Republicans Should Move to Middle and Shouldn’t

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney prepares to deliver a speech in Nevada, February 8
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney prepares to deliver a speech in Nevada, February 8 (Romney for President)

Mitt Romney lost Tuesday’s presidential election in the United States because the incumbent did particularly well among racial minorities, young voters and women — three groups that are likely to determine the outcome of future elections as well. For Republicans to appeal to them and remain competitive, they have to moderate their positions on some issues but stay the course on others.

If Tuesday’s election had been a referendum on President Barack Obama, there’s a good chance that Romney would have won. A slim majority of voters indicated that they trusted him more to handle the economy than the Democrat. Republicans won overwhelmingly in 2010’s congressional and gubernatorial elections because voters trusted them more to reduce the deficit and boost employment than the president’s party. But on cultural and social issues, public opinion increasingly favors Democrats over Republicans.

More than 80 percent of Americans believes that global warming is real. A majority recognizes that human activity contributes to it. More Americans now support gay marriage than don’t. An overwhelming 67 percent of Americans favored letting gays serve openly in the military.

Republicans’ opposition to gay marriage, even civil unions, as well as their skepticism of climate change doesn’t bode well for the future. As former Utah governor and candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination Jon Huntsman told ABC’s This Week in August of last year, “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem.” Especially among young voters who turned out in slightly greater numbers this year than in 2008 to support the president by a six to four margin.

Among women, the uncompromising views of some Republicans on abortion is equally problematic. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s 15 percentage point defeat against the Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in Missouri was emblematic. Akin, who argued that abortion should be illegal regardless of the circumstances, suggested in an interview in August of this year that there was a distinction between “legitimate” and illegitimate rape. While he was widely condemned by senior Republicans, including Mitt Romney, for this controversial statement, the Democrats successfully sowed doubt into the minds of women voters about the party’s abortion views. As in 2008, Obama carried more than half of the female electorate on Tuesday.

2012 American presidential election map, showing support for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, per state.

A third group that Republicans must move in their favor is Hispanics. The party should have an advantage among these voters, many of whom are Catholics and more socially conservative than other racial minorities, but according to exit polls Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, down from 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 and 45 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. Whites, by contrast, overwhelmingly backed the Republican by 61 percent. But the white electorate is shrinking.

New Mexico, formerly a swing state, is already considered safe for the Democrats due to the large Hispanic population there. Colorado, Florida and ultimately even Republican bastions like Arizona and Texas could move in the Democrats’ direction as white seniors die out and the Hispanic populations increase.

Republicans in those southern states are well aware of it. It is why Texas governor Rick Perry, otherwise a staunch social conservative, was among the most moderate candidates when it came to immigration reform during the Republican primary election. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has repeatedly cautioned his party against alienating the Latino vote. Yet in order to appeal to the right, Romney adopted a most reactionary position on immigration before he was nominated. It may have cost him the election.

Left-wing commentators will argue that Republicans should move to the middle across the board, including on entitlement and tax reform where the two major parties haven’t been able to find common ground in the last two years. That would be a mistake.

As recently as in 2010, Republicans won across the country, including in left leaning states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, when they ran as small-government conservatives. Governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker and Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey enjoy high approval ratings, not because they crusade against abortion or deny climate change but because they emphasize fiscal conservatism, limited government and free enterprise.

If Republicans don’t learn from this and wage more culture wars instead, they will likely continue to lose. The demographics and sensibilities of the nation are simply shifting in the Democrats’ favor.

This article also appeared at Sharnoff’s Global Views, November 9, 2012.

On Edge of Fiscal Cliff, Barack Obama Reelected

President Barack Obama campaigns in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 3
President Barack Obama campaigns in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 3 (Obama for America/Paul Kadzielski)

Incumbent president Barack Obama won a second term on Tuesday after a hotly-contested election. While his Democratic Party did not regain control of the House of Representatives, it hold on to its majority in the Senate, inaugurating four more years of divided government.

