An idea with surprisingly conservative roots may be our best hope for escaping endless, grinding economic stagnation. By Ryan Cooper
If you ask a conservative for examples of concrete Republican policy proposals that transcend mere demagoguery or empty opposition to Obama administration proposals, you’ll probably hear about Dave Camp’s tax reform initiative or the Coburn-Burr-Hatch health reform bill. But neither is going anywhere in the Republican-controlled House or among Senate Republicans as a conference. And it’s not just because Republicans have decided that getting wonky will distract from a 2014 campaign message focused on exploiting unhappiness with Obamacare.
No, as Danny Vinik explains at TNR today, Republicans have really gotten out of the habit of developing policy proposals that square with their own rhetoric or are acceptable to their own constituencies. And that will matter most if and when Republicans return to the kind of genuine power they exercised between 2001 and 2007.
Republicans have a long history of making unrealistic economic proposals, going back to the days when George H.W. Bush, running for president in 1980, dismissed Ronald Reagan’s agenda as “voodoo economics.” But things have gotten worse and, during the 2012 presidential campaign, they may have hit an all-time low.
First, there was Herman Cain and his “9-9-9 plan,” which proposed to eliminate all income, payroll, capital gains and corporate profit taxes and replace them with a nine percent tax on income, a nine percent tax on businesses and a nine percent national sales tax. Then Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, produced his own tax plan. Romney, an accomplished businessman and governor once famous for his pragmatic management style, wooed conservative voters with an outlandish set of promises: He would lower all rates by 20 percent, repeal the estate tax and make up the revenue by closing unspecified tax preferences. He also wanted to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax and eliminate the Affordable Care Act surtaxes. Romney vowed that the plan would be revenue neutral, because he’d close unspecified tax loopholes, but the Tax Policy Center concluded it would take nearly $500 billion worth of loopholes just to make it revenue neutral in 2015 alone. To put that in perspective, the Congressional Budget Office projects defense spending will be $600 billion in 2014.
You could also mention tax proposals that have never been taken seriously in Washington, but remain very popular among rank-and-file Republicans, like the various “flat tax” schemes that preceded Cain’s 9-9-9 hokum. But that just underlines Vinik’s point that workable policy proposals aren’t very common in the Republican political universe, in part because they collide with GOP talking points. That’s the main problem with the Coburn-Burr-Hatch health plan (or really every recent Republican health reform proposal), which would disrupt existing insurance arrangements as much as or more than Obamacare.
I’d go a step further than Vinik and add another problem: when Republicans do advance policy proposals their pols will actually embrace, they tend to be either vague enough at the key points to evade controversy, or are not promoted aggressively because they cannot evade controversy. Did any of the congressional Republicans who have voted for Paul Ryan’s budgets including a conversion of Medicare to a premium support system actually go out and campaign on it? If so, I certainly missed it. Even Ryan himself, as 2012 vice presidential candidate, limited his discussion of Medicare on the campaign trail to his alleged determination to protect benefits against the “cuts” provided for in Obamacare.
Add it all up and you can see why today’s Republicans tend to become unserious precisely when they are talking about serious policy issues. It’s entirely possible to divine what GOPers would do with genuine political power, but not so much from what they say about it themselves.
The topic in the headline has always fascinating me since a lot of conservatives so frequently alternate between the most arrogant triumphalism and the most self-pitying defeatism and paranoia. If they aren’t on the edge of an all-defining massive national landslide, they can often be found hiding in their catacombs, whimpering in fear of Big Government and the Tyrant Obama.
A closely related question involves the attitude of conservatives towards the very idea of majoritarianism, which many of them reject as a matter of principle (that is, indeed, the essence of “constitutional conservatism”), which gives them a great deal of psychological license when it comes to voter suppression and other anti-small-d-democratic machinations.
In any event, I’ve written all this up over at TPMCafe, concluding with the same observation I made here at PA yesterday about Sarah Palin’s extraordinary ability to project paranoia and triumphalism simultaneously in her signature expressions of vengeful sneering. That, unfortunately, is what will keep her around for the foreseeable future.
