The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell resigned Tuesday afternoon, and the fact that he is openly gay appears to have been at least part of the reason.
Grenell, who was living in California with his longtime partner, served during the Bush administration as communications director for the US ambassador to the United Nations. In April the Romney campaign appointed him spokesman for foreign policy. He was the first openly gay spokesperson for a Republican presidential candidate. On Tuesday he sent a statement to Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger at the Washington Post:
I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the Foreign Policy and National Security Spokesman. While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.
Rubin attributes his resignation to “a full-court press by anti-gay conservatives.”
Surely that didn’t help, although it may not be the entire story.
Grenell’s online persona—a curmudgeonly combativeness that some might find unpleasant—quickly became a minor campaign issue. His penchant for sexist attacks on women was noted by Think Progress, who reported, “[Grenell] has gone after Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Callista Gingrich, Sandra Fluke and others.” They posted screenshots of his unfunny jokes about the appearance of Rachel Maddow, Clinton, Albright, Callista Gingrich and others. He also tweeted heavy-handed jabs at Republicans such as “im rick santorum and gay people should be deported.” He also took an arguably racial shot at Michelle Obama, suggesting her saying at an event, “Because I got to get home after this” was “slang.” Mostly, though, he tweeted aggressive criticism of the Obama administration from a hawkish perspective, complaining repeatedly, for example, that Secretary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice were “ignoring” the government repression in Syria. Grenell sifted through his extensive twitter feed and deleted more than 800 potentially embarrassing tweets.
No sooner had that brouhaha died down, though, than conservatives began fretting that his sexual orientation would prevent him from serving conservative foreign policy interests. Grenell had written op-eds in favor of gay marriage. But he generally did so in a partisan Republican vein. He devoted a Washington Blade column for attacking gay writers for giving Obama too much credit, and Dick Cheney too little, on gay rights.
Nonetheless, Matthew J. Franck wrote in National Review:
Grenell has made a particular crusade of the marriage issue, with a kind of unhinged devotion that suggests a man with questionable judgment. And when the Obama State Department is already moving to elevate the gay-rights agenda to a higher plane than religious freedom in the foreign policy of the United States, it is reasonable to wonder whether Grenell, after taking such a prominent place in the Romney campaign’s foreign-policy shop, would be in line for an influential State posting where he could pursue his passion for that same agenda.
That question might have been reasonable, although describing someone who strongly supports his own civil rights as “unhinged” is unreasonable. It should also be noted that Grenell spent his entire career loyally serving anti-gay Republicans. On Twitter he snapped at people who criticized him for taking a job with Romney, who opposes marriage equality, by saying that not all gays share liberal politics on other issues.
Franck later added:
Whatever fine record he compiled in the Bush administration, Grenell is more passionate about same-sex marriage than anything else. So here’s a thought experiment. Suppose Barack Obama comes out—as Grenell wishes he would—in favor of same-sex marriage in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. How fast and how publicly will Richard Grenell decamp from Romney to Obama?
This was just a silly question. Clearly if Grenell spent years working in Republican politics he had long since reconciled himself to the fact that he was working for politicians who are less supportive of gay rights than their Democratic opponents. Just as Obama’s support for letting gays serve openly in the military, and Romney’s opposition to it, didn’t shape his partisan preference, there is no reason to think any future shift on gay marriage would.
But at least Franck’s complaints had a patina of policy concern. Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, attacked Grenell merely for being gay. Fischer tweeted, “Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.”
Fischer occupies an interesting place in conservative politics. He is fond of making controversial declarations such as, “President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians.” Liberals excitedly repeat his statements as evidence of right-wing extremism and craziness. But he holds some real influence in grassroots conservative politics and is carefully kept inside the tent by the larger conservative movement. Prominent Republicans such as Jim DeMint, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum have appeared on his radio program. Buzzfeed describes Fischer as “probably the most straightforwardly anti-gay Republican to appear regularly in the party’s mainstream.”
Fischer later elaborated on his problem with Grenell. He explicitly called for discriminating against gays in hiring, writing:
Gov. Mitt Romney stepped on a landmine by appointing Richard Grenell, an out, loud and proud homosexual, to be his spokesman on national security and foreign policy issues. Grenell has for years been an outspoken advocate for homosexual marriage. In fact, word is that he left the Bush administration because President Bush would not formally acknowledge his homosexual partner.
Since, as the saying goes in D.C., personnel is policy, this means Gov. Romney has some ‘splaining to do. This clearly is a deliberate and intentional act on his part, since he was well aware of Mr. Grenell’s sexual proclivities and knew it would be problematic for social conservatives. It’s certainly not possible that there are no other potential spokesmen available, men who are experts in foreign policy and who at the same time honor the institution of natural marriage in their personal lives.
Romney has already calculated that he can afford not to cater to Fischer. At the Values Voter Summit last year, Fischer told me social conservatives would be very disappointed in Romney as a nominee, although they would support him over Obama. Expecting Fischer’s coming rebuke in his scheduled speech at the conference, Romney struck first in his speech there, saying that an unnamed speaker who would be following him descends into unpersuasive uncivil language.
Some conservative observers are speculating that therefore Grenell’s ouster has more to do with his past intemperate remarks than his sexuality. If it had only been Fischer criticizing Grenell, they would probably be right. But more mainstream social conservatives were also weighing in. The Family Research Council—the organization that sponsors the Values Voter Summit, where Romney speaks every year—expressed concerns about Grenell. In FRC Chairman Tony Perkins’s April 25 commentary, he wrote:
Grenell, who has been very open about his homosexual lifestyle, publicly condemned the Bush administration (shortly after leaving it) for opposing a U.N. resolution urging the full acceptance of homosexuality. While Bush (like nearly two thirds of the U.N. member states) refused to endorse the measure endorsing homosexuality, President Obama signed it shortly after taking office…. In a recent column for the Washington Blade, Grenell hinted at where he falls on the marriage issue when he criticized gay and lesbian Democrats for supporting President Obama despite the fact that he hasn’t done enough to redefine marriage. Still others point to Grenell’s long-time partner and his desire to tie the knot, “It’s not an option for us… but hopefully someday soon it will be.” While past performance is not a guarantee of future results, there is strong evidence that Grenell would lobby for foreign policy more in line with the current administration than the last Republican one.
Longtime Evangelical leader Gary Bauer also worried that Grenell’s hiring would alienate social conservatives:
I share their disappointment not because Grenell is gay. He is not weak on defense. In fact, former Ambassador John Bolton is defending Grenell today. Conservative pro-family leaders are disappointed because Grenell has been an outspoken advocate of redefining normal marriage. For the overwhelmingly majority of folks who support Governor Romney that issue is starkly clear — marriage is the union of one and one woman. But Grenell once caused a controversy by trying to have his partner listed as his spouse when he worked at the U.N. Thankfully, Grenell is not going to be making policy on domestic issues. But his appointment was disappointing because it comes at a time when the Romney campaign should be reaching out to the conservative base. Instead, this appointment seems like a slap at the base. Moreover, Grenell is known for having an acerbic personality, and critics have described his comments in social media as being “catty.” He may be competent, but he is creating controversies on multiple fronts where the Romney campaign can least afford them.
Notwithstanding Bauer’s protestations that Grenell’s sexuality isn’t the issue, he deploys a rather homophobic use of “catty” to describe Grenell’s personality, and uses quotes without saying whom he is quoting.
