Friday, August 28, 2009

Presidential Moneyline

Red Elephant believes that the Republican Party needs to play small ball and rebuild the party from the bottom up. However, presidential elections wait for nobody and the GOP will put forward a nominee in 2012. Red Elephant believes it should be a person who represents the platform issues that will make the GOP relevant again. That said, the Republican Party bench is bare, but here are some potential players to watch and Red Elephant’s odds on the contest.

Eric Cantor
-5000 or 50/1
Minority Whip Rep. Cantor (R-VA) has been mentioned as a potential GOP presidential nominee, which means he needs some lessons on setting expectations. In June 2009 Mr. Cantor predicted a GOP landslide in the House in the 2010 mid-term elections; highly unlikely as it requires the GOP to pick up 39 seats - hope is not a strategy. His profanity-laden AFSCME video response to that union's ads in his district wasn't funny and made Cantor look childish. Cantor isn't ready to run in the tall grass.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen. Ted Kennedy: 1932-2009

My only interaction with Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) was non-political and occurred on a shuttle flight from Washington, DC to Boston over ten years ago. I found myself assigned a seat between Sen. Kennedy and Red Auerbach. As the two men had a lively conversation I interrupted and asked if they prefer I move so they could carry on more easily. Kennedy apologized for being rude and talking past me, to which I replied it was a pleasure and I'd rather stay and listen in. That got a laugh and I had a good time listening to these two giants chat like pals about the Boston Garden and the Celtics.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

GOP Rhythm Or Blues?

Listen to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, you all know it even if you don’t recognize these names, and you will understand everything you need to know about the rhythm of a political campaign. This history of the piece is coincidently parallel with the Republican Party’s current angst and misdirection and gives instruction on how the GOP becomes relevant once more.

Ravel was contracted by a dancer to create a piece that drew from previous works by musician Isaac Albeniz. As Ravel set out to perform his duties he discovered that he could not adopt the Albeniz pieces because of copyright restrictions. However, Albeniz gave Ravel permission to proceed. Instead, Ravel decided to reconstruct his own work, but then paused. It is here that Ravel did the brilliant thing; he decided to write an original piece. The result was Bolero.

So what does this have to do political campaigns and the Republican Party? As to political campaigns: The music is composed to build over an unchanging ostinato, or stubborn rhythm played on snare drums. On top of this rhythm is a single theme consisting of two eighteen-bar section each played twice. Tension in the piece is built into a crescendo as more instruments are added to the rhythm and theme, becoming thicker and stronger until an entire orchestra beats out the rhythm that began with only the snare drum.

This is exactly what is performed by a precise political campaign. At first it is a repetitive rhythm, repeating the same message. Slowly different themes are added to the campaign message that reinforces the original rhythm. As an example: perhaps a political challenger campaign chooses fiscal responsibility as it rhythm. As the campaign progresses it adds themes that are examples of wasteful spending by the incumbent and what the challenger would do differently. Every week a new theme; every week the rhythm is reinforced until the rhythm and theme of the campaign climax into a crescendo, ideally on Election Day.

To become relevant again the GOP has to find a simple rhythm and stick with it, adding themes that forcefully build the repetition of the rhythm. While fiscal responsibility and opposition to the Obama Administration’s spending would be an ideal rhythm on which to build themes, the GOP hasn’t much credibility given its enablement of Pres. George W. Bush’s deficit spending and debt. Therefore, healthcare is a better place to begin as it is a salient jutting the Obama Administration into dangerous territory where voters, particularly political independents are wary about this expansion of government.

Disapproval of Pres. Obama’s handling healthcare reform has reached 50%. 46% of American voters disapprove of the government’s creation of new a healthcare insurance plan to compete with private insurance. 50% of political independents disapprove of the public healthcare option. With 54% of American believing the country is on the wrong track, the Republican Party is being given circumstances that could allow them to over-perform in the 2010 midterm elections. Unfortunately for the GOP only 21% of voters trust it will make the generally right decisions for the country, which is why Sarah Palin’s “death panel” hoax will do long term damage to the Republican Party.

Like Ravel, the GOP now needs to be brilliant. So far the GOP composition is far from sophisticated, more Chop Sticks than Bolero. Brilliance will not be found in adopting previous rhythms and themes, as it wants to do by invoking Reagan. Invoking Reagan is easy, and easy never spurred transcendence. The GOP must now compose its own rhythm and themes, not adopt Reagan’s or even it own past compositions that gave it a majority in Congress in the 1990s.

If the Republican Party doesn’t find rhythm and themes, it will be singing the blues in 2010.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Props to Krauthammer

It was welcome to read Mr. Charles Krauthammer's lead in his Washington Post opinion piece today: "Let's see if we can have a reasoned discussion about end-of-life counseling. We might start by asking Sarah Palin to leave the room. I've got nothing against her. She's a remarkable political talent. But there are no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills, and to say that there are is to debase the debate."

