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My low opinion of Scott Brown’s intellect is well known I guess, but passing up a winnable race for Kerry’s seat last year–as well as a slam-dunk race for Governor of Massachusetts–in order to fight a tough primary against a more conservative former senator who’s from the state as well as a popular general election incumbent surprises even me. There are three basic theories to explain this:

  1. Vanity – Brown felt so disgusted with being rejected by Massachusetts that he bolted the state in order to go to a state that would better appreciate his awesomeness. That it’s an early primary state that would ensure that Scott Brown gets more attention during the 2016 presidential race, whether he runs or not.
  2. Delusion – Brown lucked out in 2010 in an all-the-planets aligning kind of situation and thought it was because he was a political genius, and that he could do anything as a result.
  3. Stupidity – Kind of mean to suggest this, perhaps, but this is a guy who thought it was wise to tie his campaign to domestic terror attacks and got pranked by a chain email. He’s not shown much ability to ferret out the bullshit if you know what I mean. Regardless of whether he has a path to victory or not–and recent polls suggest not–if anyone would be more likely to trust in ephemerals rather than cold hard data, Brown would likely qualify.

These aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive. The other possibility is that the GOP hype machine has reached such a pitch over 2014 and Obamacare that Brown thinks this will be easy. I suppose we’ll see. My basic sense is that Brown is an idol not much worshiped by the Tea Party Republicans he briefly personified and that this bugs him, and that this is more a desperate bid to stay relevant than anything else. I just don’t see 2016 primary voters going for a socially-liberal former Massachusetts senator who failed to actually stop the Affordable Care Act from being passed and then got defeated by someone to the left of Teddy Kennedy.

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rand paul

Weigel gives a good argument for why Rand Paul is going to have a difficult time in 2016:

At the end of a short and friendly interview, I asked Paul whether the darker associations of Ron Paul, his father, could be used against him. If Republicans were looking to tar him, couldn’t they bring up the racist newsletters published under Ron’s name, or the donations from white supremacists that Paul never solicited but declined to give back?

It was like an arctic blast came through my receiver. I don’t see how anyone could think that, Rand Paul said. That has nothing to do with this campaign. [...]

As long as Paul’s in the Senate, as long as he’s a fascinating, quotable, and potentially successful libertarian iconoclast, stories about his associations and his movement will be relegated to the think-piece pile. If he’s a credible presidential candidate? The jackals run loose, and they know where to hunt. Years of experience and evidence tell us that Paul can be rattled by that. His potential opponents know this.

It’s a latent and undiscussed problem, exacerbated when Paul criticizes Hillary Clinton because of her husband’s infidelties with a White House intern. “In re-invoking Bill Clinton’s track record,” writes Carl Cannon. “Paul seemed to serve notice that the checkered pasts of other (male) Democrats is fair game as well.”

True. But the Clintons have put up with decades of reporting and embarrassment about their pasts. When Paul’s received the same treatment, it hasn’t gone very well.

In a word: nerves. Which I think is true, but above and beside that I really have to question the basic sanity of the notion that Paul is the frontrunner. How on Earth does this guy get the nod and enthusiastic backing of such a resolutely hawkish party? The Kristols and Krauthammers and Cheneys of the party almost certainly have veto power over who gets the nomination, and they will shiv him every chance they get, and if it gets down to it and he wins I’d be almost positive they’d try to steal the nomination away from him the same way it happened the last time a relatively dovish Republican rightly won (i.e. 1952). After all, allowing that would be like letting the Russkies, er, I mean Islamofascists win! And I wouldn’t bet against their ability or willingness to do it. Rand Paul mocked their idol, Chris Christie, before everyone was doing it, and while he’s hardly a pacifist he’s a few notches too reticent about “leadership.” He might try to mend fences but there’s a pretty good reason why in 2008 and 2012 even the minor candidates sounded just like Bill Kristol.

I do suspect that Paul will build on his father’s core following and might even be able to garner enough clout to make some changes to the party platform. Undoubtedly he’ll be able to shape the debate a bit, and this could in fact be very interesting in both bad ways and good. But party nominations are the result of consensus of party actors and not necessarily of fame and the ability to fundraise. We’ve seen plenty of candidates with either or both of those coming way short. Paul’s connections in and of themselves might not doom him among the faithful–he could just say something about how the media should have spent more time vetting Barack Obama and he’ll win South Carolina–but the crazy extreme connections and the crazy extreme domestic policy positions might draw people to make connections between the two that Republican officials likely do not want accentuated. The connection between neo-Confederate ideology and, say, an opposition to the Voting Rights Act is clear enough but a Paul nomination would inevitably take the connection to a new level of explicitness, to where this might actually become a public conversation, as opposed to an intra-progressive one. Really, it would probably become unavoidable were he nominated, so the GOP will have every interest in keeping him from getting the nod.The only way Paul wins is if the Republican Party has changed in a way that no credible observer has noticed, and has changed to such an extent that his less orthodox positions are no longer radioactive. This might be plausible in the future but my guess is: not in 2016.