The conservative movement was hardly unified on this subject. At National Review, for example, Kevin Williamson disagreed with Franck that Grenell’s support for same-sex marriage should be a cause for concern among conservatives:
An all-consuming obsession with gay marriage does not seem to me the most likely explanation of a man’s service in the Bush administration…. The possibility of Speaker Boehner sending a national gay-marriage mandate to the desk of President Romney while Mr. Grenell plays the lavender Svengali behind the Oval Office drapery is not one over which I expect to lose much sleep.
Clearly, for one reason or another, the Romney campaign was nervous about deploying Grenell in the job they had hired him for. He never made any public statements on behalf of the Romney campaign during his two-week tenure.
Among people who closely follow politics this could hurt Romney’s efforts to pivot to the center. The Log Cabin Republicans, who had celebrated Grenell’s appointment, issued a statement attempting to blame “the far right and the far left” rather than Romney for the events. “It is unfortunate that while the Romney campaign made it clear that Grenell being an openly gay man was a non-issue for the governor and his team, the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric’s national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail,” said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans executive director.
Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades issued a somewhat oblique statement: “We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill.”
Grenell’s resignation is unlikely to resonate outside the Beltway. Certainly the proverbial suburban soccer mom voters are turned off by overt homophobia such as this. But staffer resignations in May are unlikely to be remembered by swing voters in November. “This is way too obscure [to matter],” says Republican strategist Soren Dayton.
But there’s at least one benefit for President Obama. In the Republican primary debates Romney attempted to take a dishonorable dodge on matters of actual policy regarding gay rights by saying his opposition to discrimination is shown by his record of hiring gays as Governor of Massachusetts. Of course, this is no substitute for supporting a law, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that would prevent others from discriminating as well. But now Romney won’t be able to use even this fig leaf.
It doesn’t take a political science PhD to figure out what Mitt Romney needs to do if he is to have a chance of winning the presidency in November. He must reduce the dramatic margins by which President Obama won among certain key constituencies in 2008, specifically women, Latinos and young voters.
Romney has recently launched his efforts to do just that. The week before last he had sought to lambast Obama for job losses among women. That message got muddied as Romney evaded questions about whether he supported the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
By comparison Romney’s focus last week—multiple attacks on Obama’s economic record aimed at Latinos and young people—went off without a hitch.
But do they have any chance of working? The predominant focus for Romney of late has been the youth vote. He sent at least seven missives on the topic last week. Of course he won’t win the youth vote outright. But, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post noted, Romney doesn’t have to win the youth vote, he merely has to reduce Obama’s margins of victory among them. A small enough margin will be offset by Romney’s near-certain advantage among the elderly.
And, the elderly vote in far greater numbers than young people. As Elsepth Reeve of The Atlantic Wire points out, the supposedly massive youth turnout of 2008 was not the highest in history. It will probably be lower this year. But Reeve is over-simplifying when she writes, “Aside from the fact that hardly any young people show up, they're so heavily Democratic it seems pointless for Romney to try to fight for them.” The reason so many pundits have inaccurately referred to a supposedly record youth turnout in 2008 is because the youth vote was far more Democratic than in previous cycles. Obama’s 66 percent of voters under 30 years old represented an unprecedented degree of party polarization by age. That allowed young voters to affect the outcome far more than they usually do. Obama must repeat that feat if he is to win.
That won’t be easy. On Tuesday the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government released a major poll of Americans ages 18 to 29. Overall, it should be encouraging to Obama. He led Romney 43 percent to 26 percent, with the remainder undecided.
But there are three possible subgroups of young voters among whom Romney could make inroads: whites, Latinos, and voters under 21 years old. “There’s opportunity for Romney among segments of youth vote where Obama’s underperforming compared to four years ago,” notes John Della Volpe, the IOP’s director of polling. “Almost seven out of ten young whites are not committed to Obama. He won young whites by ten points last time, now it’s roughly one-third each [for Obama, Romney and undecided].”
Romney actually leads Obama 37 to 34 percent in the poll. But the greater diversity of the Millennial generation gives Obama an advantage. Only 58 percent of respondents in the IOP’s poll are non-Hispanic white. Among the 21 percent who are Hispanic and the 12 percent who are non-Hispanic African-American, Obama leads by wide margins: 50 percent to 12 percent and 79 percent to 1 percent, respectively.
But there may be a glimmer of hope for Romney among young Latinos. When Obama took office, his approval rating among young Latinos, 81 percent, was virtually the same as his 84 percent approval rating among young African-Americans. Since then the two have diverged. While Obama has never dropped below 82 percent approval among young African-Americans, his approval rating among young Latinos tumbled to 52 percent last year, although it is now back up at 66 percent. By some other measures of an incumbent president’s strength, young Latinos more closely resemble young whites than young African-Americans. For example, the IOP poll notes, “40 percent of Blacks say things in the nation are headed in the right direction—which is signiﬁcantly higher than the percentage of Whites (16%) and Hispanics (21%) who say the same.” Part of the problem for Romney, though, may be that one reason young Latinos are disappointed in Obama, and the direction of the country, is that Obama failed to deliver comprehensive immigration reform—and the Republican Party demonizes undocumented immigrants. If so, the best Romney can hope for is that those voters stay home. If they do come out, they will surely see Obama as the lesser evil than Romney, who supports draconian anti–illegal immigration measures, such as Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law.
The last group that offers Romney some small possibility of cutting into Obama’s margins is the youngest of young voters. People who are under 21 were too young to vote in the last election, so they aren’t already committed to Obama. And having come of age in such a slow economy—rather than during George W. Bush’s economic crisis and unpopular Iraq War—may make them less grateful to Obama for withdrawing from Iraq and more open to Romney’s economic message. Obama leads among 18- to 24-year-olds by 12 points (41 percent to 29 percent) and among 25- to 29-year-olds by 23 points (46 percent to 23 percent).
Romney knows that the economy is his only angle among young voters. He isn’t going to win them over with his opposition to access for contraception. And a generation that was shaped by 9/11 is unlikely to buy the idea that President Obama, Osama bin Laden’s executioner, has been unsuccessful on foreign policy.
So Romey has rolled out his youth appeal with a purely economic focus. He has blasted out press releases and organized conference calls with headlines such as “The Effect Of President Obama’s Failed Economic Policies On Young Adults.” Surrogates, such as 30-year-old Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL) and College Republican President Alex Schriver, say Obama has failed young people in two major ways: he hasn’t put enough of them back to work and he has saddled their generation with increased federal debt.
The latter point, of course, is absurd. Very little of the current debt is attributable to Obama’s policies. Anyone who takes office during an economic contraction will see deficit-spending rise on their watch because tax revenues will decline and automatic spending on programs such as food stamps will increase.
But the former argument—that Obama has presided over unacceptably high unemployment among young people—could have some political resonance.
As part of his focus on economic hardship Romney has taken a rare position in agreement with Obama: both favor continuing a law to lower student loan interest rates. The rub, though, is how to pay for it, which House Republicans want to do by defunding a portion of the Affordable Care Act. This has understandably prompted a veto threat from the White House.
Democrats are trying to fend off Romney’s incursion into their youth vote turf. The Democratic National Committee dismissed Romney’s student loan stance as “shameless lip service.” The Republican Congressional budget, which Romney supports, would slash funding for Pell grants, thus making college even more unaffordable. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, as Romney pledges to do, would force millions of young people to lose their health insurance.
