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The impact of money in elections

An interesting look in the New York Times at how the money was spent in the last Presidential election

Start with the last presidential election. Most of the nearly half billion dollars — $374 million out of a total of $486 million — doled out by “super PACs” and other independent expenditure committees during the general election was by Republican groups, more than triple the $112 million spent independently in support of President Obama.

Clearly, this cash advantage did not tip the scales. Stuart Stevens, chief strategist of Mitt Romney’s campaign, argues that the huge expenditures by Republican groups were essentially wasted.

“What we discovered on our side, to our surprise and disappointment, was that there were some superb pro-Romney ads, but there was little impact on voters, not what we would have expected them to have,” Stevens told a postelection colloquium on Feb. 5 at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

Stevens argued that the “most important answer” in explaining the ineffectiveness of the super PAC ads “was that they were not coordinated with the campaign. They produced ads that were good as they stood alone, but they weren’t directing one message.”

Obama, according to Stevens, did not have this problem because he was less dependent on super PAC support and his campaign directly controlled a much higher percentage of the money spent on his behalf. Obama’s control of cash empowered his campaign to deliver messages and themes that his strategists wanted to stress with little competition from independent groups pushing for him.

Stevens cited Federal Election Commission reports to show that Obama was able to raise more “effective” dollars than Romney, even though the overall balance favored Romney by $140 million, $1.25 billion to $1.11 billion. 

Stephen Harper’s Secret Agenda

How is this any different than what the Liberals did to the Conservatives?

Of course, Harper wants to keep his majority in the next election. But the odds of that happening are already reasonably high. The House of Commons will have an additional 30 seats in the next Parliament, all but three of which will be in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Simple math suggests the Conservatives will win far more than half of these and Harper will keep his hold on the House.

But his goals are much grander than just another majority. First, he wants to bring about the permanent weakening — though perhaps not the complete collapse — of the Liberal party. Second, he wishes to establish the Conservatives as “the natural governing party,” for much of the 20th century the descriptive given to the Liberals.

Odds are longer that he will achieve both. But the odds are not small.

Harper’s hope to permanently weaken the Liberals is helped in large part by the Liberals’ own myths and misconceptions about the reasons for their success. Principal among these is the party’s mistaken beliefs that it is a party of the centre and that this is an electoral virtue.

Here is how Harper is going to carry out his sinister plan (insert evil laughter here)

The strategy is threefold. First, Harper will continue the appropriation of national symbols. Second, he will further establish his base of support among Canada’s immigrant communities. Third, he will remain focused on delivering a managerially competent, slow moving federal government.

On the first score, one needs to look no further than the government’s continued efforts to bolster Canada’s military in both its current and past engagements. There is little need for a strong connection between the actual facts of military endeavours and their glorification. If there were, our national image of an actively engaged peacekeeping force would have ceased by the 1980s.

The government’s celebration of the British triumph in the War of 1812 and its slow and dignified drawdown of troops in Afghanistan are both part and parcel of a re-establishment of military endeavour as central to Canadian identity. What is the response of the Liberal and New Democratic parties to this? Not much, except objections over the cost of fighter jets.

On the second score, the strategy to win the support of immigrants, the government has both demographics and electoral savvy on its side. The composition of Canada’s immigrant communities, their average levels of wealth, their mean social values, all of these tip them toward the Conservatives. This combines neatly with the entrance of more than two million immigrants into Canada since the Conservatives took power in 2006. Add in the Tories’ regular courting of these communities and you have a recipe for continued and growing success among a group composing an ever-larger portion of the population.

Finally, Harper will likely eschew grand bargains in exchange for managerial, deliberate government. There is no apparent need for a deal to reconcile Quebec to the constitution, in large measure because of the low odds of a referendum ever being held again.

There is also no need to fundamentally change the constitutionally mandated fiscal structure of the country. Harper can merely back farther away from meddling in provincial jurisdictions. He has something of partner in this in Mulcair, as it happens. And he can likely dispense of what seem like major problems — the aforementioned procurement of fighter jets and the ongoing investigation over electoral manipulation — through changes in personnel. It is not apparent that other scandals abound.

The Conservatives will rot out like every other (Liberal, NDP, PQ, and Liberal) government in this country.  They will make mistakes, the public will grow tired of them, and we will support on mass another party.  It is even happening right now in Alberta.  In 2000 we had stories of a right wing permanent majority that Karl Rove was behind.  How did that turn out?  The same thing will happen here in Canada and the only question is if it is the Liberals or the NDP that bounce back.

Update: Warren Kinsella is saying the same thing in his Sun column.

Mitt Romney secures a huge endorsement

This should push him over the top.

How the GOP will win this fall

From Charles Blow

As The New York Times reported this week, Paul Ryan made the trip on Tuesday to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has pledged to spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama. No reporters were allowed in, of course.

