Soren Dayton's blog

Who says that the tea parties aren't winning elections?

Over the weekend, Politico ran a story by Alex Isenstadt about the "failures" of Tea Party candidates. This article reads more like DC-based myopia. Movements don't transform at the federal level or statewide level first. Simply creating the network with the skills to execute huge campaigns is hard and takes time.

The place to go to see the successes are things like county parties, congressional district conventions, state legislative, and municipal seats. Those are races where a little bit of money and a little bit of energy go a huge way. They are also races with relatively low name ID. And they are the entry-level races for future leaders.

One of races that showed me that something was going on was the November election of Dan Halloran to the New York City Council. He is also the chairman of the New York chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus. (recall that RLC is the branch of the Ron Paul movement that believes in integration with the GOP party infrastructure)

Similarly, anyone who has been following local party politics knows that tea party supporters and Ron Paul and RLC organizations have had a huge impact on local party organizations. I wrote about this in response to Ken Cuchinelli's crushing convention victory to become the Republican nominee for Virginia's Attorney General.

It is easy to miss what is going on in American politics and to the American right if you focus on Washington.  It isn't happening in Washington. What is happening will lead to the Washington-based leadership being overturned by a generation of new leaders.

 

The problem with Recovery.gov isn't the data, it is the politics

The White House has gotten a black eye for two key problems with the Recovery.gov stimulus database. The first problem was that the numbers of jobs were bogus. The Washington Examiner has concluded that at least 10% of the jobs were fabrications. The second problem was that the data about congressional districts were clearly garbage.

But I am not here to rehash this. There is a legitimate problem with the data. But the data wouldn't be such a big deal if the White House hadn't tried to politicize the data and claim victory.

Recovery.gov is a tremendous success for the transparency movement. Politicians lie. A key goal of the transparency movement is to give the people the power to keep the politicians accountable. And that's what this has done.

Here's what happened: The White House shared the data and lied about what it showed. And the data has been used to hang them.

First, let's go to the stimulus bill itself. Congress demanded that the White House report jobs created or saved numbers:

(8) The website shall provide a link to estimates of the jobs sustained or created by the Act.

But that legislative langauge says that "[t]he website shall provide a link to estimates" ... "by the Act". The bill doesn't require a per-contract or a per-district accounting of jobs.

So what's happening? The White House quickly learned that the stimulus bill was going to be a hot potato. So they started to use Recovery.gov to give them (and their Democratic allies in Congress -- recall no Republicans voted for this) cover.

Let's be clear what happened here: the White House politicized this data. And now they are getting hung with the politicization of it (not the bad data).

And this goes to the deeper point. Check out this story from the Washington Post from October 30th, the weekend before election day:

Reports to be released Friday on the government Web site Recovery.gov are expected to show that the $150 billion in grants and loans made so far under the economic stimulus package have created or saved about 650,000 jobs, White House officials said Friday morning.

White House officials said the reports -- which were filed by state and city governments and other recipients of stimulus grants and loans -- will confirm their recent estimates that the $787 billion package passed in February has so far saved or created about a million jobs, putting it on track to match their estimates of 3.5 million jobs created or saved over the three-year span of the stimulus. That calculation is based on the fact that today's reports do not include much of the package's spending -- tax cuts, safety net spending and fiscal aid to strapped states, which injected tens of billions more into the economy and, in the case of the state aid, forestalled layoffs of state workers.

The White House clearly leaked this information the weekend before election day to claim victory based on garbage data. Furthermore, they claimed that Recovery.gov confirmed their previous assessments, and didn't come to any new conclusions based on data. 

Fifteen days earlier, based on partial data, the White House also claimed victory based on incomplete data, using the same number. From the Hill's Walter Alarkon:

"All signs -- from private estimates to this fragmentary data -- point to the conclusion that the Recovery Act did indeed create or save about 1 million jobs in its first seven months, a much needed lift in a very difficult period for our economy," said Jared Bernstein, the chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden.

That same 1m had been their talking point for a while. In September the White House said:

This analysis indicates that the ARRA and other policy actions caused employment in August to be slightly more than 1 million jobs higher than it otherwise would have been.

In May, they said:

Our finding was that the ARRA would increase employment relative to the baseline in this quarter by approximately 3.5 million

Six months later, the White House was repeating these same numbers even though they had data to prove it false. That's the problem.