While not a Republican Party leader, his opinions have weight and so his words should have an impact in the GOP offices on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Krauthammer's more subtle point should be taken seriously by the GOP ranks, as it is the root cause for the chaos and conflict of this August's congressional recess town hall meetings. This subtlety is also what was detected by the recent Washington Post-ABC survey that shows diminshing support for healthcare reform, particularly among Independants. This is where Republicans should make their stand and become relevant in the healthcare reform debate. Relevancy begets relevancy. After an earnest effort to offer rational oppositon to the current healthcare legislation the GOP can broaden its message.

In other words, the GOP needs to walk before trying to run - and Palin's "death panel" hoax was an infantile attempt to sprint.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NJGOP Playing Precision Small Ball

In July Red Elephant assessed Republican chances of winning the gubernatorial election and picking up Assembly seats. A recent poll indicates that GOP gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie may have coattails and that the generic ballot test gives Republicans reasons for optimism in additional Assembly districts. This, coupled with recent arrests of Democratic lawmakers, particularly in Legislative District 19 (a traiditonally strong Democratic distirct) spurs Repubican campaign efforts.

Gov. Jon Corzine's (D-NJ) campaign is hard at work using new revelations about former U.S. Attorney Christie's undisclosed loan to an Assistant U.S. Attorney who was working for Christie at the time and remains an AUSA in New Jersey to define Christie as a corrupt politician. Whether or not this issue is salient is to be determined. It is clear though that in the contest for Assembly the Republicans are executing precision small ball, advancing candidates, finding the opportunities as they are presented and taking the advantage where they can. For more details, see the earlier RE post "New Jersey Could Go Red in '09," at:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Presidential Moneyline

Red Elephant believes that the Republican Party needs to play small ball and rebuild the party from the bottom up. However, presidential elections wait for nobody and the GOP will put forward a nominee in 2012. Red Elephant believes it should be a person who represents the platform issues that will make the GOP relevant again. That said, the Republican Party bench is bare, but here are some potential players to watch and Red Elephant’s odds on the contest.

Michele Bachmann
-7000 or 70/1
The congresswoman from Minnesota is too wacky to be a real prospect, but that doesn’t mean this self-professed “fool for Christ” won’t interpret personal ambition as a call from God to run for president.

*Calculated from electoral performance, survey data, media savvy and fundraising potential.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pawlenty Excited!

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) seems pretty excited about the future electoral prospects of the Republican Party. Speaking at a recent GOPAC event (GOPAC is a 527 committee organized in 1978 by Delaware Gov. Pierre DuPont in 1978 to train Republican candidates) Pawlenty was enthusiastic about the opportunities being presented to the GOP by the Obama Administration’s initiatives on healthcare and cap and trade among others.

Pawlenty is a two term governor who was on Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential shortlist and who now is recognized as a potential GOP presidential nominee in 2012. Pawlenty offered that as the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats over-reach on the issues, the GOP will have the chance to offer a contrast and gain electorally. To Pawlenty’s credit, he did also say that “We (the GOP) can’t just be critics in chief.” By this it is assumed Pawlenty meant the GOP must offer specific counterproposals when criticizing the Obama Administration in order to be taken seriously and this is to be applauded.

However, where are these electoral gains to come from? Red Elephant has offered some analysis on the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia this year and recent polling in both states indicate that the GOP is poised to win each race. Historically the party in power loses 17 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives during off-year elections, so it is worth taking a brief look at the terrain going into 2010.

There are currently between 20 and 36 House races that could be loosely termed competitive. Mostly they are seats with a Democratic incumbent. Of the 20-36 seats, roughly 10 could be categorized as being a toss-up – nearly all leaning Democratic. Four are pure toss-ups by virtue of being open seats; three are open seats and one is currently vacant (with a special election to be announced in 2009). Three of these seats had a Republican Member of Congress.

It is likely that the Democrats will lose seats in the House in 2010, although it is going to be tough for the GOP to achieve the average gain of 17 seats. There are simply not enough competitive seats for the GOP to pick up the House in 2010. The drama of this summer’s healthcare town hall meetings and the spring’s tea bag protests normally indicate voters are displeased with the majority party. While there is undoubtedly anger among the voting population, it is not yet solely directed at Pres. Obama and the Democrats as it was in 1994 when the Republican Party took control of the U.S. House and Senate. Therefore these protests do not appear to be building a wave of revolt that will crest on Election Day 2010 and deposit GOP victories on the shore.

Of the toss-up races, one currently favors the GOP (NY-23) and the rest lean Democratic. Of those that lean Democratic they are all, but one, occupied by Democratic lawmakers. The exception is IL-10 which is represented by Rep. Mark Kirk who is running for the U.S. Senate to replace the stain of Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL).