Romney seems to believe that he can substitute a general argument that youth unemployment is too high under Obama for specific policies that would help young people. For example, Romney is targeting a subset of young people, military veterans, with press releases such as one he released Friday titled “Veterans Are Struggling in the Obama Economy.” True enough, although the White House has launched a program to improve veterans’ employment, which Romney has praised. Obama also has a program in the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department to combat veterans’ homelessness. Romney recently suggested abolishing HUD, which presumably means eliminating that program. Romney, as Think Progress points out, has no policy agenda on veterans issues.
Meanwhile both Romney and Obama set off to visit college campuses last week. The differing receptions—enthusiasm for Obama and literally dozing off during Romney’s speech—were memorably captured by a TPM video mashing up the two.
Ultimately the Republicans’ nominal acceptance of lower student loan interest rates is just election-year politics. Their real view on college affordability is best expressed by Romney’s exhortations to young people to find cheaper colleges, conservative economist Josh Barro’s complaint that colleges should reduce costs on their own, and the declaration of House Higher Education subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) that,“I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that.” If Democrats make young people understand that, Romney will have a very hard time making inroads among young voters.
No sooner had Mitt Romney wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination than environmental groups began alerting the public to the threat they believe he represents. Last week four environmental groups—the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Clean Water Action and Environment America—collectively endorsed President Obama. It was the first time that those groups had come together to make a candidate endorsement.
They were moved to do so, and quite early in the process, because Romney is heavily backed by the enemies of environmental regulation. Energy companies and the rich tycoons who own them have begun pouring money into Republican causes for the 2012 cycle and are expected to give considerably more before November. And Romney is returning the favor with policy promises.
In 2011 the oil and gas industry gave Romney $899,630 according to the Center for Responsive Politics, far more than they gave to President Obama. They were Romney’s eleventh-most-supportive industry, whereas they did not rank among President Obama’s top twenty. More money will surely fill his coffers this year since Rick Perry is no longer in the race.
But the real money supporting Romney is the largesse he will enjoy through unlimited donations to Super PACs. Back in October Politico reported, “The billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch plan to steer more than $200 million—potentially much more—to conservative groups ahead of Election Day.” The term “industrialist” does not fully capture the Kochs’ intense personal interest in opposing environmental regulations. The bulk of their fortune comes from refining and distributing products such as petroleum, chemicals and fertilizers. Their libertarian ideology seems to revolve primarily around keeping the government from doing anything that would protect the public interest over their profit margins.
Allies of Romney and the Kochs are already putting their money to work attacking Obama. According to Think Progress, “In the first three-and-a-half months of 2012, groups including Americans for Prosperity, American Petroleum Institute, Crossroads GPS and American Energy Alliance have spent $16,750,000 on energy attack ads.
Romney opposes President Obama’s proposal to eliminate billions of dollars worth of subsidies for oil companies in the tax code. Romney justifies this by saying he is against all tax increases and that it is “dangerous” to single out one industry for losing its special favors. This, of course, blatantly contradicts Romney’s own proposals, and Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget, both of which claim to be revenue neutral by slashing tax rates but paying for it by eliminating tax expenditures. Romney and Ryan don’t specify which tax expenditures they will eliminate, although Romney recently suggested the mortgage interest deduction for second homes might be one. By his logic, he was calling for a “dangerous” tax increase then. This is, at least, one rare subject where Romney can claim to be consistent. He supported continuing tax breaks for oil back in the 2008 campaign as well.
Ryan made sure to exempt the extractive industries from any austerity in his budget. As Newsweek’s Daniel Stone reports, “[Ryan] asked Americans to make sacrifices on everything from Medicare to education, while preserving lucrative tax subsidies for the booming oil, mining and energy industries.” Coincidentally, as Stone notes, “He and his wife, Janna, own stakes in four family companies that lease land in Texas and Oklahoma to the very energy companies that benefit from the tax subsidies in Ryan's budget plan.”
On other environmental issues Romney also sides with polluting industries. Romney is opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. He seems to oppose the EPA doing much of anything. At a Fox News event in December, he said oil executives tell him life was better under the Bush-Cheney administration. “I think the EPA has gotten completely out of control for a very simple reason: It is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system, to crush our ability to have energy, whether it's oil, gas, coal, nuclear,” Romney said. Romney even opposes fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.
Romney wasn’t always this way. His father, an auto executive, was a pioneer in improving efficiency in American cars. Early in his tenure as governor of Massachusetts Romney championed smart growth and regional action on greenhouse gas emissions, before abandoning both as his national ambitions arose. But as with so much of his own past and his father’s legacy as a moderate, Romney has tossed all of that aside in his effort to court conservatives. After Rush Limbaugh attacked him for admitting the scientific truth about anthropogenic climate change, Romney gradually backed off and now says that we don’t know what is causing it. “Romney is essentially a climate denier,” says Mike Palamuso, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters. “He would be first major party nominee in nation’s history who does not accept scientific consensus on climate change.”
LCV has been particularly aggressive about drawing the contrast between Obama’s environmental views and Romney’s. “The choice is clear: President Obama is an environmental champion and Mitt Romney is climate denier,” said Gene Karpinski, president of LCV, in their endorsement. “While President Obama has fought to put Americans back in control of our energy future, Mitt Romney and his Big Oil buddies would take us back to the failed dirty energy policies of the past.”
On Wednesday LCV organized with Priorities USA Action a conference call for reporters promoting the release of their ad “$200 Million Man” about Romney’s ties to the dirty energy industry. “With Governor Romney promising to keep the oil industry’s taxpayer-funded handouts, it’s not surprising that Big Oil is spending big money to protect its big subsidies,” said Karpinski in the announcement.
Now the Obama campaign is picking up on the theme. As is so often the case with Democrats, though, they frame the issue entirely in terms of pandering to Americans’ childish expectation that the federal government will keep oil prices low, rather than standing up for the environment itself. (To some degree, the environmental groups are also framing their attacks around the irrelevant issue of oil company profits.) “Secretive oil billionaires are making good on their promise to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Governor Romney’s behalf attempting to defeat the President,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in a campaign statement issued Thursday afternoon. “After all, Governor Romney has introduced a tax plan which charges taxpayers $4 billion in year to provide subsidies to oil and gas companies making record profits, he opposes increased fuel economy standards that will save consumers thousands of dollars at the pump.” There isn’t actually anything wrong with oil companies making profits. There is something wrong with the government subsidizing the environmental degradation that oil extraction, refinement and usage produces. If only President Obama would say so.
After winning the primaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut on Tuesday night, Mitt Romney delivered a peroration in Manchester, New Hampshire, awkwardly titled “A Better America Begins Tonight.” In it, Romney claimed the mantle of GOP nominee and declared the general election season underway. He focused on the themes he has clearly been planning on emphasizing in the contest against President Obama: a return to American greatness economically and in global power. He talked, in a way he never did in the primaries, about the financial struggles of single mothers, military veterans and recent college graduates. He also took the same standard Republican positions—in favor of privatizing the public school system, crippling unions and eliminating pension and health benefits for public workers—and reframed them as advocating for fairness. (For example, “we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve.”) This is all part of his pivot to the center, coinciding with an emphasis this week on appeals to Latinos and young voters.
But how did Romney get here? Is it true that, as his opponents and detractors in both parties have claimed, he is only the nominee because he bought the nomination?
Every time Mitt Romney won a primary, his opponents churlishly carped that he was only able to win by outspending them. “To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can’t nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1,” wrote Newt Gingrich in a typical missive after Romney won the Illinois primary on March 21.
