Stumped On The Right Answers

This week’s Courier Herald Column:

Today we’re going to revisit the campaign of 2012 in order to examine potential problems that Republicans at the national level face in order to achieve a majority while Republicans in Georgia attempt to maintain their overwhelming majority.  That is, the problem of Republican primaries.

Late in the 2012 primary season, I had the honor of being asked to moderate a debate in Vidalia on behalf of the Montgomery & Toombs County Republican Parties.  There were four candidates attempting to replace Democratic Congressman John Barrow.  They did not succeed.

The audience at this event was predictably partisan.  It was, after all, a primary debate. Thus, it was largely considered a “family discussion” as to who should be the best nominee to take the seat for the Republicans.  There was also a bit of hope in the air, as the recently redrawn 12th district was “adjusted” to be more amenable to the cause.

And yet, whether in a district drawn to be majority Republican or in a district drawn as a majority for the Democrats, primaries tend to be an exercise within a much smaller subset of the population.  One that is, shall we say, a bit more resolute in their viewpoints and where there are very specific right and wrong answers to debate questions.

And such it was on this evening.  On five successive questions, the candidates that wanted to replace John Barrow said they would not cut Social Security or Medicare as they represented covenants with our nations’ elderly.  They would not cut defense spending as we were in a time of war and the contributions of those from Ft. Gordon and Ft. Stewart were vital to the defense of our nation and liberty as a whole.  They saw a clear federal need for Federal funding for the Port of Savannah as it was both a matter of foreign trade and interstate commerce.  And under no circumstances would we raise taxes.  We would in fact be cutting them if any of the four were elected.

And then, the sixth answer came to a question from Jim Galloway of the AJC, sitting to my right.  He asked – as our members of Congress are about to be asked again – under what circumstances would these would be newly minted members of Congress would vote to raise the debt ceiling.  It was, as he noted, likely to be one of the first votes they were likely to consider as a member of Congress.  And right along with the “correct” answer expected from the crowd, each declared under no uncertain terms would any of them vote to increase our nation’s debt.  We “have to live within our means” they said.

Each answer, standing alone, was the “right” one.  But together, they represented a cognitive dissonance that now demonstrates the chasm between various scorecards from conservative groups of purity verses real world realities of tough choices.  Unfortunately, the next question was mine.

I asked, in recapping all the past answers, how a government that was currently borrowing almost 40 cents of every dollar spent could keep all entitlements, all national defense spending, pay our interest on the national debt, and add new spending on items like the Port of Savannah expansion.  How could we do all this, representing well more than we were currently taking in, cut taxes, and then not borrow any more money within months.

The answer, given by the eventual nominee, was “We’re going to cut the fat.”  It received wild applause.  It was, after all, what the audience wanted to hear.  It mattered not that the answer was neither rooted in reality or math.  It was merely the “correct” answer.

There are already too many “right” answers on the 2014 campaign trail.  “No Amnesty” and “Repeal Obamacare” are two of too many.  They are certainly the right answers for a primary, but general election voters – even those that naturally lean to the right – can see through partisan puffery and identify a lack of leadership and lack of a plan where there is none.

It is true that the non-Presidential election of 2014 likely makes Georgia a safe Republican state for one more election cycle, depending on which flavor of “conservative” is selected in Georgia’s primaries.  And yet, general election voters are beginning to let it be known that the “right” answers if not intellectually sound may not be the correct ones.

Georgia 12 gave us a bit of a lesson in 2012.  The major question that remains is how many Democratic victories will have to happen before Georgia Republicans acknowledge it.


  1. Lea Thrace says:

    I just want to marry this column because of how rooted in reality it is. But I think for that very reason, it will be ignored and you will be called a RINO (yet again).


    • John Vestal says:

      “I just want to marry this column because of how rooted in reality it is.”

      We’ll need Charlie to verify the column’s “gender”, first. We could never suborn anything illegal. I mean….for the sake of the children.

  2. gcp says:

    I blame politicians and the voters that put them in office. Until individuals demand smaller government in all areas nothing changes. Can we depend on the younger generation to change course from government/taxpayer funding everything? I am not hopeful.

  3. Joshua Morris says:

    I believe a part of the problem is that each party allows the voting public to decide its candidates in primary elections. How can we say that a candidate truly represents his party when only a very small contingent of the voting population is actively involved in any party? Those people at the primary debate mentioned here represented only a minute percentage of the votes cast in that primary election, and they were rewarded with the candidate chosen for them. Possibly those more deeply involved and more dedicated to the movement would have chosen differently and would have had a candidate who could win the general election.

    Conservative principles win, especially in this part of the country. If the Republican Party wants to win more elections, it may have to take greater control of its primaries, as well as taking drastic steps to hold its candidates and elected representatives accountable to their principles. It seems instead that the Georgia GOP is more interested in funding inside favorites and protecting incumbents than anything else, no matter what they do.

    • Scott65 says:

      ” If the Republican Party wants to win more elections, it may have to take greater control of its primaries, as well as taking drastic steps to hold its candidates and elected representatives accountable to their principles.”

