National Republicans Battle For Insider Control

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The internal struggle over the path forward for Republicans was framed by two events at the national level over the past week.  The American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference was held in Washington last Thursday through Saturday.  On Monday, the Republican National Committee released its “Growth and Opportunity” report, labeled by many as the autopsy report on the 2012 general election where Republicans failed to gain the White House and lost ground in the US Senate.

The Gathering at CPAC was forward looking.  Most of the players who are expected to contend for the 2016 Republican nomination were featured speakers.  The Growth and Opportunity report was one looking at mistakes of the past election cycle with an eye toward needed changes in order to avoid making the same mistakes again.  Between the two lies a reasonable identification of the split between party factions, and battle lines for control of the hearts and minds of the party.

CPAC – once the domain of Ronald Reagan – has taken a bit more of an exclusionary tone in who they deem sufficiently conservative.  This wing of the party of ideas wasn’t keen on hearing from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was not invited to attend.  The organizers also specifically blocked GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans from participating, deeming the organizations aimed at promoting gay rights from within Republican circles as not sufficiently conservative for the second year in a row.

The limits proposed by the autopsy report from the RNC were more along the lines of timeframe for the Presidential Primaries, noting that they are too long and that there are too many debates.  The 2012 debates (which began in 2011) generally featured the Republican candidates beating up on each other over topics selected by members of the media who generally skew to the left side of the political spectrum.  It was George Stephanopoulos, after all, who injected the initial “war on women” meme into the debate by asking Mitt Romney if he wanted to have a 1960’s Supreme Court ruling allowing contraceptives to be overturned.  This despite it not being an issue in the campaign to that point nor anything near what Romney’s campaign had been offering.

Groups that make up a large part of the Republican campaign apparatus but still choose to claim non-establishment status are crying foul over the suggestions in the report.  They feel the attempt to limit debates and shorten the primaries hurts the potential insurgent candidates’ chances from those “handpicked by the establishment”.  No word on whose hands are actually picking these people.

Those handpicked by CPAC don’t include Christie, but did feature names such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and even Donald Trump.  It seems if the cattle calls for Presidential candidates in 2016 are occurring in early 2013 then the “establishment’s” ability to limit the primary and only allow for a few chosen candidates to get national air time isn’t working very well.

The reality of the situation is that various groups are trying to gain an upper hand and control of the party apparatus so that their version of Republicans can prevail – and in many cases so that they can be sitting at the hand of personal power.  Those that control interest groups or official party titles will enjoy a cavalcade of characters who must seek their favor to receive an endorsement or a coveted speaking role.  As CPAC has already demonstrated, they have the power to invite those with whom they agree and punish via snub those with whom they do not.

It is important at this stage of the game to look beyond the claims of blame.  Those who are spending the majority of their time blaming losses on someone else are also generally refusing to accept any responsibility for those same losses.  That is generally the easiest way to determine who is trying to position for 2016 rather than fix the problems of 2012.

Those who actually want to win the White House need to take an honest look at their organization, the messaging, and the messenger.  There are many areas that need improvement.  One is sorting out those who are working for the cause, and those who are working to promote themselves as the rightful leaders of the party.


  1. Noway says:

    The 2012 election proved that we are, indeed, at the point where the general populace has figured out that they can vote themselves largess from the federal treasury. We fell off that proverbial cliff in November. Anyone who dares take proactive steps to cut anything or gore anyone’s ox, especially the ox of the sainted poor, will be defeated. Period. It will be a race to see who can become the biggest Pander Bear that Paul Tsonga spoke of so many moons ago.

    • Charlie says:

      And yet you neglect the other half of the scissors, that the general public has also declared that taxes must always be cut but never raised. We’re now collecting the lowest amount of tax revenue as a percentage of GDP since WWII, but if anyone dares get specific on how to get that from the roughly 12-14% we’ve been running back to the closer 18% historic number, you hear the equal screams of “taxed enough already” and the inane “anytime you cut taxes it increases revenue”.

      Don’t be so quick to always find the enemy that is subject to pandering on the other side when you can find it so quickly in the mirror.

