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RunnersNow that the “Chris Christie Question” has shifted from whether he’ll run for president to whether he’ll be able to escape impeachment and/or criminal proceedings, the 2016 Republican field suddenly seems shockingly threadbare, lacking a single candidate with the ability to present both a strong primary and general election challenge. Just think about these guys:

  1. Rand Paul, a man with such massive vulnerabilities both with the Republican base and the general electorate that it would be more than a minor miracle for him to follow Barack Obama as president. Given his history of unfortunate (but unfortunately honest) Copperheadish statements about civil rights, his implacable hatred of numerous hugely popular government programs, and his comical hatred of unions, I fully expect every inch of the Obama coalition to recoil against a Paul candidacy if the GOP hawks somehow fail to kill him off. Even if he “won” I would not be surprised if the party’s leaders just outright stole the nomination away from him, just as they did 62 years ago from the similarly positioned Robert Taft. And if they didn’t, a Goldwater ’64 scenario would not be out of reach.
  2. Scott Walker, the male Sarah Palin, minus the (greatly belabored) college degree. Walker makes right-wingers go tingly, and his popularity in Wisconsin is truly inexplicable (admittedly it’s nowhere close to the 80% that Palin at one point pulled, but considering the poor results of his actions, it’s amazing it’s anywhere near 50%). But his ethics problems and lack of intellectual heft would make a jump to the national stage a challenge, to put it mildly.
  3. Ted Cruz, a man who seems to be hated by just about everybody, which is a bit of a problem when you undertake a venture where success is all about people liking you. He polls worst of all Republicans against Hillary Clinton and already has good name recognition. Which means he’d lose big time.
  4. Bobby Jindal, a man with so little charm, charisma or leadership ability that he’s been a punchline since delivering the first SOTU response to Obama, comes across as an overgrown Urkel, and had his governorship crushed by David Vitter and the unpopularity of his hyper-conservative ideas in Louisiana. Also, he once performed an exorcism. Seriously.
  5. Brian Sandoval/Susana Martinez/Nikki Haley: A minority or woman nominee would be in line with the conservative belief that the best way to overcome aesthetic and substantive minority disgust with Republican values and policies is through mere symbolism. But Sandoval is too moderate on cultural issues, Martinez has cooperated on Obamacare and has zero name recognition (and governs a state that is well outside any major media markets), and Haley is so poisonously unpopular that even South Carolina’s ultra-Republican lean might not save her in her fight for another term. I don’t see any of them getting near the nomination.
  6. Mike Huckabee: Can’t raise money. Has lost the ability to convey folksy religiosity like last time, now just mostly sounds like every other religious right crank ever to run for president. Money people in the GOP hate him for numerous reasons, thus the can’t raise money thing, which is not just a small problem. It said something about America that in 2008 his weight loss story was practically a hero point in his biography. Now he doesn’t even have that. He can make all the Chuck Norris jokes and play bass to every ZZ Top song ever made, it won’t make money magically appear in his account.
  7. Jeb Bush: Republicans can never quit the Bushes, as Matt Yglesias often says. But it’s worth noting that Jeb Bush has run for no office since 2002, and has already tripped up trying to position himself to deal with the new GOP base. He seems palpably rusty. The question is, is it like the first time Jake La Motta got fat in Raging Bull, after which he was able to get back into shape and fight again, or the second time when he turned into a pathetic punchline? The Bush name would be manna from heaven for any Democratic opponent, of course, and I have to imagine no great enthusiasm from Republicans to relitigate (as President Obama would put it) the ’00s.

At this point, maybe it does go to Marco Rubio after all. I don’t see how he doesn’t get another look in comparison to all these clowns.

In this case, it’s former TARP head and investment banker Neel Kashkari:

Neel Kashkari (R), who led the bank bailout during the Bush administration, announced his bid to unseat California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), the Sacramento Bee reports.

“His platform could appeal to many moderate Republicans, but Kashkari’s ability to raise sufficient money to broadcast it statewide is uncertain. Not only is Brown collecting millions of dollars from labor unions and other liberal allies, but his relatively moderate fiscal and environmental polices have endeared him to business interests on which GOP candidates could once rely. With the third-term governor heavily favored to win re-election, potential donors – many of them with business before the state – may not risk upsetting Brown by giving to any Republican in the race.”

The timing is interesting. Maldonado leaves, and almost immediately, this guy gets in? It’s almost as though there’s some kind if behind-the-scenes force is afraid of a Minuteman making it to the general election in California in an off-year. Which they should: there could be a handful of U.S. House seats that could flip from Republican to Democrat here with just the right turnout patterns. Then again, I’m not sure if Kashkari is a better deal for Republicans: asking their people to turn out for the guy who managed TARP is a steep order, and given that Republicans spent seven years being angry with Schwarzenegger I wonder how establishment types will be able to talk them out of supporting a True Conservative.