      I would say that is just about opposite of what they should do. Rigging primaries and letting the extreme voters impose “litmus tests” is just what the party bosses are afraid of

  4. Scott65 says:

    Congratulations…the child that the republicans have been birthing by ginning up the base with falsehoods and anti-everything is coming of age…and , surprise, republicans are alarmed that the talking points are coming back to bite them.
    The truth is we are not going broke, the deficit is falling at the fastest rate in decades (which is alarming since the economy is still depressed). The 40 cents on the dollar we are borrowing is largely from ourselves. The US is a sovereign currency nation with fiat currency…we (the federal govt.) can spend a whole lot more on projects that provide a return like the Port of Savannah, public transit, sewer upgrades, etc. How do you think the interstate hwy came to be in the midst of a recession in the 50’s? The private sector is still paying down debt. If you think stimulus is a bad idea, tell it to businesses around an army base…thats provided by government spending.
    Conservative principles dont always win, the unbridled free mkt is not God, and government does some very good things…too bad republicans are in a bubble thats quickly losing its oxygen

  5. Noway says:

    Thanks, Scot for saying the “sovereign nation” crap again. I was actually missing it. To say we aren’t already broke is the absolute summit of stupidity. Crank of the printing presses, buy ink by the tanker load. Scot says it’s ok!!!! Borrowing is still borrowing, which means eventually you gotta pay it back to us or the Chinese!

  6. MattMD says:

    It’s really sad too see how ignorant the average voter really is. I hope these clowns are just pandering to the audience rather than being equally as ignorant.

    I don’t know the format of the debate but I would have asked a follow-up to see what they meant by “the fat”. If they were referring to earmarks, I would have pointed out that they amount to less that 1% of federal spending. In fact, I’ve read it’s anywhere from 0.3% to 0.5%.

    I love how some pols love to talk about “living within means” expect when it involves a project in his/her district or a nearby base that is up for a BRAC’ing.

        • Harry says:

          I’m just saying, save budget money by providing incentives for getting off SNAP and WIC. Cut each and every federal departmental budget by 40%. Tighten up on Medicaid and disability, disincentivize the welfare breeders. Cut the overseas military. Mothball some of the 13 aircraft carriers. Put all federal employees on 401-k and social security. Cut the cadillac medical benefits for politicians. Cut agricultural subsidies.

          • MattMD says:

            How did you get to this 40% figure? How much will this save?

            What do you mean by “tighten up” on Medicaid and disability?

            I thought ‘welfare breeding’ was ‘disincentived’ after the mid-90’s welfare reform.

            Do you really think “Cadallic medical benefits” for politicians seriously contribute to the federal budget?

            You do not seem like a serious person, honestly. You do not address the biggest drains on the budget. Mothballing carriers? Do you really think that makes a rat’s ass of a difference?!

  7. Dave Bearse says:

    The performance of Georgia economy, not conflicting statements, is what may do in GaGOP supermajorities—see Dawers post. Cognitive dissonance is meaningless to folks that think the government ought to keep it’s cotton pickin’ hands off Medicare.

    The GaGOP can blame Washington Dems only so long while the state sinks relatively lower and lower with the GaGOP in charge. States of all colors, red, purple, and blue, have to deal with the same national and global economy and same Washington as Georgia, and are rebounding.

    Georgia’s dropped like a stone from mid 20’s ranking among states in income when the GOP took over to 40th. We’re approaching the point, if it’s not already been passed, where the average Georgia unemployment over the 10 year period the GaGOP has been in charge has been greater than that of the US.

    At some point some Georgia voters will want to turn out the party in full charge whether its candidates are making conflicting statements or not. Never mind that some of Georgia’s problems can’t be remedied in the short term by state government, or perhaps much remedied at all by state government—Georgia voters aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.

    An effective time to turn out the party in charge candidate is when there’s no party in charge incumbent, and we may be on track for a greater than usual number of vacancies with the jockeying for higher office that is going on now.

    • Harry says:

      Dave, we can agree that Medicare should be operated so as to be funded by beneficiaries and never subsidized by taxpayers. Disability and Medicaid payouts are a different story, and those programs should be run by the private sector and subjected to more stringent eligibility and controls IMHO.

  8. saltycracker says:

    Debt is a vicious tailspin, just the cost to service that debt eats into better uses for the money. Interest rates will rise and that makes it worse. Printing money devalues what is out there. Raising taxes removes money from consumers. Debt is not evil if it is manageable at some level of GDP but approaching 100% is not good.

    Then we have the death spiral of public pensions……budgets eaten into and future problems compounded with actuarial smoke and mirrors.

    • “Debt is not evil if it is manageable at some level of GDP but approaching 100% is not good.”

      The numbers I’ve seen say we hit the 100% level in 2011, and are currently sitting at around 105% to 106%. 🙁

        • saltycracker says:

          Gotta love it – talking about the debt and we either redefine it or switch to talk about the deficiency going down……example closer to home: we saved $200 in Kohls today……

      • saltycracker says:

        DS – correct – I picked an easy % on purpose 🙂
        Noway – don’t you wonder what he & sock do in the real world as it’s a jungle out here 🙂

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