Sarah] Palin and [Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and virtually the entire national conservative movement joining with Mike Long, whose Conservative Party, a very established organization, which won its first big race 39 years ago."

It is striking to me that Tim Pawlenty is the only presumptive 2012 candidate in that list, unless Sarah Palin really gets in, but there are no indications that she is. After a Presidential primary in which Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee fought out for the conservative mantle (to a stalemate, I might add), they both were absent from this battle.

You see, NY-23 is the first big fight of the 21st century for the conservative movement. It is important to remember that this movement is about moving the to the right by moving its governing coalition to the right. That means, by definition, the Republican Party because it is the vehicle of the center-right coalition in American politics. There can be no doubt that, whatever the result on Tuesday or afterwards, that the leadership of the GOP has been chastened. Marc Ambinder’s analyzes the race and concludes that Scozzafava’s social liberalism was necessary to create the conditions on the ground for the Conservative Party to reach out to national groups. However, ultimately, the Club for Growth, responding to her positions on card-check, the stimulus, etc., funded Hoffman and really made this happen. In other words, the two key components of the conservative movement came together in perfect complimentarity.

So we have the definitional fight for the conservative movement, post-Bush. And only Pawlenty shows up at the fight? But for the movement, the question is as much "are you with us on the fight" as it is "are you with us on issues". Let’s consider how this impacts Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, both of whom declined being in the fight over the last several weeks.

Let’s take Huckabee first. Mike Huckabee not only didn’t endorse Doug Hoffman, Huckabee took $20,000 away from Hoffman’s GOTV effort (which tells me that he isn’t running, but …):

Huckabee, who according to Upstate Committee sources is receiving a five-figure fee in excess of $20,000 for his appearance, has refused to personally endorse Hoffman, who is pro-life and signed the "no-tax" pledge in August before his announced candidacy, and has informed Hoffman that HuckPAC will not support him either. Some Conservative Party officials believe Huckabee’s fee is intended for his PAC. Ironically, the dinner is held to honor conservatives who exemplify conservative principles.

This offers a(nother) critique of Huckabee from the movement perspective. Huckabee is particularly vulnerable here. In 2008, no electorally significant critique damaged Huckabee within his base of evangelical voters. Why? I think that Ramesh Ponnuru nailed it in a discussion of Romney’s campaign:

Romney’s problem was not that he is a Mormon. It was that he is not an evangelical. A strong plurality of evangelicals “would have backed Huckabee against anybody — Mormon, Buddhist, or Catholic,” says another former Romney adviser. “They were voting for one of their own.” To attribute Romney’s loss in Iowa to anti-Mormon prejudice from evangelicals, he says, is like attributing Romney’s victories in Utah and Nevada to Mormons’ hostility to people from all other faiths. But this adviser reaches the same conclusion as his colleagues who blamed anti-Mormonism: Romney should not spend as much time and resources on Iowa next time. 

In other words, the options for Huckabee voters were to go to Romney. Not going to happen. But guess what? Tim Pawlenty is an evangelical. Indeed, during the VP speculation in 2008, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody argued, "Pawlenty may be the one guy to help McCain with working class moderates AND socially conservative Evangelicals." So he can genuinely compete with Huckabee or someone similar to his right.

Ramesh notes that Romney ran as the candidate of the conservative movement (and I would point out that Fred Thompson’s candidacy was about the fundamental mismatch of Romney the man and Romney the candidate of the movement):

All these advisers may, however, be looking at Romney’s options too narrowly. Romney’s strategy in the last campaign was not to run as the social conservatives’ candidate. It was to run as the movement-conservative candidate. Throughout the primary he claimed that he best represented what he called “the three legs of the stool” holding up conservatism, with the legs representing conservative positions on social issues, economics, and foreign policy. The attempt to rally his party’s right made a certain strategic sense. Giuliani and John McCain started the primary season with higher profiles than Romney and, in different ways, represented the party’s left wing. Running to the right thus presented Romney with an opportunity.