Even when his opponents won, they would warn potential donors that any failure to give could result in Romney’s purchasing the next round of contests. On February 8, fresh off an evening of upset victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, Rick Santorum blasted his e-mail list, writing, “I saw what Mitt Romney and his team did to Newt Gingrich after he won South Carolina. They amassed millions of dollars for his campaign and his Super PAC—outspending his opponents nearly 5 to 1! This month will be no exception. They're going to come after us now—because Romney doesn't have a clear conservative vision for America that he can run on.”
Throughout the Republican primary process, Democrats were eager to make the same point. “With Super Tuesday Looming, Mitt Romney’s Vast Spending Advantage Gives Him an Edge but His Blatant Hypocrisy and Extreme and Out-of-Touch Positions Will Be His General Election Kryptonite,” wrote Democratic National Committee executive director Patrick Gaspard in a March 6 memo.
So did Romney, as his opponents in both parties contend, buy the nomination? Not necessarily. Political scientists and strategists say that it is difficult to prove causality between spending and results in a presidential primary. “It’s really hard to measure the effects of spending in primary elections, because if you look at a general election it’s easy to figure out expectations without money spent: you look at partisan lay of land. With primaries there’s no expectation going in,” says Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist who writes A Plain Blog About Politics. “How do you assess your baseline? Without that, it’s really hard to figure out what effect money had.”
Bill Mayer, a professor of political scientist at Northeastern University and an expert on campaign spending goes even further. “You literally can’t buy a nomination,” says Mayer. “Money just by itself isn’t going to do anything unless you’ve got some underlying connection with the electorate. There are lots of examples: Phil Gramm 1996, John Connolly in 1980, Steve Forbes.”
When you combine Romney’s campaign spending with that of his Super PAC Restore Our Future, he heavily outspent other Republicans and their Super PACs on advertising. According to data compiled by a rival campaign, through April 3, when the last competitive primaries were held, Romney had outspent his two main opponents by a factor of more than four to one. Romney and Romney Affiliated PACs spent $53.54 million against $11.99 million spent by Gingrich and Gingrich Affiliated PACs and $9.53 million from Santorum and Santorum Affiliated PACs.
But is that proof that if Romney had spent only $10 million that Santorum or Gingrich would be the nominee? Or is fundraising as much a measure of strength as a cause of it? The expert consensus is that Romney raised more money because he was the front-runner and he had a better organized fundraising operation. “Generally money comes from party actors,” says Bernstein. “That’s an effect of candidate doing well in the first place.” And while Romney might not have electrified the Republican electorate in the way President Obama did for Democrats four years ago, neither did his opponents. “If this had been Sarah Palin running, we all think she would have raised tons of money,” says Bernstein. “That would be either because she was way more popular than Santorum at the grassroots level or because she is popular among some segments of organized groups. What Santorum brought to the table apparently is zero of those things.”
While pundits generally assert that Romney is disliked by many Republicans, his fundraising advantage may speak to the fact that he was widely seen as the best choice they had. “You can argue that with stronger opponents it would have been quite different,” says Mayer, “but given this particular field you clearly can argue that he was liked by some portion of the electorate.”
“Romney was doing well before he or outside groups spent a dollar,” says one Republican strategist. “In fact, candidates often started falling behind when their Super PACs waded into the races. Money can certainly affect name recognition and it can drive poll numbers for a while. But there are diminishing returns. The seventh million dollars is not nearly as valuable as the first million dollars. Ultimately, earned media, grassroots word-of-mouth and field operations matter much, much more.”
But there is general agreement as well that spending can matter at the margins. There were key states where Romney’s spending coincided with a reversal in polling trends. In Iowa and Florida, Romney trailed Gingrich and pulled out a victory after dropping a money bomb of negative ads targeted at him. In Ohio and Michigan, Romney looked vulnerable to Santorum and eked out wins after vastly outspending him. “Does infrastructure matter in presidential primary politics? Yes, if you’re within a few yards of the goal line,” says Patrick Ruffini, another Republican strategist. “If you’re behind the 20, probably not. [In Romney’s case] it made a marginal difference.”
In other words, it is entirely possible that had Romney not had a spending advantage, he would have narrowly lost some states he narrowly won. It’s worth noting that Romney also gained his fundraising advantage through far greater reliance on a smaller network of large donors. As Frank Rich recently wrote in New York, “The Center for Responsive Politics has calculated that just 10 percent of Romney’s donors for 2012 have been from among the [sic] hoi polloi (those contributing $200 or less)—compared with 52 percent for Santorum, 48 percent for Gingrich, and 45 percent for Obama.” So it’s not accurate to say that Romney’s fundraising advantage perfectly reflects popular sentiment.
But even so, that doesn’t mean Romney would not have been the GOP nominee had spending been more equal. Can anyone convincingly argue Santorum would have won in New Hampshire or Illinois if Romney hadn’t outspent him? More realistically, the race would simply have gone on for longer. Santorum would have stayed in the race until now, but probably dropped out once Romney drubbed him in Tuesday’s Northeastern primaries. “If I had to single out one variable that seems to affect the results more than anything, it wouldn’t be money, it would be region,” says Mayer. “Romney lost the South, ran very close in the Midwest, he trounced Santorum in the Northeast and pretty well trounced him in the West as well.”
Unlike races for the House of Representatives, presidential primaries are amply covered in national media and in the local media of the states when they are being held. Consequently, Romney’s more significant advantage than fundraising might have been receiving a larger share of news coverage, and more positive coverage, than his opponents’. As Ari Melber has documented for The Nation, Fox News had a tendency to stop covering Romney’s opponents and mainstream outlets also favored Romney. “Santorum became non-person on Fox before Wisconsin,” notes Bernstein. “Michele Bachmann became non-person on Fox in August. That may be more important than paid advertising.”
It can be hard to imagine Romney, so wooden and blatantly disingenuous, being appealing to anybody. It’s an especially comforting notion to his opponents that he can win only if the Republican financial and media establishments force him on the public. But it isn’t so. While those institutional advantages helped him cross the finish line, the truth is that Romney wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t been popular enough to only need a little extra edge. His future opponents ignore that at their peril.
Every presidential candidate, even a delusional has-been such as Newt Gingrich, has to have a strategy. Gingrich’s strategy these last few weeks appears to have been a laser-like focus on the minuscule state of Delaware. His schedule is packed with appearances there, tempered only by the occasional foray to into other upcoming primary states such as Rhode Island, Pennsylvania or North Carolina. A host of Northeastern states will vote on Tuesday, and Gingrich seems to have decided that Delaware is where he will make his stand. It’s a strange idea, given Delaware’s minimal number of delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Even stranger is that it may work. At least some of Delaware’s Republican political class has been buying in. Despite the fact that the Republican nomination is clearly going to Mitt Romney, Gingrich has managed to rack up endorsements from Delaware Republicans in the last two weeks. The press gets regular releases announcing a new Gingrich supporter in Delaware, each more obscure than the next. “Second Delaware GOP County Chairman Endorses Newt Gingrich for President,” was the headline on a recent missive from Saturday. On Sunday they announced that Bill Sahm, chair of the Northern New Castle County Region of the Delaware GOP, and Ingrid Sigler, former first lady of the National Rifle Association (and a Delawarean), had joined Team Gingrich.
But this raises the question: why would anyone endorse Gingrich when he has no chance of winning? It’s not like the small but steady trickle of Ron Paul endorsements. If you are a Republican who shares Paul’s views on civil liberties and foreign policy, you want to make a statement. What exactly is the statement being made by endorsing Gingrich?