There’s a special election today in the 13th congressional district of Florida to replace the late Republican congressman Bill Young. Based on partisan tracking of absentee ballot request (absentees may represent over half the vote), where Republicans have a narrow advantage, it’s likely to be a very close outcome. But the candidates—Republican David Jolly, a former Young staffer and lobbyist, and Democrat Alex Sink, former state CFO and Democratic gubernatorial nominee—have been overshadowed by the heavy air war put on both the parties and their allies, mostly about health care (with Republicans blaming Sink for Obamacare, and Democrats accusing Jolly of wanting to mess up Medicare).
You’d figure Sink would have an advantage, since she carried this Pinellas County district in her unsuccessful race against Rick Scott in 2010. But it’s a special election, which isn’t the best turnout environment for Democrats.
The one thing for sure is that the results will be massively over-hyped by whoever wins and massively over-interpreted by the MSM.
Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz has studied the relationship between special and regular congressional elections and concluded there’s really not one, so the predictive value of tonight’s results for November may be quite low. But that won’t keep people from making unwarranted predictions.
Sure, the contest will be of considerable value to those running special election campaigns in the future, and may have some bearing on how absentee ballot drives are conducted going into November. Beyond that, don’t believe the hype.
Paul McCartney was knighted on this day in 1997. So let’s do a few of his tunes. Here is he performing a fine song from Rubber Soul, “I’m Looking Through You,” at Hyde Park in 2010.
Nothing like a boffo poll for Paul Broun to end the day in hope and fear for this Georgia Cracker. If I had the time and money, I’d go home to follow the man, not as a “tracker” (Broun’s outspokenness makes that role unnecessary), but simply to marvel at the counterrevolutionary fervor he represents, so near in spirit to the demagogues of my Georgia youth.
Here are some final items of the day:
* Pew shows huge generational gap among Republicans on marriage equality; all Democratic age cohorts support marriage equality by over 60%.
* Sharyl Attkisson quits CBS even as she works on book about “liberal media bias.” Does she sign with Fox this week or next week?
* Prospect’s Paul Waldman wonders why wealthy people aren’t treated as morally corrupted by government subsidies.
* At Ten Miles Square, Rachel Cohen explains why nobody is telling the truth about post-farm-bill SNAP benefits.
* At College Square, Jon Marcus argues that if you look at the full range of federal student aid programs, wealthy are doing better than ever.
And in non-political news:
* One more—maybe the last of the year?—snowstorm to hit midwest and northeast this week.
That’s it for the day. Let’s close with Charley Patton’s “Spoonful Blues,” which may be about cocaine, but is definitely about addictions and cravings.
Via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein, we hear of a PPP survey conducted for Better Georgia, a liberal group, that shows Paul Broun, Jr., opening up a big lead in the previously wide-open GOP Senate primary in the Empire State of the South. Broun has 27%, compared to Phil Gingrey at 14%, Jack Kingston at 13%, David Perdue at 12% and Karen Handel at 9%. I don’t know which result is more surprising, the sudden Broun lead or the poor performance of Handel, who has recently run statewide and has a pretty good electability argument.
The same poll shows Broun running even with Democrat Michelle Nunn, who in turn runs slightly ahead of the other GOP candidates. But given Nunn’s strategy of picking off ideologically moderate voters who often pull the GOP lever, it’s wild man Broun who is likely to be the most galvanizing nominee. But even before you get to that possibility, any low-turnout runoff campaign (which will last for two long months) with Broun in it is likely to be an ideological slugfest that leaves wounds and a general impression that Georgia Republicans have become unhinged or deeply divided.
Assuming this new survey isn’t totally inaccurate, it will be interesting to see if the other candidates (particularly the deep-pocketed Kingston and Perdue; Broun himself has struggled to raise money) begin going after Broun with negative ads, and if so, if they dare call him an extremist. Up until now, the whole field has pretty much focused on claiming the Most Conservative mantle. If they keep on keeping on with that tack, then Broun’s ideology, if not his candidacy, will be the sure winner, at least until November.
At TPM Daniel Strauss reports there is widespread unease among Florida Republicans reading a batch of recent statewide and regional polls showing that Gov. Rick Scott’s comeback against Charlie Crist may have stalled, leaving the incumbent in renewed trouble.
Now it’s true that Scott is planning an insanely well-funded general election campaign, mostly from his own deep pockets, filled in no small part by his dubious tenure as CEO of the Columbia/HCA for-profit hospital chain. A budget of $100 million is what his people have been talking about, though I supposed it could go higher (he spent $73 million of his own money in 2010, but that included a highly competitive primary and a lot of investment in name ID).