The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, had been neck and neck with the president in national preelection polls. But in most of the crucial swing states, including Ohio and Virginia, the incumbent eked out sometimes narrow victories, providing him with a comfortable Electoral College majority — even if the race in Florida was still too close to call on Wednesday morning.

Americans elect their president and vice president not by popular vote but through an electoral college system that advantages smaller states. Nevertheless, the outcome of the popular vote hardly ever differs from the outcome in the Electoral College. The most recent exception was in 2000 when Democrat Al Gore won roughly half a million more votes nationwide but George W. Bush won five more points in the Electoral College. Obama on Tuesday won a little over one million more votes than his challenger.

Whatever the outcome, the two parties in Congress have little alternative but to work together after what has been a bitter election campaign unless they are prepared to let the United States career off the “fiscal cliff” — a combination of spending cuts and tax increases worth half a trillion dollars that is set to go into effect under existing legislation. If lawmakers don’t act to stop it, economists warn that the country could plunge into recession again.

To balance spending in the long term, comprehensive entitlement and tax reform is needed. For the last two years, the two parties haven’t been able to compromise. Democrats refuse to reform entitlements; Republicans won’t raise taxes. Obama adhered to his party’s positions in the campaign as he vehemently criticized a Republican plan to privatize health care for seniors and proposed to raise taxes on the wealthy to reduce the nation’s deficit. It’s doubtful if either plan can be passed through a divided legislature.

Auto Bailout, Energy Loom Over Election in Rust Belt

President Barack Obama prepares to address a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 3
President Barack Obama prepares to address a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 3 (Obama for America/Paul Kadzielski)

Tuesday’s presidential election in the United States may well be decided in the northeastern “Rust Belt” states of Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and the demographically comparable state of New Hampshire. Together, these states account for 58 electoral votes in the election, more than enough to tip the balance in either candidate’s favor.

Incumbent president Barack Obama has almost consistently polled ahead of his Republican challenger Mitt Romney in all five states but the latter cannot win the election without carrying either Pennsylvania, Ohio or two of the three remaining northeastern swing states. That is, assuming he wins in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia which seems likely.

The president leads the former Massachusetts governor in terms of favorability and job approval in all five states. Even if they have been among the hardest hit in the recession, his handling of the economy is also appraised fairly well by Rust Belt voters. Obama won all five states with significant leads over his rival John McCain in 2008.

The last time Iowa and Ohio voted for a Republican was in 2004. George W. Bush didn’t win New Hampshire that year but did in 2000. The last time Pennsylvania voted for a Republican was in 1998. The last time Wisconsin did was in 1984 when all states but Minnesota reelected President Ronald Reagan. Republicans believe that they have a chance of winning the state this year as Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan was added to their presidential ticket as Mitt Romney’s running mate in August.

The critical constituencies in all five states is composed of white working-class men and middle-class women. In the 2008 Democratic Party primary, Hillary Clinton polled far better among blue-collar voters in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio than Obama. In the general election, nationwide, he carried college educated whites, women, first time voters and racial minorities by landslides but lost the white working class by eighteen points to John McCain.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted last year found that 43 percent of the white working class didn’t believe that it would be better off in ten years’ time. It was the most negative view of any of the groups polled and explains why, in the 2010 midterm election, blue-collar voters went 63 percent Republicans. It helped the party win House and Senate seats as well as governorships across the northeast, including in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Even if the unemployment rate in all five northeastern battleground ground states has since come down to below the national average, Republicans aim to replicate the success of 2010 by arguing that the president is holding the recovery back.

Like the president, Romney is highly critical of Chinese monetary and trade policies, arguing that they are to blame for the disappearance of manufacturing jobs in the states that were once the industrial backbone of America, even if, as a former businessman, he will probably be less hostile to free trade as president than his rhetoric suggests.

One industry that promises to replace the jobs that were lost in manufacturing is energy, shale gas in particular. In the last four years, up to 600,000 jobs were added as a result of the shale gas revolution. In the Rust Belt states, where the coal workforce has shrunk by 90 percent in the last forty years, working-class unemployment can be reduced as a consequence.