Romney, in not playing in NY-23 has, in some important sense, laid the groundwork for a(nother) criticism of him as the candidate of the conservative movement. How can he be the candidate of the movement but duck out on the first major fight of the movement. (2nd, if you count healthcare, which doesn’t cut nicely for Mitt…) Can he really run from the same location that he had earlier? No. This suggests that he is taking the route that Ramesh almost recommends by moving to the left end of the party and/or the establishment. (I distinguish between these)

This time Romney could follow a different path. There are no prospective McCains or Giulianis, no heavyweights from the left or even the center of the party. Instead of running as the movement conservative in the race, Romney could run as a party-establishment candidate who is acceptable to the Right. That strategy wouldn’t require him to move left on the issues. But it would entail, among other things, taking fewer jabs at the other candidates for not being conservative enough (jabbing them for having bad ideas would still be in season). It would entail advertising Romney’s conservatism less. The policies could still be conservative — but he would promote them as good ideas more than as conservative ones. 

 I don’t know how this plays out. Romney running from establishment/left of the party, and Pawlenty running to the right? Perhaps. There’s another angle that Ramesh notes:

To be a strong candidate, finally, Romney has to address one weakness that has not gotten much attention: his lack of appeal to middle-income and low-income voters. The exit polls from the primaries tell a consistent story. In Iowa and Florida, he won pluralities only among those voters who made more than $100,000 a year. In New Hampshire, voters had to make more than $150,000 before they started favoring him. Michigan, where Romney’s father was governor, was the great exception: Romney won among every income group above $30,000 a year. If Romney can’t find an economic message and a way of making it that appeals to middle-class voters, he may as well save his money and not bother running.

Again, we have Pawlenty’s strong suit: reaching out to the middle class and working class.

The field is set. A working-to-middle class Midwestern candidate with strong evangelical roots running against a white-shoe Northeast wealthy candidate with strong western roots. This will be an interesting battle.

5
Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Impact of NY-23 on the 2012 Presidential race

 Today’s Washington Times has a story by Ralph Hallow about NY-23. One of the things Ralph discussed was Newt Gingrich’s struggles with the race. He quotes Newt:

He said Mr. Hoffman’s "rise is a result of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the Club for Growth, Gov. [Sarah] Palin and [Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and virtually the entire national conservative movement joining with Mike Long, whose Conservative Party, a very established organization, which won its first big race 39 years ago."

It is striking to me that Tim Pawlenty is the only presumptive 2012 candidate in that list, unless Sarah Palin really gets in, but there are no indications that she is. After a Presidential primary in which Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee fought out for the conservative mantle (to a stalemate, I might add), they both were absent from this battle.

You see, NY-23 is the first big fight of the 21st century for the conservative movement. It is important to remember that this movement is about moving the to the right by moving its governing coalition to the right. That means, by definition, the Republican Party because it is the vehicle of the center-right coalition in American politics. There can be no doubt that, whatever the result on Tuesday or afterwards, that the leadership of the GOP has been chastened. Marc Ambinder’s analyzes the race and concludes that Scozzafava’s social liberalism was necessary to create the conditions on the ground for the Conservative Party to reach out to national groups. However, ultimately, the Club for Growth, responding to her positions on card-check, the stimulus, etc., funded Hoffman and really made this happen. In other words, the two key components of the conservative movement came together in perfect complimentarity.

So we have the definitional fight for the conservative movement, post-Bush. And only Pawlenty shows up at the fight? But for the movement, the question is as much "are you with us on the fight" as it is "are you with us on issues". Let’s consider how this impacts Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, both of whom declined being in the fight over the last several weeks.

Let’s take Huckabee first. Mike Huckabee not only didn’t endorse Doug Hoffman, Huckabee took $20,000 away from Hoffman’s GOTV effort (which tells me that he isn’t running, but …):

Huckabee, who according to Upstate Committee sources is receiving a five-figure fee in excess of $20,000 for his appearance, has refused to personally endorse Hoffman, who is pro-life and signed the "no-tax" pledge in August before his announced candidacy, and has informed Hoffman that HuckPAC will not support him either. Some Conservative Party officials believe Huckabee’s fee is intended for his PAC. Ironically, the dinner is held to honor conservatives who exemplify conservative principles.

This offers a(nother) critique of Huckabee from the movement perspective. Huckabee is particularly vulnerable here. In 2008, no electorally significant critique damaged Huckabee within his base of evangelical voters. Why? I think that Ramesh Ponnuru nailed it in a discussion of Romney’s campaign:

Romney’s problem was not that he is a Mormon. It was that he is not an evangelical. A strong plurality of evangelicals “would have backed Huckabee against anybody — Mormon, Buddhist, or Catholic,” says another former Romney adviser. “They were voting for one of their own.” To attribute Romney’s loss in Iowa to anti-Mormon prejudice from evangelicals, he says, is like attributing Romney’s victories in Utah and Nevada to Mormons’ hostility to people from all other faiths. But this adviser reaches the same conclusion as his colleagues who blamed anti-Mormonism: Romney should not spend as much time and resources on Iowa next time. 