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This is just wild speculation, but if I had to guess what happened it would go something like this:

  1. Religious right lobbyists write the bill and pass it to sympathetic Arizona lawmakers.
  2. Bill is described to colleagues with Republican-friendly buzzwords: you know, “freedom” and “entrepreneurs” and the dreaded “homosexual agenda.” Nobody reads it.
  3. Bill passes.
  4. Uproar! For which the dumbasses who voted for the thing are wholly unprepared because they don’t know what’s in it and can’t defend it. Some of them even claim they wouldn’t have voted for it if they knew what’s in it, which is both mockable and sadly believable.
  5. Jan Brewer bails them out with a veto.

What’s surprising about this is…oh wait, there’s literally nothing surprising about it. It seems like a prime example of Jonathan Bernstein’s “post-policy GOP” thesis, which fundamentally states that the Republican Party has no real interest in policy, but rather in punditry and media types of things. All the details point to this, and are eerily reminiscent of the regrettable “forcible rape” bill the House passed in 2011, which went through exactly the same cycle. How could these guys be completely unaware of what they’re passing? I don’t buy the “this bill is longer than fifteen Bibles” or whatever dumb-populist stuff the right uses to reject bills, because reading the text of them is like trying to read binary code. The people voting for the ACA knew the gist of what they were voting for, and defended it. These guys…have no idea.

The scary part of this episode is that elected legislators were beside the point at all times: this was a squabble between the religious right and business, with minor roles for politicians. It’s almost as though the putative decisionmakers on the Republican side are utterly unimportant except to validate what the lobbyists want.

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The current crop of anti-gay bills in red states signals, to me at least, that the Republican Party has more or less accepted that the country is pretty much fine with the gays at this point and has figured out how to respond, in typical fashion. Obviously, there are various ways they could go about this. One would be to just give up, though the decreasing minority who opposes marriage equality seems highly reluctant to do so. Another would be to give up and declare victory, Vietnam style. One can even imagine a Scott Walker type saying something like, “Look, I got married to my wife in a church. I believe God was there and I know He approved. What do I care about what the state has to say about it? Marriage is a spiritual matter, the state’s recognition is just a bureaucratic detail. I’m a small-government Republican. I really couldn’t care less.” It seems to me at least somewhat possible that this logic could square the peg, but the problem again would be getting equality opponents to accept it, as they tend not to accept this nuance. In my personal experience they mostly complain a lot about how inevitably their church will be forced to perform gay weddings, though there seems to be virtually no interest (and no legal possibility) in doing so. They tend to see it all as one thing (The Institution Of Marriage), while secular liberals have little trouble in making the distinction between state and religion, with the latter being private and protected but the former a subject of contention. It’s possible they’ll suddenly find an interest in making the distinction when they have no choice, but who knows. Anyway, yet another strategy a couple of rungs down the ladder is to simply whine a lot about how your religious freedoms are being trampled upon because not everyone is doing what you tell them to, i.e. the Damon Linker strategy. But nobody really gives a damn about Linker and endless whining has some drawbacks as a strategy: as in, people just tune it out after a while.

The worst way to react to this, though, would be to pass the law that Arizona’s legislature has. The bill flat-out permits mistreatment of minorities for no justifiable reason, and what’s more, it once again shows the Republican Party to be one that cares only about the interests of business owners and has no capacity for empathy for anyone else at all. It feels like a gratuitous, spiteful swipe, which it no doubt is for a lot of these folks, but it’s almost bizarrely selfish and indefensible, terrible policy married to terrible politics, the product of an ossified and out of touch party network more interested in maintaining lucrative business connections than in doing what’s right. They might want to stop and take a breather, think if this is really the best way of advancing their interests, since opposing discrimination is something that virtually all Americans claim to support.