This makes me wonder if Scott might be in danger of overkill like the one candidate who has spent more than Scott on a state election: California’s Meg Whitman, who tossed $144 million of her money into a failed gubernatorial campaign in 2010. It’s generally felt in California (though no one has documented it empirically) that Whitman lost votes in the end with a deadening oversaturation of the airwaves. The experience of seeing Scott’s somewhat disturbing image every time a Floridian turns on the tube might not necessarily be the ticket to victory.
One of the most difficult but essential analytical tasks in dealing with intra-party disputes is to distinguish genuine differences of opinion over principles and differences over strategy and tactics. The latter do matter, but mainly in terms of what a political party or movement does to secure power, not what they do with that power once they possess it.
Additionally, supporters of more a more direct strategy and more confrontational tactics often reveal the extremism of party-wide ideological positions that more cautious people would prefer to disguise. So you can learn a lot from paying attention to the loud-and-proud types even if you don’t think they will prevail within their own party.
I say all this as a prelude to Irin Carmon’s piece at MSNBC about a new and abrasive wing of the antichoice movement that doesn’t believe in hiding its light under a bushel of pieties about late-term abortions or “women’s health:”
For the mainstream movement to ban abortion, graphic photos and aggressive language have generally gone out of style. The winning slogans, the ones Republican politicians prefer, are warmer, fuzzier: Thumbsucking ultrasound photos, or “women’s health” used as a pretext to shut down safe abortion clinics, including three in Texas this month alone. The losing slogans involve Akin-like “legitimate rape” and comparing Planned Parenthood to the Klan.
Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) begs to differ. Founded out of Norman, Oklahoma, and with chapters nationwide, AHA activists wear t-shirts emblazoned with “End Child Sacrifice” and proudly display photos of bloodied, fully developed fetuses. They protest outside churches - yes, churches - accusing them of not doing enough to end abortion, and talk scornfully of “pro-lifers” who make peace with rape exceptions to abortion bans.
AHA activists disdain the phrase “pro-life” altogether. They prefer “abolitionists,” with all slavery comparisons explicitly intended, and they want to push the larger movement to abide by their uncompromising positions. That means moving away from the incremental strategy - 20 week bans, admitting privileges laws for clinics - and sticking to banning all abortion without exceptions, equating hormonal birth control (even the daily pill kind) with abortion, and advocating that women who have abortions be tried as murderers. That sort of unblinking absolutism in the face of the messiness of real life decision-making may be what has drawn nearly 34,000 people to like their Facebook page.
But here’s the thing: their basic positions are generally shared by antichoice activists of all varieties. What the AHA zealots are demanding is that antichoicers exhibit some honesty about them:
They don’t care who they offend. They aren’t interested in a political or legal strategy; they reserve their deepest scorn for the incrementalists who have crafted a step-by-step plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. As far as AHA is concerned, those guys are sellouts. But in the end, there isn’t so much that the mainstream movement and Abolish Human Abortion disagree on besides tactics.
Watch and learn.
No one is particularly surprised by conservative accusations that Barack Obama (in the domestic context treated as a sneering, law-breaking tyrant) exhibits in foreign relations a persistent “weakness” that somehow responsible for the misbehavior or Russia or other countries. But the occasional voices from self-identified liberals saying the same thing are jarring. One of those has been The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, and in a web-exclusive at Ten Miles Square today, distinguished journalist and Yale lecturer Jim Sleeper responds to Wieseltier, whose constant warnings that anything less than a warlike U.S. posture invites catastrophe have led him before into the ranks of those advocating actual war, notably in Iraq:
[W]hat would Wieseltier have Obama do? “We must mentally arm ourselves against a reality about which we only recently disarmed ourselves: the reality of protracted conflict,” he advises, this time apropos of Russia’s encroachment upon Ukraine. “The lack of preparedness at the White House was not merely a weakness of policy but also a weakness of worldview,” he explains. “The president is too often caught off guard by enmity, and by the nastiness of things. There really is no excuse for being surprised by evil.”
So we must get better at recognizing evil when we see it. Wieseltier anticipated and applauded the preparedness and strong worldview of George W. Bush who, although surprised on 9/11, was never again caught off guard by enmity or evil.