Impact of NY-23 on the 2012 Presidential race

 Today's Washington Times has a story by Ralph Hallow about NY-23. One of the things Ralph discussed was Newt Gingrich's struggles with the race. He quotes Newt:

He said Mr. Hoffman's "rise is a result of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the Club for Growth, Gov. [Sarah] Palin and [Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and virtually the entire national conservative movement joining with Mike Long, whose Conservative Party, a very established organization, which won its first big race 39 years ago."

It is striking to me that Tim Pawlenty is the only presumptive 2012 candidate in that list, unless Sarah Palin really gets in, but there are no indications that she is. After a Presidential primary in which Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee fought out for the conservative mantle (to a stalemate, I might add), they both were absent from this battle.

You see, NY-23 is the first big fight of the 21st century for the conservative movement. It is important to remember that this movement is about moving the to the right by moving its governing coalition to the right. That means, by definition, the Republican Party because it is the vehicle of the center-right coalition in American politics. There can be no doubt that, whatever the result on Tuesday or afterwards, that the leadership of the GOP has been chastened. Marc Ambinder's analyzes the race and concludes that Scozzafava's social liberalism was necessary to create the conditions on the ground for the Conservative Party to reach out to national groups. However, ultimately, the Club for Growth, responding to her positions on card-check, the stimulus, etc., funded Hoffman and really made this happen. In other words, the two key components of the conservative movement came together in perfect complimentarity.

So we have the definitional fight for the conservative movement, post-Bush. And only Pawlenty shows up at the fight? But for the movement, the question is as much "are you with us on the fight" as it is "are you with us on issues". Let's consider how this impacts Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, both of whom declined being in the fight over the last several weeks.

Let's take Huckabee first. Mike Huckabee not only didn't endorse Doug Hoffman, Huckabee took $20,000 away from Hoffman's GOTV effort (which tells me that he isn't running, but ...):

Huckabee, who according to Upstate Committee sources is receiving a five-figure fee in excess of $20,000 for his appearance, has refused to personally endorse Hoffman, who is pro-life and signed the "no-tax" pledge in August before his announced candidacy, and has informed Hoffman that HuckPAC will not support him either. Some Conservative Party officials believe Huckabee's fee is intended for his PAC. Ironically, the dinner is held to honor conservatives who exemplify conservative principles.

This offers a(nother) critique of Huckabee from the movement perspective. Huckabee is particularly vulnerable here. In 2008, no electorally significant critique damaged Huckabee within his base of evangelical voters. Why? I think that Ramesh Ponnuru nailed it in a discussion of Romney's campaign:

Romney’s problem was not that he is a Mormon. It was that he is not an evangelical. A strong plurality of evangelicals “would have backed Huckabee against anybody — Mormon, Buddhist, or Catholic,” says another former Romney adviser. “They were voting for one of their own.” To attribute Romney’s loss in Iowa to anti-Mormon prejudice from evangelicals, he says, is like attributing Romney’s victories in Utah and Nevada to Mormons’ hostility to people from all other faiths. But this adviser reaches the same conclusion as his colleagues who blamed anti-Mormonism: Romney should not spend as much time and resources on Iowa next time. 

In other words, the options for Huckabee voters were to go to Romney. Not going to happen. But guess what? Tim Pawlenty is an evangelical. Indeed, during the VP speculation in 2008, the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody argued, "Pawlenty may be the one guy to help McCain with working class moderates AND socially conservative Evangelicals." So he can genuinely compete with Huckabee or someone similar to his right.

Ramesh notes that Romney ran as the candidate of the conservative movement (and I would point out that Fred Thompson's candidacy was about the fundamental mismatch of Romney the man and Romney the candidate of the movement):

All these advisers may, however, be looking at Romney’s options too narrowly. Romney’s strategy in the last campaign was not to run as the social conservatives’ candidate. It was to run as the movement-conservative candidate. Throughout the primary he claimed that he best represented what he called “the three legs of the stool” holding up conservatism, with the legs representing conservative positions on social issues, economics, and foreign policy. The attempt to rally his party’s right made a certain strategic sense. Giuliani and John McCain started the primary season with higher profiles than Romney and, in different ways, represented the party’s left wing. Running to the right thus presented Romney with an opportunity.

Romney, in not playing in NY-23 has, in some important sense, laid the groundwork for a(nother) criticism of him as the candidate of the conservative movement. How can he be the candidate of the movement but duck out on the first major fight of the movement. (2nd, if you count healthcare, which doesn't cut nicely for Mitt...) Can he really run from the same location that he had earlier? No. This suggests that he is taking the route that Ramesh almost recommends by moving to the left end of the party and/or the establishment. (I distinguish between these)

This time Romney could follow a different path. There are no prospective McCains or Giulianis, no heavyweights from the left or even the center of the party. Instead of running as the movement conservative in the race, Romney could run as a party-establishment candidate who is acceptable to the Right. That strategy wouldn’t require him to move left on the issues. But it would entail, among other things, taking fewer jabs at the other candidates for not being conservative enough (jabbing them for having bad ideas would still be in season). It would entail advertising Romney’s conservatism less. The policies could still be conservative — but he would promote them as good ideas more than as conservative ones. 