So while Gov. Pawlenty is plenty excited about the future; a review of real GOP electoral prospects reveals dimness for the GOP that should make Republican lawmakers, consultants and activists take notice of the one important thing Pawlenty said at the GOPAC event. In other words, the GOP cannot redouble its efforts towards electoral pick-ups until it remembers its aim. Unfortunately for the GOP it is the gang that can’t shoot straight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Presidential Moneyline

Red Elephant believes that the Republican Party needs to play small ball and rebuild the party from the bottom up. However, presidential elections wait for nobody and the GOP will put forward a nominee in 2012. Red Elephant believes it should be a person who represents the platform issues that will make the GOP relevant again. That said, the Republican Party bench is bare, but here are some potential players to watch and Red Elephant’s odds on the contest.*

NEW Rick Santorum
-5000 or 50/1
Former GOP Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) heads to Iowa to get some attention. This heralds that some in the GOP still favor troglodyte policies like intelligent design, combating "man-on-dog sex" and Terri Schiavo-like intervention in state issues when there’s a media gaggle to be had. Santorum will be able to find eager supporters in America’s Heartland, but is a low tier candidate.

*Calculated from electoral performance, survey data, media savvy and fundraising potential.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Two GOP Senators Stand Up & Stand Out

In the last day two Republican U.S. Senators, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John Isakson (R-GA) have voiced their offense at Sarah Palin's claim of death panels in the healthcare legislation, labeling it "nuts." This is good news toward identifying the Republican Party as mainstream and not beholden to the troglodyte right.

Sen. Murkowski is decidedly more centrist than Sen. Isakson. Their ratings by conservative interest groups are somewhat instructive in identifying them on the ideological spectrum:

National Rifle Association: Murkowski A; Isakson A
National Taxpayers Union: Murkowski C; Isakson B+
National Right To Life: Murkowski 50%; Isakson 100%
Citizens Against Gov't Waste: Murkowski 50%; Isakson 87%

To the point, two Republicans positioned differently on the ideological spectrum take offense at Palin's nonsense about death penalties - and that's a good sign for the future of the GOP.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Palin's Death Panel is GOP Assisted Suicide

Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, recently claimed that the health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill features death panels. Palin asserts that there will be death panels made up of federal bureaucrats that will assess patients’ “level of productivity in society” in order to decide if they are worthy of healthcare. This is of course nonsense. But the stupidity of it is that no Republican has seized the opportunity to scold Palin for making such ridiculous claims.

The advantage for any noteworthy Republican to call Palin on her nonsense is to demonstrate in the context of the healthcare debate that the GOP is not a band of kooks. In other words, it is a Sister Souljah moment that has yet to attract a courageous Republican lawmaker. By repudiating Palin’s claims the GOP would signal to centrist voters that the Republican Party is not beholden to the extremist right. Further, picking a fight with Palin on this is sure to attract media attention and give that brave Republican an opportunity to command the spotlight for the purpose of highlighting valid Republican objections to the healthcare reform legislation.

Some Republicans, like Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) have acknowledged that there are no death panels, but that is different from discounting Palin as being nuts. It is not enough to say she is wrong, it needs to be said that she is a rogue seeking attention and does not speak for the GOP.

The ideal group of GOPers to call out Palin’s lunacy is the Tuesday Group, a collection of moderate Republicans in the U.S. House. Within this group are a number of extremely intelligent and capable legislators. Among them is Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). Thoughtful and experienced, she has represented Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District since 1996, meaning she is a proven entity and not am aberrant political personality like Palin. Rep. Emerson’s House tenure makes her safe at home, providing the political capital to rise to a Palin confrontation.

Another House Republican who would do well in challenging Palin is Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ). Rep. Lance has offered a healthcare reform proposal that is thoughtful although not encompassing (as it lacks budget specifics). As a long time state lawmaker, Lance has the intellect and legislative acumen to challenge Palin in a manner that would raise his political profile and help him in his re-election efforts as he seeks a second term in 2010.

For Republicans to let Palin run free on her death panel foolishness is to allow the GOP to continue to be defined by its worst messenger. Palin has proven herself to be wacky, strange and egocentric. Yet, she proliferates the media like a virus. In so doing she defines the Republican Party by her conduct and opinions, a definition that will harm GOP chances at the polls in future elections.

Palin does not have the mental tools to be constructively commentating on healthcare reform, much less be the face of Republican opposition. The fact that she is getting headlines for making outrageous claims about healthcare reform should worry every Republican dedicated to making the GOP relevant again. There is a rare opportunity here, if only one daring Republican would take the charge and repudiate Palin’s credibility.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Reagan Did Not Win By Conjuring Eisenhower

Newt Gingrich is active with a live-to-automated survey promoting his Ronald Reagan documentary and his affiliation with the Presidential Coalition. Live-to-automated means a call to a household is made by a teleservice sales representative (TSR) who prompts an automated message which is followed by another TSR who asks the respondent questions.