Beyond employment in the energy sector, lower electricity prices as a result of cheap natural gas create opportunities in the chemical industries. The Wall Street Journal reported in October that the United States are now among “the most profitable places in the world to make chemicals and fertilizer, industries that use gas as both a feedstock and an energy source. And they have slashed costs for makers of energy intensive products such as aluminum, steel and glass.”

Mitt Romney’s plan for North American energy independence by 2020, which includes expanding drilling for oil and natural gas in the United States, stands in contrast to the president’s policies which have been more hostile to domestic energy production. Obama imposed fuel efficiency standards which increase the price of gasoline while his Environmental Protection Agency has been reluctant to issue permits for shale oil and gas exploration. The president also blocked construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to Houston, Texas, to the delight of his environmental base but angering labor union supporters.

The power of organized labor, particularly in Ohio and Wisconsin, nonetheless helps explain why working-class voters in these states are more likely to vote for Democrats than in most of the rest of the country. They help finance the Democratic Party’s election campaigns and get out the vote on election day. Indeed, the president already has the advantage in early voting in Ohio, although by a slimmer margin than he did in 2008.

Also working in Obama’s favor in the northeast is the belief that Mitt Romney opposed the 2008 bailouts that saved two American carmakers from bankruptcy and preserved tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Although the Republican didn’t write the words “Let Detroit go bankrupt,” which was the title The New York Times gave to an opinion article he authored that year, and although his proposed policy was actually very similar to what the president ultimately did, the belief that he opposed the rescue of Chrysler and General Motors is widespread and confirms many voters’ suspicions of him as an “out-of-touch” millionaire who will do little to improve the economic prospects of the common man.

Democrats, of course, have gladly exploited Romney’s image problem with television commercials in which were shown the plants that he closed and the workers that he fired when he was chairman and chief executive of the Bain Capital investment firm.

The Michigan native, whose father was president of the American Motors Corporation for eight years, allayed the concerns of some voters in his first televised debate with Barack Obama in which he was seen as far more persuasive on economic and fiscal policy. Whether it was persuasive enough for him to carry at least two states in the northeast remains to be seen.

In preelection polls, the candidates were neck and neck in all five northeastern battleground states although the president had the advantage in most surveys.

Electoral Fight of the Future: Go West, Young Man!

View of Las Vegas, Nevada
View of Las Vegas, Nevada (Shutterstock/Andrey Bayda)

Often forgotten amid the larger, classic swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the American West is finding itself in a new position of prominence in the 2012 election and will likely retain that prominence as the country’s demographics shift in the Democrats’ favor over the coming years.

With the Midwest probably in President Barack Obama’s column and the entirety of the South probably in Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s (with the possible exception of Virginia), Tuesday’s election may come down to three states in the Rocky Mountains that all went for Obama in 2008, George W. Bush in 2004 and split between Bush and Al Gore in 2000.

The region was uncompetitive for Democrats in 2000, with the exception of New Mexico which Al Gore won by a mere five hundred votes that year. In 2004, the region was one of John Kerry’s many “backup” paths to victory (besides Florida and Ohio) that didn’t pan out. In 2008’s election between Obama and John McCain, it didn’t make the difference — preelection polls weren’t close and the election was effectively decided well before results came in from the West.

What will happen this time around? Recent history might offer a clue as to what we can expect — history as recent as the 2010 congressional elections. Read more

Barack Obama Deserves Second Term

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Dayton, Ohio, October 23
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Dayton, Ohio, October 23 (Obama for America/Christopher Dilts)

Regardless of whether or not this presidential election is a referendum or a choice, President Barack Obama deserves to be reelected on both counts. On the economy and foreign affairs, the Democrat has shown himself to be a better candidate than any of Mitt Romney’s public personas.

