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Painting Themselves Into A Corner

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April 27, 2009

During the April 21 – 24 timeframe, ABC News and The Washington Post conducted a poll to ascertain President Obama’s approval rating.  The poll revealed that 69 percent of Americans favor the job performance of our new President.  Fifty percent of those polled believe that the country is on the right track (compared with 19 percent just before Obama’s inauguration).  This seemed like a particularly strong showing since, just one week before this poll began, we saw the anti-taxation “tea parties” that had been promoted by Fox News.

A recent article by Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin for Politico revealed that in some states, the “tea parties” have helped energize the Republican base:

“There is a sense of rebellion brewing,” said Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, who cited unexpectedly high attendance at anti-tax “tea parties” last week.

As the article by Smith and Martin pointed out, this “rebellion” is taking place at exactly the time when many Republican Party leaders are tacking to the center and looking for someone like Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as a possible Presidential candidate for 2012.  Nevertheless, as the article noted, rank-and-file Republicans outside of Washington have no desire to adopt more moderate views:

Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

Many of those comprising the Republican base appear to be motivated by antipathy toward the increasing acceptance of gay marriage, rather than by a reaction to all of the bailouts that have been taking place.  In fact, I was surprised to observe, during the extensive “tea party” coverage, that none of the protesters were upset about the bank bailouts or Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner’s use of the Federal Reserve to manage the bank bailouts in furtherance of his attempts to avoid legislative oversight.  I guess Fox News had not primed the protesters for that sort of outrage.

The Politico article by Smith and Martin reveals that “cultural issues” remain as the primary concern of the Republican base.  Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is trying to position himself as the next Republican standard bearer.  Those touting the “sanctity of marriage” (including the Catholic Church) don’t seem particularly concerned that Newt has been married three times.  Newt’s vision for the future is the same vision he was seeing almost twenty years ago:  lower taxes.  If others within the Republican Party have a broader vision and feel the need to expand their appeal to the voters, they can expect plenty of opposition from the party’s base — and therein lies the problem.  Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman has written extensively about how the political primary system works to the benefit of political candidates with the most extreme views.  This is because the only people who vote in political primaries are those with strongly held views and most of them come from the extremes.  This is why wing-nuts such as Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann get nominated.  In the absence of any strong moderate or centrist uprising within the Republican ranks, the GOP could be destined to find itself marginalized.  It’s beginning to appear as though the only way for promising, new, centrist Republicans to get elected is to run as independents in the general elections.  Once elected, they can reclaim the “high ground” within the party.  In the mean time, Republican leaders are either unconcerned by or oblivious to the fact that they are painting themselves into a corner by continuing to pander to their base.

The Return Of Jeb Bush

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December 4, 2008

I was surprised when I read the December 2 report by Beth Reinhard in the Miami Herald concerning the announcement by Mel Martinez, that he would not seek re-election to the United States Senate in 2010, at the end of his first term.  He has always been such an ambitious guy.  Immediately after the mid-term elections in 2006, Senator Martinez was named Chairman of the Republican National Committee (although he ultimately resigned from that post in October of 2007).  As Martin Kady reported in the November 14, 2006 edition of the New York Times:

Republicans are hoping that Martinez, whose family fled communist Cuba in 1962, will appeal to the pivotal Hispanic voting bloc, which went heavily for Democrats in the Nov. 7 elections.

Beth Reinhard’s article in the Miami Herald quoted the Senator’s explanation for not seeking another term:  the simple desire to spend more time in Orlando with family and friends.  However, Ms. Reinhard provided an alternative explanation for the motivating factors behind this decision:

His slumping poll numbers and lackluster reelection fundraising have fueled speculation for months that he would not seek another term.  But Martinez, a reluctant Washington insider recruited by President George W. Bush, insisted that he wasn’t deterred by the prospect of a tough race.  He added that he announced his retirement early to give potential candidates enough time to build campaigns.

The article went on to disclose that “a close ally” of former Governor Jeb Bush indicated that Jeb “was thinking about the race”.

A December 3 report by Carol Lee and Jonathan Martin on the Politico website bore the headline:   “Jeb: I am considering Senate run”.  They noted the likelihood that in the event Jeb should seek the Senate seat relinquished by Mel Martinez, he would not likely face any Republican opposition.  What really stood out in this piece was Jeb’s strategic vision for the future of the Republican Party in the wake of the 2008 elections.  At a time when many Republicans expressed dread that the only “rising star” in their party might be Sarah Palin, it must have been nice to hear “the smart one” from the Bush family provide an enlightened perspective on the future:

In an interview with Politico immediately after November’s election, the former governor said the Republican Party should take four primary steps to regain favor with voters: Show no tolerance for corruption, practice what it preaches about limiting the scope of government (“There should not be such a thing as a Big Government Republican”), stand for working families and small business, and embrace reform.

Bush said conservatives should “do the math of the new demographics of the United States,” explaining that the Republican Party “can’t be anti-Hispanic, anti-young person — anti many things — and be surprised when we don’t win elections.”

Jeb let everyone know that there is at least one Republican who “gets it” and can provide change the Republicans can believe in.  The obvious next question is:  When is he planning on a run for the Presidency?  If his plan is to run in the 2012 Presidential election, he would have to begin campaigning immediately upon being sworn in as a Senator in January of 2011.  That simply would not make sense.  He would more likely spend a few years in the Senate, re-defining himself as a centrist and demonstrating the capacity for bipartisanship that his brother lacked.  He would then likely set his sights on the 2016 Presidential election, when President Obama’s term expires.

In the mean time, the Democrats need to focus on nominating a worthy opponent for Jeb in the Senatorial election.  Their best chance for victory would be the nomination of a Latin-American woman as their candidate.  Jeb’s wife, Columba, is a native of Mexico and this has always endeared him to the Latin-American voters in Florida.  A female candidate could attract the votes of independent female voters.

The Democratic Party’s response to Jeb’s likely senatorial bid is already taking shape.  The Politico website ran a second article on Jeb’s Senatorial aspirations on December 3, written by Amie Parnes and Charles Mathesian, entitled:  “Will voters elect a Bush again?” They quoted the response from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz about the prospect of a Senator Jeb Bush:

“I don’t think Jeb Bush’s leadership style is a good fit for the US Senate or any legislative body. He governs with ‘my way or the highway’ politics. He was literally the most inflexible public official I’ve ever encountered in my 16 years in office,” said Wasserman Schultz. “I think they’re very similar in terms of his leadership style. When they decide that they are correct there’s no telling them that they are not.”

Who would have thought that before George W. Bush could move out of the White House, there would be serious discussion of another Bush candidacy?