In other words, the options for Huckabee voters were to go to Romney. Not going to happen. But guess what? Tim Pawlenty is an evangelical. Indeed, during the VP speculation in 2008, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody argued, "Pawlenty may be the one guy to help McCain with working class moderates AND socially conservative Evangelicals." So he can genuinely compete with Huckabee or someone similar to his right.

Ramesh notes that Romney ran as the candidate of the conservative movement (and I would point out that Fred Thompson’s candidacy was about the fundamental mismatch of Romney the man and Romney the candidate of the movement):

All these advisers may, however, be looking at Romney’s options too narrowly. Romney’s strategy in the last campaign was not to run as the social conservatives’ candidate. It was to run as the movement-conservative candidate. Throughout the primary he claimed that he best represented what he called “the three legs of the stool” holding up conservatism, with the legs representing conservative positions on social issues, economics, and foreign policy. The attempt to rally his party’s right made a certain strategic sense. Giuliani and John McCain started the primary season with higher profiles than Romney and, in different ways, represented the party’s left wing. Running to the right thus presented Romney with an opportunity.

Romney, in not playing in NY-23 has, in some important sense, laid the groundwork for a(nother) criticism of him as the candidate of the conservative movement. How can he be the candidate of the movement but duck out on the first major fight of the movement. (2nd, if you count healthcare, which doesn’t cut nicely for Mitt…) Can he really run from the same location that he had earlier? No. This suggests that he is taking the route that Ramesh almost recommends by moving to the left end of the party and/or the establishment. (I distinguish between these)

This time Romney could follow a different path. There are no prospective McCains or Giulianis, no heavyweights from the left or even the center of the party. Instead of running as the movement conservative in the race, Romney could run as a party-establishment candidate who is acceptable to the Right. That strategy wouldn’t require him to move left on the issues. But it would entail, among other things, taking fewer jabs at the other candidates for not being conservative enough (jabbing them for having bad ideas would still be in season). It would entail advertising Romney’s conservatism less. The policies could still be conservative — but he would promote them as good ideas more than as conservative ones. 

 I don’t know how this plays out. Romney running from establishment/left of the party, and Pawlenty running to the right? Perhaps. There’s another angle that Ramesh notes:

To be a strong candidate, finally, Romney has to address one weakness that has not gotten much attention: his lack of appeal to middle-income and low-income voters. The exit polls from the primaries tell a consistent story. In Iowa and Florida, he won pluralities only among those voters who made more than $100,000 a year. In New Hampshire, voters had to make more than $150,000 before they started favoring him. Michigan, where Romney’s father was governor, was the great exception: Romney won among every income group above $30,000 a year. If Romney can’t find an economic message and a way of making it that appeals to middle-class voters, he may as well save his money and not bother running.

Again, we have Pawlenty’s strong suit: reaching out to the middle class and working class.

The field is set. A working-to-middle class Midwestern candidate with strong evangelical roots running against a white-shoe Northeast wealthy candidate with strong western roots. This will be an interesting battle.

5
Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

The next project: The Next Right

Well, a lot has happened since the last time I posted here. I joined John McCain’s campaign. I left John McCain’s campaign. I joined my friend Jon Henke at New Media Strategies, a great New Media PR firm.

Jon and I will be joining Patrick Ruffini on a new project, The Next Right. I think that all of us have slightly different views of the project. But here’s where I am coming from.

My sense is that our politics, the conservative movement, and the Republican Party is at a transitional point. Mike Huckabee’s campaign was basically correct that the Reagan coalition was over. Patrick had noticed that Bush had run in 2000 on a somewhat different agenda than Reagan’s, so this is not that surprising a statement … unless you are operating in the intellectually atrophied confines of the Beltway. Conservative interest groups have become profoundly transactional and trivial in scope. In any case, the Republican Party needs to change. Some of these demands are generational. Some of it is the catastrophe of the old business model. Some of it is demographic, although Barack Obama and his version of liberalism seem determined to give us an assist in the fall.