The most common answer is probably contempt for Romney. One endorser, Hans Reigle, chairman of the Kent County Republican Party, actually went so far as to switch his support from Romney to Gingrich last week. “I previously endorsed Governor Romney, but since then Newt is the only candidate who has shown a willingness to meet and talk with Delaware voters for more than hour,” said Reigle.
The other answer appears to be a staunch refusal to accept reality. For example, I spoke with David Lawson, a Delaware Republican state senator who recently endorsed Gingrich. Lawson says Gingrich still has a shot at winning the nomination. “I believe there’s still choices on the menu,” says Lawson. “I don’t believe the news media should shove any candidate down the public’s throat. The voters haven’t spoken.”
Lawson clearly doesn’t buy Romney’s conversion to conservatism. “Gingrich has the background to move us forward, unlike Romney doing what he did in Massachusetts, that scares me,” says Lawson. In an interesting twist on what is usually an excuse Republicans make for Romney’s past record—that he was trying to win and govern in one of the most liberal states in the country—Lawson offers that as evidence of Romney’s liberalism. “You can’t be a conservative and be elected governor of Massachusetts,” says Lawson. “That’s Ted Kennedy territory. The Second Amendment was destroyed in Massachusetts under Romney.” (Romney signed a ban on many semi-automatic weapons while he was governor. Whether that “destroyed” the Second Amendment is, to say the least, a debatable proposition.)
So why is Gingrich focusing so much time and energy on wooing minor players in a tiny state? The Gingrich campaign did not respond to a request for comment. But Lawson has a theory: if Gingrich wins Delaware, he says, “the news media would have to pay attention to him instead of writing him off on the back page.” Well, it’s a strategy.
Criticizing policies they disagree with is fair game, and not inherently detrimental to democratic discourse. But dishonest smears that distort Obama’s record are a different matter. And that’s what conservative activists, funded by large donations from a handful of rich individuals and corporations, are producing. The Republican 2012 campaign against Obama has three central complaints and three main reasons: that he has failed to boost the economy, reduce gas prices or rein in the budget deficit because (A) he does not allow enough domestic energy production, (B) he spends too much money and puts too much power in the hands of government and (C) healthcare reform is a prime example of point B.
This is all baloney. Obama inherited deficits and a recession from President Bush, and the recession automatically worsened deficits by causing government revenues to plunge while the number of people who qualify for government assistance increases. The Affordable Care Act actually reduces the deficit and domestic energy production has actually increased under Obama.
But Republicans can’t let those facts get in the way of their efforts to win back the White House. Consequently, their allies who receive unlimited donations are trying to convince the public using misleading analysis.
Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which is expected to raise $200 million to run negative ads against President Obama, has launched its first ad campaign of the election. Running in six swing states with a total $1.7 million ad buy, the television commercial takes aim at President Obama’s record on energy. Factcheck.org labeled the ad “bogus.” They write:
The Republican-leaning group makes some false and exaggerated claims.
It says the president “limited development of American oil shale.” Actually, production of petroleum from shale formations is booming. What the administration slowed down were plans for experimental development of ways to produce oil by heating kerogen-rich rocks, something that is years away from becoming commercially feasible.
The ad claims Obama lobbied to “kill” the Keystone XL pipeline. Not true. So far he has delayed a decision on some of it—while endorsing construction of a portion that will carry more low-cost oil to Gulf Coast refineries.
The ad correctly notes that there was a 17 percent decline in oil production in the Gulf of Mexico last year. But not all of that is because of the administration’s temporary drilling moratorium there.
As the New York Times reports, this is just the beginning of a major onslaught to come from Crossroads GPS.
Meanwhile, Charles Blahous, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a conservative think tank that is heavily funded by Charles Koch and Koch family foundations, released a report on the budgetary impact of the Affordable Care Act. Blahous, who is the Republican Medicare Trustee, found the law will actually increase the deficit. The Washington Post credulously put his findings on its front page.
But the “study” wasn’t merely ideological; it was downright false. As Jonathan Chait explains in New York:
It’s not even remotely legit.
The Affordable Care Act spends a bunch of money to cover people who are too poor or sick to afford their own healthcare. To pay for that, it raises some taxes and cuts a bunch of spending from Medicare. The new revenue and the spending cuts outweigh the cost of the new spending, which is why the Congressional Budget Office projected it to reduce the deficit. Projections always have a margin for error attached, but the CBO’s two year update actually bumped up the savings projections a bit.
You may wonder what methods Blahous used to obtain a more accurate measure of the bill’s cost. The answer is that he relies on a simple conceptual trick. Medicare Part A has a trust fund. By law, the trust fund can’t spend more than it takes in. So Blahous assumes that, when the trust fund reaches its expiration, it would automatically cut benefits.
The assumption is important because it forms the baseline against which he measures Obama’s health-care law. He’s assuming that Medicare’s deficits will automatically go away. Therefore, the roughly $500 billion in Medicare savings that Obama used to help cover the uninsured is money that Blahous assumes the government wouldn’t have spent anyway. Without the health-care law, in other words, we would have had Medicare cuts but no new spending on the uninsured. Now we have the Medicare cuts and new spending on the uninsured. Therefore, the new spending in the law counts toward increasing the deficit, but the spending cuts don’t count toward reducing it.
That is a completely bizarre assumption. It’s not an assumption that any scoring agency ever applies in other situations. We assume that, in the absence of action, Congress will keep paying Medicare benefits. That’s why we have all these projections of future deficits. If Blahous’s assumptions are right, then we don’t really have an entitlement problem at all. Medicare can’t exceed its trust fund, so problem solved! You know how Paul Ryan has been stalking the halls of Congress with disaster-movie music in the backdrop, warning that we’re about to become Greece? He should relax! (Also, Blahous’s methodology would show that Ryan’s budget looks way worse, too.)
That’s why the Democratic Medicare trustee calls Blahous’s findings “misleading.”
Nontheless the Post story was credulously regurgitated by other outlets such as Reuters, which ran the headline “Obama healthcare could worsen U.S. debt: Republican study.” The story then opens with three paragraphs summarizing Blahous’s conclusion, with no explanation, much less a critical examination, of how exactly he reaches it. Reuters waits until the eighth paragraph to note that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the law would reduce the deficit. Rather than simply stating that it says, “White House health adviser Jeanne Lambrew…said government estimates from the Office of Management and Budget and from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office show the 2010 law would lower federal deficits over a 10 year period.” By attributing this fact to Lambrew it creates the false impression that this is somehow her assertion. It is an objective fact, and Reuters should present it as such. Instead, the article fits the standard mainstream media mold of presenting the question as one of competing partisan claims. For conservatives hoping to sow confusion in voters’ minds and mislead them into believing that healthcare reform will increase the deficit, it was a resounding success.
There will be a lot more dishonest propaganda of this sort in the months to come. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate Citizens United ruling, there will be plenty of money to fund it. Romney's Super PAC, Restore Our Future, has raised over $41 million. Now big individual donors who supported other candidates are starting to line up behind Romney's groups. For example Bob Perry, a homebuilder in Texas, had given heavily to Rick Perry. In March he gave $3.6 million to Restore Our Future. And so far it looks like mainstream media outlets might regurgitate their lies uncritically.
On Monday night Mitt Romney addressed 400 Philadelphia-area Tea Party activists at their third annual convention. Speaking in a marble rotunda at the Franklin Institute, a science museum, under a high domed roof, Romney was framed on stage by large classical columns and an even larger statue of Benjamin Franklin, seated like President Lincoln at the memorial on the national mall. Behind Romney were eighteen attendees. I saw as many African-Americans, two, in that group as I did in the entire rest of the audience.