 I don't know how this plays out. Romney running from establishment/left of the party, and Pawlenty running to the right? Perhaps. There's another angle that Ramesh notes:

To be a strong candidate, finally, Romney has to address one weakness that has not gotten much attention: his lack of appeal to middle-income and low-income voters. The exit polls from the primaries tell a consistent story. In Iowa and Florida, he won pluralities only among those voters who made more than $100,000 a year. In New Hampshire, voters had to make more than $150,000 before they started favoring him. Michigan, where Romney’s father was governor, was the great exception: Romney won among every income group above $30,000 a year. If Romney can’t find an economic message and a way of making it that appeals to middle-class voters, he may as well save his money and not bother running.

Again, we have Pawlenty's strong suit: reaching out to the middle class and working class.

The field is set. A working-to-middle class Midwestern candidate with strong evangelical roots running against a white-shoe Northeast wealthy candidate with strong western roots. This will be an interesting battle.

Virginia argues that they don't need to send out military absentee ballots in time to vote

Last year, we covered some of the problems in the counting of military absentee ballots in Virginia, as did others. This problem has not gone away. It has just moved. The day before election day 2008, the McCain campaign filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia to force Virginia to count military absentee ballots that came in after election day. McCain lost Virginia by more than enough votes, but the case went on with the Department of Justice replacing the McCain campaign.There were filings last month and will likely be a hearing this month. So what?

The Virginia State Board of Elections argued in their most recent filing that they have no legal obligation to send out military absentee ballots in a timely manner. Restated, the State of Virginia has argued in a federal court filing that they can legally send out absentee ballots to active duty soldiers the day before an election. Restated again, the Democratic Chairwoman of the Virginia State Board of Election (appointed by the Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine, in his capacity as Virginia Governor) Jean Cunningham just claimed a legal basis for massively raising the barrier to voting for soldiers at war.

Really. Read on for details.

What the German elections teach us

 This weekend's German election has some lessons for our political context. Der Speigel sees a new German political pattern emerging from this:

After Sunday's election, Germany's political landscape has been shaken up, perhaps for ever. Angela Merkel's conservatives will be able to form a coalition government with the business-friendly FDP, but the balance of power between the two parties has fundamentally shifted. And the once-powerful Social Democrats may never recover from their defeat.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has probably saved her chancellorship -- but the price that her conservatives will have to pay for it is high. The election result for the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is lower than in 2005. Nevertheless, she can form a coalition government with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party because support for the FDP has increased in a way that until recently pollsters would scarcely have thought possible.

Just as in the European elections, we are seeing a splinter of the political scene. On the left, the far left gained, the Greens gain, the centrist-left collapsed, the center-right shrunk slightly, and the liberal party gained massively. The right (center-right + liberals) has grown, but not hugely.

Several things to take away from this in the time of an economic downturn:

First, the appeal of libertarian positions has grown. Even in Europe and Germany there has been an anti-government, anti-entitlement, pro-reform movement that is growing massively. We see this here in the tea party movement.

The response to the economic crisis has been more freedom and less government. Somehow government is getting the blame, at the ballot box, for the downturn.

Second, the center-left has lost credibility, but the numbers on the left are still large if you include the far-left. It is hard to imagine a victory of the German left without the Left Party, but it is also questionable whether this turns off swing voters between the center-right and center-left. Some on the American left will try to learn the lesson that they need to move to the left -- isn't that always the lesson? -- but one wonders if, like the SPD, the Democrats would suffer from highlighting their relationship with the far-left.

All in all, we are in a situation in which right-leaning parties are sweeping elections or performing at historic highs. These things happen in response to global events. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues into the next year. 

 

 

PSA: Tell your friends in the military how to vote by absentee

(Posted on behalf of some Virginia activists who appreciate that those who serve deserve the right to vote)

For all the attention paid to the recent voting in Iraq and Afghanistan, one would think that the process for getting absentee ballots to our own service men and women should be simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, it’s a rather convoluted process and easy to miss the deadlines – especially if you’re deployed in a war zone.