In fact, even as Ground Zero lay smoking only days after 9/11, Wieseltier joined 42 other armchair warriors in delivering prescient strategic and moral advice to Bush in a letter sent Sept. 20, 2001 on the letterhead of William Kristol’s neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC): “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”
That’s preparedness for you!
Sleeper thinks Wieseltier’s position on Iraq was no aberration, and neither is his current fear of “weakness” towards Putin:
“History is playing another trick on [Obama], he warns. “It is testing, and hopefully thwarting, his centripetal inclinations. He may yet have to lead an alliance, I mean strongly. He may yet have to talk about freedom, I mean ringingly.” The Coalition of the Willing, perhaps, followed by a “Mission Accomplished” speech on an aircraft carrier at sea.
There are indeed times when liberals must fight to defend liberalism, to defeat enemies who’ve arisen, as did fascism and much of Communism, from within the interstices and contradictions of liberal capitalism itself. But Wieseltier lives for those times. Somewhat like Robert Kagan, who exulted, “The world has become normal again” in 2007 when the neoliberal global village started to resemble a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Wieseltier finds his most reliable coordinates in imagining American face-offs with Iraq, with Iran, with Syria, with Russia — anything to dispel the specters of Munich, 1938 and Yalta, 1945.
Fortunately, not much is at stake in Wieseltier’s contributions to the House of Columns that passes for commentary in Washington.
You should read Wiesltier alongside Sleeper, and judge for yourself. And when evaluating Sleeper’s harsh judgment towards the long-time TNR literary editor, you might want to keep in mind Wieseltier’s recent attacks on his TNR colleague John Judis for a book on the origins of U.S. policy towards Israel.
Instead of watching basketball as I promised, I spent most of my weekend spare time reading Tiziano Terzani’s “Goodnight, Mr. Lenin,” a travelogue of the end of the Soviet Union.
But I did see Georgia beat LSU on Saturday, giving the Dawgs third-place in the SEC.
Here are some midday snacks of various temperature:
* 28 Senate Democrats planning all-night “talkathon” on climate change tonight. Nite Owls should check in on CSPAN and provide some moral support.
* Gallup finding that number of uninsured continuing to decline not slam dunk talking point for Obamacare, but certainly doesn’t hurt.
* Des Moines Register poll shows enthusiasm among Iowa Republicans for 2016 campaigns by Huck and Paul Ryan; not so much for Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. But Cruz, Paul, Walker and others not tested.
* McConnell gloats that conservative challenges to incumbent GOP senators (including one to his own self) will be “crushed.”
* Kim Jong Un squeaks through to re-election to North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly with 100% of the vote.
And in non-political news:
* Malaysian commercial airliner disappearance a big-time mystery.
As we break for lunch, here’s Charley Patton with his great song on the 1927 Mississippi River flood: “High Water Everywhere.”
In one of those “local” developments with national political import that it’s easy to miss, Iowa Republican State Party Chairman A.J. Spiker resigned his position last last week, in the midst of a series of setbacks for his Paulite faction in local party elections that seemed certain to eventually reverse the coup it pulled off in 2012.
WaPo’s Sean Sullivan reported the Spiker resignation as a victory for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, and others will probably soon treat it as a setback for Rand Paul’s presidential aspirations. But it’s all a bit more complicated than that. While Branstad was the most prominent detractor of the “Liberty Caucus” regime, he was joined in the effort to get rid of Spiker and company by the state’s powerful social-conservative forces, who aren’t big fans of Branstad. And as Slate’s Dave Weigel noted last summer, the whole brouhaha represented the kind of trouble Rand Paul really didn’t need.
My guess is that the state party reshuffle will mostly allow Iowa Republicans to return to their regularly scheduled factional rivalries, which could hang fire in this year’s Senate primary (followed quite possibly by a nominating convention, required if no one secures more than 35% of the vote in the primary). And even if things don’t blow up in 2014, the pro- and anti-Spiker factional lines will give way to more complicated ideological tensions as Iowa Republicans begin to pick sides in the 2016 presidential contest.
Prominent in the revived Republican War Party I wrote about this morning is, of course, Sen. Marco Rubio, who is apparently seeking to re-establish the conservative street cred he lost on the immigration issue by becoming a preeminent purveyor of “muscular” foreign policy views.