As The Times’s editorial page pointed out on Friday:

“Last year, his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, announced that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — specifically, that it bribed Chinese officials for help in expanding its casino empire in Macau. Later, the F.B.I. became involved, and even Chinese regulators looked askance at the company’s conduct, fining it $1.6 million for violating foreign exchange rules, The Times reported on Monday.”

There was a saying I heard growing up in Louisiana: “Bad money doesn’t spend right.”

On Wednesday, a judge in Pennsylvania who is a Republican refused to block a ridiculously restrictive, Republican-backed voter identification law from going into effect in the state, which is a critical swing state. Surprise, surprise.

And to add insult to injury, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday: “On the same day a judge cleared the way for the state’s new voter identification law to take effect, the Corbett administration abandoned plans to allow voters to apply online for absentee ballots for the November election and to register online to vote.”

Corbett is Tom Corbett, the Republican governor of the state.

Worst interview ever?

“Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh”

Are liberals ruining America?

Steve Almond writes in the New York Times

Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.

Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate. The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.

But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.

Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.

Even programs that seek to inject some levity into our rancorous political theater run on the same noxious fuel. What would “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” be without the fulminations of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing hysterics?

Taken as a whole, the arrangement is entirely cynical. This slavish coverage of conservative scoundrels does nothing to illuminate policy or challenge our assumptions. On the contrary, its central goal mirrors that of the pundits it reviles: to boost ratings by reinforcing easy prejudices. These ratings come courtesy of dolts like me: liberals who choose, every day, to click on their links and to watch their shows.

So why do I do this?

The first and most damning reason is that some part of me truly enjoys resenting conservatives. I know I shouldn’t, that I should strive for equanimity. But secretly I feel the same helplessness and rage that animates the extreme right wing of this country. I see a world dangerously out of balance — morally, economically, ecologically — and my natural impulse is to blame those figures who, in my view, embody the decadent ignorance of the age. They become convenient scapegoats.

Rather than taking up the banner and the burden of the causes I believe in, or questioning my own consumptive habits, I’ve come to rely on private moments of indignation for moral vindication. I fume at the iniquity of Pundit A and laugh at the hypocrisy of Candidate B and feel absolved — without ever having left my couch. It’s a closed system of scorn and self-congratulation.

My fixation on conservative demagogues also includes a share of covert envy. The truth is that I feel overrun by moral uncertainty, bewildered by the complexity of our planetary crises. Wouldn’t it be nice, I ask myself, to feel entirely sure of my beliefs? To shout down anyone who disagrees with me? To dismiss peak oil and global warming as fairy tales? To accept capitalism as a catechism?

But what’s really happening when I scoff at Sarah Palin’s latest tweet amounts to a mimetic indulgence: I’m bleeding the world of nuance, surrendering to the seduction of binary thinking.

This pattern of defensive grievance, writ large, has derailed the liberal agenda and crippled the nation’s moral progress.

Romney’s backbone

The man behind Mitt Romney’s campaign, Eric Fehrnstrom

Fehrnstrom calls himself a "utility player," and in the press he’s typically identified as a "Romney spokesman" or a "Romney strategist." But that doesn’t begin to do justice to his place in the high command. Fehrnstrom has been with Romney for a decade, longer than any other political adviser on his 2012 campaign. "Anytime I’ve got questions or I’ve got a doubt, I know I can go to Eric and I’m getting feedback from someone who’s inside Mitt’s brain," Romney’s senior adviser Kevin Madden told me. Or as Peter Flaherty, another senior Romney adviser, puts it: "Eric has a deeper shelf of institutional knowledge of Mitt Romney than anyone I know whose last name is not Romney."

Fehrnstrom’s first job for Romney was running the press shop during his successful 2002 run for Massachusetts governor. But his role quickly expanded, and  as Romney’s national profile grew, so did his trusted aide’s. (So much so that when Scott Brown was looking for someone to help him win Ted Kennedy’s old Massachusetts Senate seat in 2010, he hired Fehrnstrom, who remains Brown’s top strategist.) Over the course of his decade with Romney, Madden says, Fehrnstrom has become "a Tom Hagen figure. He’s consigliere to the governor."

But with two slight differences. Whereas Hagen was always trying to cool off the hotheaded Sonny Corleone and keep the peace, Fehrnstrom, 50, is both the wise man and the hothead. He wears the uniform of the modern political consultant—iPad tucked in the crook of his arm, open-collared shirt, rectangular-framed glasses—but his fleshy face and thick New England accent betray a rougher core. And far from reining in Romney, he performs the opposite service for his client: Fehrnstrom toughens him up. "Eric gives Mitt a capability that Mitt doesn’t have," says Ben Coes, Romney’s campaign manager in 2002. "It’s a streetwise savvy; it’s an on-the-ground Boston-smarts mentality; it’s a back-alley-politics, survival-of-the-fittest point of view. Mitt is not a knife fighter. Eric is a knife fighter." The best political operatives are the ones who provide their clients with a tangible quality the candidate himself lacks. If Karl Rove was Bush’s brain, then Fehrnstrom is Romney’s balls.