      • Joshua Morris says:

        Let us also remember that large corporations such as GE, the NFL, Boeing, etc, find ways to pay zero federal income taxes. If wealthy special interests weren’t so able to get special tax benefits, middle and upper income Americans might not have to be burdened as they are with operating the federal government. I don’t know at this point how many corporations achieved loopholes in a convoluted tax code from Congress prior to WWII, but this is something that Republicans must address head-on today.

        I will also submit that the Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush tax cuts all produced increases in revenue to the Treasury.

  2. Noway says:

    Does the lessening of the taxes we’ve been getting have anything to do with the 47% who no longer pay in income tax to the federal coffers? Not snarkey. Serious question. Where do you see the decline you speak of?

    • Charlie says:

      The Bush tax cuts removed 10M Americans from the tax rolls. That’s part of the 47%. We’ve cut taxes across the board during a period largely filled with economic stagnation (and a huge bubble in between), so the growth promised by these cuts didn’t replenish the revenue as predicted (largely because we’re not at the high gain portion of the laffer curve). And we have an entire industry that is the lobbying profession carving out special tax cuts to further diminish the take.

      Republicans need to quit talking about cutting tax rates and come up with an idea of real tax reform that will sell (some will have to pay more, including the middle class) but also has numbers that work and aren’t mythical (I’m looking at you, FairTax).

      This is drifting off topic as the point of the above thread isn’t really messaging, but since we have the parallel thread that seems to be occupying the contrived “Tea Party” vs “establishment” fight I’ll let this one go a bit further if interested.

      • Trey A. says:

        Charlie, you’re right. Real tax reform–with a focus on closing loopholes, simplifying the code, raising some revenue through progressive taxation and lowering corporate taxes–is what economists and thinking politicians on both sides of the aisle want.

        So why isn’t it happening? Each party doesn’t want to give the other credit? They can’t get serious because of political maneuvering? Those with vested interests in current loopholes are too powerful and well connected?

        More on topic with the column: Having Rand Paul at a convention his father skipped a year ago is a good move, as the Paul foreign policy, privacy and social positions are just about the only arrows in the current GOP quiver that resonate significantly with voters (and future voters) under 30. Keeping the Log Cabin Republicans out was probably not a good idea.

        • caroline says:

          The reason why none of this is happening is because Obama has ZERO leadership qualities. The second reason is probably because when the GOP passes a bill they tend to attach some nonsense like a personhood amendment to it.

        • Charlie says:

          It’s not happening largely because people fear change, and those with a vested interest in preserving the current system can easily find the losers under any proposed reform and make sure they know they will feel pain – and ask them to call their Congressman right now.

          It will require real leadership to sell this kind of change. And real honesty. Honesty about the problems that we face. Honesty about the amount most Americans receive in government benefits versus what they pay in. And honesty that not only those rich bastards in the “1%” are going to have to pay more.

          To have that kind of honesty, there would have to be the ability to sell the big picture. With costs come a benefit. That even though most will likely pay more, there will be more growth. There will be more opportunity. The pie will get bigger, and the country and its people will prosper.

          That’s the kind of message that Republicans once sold. That’s the kind of message we need again.

          • Trey A. says:

            I’m not sure it’s a Republican message anymore. I think it’s going to take a Perot-type leader to rally support for real tax reform. Both parties have lost just about all credibility on this issue.

      • Raleigh says:

        47%. Interesting that you would use that. Romney did much damage to his campaign by using it when he said he thought 47% believe they are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Then he called that an entitlement.

        That 47% is a figure from the Tax Policy Center about those who do not pay federal income tax only yet they pay many other taxes. Also there is a wide demographic in that 47%. Not only do you have the working poor but also those retired on fixed income about half of which are Republicans. Include around 3% that are the ultra rich who can hide their income and about the same percentage of college students which pay no Federal income tax. I’ll throw in companies like GE which paid no federal income tax although they are not in the “47%” from The Tax Policy Center.

        Many believe as I do that corporations don’t pay taxes but the tax system we have now is supposed to collect tax from corporations so yes I agree we do need real tax reform. The question is do you think there is an environment in Washington and at the local and state level that would allow real tax reform? I don’t think there is.