The upshot is that Patrick, Jon, and I will be exploring these ideas and where we go from here. I think that we have somewhat different views of what exactly this means. There will be some focus on technology. Some of this is inevitable because of who we are and what we do. Some of this is because when you organize a new movement, you use the tools that you have. The urban machines did it with the precinct structure. We did it with direct mail. And the RNC has found efficiencies in the GOTV process that are hard to comprehend.

I hope that you join us at The Next Right as we work out some of the questions and hopefully shape the next Republican majority. I also have some other political projects that are in the ideas stage. Expect to hear more about these.

I will also continue blogging at Redstate for more activist-oriented political things and a variety of things of personal interest at sorendayton.com, where this is crossposted. Please read them all and stay in touch!

Huckabee, Baptists, and “conservatives”

Bob Novak, no friend of Mike Huckabee, wrote about Huckabee and the conservative movement (aka "conservative resurgence") in the Southern Baptist Convention. We focused on interviews with two of the leaders without that movement, Richard Land and Judge Paul Pressler:

The warmth in Texas and hostility in California reflects the dual personality of the pastor-politician who has broken out of the presidential campaign’s second tier. Huckabee can come across as either a Reagan or a Nixon. More than personality explains why not all his Baptist brethren have signed on the dotted line for Huckabee. He did not join the "conservative resurgence" that successfully rebelled against liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago. …

Huckabee’s encounter with Pressler two months ago did not deter the judge from telling me this week much the same thing he said to the Journal’s Fund: "I don’t know of conservative appointments he made, and I don’t know of any contribution to the conservatives." After Huckabee’s warm greeting in Houston on Tuesday, however, Pressler told me: "I would never do anything to hurt him." But he did not go so far as endorsing Huckabee for president, and that sends a strong message to conservative evangelicals.

I would add that (political) conservative movement leader Morton Blackwell, also a Baptist who is thought to have advised Pressler during the Baptist fights in the late 70s and early 80s, also went with Thompson. Of course those guys have lost control of the Southern Baptist Convention. In the last election a "moderate" Frank Page won.

Now what is going on here? Generational change. Theological change. Two National Review writers get it. Ramesh Ponnuru writing at Time says:

Part of the reason for his campaign’s success may be that it reflects new currents in evangelical thought. Younger Evangelicals oppose abortion even more than their elders do, but they are also more likely to believe that the protection of the environment and the alleviation of poverty are moral concerns that demand a political response.

Byron York says:

Then Huckabee got into what is really the basis of his appeal for many voters. He’s tapping into that new sort of evangelicalism, that Rick Warren-style worldview that David Brooks and others have been writing about for a few years now. It is real, it is different from older-style evangelicalism, as well as from economic or national-security conservatism, and Huckabee has his finger on it

In both Republican and Baptist politics, Thompson represents the old conservative movement trying to keep power that it has in many ways already lost. Huckabee represents a new movement in American politics and American Protestantism. Who is winning? I refer you to the numbers.

Oh yeah, and that’s the way to look at that "Huck as the new Fred" meme.

National Review endorses Romney

Yesterday, National Review endorsed Mitt Romney. This came as a surprise to no one, and it’s significance is unclear. It seems that the operative parts of the endorsement are:

Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest. While he has not talked much about the importance of resisting ethnic balkanization — none of the major candidates has — he supports enforcing the immigration laws and opposes amnesty. Those are important steps in the right direction. …

Romney is an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished former businessman and governor. At a time when voters yearn for competence and have soured on Washington because too often the Bush administration has not demonstrated it, Romney offers proven executive skill. He has demonstrated it in everything he has done in his professional life, and his tightly organized, disciplined campaign is no exception. He himself has shown impressive focus and energy. …

More than the other primary candidates, Romney has President Bush’s virtues and avoids his flaws. His moral positions, and his instincts on taxes and foreign policy, are the same. But he is less inclined to federal activism, less tolerant of overspending, better able to defend conservative positions in debate, and more likely to demand performance from his subordinates. A winning combination, by our lights. In this most fluid and unpredictable Republican field, we vote for Mitt Romney.

They seem to be saying that Romney has checked all the boxes and checked them best. This point was made in a National Review piece last month that described Romney as:

Romney and Thompson, meanwhile, are fighting over who is the most conventional, paint-by-numbers conservative circa 1987. Creative domestic policy is off the table.