Now that Romney has sewn up the Republican nomination, he is beginning to pivot towards the center, hoping to undo the damage his party’s extremist primary wrought on his standing among Latinos and women. But at the same time conservatives must actively support him. To compete with President Obama’s formidable operation for amassing small donations, grassroots volunteerism and voter turnout requires a party base that is passionate about winning. So far, Romney lags far behind Obama in small donors and in setting up field offices in battleground states.
Romney’s speech was preceded by brief addresses from Republican candidates for Senate in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. (The Tri-state Philadelphia area represented at the event includes parts of Delaware and southern New Jersey.) The candidates were exactly what you might imagine: six middle-aged white men. Most wore business suits and recited Republican bromides. One, Tom Smith of Pennsylvania, was such a cliché that he actually introduced himself as “a farm boy who stumbled into business.” The crowd was unenthused, offering polite applause at introductions and only occasionally bestirring themselves to clap for red-meat lines such as calling for more aggressive border security.
Immigration is a particularly important issue for some Philadelphia Tea Partiers. Two different local Tea Party activists speaking onstage mentioned the death in August 2011 of Joe Vento, who owned Geno’s Steaks, a famous Philadelphia cheesesteak stand, and who was involved in Tea Party activism. Vento gained national notoriety in 2006 when he posted a sign in a Geno’s window that read, “This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING Please SPEAK ENGLISH.” Local Tea Party groups sometimes met at Geno’s.
The only speaker besides Romney who received a standing ovation upon his entrance was Robert Mansfield, a tall, lean, charismatic African-American candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s third district. He wore sunglasses throughout his speech, even though it was indoors and at night.
Romney was greeted with genuine enthusiasm, but not on the order of what I witnessed for Sarah Palin at February’s Conservative Political Action Committee. Romney proved surprisingly adept at speaking the Tea Party’s language, frequently bringing the audience to their feet. He knows that the key to mobilizing Tea Party conservatives is to make them think more about their hatred of Obama than their lukewarm feelings for him. Consequently Romney’s speech was almost entirely negative. He attacked Obama’s policies and worldview but did almost nothing to lay out an alternative.
The closest Romney came to a positive message was his opening riff on the wonders of American entrepreneurship. (It appears not to have occurred to Romney that it would be a lot easier for people to quit their jobs and start the next Google if we had universal health insurance.) But even that is an excuse to take a swipe at Obama. Romney complains that Obama “doesn’t understand the power of what makes America special economically, and perhaps otherwise.” That’s an unsubtle way of tying his shtick about private enterprise and entrepreneurship into an implicit nod to the right’s widely noted tendency to complain that Obama is un-American. This sentiment might also explain why Romney received a standing ovation for his banal assertion that, “I believe we are one nation under God.” This only seems like a strong statement of principle if you believe, as many conservatives do, that Obama does not share this belief.
Romney is especially scornful of the “Buffet rule,” which is Obama’s proposal to make fabulously wealthy investors such as Romney pay a tax rate closer to what everyone else in their income bracket pays. “Someone calculated the Buffet rule would pay for eleven hours of the federal government,” snorts Romney. Of course, just the night before Romney had called for eliminating the mortgage interest deduction for second homes, which would raise far less revenue than the Buffet rule.
The audience was receptive to Romney’s standard Republican talking points. Romney asserted that letting the Bush tax cuts expire on businesses that pay taxes as individuals making more than $250,000 would cause job losses. The fact that those taxes are on profits, or what is left over after paying your employees, was elided. So it’s not clear why paying 4 percent more in taxes on one’s profits would force anyone to lay off an employee. Romney offered no evidence when he asserted this cause and effect, nor did he make an effort to explain why unemployment was so low during Bill Clinton’s presidency when these tax rates were in effect. It wasn’t even clear what Romney was referring to when he said that our “criminally” low rates of high school graduation exist because “the federal government doesn’t understand the impact on free enterprise.” It sounded as if two different right-wing madlibs were accidentally smushed together and a bafflingly meaningless assertion came out.
Even Romney’s campaign promises are framed as attacks on Obama. His biggest applause line of the night came when he said, “It’s time to balance the budget.… I’ll look for programs not just to slow the rate of growth but to eliminate, and the first is Obamacare.” The Affordable Care Act will actually reduce the deficit, so Romney’s pivot from repealing programs to balance the budget to repealing the ACA is a total non sequitur.
I asked some of the people sitting next to me, who had stood to applaud, whether they were bothered by the fact that Romney himself had signed such a similar law in Massachusetts. The consensus seemed to be that was OK because it was only at the state level. Of course, back in 2009 Tea Party activists weren’t shouting at those town halls about federalism and how this policy should be implemented only at the state level. They were objecting to it because they said any such intervention in the private market for health insurance is socialist totalitarianism. But Romney is their nominee and, luckily for him, Republicans have also settled on the narrow claim that the individual mandate is unconstitutional at the federal level as their last ditch effort to make sure 45 million Americans remain without health insurance. “If you don’t like what they did in Massachusetts you can move, and a lot of people did,” explained Mike Peck, a computer administrator from Bristol Township, Pennsylvania. “So I don’t care if they do it at the state level. If they do it at the state level I can move. But if the do it nationally where can I go? Canada?” By Peck’s own logic, Romney was a terrible governor who signed a law so intrusive that it caused residents to flee his state. But Peck is perfectly comfortable supporting Romney in the general election.
Romney’s speech had the vibe of a negative pep rally. The audience booed on cue when Romney mentioned the National Labor Relations Board ruling that Boeing could not move a plant in retaliation for union activities. They burst into laughter at the mere mention of Vice President Joe Biden’s name.
Romney is pursuing the right strategy. As a former moderate, he will never make himself into the Tea Party’s hero. But he can motivate it to come out against Obama. “I don’t know if conservatives will rally around Romney, but they will rally against Democrats,” says one Republican strategist. “One out of two ain’t bad.”
“The most popular thing about him is he’s not Barack Obama,” agrees Adam Brandon, spokesman for FreedomWorks, a fiscally conservative advocacy organization that works frequently with Tea Party groups. But, Brandon notes, Tea Party activists in some key states such as Ohio and Indiana may be motivated by more conservative Senate candidates. Perhaps, Brandon speculates, Romney could benefit from a reverse coattails effect.
Other veterans of Republican presidential politics note that Romney has a long time to enthuse the Republican base between now and November. “All of this depends on his performance as a candidate,” says Patrick Ruffini, president of Engage, a digital advocacy firm, and a former digital strategist for President Bush’s re-election and the Republican National Committee. “It’s not a matter of people falling into line so much as his performing well against Obama.”
Low enthusiasm for Romney among Tea Party activists could actually have advantages for him. “Our disappointment with him is going to help him with his run to middle,” notes Brandon. “You can’t claim he’s a far-right candidate.” That’s true. Conversely, the Obama campaign’s constant assertions that Romney is in fact a staunch conservative could burnish his credentials among Tea Partiers.
But, as his speech Monday demonstrated, Romney has basically decided to run as a Tea Party Republican. “One of the ultimate victories of the Tea Party movement is everyone is talking our talk,” says Brandon.
Speaking at a closed-press fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday night, Mitt Romney offered more details than he ever has to date on what he might do about federal spending and taxes. Luckily, some reporters standing outside overheard him. NBC reports:
“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
Asked about the fate of the Department of Education in a potential Romney administration, the former governor suggested it would also face a dramatic restructuring.