In this instance Newt’s message cites Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign theme about change, then assesses Carter’s record of being one of unemployment, inflation and deficits. This is then compared to President Obama’s campaign change theme and draws the conclusion that the same variety of unemployment, inflation and deficit spending is to result. Newt then categorizes Obama's agenda as socialism and asserts that a return to low taxes, smaller government and belief in people is needed now as it was when Reagan ran for president in 1980.

Newt then promotes his recent Reagan documentary, citing that his wife Calista collaborated on the project. The call climaxes with a TSR asking if the respondent believes America needs a return to Ronald Reagan-like policies and themes.

Unemployment is currently at roughly ten percent and likely to go higher. Inflation is currently low now with a probability to increase going into 2010. Debt and deficit spending of the Obama Administration speaks for itself and is getting to staggering and worrying proportions. All this is true. However, the morale of the American people does not seem to equate with 1980 – but it is worth mentioning that a recent survey found 60% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

Harkening back to Reagan is not a message that will make the GOP or any particular candidate relevant. Reagan was a great president, no doubt, but that was a different era. Red Elephant has said previously that Gingrich has tremendous intellect and problem-solving creativity as an out-of-the-box thinker. It does remains that Gingrich is also of a different era and not the future of the Republican Party.

Reagan did not get elected president by citing a return to Eisenhower, and the GOP won’t attract any interest by evoking Reagan now. Cherishing the memory of Reagan is all well and good, but does nothing to construct a relevant future for the GOP. Some voters may get a warm and fuzzy remembering Reagan, but it won’t make them forget that they disapprove of Republicans in Congress by a favorable to unfavorable ratio of 1:2. Republicans would do better to stop reminiscing about the past and instead get in the trenches and demonstrate their relevancy through thoughtful policy initiatives and opposition to the Administration and Democrats on the Hill.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Gathering Steam

It is a welcomed thing to see more voices being added to RE's objective, as E.J. Dionne, Jr. did in yesterday's Washington Post.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Democrats Morph Into Bush In '09 Elections

Two weeks ago Red Elephant brought up the prospect of Democrats reviving George W. Bush as a campaign theme in New Jersey’s gubernatorial campaign. At the time RE asserted such a theme was a dead end for Democrats. Today, the Washington Post reports that Democrats in Virginia are now doing the same thing. This is good news for Republicans. It means Democrats in both states are afraid of losing and hope invoking Bush will scare voters to cast a ballot for the Democratic candidates.

Bush’s political cadaver was interred in November 2008, and the headstone put firmly in placed on January 20, 2009. Blaming him for New Jersey’s and Virginia’s economic problems after the catharsis of the 2008 presidential election is impractical. This is like blaming the old dog for smelling-up the house a year after it was sent to a "ranch in the country." Clearly Democrats are looking to revive the change theme that the Obama campaign was able to leverage for victory in 2008. That was a different time and a different contest.

Attacking Bush gave Democrats control of Congress and the White House while he was the 43rd President. Now that he’s back in Texas and no longer has his hand on the ship of state’s tiller he is not salient to this campaign election cycle. Obama was a change agent. That change was exacted. Now Obama is the status quo, as is the Democratic Party.

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (D) has been attempting to revive Bush in that contest this year, with no luck. Voters in that state and in Virginia want to talk about now, not last year. To make Bush a center-theme to their campaigns in those states says that they don’t have much with which to challenge their Republican opponents. Ironically, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates there, particularly Corzine, find themselves playing the role of George Bush rather than Barack Obama this year. Corzine is the incumbent presiding over a faltering economy and thus more Bush than Obama. Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee R. Creigh Deeds is more John McCain than he is Obama as he is following a Democratic predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine who had an economic meltdown on his watch.

With only ten percent of New Jersey voters saying Corzine attacks on his opponent Chris Christie (R-NJ) are fair, it is clear that dog won’t hunt. Virginia voters likely feel the same. In Virginia the Republican candidate for governor, Bob McDonnell leads Deeds 55% to 40% in a recent survey, indicating that Gov. Kaine does not have much leverage with voters seeking change – making McDonnell the kind of change agent that Obama was in 2008. A further indication that Kaine is the real Bush-like variable in Virginia right now is that his favorable to unfavorable rating is roughly 1:1.

The fact that Democrats are reaching to bring George Bush into these elections means Republicans should be hopeful about the November elections. While neither Christie nor McDonnell are the brand of Republicans that RE thinks is needed for the GOP, neither are they hyperbolically ideological. That neither GOP candidate features a “Values” plank in their campaign platform, but instead feature platforms that are issue and solution oriented is a sign that some in the GOP realize dictating personal values to the voters is not a recipe for victory – and that is a good thing.