The first issue of Barack Obama’s presidency was his handling of the economic collapse which is also his strongest case for reelection. The crisis left a classic liquidity trap in which demand had dropped to very low levels and interest rates had already been lowered to the minimum. This required an immediate Keynesian approach.

By passing the Recovery Act and injecting $787 billion into the American economy only three weeks after his inauguration, the president stopped the ongoing hemorrhaging and quickly stabilized the markets. Despite near unanimous Republican political stonewalling, the president got billions of dollars into green energy investment, health information technology, middle-class tax relief and more.

Investigators found minimal fraud and waste and given the impact it had on the economy, both short and long-term, the spending in sum appears to have been worth it: The economy rebounded with the stimulus saving or creating around two and a half million jobs. The recovery only really slowed down once governors began to institute austerity at the state level and Congress refused to renew any form of stimulus because of the perceived failure of the first round as well as its large impact on the deficit.

However, the Recovery Act was uncommonly large because the slump was too — and it turns out more massive than the stimulus. The oft cited “promise” that unemployment would be at 6 percent right now is a canard, citing a projection, not a promise, by the transition team based on the belief that gross domestic product loss in late 2008 was 5.4 percent. It turned out that the contraction rate was 8.9 percent — unheard of since the Great Depression. Thus, a larger stimulus was economically necessary, though politically impossible.

Having no stimulus? That would have resulted in a Second Great Depression, permanently less revenue and a larger weight in the safety net — much worse for the deficit than temporary spending.

We know this because countercyclical spending has been economic orthodoxy since the 1930s. Democratic and Republican presidents alike have always spent money in some form to juice a down economy. When they haven’t, it has stagnated. This creates a natural deficit but that’s okay — interest rates are low during liquidity traps and are historically so right now.

(Given that the task of economic stimulus is evidently incomplete, pursuing it or not remains the choice for the future.)

Other issues are dwarfed by the president’s averting of economic catastrophe, yet still have large importance — especially in contrast to the plans of Mitt Romney and the congressional Republicans.

On health care, the president passed a law that reduces the deficit, insures more people, drives down costs and increases the lifespan of Medicare. The Republican alternative: Repeal Obamacare without replacing it and turn Medicare into a voucher program, fundamentally transforming its guarantee for seniors.

On financial reform, the president fought for the tightest regulations on the banks (that caused the collapse) since the 1930s. The bill is imperfect but Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress would repeal it, allowing Wall Street to run the show again. They’d reduce regulations in other places too, claiming that Obama’s regulations are “killing jobs.” Never mind that President Obama has finalized fewer regulations than his two predecessors did at this point in their presidencies.

On the wars, President Obama has also kept his promises. He’s ended the war in Iraq, is winding down the war in Afghanistan and has restored America’s image around the world as much as was realistically possible. He has stood up for American realist and idealist interests where possible (Libya) and done it with minimal (though tragic) casualties and costs to the taxpayer (compare trillions on Afghanistan and Iraq with $1.3 billion on Libya).

He’s stood by Israel and put crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy to dissuade them from pursuing their nuclear program, thus causing their economy to hemorrhage instead of the United States’. The Iranian currency has lost 80 percent of its value in the last two years. Romney doesn’t say what he would do differently other than “show more strength” — worrisome given how many of his foreign-policy advisors are Bush era neoconservatives.

President Obama has reinstated the START Treaty and improved relations with Russia. By contrast, Mitt Romney has said that Russia — not Al Qaeda, China or Iran — is the United States’ number one geopolitical foe, eliciting a direct rebuke from the Kremlin.

On the issue of Osama bin Laden, Mitt Romney said it “wasn’t worth moving heaven and Earth” to find and kill the man responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Obama disagreed and killed Bin Laden by reinstating the CIA department tasked with finding him — the one George W. Bush shut down in 2005. Obama ordered the risky operation knowing that the political consequences of failure would be disastrous and his alone. He’s also taken out over two dozen top Al Qaeda leaders, decimating their ranks. With their leadership gone, the group has largely been absent from the Arab Spring.