Ramesh and Lowry made the argument that the party by the old "circa 1987" model is broken. The issues of today and tomorrow are not the issues of 1987 and at least some people at NRO understand that.  What about todays issues? We have globalization, technology, and competition. Romney has good stories to tell on some of these. However, the most defining issue of today’s conservative movement and Republican Party may be national security. And as Ari Richter, the managing editor of the Concord Monitor, points out:

But it’s nonetheless striking that in the first contested Republican primary after 9/11 — and while we remain at war — NR’s editors decided foreign policy experience was not a prerequisite. (See, by contrast, the Union Leader.) Who would have guessed that NR’s endorsement would mention the word "Iraq" once (in the section on McCain!) and the words "Iran," "Islam" and "terrorist" (or variations thereof) not at all?

In other words, in a time that most conservatives think the war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror is the number one issue, National Review doesn’t discuss the issues and reverts to check boxes.

What does that tell us about the conservative movement?

Grover on Rudy and Huckabee

So much happened yesterday, and I was away from a computer for most of the day, that I was left nearly speechless.

Perhaps the most interesting was Grover Norquist’s comments on Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee. Grover’s whole schtick for over a decade has been his tax pledge. You sign the pledge to not raise taxes. And then he beats you up and calls you a liar if you do. More likely, your future primary opponent beats you up and calls you a liar. It has never been obvious to me that the same logic applies to a Presidential candidate, but Grover has tried.

One of the startling things in the last debate was the number of candidates who have not signed. That seemed to represent a tangible weakening of his stature. Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson, 3 of the 5 top-tier candidates refused to sign. Mitt Romney flip-flopped to sign. And Mike Huckabee’s signature seemed …. dubious? But the story seemed clear. Grover would have to go with Romney because of the combination of Huckabee’s record and signing the pledge. But that’s not how it is playing out.

First of all, Grover defends Huckabee to the Christian Broadcasting Network:

He has signed the pledge and he has promised to veto and oppose any efforts to raise income taxes … So he’s made that commitment.

Now, Club for Growth has been rough on him because of his period when he was governor. We had arguments with him when he was governor because he supported too much spending and too much taxes as governor

But then he launches into this "convert" language that borrows Romney’s language on abortion:

So some people say ‘If you’ve changed your mind, we don’t like you,’ but that’s not my position. I believe that when people say I used to be pro-choice but now I’m going to be pro-life and here’s why, if they can make a credible argument as to why they have switched in their position, I think we should accept converts. That’s what winning looks like."

I hear both an acceptance of Huckabee and a warning to Romney. "Back off. You are making the same argument in a different place. Don’t go there." Now, this is all kind of predictable because Huckabee signed the pledge. Although, I am a little surprised by the pointed language on abortion.

But what about Giuliani? Marc Ambinder described Grover’s statement as a "non-endorsement endorsement" and "[t]hat’s as close an endorsement as you’ll get from Mr. Norquist." But Rudy didn’t actually sign the pledge.

My friend Patrick Ruffini, a former Giuliani consultant, has described Rudy’s fiscal conservative outreach this way:

ATR’s Grover Norquist today became the latest fiscal conservative leader to shower praise upon Rudy Giuliani:  … Say what you will about Giuliani’s conservative outreach, but fiscal conservatives have been unusually kind to the Hizzoner. First there was the Steve Forbes endorsement. Then the glowing Club for Growth report. And now this.

He even frames the whole thing as:

Giuliani and Huckabee are the ying and yang of the GOP field. One is strong on fiscal issues and weak on social ones. The other is… the opposite. Unlike discerning minute differences in the shades of gray between Clinton and Obama, a Giuliani-Huckabee final would give Republican voters a real choice about the future direction of the party. That is, if Huck can topple Mitt in Iowa…

Of course, while Rudy has committed to not raising taxes, he has not signed the pledge. And Grover has been a strong advocate of fusionism. Like Marc, I can’t help but see this as a Giuliani endorsement. But something seems strange here. How can Grover praise Rudy like this in light of his pledge stance?

The base, the groups, and the candidates

On November 19th, Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry published a very interesting cover-story in National Review. They argued that the situation that the party is in is much more dire. First, the diagnosis:

So while Republicans are depressed these days, their condition is actually worse than they think it is. The deepest cause of the party’s malaise is not the inadequacies of the presidential field. It is that the party’s base is out of step with the public. On issue after issue, polls find independents lining up with Democrats.