In any event, it’s worth saying that the GOP’s reliance on wealthy, self-funding businesspeople to make the race in California is a recipe for failure, and this should be no different. These folks–obviously Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, but also Al Checchi and Bill Simon, if you want to go a little further back–all have the same basic failing, which is that they look at this huge state with its many big cities and media markets and assume victory is a matter of flooding the airwaves, which given their wealth is usually achievable. But it never works. The key is a previous record of statewide election wins, i.e. familiarity with the electorate and a deep base of political connections. It’s true of every governor of California going back to the 1930s with two movie star exceptions which sort of prove the rule, as both had high name recognition and lots of political connections. Kashkari has neither and building it from scratch in one campaign is something that has been tried and failed numerous times. Of course, all the statewide offices are held by Democrats, so it’s difficult for Republicans to really compete, but even when they have opportunities they squander them. The last Republican to win statewide election, former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, got tossed to the curb when Meg Whitman’s megabucks came to town. Obviously, Republicans are effectively dead in California for bigger reasons, but their lack of knowledge of the politics of their own state sure hasn’t hurt.

In a play you could have seen coming from a couple small planets away, prominent conservatives are arguing that “Bridgegate” just isn’t a big deal because of Benghazi and the IRS. Any new chance to trot those out I guess, you just have to admire the message discipline here if nothing else. But it’s worth saying that these are, essentially, red herrings since there’s no way to make this argument non-idiotically. Chris Christie fired his deputy Chief of Staff because she was directly implicated in the lane closures. Barack Obama fired no White House staff over either of those stories because there was no evidence of deliberate malfeasance on the part of the Obama team, according to the facts. Incompetence? Perhaps. But the only possible incompetence comparatively is that of Chris Christie in the event that a high-ranking aide was actually able to pull the wool completely over his eyes and launch a misguided, legally dubious vendetta. Had the White House Chief of Staff’s deputy texted somebody about reducing staff to the U.S. Embassy to Libya, then it would be comparable, but there’s simply nothing like that that is known to exist.

I do feel like this is a discussion worth having. The executive branch has reached such elephantine proportions that no president can know everything that is going on in every federal agency. You could probably make the same argument about some of the larger states’ governments as well. The broader point is this: how much do we really expect executives to know? When should they get blame and when shouldn’t they? I don’t have a simple answer on this question. However, I will say that the right-wing argument here–that possibly criminal (and certainly shady/unethical) conspiracies involving close aides to the executive are no big deal, while incompetence/poor decisionmaking (but certainly not criminal behavior) by bureaucrats several layers removed from the executive (located in cities a great distance from where he works) are gravely serious and possibly even grounds for dismissal–is simply incoherent, and only makes sense viewing the world from a purely partisan perspective. You could argue either that the executive is completely responsible for everything done in the government under their watch, not merely in a formal way but strictly speaking, in which case Christie is toast. You could also argue (as I would) that it’s essentially impossible to run a government this way, especially in a country as big as the United States, and that it’s unrealistic to expect the executive to know, say, the dynamics of the Social Security office on Cirby Way in Roseville, CA, and that this should be at least taken into account when assigning blame. This is obviously a debate, and I can accept a variety of answers and shades of gray here. However, you can’t argue for the first approach for a president you disapprove of, and the second approach for a governor you do approve of, especially if the second one doesn’t fit since the conspiracy did in fact reach the inner circle of the Christie Administration. It’s a silly, uncreative way of trotting out FOX/Rush/Drudge obsessions at best, and not nearly good enough to salvage anything from Christie. If this really is the best defense of Christie they have then he’d better be afraid, though there is some poetic justice in a man who spent his 2012 Republican National Convention speech almost entirely on himself being “defended” with defenses that are more about keeping BENGHAZI! and the IRS scandals relevant to conservative media consumers than about actually defending him.

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Yet another relatively moderate Republican in a competitive district is hanging it up:
Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach, who’s been in office for over a decade, announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election this year, and he also won’t try to primary wounded Gov. Tom Corbett. While we don’t have any particular insight into Gerlach’s decision-making process, he’s now the fourth decidedly non-tea party Republican to bail on Congress this term, along with Reps. John Runyan, Frank Wolf, and Tom Latham. Gerlach, sitting in a swingy suburban turf, had also been a perennial Democratic target and never won more than 52 percent of the vote in his first four elections. He did perform better in the GOP wave of 2010, taking 57 percent, and he matched that figure last cycle after Republicans shored up his seat in redistricting. Gerlach hadn’t drawn an opponent yet this year, but having to deal with a stiff re-election fight every time may have taken its toll.
It is a pretty interesting trend, given that 2014 isn’t likely to be brutal for Republicans in a macro sense. I suspect the reason for these retirements has a lot to do with the current power centers of the Congressional GOP: essentially, all of these guys are establishment types in a House that’s effectively run by the crazies, or at least with the assent of the crazies. It’s sort of a mirror image of Dan Boren’s retirement last year, in which he outright said that he was tired of not having enough of a seat at the table after the Blue Dogs went extinct. Dude was in his forties and was undoubtedly safe. In any event, only Wolf’s retirement makes any kind of sense due to his age, the others could easily serve for some time to come, but have all chosen to change career paths. Obviously a good thing for Democrats, as winning an open seat is much easier than defeating an incumbent, and given that the state’s governor is getting down to surge-era Dubya levels of popularity, good candidate recruitment ought to make this a definite possibility to win.
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Soon Democrats will have a 7-4 majority among active judges on the important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans will still have five senior (i.e. semiretired) judges on that court to one Democrat. Now, say, if the two septuagenarian Clinton D.C. Circuit judges were to take senior status, Republicans would be 5-3 and their power would be that much more diluted. Perhaps someone from the Obama Administration could oh so delicately sound them out about this.
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I’d never heard of Michael Schaus, who is a conservative financial writer and the writer of a minimum wage piece that’s actually not all that crazy when you…just kidding, it’s awful. I’d just as soon prefer to skip all the obvious rage-bait that he includes in his column in an obvious attempt to keep people distracted from his main arguments (for a taste: “The economically challenged protestors of market driven wages are asking the profit-driven businesses to increase that wage to $15 per hour. Heck. Why stop there? Let’s kick it up to 25, or 40 dollars per hour.” Because…nobody’s asking for that?). Schaus’s entire article is really just speen directed at the poors. Just take this point:

Which brings us to the often repeated (in this column anyway) difference between careers and jobs. The Current Walmart CEO started his career as a part time (minimum wage) employee… But notice that he wasn’t satisfied with remaining in that position. Upward mobility, and ambition, does far more to increase the living standards of any given employee than petitions, protests, and government mandates.

The jobs at the center of the minimum wage discussion are jobs that are not designed for the average American worker to make into a career. Flipping a burger is a job for a part time teenage worker. It can even be a stepping stone for someone who fell into hard times, and is actively looking to increase their skill set (in hopes of obtaining more gainful employment). It is even a great job for someone who is looking for some supplemental income while they job hunt for better prospects.

This is something you occasionally hear from Republicans. Sure, the minimum wage sucks, but that’s what teenage burger-flippers are supposed to earn. It’s only for entry-level jobs, they say. Better workers will move up the ranks! Of course, not every single sales associate at Walmart is going to become the CEO. Most are going to either leave the company or remain roughly in the same job. And, obviously, having educational credentials and connections become increasingly more vital every step of the way. Schaus’s argument would be entirely valid if there were a huge number of CEO positions just there for the taking, with the only qualification being hard work. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t very many at all. So the question is, what do the average checkers of the world deserve? Schaus’s answer to that seems to be minimum wage salary, underinsurance and poverty. 

Now, of course, I predict that Schaus would strongly object to this interpretation of his argument. It might seem uncharitable to describe it that way. But that is the basic argument here. His column isn’t a solution, or even an insight, so much as stale lecturing that’s not even going (or meant) to be heard by the subjects. The fact is that working a very hard job at very long hours for minimum wage is not something I’ve experienced personally, but I can easily imagine that it must suck, and historically the best way of making it suck less has been by working to form a union. Also, Schaus like many conservatives believes in the Upward Mobility Faerie, which assumes that hard work/some intrinsic quality of America/some extrinsic force liberated by an American commitment to “freedom” (as pertains to employment laws) is all we need, certainly not organized labor. Unfortuantely, upward mobility is used here as a catchphrase rather than as a social science concept that has actually been calculated and mapped out, and the US in particular has been found wanting. Which is another reason why the associate-to-CEO path is rarer these days than it once was.

Essentially, the Michael Schaus argument is that, since your fast food clerk or Walmart checker is not a CEO, they have not passed his test and essentially deserve desperate poverty. It’s about time we started calling this sort of thing out.

This TNR piece proves it:

It wasn’t just Reagan. Moral Majority leader Jerry Fallwell called Tutu a “phony” who didn’t speak for South Africans blacks. He even urged Americans to support the Pretoria government.  North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms filibustered the sanctions bill. Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm likewise opposed it. And future vice-president Dick Cheney called Mandela a terrorist, saying in 2000 that he didn’t regret his position. Pat Buchanan called Mandela a “train-bomber.” The Heritage Foundation said America should stop calling for Mandela’s release from prison. Pat Robertson, Grover Norquist, future Tea Party leaders, and current Republican Senators—all were on the books supporting the Apartheid government. When 35 House Republicans broke with the Reagan administration, the National Review called them “uppity,” and Human Events called them a “lynch mob.”

That last bit in particular is charming. The right, sad to say, still manages to regularly work violent rhetoric about race into topics both humdrum and climactic, and wonders why virtually everyone who isn’t a white person sees them as having unacceptable baggage on race. Every couple of days some conservative pundit or other makes some gratuitous offhand comment about rape (most recently El Rushbo), and the right wonders why women are an ever-elusive voter target. Even putting aside the overall presentation and content of your policies, peppering your communication with references to things that have incredibly negative connotations for specific groups of people is going to put you at a bit of a disadvantage in reaching out to them, and shows just how ingrained certain kinds of attitudes are, how hard to change. I mean, they said all this stuff over twenty years ago and none of it sounds much different than their rhetoric now.

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