        I’m sure some in that 47% voted Republican so you can’t just say that 47% never vote Republican. Recklessly using statements like 47% pay no taxes period only reinforces that Republicans really don’t understand and are out of touch with most working Americans. That should be a large part of the Republican autopsy report.

      • Noway says:

        Thanks for your explanation. That leads me to beleive that no one should be exempt from paying federal income taxes. We all benefit from federal spending and we all, EVERYONE, should have at least a minimal amount of skin in the game.

        • Charlie says:

          I agree (within a small threshold of folks that would be in a true safety net, but it’s hard to imagine in the richest country on the planet that should be more than 10% of the population).

          But as Raleigh makes the point above, FICA taxes are income taxes (but aren’t counted as such in most stats of who pays “income” taxes. We as a people have all long figured out that Social Security and Medicare aren’t “insurance” either, but we still like to pretend they are when we account for the supposedly dedicated FICA taxes.

          Real reform (that would be very politically risky) would de-couple the two types of income taxes and acknowledge that they’re really now general fund expenditures. And in my opinion should look a lot like the 9-9-9 plan (with numbers based on expenditures and not single digits that rhyme). The broad based sales tax should cover entitlements and interest on the debt. A narrower income tax should be skewed to upper incomes (high standard deduction per individual) with relatively low flat or small tiered rates that capture mid to upper income households targeted to a discretionary spending number linked to GDP.

          And to start paying down the debt, stimulate domestic jobs, and gain energy independence, we should institute an energy import/export tax. We have the capability to be energy independent, and the market forces that would work if such a tax were enacted would help us harness all types of energy we have here, reduce or trade deficit (and strenthgen our currency), create domestic jobs, and help our national security interests.

          There’s enough raw material there to stimulate the imagination of a great nation. The courage of the potential messengers to deliver a message and sell the long term good over the short term unpopular points is what we’re missing.

            • Trey A. says:

              Sales tax is bad. It kills jobs because it overburdens businesses. It’s also regressive, overly burdening the poor, working poor and lower middle class. Of course you can offset that with exemptions, rebates and the like, but doing so goes against the grain of simplifying the code.

              The best way to prime the economy through tax policy is to reduce the corporate tax rate and close the loopholes, which the 9-9-9 plan does. Then make the income tax portion of 9-9-9 progressive and replace the sales tax portion by keeping/increasing the other taxes 9-9-9 would dispose of–like capital gains, estate, and payroll)

              • Charlie says:

                You can make any tax “bad” if it is held alone as if it were in a vacuum. There are folks that want to abolish the income tax (it’s bad). There are folks that want to abolish property taxes (bad). Inheritance tax, (bad). Free trade gets rid of those bad excise taxes. And you dare question the FairTax folks who think the only good tax is a sales tax because it’s bad.

                Like everything else that’s wrong with DC, what we miss now from our tax code is policy. We have an army of lobbyists representing narrow self interest attacking and exploiting the code – with each change creating a new distortion.

                Finding the right basket of taxes under a coherent macro policy can balance the bad of each with the need to raise revenue with the least market distortion. It’s time to quit measuring these individually as good or bad, and start looking for a big picture policy that weighs better and best.

  3. Noway says:

    And I don’t want to contribute to a semi thread jack, so I’ll just say that I’m pretty damned pessimistic of a future for a politician with smaller gov’t ideas.

  4. gcp says:

    Trumpet, Palin and Newtie; an entertainer, a drop-out governor and a washed up politician; I am not a Christie supporter but he would have been a better choice than those three.

  5. joe says:

    “It is important at this stage of the game to look beyond the claims of blame. Those who are spending the majority of their time blaming losses on someone else are also generally refusing to accept any responsibility for those same losses.”

    I read of an Arabian fable reportedly told by Stalin that went: A man asked his neighbor if he could borrow a rope. The neighbor replied that he needed his rope to tie up some milk. The first man said that you could not tie up milk with a rope, to which his neighbor replied “True, but if you don’t want to do something, any excuse is as good as any other.”

    If you do not want to admit blame, any scapegoat is as good as any other. It really is an exercise in futility to point fingers. It is a good thing for the GOP to determine what “we” did wrong, but not who did it.

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