This is part of the problem. And:

For most of the year, the Republican presidential debates have featured barely a word about health care, the public’s most pressing domestic concern. The leading GOP candidates have belatedly put out plans (except for Thompson, who still hasn’t)—to the seeming indifference of rank and file conservative voters.

More broadly, the key to Reagan’s victory in 1980 (and not, perhaps in 1976 or 1968) was that he offered conservative solutions to contemporary problems. The central issues of the conservative movement matched the central issues of the country.

They don’t now. The central issues of the conservative movement mostly match a bunch of entrenched interest groups in Washington which have grown increasingly transactional. And in the desire to suck up to groups of questionable power, like today’s endorsement of Mitt Romney by David Keene of the American Conservative Union. This results in a truly banal politics:

Giuliani has broken with the base of the party, but only in ways that will not help with the larger electorate. And to make up for those deviations on social issues, he is projecting a bring-it-on bellicosity that conservatives like but that most voters simply do not feel. Romney and Thompson, meanwhile, are fighting over who is the most conventional, paint-by-numbers conservative circa 1987. Creative domestic policy is off the table.

Recognizing the same patterns that I discussed the other day, they see where we can mine for more votes:

For three decades, the Republican party has absorbed increasing numbers of socially conservative working-class and middleclass voters while losing affluent social liberals—until the 2006 elections, in which Republican totals fell among every category of voter except for full-spectrum conservatives. The most plausible path toward a renewed center-right majority involves consolidating and deepening the trend of the decades before 2006: holding on to as much of the existing conservative coalition as possible while adding more downscale voters who lean right on social issues.

Now some people think that this means abandoning free market principles. One staffer for an interest group (of House members) told me today that voting for Huckabee was like voting for a "pro-life Democrat." But I don’t think that this ends up being true. Neither do Ponnuru or Lowry:

That task will force conservatives to explain how free-market policies can address the economic anxieties of this group of voters.

Politically, this will require blowing up the interest groups that protect the status quo. As a long-time campaign operative was telling me today, parties in power always lose ideas. Either they implement their ideas, which we did, or the new ideas fight against the established constituencies. The adoption of the new ideas would, in essence, "defund" the old constituencies. Thus the same staffer that attacked Huckabee attacked John McCain for "ha[ving] no constituency."

Let’s be clear. That’s the kind of attack that people make when someone is going after their lunch money. The problem with the conservative movement is that the people with the lunch money are driving the movement and the party into the ground.

Not let’s step back for a second. Which candidates in the GOP primary are actually trying to address these issues? It is clear that Huckabee is trying to reach out to these voters. Earlier, when Huckabee was beginning to really emerge, I characterized this as "Huckabee vs. the robber barrons." That sounds to me like giving up affluents.

McCain can also speak this language. From a semi-hostile 2005 interview in the WSJ by Stephen Moore:

But Mr. McCain is no antitax supply-sider himself. He grandstanded against the Bush capital-gains and dividend tax cuts and even co-sponsored an amendment with Tom Daschle to scuttle the reduction in the highest income-tax rates. Why? "I just thought it was too tilted to the wealthy and I still do. I want to cut the taxes on the middle class." Even when I confront him with emphatic evidence that those tax cuts have been an economic triumph and have increased revenues, he is unrepentant and defends his "no" vote by falling back on class-warfare type thinking: "We have a wealth gap in this country, and that worries me."

It is hard to imagine the other candidates making these kinds of statements. If Ponnuru and Lowry are right (and me, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Patrick Hynes, and others) there are going to be more and more candidates making these arguments. And they are going to win.

Some of the Dems get this. One of them told me yesterday:

The thing is, I think a McCain/Huckabee ticket would effectively leap frog the painful part of the needed GOP learning process on candidate selection. You’d end up with a new winning formula without having to sit through a Clinton administration.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we could learn that lesson without putting the country through another 8 years of a Clinton? Good for the party. Good for the movement. And good for the country. As it should be.

NRLC goes with Fred Thompson

This is a shocker to me. Apparently tomorrow the National Right to Life Committee will endorse Fred Thompson. I have confirmation from a member of the committee. And, apparently, they are moving quickly to try to stop Rudy Giuliani.