“The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I’m not going to get rid of it entirely,” Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers’ unions. Romney added that he learned in his 1994 campaign for Senate that proposing to eliminate the agency was politically volatile.
Romney expounded on that lesson—that he shouldn’t publicly admit to his plans to leave society’s most vulnerable citizens without any federal support—in a March interview with The Weekly Standard. “One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” said Romney. “So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.” In other words, Romney believes that if he tells the public what he might actually do in office they will dislike his plans and reject them. This is just as revealing as Romney’s infamous recollection that he told his gardener not to use illegal immigrants on his property because “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.” Romney doesn’t want to wage an honest contest between his ideas and his opponent’s. His self-described preference is to try to win by telling the American they can have tax cuts without painful sacrifices on spending.
Publicly, Romney has proposed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to then cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending. In total he would reduce federal tax revenues by $5 trillion over the next ten years. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimated that Romney would add $2.6 trillion to the deficit. He has promised to cut spending as well, but he has avoided mentioning credible specifics.
That’s bad enough. But what is even worse is that what he offers in private doesn’t add up either. It would be one thing if Romney had a secret plan to balance the budget with drastic spending cuts to major federal programs. While it would be dishonorable of him to refuse to discuss that plan while running for president, at least you would know he has a plausible—if totally heartless—plan for governing once elected.
But he doesn’t. Instead the new details he offered were that he might eliminate the mortgage interest deduction on second homes and abolish the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The former idea is a good one, although I’ll believe that President Romney and Congress have the will to stand up to powerful lobbies such as the real estate and construction industries when I see it happen. It would not, however, generate nearly enough revenue to make up for Romney’s massive tax cuts. Perhaps because Romney himself owns three homes, he thinks owning a second home is a fairly common middle-class practice. In fact, only 6 percent of Americans have a second home. Eliminating the entire mortgage tax deduction would save about $215 billion by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office, so eliminating it only on second homes would save just a fraction of that. If you want to be generous and assume that a lot of the owners of second homes also have third and fourth homes, and that they take out mortgages to buy those homes, you could guess that Romney’s proposal might save something like 10 percent of that total, or a whopping $21.5 billion in total between now and 2021. By contrast, letting the Bush tax cuts expire only on families making more than $250,000 per year would have saved $40 billion in 2011 alone.
While HUD makes for an appealing target for destruction among rich Republicans because it is the only cabinet department dedicated to addressing poverty, it is not actually a very large agency compared to, say, the Pentagon. Its entire budget for fiscal year 2012 is $47.2 billion dollars. (The Department of Defense budget this year is $645.7 billion.) The vast majority of HUD spending falls into one of two appropriation streams: construction of public housing ($19.2 billion) and Section 8 housing vouchers ($17.2 billion). Romney did not specify whether he would eliminate those programs, or just abolish the department that houses them and redistribute their responsibilities. Assuming Romney doesn’t, or can’t, actually get rid of the federal government’s two main programs to prevent homelessness, he won’t get very much savings by closing HUD and its important, but smaller, programs such as Community Development Block Grants. As I report in a forthcoming feature for Next American City, under President Obama HUD has been dramatically helpful to cities with very small amounts of money through programs such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative. I’ve asked the Romney campaign to clarify whether Romney wants to eliminate all federal housing subsidies and, if so, whether he has any plan to combat the dramatic rise in homelessness and severe poverty that would surely result. Having not received a response, my guess is that his honest answer would be that he has no idea what exactly he proposes to cut. And he certainly hasn’t bothered to come up with an alternative affordable housing agenda.
Republicans are not terribly interested in making serious domestic policy proposals or even dealing with social issues at all. For example, House Republicans have decided that their zeal to keep taxes low on millionaires and even billionaires must be paid for by squeezing food stamp recipients. As Politico’s David Rogers reports, “An average family of four faces an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after Sept. 1, and even more important is the tighter enforcement of rules demanding that households exhaust most of their savings before qualifying for help.” If they succeed, it will save $3 billion per year.
Republicans, including Romney, are fond of saying that they idolize Ronald Reagan and wish to govern as he did. And they would, with lower taxes, higher deficits, greater inequality and less help for the most needy.
Mitt Romney thought he had found the right wedge to drive between President Obama and women: unemployment. On Wednesday morning Romney started the day off with a speech in Hartford, Connecticut, blaming Obama for job losses among women since he took office. Said Romney:
I was disappointed in listening to the President as he’s saying ‘Republicans are waging a war on women.’ The real war on women is being waged by the President’s failed economic policies.… These are just some statistics which show just how severe the war on women has been by virtue of the President’s failed policies. The number of jobs … this is an amazing statistic…the percentage of jobs lost by women in the President’s three years, three and a half years, 92.3 percent of all the jobs lost during the Obama years have been lost by women. 92.3 percent!
This is merely a variation on the same intellectually dishonest nonsense that Republicans have been slinging at Obama for years. There is a lag between when a president takes office and when his policies are imposed, then take effect, and then have measurable results. The job losses during Obama’s first year in office are the result of the economic collapse that began before he was elected. Since then, the private sector has been slowly adding jobs. The public sector, meanwhile, has been shedding jobs because there is also a lag between an economic downturn and the compressed government budgets that force layoffs of civil servants. Also the president cannot pass everything he wants by fiat. Obama and other Democrats have pushed for stimulus measures such as aid to states that would reduce the number of teachers, police officers and so forth getting laid off. That would benefit both citizens who depend on their services and the economy as a whole. Republicans have refused to vote for these bills on the grounds that we cannot afford to add to the national debt to pay for them, and then turned around hypocritically lambasted Obama for the job numbers that are the direct result of Republican policies.
And that is just what Romney is doing on the subject of women’s employment. As Slate’s Matthew Yglesias explains:
Recessions hit male-dominated highly cyclical sectors like construction and manufacturing first. Women tend to disproportionately work in sectors like health care and education that show slow and steady job growth. But those male-dominated cyclical sectors also bounce back relatively quickly. So since the recession started more than a year before Obama's inauguration, male job losses were close to bottoming out by the time Obama took office and he's presided over a lot of rebound growth in male employment. Women, by contrast, have been devastated by cascading waves of teacher layoffs.
No wonder New York Times reporters Ashley Parker and Trip Gabriel labeled Romney’s claim “misleading for several reasons.”
Mere intellectual dishonesty is a daily operation for Romney, and it would hardly have caused a mainstream media kerfuffle. But on a conference call Wednesday Romney’s advisers were dumbstruck when asked whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act that Obama signed into law in 2009. Romney can’t credibly present himself as an advocate of women in the workplace if he doesn’t support legislation that would protect them from discrimination. (The law makes it possible for women to sue for being paid less than male colleagues within 180 days of the last, rather than first, paycheck. The Romney campaign later said he would not repeal the law.)