But there’s a serious problem with Rubio’s efforts to bring back Cold War rhetoric in today’s global environment, and it was pinpointed today by Peter Beinart at The Atlantic:
Rubio’s CPAC speech began typically enough: with a list of the various regimes that Americans should worry about: Russia’s, China’s, North Korea’s, Venezuela’s, Iran’s. Then came this stunner: “All the problems of the world, all the conflicts of the world, are being created by totalitarian regimes….”
Rubio simply has no idea what “totalitarian” means. “Totalitarian” is not a synonym for “dictatorship.” Dictatorial regimes seek to stamp out behavior that actively challenges the state. Totalitarian regimes seek to stamp out behavior that does not actively support the state. A totalitarian regime, explained Irving Howe, “tries to give the state total power over all areas of human life, to destroy civil society entirely, and to extend state ownership over all things and all people.” As Hannah Arendt put it, “If totalitarianism takes its own claim seriously, it must come to the point where it has ‘to finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess,’ that is, with the autonomous existence of any activity whatsoever.”
What makes Rubio’s misuse of the “T-word” so ironic is that a careful distinction between “totalitarian” and “authoritarian” regimes was very central to the neoconservative tradition with which Rubio seems to identify. Neocon icon Jeane Kirkpatrick made it the focus of a very influential 1979 Commentary piece on “Dictatorships and Double Standards” in which she scored the Carter administration for failing to understand that support for right-wing authoritarian regimes was essential to the eventual emergence of democracy as a line of resistance against (Marxist) totalitarian regimes that would snuff out any hope of democracy forever. Kirkpatrick’s “doctrine” on this distinction became the standard Reagan administration rationale for its indifference to the human rights records of our authoritarian allies in the Cold War.
Somebody needs to school Rubio on his terminology.
At a listserv on which I am a member, someone asked about the identity of the early front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964. It was a reminder that fifty years ago this month (yes, the primaries didn’t begin until New Hampshire on March 20 of that year) the runup to the LBJ/Goldwater wipeout began—the election that represented the momentary apotheosis and temporary eclipse of the conservative movement which held its semi-official reunion at CPAC last week.
At this point 50 years ago, Nelson Rockefeller (whose front-runner status for ‘64 had been diminished by negative reaction to his remarriage after a divorce) and Barry Goldwater (whose minions were already nailing down delegates in non-primary states, especially in the South) were criss-crossing snowy New Hampshire, and a write-in campaign for U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (who had represented neighboring Massachusetts in the Senate for a term until he was defeated by JFK in 1952) was just beginning to get marginal media attention. Goldwater (endorsed by the abrasively conservative Manchester Union-Leader and senior senator Norris Cotton, was so confident that he predicted just before the primary that he would receive 40% of the vote. Instead Lodge won by a landslide, with Goldwater a poor second and Rocky a poor third (just ahead of a separate write-in campaign for Richard Nixon).
Unable to openly campaign, Lodge was bounced from the nomination contest in Oregon by Rockefeller, who in turn was bounced by Goldwater in California. Stop-Goldwater efforts eventually coalesced around Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, but it was far too little and far too late.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, at this point 50 years ago George Wallace (who had announced a presidential candidacy in Dallas the week before JFK’s assassination) was barnstorming through northern primary states and mobilizing anti-civil rights voters against surrogates for LBJ, eventually wracking up shocking (if minority) numbers in Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland. At the same time, Wallace’s southern segregationist compatriots were flooding into the Goldwater campaign, all but executing a Dixiecrat takeover of the Republican Party that would sweep five Deep South states into the GOP column in November, even as Goldwater was suffering a catastrophic defeat elsewhere (other than in his native Arizona).
Without question, the 1964 campaign accelerated the ideological sorting out of the two parties that has reached its zenith in our era. Its personae dramatis included Ronald Reagan, who made his political bones campaigning for Goldwater in California, and whose own nomination and election in 1980 is generally recognized as signalling the takeover of the GOP by the movement spearheaded by Goldwater (sweeping GOP “moderates,” who learned to ape the pieties of the Movement, along in its train).
You can read about the ‘64 campaign and its impact in Rick Perlstein’s fine 2001 book Before the Storm. But it’s probably a good time for those of us who actually watched that campaign unfold to unearth our memories. It was a very wild ride with a very long afterlife.
Whatever else it has done, the Ukraine crisis has served as a major tonic for American conservative foreign policy hawks, who have recently been losing ground not only with the general public but inside the Republican Party, where hatred of Barack Obama has sometimes trumped the desire for an interventionist foreign policy.