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From this, I’m not sure they have gotten the message just yet. Here’s the Congressional generic ballot as of now, which gives Democrats over a 4-point advantage with positive trendlines:

 

ballot

I really have no idea how the midterms will turn out–I do have some hunches*–but it’s critically important for people to remember that the Republican media machine is such a ceaseless, relentless organ of hype, founded or not. That is one of its main functions. Remember how the 2012 presidential field was going to be awesome, until it obviously wasn’t. Or how the Affordable Care Act was going to be a total albatross around President Obama’s neck, until it wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then wasn’t again. One saw the exact same phenomenon with the 2016 field, which was supposed to be a juggernaut until Chris Christie’s typical modus operandi stopped being an open secret. And how many utterly mediocre pols have been hyped as great talents and presidential material by the likes of Bill Kristol, Chuck Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and the like? Remember when we all felt the inexorable pull of Pawlentymentum? Republicans hype their prospects to high heavens all the time. This is, by the way, very smart, since having hundreds of pundits saying the same thing tends to build resonance and influence the media and, by extension, conventional wisdom and perhaps even public perception. But let’s not forget that this telescopic reality shaping is exactly what is happening now, and as with the aforementioned events, it often falls apart when it comes into contact with reality.

(* Specifically, a net Democratic loss in the Senate but not enough to flip it, a handful of Republican governor losses, and a small number of net seats gained by House Democrats. Probably not all that dissimilar from 1986, Ronald Reagan’s sixth year midterm, though despite massive Koch money Republicans are not going to have a great Senate candidate in North Carolina and are unlikely to win any potential blue state seats, which means running the table on the remaining possibilities. Certainly doable, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. And then there’s Mitch McConnell’s issues and the very likely prospect of a catastrophe in Georgia. So, yeah, I’m not all that worried at this point.)

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…if the mainstream media allows Scott Walker to introduce pure propaganda points into the public record like so:

If the other Republicans in the Rust Belt are trying to moderate their message, Mr. Walker in Wisconsin argues that independent voters do not want Republicans to move to the center.

It is the lesson he draws from the unusual 2012 electoral year in Wisconsin. In June, Mr. Walker won his recall election by 7 percentage points. A few months later Mr. Obama carried the state by the same 7 points. The governor calls these “Obama-Walker voters,” independents who voted for both.

Oh, come on NYT! It’s possible there are some people who voted for both men but are we seriously going to argue that a recall election held at an odd time for an election had the same electorate as a presidential election? This is apples and oranges, folks. If Wisconsin were like the dozen or so states that held gubernatorial elections in presidential years, Scott Walker would in all likelihood have remained the Milwaukee County Executive to the present day. Are the differences between midterm turnout and presidential turnout, and the associated falloff in Democratic turnout, really much of a mystery at this point?

I’ve heard many times that Walker has been aided in his tireless attempts to stick it to working people by co-opting Wisconsin’s media. Don’t think it can’t happen here (i.e. everywhere).

Increasingly you see John Kasich’s name bubbling up as a possible presidential contender for the GOP. Mitt Romney said it. So did this guy. My immediate response would probably be like, “Hey, if y’all want to try another business Republican who lost a presidential race before and worked in the financial industry, then go on ahead!” You can see why Romney in particular would like the idea.

In all seriousness, we know that nothing happens in a vacuum, and that Kasich’s name is getting trial-ballooned at this point seems directly related to Chris Christie’s disastrous plummet in electability. So the people who were backing Christie are inevitably going to cast about for someone who checks most of his boxes, and Kasich in fact does check many. He has a record that is conservative but could plausibly be spun as bipartisan and moderate, which it is in some places. His financial industry ties would likely insure he could raise the money to plausibly run, which is undoubtedly a huge determinator of success in the entire venture. He’s as establishment as you can get and is more politically savvy than, say, a Ted Cruz bull in a china shop type. But he also shares the same weakness as Christie, from a nominating perspective: he’s not popular among the Tea folk due largely to his pushing through of Medicaid expansion, which could well earn him a veto among primary voters.

If you were to put me on the spot, my guess would be that Kasich is much better positioned to win a general election for the GOP than (putative main rival) Scott Walker would be, in spite of the his position at Lehman Brothers, largely because Kasich would probably be able to guarantee a win in Ohio while Walker wouldn’t be able to do so in Wisconsin (Ohio being split almost exactly down the middle politically means even a few percent of home state advantage would tip it), and Kasich does have a couple of major accomplishments that would appeal outside of the core GOP base while Walker has none. But Walker is better-positioned to win the GOP nomination in large part because of Kasich’s moves on Medicaid, and because Kasich abandoned his Walker-esque persona early on and focused more on touting his jobs record and trying to appear like a normal, empathetic human being. All of which is well and good, but I suspect Kasich was not seriously thinking of a presidential run when he was doing these things, and unless the base lets him slide on them, I don’t think he’s going anywhere. And apart from that, Kasich just doesn’t seem like someone with the communication skills to make a presidential run work, as nearly everything he says makes him sound like the FOX News host he used to be:

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