But Republican women seem to think they can do just that. Romney’s campaign spent Wednesday flooding reporters with statements from female Republican politicians attacking Obama’s record on women in the economy. Here’s a sample from a conference all they pulled together on Thursday:
“Women have faced massive job losses under this administration and the policies of this president have failed women voters.” —Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
“Since President Obama and the Democrats can’t run on the record, which includes the longest streak of high unemployment since the Great Depression, a record increase in the national debt, and near-record gas prices they’re working desperately to change the subject. And that’s why they’ve created this whole ‘war on women’ campaign. It’s really designed to distract women from the real issues…. There’s no ‘war on women’ by the Republicans.” —Representative Cathie McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA)
“The Obama policies have failed. In fact, they've made the economy worse, and they've made it worse particularly for women.” —Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)
Something is funny about all these Republican women rushing to Romney’s defense. None of them support women’s rights. Ayotte co-sponsored the Blunt-Rubio amendment that would allow employers to refuse to cover any medication, including birth control, which they object to on moral or religious grounds. McMorris-Rodgers and Lummis voted against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, as did Representative Mary Bono Mack (R-FL), who issued a statement attacking on Romney’s behalf saying, “Women in the Obama economy are facing hardships of historical proportions.” All three congresswomen voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would take other steps to make it easier for women to fight for equal pay, such as prohibiting retaliation by companies against workers who raise wage-parity issues. Just because these politicians are women does not mean they have women’s interests at heart. If they oppose women’s rights to be protected from discrimination in the workplace, then they are hardly credible as critics of the effects of Obama’s policies on women’s economic standing.
And it’s not just at work where Romney’s female surrogates oppose women’s rights. Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock, who also participated in the Thursday conference call, voted to require women to have an ultrasound prior to an abortion.
The Romney campaign seems to think that merely being a woman makes one qualified to represent all women. As Jessica Valenti notes, this patronizing belief manifests especially in their use of Mitt’s wife Ann as his supposed ambassador to women. But is only slightly less ludicrous to claim that because a Republican politician with typical anti-women Republican policies happens to have two X chromosomes that she is somehow a spokesperson for women’s political interests.
National Review probably thought that by firing contributor John Derbyshire on Saturday night for writing a bizarre racist column for another publication they had put the question of racists in their family to rest. Alas, on Tuesday they were forced to sever ties to another writer for his extremist views on race.
On Tuesday night National Review’s editor Rich Lowry posted on Phi Beta Cons, the magazine’s blog devoted to combating liberalism in academia, to announce that they were axing another writer:
Unbeknowst [sic] to us, occasional Phi Beta Cons contributor Robert Weissberg (whose book was published a few years ago by Transaction) participated in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism. He will no longer be posting here. Thanks to those who brought it to our attention.
American Renaissance, as you probably don’t know—but Lowry seems to assume National Review readers would—is a publication dedicated to purveying racist ideologies. Here’s how the Southern Poverty Law Center describes it:
Founded by Jared Taylor in 1990, the New Century Foundation is a self-styled think tank that promotes pseudo-scientific studies and research that purport to show the inferiority of blacks to whites—although in hifalutin language that avoids open racial slurs and attempts to portray itself as serious scholarship. It is best known for its American Renaissance magazine and website, which regularly feature proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black racists.
In other words it is exactly like John Derbyshire’s article. (American Renaissance had rushed to Derbyshire’s defense, calling his critics “commentators on the lunatic fringes of the extreme Left.”)
And just what did Weissberg have to say at their conference? The American Renaissance website is proud to tell us:
The first speaker Saturday morning was the always stimulating Robert Weissberg, Emeritus professor of University of Illinois at Champagne, who proposed “A Politically Viable Alternative to White Nationalism.” He argued that any movement that is explicitly based on white racial identity is “dead on arrival,” and must be repackaged in order to win successful recognition. The reality—that racial nationalism “is intuitive and written in our genes” and that even children are conscious of race—is a huge advantage for those who want to build a racial movement, but any white movement today that takes an explicitly racial stand will fail: “We are considered just above child molesters.” Prof. Weissberg also noted that there is no economic advantage to promoting white racial consciousness, and that most people do not act without financial incentives…. Prof. Weissberg argued that an “80 percent solution” would be one that enforced the “First-World” standards of excellence and hard work that attract and reward whites. He pointed out that there are still many “Whitopias” in America and that there are many ways to keep them white, such as zoning that requires large houses, and a cultural ambiance or classical music and refined demeanor that repels undesirables. This approach to maintaining whiteness has the advantage that people can make a living catering to whites in their enclaves.
Prof. Weissberg went on to argue that liberals are beyond reason when it comes to race, that explaining the facts of IQ or the necessity of racial consciousness for whites “is like trying to explain to an eight-year-old why sex is more fun than chocolate ice cream.…” In answer to questions about the adequacy of his “enclave” solution for poor whites who cannot afford to live in them, Prof. Weissberg expressed the hope that less financially successful whites could draw on their sturdy, warrior heritage to protect their own enclaves.
I’m not even going to bother making fun of this because I think it speaks for itself. As with Derbyshire’s column, it borders on self-parody.
Also like Derbyshire, it is not as if Weissberg’s crazy views on race came completely out of nowhere. His 2010 book Bad Students, Not Bad Schools argued that America’s lower educational outcomes are caused by certain populations simply lacking the intelligence to succeed academically. A largely positive review in The New Criterion noted, “No doubt the book will gain most notice because of its claim that certain sections of the American population, namely the blacks and the Hispanics, have lower IQs than whites and Asians; that this difference is genetically determined; and that, since the Hispanics are becoming a larger proportion of the population, the average IQ in America is bound to fall.” His previous book was titled Pernicious Tolerance: How Teaching to Accept Differences Undermines Civic Society.
But the fact that his speech came to Lowry’s attention just after the Derbyshire brouhaha is coincidental, not the result of some racist-seeking witch-hunt, as some hysterical right wing bloggers argued. Weissberg’s speech was reported in Searchlight magazine, an anti-racist journal, as part of a dispatch on the conference as a whole. That report was picked up by the blog Little Green Footballs.
So, why is it that the leading conservative magazine has such a penchant for attracting the contributions of people who turn out to hold silly, offensive views on race relations? Perhaps it is because many conservatives have overlapping views with racists. This is not at all the same thing as saying that all conservatives are themselves racist. One could, for example, say, “Many liberals have overlapping views with socialists.” Liberals, like socialists, generally think all Americans should be able to access healthcare. It is nonetheless a dishonest smear when Republicans characterize President Obama and his signature healthcare reform law as “socialist.” Likewise, conservatives share Weissberg’s antipathy toward multiculturalism and affirmative action.
Daniel Foster of National Review wrote sensibly and honestly about this question regarding Derbyshire:
I’ve always thought that conservatives should simply bite the bullet and admit that there are racists among self-described conservatives, and moreover, that these conservatives’ racism is an evitable (that is, unwarranted) extension of the mainstream conservative position on race. But this is true in the same way it is true that there are communists among self-described liberals, and that their communism is an evitable (that is, unwarranted) extension of the mainstream liberal position on political economy.… The fact is that both conservatives and racists think that considerations about race should play a much smaller part in our political discourse.
Foster errs in saying there are communists among self-described liberals. There are hardly any communists in America. Certainly there are far more racists than communists. The leftists that I remember from college who might have been, if not quite communists, at least sympathetic to some communist governments such as Cuba’s, would not have described themselves as liberals but with a term that signals left-wing revolutionary politics such as “radical.” But my analogy—that mainstream liberals may share some policy views with communists or socialists just as mainstream conservatives share some policy views with racists—is similar to Foster’s.
Conservatives are often incredibly touchy about anyone pointing this out. They get huffy and respond that they are being unfairly maligned as bigots. By contrast, I have no problem with someone saying, “Your concern for public welfare and economic quality is similar to that of a socialist.” There are much worse things to be than a socialist. For example, a racist. I hope conservatives take this opportunity—instead of trying to avoid discussing why they find racists in their midst—to ask themselves whether the fact that they have common ground with racists should cause them to critically examine both the policies and politics of their movement.