For service personnel who claim residence in Virginia and New Jersey, this is a pressing issue, as the deadlines for requesting ballots for the statewide elections this November are fast approaching. A couple of organizations in Virginia, the Dominion Leadership Trust and ProjectVirginia are working to publicize how service men and women can vote in these two states’ 2009 elections.

The important first step of this process is to alert military personnel that they are eligible to vote absentee and give them the information to navigate the process for requesting a ballot. While both of these organizations are supporting Republican candidates, the information they are providing is a non-partisan step-by-step guide to navigating the process. They are simply asking everyone who knows someone in the military or a military family to email them this information – a small request to support our men and women in uniform.  You can use the links below:

Virginia: http://www.ProjectVirginia.com/military-vote

New Jersey: http://www.ProjectVirginia.com/military-vote-nj

The voting difficulties faced by deployed military personnel are not new – and cut across federal, state and local elections. As Peter Roff of US News & World Report wrote in May 2009, the PEW Center on the States found that only 26 percent of the absentee ballots requested by military personnel were ever actually counted in 2006. The widespread difficulties with military absentee voting in 2008 led Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Beigich (D-AK) to sponsor a bipartisan bill, the Military Voting Protection Act and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to sponsor the bill in the House, earlier this year. While this legislation is a worthwhile effort, it is aimed at 2010 – so the rest of us need to step up just a little in 2009 and help spread the word to the troops and their families today.

 

Boehner and Read the Bill: A sign that Congressional Republicans are starting to get it and the media isn't

I have argued for a while that Repubicans need to pick up the mantle of transparency. It is useful tactically and strategically. On the tactical level, the guys in leadership always play "hide the ball with what they are doing". This gives Republicans a morally secure high-ground to attack whatever the Democrats do. Strategically, it gives us an issue that can both rally our base and makes good sense to independents and many Democrats.

On Friday, House Republican Leader John Boehner issued a statement on transparency. The key passage:

It’s just common sense: Americans should be allowed to read the text of major bills before Congress votes on them.  Previous Congresses, including Republican ones, failed to live up to this standard.  But never before has the failure been as blatant as it has been in the past nine months under Speaker Pelosi.   Things have to change.

There are two key parts to this. First, he grabbed the policy issue and framed it in the adult and serious way "Americans" (not "Members of Congress", which seems like only a populist argument, although some in the media have grabbed the straw man to give the Democrats aircover) should know what Congress is doing so that we can hold them accountable.

The second part is, perhaps, more important. John Boehner has now explicitly rejected the way that he ran the House, said "we have learned", and established a new line in the sand. Furthermore, one of the reforms that he advocates, in this case, a waiting period before legislation can be acted on, actually may impact many of the wasteful spending concerns that actually helped drive him out of office. 

What is so fascinating is the rejection by Senate Democrats and the silence of lefty advocacy groups other than the Sunlight Foundation. In an effort to get a public copy of the healthcare bill before a vote, John Kerry said:

"This is fundamentally a delay tactic," the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate said. "I mean, let's be honest about it. The legislative language, everybody knows, is relatively arcane, legalistic, and most people don't read the legislative language."

That's right. But people who are interested do. People who are experts or people being impacted do, or they hire people to.

And this gets to the final point. Where is the press? Huffington Post is being sent around by Demcorats, because they are giving cover to Democrats. But they aren't really press. But where is the Fourth Estate demanding that they have the information to tell the American people what the debate is about.

Crickets.

You would think that John Boehner repudiating how Republicans ran the House would be worthy of news.

Crickets.

You would think that John Kerry giving cover to the Senate acting without even having legislation (I'm not talking about reading the bill here ...) would be newsworthy.

Crickets outside of Fox and the Washington Times.

ACORN's tactics in SEIU's takeover attempt in California

Internecine battles that go public always tell you more about how an organization operates. For example, a court battle after a Democratic primary in East Chicago, Indiana led to both sides testifying against each other in court about how they stole votes and 32 convictions on voter fraud. Whenever reporters and liberals claim that voter fraud doesn't happen, just refer them to the court testimony. By the way, these are absentee ballot fraud, the same sort of at-home coercion that occurs in "card-check" union organizing drives.