The future is a choice between a continuation of these policies and trends and Mitt Romney’s sketchy, hard to pin down economics. He claims he’ll cut taxes (mostly on the rich) and raise defense spending dramatically without increasing the deficit or adding to middle-class Americans’ tax burden. He backs this claim up with studies from ultraconservative think tanks, blog posts and op-eds written by his own economic advisors.

Of course, there is the issue of extreme partisanship, something Obama promised to fix and quite evidently has not.

But it takes two to tango. It was Republicans who decided not to play ball and they decided this on inauguration night at a meeting with former House speaker Newt Gingrich. The thinking was that if Republicans stood in the way, it would be a win-win outcome for them — Obama’s success would mean a good economy which would help them by virtue of incumbency. People would forget who supported what. If Obama failed and the economy did too, they could point the finger and blame the situation on him.

In both cases, they’d shout that they were being handled roughly and that the president was hardly the unifier he claimed he would be. In such a case, the media, craving balance, would blame it on both parties. And that’s exactly what happened.

Given their intransigence and President Obama’s lack of a supermajority for more than a few weeks, it’s no surprise that his administration made no headway on a variety of issues he promised to tackle. When you have to get sixty votes in the Senate for literally everything, it’s impossible to get anything done when the other party finds it politically advantageous to not cooperate. Add in the very real specter of primary challenges for the right and sitting on one’s hands became a matter of political survival.

So in the sense that after the debt crisis and the sparring on the American Jobs Act — legislation that included ideas Republicans had previous supported or proposed — President Obama realized there was literally no utility in trying to be bipartisan, he hasn’t been. That’s not an argument to give the keys back to the Republicans.

It’s not as simple as repeating the last four years or not. To validate Republicans for their embrace of radical politics is deleterious to the health of the American political system. A defeat of Mitt Romney will force the Republicans to come to the table.

Mitt Romney Offers Real Hope of Change

Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney
Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Romney for President)

If an election is primarily a referendum on the incumbent, Barack Obama does not deserve to be reelected this November.

When he came to office, the Democrat promised to transcend the traditional party divides to cut the federal budget deficit in half and revitalize the nation’s economy.

Four years later, none of those promises have been met. The political culture in Washington is more toxic than ever.

Much of the blame is usually laid on the “intransigence” of Republicans who, pressured by the conservative Tea Party movement, have supposedly moved so far to the right that it has become impossible to do a deal with them. But when House speaker John Boehner last year agreed to $800 billion in revenue increases over the next ten years — despite Republicans’ pledge not to raise taxes — it was the president who gutted the possibility of a grand bargain by demanding an additional $400 billion in revenue at the last minute, something Boehner felt couldn’t get his conference to accept.

The president’s insensitiveness to Republican concerns may explain his inability to forge compromise with the other party. What is often ignored is that the Democrats under his leadership have become openly protective of big government and sometimes dismissive of free enterprise in ways they haven’t been since before the Bill Clinton years. Both parties are now more attuned to their fringes.

Obama doesn’t seem likely to bring his party to the middle again in order to find common ground with Republicans who will likely retain their majority in the House of Representatives after next week’s election.

Contrast that with Mitt Romney’s tenure in Massachusetts, one of the most left-wing states in the country, where he successfully worked with a Democratic legislature to balance the budget in the last two fiscal years of his governorship through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

Romney has promised not to raise taxes as president, but, if elected, he will likely to have to work with a Democratic majority in the Senate. Unlike the president, he has a record of bipartisanship and pragmatism which suggests that he may be able to put together a comprehensive budget agreement that puts the United States on a sounder fiscal trajectory.

The need for such reform is pressing. Barack Obama grew federal discretionary spending, excluding defense, 24 percent during the first three years of his presidency, adding $734 billion in projected spending over the next decade. Only this fiscal year will the deficit fall below $1 trillion even if several more trillion dollars will be added to the national debt in the coming years unless significant budget changes are made.

Yet the president dismissed the recommendations of his own commission for fiscal reform as well as three Republican budget plans, two of which were authored by Romney’s vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.