Interesting profile.  I don’t know if he is any tougher than other presidential advisor, Karl Rove seems to have set the bar very high (or very low depending on how you vote) but if anything, it will give you an idea of what kind of general election it will be this fall.

Rick Perry’s campaign ends right here…

This gaffe rivals John Turner in 1984

The end of Sarah Palin

David Frum says the end is near for Sarah Palin.

Sarah PalinUm, probably not. Sarah Palin’s political voice had dwindled well before she announced her decision not to run. Now it will sink altogether into inaudibility. She will be no kind of force in future national discussions. She will have no sway over party debates. She will retain some star power for a little while longer. She may for another cycle or two be able to help certain candidates for certain political offices raise some money. Even that will fade within two more years or four. Her political career was brief, bizarre, and sordid. But now at least it is definitively finished.

Palin will never become a party elder stateswoman. Over the past three years, it became apparent to all but a handful of cultists that her only interests were money and celebrity. She had no concept of public service, and no capacity to serve even if she had wished to do so. Soon even those last cultists will quietly abandon the argument. We talk often these days about makers and takers. Sarah Palin was the ultimate taker. She abandoned her post as governor of Alaska to cash in on lectures and TV. She squeezed her supporters for political donations and spent the money on herself. To adapt an old phrase, she seen her opportunities and she took ‘em.

For me her qualification to be vice president was the same as Dan Quayle’s was when he was named as Bush’s running mate in 1988, she was attractive and they hoped her looks would appeal to disengaged voters.  In truth her going “rogue” act appealed to a childish conservative portion of the GOP which is moved more by clichéd rhetoric more than common sense.  in the end she had no growth outside of that, no chance of ever becoming President, and no really political future.  It’s kind of pathetic.

For Palin, I get the impression that she has no desire to spend night after night speaking to small crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire, building a campaign team and doing retail politics.  The Vice Presidency was given to her and I think she expected the GOP would come calling again.  The problem is that even as dysfunctional as the GOP has become that they will ever give her the Presidential nomination if she isn’t going to work for it and for that one thing, the Republicans deserve our thanks.

Update: Roger Ailes of FOX News sums up why he hired Palin.

So much for democracy

GOP voter suppression bills could keep more than 5 million Democratic voters away from the polls

Restrictive voting laws in states across the country could affect up to five million voters from traditionally Democratic demographics in 2012, according to a new report by the Brennan Center. That’s a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.

The new restrictions, the study found, "fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election."

The study found that:

  • These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
  • The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
  • Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions

You can read the full report here (PDF).  I know this going to upset some of you who see yourselves as Republican but this kind of stuff is just evil.  I am not overly impressed with Barack Obama’s record and if I was American, Gov. Chris Christie would be an intriguing choice for Republican nominee but there are things happening to the GOP that go beyond partisan politics and just cross a line that should never be crossed.  Voter suppression laws are one of them.  So are threatening the government with default or blocking a president’s nominees with silent holds for partisan purposes.  The GOP has taken the United States to a place where it never should have gone and even if they win in 2012, they will have to pay the consequences of doing some of these things.  Either way there are dark times ahead for the United States.

Update: As I was just reminded; The Sask Party had some voter suppression policies of it’s own until this morning.

It’s not both sides fault

I am a big fan of Thomas Friedman but while his column has this great line in it,

But the more I read the papers the more I’m convinced that “we the people” are having an economic crisis and “you the politicians” are having an election — and there is frighteningly little overlap between the two.

he is totally wrong when he puts the blame for the current economic crisis on both the Democrats and the Republicans.  It’s the fault of the Republicans.  They have resisted every attempt of fixing the problem and they are totally to blame.

Contextless Links

Brad Wall on ProFootballTalk

Sarah Palin for President in 2012?

Watch these videos campaign ads and tell me that Sarah Palin won’t be running for the Republican Presidential nomination this year.

New York Banks Hit a New Low

BNY Mellon is now charging a negative interest rate to hold cash

The shift is also emblematic of the strains plaguing the U.S. economy. Fearful corporations and investors have been socking away cash in their bank accounts rather than put it into even the safest investments.

The giant bank, which specializes in handling funds for financial institutions and corporations, will begin assessing a fee next week on customers that have been flooding the bank with dollars, Bank of New York told clients in a note reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The decision won’t affect individual savers, who already are stuck with near zero interest rates as the Federal Reserve keeps rates low to support a soft economy. But it is a glaring sign that corporate executives, bank leaders and money-market fund managers are fleeing from risk and hoarding cash as the recovery.

Of course when the government comes close to default, it tends to make companies reluctant to in things like Treasury Bonds or the markets.

Economic Downturn, Financial Rescues and the Legacy of George W. Bush

Economic Downturn, Financial Rescues and the Legacy of George W. Bush

President Obama’s administration has been blamed for reckless spending that has put America into its debt hole. But in reality, much of that spending emanates from policies of George W. Bush.