A similar battle is going on California. last year, the San Francisco-based SEIU-UHW (United Healthcare Workers West) had been under attack by the SEIU national organization and the Los Angeles-based local whose head Tyrone Freeman, an Andy Stern protege, was forced to step down after charges of embezzling local funds. Eventually, Sal Roselli, the head of the San Francisco organization was kicked out. He is now counter-attacking as National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

There have long-been allegations that ACORN and SEIU are closely related and that ACORN runs training programs for SEIU. In this case, SEIU-UHW is claiming that the NUHW is playing dirty. Check out this blog post from their site in which union members claim to have been lied to and coerced:

Examples of the tactics used by NUHW, which home care workers share on video and can be viewed here, include:

Asya Tilman, was told to sign "a petition to protect our rights," and it was not until "a few months ago that I realized that, through their lies, they try to move me to a different union." After Asya signed, she was then asked whether her daughter, also a home care worker, was at home, "and he said that I could sign under her name. And that is what I did."

Yuk Wan Leung was overwhelmed when two workers from the hotel union knocked at her door pressuring her to sign a petition. They told her the petition was for their voting freedom and it would not affect her union. Then they refused to leave until she signed.

Mei Fong Tsoi was approached while walking to work and was told to sign the petition to support the union, "I am a working member and I know my union. I even signed for my husband because he is also a homecare provider." 

While one local is claiming thuggery in San Francisco, at first under the direction of a criminal and now by a dissident organization, the national organization is claiming that coercion doesn't happen in union battles. Curious, eh?

 Note: The first version of this post misunderstand the relationships between the various California locals. I thank a union official for a correction. However, the core messaging problem still stands, and in some way is strengthened. An SEIU is claiming union thuggery, while the national denies it. After a several-year-long campaign of thuggery against a dissident. As in East Chicago, this is just how union infighting looks.

What Obama's tire treatment teaches us about his administration

 At 9:18 Friday night, I got an alert from the Washington Post. Barack Obama had slapped tariffs on imports of Chinese tires. Barack Obama's handling of this issue shows several things. First, it shows a real contempt for China, trade policy, and his international relationships more broadly. As one of my liberal friends likes to point out, this action demonstrates how the Democrats really cannot be taken seriously as the internationalist party.  And it shows the implicit contradictions in much of Obama's economic policy.

Let's start with the time of its announcement: 9:18pm. Really? Saturday morning in China? This tells us who the audience for this policy was: the United States. It tells us that Obama is willing to subordinate trade policy -- just before the G-20 meeting no less -- to domestic politics that he is embarassed about. Why else release this late on a Friday night?  (note that by statute, he didn't have to release a response to International Trade Commission recommendations until the 17th. He picked this timing)

By Saturday afternoon, China issues scathing remarks. By Sunday, they announce counter-tariffs against US chickens and auto-parts. We have a full scale trade war.  And Asian and European markets open the week down. Thanks Barack...

So Barack Obama started a trade war for entirely domestic reasons, jeopardizing the recovery, and is afraid of the headlines here, why he doesn't care about international opinion. How does that sound?

Now, why chickens and auto parts? I don't immediately understand the chickens, although I suspect it is a pretty good business for us, but I understand auto parts. 

US auto parts are made by the United Autoworkers, the same union that Obama bailed out when he bailed out GM and Chrysler, two companies that had becoming wards of their union pension funds. In addition to hurting the unions, this could hurt the auto manufacturers themselves, which Obama owns and which opposed the tire tariffs because it will raise their costs. First he screwed the car companies for the UAW, now USW. Perhaps this is a lesson for when he takes over the health care sector. 

So where was the logic in this? He helps his allies, with one hand, but hurts them with the other. He hurts the economy. He hurts the government run companies. And he opens a trade war just in time for the G-20 to create real structural damage to the US economy.

Furthermore, this is how he is celebrating the anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers. By sticking the knife in the economy.

That's change I can believe in.

MI-GOV: Pete Hoekstra: Taking public money didn't work for McCain, it won't for you

Some times, you really have to wonder why politicians don't learn from the past. This week, Pete Hoekstra did the inexplicable: he declared that he would take public funding in the race for Michigan Governor.

Now Michigan has a 2-1 match. That is, for every dollar he raises, he gets 2 from the taxpayer. In exchange, he gets a cap on total spending. I have several thoughts on this:

First, John McCain tried this. He lost. And he lost for a reason. If you can't build the grassroots army to fund your campaign, you probably can't win.

Second, this funding only applies to the primary. He will need to raise huge resources for the general too. This hampers your ability to win the general because you haven't built your finance organization. And if he uses this in the general, then he could be at a real disadvantage.

Third, Hoekstra was really outspoken about campaign finance. He repeatedly criticized campaign finance bills throughout his career in the House. This displays a certain lack of principle...

Fourth, will struggling Michigan voters -- recall that this is the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country -- really want their taxes going to welfare for politicians?

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