He claimed to be willing to “make tough choices” but never presented a credible plan for long-term fiscal consolidation.

He rejected all Republican suggestions for entitlement reform but never volunteered a solution of his own, even if those programs are the main drivers of the debt’s growth in the long term.

Romney, by contrast, has endorsed Ryan’s Medicare reform agenda, which would introduce competition and choice to seniors’ health care and control costs.

The Republican also advocates a 20 percent income tax cut, although he hasn’t been able to explain how he would pay for it except by phasing out deductions and closing loopholes. Simplifying the tax code is necessary but if the numbers don’t add up it could widen the deficit. Romney may have overpromised in this regard but is more likely to adopt a realistic program of fiscal reform than the president, whose only concrete policy solution is raise taxes on the rich.

Both candidates say they favor a corporate tax reduction which would improve America’s competitiveness relative to other industrialized nations. The president has had nearly four years to accomplish this but never pressed Congress to do it. Instead, American competitiveness has declined four years in a row. Business confidence has faded as a result of repeated government interventions in the private sector and new regulations in energy, finance and health care.

The president’s rhetoric doesn’t suggest he will be a greater proponent of free enterprise and free trade in a second term. Rather, he calls for an “economic patriotism” which sounds like protectionism.

He has prioritized environmental concerns over the full exploitation of American coal and natural gas resources as well as the jobs that can be won in both industries. While he is keen to point out that American oil production and petroleum exports have risen in the last four years, it’s in spite, not because of his policies, which included a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, blocking the extension of an oil pipeline from Canada to Houston, Texas and the implementation of Renewable Fuel Standards which drive up the price of gasoline.

Romney promises to increase fossil fuel production. That would not only reduce electricity and gasoline prices but create jobs. Since 2008, up to 600,000 jobs have been added in the shale gas industry alone. This is an energy revolution that Romney is far more likely to support than Obama.

Barack Obama promised to bring “change” to government and hasn’t. The real change in next week’s presidential election is offered by Republicans who have repudiated the fiscally reckless “compassionate conservatism” of the George W. Bush years in favor of a common-sense, small-government conservatism the United States need desperately.

Atlantic Sentinel Responds to Final Obama-Romney Debate

Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama participate in a televised debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, October 22
Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama participate in a televised debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, October 22 (Obama for America/Scout Tufankjian)

Incumbent president Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, debated foreign policy in Boca Raton, Florida tonight in what was their third and last televised debate before November’s election.

The Atlantic Sentinel‘s Christopher Whyte said the debate was “not a blowout for either candidate.” Both held their positions well on a number of fronts, he said.

However, it is fairly clear that Obama came out on top, even if only by a bit. Romney agreed with Obama so many times that it almost seemed to be the template for responses that had been decided upon beforehand. Obama clearly came to attack and prove himself the master of foreign policy that he, as commander-in-chief, is.

Romney, by contrast, “still has a lot to prove if he wants to be taken seriously as a strong leader,” said Whyte.

Steve Keller said Obama effectively defused two Republican attack lines.

By pivoting to stories of his trip to Israel and anecdotes about the people he saw and the things he experienced, he took a lot of the power out of the Republican line that he’s anti-Israel.

Moreover, the president came out of the debate with taking any serious punches on the Benghazi consulate attack.

All of this week’s windup was for a punch that never came but perhaps that’s because there was no way to land it.

In spite of those two issues, Daniel DePetris found it striking just how many similarities the candidates when it came to foreign policy.

Stripped of the political rhetoric and the bombastic television ads, the policy proposals that Obama and Romney have on many important global issues are roughly identical. Both were clear and direct in vowing that Iran would never have a nuclear weapon on their watch. Both were supportive of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Both agreed that Israel is America’s most trusted friend in the Middle East. Both agree that the United States cannot slide back to the days of isolation when the world is confronted with so many challenges.

DePetris agreed Obama came out stronger but “Romney came away as someone who has a grasp of how complex the world can be,” he said.