Now hoary old voices of blood lust are heard again, even at the young-libertarian-skewing CPAC, per this account from Dave Weigel:
Twenty-five years since Oliver North was convicted for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. Twenty-three years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And yet here he is, the ever-more grizzled “host of ‘War Stories’ with Oliver North,” standing between American flags and issuing warnings about the Russian bear.
“The people of Ukraine are this very minute paying the terrible price for America’s leadership deficit disorder and the Obama organization’s utopian rush to unilateral disarmament,” says North. “That’s where we’re headed. We don’t need a head of state who guts our defenses and draws phony red lines with a pink crayon.” North pauses for the guffaws. “Yeah, I did say that.”
Conservatives had been hating the Russians long before they had been Standing With Rand. All day Thursday, the thousands who packed into CPAC’s main ballroom heard their movement’s icons cry out against isolationism. They’d known foreign adventurism and intervention as Obama policies, blights on both parties, not part of the Republican Party they were rebuilding. They were being tested, and by people who claimed to know much more about how the party should defend America.
“Can you just imagine Ronald Reagan dealing with Vladimir Putin?” asks onetime UN Ambassador John Bolton, one of the only representatives of the George W. Bush administration to show at CPAC. “Reagan called a strong defense budget the ‘vital margin of safety.’ We are losing that vital margin all around the world. Putin has a growing defense budget and ours is shrinking.”
If you’re Standing With Rand, that’s never worried you. The senator had supported the forced cuts of sequestration, encouraging his colleagues to “jettison some of the crap” in the defense budget and live with lower spending levels. If you’re, say, a 21-year-old CPAC attendee, you were born after the Soviet Union dissolved. You were 8 years old on Sept. 11, and maybe 10 for the start of the war in Iraq. You’ve never been a hawk.
But the average rank-and-file member of the Republican “base” isn’t a 21-year-old college student wearing a “Stand With Rand” t-shirt, is it? More typical is a 65-year-old white man whose first political memory was the Goldwater campaign, in which the desire to “lob one into the men’s room of the Kremlin” was as strong a mobilizing sentiment as hostility to such unconstitutional domestic measures as Medicare or the Civil Rights Act. On the long path from then to now, some of conservative activists’ most thrilling moments, in fact, involved smiting college students opposed to overseas military adventures, from the “effect corps of impudent snobs” denounced by Spiro Agnew during the Vietnam War to the sniveling appeasers willing to let Saddam Hussein run amok. So of course it is second nature for older conservatives to take the rhetorical uniform of the Cold War, dry-cleaned recently for the occasional march for war with Iran, out of the closet for its original purpose. And the return of the war party was notable at CPAC:
[A]t CPAC, you’re seeing the hawks sprint back into the spotlight. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio uses his Thursday speech to rally conservatives in a global fight against “totalitarianism.” Afterward, he tells the New York Times that “there are forces within our party, there have always been in American politics, that basically say, ‘Who cares what happens everywhere else? Just mind our own business.’”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ventures from the main conference to an alternative all-day meeting of hawks—itself, a sign of how much ground has been lost to the libertarians—and explains how he differs with Paul. Sure, the Kentucky senator was right about Syria, but the hawks were right about Iran.
It will be fascinating to watch this, the one real ideological “split” within a right-wing dominated Republican Party, work its way out during the 2016 presidential cycle.
So before it’s forgotten, let’s note that the annual clambake known as CPAC ended with a predictable bang (a fairly comfortable win in the presidential straw poll for Rand Paul, his second in a row) and a wild closing speech. The latter was delivered by none other than St. Joan of the Tundra, who is enjoying some fresh celebrity for her allegedly prophetic swipes at Russia back when she was taking swipes at just about everybody and everything other than her adoring “base.”
As it happens, I had been mulling over a column on how conservatives alternate between attitudes of victimization and bully-boy triumphalism. With Palin’s reappearance, I realized once again how very well she manages to blend the whine and the gloat into a vengeful sneer. So of course she was all over the martyrdom and ultimate triumph of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. That saga sent the message that the godless secular-socialist elites may have momentarily succeeded in nailing the good homophobic folk to the cross, but the resurrection came fast, and before long it’s going to be the GSSE on the run and hiding from the posse. That’s the sort of rhetorical manuever at which Palin excels, and it’s why no matter how often we wish her away, she keeps coming back.
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