There are several frames to look at this through:

  • What this means for the pro-life movement in the US.
  • The politics of the conservative movement.
  • The mechanics of implementing the endorsement

Last week, Fred Thompson appeared to have messed up pretty-badly with the pro-life movement. He came out in opposition to the Human Life Amendment. He didn’t score any of the big social conservative/religious right endorsements last week. But tomorrow, he gets NRLC. My understanding is that the internal debate revolved around (1) stopping Rudy and (2) whether Mike Huckabee was an acceptable endorsement either together or separately. My understanding is, additionally, that John McCain and Mitt Romney were deemed not acceptable because of their positions on stem cell research. But it is news in its own right that an anti-HLA candidate is NRLC material.

There are several very important things to realize about a NRLC endorsement: First, it comes with juice. They have money. They have bodies. They do mail. They do phones. They do election-day volunteers. They will electioneer, and they will electioneer to win. If they are endorsing Fred Thompson, it means that they actually intend him to win the nomination.

To win, they have a problem. Fred is in 3rd or 4th or 5th in Iowa. He is in single-digits in New Hampshire. NRLC is going to have to rip through a whole bunch of people above him. And, unlike most conservative, groups, they don’t just attack on their issue. In 2000, they attacked McCain over campaign finance, even though he was, arguably, more pro-life than George Bush.

It has been conventional wisdom for a while that Romney and Thompson are fighting over the same voters. You can expect the mailboxes and phones of those voters to light up with detailed explanations of why Mitt Romney is not the right man to be president, or at least our nominee. From a very credible outside group. I have long asked who is actually going to attack Romney. We have our answer. In the end, this will move numbers.

On a deeper level, though, one wonders if this is a split in the conservative movement. With so many people going so many different ways, a shatter seems inevitable. There are a number of endorsements left, but you almost wonder if this is a direct challenge to James Dobson. Does Dobson dare to come out now, challenging NRLC and setting up a deep split? After all, Dobson actually can move votes and money, as can NRLC. But if the ultimate goal is to stop Rudy, then perhaps they need, at least, implicit agreement.

The other question is what happens if Romney really fights for this turf. Can he undermine the interest groups? Can he go back to his pragmatic self after his strange rightward lurch.

How this plays out will be interesting.

Blogs, communication, and demographics

An important discussion is emerging on the role of social conservatives in the righty-blogosphere. Joe Carter, who organized the blogger row at FRC’s Values Voters summit, had this to say about the experience:

Anyone who wonders why the audience for the right-side of the blogosphere is stagnant at an estimated 200,000 readers should look at the supply and demand curve. The right side of the blogosphere continuously focuses on secondary issues and ignores the primary concerns of American conservatives.

I talked to the bloggers on the panel, many of whom are the same bloggers I read daily and interact with here in DC. Then I talked to the people from the audience, most of whom are not political junkies. The differences in the discussions was eye-opening. The top four issues that voters said were important to them are "life" (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, embryo destructive research, etc.), marriage, tax cuts, and permanent tax relief for families. Aside from tax cuts, these issues are rarely talked about by the bloggers on the Right. Three out of four issues are ignored–and this is just the top of the list.

The stark contrast between the heartland conservatives and the DC-centric bloggers became apparent in the panel discussion I moderated on Political Blogging. Although most of the panel members could be classified as moderately social conservative, few of them focus primarily on social conservative issues.

Several things strike me here. First, and in my own experience, I started blogging to impact politics, not discuss the issues of the day. The metric that I have used in doing that has not been "readers" it has been the more amorphous concept of "quality readers". And I am quite pleased with my results. In the same way, Redstate has an objective: to discuss the right side of Capitol Hill. Let’s be clear. These are elite projects. They try to move members of Congress and the media.

Second, the demographics. On a broader level, this suggests something. At least for now, the blogs are an elite project, meaning that the people who read and write them look like the elites in America. They are mostly white, mostly upper-middle class, etc. You could see this on the left when you got the angst over YearlyKos looking lily-white. Where are the black people? The union members? (the real union members, like the guys who threatened to beat me up at a polling place in Philly. Not the Orange County, Dupage County, Montgomery County, Cherry Hill, Bergen County, Greenwich, Fairfax County rich kids who are union members out of solidarity) The fact that this demographic — the modern version of the Eastern Establishment that Nixon so hated — has moved into the Democratic Party in such as big way is why there is a critical mass for a movement on the online left.

On the right, you get the libertarians because that’s the politics of the righty-voting, upper-middle class, whites who read blogs. (not in total, but "on the average") This demographic is shrinking on the right, but it is the group of people that talk the language of the media. I was at a recent panel, not at FRC, where as Republican asked a reporter why the reporter didn’t write about the conservative perspective on the S-CHIP bill. The reporter responded that he never heard that perspective. His friends were almost all liberal and they talked about the lefty argument. He had a couple of libertarian friends who told him the libertarian argument. No one ever told him the conservative-populist argument. The blogs are, in some ways, a microcosm of that. To Joe’s broader point above, I would point out that the number of conservative Evangelicals in the MSM is quite small. A number of them write at the great blog, Get Religion.

Third, on the right, blogs have become an important part of mediating between the mainstream media, the ideological media — talk radio and Fox –, the interest groups, etc. On the left, they don’t really have an important ideological media, they just have the MSM, which does lean their way, for the reasons discussed above. That is, on the right, blogs serve a role in an overall communications strategy that is unique and valuable, but they are just a part next to Rush, et al. DailyKos is trying to be Fox, talk radio, and the righty blogs, all at once. They are winning online, but that is only because the people that look fetishize online.

So let’s talk about activism for a moment. The lefty blogs work as an activism tool because it is the primary communications mechanism for a bloc of voters. It has calls to actions, etc. The unions do that through a variety of mechanisms, but the one that was clearest to me growing up in Chicago was the bulletin board in all union shops. Near election day, these things were plastered with things like "Teamsters for Kerry-Edwards" or whatever. I don’t really understand how it works for African-Americans and Latinos. The anecdotal evidence that Obama raises a lot of money from rich African-Americans by email is important.

On the right, the calls to action seem to come out of talk radio, etc. They also are driven by email. All of the email lists are much older, much more socially conservative, etc. Again, a totally different demographic. Today, Redstate announced a great experiment. We will be sending regular call-to-action emails out to readers of Redstate and (perhaps) other people. See if we can start to tie these together. I think that this will depend on reaching into the older activist crowd.

Finally, I want to point out that there is no reason for things to stay the way that they are.

First,  on the issue of the changing demographics of, at least, American Protestantism, and of American elites. I would argue that it is a unique feature of the current Great Awakening that significant numbers of upper-middle class Americans are keeping their Evangelical beliefs and practices. In earlier times in American history, people would assimilate, in part, by becoming Presbyterians or even Episcopalians. The suburban mega-church is a new, new thing. I mean, Rick Warren is setting the tone for American Protestantism from … Orange County? It is a new chapter in the history of innovation in American Protestantism.  In some sense, I might even argue that one of the successes of the conservative movement and the religious right is that it has started to really make space for openly evangelical Christians in the American elite class. The New York Times had a recent story of the transformation of the Harvard Intervarsity Fellowship into a nearly completely Asian-American organization. At the same time, Ken Starr, one of the leaders of the conservative legal community, is trying to turn his denominational law school (which is itself a new thing) into a leading law school in America. If you are not stunned by this, it is probably because you aren’t paying attention.

Now, all is not roses for the conservative movement here because, while this crowd is more wealthy, it does not necessarily share all of the conservative movement’s values. You just have to read a little Cizek, Gerson, or Warren to know what I am talking about. The leftward shift of the evangelical community on a range of issues has really started to transform the American right on things like foreign aid, immigration (although not nearly enough yet for my taste), and the environment.

Second, Redstate’s innovation should have some impact. In general, righty (and non-political) blogs have been the most successful when they work as a cross-over into other media. If blogs end up driving activism through email, then online righty activism will be at least as powerful as online lefty activism. In part because we will have figured out how to combine all the parts of our coalition online, something that the left has struggled with.

And, third, technology will take its toll on this. Ultimately, more and more activity of all sorts will move online. This is simply an economic fact, given the low transaction costs, etc. Although much will remain in email (private online communications) versus blogs (public online communications).

So to return to Joe’s point. While his criticism is interesting and telling, I am not sure if it is fair. On a certain level, he is asking people to be who he wants them to be, not who they are. Over time, I think that he will get what he wants. It might happen because he organizes it. It might happen because, in the end, demographics are on his side. Although, perhaps not his exactly. The demographic shift is not going to "Focus" on the family, in the sense of the name of Dobson’s organization and his letter to the National Association of Evangelicals urging them not to include global warming and torture in their stable of issues.